Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Genealogy Blog Party: Time Travel to an Ancestor!

I may not understand many of the Dr. Who references in the party invitation, but I'll take an ancestor time machine any time! These days, I'd go back to the late 19th century to meet my enigmatic 3x great-grandfather Richard Toner.

He could answer lots of questions for me:

I certainly would not tell Richard Toner who I am. There were times when he seemed a bit psychologically unstable, and I'm not sure a visit from 2016 would be in his best interest. This is part of what makes him such a fascinating ancestor; there are a lot of interesting things going on in his life, a lot of different jobs, activity with different organizations (police, fire, Democratic party, just to name a few), a roller coaster of financial fortunes (in 1877, he was "formerly worth considerable money") and some apparently very difficult personal relationships. I'd love to get to know this complicated individual. Even without revealing myself, though, I'm still going to have to deal with disrupting the future, because the best way I can see to help him with a problem would be to teach him to boil water during a cholera epidemic, in hopes of saving the lives of two of his children, Julia and James Thomas, who died during NYC's 1866 epidemic.

By Sanatory Committee, under the sanction of the Medical Counsel, in New York City - New York Historical Society. "Plague in Gotham! Cholera in 19th-Century New York." New York Historical Society. April 04, 2008 - August 31, 2008., Public Domain,

Since the official cholera prevention advice of the time wouldn't do much to save my 3x great aunt and uncle, I'll have to step in and do it.

What impact would this encounter have on the future? None of Richard's sons lived to have children, as far as I have been able to determine. If James Thomas had survived to adulthood, there might still be Toner men in this family to test for Y-DNA! If Julia had lived, wouldn't be another Julia Toner. My 2x great-grandmother, the second Julia Toner born into this family, would have had a different name. That is, of course, if she had been born at all. Who really knows whether Richard and his wife Mary would have gone on to have a 9th child in 1868 if they hadn't lost 2 - the oldest and the youngest - in 1866? (Another boy, Richard Joseph, then the youngest, had died in 1863.) If Julia hadn't been born, I wouldn't be here today, and neither would something like 50% of the people I know and love. And if I weren't here, I wouldn't be around to travel back in time to save the elder Julia and potentially wipe out our entire line. (Then what?)

But when I think about the heartbreak of the Toners, losing two children in two days, I'm convinced that going back in time to institute a boil water advisory is a risk I'd have to take. (Plus I really want to find out what happened to the money!)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Scenic views of my ancestral homelands

I used to commute to work by bike, from my home in Queens, through Brooklyn, and into Manhattan, a route which took me across the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge. This bridge separated the two most harrowing parts of my commute, connecting a poorly marked bike lane and heavy truck traffic with no bike line, heavy truck traffic, and an excess of double parking. The bridge itself has no bike lanes, and the incline is enough that once you've crested the hill on a bike, you're pretty invisible to cars coming up behind you. As a result, I usually walked my bike on the sidewalk, and took advantage of the delay to take in the scenery.

Newtown Creek from Greenpoint Avenue Bridge 02
Newtown Creek from Greenpoint Avenue Bridge 02
Postdlf from w [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant
By Jim.henderson (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Inspiring, isn't it? It's not exactly the most picturesque part of Brooklyn, and certainly bears little relationship to Park Slope's brownstones or Williamsburg's trendy boutiques. And yet it never failed to move me, on some level. This industrial Brooklyn is my Brooklyn, my ancestors' Brooklyn. They didn't live in Greenpoint, of course; they lived in Red Hook. But here on the Newtown Creek in Greenpoint is where I felt the most connection to the gritty, industrial Brooklyn that they would have experienced.

I was once out with friends in Brooklyn Heights, and as we walked past the building that had been the Hotel St. George, I mentioned that it was where my grandparents had been married. A Brooklynite friend asked me, slightly exasperated, "Seriously Kathleen, why don't you live in Brooklyn?" As nice as it is to walk past the place where my grandparents were married, though, those special-event, one-of-a-kind locations are not what connect me the most to my family history. It's there on the Newtown Creek, where I wouldn't dare touch the water. It's when I got stuck in growing lines of automotive and bicycle traffic as they raised the Greenpoint Avenue drawbridge to let some industrial, waste-bearing barge pass beneath. It's the sight of sewage treatment plants, shipping containers, and storage warehouses that line both sides of the creek. These are today's equivalents of the shipyards and grain elevators that employed my Mulvaney and Toner ancestors along the Red Hook waterfront, the modern counterparts to the industry that would have been the backdrop to their daily lives, and these are the elements that make me feel the closest to them.

Friday, April 8, 2016

*Brand New* Online Resource: NY City Clerk Marriage Index, 1908-1929

I am a big fan of the non-profit group Reclaim the Records, which is fighting to get public access to the public records genealogy depends on. Their first case, and first success, won the release of copies of the microfilmed indexes to the NYC City Clerk's Marriage Indexes for 1908-1929. These were put online at the Internet Archive today, and I got right to work!

The records indexed here are distinct from the Health Department records already indexed by the Italian Genealogical Group and available on its website, as well as at Ancestry and elsewhere online. Reclaim the Records says,

"These marriage records were kept by the New York City Clerk's Office, not the Health Department. And they are not the two-page certificates. Instead, they are a three-page document set, consisting of (1) the application of the couple wishing to get married, (2) the affidavit from the couple stating that they are legally allowed to get married, and (3) the marriage license granted to the couple so that they could go get married at a date in the near future. Therefore, the dates of the documents listed in this index were usually several weeks before the marriage; the date is not the same date that the wedding took place."

It seems that these records should cover the same couples covered by the Health Department Records (plus anyone who applied for a marriage license and then didn't actually get married), but they may contain additional information. What additional information, or how much of it, I'm not sure of.

I picked a couple to use as a test case - my trickiest set of great-grandparents in this time period. My great-grandmother, Maria D'Ingeo, was born in a still-undetermined location, and my great-grandfather, Domenico Gatto, was married once before, but I have no information on his first marriage. These seem like great records to possibly provide some information about one or both of these topics, so I wrote to the NYC Municipal Archives to request the record. Once I receive it and see what it contains, I'll be able to evaluate whether to pursue this set of records for each set of my great-grandparents who married in NYC.

Bonus Tip: Check the end of each section of the index! Apostrophes are tricky. The index is arranged by year, then by first letter of the last name, then by quarter, then by first two letter of the last name. So to find a Maria D'Ingeo who was married in October 1919, you would expect to go to 1919, then to the letter D, then scroll through to the last quarter of the year, and then go to the Di section. If you did this, you would read through every name that starts with Di and not find her. You have to then scroll through an extra 1.5 blank pages of pre-printed DIs to find "D'Ingea, Maria" at the very end. Always check the end if you don't find your subject where you expect to.

genealogy, reclaim the records, vital records, family history, marriage records, public records access
Screenshot: Index to NYC City Clerk's Marriage Records
1919 - D - Sep-Dec - Di
D'Ingea, Maria