About the study

Most recent changes made to the website
  • Jan 16, 2010 -- (Not noted on main page.) Changed north on the index maps for the 1896 and 1924 atlases; this is an appearance change only. I'll be changing other maps for 1896 and 1924 over time but won't note any more changes here. You'll be able to tell a "true north" modified map by a comment near the arrow.
  • Jan 10, 2010 -- Added the 1879 navigable atlas. (See the link to "about the map" page for more explanation.)
  • Dec 17, 2009 -- Add the last six properties for the Ethnographic study, five with no family data (and explain what that means).
  • See the end of the page for prior changes.
What we are doing

Picture of two penniesIn 1999, the Lowell National Historical Park Historian, Gray Fitzsimons, conceived a project to study immigrant entrepreneurs, not just the ones who got rich but also those who were mildly successful and those who were failures. He called them penny capitalists, people starting with nothing. The project is not to be a statistical analysis of populations or even to gather data to prove or disprove anything. We don't know enough about such people to even formulate such goals. This project was to gain insights for more sophisticated studies in the future. The goal is to discover what happened to the immigrants and their children, what businesses they started, and where they lived.  The name of the project is Ethnicity and Enterprise.

In 2008, Robert Forrant was funded by the Park to compare late nineteenth and late twentieth century immigration in Lowell. Forrant is a professor in the Department of Regional Economic and Social Development of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. One component of the study is looking at neighborhoods chosen by the Park in areas with successive waves of immigration. The name of the project is An Ethnographic Study of Lowell, MA: Immigration, Globalization and Enterprise in the 'All American City'.

 

How it started

Clipart showing two people looking at a map of a cityFor Ethnicity and Enterprise, since most immigrant business stories are lost to history by their very smallness there had to be a way of selecting -- even just finding -- such people. Gray and another park expert selected buildings that obviously had commercial enterprises in the past, even if they didn't know exactly what those businesses were. Picking buildings implicitly picked people, because the project was to study the people who had businesses at those addresses. Clearly, there was bias in the selection because many buildings have disappeared in Lowell over the years and failed buildings hint at failed businesses -- a certain amount of the success factor was built in. This obviously is not the basis for a statistical approach, but that's not the point of the project.

They selected about seventy-five buildings and Gray started initial research with the help of some graduate and undergraduates from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. It became obvious that a lot of cutting had to be done. Eventually there evolved two main criteria for selecting a building:

  • Picture of immigrants on ship looking at the Statue of LibertyThere had to be at least one immigrant business in the building in the years 1870-1930. This cut out quite a few of the buildings. People from long term resident families of this country (whom  we're calling Yankees for the purposes of this project) were initially the dominant force in Lowell and remained so for a long time. [Of course, after a few generations, immigrants become long-term, too, so the distinction is only relative.] This criterion was loosened for juicy stories. For example, 138 Middlesex Street had David Evpak only from 1963 to 1972 but he had been nearby since 1918 and there's a really good story about him.
  • There had to be enough data about the immigrants to make a useful story. Again, this was a selection bias for success because if a building were used by a long series of short, failed businesses, it and its failed immigrants wouldn't be selected. There's not much we can do about that because we can only study data that exists.

 

The culling process eventually reduced the number of buildings by almost half, to forty-two. There are many stories in those forty-two buildings, some happy and inspiring, some sad. One of the buildings was the initial grocery store for the first Irish mayor of Lowell. He later founded a bank still in active business in the city. Another was the combined photographic studio and dry goods store (whatever works, right?) for a Polish immigrant who saw his wife and two daughters die of tuberculosis, one of the scourges of city living in previous centuries. After living alone for fifteen years he ended up marrying a Polish widow in the neighborhood just before his death so he could leave his business in the hands of his own countrymen.

Herman Hollerith's punch card tabulator for the 1890 CensusOut of the forty-two buildings, early research showed promise for in-depth studies of up to ten families. The plan was to put extra research time into these to get as much information as possible.

In 2003, Dan Frantz started helping Gray and, because of Gray's other duties, later became the chief researcher. Because of Dan's computer background (he studied under Herman Hollerith) he agreed to build a database from the data collected. This makes it easier to see a time-ordered story of various individuals, businesses, and locations. In addition, Dan agreed to put the results up on a website for people to browse. [Ta-da!]

 

The Ethnographic Study has four components: analyzing existing oral histories, conducting new interviews to fill gaps, studying buildings to show changes over the century, and conducting events in the neighborhoods designed to identify key informants and learn more about daily life.

For the building component (the only part reported here), project staff toured the target neighborhoods, selecting a variety of buildings: residences, schools, businesses, and community buildings, fourteen total. The primary criterion for inclusion was the existence of enough data to be interesting.  Two graduate students, Yingchan Zhang and Craig Thomas, did the primary research on the buildings. Dan Frantz served as editor and webmaster. In order to provide a similar level of detail on people as for the E and E project, Dan did additional research on the families and on what the people did before and after living in the building. This data also helped in editing the original drafts and was entered in the database. Extracts of the database are available from the web page for the building, just as for the E and E study. Dan did this extra data and editing for seven of the fourteen locations. The other seven locations are published without editing and without detailed family tables. (One building was a church, one was a school--neither ever had residents; he just ran out of energy on the other five.) The study is now complete for these fourteen properties. A report for this part of the project is available (42 pages in PDF).

What to expect

Keypunch operators in IBM's Stockholm, Sweden, office in 1934.A lot of research has been done, the data collected in different forms, and parts of stories have been written. We are committed to entering the data into the database, filling in holes that that process exposes, and finishing the writing. We'll add the stories to the website as they are completed. The change log above will alert you to recent additions. We hope to add at least one story per month. We're finding it hard to go faster. It's just so much fun to dig for details that it's hard to stop for any single address. [Now you know you're dealing with crazy people. Historical research is fun?]

Plans don't always work as expected, especially in research. As we completed the first half dozen stories we become aware that not all stories are created equal and not all are adventure novel material. Some of the planned in-depth studies are turning out to be shallow in terms of data and some of the "simple" stories have proven to be quite complex and interesting. As we go further, it's likely we will stop trying to make that distinction.

 

Picture of a monk inking a medieval manuscriptDepending on the length of the stories and the goals of the two projects, we will be presenting information in different ways. You select a building location in one of two ways, from a map or from from a list of addresses. Either will take you to the primary web page for that building location. If the story is relatively short and simple, we'll let the body of the story (without footnotes) be the only contents of the primary web page for that location. If the story is long or it has unique graphical aspects, we will present just the highlights on the primary web page and give you a link to get to the full details. There will always be the full blown story in printable form (a PDF file) with scholarly footnotes and lots of details. You can get to it by a button that says something like "Story" to get to that PDF file.

In addition to the stories, there will almost always be data sheets (except for five or six locations for the Ethnography study). This is supporting documentation (above and beyond the footnotes in the printed document) for the people and locations studied. These will be of interest mainly to future researchers but you might be interested in checking out a couple to see what kinds of data crazy historians collect.

All this will likely change as time goes on. Come back occasionally to watch the fun. (That is, count yourself among the crazies).

Statistics

The numbers below represent data collected for as of the date named. Only a small part of this data has been presented in the stories so far.

Much of the data will not be mentioned at all in this study. It was collected while checking possible connections to the families and properties studied. Maybe we'll use it for another study. (As soon as we recover.)

  Data as of
Type of data collected 3/19/07 12/09/07 7/08/08 10/31/08 11/21/08
Businesses named 3563 3751 3772 3861 3921
People named 4065 4377 4684 5076 5210
Surnames 2261 2314 2346 2426 2446
Business  Addresses recorded 2955 3066 3111 3168 3179
Residential Addresses recorded 859 1220 1489 1755 1807
Total Addresses (There is overlap - some addresses were used for both business and residence.) 3626 4021 4289 4588 4643
Individual evidence points (City Directory entry, census entry, vital record, newspaper & book item,...) 11199 12734 14385 15788 16187
Change History for the website
  • Jan 10, 2010 -- Added the 1879 navigable atlas. (See the link to "about the map" page for more explanation.)
  • Dec 17, 2009 -- Add the last six properties for the Ethnographic study, five with no family data (and explain what that means).
  • April 6, 2009 -- Add the 1896 Lowell Atlas. (See the link to "about the map" page for more explanation.)
  • Nov 21, 2008 -- Add two properties from the Park Service funded Ethnographic study of immigrant neighborhoods by the University Of Massachusetts at Lowell.
  • Oct 31, 2008 -- Add six properties from a Park Service funded Ethnographic study of immigrant neighborhoods by the University Of Massachusetts at Lowell. Four more will be added soon. Add an explanation of the study.
  • Aug 6, 2008 -- Modify all pages to be HTML 4.01 standard compliant -- increasing the likelihood of working correctly in more browsers. (Standards people know how likely, and humorous, this is likely to be.)
  • Jul 30, 2008 -- Improved navigation for the spotting map by adding cookies so the map returns to the same configuration when you come back to it after visiting a building site. Add a navigable 1924 Atlas using maps published elsewhere at the Center for Lowell History. (See the link to "about the map" page for more explanation.)
  • Jul 14, 2008 -- Add story for 163 East Merrimack Street. There are ten immigrant and two Yankee families treated in detail, making this the equivalent of four or five properties -- 1600 data points added. Tweaked the web pages to be more standard and so work better on different browsers. Changed the map to zoom and to pan more reasonably. There are still some drag problems for browsers other than IE and Firefox/PC. Updated the statistics at the bottom of this page. Add new kinds of reports to contain more information on one page and to include family relationships.
  • Dec 9 -- Add story for 121 Moore Street: Olof A Berntson, Swedish grocer
  • Dec 2 -- Add story for 124 High Street: Sirhoopy Sookikian, an Armenian woman and her family.
  • May 6 -- Add story for 138 Middlesex Street: David Evpak, Ukrainian shoemaker, and the Red Scare of 1920.
  • Apr 27 -- Small changes in 165 Lakeview Avenue tables. Numbers for residences of immigrants change a (very) little.
  • Apr 24 -- Add story for 165 Lakeview Avenue.
  • Apr 24 -- Add information about the study itself -- to this page.
  • Mar 19 -- Add picture of Frank Flanagan for 557 Central. Start of this "About the Study" page with change history and recent statistics.
  • Mar   8 -- Change 557 Central section entitled "The Business after Thomasson", adding about three paragraphs with new information. Change supporting tables for Devno and Flanagan families.
  • Feb 28 -- Change maps to show properties with completed stories.
  • Feb 19 -- Cleanup some pages and correct links to point to CLH.
  • Feb 14, 2007 (about) -- First appearance on-line at Center for Lowell History. Five properties available at debut: 7 Adams St., 188 Branch Street, 557 Central St., 1018 Gorham St., 172 Lakeview Av. Only thirty-seven left to go!