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.

lillian-burns-with-harry-george-marty
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!

baby-grandma
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.

grandma-at-coney-island-with-dad
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.

grandma-young-with-parents
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.

martin-burns-in-army
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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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

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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.
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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!