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 the descriptions were my only information. I like puzzles, let's see what we can find out. This page describes my investigative process and its conclusions.

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 invaluable lists of old city directories, newspaper archives, 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 Langley (more precisely: Langley's San Francisco Directory), Crocker Langley, Polk Crocker Langley, or Polk. Directories list working men and women alphabetically by name; 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. Much later directories (starting 1953) also list by street address.

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

The digitized text of old newspapers (Alta, Call, Chronicle) can be searched, though automated digitization is error-prone.

Current San Francisco property records are publically available through the Assessor, but the digital records only go back a few decades. Most pre-1906 San Francisco property records were destroyed by the earthquake and fire. Old digital sources include block books (who owned a lot at a given time) and Sanborn insurance maps (what building stood on a lot at a given time). Newspapers record some property sales and mortgages.

I keep careful notes by category: census data, city directory data, newspaper articles, and property data, summarized as biographical data. I try to be explicit about fact vs. conjecture, though errors in sources make "fact" a slippery slope. And I keep a separate file of notes with open questions.

The search

We're looking for a dairy in SF ca. 1890, let's start with Langley's San Francisco Directory for 1890. [Warning: delving into the past in these documents is highly addictive!] Once you get used to the interface, you can navigate directories quite easily. 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 on 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 Bridget and three kids. They must have immigrated ca. 1867, since Patrick is born in Ireland and Annie in California. Dairy hand Thomas Mitchell and wife Catherine are listed too, but I initially missed her listing because her last name is not entered. Michael/Bridget Murray's previous census record (1870) includes two more children and lists their 13-year-old son John as laborer on the farm. It also lists laborer "Edwd Mitchell", and the census taker's abbreviation caused my search for Edward Mitchell to mismatch.

Much later, I figured out that Bridget Murray's maiden name is Mitchell, so Thomas Mitchell and Edward Mitchell are probably relatives of Bridget. And I figured out that Thomas Mitchell's wife Catherine was Michael/Bridget's daughter Catherine Murray, so Thomas and Catherine were probably cousins. I'm guessing that Thomas Mitchell is Edward's younger brother, but that's just a guess.

Next I leafed through other city directories, before and after 1890, keeping track of city directory data (chronological, not in the order I searched). I learned a lot about the city in the process. 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? I found a listing under Hospitals in the 1875 directory: "... The Italians have within a few years completed a commodious building, corner of Twenty-eighth and Noe streets ...". I filed that as a topic for future research, and a couple years later I wrote my Italian Hospital page.

By 1892, the address of the Mitchell/Connors dairy includes a house number: 505 29th (present-day 511, as 29th Street house numbers changed ca. 1906). 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. Many more census searches followed (see census data). 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.]
 [Son Edward is incorrectly listed as female.]
 [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 the census taker made another mistake: he listed Margaret's brother as Edward Mitchell. Margaret's maiden name was O'Connor (though the surname shows up variously as Conners, Connors, or O'Connor in different sources), and her brother was Edward Connors (as in Mitchell & Connors dairy) or Edward O'Connor. 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.

Margaret's 1900 census record says she has eight children, all living, 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 1889 or 1890 (Edward). Assuming no children out of wedlock, that implies marriage ca. 1877-1889. I eventually learned that her husband Edward died 3/18/1890 (Chronicle 03/21/1890), which explains his absence from the family photograph.

Lawrence, who became a Jesuit according to the photo description, remains problematic, as he is not listed with the family in any census and various census records list all eight of Margaret's children. (Damn that missing 1890 census!)

The people

The family photo above right shows mother Margaret Mitchell and eight kids. Let's suppose that #1 Mary is absent 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 and the three unknown kids may be their children.

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.

Sanborn_1886.png Sanborn_1900.png Sanborn_1905.png

The images above are from Sanborn insurance maps (rotated to put south at top). 1886 Sanborn insurance map shows three houses on 29th just above Noe, each with outbuildings behind. 1900 Sanborn shows a new corner store, two more houses uphill on 29th, and several houses on Day.


The 1905 Sanborn block map (west at top) shows the buildings from the 1890 photo as 505 and 509 29th. (House numbering on 29th Street changed around the time of the 1906 earthquake; 505 and 509 correspond to present-day 511 and 519.) The corner store/saloon at 501 29th is out of frame beyond the left edge of the photo. The Sanborn map also indicates the windmill shown at the right of the 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.