The Donnelly Discovery

My Trip to Calvary Cemetery

Queens, New York

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.

william-donnelly-baptism

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.

1910-census

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.

1920-census

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.

marriage-certificate

mc-page-2

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.

NYC-1899-Directory
The tail end of the Donnelly’s listed in the 1899 NYC Directory

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.

Italian-Gen-Search

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.
screen-shot-2017-01-13-at-11-06-14-pm

Donnelly-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.

familysearch-donnelly

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.

1900-donnelly

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…

death-certificate-william-donnelly

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.”

donnelly-family-plotI 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.

All in 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.

1888-directory
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.

locate-a-loved-one

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.

wernsdorfer-1

wernsdorfer-3

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.

A Tale of Two Rosalies – Part One

My Trip to St. John’s Cemetery

Queens, New York

Before I got the flat tire, I visited St. John’s Cemetery in Queens, New York. The staff there was incredibly helpful in assisting me with finding the final resting places of the many ancestors of me and my fiancé that are buried there. In fact, there were only two people that I needed them to look up because I came in already knowing the exact spots of where many of our ancestors were.

This was thanks to their online tool called Locate A Loved One. This search engine offered by Catholic Cemeteries gives you the exact location of where your ancestor is buried. It covers St. John’s Cemetery, Mount St. Mary in Flushing, Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn, and St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale. Not all records have been uploaded to the website though. So, don’t assume that just because one of your ancestors doesn’t appear in the search results that they aren’t actually buried there. The best way to confirm where your ancestor is buried is to obtain their death certificate.

For those that died in New York City before 1949, you can purchase their death certificate online from the New York City Municipal Archives. Some people opt to actually visit the archives and take photos of the records in order to save some money. However, if you do not have the capability to travel to New York City, then you will have to pay the $15 fee to obtain a copy of each record. I always make my records available on Ancestry.com because to me it just doesn’t make sense to make people continue paying for the same information. I wish New York State made their vital records publicly available but for now hopefully you have a cousin out there that has made it available instead.

If you have not a clue where to begin to locate a death record in New York City, the NYC Death Index provided by the Italian Genealogical Group is a good place to start. I have had a lot of success using this tool and the ancestors I am about to highlight were all first found using this great database.

The first ancestor I received information on at St. John’s Cemetery was Rosalia Fariñas (née Garcia), my great-great grandmother. I actually wrote about her before as part of the #52Ancestors challenge in 2014.

I always wondered why she wasn’t buried with her husband, Juan Fariñas, who is buried at St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale. When I asked my grandmother about it, she stated that her grandfather Juan was supposed to be buried with her but a little boy in the family had passed away and was buried at the plot in St. John’s. I suppose there was such a large gap between the two of them passing away (33 years) that the plot in St. John’s had filled up and the choice was made by Juan to get another plot in a Long Island cemetery instead. Anyways, I was intrigued to see who these other people were that were also buried with my great-great grandmother.

The other ancestor I received information on at St. John’s Cemetery was Rosalia’s mother, my 3x great-grandmother, Rosalia Garcia (née Bautista).

Rosalia Garcia - Death Certificate
At the bottom of Rosalia’s death certificate, you can see that her place of burial is St. John’s Cemetery.

As I had figured, they were buried in the same plot together. Knowing it is standard for many plots to just hold 3 people, I figured it was the two Rosalias and the “little boy” – perhaps a kid brother of my great-grandmother that our family never knew about. What I found was interesting and beautiful.

Rosalia Garcia

What I was looking at was one of the most beautiful headstones that I had ever seen – certainly something more than what I thought my Spanish immigrant ancestors could afford. The stone was absolutely stunning and quite frankly looked brand new. No doubt that this is the type of stone that will last hundreds of years without needing any type of restoration.

Another striking thing I noticed was the age of the second Rosalia. Two Rosalias were there just as I had been told, and the first one matched the death date of my 3x great-grandmother. However, my 2x great-grandmother had died in 1933 at the age of 42. She did not die in 1927 and she certainly was not 15 years old at the age of her death. Could this be a mistake made by a mason? Highly doubtful – not with that kind of work. Could the office have made a mistake and my 2x great-grandmother is buried elsewhere? That seemed to be more plausible.

I called the office back. They said, “No, she is there.” Turns out there weren’t just two Rosalias there. There were three. I had never heard of this Rosalia. I had also realized that someone had failed to make sure that my 2x great-grandmother’s name was added to the stone. Through this website, I hope to be able to be that person that finally gets her name up there.

So, who was this other Rosalia? And who was Juanito? Turned out my grandmother was right. There was a little boy buried there (died at just 4 years of age). What happened to them? How were they related to me? Who were their parents? They seemed to be too young to be the children of my 3x great grandmother and to my knowledge they weren’t my 2x great-grandmother’s kids. So, who were they? So many questions…Questions that never would have been asked had I not taken the time to visit them.

My hypothesis was that they were the children of Rosalia’s brother Louis (who I mentioned in my last post about her). Where was Louis buried though? Why weren’t they with their parents? All things I had to look into. Well, I did and I am happy to share what I have found…in my next post.

Until then…keep digging.