I had a perfect summer day for my trip to Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn last year. Knowing the size and scope of the place, I was hoping at least to get a lot of exercise and a nice photo of my grandparents’ grave. As it turned out, I came away with new information on three gravesites, including today’s Tombstone Tuesday post: my great-grandfather Joseph F. Haigney.
Joseph F. and I have had our ups and downs. I still don’t know as much as I’d like to about his youth and his decision to leave Watervliet, NY and move to Brooklyn in 1900. And where exactly this family group was in 1900 is still a bit of a mystery.
What’s neat about this gravesite is a key piece of information that isn’t even carved on the tombstone. We see here Joseph F., his wife, my great-grandmother Catherine (Connors) Haigney, and two of their children: my great-uncle Joseph C. and Anne M. (“Anna”), my great-aunt by adoption.
However, according to the cemetery records, there is a fifth person here: my young great-uncle Leo, who died in 1901, at the age of 3. The cemetery listing gave me the specific time frame I needed to confirm that this was my Leo’s death certificate in the New York City Municipal Archives index. And on the death certificate itself, I learned that when little Leo died of meningitis in February 1901, he and his family had only been living in Brooklyn for five months.
Gradually the murky picture of this family’s whereabouts in 1900 is coming into clearer focus. From census digging, I know Joseph is likely to have been living apart from his family in Jersey City, NJ in June 1900.
And from Leo’s death certificate, I now know that he and his family were living in Brooklyn by September or October of 1900. So after a period of transition and separation, the family came together for what sadly turned out to be a very brief time before Leo’s illness and death.
I was very glad to have the knowledge the cemetery records gave me about who is actually in this grave. As it happened, the littlest occupant’s story had a great deal to tell me about a key event in the family timeline.
This cemetery story has bothered me for a while, so I decided to go ahead and post it on Tombstone Tuesday, although there is no tombstone. Instead, we have a grave, a twisty set of records, and a somewhat mysterious blank spot.
My great-great uncle William Haigney (1867-1930) is a genealogy blank spot himself. Nobody had ever mentioned him. When I began my research, nobody knew he was there to mention. He was included on my late Aunt Catherine’s List of Haigneys past and present. Unfortunately, she was no longer available to expand upon family history.
I hoped that a long-deferred cemetery trip to Brooklyn might produce some facts to flesh out my sketchy portrait of William. Silly, silly me.
Armed with death certificates and burial dates for William and his wife, I hoped the grave would be fairly easy to locate, which it was. But then the clerk said, “Wait a minute,” took an old register down and worked in silence for another 10 minutes, frowning thoughtfully from time to time. I began to feel guilty, then apprehensive. What was in those records? Vampire sightings? News that William’s grave had been paved over?
As it turned out, the ownership record was odd for the plot in which William was buried with his only child. The owner of record was a family whose surname is unconnected to any of my lines, with burials taking place between 1859 and 1889. However, the plot was emptied by 1930. Despite William’s burial in it, there was no subsequent owner on record.
I headed to the gravesite, where, after diligent pacing and counting, I had to accept that there was no marker. Not too surprising. William never appeared to have much money. There might never have been a marker. Plus, he died in 1930, and his only child in 1946, leaving no children of her own. There’s a good chance nobody had come near the grave in 60 years.
But the plot ownership quirks are typical of my research on William, a collection of facts that frustrate with more questions. How did William come to be in that particular spot? Was the plot’s owner of record connected to William somehow? And where was William’s wife?
The third question at least can be answered: William’s wife is buried in her parents’ large plot in another part of the same cemetery, beside her first husband.
But the other questions rest undisturbed for now, like William himself.
If you have ancestors who lived in New York’s Capital District, you might well find some research joy in this exciting cemetery indexing project by the volunteers of the Troy Irish Genealogy Society.
TIGS has been transcribing the interment books of St. Agnes Roman Catholic Cemetery in Menands, N.Y., just outside of Albany. So far, two volumes of records are online, encompassing the years 1868 to 1910. Book I (1868-82), which went online in November of last year, contains 3,427 names. Recently, Book II (1883-1910) became available, containing 6,073 names. Book III is in progress, with over 12,000 names.
The records are a snapshot of the Albany-area melting pot, according to information from TIGS project coordinator Bill McGrath. For instance, the clear majority of burials listed in Book II were people born in Albany, followed closely by those born in Ireland. Immigrants from 13 other countries are represented in the records, including England, Germany, Italy and Canada.
The indexes on the TIGS site will give you a last and first name of the deceased, date of death, age, and the book number and page number of their interment entry.
TIGS also provides a printable request form that can be sent to the cemetery requesting the full interment listing for $5. Information available on the complete listing includes deceased’s place of birth, place of death, address of last residence, burial date, lot/section numbers and in some cases, the undertaker’s name. It could be well worth sending for, if you find a match in the online index.
Having visited there once, I can agree that St. Agnes is a beautiful example of the rural cemetery movement, all gently rolling hills and serene vistas. And it’s also a place of rest for thousands. I have a feeling quite a few researchers will be reconnecting with their Capital District roots because of this project. McGrath and his team of volunteers have a lot to be proud of!
This consumer-affairs column about a family researcher socked by high fees in the course of cemetery research leaves me with mixed feelings.
On the one hand, the fees in this case did sound steep. (For a grave location lookup, the administrators wanted $70 for the first name and $45 for each additional name, according to the article. Yikes.)
On the other hand, the overall tone– the surprise that anyone charges for this information – struck me as a bit naïve.
In fairness, the reporter did note that this is not the only cemetery that charges lookup fees, which certainly has been my experience.
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If you stick with genealogy, eventually you’re going to end up in a cemetery. (As a researcher, I mean.) This post is about beginner’s luck, which is not always what it’s cracked up to be. On two very different cemetery trips, I learned some important (and basic) don’ts:
Don’t go without a friend (old or new) who’s been there before. I nearly missed my family’s monument in St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Watervliet, NY. Pathetic, considering I had a cemetery map and a plot location AND the monument was big enough to have bit me if it wanted to. But I had no sense of the cemetery layout and quickly got disoriented, wasting much time and energy. By contrast, when I visited the much larger Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn with two knowledgeable genealogy buddies, things went just swimmingly– because they knew the ropes and the layout, not to mention the staff.
Don’t assume there will be a marker, even for relatively recent burials. Sure, markers fade and sink in old rural cemeteries. But markers can also be missing for big-city relatives who died within living memory. Looking in Holy Cross for the grave of my gg-uncle William (d. 1930), I found only a blank space and a somewhat murky plot ownership record. I still need to learn whether the marker disappeared or never existed – common enough when families had enough money to buy a grave, but not a monument.
Don’t assume that everybody in the grave is on the headstone. I have two family plots that contain children who died very young but are not listed on the headstones. In both cases, though, their burial information is on their death certificates and is confirmed by the cemetery’s own burial records.
Don’t skip a visit with the staff, even if you think you know everything. Yes, the title says it all. I didn’t bother finding when the groundskeeping staff patrolled St. Patrick’s. I already had my grave location info, so who cared? Oh, well: St. Patrick’s isn’t nearly the size of Holy Cross, but it still managed to confuse me. I kick myself thinking how efficient I could have been if a human being had given me a quick primer on how the place was arranged. I never did find one tombstone I was looking for that day; I ran out of daylight. Which brings me to another point: In larger urban cemeteries, a visit to the office is just the prudent thing to do. The staff should know you’re there and what section you’ll be visiting – often, they’ll want to keep an eye out for you, which isn’t a bad thing.
I’m sure there are lots more favorite cemetery tips – and goof-ups. Any to share?