Discovering my Northside Roots

Feb 2, 2017 | | 10 comments

Some believe that as an African-American, my interest in Allegheny history is an oddity.  However as for myself, it is quite natural and normal.  I was born on the Northside as well as my children.  My father William (Billy) Gandy Sr. was also born on the Northside at St. Johns Hospital on 4-4-44.  So I assumed it was in my DNA.  However beyond my father, I did not know how long my family has been part of this neighborhood.  I knew my 95 year-old grandmother lived on Armandale Street and still does today.  I also have fond memories of my great grandparents’ house at 511 Armandale Street. It was our family Mecca and we always gathered there for parties, weddings & funerals.  However I was shocked to learn that my great-grandmother’s grandmother also lived on the Northside.

Northside family history bill gandyMy recent curiosity began through a chance conversation with a long time neighbor of my great-grandparents.  On February 25, 2017 I was invited to attend the 95th birthday celebration of Central Northside resident Myrtle A. Murphy Butler.  My purpose was to capture her memories for our “Golden Memories of the Northside” video series.  It was fascinating to hear her family history because it’s rare that I come across African-American families whom can trace their Northside roots back to Allegheny City (Before 1907).   Her father was from the 1st Ward and he referred to Northside as “Old Allegheny.” As we talked further her daughter Verdeen (Sissy) Butler joined the conversation and said that they know my relatives quite well.  They all hung-out and went to camp together back in the 50’s.  Mrs. Butler also told me that her family and the Cunningham’s were some of the oldest families on Armandale Street. The Cunningham’s were my great-grandparents Norman & Golden, great aunts Fannie & Lucille, great uncle Arthur Lewis & my grandmother Florine.

After returning home my mind could not help but wonder why my great-grandparents were living on Northside in the 1st place?  Who were their parents?  You would think that a historian would have searched his own family history, however most of my time is spent creating posts for the majority.  I am very fortunate to have family historians so I simply asked my sister Felicia.  She provided me with names and address of many of my ancestors who lived and worked on the Northside.  She also provided death records and the majority of them are buried in Highwood Cemetery on Brighton Road.

The very next morning I decided to follow the list to take a photo of my relatives’ old addresses.  Many were no longer there in their original form.  Nevertheless standing in front of the former addresses illuminated my brain and stirred my emotion a bit.  Perhaps it is the effects of DNA memory. I still do not know exactly how long my family has been on the Northside so I have more research to do. What I do know for sure is that we’ve been here at least 100 years & 7 generations.

City Directory from 1917

City Directory from 1917

The earliest ancestor that we can confirm on the Northside is my great-great-great grandmother Caroline Bagby Jones.  She was born the daughter of a slave in Georgia around 1860.  Exactly when, why and how they came to the Northside is still unclear but we do know that in 1917 she was living with her son Jefferson Jones Jr & his wife Mary (my great-great-great uncle and aunt) at 2543 Charles Street and that they all migrated from Georgia.  According to a 1917 directory Jefferson was working as a driver.  Caroline Bagby Jones died on May 16, 1925 at about 7 am due to a fractured skull by falling from a second story window.  She was 85 years old at the time and family sources say that she was also blind.  We believe that she was trying to close the window.  She was then listed as living at 1210 Franklin Street in the 21st Ward.  Her burial was at Highwood Cemetery on Brighton Road.  Jefferson Jones Jr passed away at Allegheny General Hospital on July 28, 1926 at the age of 44.  His address was 821 North Avenue in the 23rd Ward & his occupation was Laborer.

1930 census willian jonesMy great-great grandparents William Jones & Luvina Williams Jones also lived on the Northside.  Luvina was born in Georgia on October 24, 1874 according to her death certificate.  I’m slightly confused about her birth year because her gravestone says 1871.  They moved here from Georgia but the date is also unsure.  The local census has them listed at 1232 Day Street (Day Way, 22nd Ward, Northside) in 1930.  William was the son of Caroline Bagby Jones. Luvina passed away on December 6, 1946 at the age of 72.  She is also buried in Highwood Cemetery on Brighton Road.  They were listed as living at 1252 Day Street at that time according to death records.

Lavina Jones' headstone in Highwood Cemetery on Brighton Road.

Lavina Jones’ headstone in Highwood Cemetery on Brighton Road.

My great-grandparents lived at 1231 Filson Street in 1924.

My great-grandparents lived at 1231 Filson Street in 1924.

I remember both of my great-grandparents very well.  They were both alive when I was a child.  My great-grandmother was named Golden Jones.  She is the daughter of Lavina Jones. Golden was born in Jefferson County, Alabama in 1895.  My great-grandfather Norman Cunningham was born in Conyers, Georgia in 1893.  They moved to the Northside from Trussville, Alabama in 1924.  Their address was 1231 Filson Street (22nd Ward) in the Mexican War Streets.  My great-grandfather worked for Sears & Roebuck on Sandusky Street.  In the 1930’s they purchased a house at 511 Armandale Street.  That house has stayed within our family ever since. Golden passed away in 1980 & Norman passed away in 1983.  I attended both of their funerals at Highwood  Cemetery on Brighton Road.golden cunninghams gravestone

My grandmother Florine Cunningham Gandy was born in Trussville, Alabama in 1922.  She was 2 years old when her parents Goldie & Norman moved to the Northside in 1924.  My grandfather Harvey D. Gandy Sr. was born in Hopewell, Virginia on November 26, 1917.  At this moment I do not know much about my grandfather’s path towards the Northside but I do know we had Gandy relatives on the East Side of town.  My grandparents were married on June 24, 1939.  She was a young bride, however that was not unusual for that era.  They remained married until Harvey passed away on March 28, 1959 from Asthma. At the time they resided at 513 Jacksonia Street.  My grandfather is also buried at Highwood Cemetery on Brighton Road.  My grandmother is still alive today at the age of 95.

I believe my father’s generation were the 1st ones born on the Northside.  Most of my aunts, uncles and cousins also are native.  I was born at Allegheny General Hospital as well as 3 out of 4 of my children.  I have lived in other states but returned back to the Northside in 2011.  I plan to remain, build and expand upon our Northside legacy. Hopefully it can remain for another 100 years.  Historic photos of the Northside are also more significant to me now as I try to visualize the scenes that my ancestors saw as they walked the very same streets that I do today.

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10 Responses

  1. Bill, I enjoyed every word of your family history. I share your love of family and city. And love searching for information and putting pieces together and imagining just how it was when our ancestors walked these same streets. I feel extremely lucky to find family photos. And am so amazed when I can see family resemblances! Although I have many German ancestors that settled in Old Allegheny I only personally know of a few. The ones I am familiar with seem to have settled on the Southside, Mt. Washington and what was called Lower St. Clair and Millvale.

    Good luck to you in your search for more information. Sometimes you will be amazed where you find the pieces and how finding one clue can lead to many more. I attended a rededication ceremony on the Southside for the newly renovated Carnegie Library and was pleasantly surprised to see a document that was the petition to build the library had my great great grandfather’s signature on it! He owned a butcher shop in Birmingham and was one of the business owners to sign the petition.

    Happy Searching,


  2. Loved reading this – reminded me of my paternal family. At 87 I can trace back to great-great grandparents all living on the northside (mainly East St Valley.) My father was born in Allegheny City in March of 1907 shortly before it was annexed by Pittsburgh and , was baptized and
    educated at St Marys (now the Priory) and died at the age of 97.

  3. I enjoyed reading about your search for your ancestors. I, too, had ancestors on the North Side at Pike Street, now Phineas due to the name changes when the Northside was annexed to the City of Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, their house has been torn down and no longer there.

    I understand that the Carnegie Library on the North Side is a good place to find some more information that you might use in your search.

    Enjoy your journey thru the pages of time.

  4. The Western PA Genealogical Society would probably be able to direct you to any and all information that you would need to create a family tree and provide dates, places and even pictures of the North Side or Allegheny City where they lived. You can look up census information there. They are located in the Carnegie Library in Oakland on the third floor in the Pennsylvania room. They have maps of streets, and if you provide the address you can receive a copy of the original plan of the buildings your relatives have lived in.

  5. Bill this was an amazing story of your family history. I was so involved in it that I would love to find out more about my own family. I’ve done research on websites. But none of them can tell me about the things I would like to know. Thank you for letting us get to know you and your family better

  6. Was reading through and noticed the address of 511 Armandale Street. My Grandma and Granddad, Lois and Gilbert Gordon, lived at 513 Armandale for years. My dad is Bruce Gordon. They also lived on McCoughla.

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