Thursday, March 24, 2016

Genealogical Journey: Contacting Living Relatives

Aunt Peggy provided me with a name and an address of a relative now residing in New Jersey.  Staten Island is geographically closer to New Jersey than New York.  Legend has it that the governors of New York and New Jersey had a foot race to determine who would get the island.  The governor of New York lost.  I write my second cousin Dorothy a letter, including a copy of great-grandma's photograph.  After all, it is her great-grandmother too.  Her grandfather took the photo.  Perhaps she would be willing to talk to me about our family history if she sees this.  That was not the case.  She called months later when I was out of town.  We became friends on facebook.  She never responded to my invitations to meet when I am on the East Coast. I spoke with her briefly when she was at another cousin's house and the phone was handed to her.  To this day, I still have not spoken directly to her about our link to Timothy O'Sullivan.  It turned out that she held the answer to the question of whether we were related to him or not. 

I continued my research on with my free, two week subscription.  Those weeks passed quickly and I still hadn't found a record directly linking us to O'Sullivan.  My budget for genealogy resembled the shape of a donut, but I was hooked and needed to find a way to continue researching.  An online search led me to the Family History Library where I discovered free access to premium data bases, classes, books and like-minded people researching their families.  I became a regular patron on Thursday evenings.  One of the many things I learned was to contact living relatives when you are stuck or "at a brick wall" in genealogical terms.  Luckily, my Great-uncle Jim had five children.  I only needed one of his descendants to be willing to talk to me.  Time to try again. 

I did not want to cold call Sullivan's listed in the phone book on Staten Island.  My questions were about the past, but we live in the present post-nine-eleven world.  My cousins worked as New York City firefighters.  Baby Charles in the photograph was a fireman (only men held that job in those days) and so was his son and nephew.  But were they still working in 2001?  After twenty years, one retired from the FDNY.  A quick calculation determined that they would have been retired by 2001.  But even if they didn't work on September 11th, no doubt that they knew people who did, and I had to be sensitive about this. 

Meanwhile, I get an email from as a result of a family tree I had posted there.  Short and to the point, it read:  "Contact UR cousin William Charles Sullivan age 65-email address."  I some how doubted a sixty-five year old man spelled "your" as "U-R".  I emailed him back asking him the O'Sullivan question.  He called me.  Bill is a retired New York City firefighter. 

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