Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Where We Came From


1910 Census Record for the German Orphan (Protestant) Asylum via FamilySearch

In a number of these posts I’ve written about some of the early families who came to Youngstown and where they came from–towns in Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. Recently, my sister-in-law emailed about our own family roots. I knew some of this but had a lot of question marks. She’s a realtor, and pretty resourceful when it comes up to searching for information. She filled in a few gaps and sparked my own curiosity that led to filling in a couple more. It also left me with some new questions.

I always knew that my grandfather had grown up in an orphanage in Pittsburgh and was pretty sure his father’s name was George. I didn’t know the name of his wife or why my grandfather and his brother Jack and sister Mary ended up in an orphanage. My sister-in-law confirmed that my great grandfather’s name was George, he was born in Kentucky, and my great grandmother was named Mathilde, born in Pennsylvania and deceased young sometime after the birth of her last child.  A 1910 census record at a genealogy site listed all the residents (forty-seven) at the orphanage where my grandfather grew up, including my grandmother and four siblings (there was also an Ernest and an Emma). It was listed as the German Orphan (Protestant) Asylum.

I remembered my grandfather taking me there one day as a child but had no idea where it was. Some sleuthing confirmed that it was the German Protestant Orphan Asylum, located in Mount Lebanon. I was able to match up the superintendent (or matron) of the orphanage listed on the census with a listing in the Directory of the Philanthropic Agencies of the City of Pittsburgh. We don’t know, but we suspect that my great grandfather, faced with raising five young children on his own after his wife’s death decided that this was too much, and placed them in the orphanage.

My sister-in-law also found my grandfather’s 1917 draft card. By that time, he was working in an ammunition factory run by Standard Steel Can in Butler, Pennsylvania. At this time, his father George is listed as still living, residing in Etna, Pennsylvania. My grandfather married shortly after this time and moved to Warren, Ohio where his brother also lived. My father was born in Warren in 1920. A census record from 1940 showed that my grandparents, my dad and his brother had moved to the West side of Youngstown, living in the duplex across the street on North Portland Avenue from where we grew up and my parents lived for 65 years. This was a fact I had not been aware of! At that time my grandfather is listed as a bakery supervisor, probably at the Wonder Bakery plant down the street on Mahoning Avenue. I remember him talking about driving a delivery truck for the bakery and wonder if this is what brought him to Youngstown. Later on, he sold insurance for the Prudential and moved to the South Side.

Looking at the 1940 census records, I realized that there must be one in the same batch for my mother since she and her family lived on South Portland. She was 20 at the time and listed as a “new worker.” My grandfather on my mom’s side is listed as a policeman with the steel mills (I believe U.S. Steel). A year later, my mom and dad were married, less than six months before Pearl Harbor.

All the things my sister-in-law uncovered filled in some gaps and raised some questions as well. I have no memory of my grandfather’s brother Ernest, and very little of Emma. I wonder what brought his father’s family to Kentucky and how George and Mathilde ended up in Pittsburgh. I suspect work had something to do with it. I’m still not sure why my grandparents started out in Warren or exactly when they moved to Youngstown. I wonder how much my grandfather and his father stayed in touch after he was placed in the orphanage. Apparently my grandfather knew where his father was living to list him as next of kin. And we still don’t know who George’s father was and where he came from. Likely from somewhere in Germany.

Germany-Kentucky–Pittsburgh–Mt. Lebanon–Butler–Warren–Youngstown. That’s the path that my father’s family took to get to Youngstown. I hope I haven’t bored you with these efforts to learn more about our family history. Maybe it has sparked an interest to discover the path your family took and how it ran to or through Youngstown. Like many of you, our family is now scattered around the country. And like you, Youngstown was a significant part of our family history, as well as the place of my birth.

My sister in law did a good part of her research on FamilySearch, a free genealogy website that I’ve used for other research on Youngstown families. It just hadn’t occurred to me to use it to look into my own family roots! This was where she accessed census and other records connected with my grandfather and his siblings.