What’s in a Name?

Four women posing in front of a brick wall.

Tracing Women in 19th and 20th Century Archival Collections

Are you curious about the staff who worked behind the scenes maintaining Vizcaya for James Deering? So are we! Our archives hold thousands of letters, blueprints, financial records and photographs documenting the construction of Vizcaya. While these records hold valuable information on other aspects of Vizcaya, they tell very little about the people who lived and worked here. There are, however, sources available that help us fill in the blanks.

A group of people sitting around a table on the beach.
Vizcaya staff enjoying a picnic, c. 1920s. The Ella Holgersohn Photograph Collection, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens Archives.

US Census

Although Vizcaya’s archives don’t contain much about the staff who worked here, they do provide two vital pieces of information: name and occupation. With a name, occupation and place of work individuals can be traced through the United States census.

The US census is a report conducted by the federal government every ten years. Organized by residence, the report includes basic information like name, age, race and marital status. Depending on the census year, these reports can also include more specific information such as occupation, birthplace, language, and information on an individual’s parents. To protect individual privacy, these reports are kept confidential for 72 years. The most current US census available for public access is from 1950.

A black and white image of a birth certificate.

An Added Challenge

A first and last name are the key to finding individuals in these records, accompanied by approximate dates and locations. Specific information helps to narrow a search but isn’t necessary to find records. Without a name, a person becomes impossible to trace.

This may not seem like an issue, but people’s names may change or appear in different forms throughout the official record. This is especially common for women, whose names change through marriage and divorce. Without knowing the names of a woman’s male relatives, such as husbands and fathers, finding her over the course of her life is almost impossible. Vizcaya employed several married women, some of whom we have been able to trace and some we have not.

Anna Maria Leach

An interesting example of a female staff member we have learned a lot about is Ana Maria Leach, a parlor maid on James Deering’s staff until his death in 1925. According to correspondence related to staffing and living arrangements, Anna was married to Deering’s butler, Frederick Leach, and the pair lived on site in the Village.

With this basic information, we find Anna and Frederick Leach in several US census records, as well as the City of Miami Directory. Anna is relatively easy to trace from 1930 through the end of her life in 1989, due to her consistent residence in Miami and her relationship with Frederick Leach, but one key document helps trace her history before her marriage.

A document with a yellow arrow on it.
Anna’s Naturalization record includes her maiden name Edling and information on her arrival in the US. With a new name and a date available, a ship passenger list documenting Anna Maria Edling’s arrival in 1909 was located. The records show that Anna came to the US with her sister Agnes and worked for James Deering in Chicago before coming to Vizcaya.
A document showing a list of names and numbers.
Anna and her sister Agnes are listed together on lines 14 and 15. Image Courtesy of The National Archives and Records Administration; Washington, D.C.; Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at and Departing from Ogdensburg, New York, 5/27/1948 - 11/28/1972; Microfilm Serial or NAID: T715, 1897-1957
A document with a yellow line on it.

Anna and Frederick were married in 1916 and in 1919, their daughter, Violette, was born in Chicago. The Leachs continued working for James Deering until his death in 1925, most likely splitting time between his summer and winter residences in Chicago and Miami. After Deering’s death, the Leachs stayed in Miami, as documented in the census and the Miami City Directory.

An open book with a yellow line on it.
Violette’s birthplace is listed as Deering’s home in Chicago on Lakeshore Drive. This suggests that the Leachs traveled with Deering between his Chicago and Miami homes. Image courtesy of Archives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Elk Grove Village, IL, USA; Swedish American Baptisms, Marriages, Deaths, and Burials; Parish: Ebenezer Lutheran Church; ELCA Film Number: A35(2); SSIRC Film Number: A035
A newspaper with an advertisement for the ottone clinics.
City Directories were updated each year and contain the names, occupation, and address of city residents. Often, women were listed with their husbands. Image courtesy of Ancestry.com. U.S., City Directories, 1822-1995

Archives in a Digital World

As archival documents are digitized and made publicly available, more information on people like Anna Leach can be easily found. While most archives are open to serious researchers, digitizing collections allows for broader access to researchers of all types. Vizcaya is in the process of digitizing portions of its own archives and objects. Visit Museum collections | Vizcaya to explore these digital collections.

Four women posing in front of a brick wall.
Five women on Vizcaya’s staff pose at the Cape Florida Lighthouse c. 1920. The Ella Holgersohn Photograph Collection, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens Archives.

This project has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in here, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.


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