Friday, August 14, 2009

Obtaining genealogical Information about ancestors who served in the NYPD

Months and months ago, I contacted the New York City Police Department to see whether they could offer any information about my great-great-grandfather, Joseph Mulcahy, who was a New York cop. I was living in a DC apartment at the time, and though I knew I'd be spending the summer in New York, I was using my temporary address on all of my correspondence at the time, since I never dreamed the response to a February request would arrive in June.

I went back to the old apartment this past weekend to pick up some furniture I'd stored there (and moved it into my GORGEOUS brand new apartment, by the way), and the upstairs neighbors gave me the mail they'd collected for me over the summer. There, among the alumni mailers and charity brochures, was a thick manilla envelope from the police department. It was so thick, in fact, that I assumed it couldn't be information about Papa. They must have sent a booklet or magazine about the history of the NYPD, or some such.

Oh no. It was an inch of material, and it was all about Papa. Just the list of what was included was 3 and a half pages long! I couldn't believe it!

If you're looking for information about the NYPD service of your ancestors, here's what I did:

I wrote to

Chief of Personnel
Staff Services Section
1 Police Plaza Room 1208
New York, NY 10038

I wrote a brief paragraph requesting any information they might be able to provide about my great-grandfather, Joseph E. Mulcahy, making sure to include the following information:

his name
my relationship to him
his shield number
his precinct
date of birth
years served

I was able to make out his shield number from an old picture of Papa in uniform, and I knew at least one of the precincts he'd served in based on old newspaper articles. I didn't know the years he'd served, but I ball-parked it based on what I knew about his life - when he was born, when he'd served in the Army, when he'd married, and when he'd died. Any other information you may have about your ancestor will probably be helpful, too.

It took about 4 months, so please don't give them a temporary address if you're not sure how long you'll be living there. I was very lucky that the boys upstairs were holding my mail, and that I'd even had cause to go back to the apartment at all. If I'd moved out cleanly, without leaving my things, I'd never have gone back and never have gotten all this information.


Anonymous said...

Many years ago I visited 1 Police Plaza with a photo of my great grandfather John Farrington, a NYC policeman. I was shunted to the Community Relations dept where I was treated well but left with a file card noting his pension went to his widow. Nothing more. They were able to tell me that the 5 on his collar meant he served in the 5th precinct, which was Five Points and that jives with family history. Might there be more info available? I was told at the time the card was all they had.

Kathleen Scarlett O'Hara Naylor said...

Anonymous - There might be. I would suggest that it couldn't hurt to write with a request - the worst they can do is say no! My great-grandfather's file had what sounds like a similar card with information about his pension and his next of kin, but I received a substantial amount of additional information, as well.