Addressing My Past

If you know anything about me, you will know I like to research and discover things about my ancestors.  I do because, until a few years ago, I did not know all that much about them.  Either side of the family was pretty much a mystery except for the O’Connells. For me, the O’Connells were my maternal grandmother, Regina, and her brothers Edward and James.  Edward was her twin and James was my godfather.

I have spent a lot of time looking through sites like Ancestry.com, FindaGrave.com, and Newspapers.com  for names and dates of family events. I have also researched the family homes in Brooklyn. This week I plugged in an address to see what would turn up. The house at 164 Dean Street is in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn.  During my lifetime it was “Uncle Ed’s house.”

P045

164 Dean Street, circa 1940, NYC Municipal Archives

It came into my family in March 1907 with the deed going to John Boyle (my third great-grandfather).  With the death of John Boyle, it passed into the hands of the O’Connell family, specifically my great-grandfather, Edward F. O’Connell.  It passed to my Great Uncle, Edward A. O’Connell in 1941 and James O’Connell was added to the deed soon after.

It was common for multiple family units in the immigrant Irish community to fill these venerable old Brownstones. From 1907 through the late 1980’s, 164 Dean Street was the home of many of the Irish names that run in my family; Boyle, Cooke, Mahoney, and O’Connell.

I went into Newspapers.com and found The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the daily paper for Brooklyn for 114 years from 1841 to 1955.  What I found was a little bit of a revelation.  I caught some of my ancestors living their daily lives.  The first thing to catch my eye with the Dean Street address was a letter written by my, then 10-year-old, grandmother to the children’s page published in May 1917 seeking admission to the Humane Club.  It seems to have been a column written by someone who went by “Aunt Jean.”

The newspaper did a lot of society reporting and it actually reported on parties on Dean Street.  Mary Boyle Cooke (my second great-grandmother) celebrated her 81st birthday:

Mrs Anthony Cooke Birthday

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sun, Nov 14, 1937 – Page 18

There were parties for my cousin William “Billy” J. Mahoney, Jr. (1st cousin, 2 X removed)  The first was his 21 birthday party, the second announced his return home on furlough from the army.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sun, Dec 14, 1941 – Page 20

With all those “Misses” invited, I think his mother, my second great-aunt “Gertie”, may have been trying to marry Billy off in 1941.

Billy would, like so many young men during that time, join the Army.  He went to boot camp at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.  Either during a break in training or before heading over to the European theater he came home on a furlough and his mother threw him another party.

Billy Mahoney home on furlough

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Thu, Jun 10, 1943 – Page 4

I think the second event was a lot more bittersweet than the 21st birthday celebration.  Billy would go on to fight in Europe where he was wounded in action.  He came home to Dean Street and took care of his mother.  He never did marry.

My great Uncle Ed (Edward A. O’Connell) was an interesting character.  He was a banker,  a talented artist and a bit of an amateur historian of the Fire Department in New York City.  In his study on the third floor of the brownstone on Dean Street he had painted a borough map of Brooklyn with the locations of all the fire houses, call boxes and graphics of some of the equipment.  I don’t know if any photographs of the wall were ever taken.  If there are any out there, I would love a copy.  On 24 October 1948 his work appeared in the Old Timers section of the paper.  Both the graphic and the write-up were his work.

Graphic.png

Text FDNY

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 24 October 1948, page 24

I was originally looking for information on births and deaths. I found the life in between.

Revelation

The Perils of Disproving Family Legends

I am knee-deep in genealogy paperwork this weekend.  A package from the National Archives containing the military records of my great-grandfather, Sidney J. Kelly, Sr. spilled over 100 photocopied pages across my table that probably have not been disturbed since the 1920’s at a time when his widow was seeking assistance with pensions and death benefits.  I spent most of Saturday pouring over the documents and creating a transcript of the many handwritten logs contained within.

The danger in the research I have been doing for the past few years comes in when I discover that a family legend is not really true.  We all have them, celebrated skeletons in the closet.  They could also be whispered secrets through the generations or notes in the margins of family histories left to us from those who came before us. The names Baumann, Boyle, Cooke, Flood, Gaynor, Kelly, and O’Connell get tangled in the vines on my family tree.  greetings-from-gowanus-a

Did John Boyle, Jr. drown in the Gowanus Canal in 1875? (If you are not from Brooklyn, you could not possibly understand just how horrible it would be to drown in that body of “water”.) In World War I, was PVT Thomas Kelly of Company “G”, 106th Infantry Regiment gassed by the Germans on the battlefields of Belgium?  Was Michael H. Baumann guilty of manslaughter in the 1910s?  Was his victim, a man with the last name of O’Connell from Brooklyn,  another relative on the other side of my family tree?  It reads like a Penny Dreadful.

sidney-and-emily-kelly

Sidney and Emily Kelly, circa 1918 Courtesy of Norman McDonald

What do I know now that I did not know last Thursday?  I know that Provisional Ensign Sidney J.Kelly, USNRF, died of disease in March of 1919 while on home leave due to illness.  His medical discharge, signed by Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels days after his death, had to be revoked so that benefit and pension issues could be dealt with by his widow, Emily.  I also have found that Ens Kelly’s son, Private Thomas M. Kelly, served with the 106th Infantry Regiment in the European theater and most likely did see combat in the 2nd Battle of the Somme in March and April of 1918 fighting alongside the British Third Army.  He returned to the United States in 1919 and was discharged when the 106th was demobilized in June 1919.  His name does not appear on the casualty lists from the battle.  I am still looking into his unit history and am waiting for the National Archives to provide his records.  The story of him being gassed is still unproven.

Whatever I uncover, I think it is best to stick to what I can prove through research and documentation.  The truth will find a way to come out.   Some the legends may continue as legend, others may not stand up to scrutiny.  For now, I will go where the records and,  hopefully, the truth take me.

 

Transcript