We've found interviewing relatives to be very much like peeling an onion -- each new visit brings a new layer of memories and traditions. We had provided our relatives in Clifton, New Jersey, with some lovely old family photographs received from our relatives in Pittsford. When we visited Clifton last week, the photos stimulated more family stories.
A photograph had raised a question: what happened to great aunt Susie? There she was at the far left Aunt Susie at far left of the picture. She was shown on the 1910 census living with grandma and grandpa, but after that she disappeared. Aunt Susie most probably married, but what was her husband's name?
We returned to our hotel with a stack of additional photos to scan. Searching the Internet Tuesday night we discovered something important, but since we were still scanning photographs we didn't understand it until Wednesday morning. Susie came to America on a ship from Bremen in 1909. The reason we didn't understand was because her travelling companions were named Janosine, Ilona and Ede, and we knew nobody by those names. Wednesday morning we were looking at a photograph we had found in Clifton -- it was the first picture in our collection of Uncle Eddie. Hmm ... mm ... Eddie ... Ede. We reexamined the Ellis Island record to discover that Susie had travelled with a 30 year old woman, a 7 year old little girl, and a 1 1/2 year old St. Mary's Church in Passaic little boy. But their names should have been Anna, Paulina, and Edward. Eddie we could understand, but how did Anna get copied down as Janosine? We only had a transcription of the ship's manifest, because for some reason the handwritten image was unavailable on the internet.
Meanwhile, we had decided to go to the church where grandma and grandpa were married, because we thought surely Aunt Susie would have been married there. Father Demkovich answered the phone, and invited us to the 8:30 mass. So we were up early, found a place to park, and photographed the beautiful Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, built for and by Slovak immigrants who came by the thousands to work in the mills along the Passaic River.
We understood why Father Demkovich wanted us at mass -- there were only about 10 other people there. He sings two masses every weekday, at 8:00 and 8:30. The service was lovely, and most of those in attendance had familiar Slovak faces.
Afterwards, ensconced in a little room in the back of the church, we studied the marriage and baptismal records. We didn't find great aunt Susie, but we did find baptisms for three children of great aunt Mary, whose granddaughter in Pittsford had supplied the photograph in the first place. Some of the record books have been lost. We copied the church records using our digital camera.
If Susie had not been married in St. Mary's, she must have been married somewhere else in New Jersey, so we decided that on Inside St. Mary's Church Thursday we would go to Trenton.
We were somewhat ill-prepared for Trenton, as we had the address of the State Health Department, but we couldn't find the building because the street sign was torn down. An enterprising man at a gas station told us how to get there, and then demanded a handout. We drove around several blocks, filled with trash, vagrants, parking lots for employees, and a few parking spaces for people going to the DMV, but none for visitors to the State Board of Health, so we parked on the street. As soon as we said the word "genealogy" the State Health Department lady politely but firmly told us to drive down the block, turn left and go to the Archives.
The Archives were characterized by high security and low service. Perhaps people were in a bad mood because they had been furloughed from work last week while the governor and legislature argued about the budget. In any case, we got a building pass downstairs, an archives pass upstairs, signed two visitor sheets and stowed all our gear except pencils in a locker and proceeded into the genealogy room.
The marriage records of the state of New Jersey are the property of the State Health Department, which had microfilmed them, year by year, alphabetically by the name of the groom. Didn't we know this? We knew we were in trouble when the archivist tried to shift the blame to us. She discussed a number of impractical ways to proceed, such as searching through dozens of years of newspaper obituaries or censuses for a woman whose last name we didn't know. The conversation was made more obscure by a volunteer, a young woman who told us she did this work for money, and began running through the list of all the ways we might get at discovering aunt Susie's married name. The volunteer boasted that she had been able to use the bride's index at the Health Department, which they refused to give to the Archives!
We did have one guess as to who aunt Susie might have married, and we knew who aunt Mary had married, so we searched for those marriage records, looking quickly at fifteen different microfilms but with no success. We tried the State Library of New Jersey down the street where we signed another visitor register and got another building pass only to discover that they did not have the city directories for Passaic for the years of interest. When we told the librarian about how the State Health Department wouldn't give the bride's index to the State Archives, she laughed merrily and said, "That's so New Jersey!" Location of a delicious lunch So we left Trenton, one of the sorrier state capitals in the U. S. We decided that New Jersey suffers greatly from the fact that its two great cities, New York and Philadelphia, belong to other states!
We followed a meandering path back to Secaucus, and about lunchtime we pulled into the Sichuan Spring restaurant in Highland Park. In the window were a bunch of newspaper restaurant reviews -- all but one of which were in Chinese! Inside we were the only occidental customers, and we enjoyed a wonderful lunch of twice-cooked pork and ants-climbing-trees.
We had one more weekday to go, and a different task to pursue. Two close relatives had been married in a famous church in New York City, The Little Church Around The Corner, aka The Church of the Transfiguration, located at 1 East 29th Street, just off Fifth Avenue.
Before we left the hotel we called Ellis Island, and left a voice mail for the lady who knows about images of ships' manifests that don't show up on the internet.
Along the bus lane to Lincoln Tunnel We left the hotel around 9:00 a.m. Immediately across the street we boarded Bus #320 at the beginning of its run. The next stop was the Park And Ride, where the bus quickly filled up and then went nonstop to New York. Unlike the bouncy little buses of our youth, with hard seats and lots of standees, this bus was big and comfy and air conditioned, with no standing allowed. Most important, it could use the Bus Lane, which was one of the three lanes of westbound traffic coming out of the Lincoln Tunnel that was available only to buses. No car pools, like they have in the West, but just buses. Our bus flew along the Bus Lane and about nine minutes after leaving the Park and Ride we were deposited at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan.
There we descended into the bowels of the New York Subway. We were a little disoriented that there are no more subway tokens, but we purchased our metro cards and rode the shuttle to Grand Central and then south two stops to 28th street. New Yorkers, in their economy of speech, name all their subway trains with a single letter or number, and speak just that number, for example, "take the S and then the 4."
The Little Church Around the Corner The church was undergoing total restoration. Most of 29th street was blocked off as giant cranes removed the old roof preparatory to replacing it. The construction guy on the street warned us away from the backing dump truck, and then politely talked to us about how immensely old the church was (it was built in 1849). New Yorkers, with their zeal for replacing the old with the new, have very few old buildings left, and they simply have no comprehension of how many really old buildings are still standing in Europe! But then New Yorkers have always been so dazzled by their own city that they have no comprehension of the rest of the world!
The marriage records were lovingly copied, in color, front and back, and embossed with the church's seal. The church, well known for the number of marriages it performs, requested a goodly fee for the production of the certificates, which we were happy to pay.
The Library Lions of NYPL We walked up Fifth Avenue to 42nd Street; the weather was a little too hot and muggy for our taste, but the sights of New York are always spectacular. We entered the high marble halls of the New York Public Library, where we found the city directories for Passaic that were not in the collection of the New Jersey State Library in Trenton. Once again we got some more information, but nothing that would help us find Aunt Susie.
On the way back to the bus terminal we admired the new Bank of America building under construction. But the new sanitized Times Square seemed to us like a gleaming plastic tourist trap. We prefer our neighborhoods with more character and less glitz.
Returning to our hotel, we had received an email from the lady at Ellis Island and we were able to decipher the ship's manifest and confirm that it was really our family. Janosine was what the transcriber had written, but it was really Janos overwritten by Anna, as our grandmother had first given her husband's name, Janos (or John).
We still don't know what happened to Aunt Susie. That's the nice thing about this hobby; there's always more work to do!