Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Great-Great-Greandmother's Obituary

I have come to the conclusion that my attic is actually a black hole which sucks all manner of tiny insignificant historical items into its vortex.  In a cabinet above the sink (yes, there is a sink from the 1970s in my attic)...I found the guest book from my great-great-grandmother's funeral in Chicago in 1951. Taped inside the front cover of the book was this little newspaper clipping...

  
Its funny how a little insignificant, disintegrating scrap of paper can tell you more about your origins than all of the relatives whose knees you sat on as a child.  From the details listed in this little piece of paper I was able to put this portrait together of my great-great-grandmother...well, these details and the help of the internet and an old family Bible.

Her name was Ekaterina Zaharudnikova and she was born in the village of Trebon, Bohemia in the Austro-Hungarian Empire on April the 10th, (circa 1866-1872).  In 1885 she immigrated with her widowed mother Maria Shimanikova and made port in New York, passing through Ellis Island.  She then moved west to Chicago where there was a large Bohemian community and took a job in the famed Chicago slaughter yards at a pork trimming plant.  I am beginning to wonder if she was the inspiration for a character in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.  Then she married a man of Bohemian extraction, had three kids, and as the obituary tells us, she passed away at the ripe old age of either 85 or 79 in Chicago in 1951.  As it turns out I have one of the few possessions of hers that still survives from around the turn of the century, a little jewelry box, which I will post tomorrow.  But here are some pictures to put a face with the name and the story...

Here she is in 1899 when she was a young mother living in the slums of the South Side of Chicago.

Here is the larger version of that same photo showing her husband Wenseslaus "James" Pavlik, and their kids Barbara (with puppy), Anna Maria (my great-grandmother) and Baby James (who my Dad is named after.  This just looks like a still shot out of a production of Sweeney Todd to me.

Here she is in her pork trimming uniform...

And here's the whole gang she worked with...
Can you imagine how creepy and disgusting these women would have looked when they got off work each day soaked in the blood of the pigs they were butchering?  My great-aunt told me they only washed their aprons once a week.  I am getting a little nauseated just thinking about it.



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