Category Archives: People

Unraveling Harriet G. Switzer of Elgin

A faux alligator skin briefcase sat unopened in Mom’s attic for several years.  I brought the briefcase home after one trip to Elgin. Its contents were a jumble of receipts for a Harriet G. Switzer of 270 Watch St. Elgin, Illinois; a newspaper clipping about a meeting featuring Seaborn Wright [1], a well-preserved Switzer family tree ; and tatting thread, needles and some unfinished bits of lace. I’ve carefully untangled the thread, stored it and the needles with my grandmother’s tatting supplies, I blogged about the newspaper clipping and now I want to discover who Harriet was.

According to Ancestry dot com, Harriet was born Harriet G. Van Volkenburg to Nancy Plummer and John Van Velkenburg in Hampshire, Illinois, September 1871. She married Howard Switzer on January 1, 1889. By the turn of the century Harriet and Howard, still living in Hampshire, Illinois, had two sons, Albert (9) and Elmer (1). Howard made a living at farming. Tragically, Howard died in 1904 at the age of 48.

The 1910 census lists Harriet as living with her 19 and 11 year old sons at 366 Yarwood Street in Elgin, Illinois. She is listed as being employed by the nearby Elgin Watch Factory as a polisher. Albert is listed as being a carpenter. Another tragedy befell the family when, in 1918, Albert, by then a farmer, died in Hampshire.

In 1920 Harriet and her son, Elmer were living at 332 St. Charles Street. Harriet still worked for the Watch Factory, but was now a “piece worker.” Elmer worked as a truck driver for a thread factory [2]. In August of 1920 Elmer married Emma Sommerfeldt.

By July of 1921 Harriet had moved again, this time to 270 Watch Street. According to the 1930 census she owned this home. Harriet began furnishing her home with flooring, rugs and furniture from the Wait and Ross Furniture Company  and A. Leith & Company [3].

It looks like Harriet paid $18.75 for linoleum to be installed at her new house
Harriet paid $52.00 for a rug and $61.00 for something else — I cannot make out the handwriting.

Harriet not only furnished her home, but she hired O (?). W. Bayliss (Bayless?) to do some work around her house on 3 separate occasions beginning July 1, 1921.

She bought something from H. B. Cornwall in November 1921 for $40.

In March of 1923 she bought insurance from Ellis and Western for $12.

In March of 1924 she bought 3 years worth of tornado insurance worth $1250 from Edward F. Prideaux for $5.00.

In 1930, Harriet, now 59 years old worked in the spring department of the Watch Factory. Her home was worth $5000 according to the census.

Harriet continued to live on Watch Street until her death in 1943. She is buried in a small cemetery outside Hampshire called “Old Starks Cemetery.”

It’s been fun spending a morning and part of an afternoon learning about Harriet’s life. I’m glad she spent her last 20 or so years in her own house.



  1. which has been published in a book called Atlanta Beer: A Heady History of Brewing In the Hub of the South []
  2. which was likely Collingbourne Mills, the same factory my Grandpa Green sold thread for and where Hyman Herron worked in the shipping department. []
  3. I cannot find any mention of this company on the Internet []

Declutter 2017: Letter from Julia

When I was going though a box of correspondence from my mom’s house I came across a small, folded note in an unmarked envelope. Now, my mom kept pretty much every piece of correspondence she received, so it was not unusual that she kept this, but it was a surprise to me and made me very uncomfortable because 1) I didn’t know anything about it and 2) it put me in a very bad light.

It took me a while to figure out that the note was from Julia. I thought, at first, that there was someone I’d been unkind to named Pat Knight who I’d completely forgotten, then I realized it was from Julia.

Readers of this blog may recall that I briefly had a roommate from England shortly after I moved out of my mom’s house and it ended badly. She was beautiful, blond, British and outgoing. At the time I felt much inferior to her, appearance-wise. We’d go to a bar and guys would be lining up to meet her. There were times guys seemed to want to get to know me because they wanted to get closer to her. To put it bluntly, I was envious of her looks and ease with men.

I actually looked forward to her returning to the States [1] as my roommate before she arrived; and I know we had some fun together. The part about me only allowing her to come back to the States because I owed it to my parents is not right — I may have said it, but that was easier to say than admit that I was jealous of her looks and accent and how guys acted around her. I also was not jealous of the relationship she was growing with my family [2].

I know I was difficult to live with, but at the time I felt as if I were the injured party. I paid the rent and she didn’t always have the cash for her part of the rent. I paid for her medical bills when she went to the doctor because she had no insurance. I did the housekeeping and did our laundry. I definitely resented her for a lot of things and I am sure it showed.

There were other things that I won’t mention here, but both of us were on shaky ground based on societal rules (and U. S. and state laws) of the time.

The part about the letter is probably true. I don’t remember writing it, but I hated how I was acting, I hated the jealousy I was feeling. I’d long felt that there was something wrong with me because I had such a short fuse and would explode at the slightest provocation.

For years afterwards friends and family members would ask me if I’d ever heard from her or knew where she was living. I didn’t until I got in touch with her brother, and then got in touch with her in 2010. This year we became friends on Facebook.

And as I told Julia in an email nearly 8 years ago — she’s why Dean and I are together. Dean and I dated a few times in 1979, but I wanted to date someone else. A year later Dean, who  was a client of the salon where Julia worked, had her for a hair washer. When he heard her talk he asked if she knew me. She said yes and that he should call me. He did and the rest is history.

  1. She’d spent a few weeks with us during the summer, then returned to England to get a visa so she could stay longer []
  2. well, I say that now, but perhaps I was. I know I was jealous that my mom talked to Marcia about things that she would not talk to me about []

Such a happy family photo

No one looks at all pleased to be in this photo, except maybe Grandma Patrick and Aunt Norma. Everyone else is either looking shifty-eyed at someone else or into the camera, not smiling.

This was also my graduation party that I shared with my cousin Jim and his girlfriend. Of course, as with all important events [1], the party took place in our garage.

My dad’s family: Aunt Norma, Aunt Corrine, Aunt Alvera, Aunt Leila and Dad behind Grandma Patrick on her 80th birthday
  1. including my wedding reception []

Birthday Card from Grandma Green

Sometime after 1981 I drove from Pittsburgh to Shorewood, Illinois to spend a few days with my Grandma Green, then drove up to Elgin to spend time with my parents. I brought my cat, Cinder.

While with Grandma we reminisced about old times and ate Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (R) with tuna fish. We also played cribbage and drank banana milkshakes like we used to do when I’d visit her in Chetek.

She sent me this card for my birthday that year with the following message:

Dear Dona!

It was so nice to have you with me for just those few days.

I am sorry, but gift will not be ready for your birthday. How about for Christmas?

Having a bit of trouble finding the right kind of fabric.

I am not positive what she means by material. I don’t recall her making anything for me for my birthday or Christmas.

…who is loved so very much!
Have a wonderful birthday!
With love — :-)
Grandma and John

Birthday card from Grandma 1980

I was 24 and had recently gotten back together with my husband-to-be. We spent a week in Chetek, Wisconsin, my grandmother’s house/cabin — she was living in Illinois at the time. For my birthday she sent me this card with the message on the back:

Hope you enjoyed yourself in the quiet of the lake, squirrels, birds and bees. [1]

…and that makes it importont to those who love you!
Happy Birthday, Dear
With Love, Grandma Green and John
  1. it was what the British call a “naughty getaway” so I wonder if the birds and bees comment was intentional []