We know very little about most people who lived in the South of Market area during the nineteenth century. Most of its inhabitants were working class, and some information from census records or city directories is often all that is known about them.
John Wendt is an example of how little information can be available. In 1880, the Census recorded Wendt as living at 31 Kate Street. He was a 50-year old express-wagon driver from Germany, who was married to Mary, a 35-year old Irish immigrant. They had no children.
The Wendts lived in a largely Irish immigrant neighborhood. By the 1880s the area was economically depressed – The Wendts may have been struggling economically as, by 1880, John was only sporadically employed. They did however make some money by keeping boarders. Renting rooms or keeping boarders was a common way for people living in the South of Market area to make a little extra money.
When the documentary record is so sparse, archaeology can be the only way to better understand the lives of people like the Wendts. Behind where their house on Kate Street would have stood, archaeologists found an abandoned privy containing artifacts. It was filled with a relatively small amount of discarded items in about 1882, probably by the Wendts as they prepared to move from Kate St.
The sense that the Wendt's were not doing well economically was strengthened by a look at the plates and tablewares they had thrown away. They were old, and decorated with patterns that had been popular before the 1870s.