The Constantinople Family

After our discussions of Greek immigration and review of the US census data from 1920 and 1940, I wanted to learn a little more about the Constantinople family.

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 2.07.31 PMThe family appears in both census records, so I did some digging on the Chronicling America website to see what else I could learn. I came across a few articles in the Alexandria Gazette mentioning James Constantinople and his business. The first article entitled “Petty Thieves,” talk about James’ store on King Street where two young “colored boys” tried to steal bread from a box outside of his store. They were caught by police officers later.[1] According to our analysis of the 1920 census data, the block where the Constantinople family lived and had their store (King Street) was a racially heterogeneous one, so it makes sense that there would be African Americans in the neighborhood who might also shop there. The second article about the incident noted that the two boys have been sent off to reform school.[2]

In the 1920 U.S. Census, the members of the Constantinople family listed are Georgia, and her children Peter and Mary, as well as her brother-in-law and his wife, Antone and Helen Somoragas. James is listed elsewhere on the census.  This entire extended family lived together on King Street. By 1940, the family had moved to Duke Street. Helen is listed as the head of the household, with her two sons, Thomas and Gus. James and Georgia, and their daughter Mary (listed as Marie) also live with them.

The way the Constantinople family lived  in Alexandria was very common among Greek immigrants. Large, extended families often stayed in the same home, and often worked in the same family business. Both James and Antone are listed as “confectionaries,” on the census in 1920, which could mean a variety of things (such as candy, cookies, and or ice cream), but Antone for a time probably worked with James in his store. Sometimes, Greeks worked in each other’s businesses in order to le particular trade or business. Then they might open their own.[3] By 1940, Helen is listed in the census as a restaurant owner, which could explain why Helen and Antone changed their last names from Somoragas to Summers. When Greeks opened their own businesses, they often “Americanized” their names to make it so that they would be more accepted by native-born Americans.[4] Summers is more easily pronounced than Somoragas for native-English speakers. James is also listed as a clerk in Helen’s restaurant in the 1940 U.S. Census.

The Constantinople family is a good example of the patterns we see in Greek immigration. They were a large extended family living together in one home, and at some point they each worked in the other’s business. Helen and Antone also changed their ethnically Greek surname to a simpler, “American” one. They all worked within the food/service industry, which was a niche the Greek community thrived in.[5] The comparison of the two census records shows that the Constantinople family continued to grow and thrive socially and economically within Alexandria prior to World War II.

[1] “Petty Thieves,” Alexandria Gazette, December 17, 1908.

[2] “Sent to Reform School,” Alexandria Gazette, December 17, 1908.

[3] Lazar Odzak, Demetrios Is Now Jimmy”: Greek Immigrants in the Southern United States, 1895-1965 (Durham, NC: Monograph Publishers, 2006), 34-36.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Odzak, 37.

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