Tuesday, October 30, 2012

NYC Hurricane History: The Long Island Express

When I read Aaron Naparstek's article The Big One, I learned, for the first time, about some of the major hurricanes that had hit NYC in previous years. I decided on two storms that I wanted to look at in more depth, since they would have impacted my Brooklyn and NYC ancestors - the 1893 hurricane, and the 1938 "Long Island Express." After finishing up Monday's post on the "Ruinous Gale" of 1893, I started to look into the 1938 storm, and was startled to see it referred to as both the Long Island Express and the Great New England Hurricane of 1938. The Long Island Express was that hurricane? I've heard of that hurricane!

Most people with even a passing interest in the history of New England have heard of the 1938 hurricane that decimated the coast and killed hundreds, but it had never even occurred to me to wonder what effect it had had on New York. Hurricanes do not usually manage to hit New England without impacting NYC and Long Island, of course, but I never made the connection, not even when I spent two days thinking about New York being hit by a hurricane in 1938.

New York papers from the day after the Long Island Express hit were substantially more alarming than from the day after the 1893 storm. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle headline proclaimed "19 Die, 39 Missing in L.I. Hurricane."

22 September 1938
The Eagle devoted at least 5 pages primarily to the effects of the storm. Technology had advanced considerably since the hurricane that had hit 45 years earlier, and so you don't have to rely on my meager writing skills to give you an idea of what it was like. Instead, we have these remarkable videos to show us. (h/t to Bowery Boogie)

These focus mostly on New England, but give you a good idea of what the storm held for New York, particularly for the eastern end of Long Island, where it's power was most devastatingly felt.

Perhaps the most haunting part of the Eagle's coverage is the list of the dead, the missing, and the injured. Even a brief reading of the articles, though, shows that the list, and the count, far understate the actual damage. For example, left off the list are the 25 children who were attending a party at the home of Mrs. Norvin Greene in Westhampton Beach, none of whom had been seen since the storm. (The Greenes and their guests were later discovered to have survived.) (Murray, Around Westhampton.) 

Below is the list of dead and missing:

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 22 September 1938

Monday, October 29, 2012

NYC Hurricane History: A Ruinous Gale

In the wave of Hurricane Sandy madness that's spreading through New York City as well as through my Facebook newsfeed, my cousin posted a link to an article, The Big One by Aaron Naparstek, which is about how NYC is due for a major hurricane, and the conditions that make it particularly susceptible to serious damage, should one occur. What I found most interesting (besides the parts that made me think "Uh oh! Am I about to witness the end of New York as we know it?") were the references to previous severe storms that had hit the area, particularly the 1821 storm that saw sea levels rise 13 feet in an hour, the "Long Island Express" of 1938, and the 1893 hurricane that flooded parts of Brooklyn and Queens.

My ancestors were living in the greater New York area* during the latter two storms, and, as the wind howled outside my windows, I couldn't stop myself from doing a little research into history's hurricanes. I'll focus on the 1893 storm in this post, and try to write about the 1938 storm if our power holds out.

"A Ruinous Gale"

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 24 August 1893

In the afternoon of 24 August 1893, the day after Long Island was hit by a major storm, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle devoted 5 columns to the storm on the front page, and continued the article with 2 more columns on page 8. The article begins by calling Brooklyn "remarkably lucky" and describing the damage as consisting "mainly in the disfiguration of the fine streets of the town by the destruction of shade trees." It then goes on to devote 7 entire columns to describing damage rather more extensive than the loss of shade trees!

It was clear that New York took a rather different approach to storms then than it does now. When the rain began at 8:00 pm, "wise persons who had read the latest weather forecasts were prepared for the trouble."Still, despite the advance warning, a "giant maple fell on the line of the Fifth avenue elevated road as a train passed." It seems that shutting down public transportation the day before the storm is not a century-old practice!

Trees fell pretty extensively, and the Eagle reported the next morning that 360 were down. It also reported their locations, and being cooped up in my apartment with nowhere to go, I took the opportunity to map them using Google maps. Every blue marker on this map is a tree that fell in "down town" Brooklyn, as reported to the Eagle by the superintendent of streets.

View Trees Felled in the "Ruinous Gale" of 23 August 1893 in a larger map

(No downed trees are represented in South Brooklyn, where much of my family lived. Either it was not considered "down town," and so downed trees there weren't included, or it didn't have the quantity of trees that other neighborhoods in the city did, and so there were none to fall.)

Beyond the trees being uprooted, roofs were ripped off of houses throughout the city. The family of Mr. Henry Brandt at the corner of York and Gold streets were asleep in their beds when the roof was lifted off of their house and then dropped back on it, throwing debris into their home and trapping them on the second floor. They had to escape through a ladder out the back window. Five houses on Ryerson St. (numbers 121, 123, 125, 127, and 129) lost their tin roofs to the storm.

Flooding was extensive, too:
  • Around the corner of Ashford and Fulton streets "the thoroughfares were flooded for two blocks around . . . The water was easily four feet deep at that point . . . the rare picture in a city thoroughfare, was that of a small boy in bathing trunks swimming from curb to curb just at the Ashford and Fulton street crossing. The boy may not have been swimming, but he was truly enough in bathing costume and he simulated natatorial progression. A crowd watched him and cheered him in his efforts."
  • "Water poured in torrents along Atlantic avenue and Fulton street, flooding basements and cellars and in some instances flooding stores and dwellings as far as the first story."
  • "In the block of houses on Rockaway avenue, between Marion and McDougall streets, six basements were flooded and in one house the small furniture in the front room was floating."

The article further described extensive damage along the beaches near Coney Island, saying that "the storm at Coney Island was the most violent ever experienced since the island became a summer resort." The Eagle relates the harrowing stories of people working in "bathing houses, photograph galleries, beer saloons, etc." on the beach, who lost everything or risked their lives trying to save what they could. Perhaps most disturbing is what happened to the "Bolivian Indian Village" "exhibit":
The Bolivian Indian Village, at the end of Tilyou's walk, was swept completely out of existence. All the Indians were asleep in the native huts in which they live. They were awakened by the water dashing over them and panic stricken with fright, howled dismally. One big wave came in and knocked the whole foundation out from under the place and the roof fell in. The falling timbers struck a big heavy pole which had been used by one of the natives named Samson in exhibiting feats of strength. The pole fell over on one of the frail huts in which three indians were sleeping, injuring them quite badly and pinning them down under the debris. Their cries attracted the attention of W.H. Yost, J.C. Donnelly and T.J. Ornsbee, who were assisting the work of rescue and the three alleged aborigines were hauled from under the wreck of their hut and the big pole, half choked with salt water and nearly scared to death. 

According to Ask Mr. Coney Island, "The extent of injuries to the indians is unknown and the show did not reopen."

Although I know that last year Hurricane Irene cause serious damage to upstate farmers, one complaint that NYC and Long Island won't likely have after today's storm is the condition of the crops. In 1893, it was reported that "the fruit crop is practically ruined and the corn, which withstood the drought, is leveled to the ground and in many places torn up by the roots. The situation of the farmers is thus made particularly distressing."

As I read through the article, I hoped to come across some descriptions of the situations of the actual neighborhoods my family were living in, but I had no such luck. I saw pictures of Red Hook (2012) flooding by early this afternoon, so I'm sure that my South Brooklyn (1893) ancestors had to contend with the same. Between that, and reading that Brooklynites had spent the night of 23 August 1893 "listening all night to the beating of the rain on roofs and windows; they had heard the howling of the gale and the crash of falling trees and their curiosity was stimulated," I was able to begin to imagine my ancestors living through that storm, as I was living through this one.

*My family were living in Brooklyn, which is New York City now, but wasn't then.

The Genealogy Event

I spent Friday and Saturday of this weekend at The Genealogy Event in NYC, and had a fantastic time. Although it wasn't quite on the scale of what I understand something like RootsTech or Genealogy Jamboree to be, it was the first event of its kind that I was able to attend, as the West Coast conferences aren't really a feasible option for me.

Although I'd been looking forward to The Genealogy Event for a while, I neglected to register until last week, and so was unable to preregister for any of the speaker sessions. This had me really worried, but I needn't have been. On-site registration on Friday was limited to 3 session per person, but after the rush subsided, I was able to go back to the registration table and get tickets for all of the other sessions I wanted to attend, too.

My only complaint would be that the "30-minute power learning sessions" didn't offer enough time to explore topics in depth. I would have preferred that the sessions be longer, or that there be offered both quick overviews and in-depth explorations of various topics in different sessions.

On Friday, one of the best sessions I attended was Judy G. Russell's talk on The ABCs of DNA. It was a good, engaging, and informative overview of DNA research. Although there wasn't much presented that I didn't know, she did make one point that was revelatory: because autosomal DNA isn't associated with surnames, you shouldn't be trying to match surnames, but rather times and places. This seems self-evident - I wanted to slap myself in the forehead and say "Duh!" when I heard it - but I had never come across it stated so plainly. I got home that night and immediately sent an e-mail to my closest match on FamilyTreeDNA, with whom I haven't yet been able to document a connection. (Still no luck, but we're working on it.)

I also attended Maureen Taylor's session, Photo Stories - Following the Clues; Shellee Morehead's session on Italian Genealogy; Terry Koch-Bostic's session, Read All About It! Finding Spicy Stories of New York Ancestors in Newspapers Online; and Joe Buggy's session on Planning a Genealogy Trip to Ireland. (God willing, we'll be able to take a trip to Ireland one of these days, though it may be years before we can accumulate enough vacation time to even see all the ancestral hometowns we'd like to visit, much less to have enough time to research all of those lines while we're there!)

One interesting-looking resource that was included in this last talk on Irish Genealogy was the website localhistory.ie, home of the Federation of Local History Societies in Ireland. These local groups are listed by county, and several exist for most counties. I imagine many are terrific resources to use when you've pinpointed your Irish ancestral hometown. I was also able to talk to Joe after the session to get a remedial lesson on Irish geopolitical divisions (Registration District vs. Civil Parish vs. Townland and so forth), because no matter how often I look this up, I can never keep them straight. The book he referenced for me was A New Genealogical Atlas of Ireland, Second Edition by Brian Mitchell, and it went straight on my Amazon.com "genealogy" wish list.

After attending alone on Friday, I was joined by my husband on Saturday. Saturday was a longer day, but, I thought, somewhat better organized. The three session limit for on-site registration had been lifted, but I didn't want to seem greedy, so I only registered for 4 in the morning, and then went back a little later to get tickets to a few more sessions, because I didn't want to worry about closing other attendees out.

I attended Lou Szucs's session Castle Garden, Ellis Island and NYC: Their Impact on Your Family History as well as her session Hidden Sources. The former seemed to be directed more towards people who had ancestors come through NY than those of us who spend every waking minute researching our NYC ancestors, but it still reminded me of any number of sources that went on my lists as places that need to be checked again, more thoroughly, or in a more organized fashion. I really enjoyed the session on How to Plan and Organize a Family History Book by Nancy and Biff Barnes. While I'm not an author, I've got a handful of half-baked ideas rolling around in my brain, covering everything from wanting to put my research into book form to make it more palatable to relatives, to having come across one story that's interesting enough to maybe be attractive to the general public, to trying to type up a couple of family stories in a booklet in time for this Christmas. Never having given much though to the how, when, or why or any of these projects, the information in this session was invaluable. I also attended Michael Worrell's session on Irish Based Genealogical Resources; Laura G. Prescott's session, Timelines: Putting Your History into Historical Perspective; and Maira Liriano's session on Genealogy at the New York Public Library.

I had tried to register late for the Timelines session, and they were already out of tickets by then, so I almost didn't go. Luckily, there were extra seats available, and I was able to get in anyway, because it was a particularly interesting session. I walked out with a list of timelines I need to make, including a Brooklyn history timeline, for general comparison with my family's history and an Italian history timeline, to back up (or not) the stories about why my great-grandfather immigrated to this country.

The NYPL talk didn't present much that I didn't already know, but it reminded me of some things I had forgotten, and it got me really fired up to get back to the library, a resource in my own backyard that I have been seriously underutilizing.

One of the best parts of the weekend were the vendors and booths. Although the DNA session wasn't an in-depth look at issues in genetic genealogy, I was able to meet the folks from FamilyTreeDNA at their booth and ask them some specific questions I had about my test results and matches. I was introduced to the Irish Family History Forum, a local Irish-focused genealogical society that meets right on Long Island, and that I'm now seriously considering joining. (But they meet on Saturdays, and my weekends tend to be so busy I'm afraid I'd never make it!) And, perhaps most exciting to me, the NYG&B provided me with on-site, online access to an article in their database about a topic I was interested in, which cleared up something I'd been wondering about for ages. (19th century New York "Bodies in Transit" records were created for any bodies being moved into NYC, not for those being moved out of NYC, which means that they were not created for the many, many, many individuals who died in Manhattan but were transported across the East River to be buried in the cemeteries in Brooklyn and Queens.)

All-in-all, I thought it was a terrific weekend, and I hope that the organizers found to be as successful as I did, because I'm really hoping that this becomes an annual event.

(This post contains Amazon.com affiliate links.)

Monday, October 15, 2012

On serendipity, and obstinately ignoring conflicting evidence

My paternal great-grandmother was Mary Quinn ("Grandma Molly"), and to my knowledge - and according to information given me by other relatives - she was always known as Molly. She was born in Brooklyn to Mary Gillan and Hugh Quinn, but though she was supposedly born 22 March 1897, she doesn't appear on the 1900 Federal Census with her family.

The Quinn family is living at 332 Bergen Street in the 10th Ward. The parents are Hugh and Mary, both 33, who have been married 7 years. Their children are Nora, age 5, who was born in December 1895; Anna, age 13, who was born in March 1887; and Helen, age 10 months, who was born in July 1899. (Mary Gillan's brother Mark is also living with them.)

The oddities in this census record are two-fold.

First, there's the presence of Anna. This Anna is old enough to predate the marriage between Hugh and Mary. She's also listed out-of-order, 13 years old, but showing up listed between a 5-year-old and an infant. I asked around the family, and no one had ever heard of an Anna in the family, a sister older than Agnes (aka Nora - figuring that out was its own story!), or a prior marriage for Hugh. Searching for this Anna Quinn, or anyone in her family, on the 1892 NYS Census proved futile. I had no idea who Anna was, or where she'd come from.

Second, there's the absence of Molly. She should be 3 years old. It's hard to imagine why her older and younger sisters are living with their parents, but she's not. No plausible Mary or Molly Quinn shows up in any hospitals, institutions, or other families in the city. My great-uncles - Molly's sons - weren't able to recall any reasons why their mother might not have been living with her parents as a young child. She is listed right where she should be, with her family, on all later federal and New York State census records.

It did occur to me that Anna might not be who she seemed. Children are usually listed in age order, so it seems irregular for 13-year-old Anna to be in the spot of the middle child in the family - the spot that should have belonged to Grandma Molly. But neither the name nor the age were even in the right ballpark, so I was convinced there was no relationship - except perhaps that of half-sisters - between these two. If one or the other had matched, I might have thought that the entry referred to Grandma Molly, but they did not. And yet I couldn't figure out who Anna was, or where Molly had gone.

So I ignored the questions. After brief searches into Anna and Molly, I stopped looking into them. I ignored the existence of one and the absence of the other, and left the family alone for years.

A couple of months ago, after the 1925 NYS Census was uploaded to Ancestry.com, I located Molly Quinn, and her husband John O'Hara on it with their two young sons. I remembered that I'd never been able to find their marriage record in the Italiangen.org indexes, even though they were likely married in the early 1920s, a time when the marriages were fairly reliably recorded by the city. I went back and checked the index again, and found that there was a John O'Hara marrying at about the right time, and he was even marrying a Quinn, but her name wasn't Mary. It was Anna.

I'd seen this entry in the index before and thought nothing of it - Quinns and O'Haras were a dime a dozen in Irish Brooklyn, and my John O'Hara had married a Mary Quinn. This wasn't her. Right?

I still wasn't seeing what was right in front of me, but I was beginning to have suspicions. I had the date on which her sons had told me Molly was born, but whenever I checked the ItalianGen birth index for a Mary Quinn, I came up empty. I tried again, selecting for just the year 1897, and searching on just the name Quinn. There, on 22 March 1897, Grandma Molly's birthday, was an entry for an Annie M Quinn. Suddenly, I understood. 13-year-old Anna was 3-year-old Molly. John O'Hara married Molly Quinn when he married Anna Quinn.

I sent away for the birth and marriage records, and was not disappointed.

According to her birth certificate, Annie May Quinn (or Anne May Quinn? or Ann(i)e Mary?) was born 22 March 1897 at 328 Bergen Street, only a couple of doors down from where she would be so confusingly enumerated in the 1900 Census. Her parents were Mary Gillen and Hugh Quinn. He was an engineer. There was no doubt - none whatsoever - that this was Grandma Molly. And that her first name was Annie.

The March 1923 marriage certificate was just as convincing.

Anna M. Quinn was living at the home where Molly had been enumerated with her mother and siblings in the 1920 Census. Her parents are Mary Gillen and Hugh Quinn. John J. O'Hara's parents' names are given, accurately, as John J. O'Hara and Mary King. The witnesses to the ceremony are John's brother Eugene W. O'Hara, and Molly's older sister Agnes Quinn (aka Nora).

From a genealogical perspective, or a research perspective, this is a story about not being an idiot, and about evaluating the information offered by a record for its potential truth without discounting it for not fitting with what you think you already know. From a family perspective, this story is about crazy serendipity, and my Dad winning (or at least not losing) an argument, but not knowing it for 21 years.

The story goes that after I was born, and again after my sister Laura was born, my dad finalized our names, while my mom was recovering, from the short list our parents had created but without her final input. Though we turned out to be remarkably well-named, my mom was insistent, the third time around, that she would be the one to have the final say for their next child. The discussion during her pregnancy was about whether they would name the baby Anna or Molly - Anna, after my mother's grandmother, or Molly, after the aforementioned Grandma Molly, my father's grandmother. My mom pulled rank, and Anna she was named - after Anna Cianciotta Lanzillotto, my mother's maternal grandmother. For her entire life, we had known that though my dad had wanted to name her after Grandma Molly, he had not prevailed, and so Anna had her maternal great-grandmother's name and not her paternal great-grandmother's name. The summer that my sister Anna turned 21, I got to call them all up with these papers in hand and tell them all that they had made the right choice in naming her Anna. Because actually, those 2 grandmothers my parents wanted to honor when they named my sister?  

They were both named Anna.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Doors of Faith: Il Santuario del Beato Giacomo

My maternal family all hail from the south of Italy, most of them from the small town of Bitetto, outside of Bari.

I could be writing about il Cattedrale di San Michele Arcangelo, the church in town which undoubtedly played a role in the faith lives of my ancestors. (It occurs to me at this writing that the frequency with which the name Arcangela was used in my grandmother's family might bear testament to this.) But my main association with the cathedral in Bitetto is that when I visited the town, in college, I was met by my second cousin once removed and his young son. My Italian was better then than it is now, but I still didn't understand anything that was spoken in dialect, and didn't catch much of what was spoken in Italian. Still, I understood as young Donato, in the back seat, told his father that they should show me the cathedral - il primo cattedrale di Bitetto! ("The number one cathedral in Bitetto!") Only moments into my very first visit to the town, even I got the joke: there's only one cathedral in Bitetto.

But although I can speak to 10-year-olds making jokes that even barely proficient Americans can understand, I can't speak, in any meaningful way, to the importance of il primo cattedrale di Bitetto! in the faith lives of my ancestors. What I can speak to is the continuing importance of a different church, Il Santuario del Beato Giacomo di Bitetto, in the lives of people who trace their roots to Bitetto.

Il Beato Giacomo translates to "Blessed James" in English, but although he's occasionally thus named on English-language websites, even in America, no one refers to him in English. He's always Il Beato Giacomo, or just Il Beato (which just means "the blessed," but which somehow never gets confused with, say, Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha, or Bl. Benedict XI).

Il Beato was born in Croatia, and relocated to Bari, Italy, where he received a call to religious life and joined the Order of Friars Minor in Bitetto. During his life, he was known for his holiness and prayer life, including levitating during prayer. After his death, in 1896, his body was discovered to be incorrupt. It is currently on display in the Santuario Beato Giacomo in Bitetto. (Blessed Jakov Varinguez, saints.sqpn.com)

My "doors of faith": Il Santuario Beato Giacomo 

Image source: Santuario Beato Giacomo - Bitetto. http://www.beatogiacomo.it/

Il Beato Giacomo is still important to people from Bari, both those in Italy and those worldwide, and he's particularly important to people from Bitetto. When I visited Bitetto, I did go to il cattedrale in town, but that was just for a quick look around. The big event was visiting il Beato. (Donato wanted to come, but couldn't because he had school. How often do you encounter a church that's so important that even ten-year-old boys want to visit?) I was able to view his incorrupt body. I met with the priest. My grandmother had sent me with instructions to make a donation on behalf of the Gatto and Lanzillotto families. It was 2007. Ninety-eight years after my earliest immigrant ancestor had left Bitetto, we were still donating to express devotion to il Beato Giacomo.

If you look around, you'll find traces of il Beato throughout the lives of my family and, I'm sure, others from the area. There's a framed image of il Beato Giacomo's incorrupt body in my grandparents' home. My mom has a prayer card in her car. I just reached into my wallet and pulled out these, a card and a medal:

 Prayer card, front

O Beato Giacomo, faithful friend of Jesus, pray for me and for my loved ones now and always. Amen.

Beato Giacomo medal

"Beato Giacomo * Bitetto"

My family is merely an illustration of the zeal with which people from around Bari still venerate il Beato Giacomo. The United Pugliesi Federation in New York has an annual Mass for him around the time of his feast day. More than that, in doing the research for this post, I discovered that in December 2009, Pope Benedict XVI advanced the cause of canonization of il Beato Giacomo by promulgating a decree of heroic virtues.

Beato Giacomo, ora pro nobis.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Wear You Came From

Is there an embarrassing typo in the title of this post? Or have I come up with a particularly clever name for a little project I've been working on recently?

Much to the relief of every English teach I've ever had, it's the latter. I've recently opened up a store on Zazzle.com, called Wear You Came From, featuring genealogy-inspired apparel and other products for the genealogist and his or her whole family.

If you've hit so many brick walls that your ancestors must have been masons - well, I can't help you find them, but I can help you talk about it!

If you have a descendant who you love very much, here's the perfect way to show it!

If you enjoy researching black sheep ancestors because of the frequency with which they appear in court records and newspaper articles, you might like a shirt proclaiming that Well-behaved ancestors seldom make the papers.  (With my apologies to Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.)

This is just a sampling of what's available, so if you want a cool T-shirt, or a need a gift for your favorite genealogist, or the relatives who put up with your research obsession every day, visit Wear You Came From and take a look!