Thursday, March 31, 2016

Genealogical Journey: Cousin Bill

The voice on the other end of the line had a heavy New York accent.  He said he was my cousin from New Jersey.  Bill became my genealogy partner in crime readily sharing photos, notes and eagerly listening to my findings.  ( Our first phone call lasted over an hour.)  He was so pumped up that he traveled to Ireland to try to find ancestors beyond our second great-grandparents.  That was another reason why I must pursue the O'Sullivan lore; I could not find ancestors beyond my second great-grandparents.  If I could find out how and if we were related to Timothy O'Sullivan, I might be able to use that information to bread through my brick wall. 

We discussed the possibility of our relationship to Timothy O'Sullivan.  He said he had heard that we were related to him but didn't know how.  Not the answer I was hoping for, but at least another branch of the family had heard that story too.  No O'Sullivan photos were found among Bill's family's things.  He said that our surname was originally O'Sullivan.  The "O" was dropped somewhere along the line and the past three generations go by Sullivan.  My dad and aunt told me this as well.  This was the beginning of hearing the same story from different family members who had never met.  I got a good feeling about that.  Bill told me many stories that provided me with research leads to both the dead and the living.  I never would have been able to find what I found about him.  I am eternally grateful. 

For starters, he told me where our great-grandparents are buried in St. Peter's Cemetery on Staten Island.  I had called the cemetery prior, but they could not tell me where the plot was located.  It turned out to be a family plot containing our great-grandparents, Bill's parents, his aunt, cousin and our Great-aunt Margaret, Great-uncle Jim's and my grandmother's younger sister.  Bill's dad used some of Great-aunt Margaret's willed money to redo the headstone and put the plot in perpetual care when she died in 1979.  Other family members used the money for more important long-gone things such as furniture, riding lawn mowers and motorcycles.  I was glad Bill's dad wasn't interested in those things. 

Bill's dad was named James after his dad, my Great-uncle, the newspaper photographer.  He was the second oldest of my great-uncle's five children.  He worked as a pipe fitter, joined the Navy and retired as a mailman.  Again, only men worked those jobs back then.  He lived well into his late eighties probably because he walked delivering mail on Staten Island for decades.  I believed that Bill's dad instilled in him the interest in family history.  He left Bill some family history notes that Bill tried to read to me over the phone.  Thought we weren't able to get any further up the family tree, we filled in a lot of branches of current generations using those notes.  Those cryptic notes still let me know if I am on the right track when researching.  They were also the gateway leading me to more living relatives on other branches of the family tree. 

Bill was named after his Uncle Bill, his father's brother.  Bill has a brother named James who has a daughter named Michele, my name spelled the same way with one "L".  Bill and my dad share the same first name.  They both married women of Italian descent.  They both have sons named Tim.  Hmm...there was a clue.  Tim.  My brother was named Tim after a great-grand-uncle, according to my dad.  Why did Bill name his son Tim?  He and his wife simply liked the name.  The Tim count is at three so far:  Great-grand-uncle, brother, and second cousin's son.  Were we mixing up Timothy O'Sullivan with the confirmed Great-grand-uncle Timothy Sullivan on the family tree?  At this point, it would seem so. 

Surprised that I had never been to Staten Island, Bill encouraged me to visit.  He offered to show me around where my grandmother grew up.  She died three weeks before I was born.  Having had a close, loving relationship with my maternal grandmother, I felt gypped by her death.  That was another reason why I wanted to learn more about her side of the family.  My Grandmother Mary Sullivan married my Grandfather William Lagoy in Lake Placid, New York where they met.  In the summer, she took the train upstate where she found work as a stenographer for artists and writers.  The story goes, while walking down the street in Lake Placid, she broke the heel on her shoe and my grandfather fixed it.  They were married shortly thereafter.  When a couple hails from opposite ends of New York State, they settle mid-state in Montgomery County.  At least my paternal grandparents did.  New York State is big.  The Staten Island Ferry docks in Manhattan, not Montgomery County where I grew up.  As a result, I had never been to Staten Island.  The stories kept pouring out of my second cousin.  I'll bet not many people say this about visiting New York City, but I could not wait to go to Staten Island. 

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