On April 22, 1910, Census Enumerator Joseph Levy walked down North Fifth Street in Philadelphia’s 16th Ward to record the names and other pertinent details of the street’s inhabitants for the 13th Census of the United States.  For the most part, the street’s residents were German immigrants – with a few Austrians and Russians in the mix.  A few had children born in Pennsylvania – probably the first Americans in their families.  They worked in what, today, we would probably consider blue collar jobs – bakeries, breweries, factories, stables, and shops.  Husbands – if there were husbands – were the heads of extended families that oftentimes included assorted siblings, cousins, or mothers-in-law who were newly arrived in the country and bunked in with already established relatives.  (And now we know the origin of mother-in-law jokes!)  The stories and experiences on this street were probably the same block after block after block in every city that attracted immigrants.   

The story of the 349th family that Levy visited on his rounds of Enumeration District 255 is only special because it is the story of our family.

Come through the doors of 951 North Fifth Street and meet the Wissmanns – as recorded by Mr. Levy.

The head of 951 North Fifth Street was Mathilda Wissmann, a 36 year old white female.  She was a widow – did she tell Mr. Levy that her husband passed away the previous June?  She was a mother of three children – all three still living, which was probably quite a feat in 1910.  She was born in Germany as were her father and her mother and her two older children - her sons with whom she had immigrated to the United States in 1906.  She could speak English and read and write as well.  She was a retail merchant of her “own account” and sold cigars – the pay from which probably went to pay the rent on the property. 

Mathilda’s children are listed next – 8 year old Alfred, 6 year old Alphonse, and their American born sister, 2 year old Anna.  Only Alfred was old enough to be in school – perhaps he was enrolled in the nearby Catholic school.  At this point, the children are still in Mathilda’s household…but in time, she will be forced to put them in a children’s home while she tries to find work in order to support her family.  But in April 1910, the Wissmann family is, luckily, still together.

And they aren’t alone.  Like so many extended immigrant families – the Wissmanns live with relatives – Mathilda’s younger brothers, 22 and 24 year old Alfred and Edmond.  Alfred immigrated to the United States with Mathilda and Ludwig Wissmann in 1906, but Edmond was newly arrived to the country, having arrived in 1909.  The single brothers were both engineers at breweries – perhaps one of the many breweries on Girard Avenue that led to the area becoming known as Brewerytown.  Neither brother had been out of work during 1909 nor were they out of work on April 15, 1910.  While Alfred could speak English, Edmond spoke German – perhaps he was still trying to get the hang of the language in this new country.   

The house’s occupants also included 30 year old Godfried Abt, a Swiss boarder who was a boiler maker in a boiler factory (proving that our connection to the HVAC industry goes way, way back!)  A pair of German widows, 58 year old Pauline Dismark and 54 year old Bertha Remack, also lodged at the home.  Both were seamstresses and made clothing.  Finally, there was Fuconia Kreizer, a 50 year old single female who was finisher at a button factory – and the only non-immigrant (besides little Anna!) in the home.  That rounded out the residents of 951 North Fifth Street.   

Having filled out his ledger sheet with all of the information for the people living at 951 North Fifth Street, it was time for Mr. Levy to move on to the 350th house in his enumeration district.

How much do circumstances and situations change in 10 years?  Well, we’ll just have to wait for the 1920 Census to find out.

(Apologies for the small image!  I'll try to reupload tomorrow!)
Image via ancestry.com


Helen Knuttel
04/08/2013 2:39pm

Wow!! Very interesting history!! I never even heard of Edmond Horn. Guess there's a lot we don't know.

10/01/2017 2:50am

History facts like this one is actually my thing. Back when I was in Secondary grade, I remember being one of the best students on our history subject. I don't know why, but I just feel like knowing these things can make someone look really cool. But of course, the main reason why I like history stuffs is because being knowledgeable is an advantage. When you know a lot of things, your confidence will definitely increase. Anyway, thank you so much for sharing some interesting history above.

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