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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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