We are all descended from thousands of people. However, we don’t get to know all of them. For the ones we do get to know, there are some that we actually get to spend time with and there are others that we get to know through stories. Here is the story of my great-grandparents Martin and Frances Burns through the lens of their great-grandson, Shane Martin Oxendine.
By: Shane M. Oxendine
Everyone in the family always had good things to say about Martin.
They said that he was smart and that he was the sweetest man that they had ever met.
A true gentleman.
I’m proud to have his name as my middle name because it drives me to be a kind-hearted person just like he was.
Even though I never met him, I’m thankful for him and the picture that people painted of him. I honestly believe that he was a great man and I admire the way that he treated the people that I love today.
Nanny was also such a great person. She loved me very much and she always made sure that I knew it. There was never a day around her where I didn’t feel loved. I remember that she would always say that I reminded her of her husband. She always said that I was lucky to have some of his attributes.
Nanny also always made sure that I had nice stuff. I remember that she would always buy me new clothes.
SHE ALSO ALWAYS MADE SURE I HAD A CLEAN PAIR OF SOCKS TO WEAR. She would ask me almost every day if I needed socks because she knew it was important to me. She also said she didn’t want me to have “stinky feet” and that would always make us laugh.
I loved her so much.
She was always a sweet, beautiful person to me. She never once got mad at me or treated me badly. All she did was love me. She is a big reason why I take my family seriously. She showed me how to love my family without me even knowing it back then.
She also had a laugh that was really funny. I had to get a portrait of an angel tattooed on me with her name above it simply because she was an angel when she was alive and when she passed.
I’ll never forget her.
I’ll always love her and I’ll always miss her.
I’ve never met anyone like her and I probably never will again. I know that her and Martin are now together up in Heaven, and that’s what she wanted in the last of her time.
It’s depressing but she made that very clear. She loved him more than life itself.
I admire her for everything that she was. She was such a great person.
I promised you that I would take you to see them and one day soon we will.
My great-grandfather Martin John Burns was a very special person as was my great-grandmother, Frances Burns, who was affectionately known as “Nanny” by all of her great-grandchildren. For this post, I wanted to introduce a different approach than I have taken from previous posts. What I am going to do for my great-grandparents is publish works from multiple generations. We should all take time now to write down what we know about our loved ones. We hear it way too often – I wish I had spent more time speaking, listening, spending time with, documenting what my grandparents and parents told me growing up. These are the stories and memories of Martin and Frances Burns – first starting with their only child – my grandmother – Frances Achnitz.
By: Frances Achnitz
I would like to tell you about my parents, Martin John Burns and Frances Teresa Burns. They were probably the best parents a girl could have. My Father, also known as Marty Burns, was born Martin John Burns on October 30, 1918 in Brooklyn, New York. My Mother, whose birth name was actually Francisca Teresa Fariñas, was born on August 16, 1920 in Brooklyn, New York.
My Father was the second Son and fourth child born to Lillian and Henry Burns also of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, New York. My Father’s parents were born in the United States. My Grandfather Henry was born to Irish immigrant parents and my Grandmother Lillian was born to German immigrant parents. My Father was a beautiful person inside and out!
He was, in my opinion, a brilliant man with a very creative gift. Although he was born in Brooklyn, he spent most of his childhood and teenage years living in Queens Village. I remember him telling me about a dog that he had found when he was about 15 years old. He found the dog crying and buried under a pile of rags in the street. He brought him home and he named him, appropriately “Rags”. He loved that dog and always spoke of him so affectionately. He was a very hard worker and always gave his paychecks to his Mother to help with the large family that included six children. He was a very devoted Son and Brother. My Grandmother Lillian, would send my Father to meet his Dad every Friday on payday, at Abraham and Straus,where his Dad worked as a Master Carpenter, to make sure that his Dad would come straight home and not go visit the neighborhood bar. My Father would always say “How are you Pop? I just thought I would meet you and keep you company on the way home,” and my Grandfather loved it. My Father was the responsible one who everyone turned to when they needed help.
When World War II began, he enlisted into the Army Air Force. He wanted to become a pilot but instead became a flight instructor. He was a very smart man and the Air Force decided that he needed to be an instructor. He was disappointed, but true to who he was, he did what was asked of him.
My Mother was the youngest child of Rosalia Fariñas and Juan Fariñas. My Mother’s parents were both born in Spain and met and married in the US. My Mother had two older sisters, Josephina, and Louisa. The sisters were very close and remained close throughout their lives. My Grandmother, Rosalia, passed away at the young age of 44 leaving her husband and daughters devastated. My Mother had to leave school to stay at home to take care of her. The older sisters continued with their schooling. My Mother, by age 12 could run a household. She cooked, cleaned, did laundry and took charge of the family. My Mother was a free spirit with a devilish side to her. She also had an awesome sense of humor as did her sisters. She loved to dance and dancing was probably the most important thing to her while she was young. I am not sure, but I think she met my Father at a dance. During the war, she and her sisters volunteered towards the war efforts.
My Mother and Father met sometime in 1943 and immediately fell in love. They were married on December 18, 1943 in Laredo, Texas, where my Father was stationed at the time. My Mother’s Father was mad at her for marrying my Father because my Father was Irish. My Grandfather Juan was convinced that anyone who was Irish must be a drinker. Oddly enough, my Father never drank! He hated alcohol. Later on, my Grandfather grew to love my Father like he was his own Son.
I was born August 16, 1944 on my Mother’s Birthday. So, I was named after my Mother and I was their pride and joy. My Father always told my Mother that he gave her the best Birthday present ever!
After the war, my Father decided to go back to school. He went to and graduated with honors from Pratt Institute in the field of Architecture. Some of his work was actually on display at the school’s Art Gallery for many years. After graduating, he got a job working as an apprentice Architect for a firm in New York City. He was designing shopping centers in upstate New York. His dream was diminished though when he found out that the firm was selling his designs without giving him credit for any of them.
He left that company and then went on to look for more work. I can remember him going out every day with his portfolio and spending days, weeks and months looking for work. Having a family and needing a job, he finally took a job at the New York Furniture Exchange in Manhattan and ended up working as a furniture buyer for the rest of his life. He didn’t complain. He just always did his job and always excelled at what he did.
He loved my Mother with all his heart. He loved me unconditionally and I always knew I would be forever loved, protected and treated like his princess. My Mother remained a devoted and meticulous housewife. She too, loved my Father with all that she was and was a wonderful loving Mother to me. I was an only child and my parents did everything for me that they could. I do have to tell you that although they would do whatever they could for me, I was never spoiled. My parents would not put up with a spoiled child. I learned many things from my parents and I thank God that I was their child.
I had a very happy family! There was always laughter in our home. We lived just around the corner from my Mother’s sister Josephine, her husband Louis, my cousin Rosalie and my Grandfather Juan. We spent a lot of time there and we always had fun and laughter. Our family was very close. My Mother was very overprotective of me and wouldn’t let me do a lot of things that some of the other kids could do, but then my Father would intervene and eventually she would give in.
I remember one birthday in particular when my Mother decided that I didn’t have to have a birthday party because she said I was getting “too old” for parties (I was eight). The real reason was some of the neighborhood kids were getting sick and she didn’t want me to get sick. So, she decided – no party. The day of my Birthday, my Father felt so bad about my not having a celebration that he decided to go the neighbor’s house where he invited all my friends. We didn’t have a cake. So, he found oreo cookies in the pantry and made me a cookie cake. I was so happy and I still remember that birthday.
Our Christmas’ were also the best! On Christmas Eve, during the daytime, my Father would take me to Canal Street in Manhattan and buy a bundle of trees from the trucks coming in from upstate. He would tie the trees to the car and we would go home and give the extra trees to my Aunt and to a neighbor. We would then decorate the enormous tree, make cookies and cocoa, set out a plate for Santa and then it was off to bed. Around Midnight, my parents would wake me up and say “Santa was here, come and see”. That is when we would open our gifts and then on Christmas Day, it was a feast.
My Father taught me how to drive when I was fourteen years old. My Mother wouldn’t let me have a car until I was 18 though. So, as soon as I was old enough, my Father bought me my first car. It was a 1956 green Dodge and I loved it. After my marriage, my parents continued to always be there for me and my family. My husband loved my Father like his own Father and maybe even more. My children had the best Grandparents ever.
On December 10, 1976, my precious Father, passed away from a heart attack and left us way too soon. He was only 58 years old. It was devastating for all of us, but for my Mother, her world was changed forever. My Mother lived for almost 34 years without him. She never re-married and never even considered doing so. She missed him every day of her life, but true to her nature and personality, she continued on. She was still always a bit devilish and always a force to be reckoned with. She always maintained her sense of humor though.
Then, she became a Great-Grandmother and she loved it more than life itself. She became “Nanny” and the Grandchildren loved her and she always made them laugh and smile. When my husband passed away, she knew, first hand, what I was going through. We lost her only five months later.
She left us on July 25, 2010, three weeks before her 90th Birthday. I found peace in knowing that she and my loving Father were together again and I know they are still smiling and that they are now looking after my husband, Bill and they are all with me in my heart and in my spirit. Oh, how I miss them.
My parents, Marty and Fran, were and still are an inspiration to me and to anyone who knew them. I am so proud to have called them Mother and Father. I hope that I have passed on some of their loving ways, their love of life, their principles, their laughter and their joy to my children and Grandchildren.
For many years, my family knew very little of its Burns roots. The furthest we could go back was to my great-great grandfather Henry Edward Burns (the son of Charles Burns), and his musings that we were a “little Irish, a little German, a little French Canadian, and even some American Indian.”
Turns out we are definitely Irish, we are definitely German, and I’m pretty sure we are French Canadian too. The Native American part I think was just thrown in for fun. Nevertheless, it was a start.
After unearthing the birth certificate of my great-great grandfather last year, I was finally able to move back another generation and either prove or disprove the stories that Henry Burns had told my grandmother when she was a child. What my grandmother could recall is that Henry Burns went by the nickname Harry and his father had immigrated from Ireland to Canada and finally to New York. She also recalled that he had a sister named Teresa.
Below is a 1900 census record from Brooklyn that I found that HAD to be my ancestors. There was a Harry, there was a Teresa, and there was a Charles and a George (which were names that were constantly circulated in the Burns family over the generations). Not to mention, Harry and George were both listed as Cabinet Makers. Not only was my great-grandfather a carpenter, but Henry Burns was also a carpenter. This was definitely my family. As you can see, there was also “a little bit of Irish, and even a little bit of French Canadian” shown in this census record as well.
Charles Burns (my 3x great grandfather) was listed as widowed though in 1900. At the time, I wondered what had happened to his wife. When exactly did she pass away? Where was Mary MacCadden Burns buried?
The next couple of records that I found had shed some light on these questions and gave me a better look at the makeup of the family of Charles and Mary Burns.
This New York State census record from 1892 shows the entire family in Brooklyn again (this time with a few more children). You can see Charles and Mary Burns with their 6 children (Mary, Sophie, Charles Jr, Harry, George, and Teresa). The next record I found though gave an even more clear picture of the family.
This 1880 census record from Brooklyn shows Charles Burns (at age 24) with his wife Mary (at age 34) and their two children Sophie (age 3) and Charles Jr (10 months). Mary’s mother Margaret McCadden (my 4x great grandmother) is also listed as living with them in addition to Maggie and Mary Sweeney (Charles’ stepdaughters). So, going from 1880 to 1892, you see a bit of discrepancies. First off, you discover that Mary Burns had at least two daughters from a previous marriage. And secondly, you see a rather large difference in age – Mary is 10 years older than Charles in 1880 whereas she is listed as only being 3 years older than Charles in 1892. We get a better sense of her true age later, but still Mary had an entire life before Charles came into it. I’d be interested to learn the circumstances of their meeting and hope to one day uncover a marriage certificate.
After completing a little bit more digging though, I was able to obtain the death certificate of Mary Burns.
Mary Burns passed away on May 22, 1900 from Bright’s disease and was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. Her father is listed as Patrick McCadden and her mother as Margaret McCadden, both of whom were born in Ireland. As you will see, her true age will remain a mystery. However, I think it is more than safe to say that she left her family still too young.
On a nice overcast day in November of last year, I decided to make the journey into Brooklyn to Holy Cross Cemetery. In fact, Mary Burns was the last of my ancestors (out of the ones where I knew where they were buried) that I had yet to visit.
Unlike my experience at Calvary Cemetery, the employees at Holy Cross were incredibly generous in providing information about where she was buried. For sure, I thought that she would be buried with my great-great grandfather’s twin (the one that he “kicked to death”). However, it turned out that she was by herself. The employee confirmed that and had no record of another infant that died in the year 1881 by the last name Burns.
Ironically though, a headstone opposite the headstone of Mary Burns caught my eye. Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not.
I have to do more research into this, but I find the fact that there are Sweeneys buried so closely to be a sign that perhaps Charles Burns wanted her to be as close as possible to her first husband and any children that she may have had with him. Or maybe that was her request? Who knows? Hopefully, one day I am able to shed some more light on that.
Finding a birth record for Mary MacCadden would be nice too. That way we can actually figure out if she was 47 or 53 (as indicated on her headstone). Either way it was awesome to find my 3x great grandmother, Mary T. Burns.
If you know anything about the MacCadden family or the Burns, please leave me a comment.
One of the things my grandfather used to always tell me about his family tree was that both of his grandparents were named William and Catherine. There was the German William & Catherine, and the Irish William & Catherine.
Recently, I visited the Donnelly Family Plot in Calvary Cemetery. Getting there was no easy feat. In fact, this was the cemetery that was next on my list to visit after getting the flat tire that started this blog.
To begin this story, I want to backtrack a few years ago to when I first started making inroads on the Donnelly branch of my family tree.
My great-great grandfather William J. Donnelly was born on July 25, 1881. I knew this because my grandmother had an original copy of his baptismal certificate from the Church of St. Teresa in Manhattan. Aside from asking members of your family to recite the family legends and lore, you should always go through old collections of documents because you never know what gems you will end up uncovering.
What else did I know about him? At the time, I was only able to locate him in one census record, which was from 1910.
From the record, you can see that William (at age 28) was living in the Bronx with his wife Catherine and their two young daughters Veronica (my great-grandmother) and Abigail (known in my family as Aunt Abby). William was listed as working as a mechanic and they are listed as being married for 3 years. This was the last census record I had for William though. As I found more information on my great-grandmother Veronica, Aunt Abby, and my great-great-grandmother Catherine, there was no sign of William. In fact, by 1920, Catherine is listed as widowed, left to raise two daughters by herself.
I could not imagine what it must have been like for Catherine. Back then, women stayed at home and a big reason for that was motherhood. Catherine now had to do it all – raise her two daughters and financially support a household of three.
What happened to William though? For the longest time, I had no clue.
The only other document I was able to easily hunt down was his and Catherine’s marriage certificate.
To the non-Irish, Donnelly may not sound like a common last name but as I like to frequently describe it, it might as well be the Irish version of Smith. There are so many Donnellys.
There are 4 men named William J. Donnelly alone on this directory page. So, finding the correct Donnelly can be quite the task. Not to mention, I don’t think any of these Donnelly’s are mine as he would’ve only been 18 at the time. Plus, the Michael Donnelly that is listed as an engineer is his father and none of the Williams listed are at his address. But this just goes to demonstrate the difficulty in researching the Donnelly surname.
A breakthrough eventually came after years of trying to identify William’s death date. I even bought the wrong death certificate at one point. To understand my pain, see the below search results from ItalianGen used to whittle down the William Donnellys that died during the timeframe my great-great grandfather did.
Since he was living in the Bronx at the time, I figured I could whittle it down further by searching only for the William Donnellys that died in the Bronx.
BINGO! I thought I had my guy. In 1919, at 38 years old, he would have been born in 1881. I thought for sure this was my guy. The death certificate came in the mail, but it wasn’t him. I’ll have to get around to uploading the certificate for this William Donnelly to hopefully save someone else 15 bucks.
Anyways, my next option was to go back to the original 22 search results and see which Williams lined up near the 1881 birth year. Perhaps, he didn’t die in the Bronx, I thought.
Luckily, at some point, I didn’t have to do that because FamilySearch.org started including more details on the death certificates in their search results. See below.
This was my guy!
The only difference was that the birth year is 1883 instead of 1881. So, either his death certificate is incorrect or his baptismal certificate was off by two years (It was dated in 1923 – 8 years after his death – so it could be that the copy of the baptismal certificate was incorrectly transcribed).
Making this connection in addition to finding the birth and death dates of some of William’s siblings, I was finally able to locate him and the rest of his family in the 1900 census.
According to this census, Michael and Catherine Donnelly had been married for 35 years and had 9 children together, 5 (or 6) of which were still living. Uncle Daniel Gilmore (Catherine’s brother) was also living with them at this time. You should always remember to look for “boarders” with other family surnames to help identify if this is indeed your family, particularly for those with common surnames like Donnelly. Turns out Gilmore isn’t as prevalent as Donnelly.
As you can see here, William lived with his 3 older sisters, Elizabeth, Annie, and Louise. His birthday is also listed as July 1881. So, my guess it that he was born in 1881 instead of 1883.
Now, the death certificate…
On May 25, 1915, William J. Donnelly, my great-great grandfather, passed away at his parents’ house in Manhattan from complications with pulmonary and laryngal tuberculosis. He is buried at Calvary Cemetery at the Donnelly Family Plot with about 15 other relatives that includes his parents, his siblings, and his niece Marjorie E. Calamia, and her husband James Thomas Calamia (the last two that were buried at this plot).
In fact, after speaking with the employee at Calvary Cemetery that helped me locate this grave, I discovered that Catherine Donnelly (William’s mother – not wife – both were named Catherine), was the original owner of the grave. According to the cemetery’s records, if I am recalling it correctly, there are 15 people buried there, many of whom were moved there from other graves. To use the employee’s words, “a lot of bodies were moved when this plot was first bought.”
I hope to learn more about all of the people that are buried here. If you are related to me through the Donnellys, I would love to connect with you. Calvary Cemetery charges a substantial fee (over $100) to provide all the names and death dates of each person buried in family plots. So, again please support my endeavors. Share this with friends. Book a genealogy trip with me. All of my proceeds from this are going to be reinvested in preserving the memories of my ancestors and I hope one day in the future I can do a follow-up to this post including all of the names of the people buried here as well as hopefully giving each one of them a headstone.
For awhile, I lived in Farmingdale, New York, which is the location of what is known as Pinelawn, a collection of cemeteries in the area, including Long Island National Cemetery, one of the largest national cemeteries in the country with over 346,000 interments. This final resting place of many of our country’s departed veterans is also the resting place of a number of my family’s ancestors.
In this first installment of “Honoring Our Fallen Heroes,” I am going to cover the life of Freeport native, and U.S. Navy Veteran, Edward James Murphy, my wife’s great-grandfather.
Ed Murphy (as his family knew him) was born on April 29, 1913 in Brooklyn, New York. His parents, William Joseph Murphy and Margaret Mary Shalvoy had a total of 10 children and eventually settled in Freeport, a populous coastal community on Long Island’s South Shore.
The family consisted of 8 boys and 2 girls with Ed and his older brother Bill at the helm. Talk about lots of protection for their 2 sisters.
Both Ed and Bill attended Freeport High School and played football there as evidenced by this 1929 team photo.
By 1930, you can see the entire family unit living in Freeport: William, Margaret, William, Edward, Raymond, Margaret, Joseph, Richard, John, Mary, and Robert. That’s a lot of Murphys!
On November 25, 1935, Ed married Lorraine Lehmann in Brookyln, New York. I have not yet been able to obtain a copy of their marriage certificate.
By 1940, Ed is still in Freeport living with his wife Lorraine and daughter Mary Lou. He is listed as working as a “Beer/Ales Salesman.” My guess is that this means he either worked for a liquor store or a beer distributor.
A few years thereafter, Ed enlisted in the United States Navy towards the end of World War II. According to this photo, Ed Murphy completed his training in Great Lakes, Illinois. This photo was found on Find A Grave and I am not sure of its original source.
In the Navy, Ed served as a “storekeeper.” The term no longer in use, a storekeeper was responsible for maintaining a ship’s military supply store. They were responsible for purchasing, procurement, shipping and receiving, and issuing equipment, tools, and essentially anything else they had in stock. I am very interested to see exactly what he did during the war and where exactly he was stationed during that time.
Unfortunately, Ed Murphy did not live much longer after serving in World War II. At the young age of 35, Edward James Murphy passed away at Meadowbrook Hospital in the Town of Hempstead leaving behind his entire family.
Thanks to Find A Grave and the Veterans Affairs Nationwide Gravesite Locator, our deceased veterans are easier to find more than ever. On Saturday, March 26, 2016, I took my wife to visit both of her great-grandfathers that are buried at Long Island National Cemetery. We don’t know the last time someone was there to visit him, but as we always do, we left a rock on top of his headstone to make sure that others know he will always be remembered.
Edward James Murphy – we salute you and thank you so very much for your service to this great country during World War II. You were taken from us way too young, but we hope you will be remembered forever.
One of the many things I remember my grandfather always telling me that I will never forget was, “If I ever said more than 100 words to my father, it was a long conversation.”
Suffice it to say, they were not close.
Despite having a rough childhood, and I mean rough childhood, my grandfather always loved his father even though there was plenty there to hate him for.
You wouldn’t necessarily know it because my grandfather wasn’t the type to be overly affectionate or sentimental. He was a man’s man. However, despite his rough exterior, I will also never forget the glowing nature of how he spoke about others. My grandfather would never tell you that he was proud of you to your face but you could bet your bottom dollar that he would tell the rest of the world.
I remember hearing my grandfather speak with pride about how his father was a respected police officer for the New York Police Department. I remember him bragging about how his father was the President of the NYPD Holy Name Society. I remember him talking about how his father would host bigwigs for dinner, from the respective realms of the good, bad, and the ugly.
I also remember that there wasn’t much more than that. The stuff he didn’t speak about was painful to even think about. I heard bits and drabs over the years from my grandmother, my father, and my aunt. However, my grandfather’s disdain for his father was more than apparent.
“If I spoke more than 100 words to my father, it was a long conversation.”
At this point, you’ve read 275 words.
I think you can get the picture.
As a kid, my image of my great-grandfather was purely negative. He was described to me numerous times as a drunk, a womanizer, and a violent man…someone to not be proud of. In fact, the only story my father really recalls about his grandfather John William Achnitz is that he tried to give him a hug at the time when his wife (my father’s grandmother) passed away. John said, “Billy, I am your grandfather.” My dad replied, “No, my grandfather died 4 years ago,” referring to his other grandfather on his mother’s side.
Naturally, I understood why my father didn’t like his grandfather and in reality why he didn’t even recognize him as his grandfather. My dad hated seeing his father hurt. And like any son, he was going to stand by his father. In a way, my grandfather was robbed of that same opportunity. He never really got the chance to stand by his father although I know deep down my grandfather always loved his father.
Despite all of John’s faults and indiscretions though, I came to see him in a much different light by learning more about him through genealogical research. In fact, I can distinctly remember the day that my grandfather discovered a New York Times article from 1902 about the death of John’s half-brother William Achnitz just by googling his own name. At the time, he had no clue who this William was and I don’t think John ever knew about him either.
This tragic event, which I’ve posted about before, was the key to John’s existence. It is the key to my existence. In fact, everyone alive today that is descended from John is only alive because of William’s death.
I know that sounds like a terrible thing to say, but it’s true. John’s life, and hence my own is predicated on this one event taking place, for after that event, John’s father, the very first William Achnitz, not only lost his youngest child (at the time) to a tragic train accident, but his wife with their 3 remaining children and a coworker of William’s all disappeared. Turns out they all went to Australia and there is no telling whether William ever figured that out. For all he knew, they could have all died.
Nevertheless, he lost it all. He lost his business, he lost his wife, he lost his son, and he lost his other children. He lost his entire family and potentially he could have lost his sense of self and purpose too.
He went from owning his own industrial-scale bakery on Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan to working the rest of his life as a janitor. He did remarry though. In 1905, he married my great-great grandmother Katherine Achnitz. In 1906, they had their first and only child together John (although he was born with the name William, which he later used as a middle name). I’ve often wondered if John did this as a result of finding out the real story behind his father’s first family. I could definitely understand the possibility that he may not have liked the fact that he was clearly named after his half-sibling that had passed away 4 years before he was born.
Wondering how John became the father that he was, I often wondered what John’s relationship was like with his father, William. It was certainly short-lived as John lost his father in 1923 at the young age of 17. Did William losing his family and his business turn him into a monster of a person? Was he already a monster of a person and that’s why his family left him in the first place? Whatever the answer is, John was clearly not prepared to be the best father that he could have been.
Perhaps, John thought that it was best for him to be as absent as possible. In a way, thinking that this would be the best way that he could be a father to my grandfather and his brothers. Certainly, he wouldn’t have been the first father to ever do this.
Whatever was going on in their heads at the time, I like to think that John did the best he could given the cards that he was dealt with as a child. The analogy that I like to use to describe the Achnitz men is that each Achnitz generation has been dealt a better hand over time. And as an avid poker player, I know that my grandfather would really appreciate that analogy. He was certainly dealt a slightly better hand than John. My father was definitely dealt a better hand than my Grandpa. I’ve definitely been dealt a better hand than my Dad. And it is my hope that my kids one day will be dealt a Royal Flush.
I honestly never thought that I would end up visiting my great-grandfather John. And I don’t think anyone in my family has ever visited him. In fact, they didn’t even know that he had died at first. My grandfather found out several months after the fact after his second wife Blanche had told one of my grandfather’s brothers. This absolutely tore my grandfather up inside. I don’t even think that my grandfather ever even got to visit his dad’s gravesite.
So, in a way, I felt like this was my opportunity to make amends and forgive him for any and all mistakes that he had made in his life not to mention, pay my respects.
I sat down in the grass right next to his headstone for about 30 minutes and just prayed.
I prayed that he was in a better place and I prayed that he was somehow able to be the father to my grandfather that he always wanted him to be. I remember the sun shining brighter in that moment and I remember getting a warm sensation throughout my body. It’s moments like that that have made me believe in something deeper than life.
I told him about myself. I told him about how I was on my way up to Buffalo to watch my wife graduate with her Master’s degree. I told him what I knew about him. I told him how I was the only one that had figured things out about him that perhaps no one else had figured out. I asked him to always be a part of me, which after thinking about it further, I realized he’s always going to be a part of me.
I just hoped that in some way, both him and my grandfather were truly at peace. Sons may end up having issues with their fathers in life and all of us may have to live with the sins of our fathers. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t make every effort to have the best relationship possible with them. That’s what I certainly strive for with my own father.
This is why I love genealogy. You uncover stories and you can truly learn about yourself in the process.
If you are related to John William Achnitz, he is buried in Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York.
So, in addition to researching my own family tree, I’ve naturally done quite a bit of research on my wife’s tree as well. In many respects, I’ve actually been more successful researching my wife’s family tree than my own. And because of that, I feel like I’ve connected with her ancestors in a way as if they were my own ancestors.
For me, finding an American progenitor is an awesome accomplishment. A progenitor is the first of your family name. So, in this regard, we are looking for the very first of your name in America. In my tree, I have found all of my progenitors and all of them are European immigrants that came to the United States at the turn of the 20th century.
My wife’s tree is very different. A number of her branches have deep American roots dating back to the 1600s. However, in this post, I am going to focus on our trip to visit The First Wernsdorfer – George – who like many of my ancestors was the first one of his name to come to America from Germany.
George, according to his death certificate, was born on July 22, 1859 in Germany. His life story is an interesting one and definitely one characterized by hard work and determination.
On August 1, 1885, George left his homeland of Germany, where he was a farmer, to come to America.
From what I am able to tell, the first job that George took in America was as a hostler in Brooklyn. A hostler is a man employed to look after the horses of people staying at an inn. I don’t think there are too many hostlers nowadays in Brooklyn. Certainly this was a hard job and definitely not the most glamorous. However, it was the beginning of a new life in a new country for a man that would work hard every single day of his life.
In 1892, we see George with his first wife Elizabeth and his two daughters, Barbara and Louise.
On January 5, 1899, something tragic happened. George’s wife, Elizabeth Wernsdorfer (nee Moser) passed away, leaving George to care for their two daughters and two sons. I have not purchased Elizabeth’s death certificate yet. Therefore, I do not know exactly what happened to her. She is listed as being buried with an infant though. So, I am assuming that she died while giving childbirth.
From the above screenshot of the Locate A Loved One search results, we can see that both Elizabeth and her child were buried together in 1899. The other Wernsdofers shown in the search results were children of George and Elizabeth’s son, John Wernsdorfer and his wife Dorothea.
About 8 months later on October 15, 1899, George married Barbara Thomann. In the 1900 Census, we see that George is living in Brooklyn with his second wife Barbara and his children from his marriage with his first wife Elizabeth (Barbara, Elizabeth aka Lizzie, John, and George).
Here is the marriage certificate for George Wernsdorfer and Barbara Thomann.
In 1905, Barbara and George have had their first child together, a son named Joseph.
In 1910, George is still listed as a Coach Driver. His eldest child Barbara has moved out and is probably married by this time. His second daughter Lizzie is working as a book binder. His eldest son John is working at a gas company and both George and Joseph are in school.
By 1915, George is listed as a hospital driver. John has moved out and is now married to Dorothea. George and Elizabeth still have the same professions and Joseph is still in school.
Through the 20s and 30s, George and Elizabeth eventually moved out, getting married, and starting their own families. Elizabeth (1890-1964) married a Peter Joseph Bogensberger (1891-1944) in 1921 and had two children. George (1896-1966) married Augusta S. Luckner (1902-1983) and had five children.
The elder George Wernsdorfer continued working as an ambulance driver for St. Catherine’s Hospital for many years. One significant highlight that happened during his career was his efforts in trying to put out a blazing fire at St. Catherine’s Hospital. See article below.
From farming in Germany, to picking up after horses during turn of the century New York City, to driving an ambulance for St. Catherine’s Hospital in Brooklyn for decades, George Wernsdorfer worked hard every single day of his life. He literally worked until the day that he died, which also happened to be at St. Catherine’s Hospital.
As you can see, at the age of 78, George Wernsdorfer who was still working at St. Catherine’s Hospital, died at 9:30 in the morning on September 9, 1937, at St. Catherine’s Hospital. Now, obviously much older, it appears he had made a transition from ambulance driver to the much less stressful job of gardener at some point in the 1930s.
What a remarkable journey. George, the First Wernsdorfer, worked hard to make it in this country. He literally died working, which I am confident is something he loved. Who works until their 78? Not many.
George without a doubt gave his family members more than he had and he taught them the value of hard work. Without his dedication and work ethic, I am confident that things would have been much different for the generations that came after. Thank God for George! It was a pleasure visiting you.
George is buried at St. John’s Cemetery with both of his wives Elizabeth and Barbara. Barbara passed away on December 8, 1937, about 3 months after George.
As you can see, there are only 3 names inscribed on their headstone. However, they have children and grandchildren that were buried there as well with them.
One of my main goals with Flat Tire Genealogy as I have expressed in many of my other posts is to make sure that all of our ancestors are remembered. Please support this page and share it with others because all of the money that I make from these efforts is going to go towards adding the names of those that have been forgotten to their headstones.
I hope you enjoyed this last post in my Trip to St. John’s series. Please stay tuned for much more content in the coming weeks and months!
As any researcher knows, some things are harder to figure out than others. In the case of genealogical research, some branches of your tree will provide you with a rushing flood of information without any issues while others are simply a giant brick wall.
In the case of the Repp side of my family, I had to do some heavy lifting in order to break through the proverbial brick wall of my family tree.
When I first started researching my family tree, I had never even heard of the name Repp.
In fact, the only thing I knew about my great-great grandmother was that her name was Lillian Burns, though sometimes she was referred to as Mary, according to my grandmother, by her husband Henry Edward Burns.
So, what was Lillian’s maiden name? Well, when I asked my grandmother she didn’t know, not because she didn’t know the name, but rather she had heard of two names – Lillian Cortland and Lillian Holland. According to my grandmother, her grandmother Lillian was not very open about her life and she spoke very sparingly about her family. From what my grandmother has told me, Lillian stated that she was raised by her grandmother and an Uncle Chris and was not close with either of her parents. My grandmother also stated that she had heard that Lillian’s mother was an opera singer or some other type of performer that kept her constantly on the road and her father was not active in her life.
Now, although this was good information to start searching to build my tree further, it didn’t produce a lot of leads. For example, Lillian lived with her grandmother and an Uncle. But were they Cortlands? Were they Hollands? Were they her paternal relatives? Were they her maternal relatives with a completely different last name? Did Lillian take on her father’s name or perhaps a stepfather’s name at birth? All questions I didn’t know the answers to.
It turns out, her name at birth was Lillie Mary Repp.
You might be asking yourself how I could have managed to find this certificate. Well, after giving up on running countless searches of both Cortlands and Hollands with Lillian’s birth year, I came across a website called Fulton History, a newspaper search engine that contains many of New York’s historical newspapers.
One of the first things I found was a notification of Lillian’s marriage to Henry in 1913.
As you can see, she appears here as Lillian Cortland. But it was this next document that opened up the floodgates.
On January 28, 1929, Lillian’s mother Margaret Holland passed away. As you can see from the obituary, she is survived by her daughter, and her brothers Christopher and Joseph Repp. I had found Uncle Chris and apparently Uncle Joe too.
This document was really the key to breaking through that brick wall. From there, I found more and more records and I was able to figure out the entire make-up of Lillian’s family (with the exception of her father). As you will notice, it is more than evident that Lillian was right when she said she was raised by her grandmother Catherine Repp and her Uncle Chris.
Again using the Locate A Loved One search engine, I was able to find the exact gravesite of where Catherine Repp and Margaret Holland were buried. Catherine’s son and Margaret’s brother, Joseph A. Repp, is also buried with them. Here is their headstone.
Unfortunately, it appears as if Catherine’s name was the only one that got inscribed.
“In Loving Memory of Our Beloved Mother”
I hope to one day add the rest of their names.
Catherine Elizabeth Repp (nee Bochmann)
Section: 19 | Row: E | Grave: 66
Margaret Philomena Holland (nee Repp)
Section: 19 | Row: E | Grave: 66
Joseph A. Repp
Section: 19 | Row: E | Grave: 66
There’s certainly more Repps out there. I look forward to finding them!
Next on my list of locations to visit in St. John’s was the Burns. One of my more difficult branches to research (mainly due to the commonality of the Burns surname), my Burns ancestors were one of my favorite branches to conquer. It started with, of course, interviewing my grandmother (who was born a Burns). My grandmother remembers all sorts of stories about her grandparents, and one of the most interesting characters, was her grandfather Henry Edward Burns (1881-1963), who went by Harry. He was your typical jolly, hard-working, jokester of an Irishman who allegedly had to give his wife his paycheck every payday out of fear of blowing it all at the bar.
For the longest time, I was unable to pinpoint his birth record. Born in 1881, there was a good chance he may not have had a birth record. However, I didn’t give up running searches and rather than running a search with his first name, I simply ran one for the year 1881 with just the last name Burns. This is what I came across.
May 9, 1881 was his birthday. Charles Burns was his father. There are two records though? One of which has a death date of the same day? Did my 2nd great grandfather have a twin? I couldn’t wait to tell my grandmother as I was sure this was a piece of information she had never heard before.
I said, “Grandma, did you know that your grandfather Harry Burns had a twin?”
She replied, “Yeah, he did have a twin. Actually, he used to make a joke about how he kicked his twin to death because he needed more room.”
Maybe not the best joke to make about the twin he never got to meet, but that just goes to demonstrate the good nature of the man. Even the most tragic of scenarios could be infused with a little bit of humor.
Here is their birth certificate:
This opened the door to another generation and led to a number of other discoveries, including where my 3x great grandparents were buried. Charles Burns was not buried with his first wife, Mary McCadden. Instead, I came to learn that Mary had passed away on May 22, 1900 and was buried in a plot at Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn presumably where her infant son was also buried.
Charles Burns remarried a couple of years later to Margaret Catherine Scally (1877-1939), and had two more children, Daniel Francis Burns, and Margaret C. Burns. All four of them are buried together in the plot seen below.
Unfortunately, there are no names inscribed on this headstone – just the Burns surname signifying it is the Burns Family Plot. In that moment, I thought perhaps there used to be footstones marking each individual’s name. However, Margaret C. Burns (their daughter) had passed away in 1990 and Daniel F. Burns (their son) had passed away in 1982. According to my grandmother, Margaret and Daniel lived together their entire lives, never married, and never had kids.
Their father was first buried there in 1928 and their mother next in 1939. Why did they never get their names inscribed? Was it their wish for the stone to only say Burns? Why leave all of that space on the stone then? Did two earlier footstones exist? Who was responsible for their burials?
All questions I’d like to find out answers to. I can’t imagine they would have not wanted their names on their headstone. How would they be remembered? All it says is Burns.
Anyways, if it was indeed just due to the lack of follow through on the part of other family members, I want to make sure that I am one day able to get their names inscribed. In the meantime, they will be memorialized here.
If you want to support my research and quest to make sure that all of my ancestors are properly remembered, please let me know. I started Flat Tire Genealogy to ensure that no one in my tree would be forgotten. So, anything you can do to help, especially if these people are in your tree too, would be greatly, greatly appreciated.
One of the best ways to make new discoveries in your family tree is to speak to your elders. Almost always, this is going to be the first step anyway. However, sometimes we don’t revisit those old conversations or we forget certain details that were brought up before. Hence, why it’s always important to write things down (something I tend to not do).
However, I always try to make it a point to talk about any new developments with my family tree with my grandmother.
Oftentimes, a new discovery that I made will spark a memory of hers that we hadn’t talked about before. It’s also a good way to confirm that what you found was indeed correct or at the very least tell you that you are on the right track. One of my favorite things to accomplish in genealogy is matching up family stories with actual documentation. Being able to confirm the truth of a family legend is one of the most gratifying things I feel that you can accomplish in researching your family tree. The only downside though is that it often leads to more questions, but in genealogy, questions are a very, very good thing to have.
After discussing my previous post with my Grandmother, I learned that Juanito and the younger Rosalia (15 years old) were indeed Louis Garcia’s children and that her grandmother (Louis’ sister – also Rosalia) was their godmother. Obviously, being one of the first and clearly unexpected deaths experienced by the family in America, the only plot available was probably the plot in St. John’s Cemetery where my 3x great-grandmother had been buried. So, it makes sense that Louis’ children would be buried with his mother (who from what I can determine – came to the United States without her husband and thus was not buried with her spouse).
What a rough time – 3 deaths in a matter of 1 year. In fact, Juanito and his sister Rosalia died within almost a month of each other. According to my grandmother, they both died from appendicitis. By running some new searches, I uncovered their death certificate numbers, and once I am able to procure them, I will be able to confirm their exact cause of death.
The searches I ran were on both Familysearch.org and Italiangen.org. As I already mentioned in my last post, the databases made available by the Italian Genealogical Group are extremely valuable for anyone with ancestors from New York City. The documents available on FamilySearch are also another great tool and unlike the database at Italiangen.org, they include more information on the death records of those who died in New York City.
Equipped with the dates found on their headstone, I was able to easily find both of them in the ItalianGen database, which also included the death certificate numbers. It’s always easier when you have the certificate number when ordering vital records (birth, marriage, and death) from New York City.
It was at FamilySearch though that I was able to learn something that I did not know before. The name of Juanito and Rosalia’s mother was Anna Sanchez. The father listed on each record was also Louis Garcia thus confirming that I had the right death records. Clearly, I had the right people.
As you can see, there are some irregularities in the FamilySearch results. However, this is more than likely due to a transcription error. Many records are entered into databases by volunteers thus human errors sometimes happen. The best thing for me to do now would be to order their death certificates so I can actually view the record myself.
The discovery of Anna (their mother) led me down on a path that revealed additional cousins that I had never heard of before. I was able to uncover census records and Louis’ petition for citizenship on Ancestry.com with details about the entire family unit, which I wouldn’t have been able to do without the information available on the death certificates and of course by visiting their gravesite.
This is all that I have been able to find for Louis and Anna Garcia. Despite the heartbreaking circumstances that I first came to uncover this information, I am happy that I am able to ensure that they are never forgotten.
Here I am as usual with more questions…
Where are Louis and Anna buried?
Is it possible that any of their kids are still alive?
How close were they with my great-grandmother and her sisters?
What was their life like in Spain?
Questions that I am nonetheless glad to have.
Think about this for a moment. Both of these children – my cousins – passed away at such a young age (4 and 15), and it was only by visiting them that I would have ever even known that they existed.
So many times, this is the end of the road. As family historians, we typically do all of this research to figure out where our ancestors were laid to rest. To get that moment where you are physically standing on the ground where they are. To get that moment where you sense that they are there with you. I don’t think there is anything more intimate in genealogy.
Sometimes though it is the complete opposite – we visit a gravesite first in order to get that new lead that leads us down a completely new path of research.
My grandmother, upon reading my last post, said:
“I believe I might be able to solve some of the mystery. The two children were my Great Uncle Louis’ children. My Grandmother Rosalia was their Godmother and my Grandfather Juan Fariñas paid for their burial and bought the headstone. Both the children passed away from burst appendicitis and my Grandmother Rosalia was, as I was told heart-broken. I cannot imagine that my Grandmother’s name was not on the stone. What confuses me more was that my Mother told me her Grandmother lived into her nineties, and I always thought that she had outlived her daughter. I will have to ask my cousin Rosalie. Yes, another Rosalie. Maybe, it was my Grandfather, Juan’s mother instead that lived into her nineties. My grandfather Juan always took care of the entire family.”
Indeed, he did. To help decipher the numerous Rosalies in my tree, please see the below tree.
One day I hope to be the one to add my great-great grandmother’s name to this stone.