Sources for Local History
Dr. Judith Cetina

Edward Miggins, editor of A GUIDE TO STUDYING NEIGHBORHOODS AND RESOURCES ON CLEVELAND, suggested in his article on "Neighborhood Studies" that a feeling of "togetherness" frequently lies at the heart of what is meant by "community," distinguishing it from any other social organization. He further asserted that this sense of solidarity derived from the "very nature of a community," loosely defined as a group of people "united by common bonds, interests or standards of behavior." But in determining the identity and character of a nineteenth, or early twentieth, century neighborhood, it many not always be possible to fully discern or interpret such intangibles as shared concerns or ethical standards; but by turning to various sources of recorded information, preserved as part of our national and local heritage, one can, based on available statistical data, begin to cull out those factors that worked to create the elusive quality known as community, one that forever characterizes an area of settlement as different or unique.

The papers gathered for this issue of the CROOKED RIVER, look at neighborhoods on Cleveland's West Side, including communities on Detroit Avenue, as well as in the Flats and Ohio City, and its authors utilize information from various sources, including federal census records and the Cleveland CITY DIRECTORY, to analyze the composition and character of these earlier communities. In addition plat maps, atlases, and tax records, also represent documentation that might prove useful in the effort to reconstruct Cleveland neighborhoods.

As we enter the new millenium, one of our first tasks as residents of the United States is to complete the federal census form for the year 2000. Some of us are asked to submit the "short" form, briefly answering questions regarding members of our households, including queries regarding age and race. Others will be called upon to prepare a longer form that will reveal more detailed information about our homes and living conditions. Our ancestors, beginning in 1790, were also accounted for on census documents, as that first census enumerated the people in seventeen states, from Connecticut to Virginia, listing, for the states covered, the names of all the heads of families in the U.S. at the time the Constitution was adopted; with tallies of other family members by age, sex and race. Similar information was documented about American families every ten years, through the 1840 census; but beginning in 1850, each householder's name, age, birthplace, and occupation, if over the age of fifteen years, was dutifully recorded. And in subsequent census years members of families were queried about other aspects of their heritage and lifestyle. As an example, for the census years 1850-1880, the fact that a person had married within the year was noted; while the 1900 and 1910 census documents the number of years of marriage for each married person. Immigration data begins to appear in the 1900 census, continued in the census for 1900 and 1910, whereby years of arrival in the U.S. are noted. Similarly the 1900-1920 census noted citizenship status, with the 1920 census stating the year of the individual's naturalization. And census returns for the years 1880-1920 identify an individual's parents' birthplaces. Successive census years, beginning in 1850, also yield valuable economic data, including information regarding occupation and real property ownership. Genealogists have long appreciated the usefulness of census returns in their quest for lost ancestors; but historians have also turned to this priceless resource in a search for those factors that forge groups of families into a community. As the census has an internal ordering based on discrete areas of settlement, it is possible to analyze a neighborhood street by street, and block by block, to learn more about its composition; and with the availability of data regarding immigration, occupation, and wealth, based on land ownership, for example, conclusions can be formed regarding ethnicity, class, and economic status, and on the possible interrelationships between these factors.

Tax records are another source that may help to reveal something about settlement patterns within a specific geographic unit. For example, the Treasurer's Tax duplicates, for Cuyahoga County, circa 1819-1885, are arranged chronologically by date, numerically by ward (for the City of Cleveland), and alphabetically by the name of the owner. The Duplicates document, in separate sections, the taxes due for both real and personal property. After 1885 the tax records are arranged by the location of real property, East and West of the Cuyahoga River, and are further organized alphabetically by name of owner within those wider geographic areas. Parenthetically, these later Duplicates are less useful than the earlier volumes, those that can be keyed to specific wards within the City of Cleveland. And these earlier tax records can be valuable indicators, when used to supplement other data, of economic wealth, class status, or neighborhood identity and stability. For example, from census data one could determine those who resided in a particular neighborhood; but the Tax Duplicates for an individual ward could reveal, or confirm, which residents were also property owners. In addition the Duplicates can reflect, when measured against census records or City Directories, the percentage of owners who did not actually reside in the community. And when other corroborating data is not immediately available, a record of the payment of personal property tax can potentially serve as an important gauge of distinguishing "absentee landlords" from neighborhood residents. As an example, during those years, circa 1820-1850, when personal property was identified as livestock, e.g. cows and horses, or equipment, e.g. wagons or carriages, a person who owned real estate and who was also assessed personal property tax was likely to have resided on the land owned.

Atlases, available for Cleveland and Cuyahoga County (1852, 1874, 1881, 1892 and 1898), and the Auditor's plat maps for the city of Cleveland, circa 1870-1950, visually illustrate the content and character of a neighborhood community. County Atlases, particularly the 1874 and 1892 editions, include sections for the wards of the City of Cleveland, in addition to the township areas. And when viewed together with the City Atlases for 1881 and 1898, their pages depict the presence of structures, sometimes identified by street address, with a use of color to denote buildings that are frame (yellow) and brick (red); they mark the location of social institutions, e.g. churches and schools; and record the names of major subdivision owners. Thus one can not only see reflected the nature of the housing stock in a particular area; but can also observe, by comparing atlases for different time frames, the development of a neighborhood. This might be witnessed, for instance, by a transition from large lots of land, with single owners, to major subdivisions, with many individual lots designated for private ownership.

The Auditor's plat maps, circa 1870-1950, arranged, for the City of Cleveland, according to districts, east and west of the River, image the real property contained within those districts; recording, for each lot or sublot, the names of owners and the dates of title transfer. Although it is advisable to proceed with caution, I would suggest that an analysis of owners' surnames could serve as an indicator of ethnicity, and as one examines these maps over a fifty year time span, it would be possible to trace successive waves of immigration into the community. In addition by tracking the number of times individual lots of land change ownership, one can draw conclusions relative to neighborhood stability or to the degree that impermanence characterized a community. Always recognizing, however, that landowners are not necessarily residents of that particular neighborhood.

A final word or two might also be said regarding the Cleveland CITY DIRECTORY as a tool in neighborhood studies. The first DIRECTORY was published in 1837, and included listings for both Cleveland, and Ohio City, that short-lived (1836-1854) municipality "pleasantly situated on the west side of the Cuyahoga River." The DIRECTORY series is incomplete for the decades of the 1840's and 1850's, but the volumes were published consistently thereafter, from circa 1860 until about 1979. The DIRECTORIES are limited, at least until circa 1920, when a criss-cross section, organized alphabetically by street name, and numerically by street number, first appears, as they are organized alphabetically by name; but for the spans between census year one can follow individuals or families, by surname, to determine if they remained within a particular neighborhood or moved to other communities throughout the City. One might also utilize the business section that the DIRECTORY offered to find listings, where addresses are clearly identified, for various enterprises, e.g. blacksmiths, boarding houses, dry goods, restaurants, and saloons, for example. Many DIRECTORY volumes included, as well, lists of social institutions, including churches, schools, colleges, asylums, hospitals and cemeteries, with their respective locations noted. The presence of businesses or other social, cultural, medical, or educational facilities might also be a pointer to the character of a neighborhood.

Thus as scholars seek new insights into the past by reflecting on the growth and development of Cleveland area neighborhoods and communities, they can make use of a variety of resources, including the federal census, records of county government, encompassing Treasurer's Tax Duplicates, and Auditor's plat maps, as well as atlases for the City of Cleveland/Cuyahoga County and the Cleveland City Directory, to bring this valuable aspect of Cleveland's history and heritage to light and life.