Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Staten Island

New York City.  September 11th.  September 11th....1848.  The Caleb Grimshaw docked in New York Harbor after five weeks at sea, via Liverpool, England.  Among the passengers in steerage class, a couple in their prime of life disembarked.  Having left the potato famine in deathly quiet West County Cork, Ireland, one can only imagine what they thought of New York City.  America:  The land of milk and honey, where the streets are paved with gold.  Disembarking the Caleb Grimshaw Denis and Elizabeth Sullivan quickly saw that not only were the streets not paved with gold, they were not paved at all.  Not only were they not paved at all, but Denis was expected to paved them had there been asphalt in 1848.  Other than having a son named Timothy born in 1849 in New York City, we knew little else about their lives until they moved to Staten Island sometime in 1852.  One hundred and sixty-one years later ( in 2013) their descendants would meet for the first time to discuss their lives several miles from where they lived. 

I am a luddite.  I am always two steps behind; it keeps me young and I will probably live longer in order to catch up with technology.  I didn't have a cell phone at the time.  I had bought one with the intent to assemble it en route to New York.  At the airport gate, I discovered that I had left the battery at home.  So no phone on that trip.  My sister and niece were joining me the next day and she had a cell phone, so no big deal.  I called Cousin Bill from the airport in Denver during my layover to re-confirm our plans and meeting time at the Hilton Garden Inn on Staten Island at 10:00 am the next day.  The phones in the Denver airport are free to use to call anywhere.  I kid you not.  I made several calls gloating at the fools all around me charging cell phones that they paid for every month.  Maybe I was not like all the other humans on the planet and did not need a cell phone.  Because I arrived late at night at the Newark, New Jersey airport, I had reserved a private car service to take me to the hotel.  It was only a thirty minute one hundred dollar car ride.  New York City cabs can't go to New Jersey.  There is no public transportation from the airport.  There are lots of tolls to pay to get both on and off Staten Island.  The driver and I both looked out of the windows at the rural landscape and wondered if we were lost.  He had never been to Staten Island either.  It looked like any other suburban town in the United States with trees and weeds. 

The next morning, I went down to the lobby shortly before ten.  I told Bill on the free phone call yesterday what I would be wearing and what I looked like.  He said he would be wearing a green baseball hat with the word "Jameson"  on it.  He had bought the hat while in Ireland.  It was now ten o'clock, then five past.  The traffic was heavy on Staten Island and it was raining.  Bill was driving in from New Jersey an hour away.  Another ten minutes passed and still no Bill.  Damn.  I was so like the rest of the population and needed a cell phone then.  My sister and her phone wouldn't be arriving until later that afternoon as she drove in from New Hampshire.  What to do?  Go up to the room to call him?  Ask someone at the front desk if there was a phone nearby?  What if I was corresponding with someone who wasn't my cousin?  If he did show up, was it a good idea to get in a car with a stranger in New York City to be driven out through the trees and the weeds? 

The night I booked the ticket to New York, Cousin Drew called me.  I told him his timing was perfect because I had finished making my travel arrangements.  He said Bill had called him and they talked about family history.  I said I looked forward to meeting Bill and he seemed perturbed, like we duped him when I said we hadn't met yet.  "Now wait a minute!  I thought you two knew each other!"  No, it must have seemed like it because we had gotten thick as thieves on the phone discussing family history.  I told Drew I was meeting Bill on Staten Island and he would take me around where the ancestors lived.  I promised to send him photos of his old house and his uncle's pool.  Uh-oh!

It was now 10:30am and still no Bill.  Between the car ride, the fiasco checking in the night before, and now no Bill, so far, I was not impressed with Staten Island.  Maybe Grandma Mary did know what she was doing when she moved upstate. 

Then Bill blew into the lobby of the Hilton Garden Inn.  He walked right up to me, wearing the Jameson hat, out of breath, apologizing profusely saying he went to the wrong hotel.  He was fifteen minutes early in the lobby of another hotel with the initials H.I.  At the same time I was fretting, he was asking the front desk clerk of the Holiday Inn if I was registered there.  When he heard the answer was no, he called my sister's cell and she told him where I was staying.  Hilton Garden Inn and Holiday Inn do sound alike, especially from a free phone in Denver.  We took a minute to calm down; I introduced myself to his wife, Paula.  We sat down for a cup of tea in the hotel restaurant.  I could not stop staring at him.  He had my dad's fair freckled complexion.  He and my dad shared the same blue eyes.  That is what the Irish ancestors must have looked like!  He said I had the Sullivan smile.  Other than that, I do not look like this branch of my family.  I look more like my mother's olive complexioned, dark-haired, brown-eyed Sicilians.  If you lined me up with my dad, Bill and other cousins, and asked which person is not like the others, I would be picked out of that line up. 

Bill showed me his dad's family tree notes.  I clapped with delight when I saw names on the tree that I had discounted while researching because they were unusual.  Trenchard and Preston Sullivan were the grandsons of the Timothy Sullivan who was born in 1849 in NYC.  Timothy was my Great-grandfather Charles' oldest brother.  That branch of the family proved to be the most difficult to research because Preston and Trenchard disappeared from public records after 1940.  It was a while before I was on their trail again, but those notes let me know I was researching the right people.  Bill and I both had the same question:  "What kind of names were Preston and Trenchard?"  Must be from their mother's side of the family. 

Bill showed me some photos from his trip to Ireland he took the month before.  We discussed the information the Skibbereen Heritage Center gave him about possible ancestors beyond our great-great-grandparents.  He promised to give me a copy of his father's notes and Cousin Dorothy's interview notes with Great-aunt Margaret so I could study them at length. 

I got in the car with Bill and Paula.  We drove through the trees and the weeds discussing family history.  He called his children Irish twins because they were one year apart.  His son Timothy's middle name is Michael.  My brother Timothy's middle name is Patrick.  We encountered even more Timothy's later that day.  Our first stop was to St. Peter's Cemetery to pay our respects to the ancestors.  Established in 1848, St. Peter's Cemetery on Staten Island is bordered by Clove Lakes Park and single family homes with main roads dividing it into several sections.  It is well maintained and people jog, walk and exercise their dogs along its wide paths.  Bill located the family plot.  I told my great-grandparents that I had been looking for them for a long time.  Most people aren't happy to be in a cemetery, I but I was.  I photographed the headstone and we walked around the area looking at other headstones.  We both wondered who left flowers in the pipe vase at the grave.  Great-uncle Jim was buried in his wife's family plot located across the road that divided the cemetery.  We visited there later that morning. 

Bill had arranged for me to meet our cousin Charles.  He is Bill's first cousin and my second cousin.  Like Bill, he is also retired from the New York City Fire Department.  Charles, who goes by Tim, had graciously offered to drive us around the old neighborhood where the ancestors lived.  Tim's father is the baby in the photograph that started all of this.  Tim was literally the closest living relative to our ancestors.  He lived across the street from the cemetery. 

Upon entering Tim's house, Bill introduced me.  Tim had a surprised look on his face when he first saw me.  Having sensed this, Bill said, "The reason she is so much younger than us is'--and not missing a beat, Tim cut in and said, --because she was born later."  Bill and Tim were in their sixties and seventies respectively.  I was still in my forties when we met.  Their grandfather and my grandmother were siblings thirteen years apart.  Other than being born later, I found out the reason for that age difference on the 1900 census.  That census asked women how many children they had and how many of them were still living.  I wasn't prepared for my great-grandmother's responses.  The answer to the first question was "eleven" born and the second question was "three" still living.  That was like a punch in the gut.  There were eight other children in between my Great-uncle Jim and my grandmother who did not survive.  I also found evidence of twins among my search for my grandmother's birth record.  The birth ledger asked the same questions and the numbers added up. 

I met Tim's wife, Mary Lou.  She is of Italian descent like Paula and my mom, Mary Ann.  Their oldest son is named Tim, officially.  Tim and Mary Lou were moving so we weren't able to look in the packed up boxes of his grandfather's things.  Tim would later send a box to Bill.  It would turn out that something in that box would help answer the questions of whether or not we were related to Timothy O'Sullivan. 

Tim drove us over to the cemetery office.  While waiting for the staff to locate some records, I asked him why he was called Tim when his name is really Charles.  He said the kids in the neighborhood starting calling him that because he resembled a comic strip character name Tiny Tim.  I later looked it up and sure enough, Cousin Tim did resemble Tiny Tim from the comic strip by Stanley Link that ran from 1933-1958. 

We visited Great-uncle Jim's grave but did not find much information at the cemetery office about other relatives or Timothy O'Sullivan.  They had been looking for his grave for a long time.  We learned that Bill's father was responsible for putting the Great-grandparents' plot in perpetual care in 1979.  That would have been required before a headstone or other burials were allowed. 

As promised, Tim drove us to New Brighton.  We photographed the houses the ancestors lived in as well as Cousin Drew's old house.  We visited the Joseph H. Lyons pool.  Bill theorized that some of the photos on display of the pool being constructed might have been taken by his Grandfather Jim, who was Joe Lyon's first cousin. 

We said our good-byes to Tim back at his house.  Then the three of us took a lunch break before continuing the genealogical journey. 

No comments:

Post a Comment