Sunday, May 07, 2006

A Plan for

I threw the site together rather quickly when I first created it. I didn't think it through very well and my lack of planning has come back to haunt me. Or more accurately, it's made a lot of extra work for me. Over the past few months I've played with a couple of different ideas and now I think I've finally gotten comfortable with how I want to develop the web site. There's a lot of work ahead of me but having a definite plan makes things much easier. Trying to design in too much flexibility sacrifices theme and consistency. And that often makes for a more difficult site to navigate. And we don't want that now do we?

I've decided to develop the web site using the east-side/west-side theme. For those of you reading this who aren't familiar with the "sides" of Detroit, let me explain. Woodward Avenue (AKA state highway M1) is the axis of metro-Detroit. It is a major road that begins in the heart of downtown Detroit at Jefferson Avenue and travels north by northwest into the suburbs. It's "the main drag" if you will, and has become renown in recent years for being the site of "The Woodward Dream Cruise", a moving festival of the old muscle cars from the 1950s-1980s. It is also more or less the dividing line for the metro-Detroit area. Those who live west of Woodward Avenue live on the "west-side" and those who live east of Woodward Avenue live on the "east-side". Many streets that traverse the city east to west are designated with an E or W in front of or behind the street name to indicate which side of Woodward they are on (i.e. Canfield E or Canfield W).

Everyone who has lived in the Detroit area for any time at all knows about the east-side/west-side thing. We use these designations commonly when referring to anything that is located across the metro area from wherever we are. If we're in Dearborn (western suburb) we would refer to a business in Grosse Pointe (eastern suburb) as being "on the east-side". Likewise, if we're attending Mass at Sweetest Heart of Mary Church (half a dozen or so blocks east of Woodward Avenue in Detroit) we would refer to St. Francis D'Assisi Church (roughly 35 blocks west of Woodward Avenue) as being "on the west-side".

Interestingly, when the Poles immigrated to Detroit in the late 1800s and early 1900s they created two distinct Polish neighborhoods. You guessed it, one is on the east-side of the city and the other is on the west-side. The neighborhoods are not adjacent and the east-side neighborhood is the older of the two and the larger as well. Most commonly if you lived on the east-side you also worked on the east-side, attended church on the east-side, and were buried on the east-side. Likewise for those living on the west-side. When the Poles immigrated to the U.S. they tended to join family or friends already living here, at least initially. If they joined relatives living on the west-side, they tended to also stay on the west-side though that certainly wasn't always the case. My own family is a good case in point. All of my four grandparents started out initially on the east-side when they first came to Detroit but settled on the west-side and lived their lives out there.

But exceptions aside, if you can locate your Polish Detroit ancestor on a census record (or their destination from a ship's manifest) and determine which side of the city they lived on, you've got yourself a good starting point for finding out more information about them. Generally speaking, the churches are the key to baptismal, marriage and death records and you can eliminate roughly half of the Polish churches in the city just by knowing which of the Polish neighborhoods your ancestor lived in. Mind you, we're just talking about starting points here. But when first starting genealogical research, it may seem overwhelming and any good strategy for how to begin has got to be a good thing.

So, this month I have added a new section to the Polish Ancestry web site and it focuses on
"east-side" cemeteries. The "west-side" cemeteries will come next month. Hopefully it won't be too long before I can redo the home page and the other existing pages to also conform to the east-side/west-side them. I think it will be a unique web site and a beneficial site for those researching their Polish ancestors in Detroit.

Woman working a potter's wheel at Greenfield Village

A sample of some pottery made in Greenfield Village

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