In our Digital History class, we devoted many hours to our City Social project. Certainly all students and faculty have spent many hours with the data. Whether its been plugging in thousands of segments of information, checking for mistakes on both the original census and the new data for our spreadsheets, peer reviewing fellow students’ data, or helping each other to decipher the original census writer’s handwriting, the work has been long and tedious.
However, that is not to say that the work isn’t rewarding. The work our class is doing, we feel, is something close to the status of pioneering. We understand that no one has recorded this information for the area of Harrisburg in the early 20th century like we have. Our work is not just for a grade but will be useful to many researchers and historians that are curious about people of Harrisburg during that time. Additionally, you can find many interesting details of information that help show a glimpse into the lives of the people we are recording.
An example of this is how looking at the section of data for births can give you a glimpse into what life in these wards could have been like. When looking at my data for Wards 5 and 9 of the census, I saw that there seemed to be connections between the rate of successful births and unemployment. When there was a family who had many births but with a few less living children than the original number, the father of the family often experienced at least a few years of unemployment. It is hard to raise a family today when the head of a household is unable to bring home a paycheck. It must have been much more severe to be an unemployed family man at that time, for it seems that could have prevented some of your children from living.
Another pattern I found was that in many families with larger amounts of children, the father or mother were immigrants themselves or one of their parents had been. This data, then, prompts questions as to the culture and traditions of foreign immigrants and their standards of family size. Also, finding that many of the women who had around 10 or more births were widows brought many inquiries to mind about the kinds of social, economic and health factors of the time.
The examples I have given here are just some of many that can give an observer of the 21st century ideas of what life was like at that time in the city of Harrisburg. These are just a few examples from a small portion of data. When using the entire collection of the data our class has keyed, there are innumerable possibilities for understanding the past. It is our hope that our work will help unlock a portion of the past for everyone to understand and enjoy.