Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Genealogical Journey: Staten Island ( Part 2)

Bill, Paula and I ate lunch at one of the many diners on Staten Island located near the New Dorp branch of the New York City Public Library.  Afterwards, we wanted to go in to look at old street maps, but the branch was closed for technology upgrades.  The only day on that trip that I could visit the library, coincided with the day it was closed.  Thwarted by technology again!  I would have to visit the public library holdings another time, but first I would make sure it was opened as I had learned from genealogy research travel tips. 

We drove to Vahalla Cemetery, now called Ocean View the Cemetery Beautiful to look for Joseph H. Lyons' grave.  Using only Drew's directions, we could not locate his uncle's grave.  The cemetery office was closed but Bill called them the next morning to get the location for our return on Saturday with more family members.  Drew said that his grandmother, Helena Sullivan Lyons, was also in that grave although the military issued headstone only bears her son Joseph's name.  The cemetery later confirmed this information. 

Bill took me to meet another second cousin, Joan.  She is Bill's first cousin and her mother, Mary, was Great-uncle Jim's only daughter and my grandmother's niece.  Joan lived five miles from Ocean View the Beautiful Cemetery on Staten Island.  Like Bill, her husband Al, retired from the fire department and one of her sons currently works as a firefighter.  Another one of her sons is named Timothy Patrick, like my brother.  Bill told me that when she and her sisters get together, they could talk a hitch right off of a trailer.  Joan didn't disappoint. 

Upon arrival, she and her husband greeted us on the front steps of their home.  In hushed voices, we were whisked downstairs to a finished basement.  Their firefighter son, Kevin, finished a twelve  hour shirt learning to drive the fire truck and was asleep in the other room. 

We were there less than one hour but I learned the following from Joan:  She thought Great-aunt Margaret might have been a twin.  Her poor health might have contributed to her shyness and lack of many friends.  She had weak eye sight, wore thick, unfashionable glasses and had skin issued like rosacea.  These issues may have played a part in her self-consciousness causing her to keep mostly to herself.  She never married and probably never dated.  Even though she only graduated from high school, she had the knowledge of a college graduate.  She read all of the time and spend Sundays reading the entire New York Times newspaper.  Great-aunt Margaret also had vast knowledge of our family history. 

Joan celebrated her fiftieth wedding anniversary earlier that year ( 2013) by attending a blessing ceremony at St. Patrick's Cathedral built in 1858, opened in 1879in Manhattan.  I told her that our great-grand-uncles, our great-grandfather's brothers, built the spires on that Cathedral.  Joan was even more pleased to have celebrated her anniversary there upon hearing that.  My sister, niece and I visited the church the next day.  We were in awe of the accomplishment.  Considering that the rest of the building was under scaffolding for a major renovation but not the spires; it made us proud to know family built something so lasting. 

Joan said she met her husband of fifty years online.  In New York City, you stand on line, not in line waiting.  She and Al met while she was on line at the A&P supermarket.  He was bagger, she was a customer he thought was cute.  So she tells everyone they met on line to see their reaction. 

I showed Joan the photo of our great-grandmother holding Joan's Uncle Charlie.  She had a visceral reaction to the photo and politely declined my offer to get her a copy of it.  She explained that she and her sisters were afraid of their Uncle Charlie.  They would go over to his house on Monroe Avenue, ring the door bell and if he answered, run up the stairs past him only when their Aunt Catherine, his wife, sweetly called for them to come on in.  In the photo, Charlie is three months old hoping great-grandma will protect him from the kitty, but as an adult, he was big and loud and scary to his nieces.  I even heard Bill mutter that he too, was scared of him as a child. 

Joan's Uncle Charlie hoping Great-grandma Margaret protects his place on her lap from the cat.

Cousin Joan showed us a drawing that her grandfather Jim Sullivan drew that hung on the wall of her finished basement.  I photographed it while admiring his artistic talent and sense of humor.  Cousin Bill hadn't seen it before, was quite interested in it, asking Joan for a life size copy.  The Norman Rockwell-esque colored pencil drawing was of a drunk guy, bottle in his coat pocket, hugging a cow with the caption, "Gee, dearie-hic-but yer sure are shweet."

When Bill mentioned that we were at the ancestors' grave in St. Peter's Cemetery that morning, Joan said he was there recently and was the one who left the flowers.  Mystery solved!  Joan's mother and brother are also buried in the plot and she visits quite often.  Her husband, Al, said he was the one who made the pipe vase for the grave.  Attached to the ground, front and center of the headstone, it is a metal tubular pipe for placing a bouquet of the flowers.  As I thanked him for making the pipe vase, Al mentioned that he cut the grass at a cemetery in Pennsylvania.  Visitors seeking their family history often stopped him on the riding lawn mower to ask him about graves.  It said he was the unofficial cemetery historian and his work was greatly appreciated.

Meanwhile, Joan carried on several conversations at once.  She talked to Cousin Bill about their grandfather and her mother and then turned to me to give her family tree information.  She rattled off the names and the dates of birth of her four children, their spouses, and their children with pinpoint speed and accuracy.  Did I mention we were there less than an hour? 

The next day I took a break from the genealogical journey to sight-see with my sister and eight-year-old niece.  We rode the Staten Island Ferry to Manhattan like our ancestors and cousins had done for 161 years.  We visited the Statue of Liberty for the first time.  Even though my sister and I were native New Yorkers and lived in the state for decades, we had never been to the Statue of Liberty.  New York State is big and we lived upstate four hours away.  So we waited until we grew up, moved out of state and then returned as tourists to visit Lady Liberty.  The ticket booth for the Statue of Liberty is located at Castle Garden.  A stone, circular fort, now run by the National Park Service, it was once used as an entry point for immigrants.  When my ancestors returned to New York in the 1860's, they would have passed through here.  It was a unique experience to walk around where they once stood.  We rode the subway to the Natural History Museum to see the dinosaur exhibit much to my niece's delight.  We took a taxi cab ride back to the ferry landing joking that my niece's made-in-China souvenir traveled on a boat, a subway, a taxi cab, another boat and then a private car to its new home. 

Saturday morning, my first cousins Bradley and Bonnie joined us on the genealogical journey.  Their mother, my Aunt Peggy, is my father's sister and oldest living relative on this branch of the family.  Cousin Bill arrived ( at the right hotel, on time) to drive us around Staten Island.  It was Bradley and Bonnie's first time meeting our second cousin Bill.  Bonnie told me she had stayed at this same hotel years ago when her husband was hospitalized on Staten Island after an accident. I told Bonnie I had not known that when I booked the Hilton Garden Inn and hoped she could replace her former memory of the hotel with the genealogical journey we were about to take.  We visited St. Peter's Cemetery, the ancestral homes ( including the one on Monroe Ave.) and vacant lots and the public pool bearing our cousin's name, Joseph H. Lyons.  We found his grave at Ocean View the Cemetery Beautiful.  It took all six of us plus a cemetery employee, to locate it in the rain, dodging geese droppings.  During the car ride, we laughed with Bill explaining to him that he sounded like my dad when he started a sentence with the words, "I should have...".  We ended the journey with a toast at lunch, " To ancestors in common.  May they be smiling down upon us proudly."

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