Family History Discoveries: Mapping Ancestral Residences

willard-and-ruby-crouse-1927

Newlyweds Willard and Ruby Crouse. Circa 1927, age 19 and 17

Columbus Day

Today we celebrate Columbus Day. We honor this explorer who had a dream and set out to find a faster, shorter route to India. We honor him as the Discoverer of this “New World” for Europeans. Never mind that the Welsh claim that Maddoc was here almost 300 years earlier. Never mind that the Icelandic explorer, Leif  Erikson, was probably in the New World 500 years before Columbus. It was new to him and for his generation.

When doing our family history research we may “Discover” something new that no one alive knows. You may also have a “Discovery moment” that reveals new information to you, even if others already know it. I believe exploration and discovery are critical components of family history. After all, isn’t that what compels us to work late into the night with blurry eyes?!

So in honor of explorers and discoverers everywhere, let’s explore street addresses of our ancestors!

Let’s Get Specific

I have been thinking a great deal about the places where my ancestors lived. Not in a general sense as “York County, South Carolina,” or “Flushing, New York.” I mean the actual parcel of land they farmed, or the street address where they lived. I suppose in the past, recording this level of detail didn’t provide much value. However, now with satellite pictures, Google Street View, and other technology you could take a virtual tour of these locations!

Generally speaking when we record a life event such as birth, marriage, death, or even residence, we start with the city or town and go “up” from there in governmental jurisdictions. Many historical documents record information at this same level of detail as well, but others offer more information.

I have noticed that we are more likely to record additional detail for some life events. For example, for a burial place, we often include the cemetery. Or, for religious ceremonies like a baptism or a marriage, it is common to include the name of the church. So why not record ALL the information we know about an event?

Mapping Ancestral Residences

In the near future we will have mobile apps that will show us the places where our ancestors lived and could even provide navigation directions to these locations! The technology is only as good as the data, however, and without street addresses the best we can do is get directions to the center of town. While still useful (and how cool to walk the downtown street of a small town where your ancestors lived!), by adding more detailed information the usefulness increases.

Mapping the actual ancestral residences of your forebears requires GPS coordinates, a street address, legal description of a property, or other detailed location information. There are many common genealogical sources that have this information. This is especially true for records in the 20th century.

Where Did Willard Louis Crouse (1907 – 1995) Live?

Like Columbus I started looking for one thing but found another. I embarked on this particular mission looking for a burial record of my great-great grandfather, Thomas Harrison Crouse. Instead I found his death certificate. He died in Phoenix, Arizona in 1931, possibly while visiting his son (and my great-grandfather), Willard Louis Crouse. On the death certificate it listed the street address of Willard: 1114 S. 8th Street. It was like seeing the New World for the first time. I shifted from my search and I looked up the address on Google Street View. I thought I might see the neighborhood or even the very house where my great-grandfather was living 85 years ago.

Instead I saw this empty lot:

south-8th-street

Actually, there are a couple of empty lots next to each other here. The bottom left corner shows the street number “1030,” but Google Street View told me I was already at 1198 South. Also, the road was a dead end past this lot. So I had to conclude that the house is no longer there. However, this got me thinking: “How many records do I already have attached as sources in FamilySearch.org that contain address information?”

I decided to take a look.

1930 Census

ruby-and-willard-c-1930

Children, Ruby and Willard (Jr) taken about 1930

First, I took a look at the 1930 census. I wondered if they were living in the same place in the 1930 census as the death certificate reported 9 months later in March 1931. Willard Crouse is listed in the Wilson Election Precinct of Maricopa County, Arizona (Enumeration District 7-133) on page 11 (Sheet 6A). He is 22 years old and living with his wife and 2 children. I also see that his occupation is listed as “body and fender man.” Very possibly he lived close to the auto body shop where he worked. I may have to come back to that!

I was also happy to see he was employed at all. I wonder if he managed to keep a job to support his young family during the Great Depression. 1930-census

 

Locating Addresses

The first 4 columns are supposed to include the street name, house number, household or dwelling number, and family number (which would differ than the dwelling number if there are more than one family in a house). See figure to the right. This information from census records contains key information to help in mapping ancestral residences.place-of-abode-header

The first column (highlighted in yellow) shows he was living on Pima Street but there is no house number included in column 2 (drat!). This is a different address than that listed on the death certificate in 1931. Looking up the sheet on the census I see the households just above them lived on 16th Street. So he must have been near 16th Street as well. The next 2 streets listed are 16th Street again and then Apache Street.

Let’s Try Google Maps

I could look for an Enumeration District map and try to locate him that way. But first, I just do an online search in Google Maps. Doing a search for “Pima Street Phoenix Arizona” gives 2 results: West Pima Street and East Pima Street. I have no idea which side of town he lived on. I start with West Pima Street.

west-pima-street

The first thing I notice here is that there is no “16th Street.” I do find a “16th Drive,” which could perhaps be the same thing, but probably not. I also notice that none of the numbered streets have the name “Street” after it. The major streets seem to be called “Avenue” and the smaller ones “Drive.” I know that it is not uncommon for cities that have numbered streets to use a different name on one side of town than the other. Although confusing for people from out of town, I have seen it before. Perhaps all the North-South streets on the west side of town are “Avenues” and the North-South streets on the east side of town are “Streets.”

To test my theory I revise my search to “East Pima Street Phoenix Arizona.” Jackpot. I immediately see 16th Street and Apache Street as well. So now I have a general area where he was living in 1930.

east-pima-street

Sanity Check

I try to visualize the route that the census taker may have taken to get to my great-grandfather on Pima Street. I do this as a kind of “sanity check” just to see if this location seems like a likely match to the census records.

I theorize that the census taker headed South on 16th Street, then turned West on Pima doing the North side of the street until he reached another road (14th Street), then turned around to get the South side of the road. Then once he reached 16th Street he continued south enumerating the households on that street. This seems logical, but at this point I have no way of proving this.

So, although I have a general idea of the area where he lived (within a block or two), I don’t have a specific house. It turns out mapping ancestral residences isn’t always easy.

1940 Census

I move on to the 1940 Census. He is located on page 34 (sheet 17B). The census record indicates that they are in ED 7-141A. Here I find a house number! He and his family lived at 922 South 22nd Street in Phoenix. Also they are near Palm Avenue. I notice that nearly everyone in this area lived somewhere else in Maricopa County in 1935. So perhaps this is a relatively new neighborhood (less than 5 years old).

1940-census
I type in the address in Google Maps and it takes me to the wrong place. Instead of 22nd Street it takes me to 22nd Avenue. I have been through this before, so I just pan over to the East looking for 22nd Street. I find the crossroads of 22nd Street and Palm LANE (not avenue). I wonder if this is the same place. When I go to Google Street View the addresses show that I am about 2000 North. Something doesn’t seem right.

A Serendipitous Discovery

I switch back to the census record to double check the street names in the area. I look at the page before and the page after, and I spot something that catches my eye. Samuel Zufelt. Willard Crouse’s wife was Ruby Zufelt. Could this be a relative? I look at the records on FamilySearch and sure enough he is a relative. There is Samuel (and Lela) Zufelt, oldest brother of Ruby. So his brother-in-law is living just one street over from Willard Crouse at 908 S 21st Drive. Both Willard and Samuel are listed as mechanics. Could they have worked at the same garage, I wonder? More questions…1940-census-zufelt

I continue my quest to see if I can locate the street or house where they lived. I try searching for 908 S 21st Drive. Google takes me to 908 S 21st Avenue again. Something is definitely amiss.

Enumeration District Maps

Enumeration District maps are another great resource for mapping ancestral residences. These are subdivisions used by the Census Department. Essentially they are different routes or assignments they can give to census workers.

I head over to the Steve Morse Unified Census Enumeration District Finder and browse through the dozen or so ED maps for Maricopa County. I find the one with 7-141A on it. There as plain as day I see Palm Ave. between 20th Street and 24th Street. 22nd Street is South of Henshaw Road. It looks like the area is pretty industrial in 1940. Just to the West is the Phoenix Yard of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Just to the East is the airport.

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Where is Henshaw Road?

civil-works-project-henshaw-road

Civil Works Project in 1934

I bounce back to Google Maps and see if I can find Henshaw Road. It doesn’t exist. So now I know the street names must have changed. I do a general Google Search and very quickly learn that Henshaw Road is now Buckeye Road. I also learn that there was a Civil Works Administration project around 1934 as part of the New Deal. They were paving the road and all around looks to be farmland. So, this helps back up my theory that this neighborhood was new in 1940.

I feel like I am making progress. I now type in 2400 East Buckeye Road and boom I find it. I choose this address because it should be the corner of 24th Street and Buckeye Road. I am on the edge of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. I conclude that this entire neighborhood has been prey to the airport expansion, and I will not be able to find where they lived on a modern day street.

This exploration intent on mapping ancestral residences did not yield the fruits I was hoping for.
sky-harbor

Conclusion

This exercise didn’t produce the results I hoped for, but I still learned a tremendous amount. In the span of 10 years Willard Louis Crouse lived in at least 3 houses within a couple miles of each other. In his day this area seems to have been fairly sparsely populated. The Phoenix Sky Harbor airport was a single airstrip in the 1940 Enumeration District map. In the following decades it would grow along with the swelling population of the Valley of the Sun. This growth necessitated the razing of houses and businesses to make way for the expansion.

I also learned that he lived near his brother-in-law, Sam Zufelt. I have a number of questions about their relationship and I am determined to ask living relatives what they know. In fact, my search led me to ask questions and I got some of the great pictures in this blog of my great-grandparents.

Columbus didn’t find a shorter trade route to the Indies. But he did discover a vast New World full of natural resources. I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for either. However, I connected with living relatives and learned more about my ancestors – I consider this a success!

Comment below if you have mapped your ancestors’ residences!

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5 Comments

  1. Sara Wise

    Reply

    I mapped addresses of A Feanklin family living in Cairo,Illinois. The house is no longer there but it was neat seeing their street etc.. They lived in the same house for 40 years so I’m sure it was time for it to be torn down. Searching through city archives and newspapers I was able to find the record of the order for the house to be torn down so that was neat. I also discovered children had lived next door and around the corner. Fun for sure!!

  2. Reply

    I find mapping my ancestors’ lives to be very rewarding. Here is a map I made for three different branches of my family that lived in Oklahoma City for several decades: Oklahoma City Genealogy
    https://goo.gl/maps/AiLU3u7dUFm We used this map to take a family history tour of Oklahoma City when we visited on our vacation this summer. I also used a historic map from the University of Texas online map collection to map my ancestor, Patrick Donohoo’s life in Baltimore in the early 1800s. See http://finlayfamily.org/donohoo/the-irish-cordwainer-patrick-donohoo-1786-1860s/ This took a lot more sleuthing, as streets have been realigned and renamed and the church the family attended no longer exists.

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