|Sisters, Alice and Benita McGinnis,
Chicago, Illinois, about 1905.
I love this portrait of the young McGinnis sisters, which I found in my grand aunt Benita (McGinnis) McCormick’s scrapbook. The picture shows Aunt “Detty,” as we called her, on the right and my grandmother Alice on the left.
My grandmother looks to be about nine or ten in this picture, and my grand aunt was about 15 or 16, dating the year of this photograph to about 1905. It was taken at the Garvin Studio, a few miles from their home and only a couple of blocks away from Lake Michigan. The photograph shows a tender moment between two sisters who were at once very much alike yet very different.
Though both girls and their brothers, Francis Eugene and John, were born in Conneaut, Ohio, their parents, Thomas and Mary Jane (Gaffney) McGinnis, moved the family to Chicago, Illinois just before the close of the 19th century.
|The McGinnis Family is listed here in the 1900 United States
Federal Census, living at 215 Monroe Street, in the Hyde Park
Neighborhood on the south side of Chicago.
My grandmother Alice and Aunt Detty each had different explanations for this. According to my grandmother, a fatal railroad accident in Conneaut in the late 1800s impacted Thomas so much that he decided to quit his job on the Nickel Plate Railroad. Aunt Detty believed that the family left Conneaut after Thomas was injured while working on the Nickel Plate.
|Thomas Eugene McGinnis, circa 1920,
Chicago, Illinois. “To know him was to
love him,” Aunt Detty wrote in her
I have been unable to prove either claim but surmise that the reason the family moved may be somewhere in the middle. Although there do not seem to be any records of a major railroad accident during the 1890s, there were numerous mentions in the Conneaut and Ashtabula newspapers of the time detailing the dangers of railroad work, as well as frequent accounts and obituaries of young railroad workers. It seems only natural that my great-grandfather and many of his fellow railroad men might think it was a matter of time before their own names appeared in the rolls of the fallen.
One thing both sisters agreed on was that their father wanted a safer, more predictable ooccupation. He moved the family to Chicago, Illinois, and found work as a sidewalk cement inspector for the city, a job that certainly fit the bill.
The family rented a home at 215 Monroe street for several years before building another home at 8336 South Drexel Avenue. The 1900 United States Federal Census showed that John Patrick Gaffney, Mary Jane’s brother, also had moved to the big city and was living with the McGinnises.
|Madison Street between Clark and LaSalle Streets, Chicago, 1900
Courtesy Flickr, Creative Commons
Chicago was an exciting place to live for four youngsters from a small town in Ohio. It must have reawakened Thomas’ memories of his youth, when he spent several years as a sailor traveling the world. He often regaled his children, whom he called his “small craft,” with colorful stories of his days at sea.
Even as a teenager, Benita was enamored of her father’s adventures. Caught up in the Windy City’s unstoppable energy, she began to see the possibilities of making her own mark in the world, meeting new people, and discovering far-away places. Her father would become her inspiration and her muse, helping her turn those dreams into reality.