Using Data to Tell Stories

From Thomas M. Mulkerins, Holy Family Parish, Chicago: Priests and People (Chicago, 1923), p. 411

From Thomas M. Mulkerins, Holy Family Parish, Chicago: Priests and People (Chicago, 1923), p. 411

In June 1858, the nascent Jesuit community at Holy Family Parish opened the Holy Family School at Morgan and 12th Street, just east of their new church building. This elementary school constituted a crucial component of founder Fr. Arnold Damen’s plan to build a Catholic parish on the west side of Chicago. Thousands of young men, many of Irish descent, were educated at this school over subsequent decades.

Tuition registers for the period 1861 to 1879 survive in the archives of Loyola University Archives and Special Collections in Cudahy Library. They provide a wealth of information about the boys and young men who attended the school, including their age, residence, name of their parents, and the number of months for which they paid tuition each year. Additional inserted comments, such as “run over by an omnibus,” give us a view into this world we might not otherwise have.

This past week the Scholars divided into three groups to transcribe, analyze, and visualize the listings from the “C” section of these registers from 1866, 1871, and 1875. Like in previous weeks’ assignments, they were asked to create a Google Fusion Table, upload their group’s transcribed data, and analyze their findings. Unlike in previous weeks, the Scholars were tasked with writing up their findings in a way that engagingly introduces a general reader to neighborhood life and Catholic parochial education in 1860s and 1870s Chicago. The challenge was to see how creative they could be in conveying the information they had uncovered. The Scholars have not failed to impress with their posts!

Several approached the assignment through the stories of young boys who attended the school:

  • Guy invites us into the Cahill house one morning where the origins of life, future occupations, and the specter of death are a few of the fleeting thoughts that cross the mind of a younger member of the family as he gets ready for school;
  • Susie imagines the journey of James Clint to Holy Family School for the start of a new school year, while Bianca puts her set design talents to work illustrating the journey of Dennis and Thomas Corbitt;
  • Maya shadows seven-year old John Clancey over the course of his school day;
  • For those intrigued by how the Scholars used basic facts to create a moving narrative, Shannon not only imagines the journey of William Carroll to school, but also reflects on the range of sources available for doing this kind of reconstruction;
  • Olivia reminds us of the lack of creative naming by Chicago’s Irish parents. She views 1870s Chicago through the eyes of one of the many Johns in the same classroom at the Holy Family School.

A handful took a more macro approach to try to make sense of the broader trends they uncovered:

  • Dan sees the Holy Family Tuition registers as a way into understanding not only the often-challenging experience of city’s Irish Catholic community but also their aspirations;
  • Andrew puzzles out what the tuition registers can reveal about economic status of Irish immigrants through the lens of twelve-year old John Collins and nine-year old Jerome Curry;
  • Two students looked at the data through the experience of the women religious who taught the students. An imagined conversation between Sr. Brighid Flannerty and young student John Callaghan gives us insight into the contributions of nuns to Catholic parochial education in Claire’s post. In Brendan’s blog, he uses the framing device to reveal what he was able to puzzle out about class distribution.
From Bianca's visual reconstruction of Dennis Corbitt's experience of the Holy Family School.

From Bianca’s visual reconstruction of Dennis Corbitt’s experience of the Holy Family School.


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