Honoring Martin & Frances Burns – From Their Daughter

My Trip to Long Island National Cemetery

Farmingdale, New York

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.

marty-and-fran

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.

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The Burns Brothers Were A Military Family (From L to R: Harry, George, Lillian (their mom), and Marty)

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.

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My parents when my Mother was first pregnant with me

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!

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My Father holding me when I was a baby

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.

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Me and my Father at Coney Island

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.

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Me and my parents (my Mother is holding one of my cousins)

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 mother in front of the Christmas Tree
My Mother in front of the Christmas Tree

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.

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My Mother kept this picture on display of my Father for her entire life. They absolutely cherished one another!

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.

My Mother with her oldest great-grandchild
My Mother with her first and oldest great-grandchild

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.

Indeed, you have Grandma. Indeed, you have.

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Finding Mary MacCadden Burns

My Trip to Holy Cross Cemetery

Brooklyn, New York

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.

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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.

1892-census

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.

1880-census

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.

death-certificate death-certificate-2

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.
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Ironically though, a headstone opposite the headstone of Mary Burns caught my eye. Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not.

sweeney-headstone

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.

Until next time, keep digging!

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The First Wernsdorfer

My Trip to St. John’s Cemetery

Queens, New York

I absolutely love genealogy.

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.

immigration
From The Germans To America Index

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.

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From The 1888 Brooklyn City Directory
1889-directory
From The 1889 Brooklyn City Directory

In 1892, we see George with his first wife Elizabeth and his two daughters, Barbara and Louise.

1892-census

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.

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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).

1900-census
In 1900, George is listed as being a driver. I did not know what kind of driver he was at this time, but as you will see later in the post, he was an ambulance driver for a hospital for many years.

Here is the marriage certificate for George Wernsdorfer and Barbara Thomann.

marriage-certificate

In 1905, Barbara and George have had their first child together, a son named Joseph.

1905-census

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.

1910-census

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.

1915-census

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.

newspaper-article
From The Brooklyn Standard Union, Wednesday, October 28, 1925, Page 1

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.

death-certificate

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.

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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 always, keep on digging.

How Many Repps?

My Trip to St. John’s Cemetery

Queens, New York

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.

birth-certificate

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.

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From The Brooklyn Daily Standard Union, May 28, 1913

As you can see, she appears here as Lillian Cortland. But it was this next document that opened up the floodgates.

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From The Daily Star Newspaper, January 28, 1929

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.

1900-census
In 1900, Catherine Repp is living in Manhattan at 610 East 17th Street with her daughter Margaret, her sons Joseph and Christopher, and her granddaughter Lillian.
1910-census
In 1910, Catherine, Margaret, Chris, and Lillian are living in Brooklyn at 218 Monitor Street.
1915-census
By 1915, Lillian has moved into a new residence with her husband Henry. Uncle Chris and her mother Margaret are still living with their mother, this time at 187 Moffat Street in Brooklyn.

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.

catherine-repp

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)

1841-1918

Section: 19 | Row: E | Grave: 66

Margaret Philomena Holland (nee Repp)

1866-1929

Section: 19 | Row: E | Grave: 66

Joseph A. Repp

1873-1938

Section: 19 | Row: E | Grave: 66

There’s certainly more Repps out there. I look forward to finding them!