Guest Writer Ed Storey
As I got started in genealogy, I came to learn two important rules:
1) Genealogy without documentation is mythology
2) Leave no stone unturned
The application of the second rule is what this is about. As I found ancestors in the census and next in city directories, it became apparent that a visit to the houses where they once lived was a logical next step. At the same time, I realized that Newark, New Jersey was not an ordinary place.
I have relatives from both sides who were born in Newark, even though no one in my family lived there before 1878. At the turn of the nineteenth century, Newark was the premier manufacturing city in the whole of the US. Such a distinction came about, in large part, because Newark also had a lot of German immigrants. Germans were industrious and liked making things. Germans also had a great influence on the city. There were German language newspapers and church services in German. My great-grandmother lived in Newark for ½ of a century and yet never learned English.
That great Grandmother, Babette Nicolaus Sink, lived at 87 Hamburg Pl., according to the 1907 city directory, as well as other years. When I looked at Sanborn maps, the neighborhood looked interesting. There was a German church across the street and a brewery on the next block. I could almost visualize my grandfather working to help with the horses used by the brewery for deliveries.
My usual path toward a new location is to go to Google Maps (or some other online map service, like Bing) to get an idea how to get there. Curiously, Google did not have Hamburg Place. I had previously determined that, when my great Grandfather applied for citizenship, his witness lived on nearby Ferry Street. I could find Ferry St. on Google. Since I knew that the streets were close, I just moused over to where Hamburg Place should be. To my surprise, Hamburg was still there, but the name was now Wilson Ave.
A current map show the new street names.
As I investigated the changing street names, I found that the change was made at the time of WWI. Anti-German sentiment was high in the US and changes were made in many places. My great Grandmother used to take my mother’s older sister, born in 1906, to German language lessons on Saturdays. All of that stopped at the time of the war.
Here are some other streets in Newark that changed their names:
My area of concern was Newark, around Hamburg Place. I have not investigated other communities in other states. My message is that streets with German sounding names might have changed name around 1916. If you are researching a relative who lived on such a street around the start of the 20th century, be aware that the street might be hard to find under its original name. As cities grew and were developed there were other reasons for street name to change or the streets to disappear altogether.
Newark might have been a special case, because there was a ship damaged by German sabotage on 30 July 1916. The ammunition ship was moored at a Lehigh Valley Railroad pier in nearby Jersey City. Debris from the explosion damaged the Statue of Liberty. This event likely increased the fervor for the name changes in Newark.
If you are having trouble, pick a nearby street with a neutral sounding name of the time you are studying. Try that name in a Google map and move around to where you think the street should be.
Thus, not everything is a straightforward as we might like. Even though we may think of street names as permanent, that was not always the case.
Read Ed Storey’s other guest post Problem Solving With Directories and Sanborn Maps.
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