Little Bible Once Was Lost But Now Is Found

 

Dad-old house in bg2Many new and valuable family history resources are added to the Internet every day. That’s why I occasionally do an online search of the street addresses profiled on wikiHomePages, a website where family members, historians and others can create house histories of homes using old photos taken in and around the address.  What I’m looking for is any fresh information I can use to update my “HomePages.”  Most of the time there’s nothing new.  Most of the time.

A few years ago, I received a check for $284.40 from the state of California after entering my 1974 apartment address on their unclaimed property website.  The found money came from a long forgotten insurance policy.

It took 36 long years to reunite me and my money, but I’m not complaining.  I was happy to have it, even though I knew I had probably used up my share of amazing-discoveries-made-while-checking-old-addresses-online.  But then another “lost and found” incident occurred recently that proved to be more rewarding and valuable than found money.

A woman named Patty in Delaware posted an inquiry on the Ancestry.com message board seeking information about her 19th century Irish immigrant ancestors.  Their surname was Kennedy and they first settled in Newfoundland, Canada.  After living there a number of years, one of the families immigrated to South Amboy, New Jersey in the early 1890s.  Patty posted her request in April of 2012.

Posting on a genealogy message board is the digital equivalent of putting a message in a bottle and tossing it in the sea, fingers crossed.  Some posts date to the 1990s and are still waiting for a response.  But Patty got lucky.  And so did I.  I just didn’t know it at the time.

In October 2013, a year and a half after posting her inquiry, someone reached into that sea of digital messages, grabbed Patty’s bottle and opened it.  Here is the reply from Rose in Virginia.

Good Morning,
Not sure if you are still active on this site but I have recently come into possession of a New Testament short bible Army and Navy edition. Inside the front cover is information hand written about the person who may have owned this bible. The address is listed as 157 Augusta St, South Amboy NJ. The last name is Kennedy. I can’t make out what comes before the last name – could be a rank or some type of initials. It also says – St. Mary’s Catholic School. The date is Oct 3, 1919. I am wondering if this might be a relative of yours. You can email me if you like and I will send you a picture of the inside cover. 
I’m thinking if it was my family I would like to have this.
Sincerely,
Rose D. 
Va.

Kennedy Bible 3Kennedy Bible 2

If that was the end of the story, it would still be a good example of the helpful connections that can be made on a genealogy message board.  But the story didn’t end there.  Far from it.  It still had thousands of miles to go.

Last month, as part of my periodic check of the wikiHomePages addresses, I did an online search of my father’s childhood address, “157 Augusta Street, South Amboy, NJ.” Something new popped up: Rose’s response to Patty’s message board request.

I quickly posted a note on the board saying my father’s last name was Kennedy and that he and his family lived at that address in 1919.  I was certain it was my father’s bible.  And while excited about the prospect of recovering a long lost family heirloom, I was also aware of the possibility Patty and Rose may never re-visit the board and see my post.

As the days passed, I thought about alternate ways to contact them.  I could try calling them on the phone.  Afterall, how many women named Rose could there be in Virginia? How many Pattys in Delaware?  No.  I could see that Plan B was not a viable option.  But then on the seventh day my anxiety rested, after an intervention of biblical proportions you might say.

That was the day I received an email from Rose.  She had seen my post and offered to send the bible to me in California.  How very gracious of her.  Rose wouldn’t even let me reimburse her for the cost of shipping.  She was just so very happy to play a role in returning the bible to my family.  The world would be a much brighter place with more people like Rose.

1919 to 2014 is a long, long time.  If only the little bible could talk and tell us where it’s been all these years.  Rose received it as a gift from her friend Sheila, who was given it 20 years ago by a superior officer while she was in the Army.  Beyond that I have no idea of its travels.  But I did discover the name of its first owner.  And it’s not my father.

I received the bible last week and it’s in great condition; I should look so good at 94 years of age.  All the handwriting is clear and easy to read, except for the first name or initials on the inscription.  The first three letters look like “Mgt.”  My father’s given name was Arthur.  No way I can twist Mgt into Arthur.  However, he did have a sister Margaret.

Kennedy Bible 1Mgt could be an abbreviation for Margaret.  But there is something else between Mgt and Kennedy. Two separate lines at the top join at the bottom to form a “V.”

Margaret is buried near my father in New Jersey.  A photo I took years ago of her tombstone shows a “V” as her middle initial.  But what clinches it for me is the date of the inscription, October 3, 1919.  Margaret was born on October 2, 1906.  The little holy book was likely a present for her 13th birthday.  Makes sense to me.  MgtV Kennedy is Margaret V. Kennedy.  And just as Rose wanted to return the bible to its rightful owner, so do I.

My aunt Margaret married Frederick Meserole in 1934 and lived in Brooklyn.  They had one child, Claire, born in 1937.  Her married name was Claire Brown.  I haven’t seen Claire in over 40 years and need your help locating her.

MargaretMeserole-tombstone2aMargaretMeserole-tombstone2b

If you know Claire Brown, maiden name Meserole, please contact me at whpcl@earthlink.net. The story of my aunt’s lost bible won’t have a complete and proper ending until it is returned to her daughter Claire.  In the meantime, I’ll take good care of the little book, just as Rose and Sheila and names unknown have looked after it for over 94 years.

1924 Portland Maine Goes Digital

In 1924, every taxable property in the city of Portland, Maine, was reassessed, photographed and documented. The records were then bound into 131 books containing approximately 30,000 pages and stored at City Hall.  And there they sat until recently when this remarkable, 88-year-old, newly digitized collection was made available to anyone with access to the Internet.

The photos take families with roots in Portland on a fascinating trip back in time to see the city their ancestors lived and worked in.  And for current residents simply curious to know what their Portland home looked like in 1924, a high-resolution digital photo attached to the record provides a clear and detailed picture of the building.

If the Portland collection consisted solely of photos, it would still be great, if not unique.  New York City also shares old tax photos with the public, as does Seattle.  But Portland’s inclusion of the reassessment documents online puts the city in a class of its own.

Each record contains the name of the property owner, the number of rooms and types of materials used to build the structure, its estimated age and general condition, and if a residence, how many families lived there.  There’s also a hand drawn sketch of each building’s footprint and dimensions.  The entire record is literally at your finger tips, easily searched by address, neighborhood, owner’s name and other categories and key words.

I’ve never been to Maine and have no ancestors from the area, yet I found plenty to do and explore on this website.  Trying to match the photo of a 1924 building to its 2012 address using Google’s Street View can be fun, and challenging.  Many of the old buildings no longer exist, and those that do often have added a room, enclosed a porch or have huge leafy trees blocking the street view, making it difficult to know if you have the right house or not.  But most of the time you will be rewarded with “Then and Now” pictures that show how the house and neighborhood have held up over the years.

As I was browsing the collection, one photo in particular caught my eye.  It showed five kids of varying ages playing in front of 41 Arcadia Street.  The tax form revealed that the home belonged to Carmela Cipriano.  Cross-referencing her name with the 1920 U.S. Census showed that she and her husband, Antonio Cipriano, a laborer on the railroad, lived on Arcadia Street in 1920.  The Ciprianos were Italian immigrants and had seven children by 1920, four girls and three boys.  I presume five of them are the kids we see in the 1924 photo.

I also looked up Carmela in the 1930 census and learned that she was living in the same house and now had twelve children, five boys and seven daughters.  It was a decade defined by the Great Depression that brought fear and uncertainty into households across the land.  It was an especially tragic time for the family living at 41 Arcadia Street.

According to the 1930 census, Carmela Cipriano was now a widow, with her youngest child just a year old.  One can only imagine the hardships she endured raising twelve children alone without Antonio.  But she and her family survived.  The 1940 census has Carmela and five of her children still living at 41 Arcadia Street.  Two sons worked at a canning factory and Carmela rented a room to a young married couple for $8 a month.  It’s the story of a family’s perseverance through hard times told here thanks to records now available online.

Visitors to the website may discover much more than they expected.  I found other photos among the collection that contain shots of people a relative might recognize.  Here’s a picture of a young boy taken outside 29 Arcadia Street, just down the street from the Ciprianos.  The tax record lists Ferdinando Fasulo as the owner.  The boy in the photo could be one of Ferdinando’s eight sons.  Hopefully, descendants of the Ciprianos and Fasulos will hear about the records of their old family homes and share them with their relatives.

Providing Internet access to the 1924 Tax Records is a group effort of the City of Portland, The Maine Historical Society, The Portland Public Library and The Maine Memory Network. But only about half of the books containing the tax records have been digitized and placed online.  More funds are needed to insure that the remaining books are added to the database.  If you want to help, please contact the project partners through their links above.

To access the 1924 Tax Records, click here.

NYC’s Municipal Archives Online Gallery

New York City’s Department of Records recently launched an online collection of over 870,000 photos, maps, and motion picture and audio recordings from the last century.  Many of the pictures in the city’s Municipal Archives Online Gallery are tax appraisal photos of buildings taken from 1983 to 1988.  Browsing the website is free.

The photo below on the left is from the 1980s and shows the Brooklyn house where my father-in-law was born in 1927.  The picture on the right is the current Google Street View of the house.  You can buy an 8″x10″ print or a high-res digital file of a 1980s picture from the city for $45.

The Municipal Archives Online Gallery is an ongoing project with more photos being added on a regular basis.  And while I’m happy to have photos of buildings from the 1980s, I hope the city someday expands the gallery to include their tax photos taken between 1939 and 1941 as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).  You can order prints of those older photos, too, but it’s sight unseen, you don’t get to preview your purchase.  I ordered a print of my father-in-law’s house from the 1939-1941 collection a few years ago, but the city couldn’t locate the address.  They refunded the charge to my credit card, so it didn’t cost me anything.  Still, it was disappointing to wait for something that a preview search would immediately show didn’t exist.

The online gallery is a great resource for anyone tracing their family history in New York. But even if you have no ties to the city, you’re bound to enjoy browsing through such an accessible and wide variety of snapshots that document life during the 20th century in one of the world’s great cities.

New York City does an excellent job making high-quality photos of old homes available to the public, but they’re not the only one sharing their photo archives.  SeattleSalt Lake County and Portland, Maine also make their old tax appraisal photos available to the public.

Horseshoe Romance

One of the most important street addresses in my family’s past is in Jersey City, NJ.  My maternal great-grandparents, Patrick Ryan and Delia Donnellan, came to the U.S. from Ireland in the 1880s and settled in Jersey City’s Horseshoe district, an area teeming with Irish immigrants.  Patrick and Delia were married in 1891 and had six children when 37-year-old Patrick died suddenly of tuberculosis.

With the money from Patrick’s small life insurance policy, plus the little she had in savings, Delia opened a candy store at 581 Grove Street and moved her family into the apartment above the shop.  My grandmother, Mary Ryan, was the oldest daughter and worked in the store after school.

A young undertaker, Lee Thompson, worked at the Thomas F. Carey Funeral Home next door at 579 Grove Street. It was the perfect location for him.  He had a good job with a bright future at the funeral home, and a candy store just steps away to satisfy his sweet tooth.

The June 10, 1910 edition of The Jersey Journal is filled with headlines of murder and mayhem.  “Woman’s Body In A Trunk Sunk In Lake” “Murdered Man Found In River” “Penitentiary For Boys Who Attacked Girl”

But tucked down in the left hand corner of the page was this non-violent headline. “How a Romance of the Horseshoe Ended.” Anyone reading the short article soon discovered how off the mark the headline was. It had nothing to do with a romance ending. Quite the contrary. It was the story of how my grandparents met, fell in love and were soon to be married.

Lee and Mary Thompson celebrated 61 wedding anniversaries together until they passed away in the 1970s. Who knows how their lives would have turned out if Delia Ryan had rented a shop blocks away from 581 Grove Street and its next door neighbor? Would Lee’s and Mary’s paths have ever crossed? Would my grandfather have found his sweets–in every sense of the word–someplace else? The one thing I do know is that I wouldn’t be around to write this post.

That little store with the apartment upstairs was much more than an inanimate building. It was a real-life matchmaker that played a pivotal role in my family’s story. Unfortunately, the building was torn down years ago and I’ve never seen a picture of it. Here’s what you see of the location today on Google’s street view.

581 Grove Street would be somewhere along the sidewalk on the left, across the street from the Home Depot. The entire block sits between the entrance and exit lanes of the Holland Tunnel. The pointed spire in the background is St. Lucy’s church where Lee Thompson and Mary Ryan were married on June 22, 1910.

Many of our priceless family homes have been torn down and replaced with roads, parking lots, new houses or apartments. That’s life. There’s nothing we can do about that. What we can do is take the time and effort to preserve the aging photos taken in and around our old homes. If not for ourselves, then do it for future generations before the photos fade beyond recognition or are lost in some future move. And if anyone knows where I might find a photo of the original buildings along the 500 block of Grove Street, please let me know.