Edward and Margaret's family at their dairy


Donor description: This image taken same day as SFP78-002-671 ca 1890, 29th Street, near Noe Street. Hill in background is where Diamond Heights is now. White buildings in background (right) is Crystal Springs Water Company. They (family) had two windmills and barns. Originally settled around Sutro Forest Area. Family kicked off land by Mr. Sutro who claimed family were squatters.

Children of Edward and Margaret posing between home and barnyard at their dairy


Donor description: Children of Edward and Margaret who had a dairy at 29th and Noe Streets from 1851 until 1900. John, donor's grandfather, is on the left, seated. Boys wore dresses until certain age. Edward, shown in center seated with doll (in those days, dolls were gender neutral, not just for girls). Picture taken in alley between home and barnyard on 29th Street. Far right standing, Lawrence. Became a jesuit and was in charge of papal interviews with the Pope. 1890.

The problem

I found these great photos (here and here) with the above titles and descriptions while I worked on my Upper Noe page. They're the oldest photos I've seen from Upper Noe, so I wanted to know more. Who were "Edward and Margaret"? Is "29th and Noe" accurate? Wow, that's the block I live on. A grandchild of a small child in the picture wrote the descriptions, so I'm inclined to be cautious about their accuracy, but initially they were my only information. I like puzzles, let's see what we can find out.

The resources

I learned the basics of local history research when I wrote my our house page. The SFPL online resources page is a good starting point, including old city directories and SF property information. And I've done a little census research for my genealogy page, using a free account at familysearch.org.

City directories were issued annually, variously called Crocker Langley, Polk Crocker Langley, or Polk. Directories list working men and women. Nonworking wives and children are not listed, though sometimes a man's listing includes the parenthesized name of his wife. Another section lists businesses by category, and much later directories also list by street address.

Census data includes all residents (including women and children, unlike the directories), but there are some significant gotchas:

The search

We're looking for a dairy in SF ca. 1890, let's start with Langley's San Francisco Directory for 1890. Once you get used to the interface, you can navigate quite easily. [Warning: delving into the past in these documents is highly addictive!] Clicking on the four-arrow-icon puts you in the document with a page slider on the bottom, then you can click on the slider to jump many pages or the left/right arrows to move a page at a time. At this period, listings by business category follow the personal listings. There is no "Dairies" section, and it took me surprisingly long to think of trying "Milk Dealers" instead. It's on page 1536, roughly a full page of listings, still a lot of active dairies in SF in 1890. There are two entries on 29th Street: "Mitchell & Connors, Twenty-ninth nr [near] Noe" and "Mitchell Thomas, Twenty-ninth nr Noe". Listings by person include "Connors Edward (Mitchell & Connors) r. S s Twenty-ninth nr Noe" (abbreviating "residence South side Twenty-ninth near Noe") and "Mitchell Thomas, milkman, r. S s 29th nr Castro". No street addresses on buildings yet in 1890 in this bucolic corner of the city, but Edward Connors and Thomas Mitchell live at the bottom and top of my block.

And that's when I fell down the rabbit hole. I figured that Edward Connors must be the Edward referenced in the picture titles, so I proceeded to chase after him in other directories and in census records. To make a very long story short: he's not the right Edward, I should have been chasing Mitchell instead of Connors. Edward Connors searches were leading nowhere, and there is no 1890 census data, so I tried Mitchell in 1900 instead, but I couldn't find anything that looked right. Then I tried 1880, where I found:

1880 census:
San Francisco ED 185 image 9 of 23 (29th St., no number):
Michael Murray  Male   60 Married White Dairyman       Self     1820 Ireland    Ireland Ireland A 514 0 1
Bridget Murray  Female 48 Married White Keeping House  Wife     1832 Ireland    Ireland Ireland A 514 1 1
John Murray     Male   25 Single  White Dairy Hand     Son      1855 Ireland    Ireland Ireland A 514 2 1
Patrick Murray  Male   14 Single  White Attends School Son      1866 Ireland    Ireland Ireland A 514 3 1
Annie Murray    Female 12 Single  White Attends School Daughter 1868 California Ireland Ireland A 514 4 1
Thomas Mitchell Male   32 Married White Dairyhand      Self     1848 Ireland    Ireland Ireland A 514 4 1
Catherine       Female 22 Married White Keeping House  Wife     1858 Ireland    Ireland Ireland A 514 1 1

That's 60-year-old Irish immigrant dairy farmer Michael Murray and his wife and three kids. He must have immigrated ca. 1867, since Patrick is born in Ireland and Annie in California. His dairy hand Thomas Mitchell and wife Catherine are listed too, but I initially missed her listing because her last name is not entered. Michael Murray's 1870 household lists laborer "Edwd Mitchell", and the census taker's abbreviation caused my search for Edward Mitchell to mismatch. It's likely that Thomas Mitchell is Edward's younger brother. The 1870 record includes two more Murray children and lists 13-year-old son John as laborer on the farm.

Next I leafed through other city directories, before and after 1890, keeping notes (chronological, not in the order I searched) and learning a lot about the city. Many dairies in Upper Noe and Glen Park early on. Many Irish names, complicating searches for Mitchell and Murray. Some streets I've not heard of, leading me to old maps. Michael Murray's 1870 listing is "Murray Michael, farmer, 29th nr New Italian Hospital". What Italian Hospital? In 1875, in the Hospitals listings: "... The Italians have within a few years completed a commodious building, corner of Twenty-eighth and Noe streets ...". File that as a topic for future research.

By 1892, the address of the Mitchell/Connors dairy includes a house number: 505 29th. Edward Connors lives at the dairy but Thomas Mitchell lives at 32nd/Diamond. SF has no numbered streets past 30th, then or now, but old maps often extend the rectangular street grid of Horner's Addition into adjacent hilly areas. 32nd/Diamond would be in present day Diamond Heights.

Langley 1892: https://archive.org/stream/langleyssanfranc1892sanf
 p. 401: Connors Edward (Mitchell & Connors) r 505, 29th
 p. 995: Mitchell Thomas, milk ranch, cor 32d and Diamond
 p. 1604: Milk dealers: Mitchell & Connor, 505 Twenty-ninth [n.b. "Connor"]

The family

Once I convinced myself that Edward Connors was not the Edward of "Edward and Margaret", I tried some other name / date combinations, eventually Margaret Mitchell in the 1910 census:

1910 census:
SF ED 69 image 24 of 90, 505 29th (owner):
Margaret Mitchell  Female 52 Widowed White Head     1858 New York   Ireland England  B 12 none
Annie C Mitchell   Female 29 Single  White Daughter 1881 California Ireland New York B 12 dressmaker
Joseph P Mitchell  Male   28 Single  White Son      1882 California Ireland New York B 12 shipping clerk
Katheryn Mitchell  Female 26 Single  White Daughter 1884 California Ireland New York B 12 seamstress
Ellen G Mitchell   Female 25 Single  White Daughter 1885 California Ireland New York B 12 telephone operator
Frances M Mitchell Female 23 Single  White Daughter 1887 California Ireland New York B 12 saleswoman
John J Mitchell    Male   22 Single  White Son      1888 California Ireland New York B 12 plumber
Edward Mitchell    Male   20 Single  White Son      1890 California Ireland New York B 12 carpenter

Bingo! There's the family, at the same house at 505 29th, with names Margaret/John/Edward as in the photo description. More census searches followed (see notes), including one I should have done much earlier for Edward Mitchell in 1880. Once you know what you're looking for, you can find out a lot relatively quickly. By decade:

That leaves an obvious gap: who lived at 505 29th in 1900? Searches for Edward and Margaret Mitchell failed, but leafing through census page images for the district found the answer:

1900 census:
SF ED 140 Precinct 20, image 3 of 29, 505 29th (owner):
 [Mitchel should be Mitchell.  Margaret has 8 children, 6 listed here, 2 presumably deceased or no longer at home.]
 [Joseph cannot be born 3 months after Annie.]
 [Brother Edward's family name may be incorrect.]
Margaret Mitchel 1900 Female 46 Widowed White Head     8 12 Sep 1853 New York   1888 Ireland Ireland  8 [?]
Annie Mitchel    1900 Female 20 Single  White Daughter      Nov 1879 California      Ireland New York   [servant]
Joseph Mitchel   1900 Male   20 Single  White Son           Feb 1880 California      Ireland New York   [day laborer]
Kate Mitchel     1900 Female 18 Single  White Daughter      Nov 1881 California      Ireland Ireland    [dressmaker]
Frances Mitchel  1900 Female 15 Single  White Daughter      Feb 1885 California      Ireland Ireland    [at school]
John Mitchel     1900 Male   12 Single  White Son           Jun 1887 California      Ireland Ireland    [at school]
Edward Mitchel   1900 Female 11 Single  White Son           May 1889 California      Ireland Ireland    [at school]
Edward Mitchel   1900 Male   40 Single  White Brother       Jun 1859 New York        Ireland Ireland    [day laborer]

The census taker misentered the family name as "Mitchel" rather than "Mitchell", costing me a lot of time and head-scratching more than a century later. And I think he made another mistake: in addition to son Edward, this lists Margaret's brother as Edward Mitchell. It's possible that Mitchell is both her family name and her married name, but it's more likely that the census taker didn't get brother Edward's family name right. Compiling census data across different decades reveals numerous errata, probably because the information in each decade comes from memory rather than from written record. Margaret was born in 9/1853 or 1858 or 1852 or 1855, Joseph and Annie were born 3 months apart per 1900 census, names vary Annie/Anna, Kate/Kathryn, Ellen/Helen, Mitchell/Mitchel. Census data is the best data we have, but always take it with a grain of salt.

The 1900 census record says Margaret has eight living children, and all eight children are listed in at least one census (the six above in 1900 plus Mary b. 1877 and Ellen b. 1885). It also says she was married for 12 years. She had children in 1877 (Mary) and 1900 (Edward). Assuming no children out of wedlock, that implies marriage 1877-1889, suggesting Edward Sr. died before baby Edward was born in 1900, possibly the reason the baby was named for him. Back to the city directories: 1890 lists Edward but 1891 lists Margaret instead (though not explicitly as "widow"). Thus Edward Sr. died 1889 or 1890, explaining his absence from the family photograph taken after baby Edward's birth.

Lawrence, who became a Jesuit according to the photo description, remains problematic, as he is not listed with the family in any census. (Damn that missing 1890 census!) Taking the photo description as best evidence, here's a possible explanation: Margaret actually had 9 children, but Mary died young (before 1890) and Margaret only reported her 8 living children in 1900 census. Adding Lawrence with a birthdate based only on the photo and a gap in birthdates gives an approximated timeline.

The people

The family photo above right shows mother Margaret Mitchell and eight kids. As argued above, we'll suppose that #1 Mary is absent (possibly deceased) and #2 Annie is the oldest child pictured. We can identify each child by their size and age in 1891:

The other photo has 11 kids (3 unknown) and 3 adults (2 unknown), plus a dog who doesn't stand still for the photographer. Educated guess, left to right: dog, boy, Lawrence, Joseph, Annie, girl, Kate, John, Edward, Ellen, Frances, Margaret, man, woman. The unknown man and woman could be Thomas Mitchell and his wife Catherine or Edward Connors and his wife (name unknown), as all lived at or near the dairy in 1890/1891, and the three unknown kids may be the children of the unknown couple.

The location

I debated the precise location of each photo for a long time, but once I learned the address 505 29th it quickly fit together. The first is taken from roughly the northwest corner of 29th/Noe, looking southwest to 505 29th. The sloping pasture behind the house includes the blocks from 29th to Day to 30th. The buildings at top right are on the south side of Billy Goat Hill, between Laidley and Beacon. The house with the white picket fence hiding behind the windmill vanes must be 578 30th. The house on the left must be roughly at Noe/Laidley.


The 1905 Sanborn block map (west at top) shows the buildings from the 1890 photo (at 505 and 509 29th, corresponding to present-day 511 and 519). The Sanborn map also notes the windmill shown at the right of the 1890 photo.

I see no structures in the family photo. The background shows a slight slope up from right to left and a small ridge. If this photo were looking south like the other, it would slope up from left to right instead. This suggests that it looks west toward Castro, presumably from just behind the house (the "alley" in the original description).

My Upper Noe page gives a little more information about the photo locations. I hope to see the photos in higher resolution in the future, the originals probably reveal much better detail.