Photo courtesy of Global Citizen
Yesterday I attended a lecture about researching in burned county Cook, Illinois. We don’t think about Chicago being located in a burned county but of course, like many areas, had a devastating fire that destroyed a large part of the downtown are 150 years ago. Of course, the burned area was where records were kept. The point of the lecture was there are still records left to examine and provided where those sources are now housed.
But that wasn’t the taken away I got from the session…At the very end, a participant asked if Mrs. O’Leary’s cow was the cause of the tragedy. There was an extensive investigation after and both the cow and Mrs. O’Leary were cleared. There had even been a fire the evening before due to the extremely dry conditions. Shoddy building practices and older wooden structures permitted the fire to spread rapidly. A fire department that wasn’t well funded made the situation worse.
When I was a child I lived in the Chicagoland area. Although I don’t recall how I first heard about the fire, I do remember asking my mom about it. She said it was started by Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. My mom was not alive when the fire occurred. Neither were my grandparents or my great grandparents who eventually lived for a short time in the city.
In hindsight, I suppose my mom heard about the fire over 50 years after it had happened. Whoever told her had some knowledge of the original sources blaming the cow but didn’t follow the story long enough to discover what really happened.
Often our family stories are like that; passed from one to another over an extended period of time without fully investigating the information that has become a “fact.”
This week, plan on recalling one of your family stories and do some investigating. Who knows what awesome discovery awaits you! Please share, I’d love to know.
UPDATE: See this interesting story about the O’Leary kin and who might have been responsible for the fire. Note: story mentions that Chicago area children were taught that the cow started the fire so that is how my mom possibly got that information.