Family History

Mapping the Ancestral Home

It all started with a simple question: When did Anton Washkowiak die?

I looked in all the obvious places: the social security death index, the church death records, the church cemetery index. Nothing. Sure he was born in 1863, but I still didn’t think it would be that hard to find out when he died. I had figured out the dates of death for the rest of his family who made the journey to the U.S. including his mother and  five of his siblings (his father and three other siblings had passed away in Poland). Why could I not find the date for Anton?

So I expanded my search and started collecting related clues including any news articles and city directory and census listings I could find. One challenge was that three of his brothers each named a son Anton as did Anton himself resulting in the listing of four men named Anton Washkowiak in the 1905 City Directory – three shown with a wife named Sophia and working at a zinc factory. Because two of the men were shown living at the same address and only the Anton I was looking for would have had a son named Anton old enough to be working I targeted the one living at 1228 Eighth as the right one.

Anton Washkowiak entry in City Directory - LaSalle - 1905, Page 170
Anton Washkowiak entry in City Directory – LaSalle – 1905, Page 170
Anton Washkowiak entry in City Directory - LaSalle - 1905, Page 171
Anton Washkowiak entry in City Directory – LaSalle – 1905, Page 171

Another clue I found was a news article indicating Sophia Washkowiak, the widow of Anton Washkowiak, married Thomas Hamilton in 1910. In the article, it is noted she is the widow of Anton Washkowiak and was living at the rear of 1227 Seventh Street. Of course, remembering the directory in 1905 indicated there were a total of three women named Sophia married to men named Anton Washkowiak, I needed other clues to make sure this was the wife of the focus of my search. Fortunately Sophia and her new husband, Thomas Hamilton, are listed in the 1910 census along with Sophia’s daughter Helen who is 16 years old. As you might expect another Anton-Sophia couple also had a daughter named Helen, but she was about 11 years younger so this clue seemed to indicate I had the correct family because the Anton I was looking for had a daughter Helen who would be about 16 in 1910.

Another clue came from a news article indicating a man named Anton Washkowiak died in Kankakee on Dec. 15, 1907, and his remains were taken to 737 Sterling Street. This was strange because just two years earlier the city directory above showed the Anton I was looking for had been living in LaSalle at 1228 Eighth Street. If the person who died was the target of my search, why was he in Kankakee?

There was one more article published on Dec. 16, 1907, which gave a little more background. It explained two and a half years ago Anton was taken to an asylum in Kankakee and stayed there up until his time of his death. The age of this man matched the age of the man I was looking for. The article also listed family members which you would think would put this one to rest. But I can only think due to either very bad reporting or fact checking, here is how the family is listed:

“Mr. Washkowiak was fourty-four years old and leaves his parents, Mr. and Mrs. John Washkowiak, his wife, and four children, Ellen, Anton Jr., Kerele, and Mrs. Mary Boulabon. Deceased was a member of the court of Honor.”

Normally if the parents of the deceased are also deceased, as Anton’s were, that would be stated. As you can see in this article, while the name is correct, the language makes it seem as if they are still living. Also, here is how Anton’s children should have been listed:

Helen, Anton Jr., Francis (or Xavier), and Mary Urban (or Urbaniak)

These names seem close, but are still different enough it creates a question of whether or not it is the correct family. I double checked the cemetery and church listing for an Anton Washkowiak who passed away in 1907, but found nothing again. So lacking obvious evidence, I finally resorted to trying to solidify my argument that the Anton Washkowiak who died in 1907 was the son of John and Anna Washkowiak who was born about 1863. This is finally what led me to the mapping solution.

As you look through the documents above, you’ll notice almost every one has an address. So I thought if I could show all of them are located in the same house or area, perhaps that would be enough to support my conclusion. Of course I could have gotten out a paper map or just made a quick Google map and plotted everything out, but realized that would only help provide some proof of this one relationship. The Washkowiak family I’ve been studying has many members who lived all over the area. And as was the case with Anton, they tended to use very similar names making it confusing at times to track specific families. I also wanted to be able to filter out families by names and show which person they descended through and see how they moved over time. So I went down that rabbit hole trying to figure out how to create a useful map for studying where the Washkowiak family lived over time.

Fortunately it didn’t take me long to find a very cool map made by Derek Eder showing vacant and abandoned buildings in Chicago and a template he created for building similar maps. The very best part of it is Derek made this template available for anyone to use to create their own site. I figured I might not be able to quickly make as nice of a site as his, but with that template I knew I could at least come very close to making what I needed. So with a little work, I put together a map using a Google Fusion Table and set up a site on github to access and query it. Below is a screenshot of it – you can visit the actual map and play around with it by clicking the image:

Image of a Map Showing Locations of Washkowiak Ancestors
Image of a Map Showing Locations of Washkowiak Ancestors

The map is set up to color code the locations based on decade. You can search the map for a specific address, but also for a name of a head of the family. Also, there is a slider so you can filter the locations based on specific time periods. I was also able to customize the pop up windows you see when you click a marker. This was important to me because so many of the families use similar names, I try to color code records for each person based on which child of John and Anna Washkowiak they descend from. So if the marker shows the location of one of these descendants, it is color coded based on the person from whom they descend. All of Anton’s descendants along with his records show up as pink.

While I only have had time to input a few addresses, there seems to be enough to show me the proximity between most of the addresses in the records noted above. As you can see below, they are all clustered in the block bounded by 8th and 7th Streets and Sterling and LaHarpe Streets in LaSalle. All of these appear to be members of the family of Anton Washkowiak, son of John and Anna so I am much more inclined to accept the death date of Dec. 15, 1907, for this son. And thanks to Google and Derek Eder and Anton Washkowiak I now have a cool mapping tool for locating ancestors of families I am researching!


Map of address noted in documents related to the Anton Washkowiak family.
Map of address noted in documents related to the Anton Washkowiak family.
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