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It’s Not Just Dates: Building a Different Family History, Part 1

May 28, 2021

In the fifteen years plus that I have been on staff in the Indiana Historical Society, I’ve discovered one of my favorite groups to work with are genealogists. While we do have some traditional resources, such as AncestryLibrary and NewspaperArchive that assist genealogists in their quest for dates (birth, marriage, death), most of our resources help tell a very different style of family story. Our resources are much better at helping to contextualize or create a family’s social history. I decided to try my hand at this for one of my ancestors. I hope this helps to inspire others to do the same.

Using IHS collection items and other resources, I chose to enrich the information I had about my great grandmother, Veronica Sabol Jadrnak. I am very lucky that her two daughters are still living and therefore as this search continues new questions can be asked…never underestimate the importance of speaking with family members before it’s too late.

I only vaguely remember my Great-Grandma J, as we called her. She died when I was five, though my most vivid memory of her has to do with food (more on that in Part 3), there are some things that I knew prior to researching through this alternative method. Veronica was the daughter of Slovak immigrants, Stephen and Dorothy Sabol. She lived near Whiting, Indiana, and I believe much of her time would have been spent in that Eastern European stronghold. She married John Jadrnak of Gary in June 1928, exactly one month shy of her 28th birthday.

According to the 1920 census, a traditional genealogy resource, she worked as a laborer in the oil industry living in the Robertsdale section of Hammond. Robertsdale residents got their mail through the Whiting Post Office and had close ties to that community. With this information, and having grown up in the Region myself, I knew it was likely that she had worked for Standard Oil. While some information about the company she worked for could be gleaned from various histories of Standard Oil, what would this have told me about her work, with such a minimal notation in the census. Laborer didn’t tell me much.

Standard Oil of Indiana, Whiting, Lake County, 1929 (Indiana Historical Society, P0411)

As a well-known company, I decided to look for employee newsletters for Standard Oil. These typically provide a nice selection of articles on various business-related topics, sports notations for company teams, and other social announcements and notes. The latter was the most relevant to my search, since even if I didn’t find her in the pages of the employee newsletters, I would be able to gain a greater knowledge of what those working for that business encountered in their work and social lives. I could also likely identify women from a similar background and explore their work and social notations.

Stanolind Record, v. 1, no. 3, Dec. 1919 (Indiana Division, Indiana State Library)

Thanks to Indiana Memory and their collection of digital company newsletters, I was able to track down copies of the Stanolind Record from 1919 through 1924. On page 29, of volume 1, number 3, published in December 1919, I got my first glimpse of my great grandmother as a 19-year-old industrial worker in the Grease Works at Standard Oil. Further entries in the newsletters indicated that she would work making Kalo-Chrome candles in the coming years. Family lore had only ever uncovered her work making candles for the company, the other was news even to my 87-year-old grandmother. In addition to her working, she apparently had a bit of a social life as evidenced by some of the entries. A fact that makes me smile while reading the entries. I have yet to determine how long she worked for the Standard Oil, but I look forward to tracking down additional issues to try and figure it out. While the Indiana Historical Society Library has some issues beginning in 1927, I have yet to find additional entries on her.

Off to find some Kalo-Chrome candles… To be continued.

Amy Vedra

Amy Vedra is the director of reference services. She is currently reading her way through the Great American Reads list.

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