Michelle Ann Kratts

Archive for the ‘Niagara Falls’ Category

Stories from Niagara’s rich ethnic past told in “Melting Pot”

In Coming to America, Irish Americans, Niagara County, Niagara Falls, Polish Genealogy, Recipes, The African Americans of Niagara Falls, The Armenians of Niagara Falls, The Italians of Niagara Falls, New York, The Polish of Niagara Falls, Tradtional Ethnic Costumes, Uncategorized on July 18, 2017 at 7:32 pm

Melting Pot; Niagara’s rich ethnic heritage

By Michelle Ann Kratts, Lewiston Public Library

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I will always see Niagara Falls as a delicious melting pot of cultures, languages and traditions. In fact, just last summer, I found myself at an international crossroads while sitting on a bench at the State Park. It seemed the world passed me by as I snacked on an ice cream cone. Women strolled by wearing colorful Indian saris or Middle Eastern hijabs. Men presented themselves with Hasidic tendrils or donning Sikh turbans. My ears discerned voices speaking every manner of language imaginable. I could even smell the traditional spices of the world’s cuisines mix and mash with the rising mist as these men and women marveled at the brink of the great cataract.  Some things never change.

Niagara Falls is a great American story. Throughout the years we have nurtured a sacred tradition in which we have welcomed and embraced people from every corner of the world. Our history includes the stories of brave refugees of war, genocide and famine. So many came to Niagara Falls to make a new start. At the dawn of the past century and for many decades afterwards, the factories and the railroads brought in thousands of much-needed workers and their families. They came from the cotton fields of the Deep South, from depression-ravaged towns. Some came from exotic countries– utterly desperate souls– and occasionally with only false papers, as they would never have been allowed in the lawful way. They crowded onto sea vessels with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They said their last farewells to their loved ones and to their homelands—and most often, never again stepped foot on the land of their ancestors. Niagara Falls was the last hope for so many.


Our new book, Melting Pot; Niagara’s rich ethnic heritage, published by the Lewiston Public Library, is a celebration of these people and their stories. Over the past few years, as the local history librarian, I have collected the stories of our immigrant ancestors for the purpose of sharing their struggles, as well as their triumphs. As you read through the narratives, you will see that oftentimes great hardships precipitated remarkable achievements. Despite differences in ethnicity, these Niagarans shared common housing, jobs, and churches and even married into each other’s families. They shared meals with one another and learned bits and pieces of each other’s languages and traditions. They crafted businesses out of what they did best and introduced our area to unique foods, music and customs. They also valiantly fought prejudice and bigotry whenever it arose—from the violent threats of the Ku Klux Klan to racist intimidations from unkind neighbors.

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Novak Family at Ellis Island 

Some of the personal stories mentioned include insightful histories of African Americans in Niagara Falls. Exquisitely written by Dr. Michael Boston, assistant professor of African American Studies at Brockport, and a trailblazer and researcher of Western New York African American history, these chapters highlight the importance of “family” as well as leadership in the African American community at Niagara Falls.  Our friend, Bill Bradberry, a Niagara Falls Gazette columnist and the chair of the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Area Corporation, as well as the winner of the Civil Rights Achievement Award in January of 2017, opens the book with a poignant and nostalgic look back in time at the multiculturalism present in individual neighborhoods throughout Niagara Falls.

Other stories in Melting Pot include: the brave and invincible Armenians, heroes and heroines, who defied all odds before coming to our city; the industrious Germans, who dominated local industry and business; the story of coalmining Italians who ventured into Niagara Falls from a dismal life in Pennsylvania; Polish tales of hardship at Ellis Island, and lost connections with the Old Country; the children of Spanish immigrants who had worn the customary clothes of Spain to American schools; the ancient Ukrainian tradition of the painted Easter eggs, or pysanky; and recipes from a war bride from Wales. Many of our Irish stories were submitted by the local chapter of the Ancient Order of the Hibernians. Another Irish chapter, written by Niagara Gazette columnist, Don Glynn, reveals a modern day friendship with ties to the Lynch and Buttery families. Yet another tells the story of St. Mary’s Church.  Melting Pot also contains precious family recipes, collected and written with great care, family photos and nostalgic news clippings.

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Sdao Family      

The front cover of Melting Pot proudly displays the marriage of Lithuanian born Zygmont Puisys and Ursula Anna Zugzda at Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in 1912.  Ursula, an orphan, had been raised in a church rectory in Igliauka, Mirijampole, Lithuania.  It was said that Zygmont had “escaped” his homeland under a hail of gunfire. Their story is representative of how many of our Niagara Falls stories begin…with despair and gunfire.

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                                                              Puisys-Zugzda Wedding 

Melting Pot; Niagara’s rich ethnic heritage will be available at the Book Corner, located at 1801 Main Street in Niagara Falls,    and through Amazon.com. We welcome any new family stories for future volumes.


Wartime World, Part One: The National Loaf

In Niagara Falls, Uncategorized, World War II on March 1, 2016 at 11:11 pm

As we embark upon our trip “back in time” to 1943 it might be wise to know a thing or two about wartime bread.  In Britain, where food was quite scarce, a ban on commercially baked white bread went into effect on April 6, 1942.  As most of the flour used to make “white” bread was imported from abroad there was a great shortage.  The Ministry of Food introduced the “National Loaf” at this time.   This gray and gritty bread was to be the staple of British cuisine.  Bakers were banned from baking any other type of bread except the “National Loaf.”  Dubbed “Hitler’s Secret Weapon,” our British allies forced it down to keep from starvation.  But surprisingly enough, the health benefits of a diet based upon this bread were quite alarming.  The added vitamins along with the the wholewheat (wholemeal) flour (as opposed to the bleached white flour they had baked with before the war) gave the British the vigor to fight and win a world war.

So I searched for the recipe for this “National Loaf.”  I thought it would be a necessity for my week of wartime recipes.  The official recipe for commercial bakers was as follows:

National Loaf recipe:

(Yields: 10 loaves)
Potato Flour – 1740g
Salt Sea Fine – 140g
Tap Water – 4740ML
Vitamin C – 6g
Wholemeal flour – 5220g
Yeast – 210g

Mix all ingredients in spiral mixer for 3/5 min
Place dough in lightly oiled container, let rest for 45 minutes
Knock back and let rest for another 45 min
Scale at 1kg, first shape (round)
Rest 10-15 min, then second shape
Place bread in oiled baking tins, prove for 45-60 min at 28-32c
Bake at 208c top 204c bottom, with 5 sec steam. Open vent after 25 min, bake for a further 25 min
Remove from tins immediately and cool on a rack

Home bakers could make variations of the “National Loaf.”

I found the following recipe which I was able to make at home as my version of the “National Loaf”:

National loaf


1 ½ lb wholemeal bread flour
1 ½ tbsp salt
1 ½ tbsp dried yeast
1 dsp honey or treacle
450 ml tepid water 


Mix together all the ingredients and knead for about 10 minutes until you have a soft dough.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave until dough has doubled in size (around 2 hours).

Knock back the dough, give a short knead then cut into two equal pieces. Place in 1.5 litre loaf tins, allow to rise for a further 2 hours.

Pre-heat oven to 200°c then bake loaves for 30 min. To test the loaves turn them out of their tins and give the base a tap – if it sounds hollow they are ready. Allow to cool on a wire rack. 

This recipe actually worked out quite well.  It probably isn’t as dry and lifeless as the commercial loaf must have been.  The honey added a bit of sweetness that made it more flavorful than I expected.  My family was not as fond of it as I was, though. Oh well… for our week of wartime eating, they will learn to like it.

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So what was going on in Niagara Falls, New York, on March 1, 1943?

While you are baking your bread to prepare for your week of wartime eating, you may be interested in what life was like here during the war.

Probably one of the most important things to know was how to feed your family.  If you did not have the ration system figured out you would have been in quite a predicament.  Even as the shortages experienced in the United States were nothing like the shortages in Europe it still was not easy.  The Niagara Falls War Council provided block leaders to assist in helping residents with questions regarding point rationing and nutrition.



The sinking of cargo ships caused great anxiety as these ships often carried much needed food and supplies.  The British depended upon these ships for food and many food goods also came to the United States in this manner.  The Niagara Falls Gazette reported on March 1, 1943 that six US cargo ships had been sunk in the Western Atlantic during the month of February.

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It was actually a low month– however, loss of life exceeded 850 persons.  The month of January brought 30 sinkings.  The monthly average in the first year after Pearl Harbor was 45 sinkings per month.  Since December 7, 1941, the Allied and neutral nations’ cargo ships lost in the Western Atlantic numbered 616.  This was an incredible loss of food and supplies–not to mention human life.

Numbers such as these bring the practice of wartime rationing into perspective.  Cargo ships were not guaranteed to make it across the ocean.  We had to conserve and not waste.  We had to make do with what we had available.

Mary Truman, a Niagara County Demonstration Agent, felt it was the homemaker’s job to understand the rationing system.


Budgeting the family point allowance was necessary.  Planting Victory Gardens and producing your own fruits and vegetables was also a great way to save.


Canned and processed items were often shipped overseas and were scarce at times. Homemade soups and freshly prepared dishes were encouraged.

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There had actually been an eight day period in which “narry a can of fruits or vegetables could be sold legally anywhere in the United States” before rationed sales began.  Once the point rationing system was worked out and the rules established the market was re-opened.  Can you imagine an eight day period in which NO canned items could be legally purchased within the entire United States??  Could you survive?

Another aspect of wartime rationing was an important rule that deemed that individuals could NOT tear the ration tickets out themselves.  Whether their groceries were ordered by telephone or gathered in the store, the store employee (including delivery boys) must remove the ticket.


Before the day was over, it became quite apparent to me that the war was the top news on every page of the Niagara Falls Gazette and it was even mentioned in most of the advertisements.  Ordinary life was certainly uprooted.  So many things to think about…do you have adequate black out screens??   Breaking blackout was a serious offense.


And then there was the volunteer work.  If your husband was off fighting for his country you would hardly be sitting at home doing nothing at all.  There was the Red Cross–forever needing help from sewers and knitters for surgical dressings.  To be honest, I had no idea that American women made the surgical dressings during the Second World War.


For the more adventurous Niagarans, there was the Fighting French Relief Committee.


It wasn’t all hardship, though.  There were the movies.  Which would you like to go and see this week?



The radio was the main source of entertainment.  Orson Welles, Blondie and Dagwood, Radio Theater, some BBC news…all before falling asleep to the Benny Goodman Orchestra.



The Niagara Power Project (according to a 5th Grader)

In Niagara Falls on October 21, 2015 at 6:36 pm

It really isn’t unusual for someone to walk through the doors of the public library with some priceless artifact in their arms. Sometimes there just isn’t any room for things like priceless artifacts in our lives.  I love knowing that people consider the library to be a safe haven for these treasures.

Mr. James Wake, resident of the Netherlands, popped in today without a moment to spare.  His father had recently passed away so he was in the country dealing with the estate and he happened to find an old project he had worked on for Cleveland Avenue School, Niagara Falls.  He thought, perhaps, it had some historical value so he let me have a look. Pieced together in 1963, it is a report from a young resident of Niagara Falls, about the Niagara Power Project.  It is filled with a narrative concerning the power plant, large glossy photos, drawings (by young Jim), and newspaper clippings.  What I like about this is that it is history told by a young person.  It is free from the prejudices that are brought on by age and education.  It is just the story of what a young boy saw around him.  The cover is quite original, too!

Take a look at some of the photos and then come to the library and have a look yourself!

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Help for a “Fugitive”– St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, June 2, 1855

In Churches, Hotels of Niagara, Niagara Falls, The African Americans of Niagara Falls, The Underground Railroad on September 9, 2015 at 7:46 pm

By Michelle Ann Kratts

Leafing through the pages of the church records from St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Niagara Falls, New York, reveals, once again, that there were people in this city ready and willing to support the abolitionist cause.  On June 2, 1855, it was recorded under the heading, “Distributions“, that among other distributions of money given to various people in need, one dollar was given to “a negro fugitive.”

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Click to enlarge.

Other notations could also possibly refer to African American freedom seekers–those amounts distributed to “a mother and son going from NY to Toronto,” “to mother and son returned from Toronto,” “charity to men travelling,” “alms to a negro missionary.”  I can’t help but wonder if any of these “distributions” ended up with Harriet Tubman, herself.

It is interesting to ponder the situation at Niagara Falls during this time period.  As documenting the Underground Railroad is a difficult task–because of the fact it was operated illegally and in secret–very few actual pieces of evidence have survived.  Each tangible item is sacred to our history–such as this documentation of aid by an established institution in the city of Niagara Falls to a “negro fugitive.”

By June of 1855, the Fugitive Slave Act was well-enforced.  Assisting a fugitive slave resulted in a possible $1,000 fine (equivalent to $28,000 today) and six months jail time. Slave owners were only required to produce an affidavit to a federal marshal to capture a “fugitive slave.”  Owners often came up north in order to “kidnap” free blacks into slavery.  As slaves had no right in court, they had no hope in defending themselves.    It was because of this law that Canada became a very important settling place for fugitive slaves and free African Americans.  It was during the 1850’s that the Underground Railroad was most active.

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, and the individuals who ran the church during this time period, can be revealed as supporters of the Underground Railroad.  The church records show that African Americans were a part of the congregation early on in Niagara Falls’ history.  They were married and buried by this church according to the church record books.  A quick perusal enlightens us to the very same individuals that keep popping up in other records as possible leaders of this network:  Peter A. and Elizabeth Porter and the Whitney family (James and Celinda Trott, Dexter and Angeline Jerauld and Solon and Frances Drake Whitney) who were also proprietors of the Cataract House hotel, which employed so many African American waiters and cooks who were fighters on the front lines of this battle for the freedom of man.  These men and women were the leaders of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in 1855 and obviously aware of where their charity money was going.

You can check out the records for St. Peter’s Episcopal Church at http://www.monroefordham.com.

How to find the history of your Niagara Falls home, Part VI: the fun stuff!

In If This House Could Talk, Niagara Falls on June 16, 2015 at 6:10 pm

outside our home

By Michelle Ann Kratts

(Please click on any photos to make larger)

We know that you are looking for the fun stuff!  We know that searching through your history…you want more than just the assessment and property values of your home.  We know that there is more.  SO much more that you would like to know…

So how do you find more?  The sky is the limit!  Use your imagination.  Pretend you are a detective.

I will tell you what I do to find the “fun stuff” and I will share some things that I have found.

First of all, like everyone else who has any knowledge of a computer and the internet, I play with Google searches.  Grab your house title, or wherever you have found the names of the people who lived in your house, and Google them.  Do various types of searches. Also check your address through a Google search.   Search everything, but also search “images,” “news” and “books.”  These will probably give you some good hits.  And put the name you are Googling in parentheses.  Also add “Niagara Falls” after the search term so you are narrowing the search to Niagara Falls.  You may get lucky or you may not, but it is always worth a try.  Sometimes a lot of old newspaper clippings from http://www.fultonhistory.com will come up when you do a Google search. What you want to “hit” is a family history website that concerns the family you are researching.

Some of the Germans who lived in my home over 100 years ago

Some of the Germans who lived in my home over 100 years ago

Researching the history of your home is not unlike genealogical searching.  We will most definitely be using the very same techniques and sources.  So why not utilize Ancestry.com?  It is free for you to use at both the Niagara Falls Public Library and the Lewiston Public Library.  Check for these people and look for Family Trees.  This is where I got lucky!  Not only did I find a family tree for two of the families who lived in my home but I was able to contact the owners of the family trees–the people who posted the information. Usually the people who posted the tree are family.  And guess where all of the pictures of the family and the family home usually end up?  With the family, of course!  People don’t usually leave them at the house.  Or give them to the local historical society.  They are passed down to their children and their grandchildren…who also have memories of time spent at your home.  Chance would have it that the niece of a woman who lived at my home would be extremely friendly and helpful to an extreme.  Not only did she share family photos over 100 years old, but she shared stories and even her memories of being in “Aunt Lola’s home” when she was just a little girl.  She sent me a photograph which is possibly the orchard that was on our property…and the happy couple sharing what may be fresh pears.  From another family that resided in my house, I printed off some photos from their family trees.  My home, today, seems so much more welcoming filled with the photos of those who shared this space with us many years ago.  I love to see their faces and to know what they were like and how they lived.


Although there are some people who balk at Facebook, it is hard to not find the value of it if you are researching history.  The entire world is at our fingertips.  I have some of the best results in my searches because of connecting to people across the world through Facebook.   But how can you use it for the purpose of house research?  Search for the family names of descendants of the people who lived in your home.  Again…an incredible exchange of information is possible.  I found Lola’s grandson (who is presently a physician for the United Nations in Africa) and he also had wonderful things to share…and appreciated what I could share about the current state of things.  For when we live in a home, or our family lives in a home, it becomes attached to our lives.  In fact it is hard to separate our lives from our homes.

Laura worked for the Niagara Falls Gazette

Laura worked for the Niagara Falls Gazette

Another fun way to find the people who lived in your home is through yearbooks.  Local libraries such as the Lewiston Public Library and the Niagara Falls Public Library have local yearbooks.  I think a lot of people forget what a great source they truly are for researchers.  Figure out how old the children are who had lived in your house and look for a yearbook photograph.  A few years ago, I was asked by a woman and her very ill father to please help them find a photograph of his mother.  He had been adopted and he never was able to see a photo of his birth mother.  As he was nearing the end of his days, he wanted only one thing…to look into the face of the woman who gave him life.  Because of a Niagara Falls High School yearbook I was able to do this for him.  So you should try it, too!


Make it clear–to everyone in your neighborhood–that you are on the hunt for the history of your home. There are people who live in your neighborhood –at the present time –who also lived in your neighborhood before you did.  Maybe they have pictures that include your home?  When my neighbors heard about my search, I ended up with an old postcard of another home on the corner that had actually been written FROM my home in 1914.  A young woman, who was a teacher and a boarder in our home, penned the card.  Our house is in the background.  The teacher was even kind enough to mark an X on the window in which she was boarding (which happens to be my bedroom).


Don’t forget the local cemeteries for your search, either.  My sister recently found that a little boy had died in her home from polio in the 1930’s.  Her plan is to leave flowers at his grave this summer.  He is buried at Riverdale.  The cemeteries have information, as well.  If you know a former resident of your home died in Niagara Falls, find out where they were buried.

I just want to share one more “fun” thing that I was able to discover about my own home.  When I had heard (from the woman who had an Ancestry.com family tree on a woman who lived in my home) that our Lola was a writer and had published some books, I looked up the books…and found them!  Lola (who published as “Laura Clint Lapp”) had written three books of poetry. Many of the poems were written while she lived in our home, and I was able to order them online.  What a beautiful feeling to open the box and to hold these books in my hands!  I am also a writer so this was quite a powerful moment for me, personally.  Before I did any of this research I had no idea that I had purchased a home that had belonged to a teacher, two librarians and a writer.  There must be something in the air…


about the author



As you can see…finding “fun stuff” about the history of your home is possible…depending on your stretch of imagination.

Our next installment will cover the importance of using libraries, museums, archives and historical societies to assist you in your search for your house’s history.

How to find the history of your Niagara Falls home, Part V: city departments

In If This House Could Talk, Niagara Falls on June 15, 2015 at 10:49 pm

By Michelle Ann Kratts

Niagara Falls City Hall

Niagara Falls City Hall

Located at Niagara Falls City Hall, 745 Main Street, there are three offices that you should visit if you are researching the history of your Niagara Falls home:  the City Assessor’s Office, the Department of Code Enforcement and the City Clerk (for Vital Records).

The City Assessor’s Office carries some records of your home’s history and if you are very lucky…some old photos! Well..not very, very old, but photos, nonetheless.  When I went to inquire about my own house’s records I was brought a file that was filled with a few sheets of paper.  This file includes the Property Record, the Building Record and some photos. The Property Record has some things such as Assessment Valuations, lists of building permits and more.  The Building Record contains information such as the physical properties of your home.  The walls, basement, foundation.  It goes floor by floor.  In this folder I also received two photographs (taken at different times–easy to tell, snow in one and no snow in the other).  These were from the 1970’s and 1980’s.  I have seen other house’s photos and they are also from this time period.  It seems that there were many Niagara Falls houses photographed by the Assessor’s Office around 1978.  My photo says:  April 28, 1978.

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You can also search property information online at:


When there was nothing more to discover, the kind staff told me that I should also check the Department of Code Enforcement for more information.  So I ran up to the fourth floor (I had never been up there!) and asked if they would have any files on my house.  And they did!  It was actually a most interesting file as it also contained a complaint leveled at a former homeowner and pages dealing with the addition of a stockade fence (1990), “shingling the sides of the house” (1939), and “installing oil burner equipment” (1948).  I was thrilled!  I photographed everything in the file with my camera and then when I told the staff how old my house was they even went so far as to search through the vault in the basement for more–where the older house information is kept.  Unfortunately I didn’t come armed with my home’s previous addresses so they were not able to find anything.  Hopefully, when I return (with the old addresses) I will have better luck.  However, the information that I was given, was very useful information regarding our home.

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Another office that you can check out is the City Clerk’s Office.  In New York State you can obtain birth, marriage and death information on the former deceased residents of your home.  For birth records, they must have been on file for at least 75 years or the person must be deceased.  For death records, they must have been on file for at least 50 years.  For marriage records, they must have been on file for at least 50 years and both spouses must be known to be deceased.  This is all different if you are a direct descendant (if the previous owners of your home were your parents, grandparents, etc).  In that case there is no need to follow these rules.

For New York State marriages, you can also check the Family Search genealogy website for their database:

New York, County Marriages, 1847-1848; 1908-1936

This is a wonderful and free resource for Niagara Falls marriages.

This kind of information is good if you are interested in finding out where the people who lived in your house were born, information on their occupations, their parents.

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Our next installment will involve “the fun stuff.”  We will discuss the possibility of finding much older photographs of your home, photographs of the people who lived there and much, much more!

How to find the history of your Niagara Falls home, Part IV: using old newspapers

In If This House Could Talk, Niagara Falls on June 12, 2015 at 3:08 pm

By Michelle Ann Kratts

A tragic event that took the life of a young man who lived in our home in 1913

A tragic event that took the life of a young man who lived in our home in 1913

One of my favorite sources of information about local history is the old newspapers.  I must admit that –if I am researching ANYTHING at all in Niagara Falls–you can bet your bottom dollar that I will be scouring http://www.fultonhistory.com.

I literally worship the fine gentleman who started and maintains Fulton History (Old Fulton New York Postcards), Thomas M. Tryniski.  Not only does he provide an incredible database of local western New York historical newspapers, he also has them indexed…and it is all FREE!  It is a researcher’s dream!! And it is not just New York historical newspapers anymore–he has added many other states, as well, and the list is growing.

Weddings often took place in our homes

Weddings often took place in our homes

You can also research old Niagara Falls Gazettes and other local newspapers at the Niagara Falls Public Library on microfilm.  Some people are more comfortable doing it this way.  But through Fulton History, you can research from your home computer.  I even access it through my iPhone.  Sometimes I do have to go to the microfilm at the Niagara Falls Library as Fulton History only goes up through the early 1970’s with the Niagara Falls Gazette and does not contain the other Niagara Falls newspapers of times past.

Sometimes terrible and tragic deaths took place in our homes

Sometimes terrible and tragic deaths took place in our homes

So what can old newspapers tell you about your house’s history?  A great deal of information!  As you are probably most interested in the people who lived there before you…and possibly if any sinister occurrences have taken place in your home– then the old newspapers will most definitely enlighten your research.  You will find crimes that took place at your location, marriages, photos (sometimes quite good!), celebrations, military news, events and births and deaths.  As my home was built in 1880, the piles of information that I have gleaned from old newspapers is quite incredible.  I found that my home at one point housed several teachers that boarded at our location in the early 1900’s.  There were several violent deaths that took some of our home’s residents (not in the home–put quite publicized in the local newspapers!).  Obituaries are a great source and sometimes they even mention that our former residents had been laid out in our home for viewing following their deaths.  Don’t be frightened by this…it happened in all homes.   There were also meetings held at our home for the Niagara County Farm Bureau and the County Beekeeper’s Association.  There were weddings held in our home and there were deaths that took place in our home.  Men left for war from our home.  Women’s clubs were held in our home. Many, many things happen in our houses.  We certainly must know that we are not the first ones to occupy this space.  The newspapers are a great way to find the stories.

So how do you search?  Using http://www.fultonhistory.com is very simple and rewarding.  I will give you some helpful hints.  First of all, make sure you enclose your search terms in parentheses.  You can search for people or places.  For example, when searching for a name type as follows:  “Carl Goodrich”.  Also be sure to “play around” with the search.  Try “Karl Goodrich” or other variations.  If there is a middle initial, use that in your search.  Everything you search on Fulton History uses Optical Recognition technology.  This means that the only things that will come up are what the computer recognizes.  So if there is a big inkblot over “Carl” you may be out of luck.  And you will only come up with pages that those exact words are found on the page.  So if you type in a year plus the name…even if the event took place in that year, if it was not typed onto the newspaper page, this search term will not be recognized.  It can be tricky but the more you play at it, the better you become.  You can also search for addresses:  “2201 Linden Ave”.  Again, remember that if you type “Avenue” and only “Ave” was typed on that original newspaper page, then it will not pop up for you.

If you know the date that you are interested in you can also go to the date.  I have not found an easy way to do this, yet.  I do this by first going to the Newspaper Index–page three (this is where the Niagara Falls Gazette files are located).  I click on Niagara Falls Gazette and find the date and then click on pages until I find what I am looking for.  This method shows all of the pages in order and you can go page by page.  If there is an easier way I would appreciate your knowledge.  As for now, this is how I do it.  It is a little bit time consuming, but if you are an inveterate researcher, it will be worthwhile in the end.

One very frustrating problem with the Niagara Falls Gazette is the fact that there are gaps in years.  And, as Murphy’s Law inevitably kicks in on certain more difficult days, those exact dates are the most crucial!  I believe that Mr. Tryniski took the microfilms from the Niagara Falls Public Library when he digitized these newspapers and they are also missing from the microfilm editions.

I began my house research by combing the censuses and directories first, in addition to our house search, and then taking the names mentioned and plugging them into Fulton History.  Through this I was also able to see the old addresses that my house went under–street names that do not exist today.  Then I started plugging in these addresses and they seemed to cross-reference the people.  Everything matched.

It is a wonderful discovery to “meet” the people who lived in your home and to imagine your home as it may have been many years ago.  As I have learned so much about these people, it is almost as if I am able to picture them in our rooms.  How strange it is to know for a fact that ladies with ankle-length dresses walked upon our floors!  That German was most likely spoken here…as the original owners were German immigrants.

One article I found describes how people attending a bee demonstration might get to our home.

So this is how our people moved from place to place in 1919!

So this is how our people moved from place to place in 1919!

There are so many other ways you may find the history of your home!  I hope you will keep reading our installments.  The next article will introduce you to three offices at the Niagara Falls City Hall that may also assist you in your journey to find the history of your Niagara Falls home.

How to find the history of your Niagara Falls home, Part III: the Census

In If This House Could Talk, Niagara Falls on June 10, 2015 at 2:17 pm

By Michelle Ann Kratts

1905 Census

(Please click on images to make larger)

The state and federal censuses will also help you in your house history research.  You can access the censuses on Ancestry.com (which is available for you to use at the Lewiston Public Library as well as at the Niagara Falls Public Library).  Try searching for the surnames of the families that lived in your house or go page by page.  In a way, looking through the census reports will allow you to see your home as it was on that day that the census was taken.  Census enumerators went house to house and they asked the questions that were listed on the forms and recorded the answers on the census.  For Niagara Falls we can use the following censuses:  1810-1940, 1855-1925, 1892

Information that is on the census varies from year to year.  Some of the information you may see on the censuses includes the following:  street and house number, family groups at the residence, boarders names, color, sex and age, relation of each resident to head of the family, occupations and schooling (by years) on all residents,  marriage year, how many children of this marriage (and how many survived), immigration information, birthplace, occupation, personal description, mother tongue, military information, ownership or rental of home, value of home, if the home is a farm, and the 1930 census even reveals if the home had a radio set.

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As you can see, the census is a readily available source that must be looked at if you are working on the history of your home.

We were able to follow the residents of our house’s history through many of the censuses available for Niagara Falls.  We were also able to see their neighbors and to get an idea of what the neighborhood “looked like” from a researcher’s point of view in various years.  And it was interesting to note that my husband’s family lived only a few doors away from where we now live.

Our next installment, Part IV, will discuss using vintage New York newspapers for house research–especially http://www.fultonhistory.com.



How to find the history of your Niagara Falls home, Part I: the Abstract of Title

In If This House Could Talk, Niagara Falls on June 8, 2015 at 5:16 pm

By Michelle Ann Kratts

This is the first installment in a series of helpful steps toward finding the history of your Niagara Falls home.  This first installment involves the Abstract of Title document . (You can click on any of the pictures to make them larger)

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Map at the beginning of our Title Search showing the location

When you purchase a home you will be given the Abstract of Title document.  The Title Search is a process of retrieving documents as evidence of events in the history of a piece of property.  This document is filed in chronological order and usually begins at the earliest mention of ownership of the land.  In Niagara Falls our Title Searches usually begin in the early 1800’s and mention the Mile Reserve or the Holland Land Company.  The earliest transfers of land went to William Willink, Joseph Ellicott or other agents of the Holland Land Company.   My home in Niagara Falls first “belonged” to the State of New York.  It was part of a strip of land known as the “Mile Reserve” which ran along the Niagara River; specifically “Lot 57 Mile Reserve.”   These first mentions of property exchanges DO NOT mean that your house was built at this time.  It only means that the land was recorded as being owned by these entities or individuals.

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“Letters Patent” means a type of legal instrument in form of a published written order. This shows the transfer of the land from the State of NY (Mile Reserve) to Jacob B. Gilbert. This does not mean that he lived here. This only means that he owned the land.

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This is the first page to our Title after the map. It explains that the property was “Subdivision Lots 1,2, 3 Pearwood Avenue and 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Nussbaum Avenue, La Salle, NY being part of Lot 57 Mile Reserve.”

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The map showing the Mile Strip

You can easily see

You can easily see “Lot 57” on this old map. My house was built on this part of land originally known as “Lot 57 of the Mile Strip”

This shows the owners of the land.  Jacob Gilbert owns Lot 57 of the Mile Reserve (Strip).  This matches what my title search says.

This shows the owners of the land. Jacob Gilbert owns Lot 57 of the Mile Reserve (Strip). This matches what my title search says.

If you do not have access to your Abstract of Title you can go to the Niagara County Court House with your address and check for the deed information.  Everything on this Abstract should also be filed with Niagara County. What will you find out about your home in this Abstract of Title? There is usually a map which will show your property.  This can be extremely helpful if the street names have changed.  Many street names have changed in Niagara Falls–especially in LaSalle.  Below is a link to help with street names in LaSalle before 1928: http://niagarahub.com/2013/11/09/renaming-the-streets-of-lasalle-in-1928/ There were also other changes to the street names in previous years.  My present street of Lindbergh Avenue went through several incarnations:  Pearwood, Linden and Lindbergh.  At least those are the street names I have found so far! Also–you should probably know that in rural parts of Niagara County (including LaSalle) there were no house numbers attached to addresses.  This may make things seem even more confusing!

As you leaf through your Title Abstract you will probably see many transfers and deeds mentioned.  You will also see the mention of a “premises.”  A “premises” refers to the “land and improvements upon it.”  Such as any buildings or homes.  So usually this mention of a “premises” would refer to the home (or an earlier structure). The Title Abstract reveals people’s names and various situations that impacted ownership.  Perhaps land went to a widow. Perhaps there is a will.  Our Title (in the “Affidavit of Mortimer Goodrich”) refers to the death of one of the owners. He had been a beekeeper and was killed when his car hit a train back in 1925.  As you can see this is quite detailed.

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Concerning the estate of Gotthold Greiner

So dust off your Title Abstracts or make a trip to the Niagara County Court House to see what you can find regarding your Abstract of Title and Deed records.  Once we have names and location….there is so much more you can discover. Our next installment will involve another very important source for researching your Niagara Falls home:  the City Directory.

February has been strenuous…we have accomplished much…

In Niagara Falls on June 3, 2015 at 2:50 pm

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By Michelle Ann Kratts

Elizabeth Howe, Social Settlement Worker with the International Institute in Niagara Falls, writes of the following incident in her notes, February 1921:

One snowy morning, early in February, a fine type of Polish woman came to the Institute.  Her sister was utterly destitute.  With tears in her eyes, she told the whole tragic story.  We promised to make an immediate investigation.  The sister in question does not live in Niagara Falls.  She lives in one of three shacks on the road to Lewiston.  We knew at once, that Lewiston should take care of the case, but the need was immediate.  At half-past eight on Friday morning our plucky little Polish Worker left her home and started on her errand of mercy.  After leaving the car line, she was obliged to trudge two and a half miles through the snow which was still falling, to her her people.  Finally she saw three shacks, on a lonely road with no other habitation in sight.  In one of these shacks she found the W***s.  There was no fire in the house nor was there any fuel with which to make one.  The mother of four small children, the eldest seven years of age, had been ill a year. the father would not leave his sick wife and small children in that desert, as he had not been working for a year.  The sister who drew my attention to the case had paid the hospital bill and had helped (and helped) them until she could do so no longer.  The W***s needed everything.  The children were in rags.  There was neither water nor gas nor electric lights on the premises.  Our Polish Worker returned at 1:30 after having trudged five miles in the snow.  She was tired and hungry.  Her report made us all suddenly very, very serious.  Something must be done, and at once.  It was useless to appeal to our Poor Master, a man utterly without sentiment or vision and bound by State Laws.  Days would pass before inadequate relief could be obtained.  At this juncture the telephone rang.  Miss Howe was wanted “on the phone.”  A voice at the other end announced herself as a member of the College Club and then went on to say my name had been given to her, as that of a person likely to know of mothers who would be glad to put their babies in a (nursery?) the College Club is thinking of founding.  My first thought was a bitter one.  I feel no sympathy with the new project.  People were cold and hungry and naked,and yet –I told the good woman I was not interested in new projects for the moment.  I was intensely pre-occupied about existing unemployment conditions and I related briefly the story of the W***s.  My listener was most sympathetic and offered at once to call up the President of the College Club.  “I wish you would,” I answered.  Shortly after the President of the Club wished to communicate with me telephonically.  She had called up her Emergency Committee and each and every member got on the job.  At half after five that same evening, supplies, food, clothing, fuel were taken in Mrs. F’s automobile to the destitute family. Two of our Workers accompanied Mrs. F and her husband.  The girls came back radiant.  They were gloriously happy.  Our “Ill Mary” as we call her had promised to return with help.  The kitchen which was extremely dirty in the morning was swept and garnished.  The one table was laden with edibles of every description.  Mrs. F got half a ton of coal for the family. The husband, a splendid fellow, pleaded for work and that same evening Mr. F did the impossible.  He found the man a job and the next morning he got up early, had a lunch packed at his home and before daylight reached the lonely shack on Military Road.  The man was summoned, the lunch thrust into his hand and he was whisked into Mr. F’s car to the factory.  The family is now being well looked after.

For the next few days, various members of the College Club brought supplies of all kinds to the International Institute.  The work had been done without ostentation, quietly and most efficiently.  

“To us, our poor people are friends who are passing through deep waters.  Not one of them wants charity but work, and there is no work to be had.  Fortunate are they who find our “Open Door” and pass through!”

Elizabeth Howe and the International Institute did amazing work for the poor and desperate immigrants who made Niagara their home.  Most of their work has been forgotten until now.

Please sign our petition to have Elizabeth Howe’s name added to the monument in front of Niagara Falls City Hall: