Wednesday, May 30, 2012

118th Carnival of Genealogy: Reading!

My paternal grandmother, Marilyn Mulcahy, whom I called Nan, died when I was 4, so I unfortunately don't remember her well, and most of what I know about her I know in an intellectual sense, not a relational sense. But there's one way in which I've always felt connected to her, and that was through reading.

My dad used to tell me that I was the only person he knew - other than his mother - who would read the same book more than once. It was clear to me that Nan and I were somehow the only people with knowledge of an incredibly obvious secret: if you can watch your favorite movie more than once, and watch reruns of your favorite tv show, and listen to your favorite song multiple times, why on earth wouldn't you read your favorite book (or 10) every year or so?

Being known for reading could be something of a curse for an elementary school student. A friend of mine spread the rumor that she had found me reading the dictionary, and I was made fun of for it, despite my protests. (It wasn't that I had any theoretical objection to reading the dictionary, it was just that she had never seen me do it - of that I was certain.) I had a tendency to read in places that my classmates didn't consider socially acceptable - like the bus, and the playground, and the lunch line - and places my teachers didn't think were appropriate - like under my desk while they were teaching. I was so known for being a reader that I spent years where my relatives' go-to conversation starter was "So have you read any good books lately?" (Given how often I reread books, this did not often lead to new and interesting conversations, and I struggled with how to respond.)

But being known as a reader could also be a boon, one I wouldn't fully appreciate for several years. Nan's sister, Aunt Betty, showed up at a family party when I was about 10, and gave me some books that my grandmother had read when she was younger. I received Nan's own copies of several books, with her name in them (as well as some scribbles and notes left when the much younger Betty tried to imitate her sister in reading a book she was otherwise uninterested in). I certainly appreciated being the recipient of those books.

Aunt Betty also relayed just how Nan had utilized her reputation as a reader: apparently as a girl she was so quiet, well-mannered, and well-behaved, and so content to sit and read while grown-ups went about their business that her parents would take her along to places that kids wouldn't otherwise have been invited to. I'm told that this worked out well until she was one day caught sitting there "reading" - with the book upside down, taking in the grown-up conversation around her! (This was something I always kept in mind but - unfortunately - never had the opportunity to emulate.)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"was formerly worth considerable money"

When I was posting about Richard Toner's death, I went through all the information I had about his life, and when I put it all together, and it became clearer than ever that there's a piece missing from this puzzle.

I have US Census, NYS Census, and City Directory records for Richard Toner and his family from 1860 through 1880, as well as a handful of newspaper mentions of them, mostly about deaths in the family.

One of them includes the line Toner is an old resident of Red Hook Point, and was formerly worth considerable money, a line that alludes to, but doesn't actually tell, a story. As I pulled together the facts about Richard's life for a post about his death, I tried to find other evidence of that untold story, and came up more or less empty. 

Here's what I know about Richard Toner after he arrived in the U.S. circa 1850:

1850 - daughter Julia baptized
1852 - daughter Mary Ann baptized
1853 - son Samuel baptized
1860 - a laborer, value of personal estate: $50
1863 - a porter
1863 - a son, Richard Joseph, dies of diptheria
1864 - a laborer
1865 - a laborer, value of home $2,000 
1866 - a clerk
1866 - a son and daughter, James Thomas and Julia, die of cholera
1868 - a laborer
1869 - a clerk
1870 - a painter
1870 - a son, Samuel, dies "suffocated in a bin of bran" at the flour mill where he worked
1871 - a laborer
1872 - a painter
1873 - a painter
1874 - his mother, Judith, dies of "old age"
1875 - a painter, value of home $1,500 (his son-in-law is listed first, and is presumably the homeowner, if indeed either of them owns the home)
1876 - a painter
1877 - a painter
1877 - a painter, "was formerly worth considerable money"
1878 - a painter
1879 - a painter
1880 - a painter
11 May 1880 - dies of Hepatitis 

You can look at these and make a few educated guesses. Richard was more well off in 1865, when he owned (or at least lived in) a house worth $2,000 than he was in 1860, when his entire estate was worth $50. His fortunes apparently declined again by the time he moved in with his daughter and son-in-law and, a few years later, was acknowledged to have been "formerly worth considerable money." However - his occupations don't demonstrate any substantial change that would seems to indicate a change in fortunes. In fact, it's precisely at the time when he appears to have been the most financially well-off that his occupation changed frequently and he was rarely listed as anything more specific than a laborer. That's not the employment situation I'd expect from someone "worth considerable money." He seems to have become more established in profession (painting) precisely between the time of his greatest net worth and the time of his considerably lower fortunes. (Though I've looked, I have no indication as to whether he was an artistic painter or a house painter; in the lack of evidence, I tend to assume the latter. I can't help but think that there would be some evidence if the opposite were true.)

I've never been able to find a probate record for Richard Toner, though I'm going to give it another shot now that I've got an actual death date. (I'm also going to check the indexes under Fones and Foner, considering that that was the search method that led me to his death certificate.) I also haven't found a death notice or obituary for him published in any of the papers that the family regularly appeared in. (I wonder if Richard was the one who had published the death notices for his various children and his mother, and no one in the family took up the job after his death? His wife and son died almost 20 years later, and neither had an obituary published at that time, either.)

Next steps: Return to the Kings County Surrogates Court to look for probate records for Richard Toner, now that I have a death date to work with.

Head to the Brooklyn Public Library to read the Brooklyn Standard Union on microfilm, in hopes that there was a relevant story published there that didn't make it into the Brooklyn Daily Eagle or the New York Herald

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A long-sought death date for Richard Toner

It took me what seemed like forever to find a death date for my 3x great-grandfather, Richard Toner. After immigrating to Brooklyn circa 1850, he shows up there on censuses with his family, and in city directories on a regular basis. The family never moved outside of Red Hook, Brooklyn, and really lived in only a handful of addresses around 1 or 2 blocks on Van Brunt Street, by Tremont (now Visitation) and Verona Streets.

And then they just disappear. My last sighting of Richard was an 1880 Brooklyn City Directory, but I couldn't find him in the 1880 census, even though I had his address. I couldn't find anyone in the family in the 1880 census. In 1892, one of their daughters shows up, married and living with her husband and children, but Richard, his wife Mary, and the rest of their children are nowhere to be found. I was able to find deaths for both Mary and their son William in 1899, and (some of) their married daughters show up in the 1900 Census, but family is almost entirely absent from any records I've encountered between 1880 and 1900 - and Richard never shows up again after 1880. I figured he died in there somewhere, but 2 decades is a long time, and I couldn't find him in the NYC death index at the Italian Genealogical Group's site. 

Luckily, I had some time ago met a cousin through Ancestry whose tree showed her as being descended from Richard's daughter - Elizabeth Jones Loughlin Renehan. I knew well that Elizabeth's name wasn't Jones, but rather Toner, but without having seen it thus misinterpreted, I might not ever have spent as long trying to think of what letters look like the letters in the name Toner. Jones was my first guess, since I knew that at least one person had misinterpreted a written Toner as Jones, and I did order the death certificate for one Richard Jones who had died in 1886, but he wasn't my guy. After thinking a little harder, I realized that Fones or Foner would look even more like Toner, and I found one likely entry in the death index - a [horribly mistranscribed] Ricehhrd J. Foner. When the certificate arrived, I knew without a doubt that I'd found my guy. 

The certificate very clearly doesn't say Ricehhrd Foner, but Richard Joseph Toner. He died on 11 May 1880, so it would make sense that he wasn't on the 1880 Census, which was enumerated on 1 June 1880 - although that doesn't explain where the rest of the family was. His place of death was 91 Tremont St., which is not an address I'd seen the family at before, but it's certainly within that same radius of a block or so in which the family lived for years. His occupation and birthplace are right - he's an Irish-born painter - and his age is more or less as would be expected. He died after suffering from hepatitis for 10 days. 

Richard was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn on 13 May 1880. I called the cemetery once to see if they could give me a burial location or a death date, but although they were able to tell me that a Richard Toner was the owner of a plot where several of his relatives were buried, they couldn't verify whether he himself was in that same plot. 

Next step: Now that I have a death date, I need to call back and find out what other information Holy Cross might be able to give me. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Family Not-History

I'm breaking from our regularly scheduled programming to introduce my readers to my talented cousin, Gina Cimmelli, whose band, Gina's Picture Show, has just come out with a fantastic new song.

You can listen to it here, or head to to download it for free! It's my understanding that the free download is a limited time offer, so you'd better get it now!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What do YOU believe is worth preserving?

If you believe that buildings designed by famous architects aren't the only ones worth preserving, if you believe that regular people who lived in regular buildings deserve to have their stories told, too, then vote for the Tenement Museum to win a major grant, from Partners in Preservation, to preserve the historic tenement apartments at 97 Orchard Street.

You can vote once a day through May 21 at either the Partners in Preservation website,, or on their Facebook page at The grant is awarded based entirely on this popular vote, and the Tenement Museum needs a last minute push to get to the top by the end of this week!

Remember, the Tenement Museum preserves and tells the stories of people just like our own immigrant ancestors - their stories need to be told, and their homes need to be preserved. Vote today and every day to make it happen!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Madigan Family, Records of St. Peter's Church

It's been a long time since I've posted. I gave up social media for Lent, and while Facebook use came back instantaneously, too easily - I really wish it hadn't - blogging, with it's content and forethought and effort has been a slower effort. Then I went away on vacation, and hadn't even started blogging again, much less been able to schedule posts for my absence. What blogging I'd been doing had been taken up by Ben's transcription blog, The Gleasure and Harber Letters, but that has lately been slow-to-nonexistent, too. If you haven't yet checked out the letters blog, I urge you to. My husband has perhaps hundreds of letters written to his great-grandfather between the 1890s and the 1960s, and they are an absolutely fascinating look at trans-Atlantic relationships between an immigrant and the family he left behind, not to mention providing some incredible insight into the personalities of the individuals involved.

What I have been doing in the interim is research. I've ordered records from the Family History Library, as well as discovered that there is precisely one repository in New York City that is open at a time when I don't have to be at work, and that is the New York Public Library. And the New York Public Library holds the microfilmed Records of St. Peter's Church, and St. Peter's is where my great-great-grandmother was baptized! So off I headed after work on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, when the microfilm reading room is open late. (There's a chance another branch of my family entirely might have also interacted with St. Peter's Church, several decades later, but I haven't gotten to those records yet. I can't go tonight because sometimes the present has to take priority over the past, and we have no food in the house.)

I knew my 2x great-grandmother, Mary Ann Madigan, had been born c. 1868, so I started there and worked my way backwards through marriage records until I found the records of her parents, Mathew Madigan and Margaret Sullivan.

They were married 15 September 1867. Their witnesses were Simon Healy and Hanora Sullivan, who would later be the godparents of their eldest child. A Francis J. Healy was the witness to Mathew Madigan's naturalization several years later, and I'm really beginning to wonder who these Healys were. I've been told (but have no sources for the information) that Margaret Sullivan Madigan had a sister named Nora Sullivan Crowe. If that's true, Hanora Sullivan and Nora Sullivan Crowe are probably one and the same. I did notice that the priest's name was also Healy, so I e-mailed the diocese for information about the him. I got a brief bio in response. While I suppose there might be a relationship to the Simon and Francis Healy - who I don't yet know anything about - there's no immediately apparent connection to the Madigans.

Then I switched to baptism records, and picked up the search again in 1868 (using Mathew and Margaret's marriage record as a guideline, but not a firm one). I found Mary Ann Madigan, born 8 December 1868, being baptized on 13 December 1868:

 Her sponsors were Simon Healy and Hanora Sullivan, just as at her parents' wedding.

I had a good guess for when Mary's younger brother James was born, so I continued forward through the records, and found James M. Madigan, born 1 September 1870, being baptized 4 September 1870:

His sponsors were Simon Cunningham (I have no idea who this is) and Catherine Sullivan. My information (I wish I had sources; instead I have "information") says that Margaret's two sisters were the aforementioned Nora, and Bridgett Sullivan Consodine. Two brother, Conn and James, are also mentioned. I suppose Catherine could be a sister-in-law, a cousin, or an otherwise unknown sister.

I continued working my way through the baptismal records, expecting to find the youngest sibling, Margaret, who was born c. 1873, represented as well, but I was unsuccessful. The question is to figure out why. Where were they?

In 1870, they were living in Manhattan, having James baptized at St. Peter's.
In 1872, they were living in Manhattan, with a NYC Directory putting them at 482 Canal Street, near enough to be attending St. Peter's, though it's not the closest of the Catholic Churches currently in existence in the neighborhood.
In c. 1873, Margaret was not baptized at St. Peter's in Manhattan.
In 1875, they are not listed in the NYS Census in Brooklyn, which suggests the possibility that they were still in Manhattan. (1875 NYS Census returns for Manhattan were lost.)
In 1876, when Mathew was naturalized, his address was given as 85 Luqaar Street, Brooklyn.
In 1880, the Madigans are enumerated at 85 Luquer Street, where they or their descendants would remain through at least 1940.

Sometime between 1872 and 1876, the Madigans moved to Brooklyn from Manhattan. It would seem that it happened after the 1875 NYS Census was enumerated, but if that's the case, where were they living when Margaret was born? Where was she baptized?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

YOU can help preserve history!

The Tenement Museum needs your help! The Lower East Side Tenement Museum, which tells the stories of our immigrant ancestors, is currently in contention to win a major grant from Partners in Preservation, which would fund stabilization and conservation work on many of the spaces in the historic 163-year-old tenement at 97 Orchard Street. Winning this grant is based on the outcome of a popular vote, and YOU can help! You can vote once every day between now and May 21, either at the Partners in Preservation website (requires registration, but it's free and easy!) or on the Partners in Preservation Facebook page (requires a Facebook account).

For some great reasons to vote to help preserve 163 years of history at the Tenement Museum, here's a great video with some of our dedicated staff:

(Full disclosure: I work at the Tenement Museum.)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I think I'm doing this wrong

I spent my lunch break at work - it was raining - drafting a post about ancestors of mine marrying and baptizing in the 1860s and 1870s. (It will post soon.) I had a long day at work, and left on a bit of a high, in a good mood from having found a solution to an issue that had been problematic all week. I hadn't been on Twitter in months, but I signed in today because I wanted to spread the word as widely as possible that people should vote for the Lower East Side Tenement Museum to win a major grant from Partners in Preservation. Then I got home and signed in again - because social media has addictive qualities. I scrolled down the page, obviously reading tweets in reverse chronological order.

One of my teenaged cousins had tweeted "Of course all these sad songs about missin people come on in a row when my whole iPod is on shuffle. #missyou" I wondered idly who she was talking about. Maybe her (ex?) boyfriend? I thought that was all over. Well, I guess she could miss him  - really, all the more reason to miss him, if they're not together anymore.

I kept scrolling.

15 minutes earlier, she had tweeted "Love and miss you Pop. RIP <3"

Wait, really? She was missing Pop? Wait, what's today's date? May 9. Wait. What day did Pop die? It was around this time of year . . . I have no idea what the date was.

I actually had to go into my genealogy software to remember when my own grandfather died just four years ago. Yes, it was May 9. May 9, 2008.

What kind of family historian am I? What kind of granddaughter am I?

I'm happy to spend my days analyzing 19th century death records, but my grandfather's fairly recent death slips my mind, until I read about it on Twitter. I call myself a family historian, and I think I've got historian down . . . am I missing something about the family part?

I miss you too, Pop.