What is the point of all this data?

On a personal level, there are stories here. These records trace the journeys of individuals as they cross the ocean, seek prosperity, find community, and become Americans. Without this data, many of these stories were long gone—last told years ago, if ever they were told.

But what I'm after is the aggregate picture, the patterns and trends in that data, that encapsulate forgotten history.

For example, only by identifying who had lived in Homestead at the time of the famous 1892 strike can I suggest an answer to the #1 question everyone asks me about my research: how were the Jews involved in the strike?

Map showing the Jews of Homestead in proximity to the headquarters of the strikers Famous photo of militia entering Homestead, showing the local Jewish stores

Map (left) and photograph (above) showing the the proximity of Jewish homes and stores to key sites from the 1892 Homestead strike.

While no first-person accounts were passed down about this community's experiences during the strike, this reconstructed map suggests fascinating answers for what they experienced living so close to the headquarters of the strikers and opposite to the state militia's encampment. (It also reveals that many of the famous photographs and drawings of the strike picture Jewish businesses!)

You can see additional maps from the early years of the community here.

For another example, here is a chart showing the growth of the congregation based on members' origins:
Graph of congregation growth 1894-1910

What happened between 1894 and 1902 to double the number of synagogue members? What happened between 1902 and 1910 to double it again? We can already brainstorm the factors, from Homestead's turn-of-the-last-century industrial boom to the Russian pogroms. With a more granular view into this data, can we trace their effects to this little corner of the U.S.?

Here are more questions this dataset can answer once it's in a format where it can be properly queried:

  • Charting the changing number of congregants and the exit trends will show when and why the congregation declined. The data already suggests that congregants started moving to Pittsburgh long before the congregation declined, but for a couple decades other factors more than offset this loss. What were these factors, and how did they change over time?
  • Further, the data suggests that much of the community's original growth came organically from a core group of early-arriving families, as opposed to a large influx of unconnected families. To what degree did the community attract outsiders with no prior connection? How did this trend, coupled with the overall trends in Jewish immigration to the U.S., contribute to the community's ultimate decline?
  • Through tax, real estate, credit rating, and home ownership data, is it possible to trace the community's rise into the middle class? How much of the community actually were merchants? How many worked in the steel mill? How much of the community actually did prosper? How did these trends attract or discourage community members?
  • The data suggests that children received post-high school degrees and took professional jobs even in the first generation. How did these trends change over time, and how did those trends contribute to the community's decline?
  • At any given point in time, what percentage of Homestead's Jewish residents affiliated with the town's synagogue? What does this teach us about evolving Jewish American identities and the relationship between Homestead and nearby Pittsburgh?

To be clear: These questions are all ones I believe this dataset can answer. And these are the just the questions I can brainstorm at the outset. Imagine what else this data can show once I am able to start working with it. Stay tuned!