When I was a boy I visited a New York State museum in Albany with my mother. By chance, we found that among old city railroad and subway cars was an exhibit on police uniforms. Among them was a late 19th century uniform with the distinctive high helmet worn by New York City policemen, and I recall my mother telling me that my father’s grandfather was on the force and wore one just like it. An Irish cop in the 1800s – fancy that!Since that trip, I’ve always held the image of that helmet and uniform in my head and thought of my great-grandfather when seeing images from the 1890s.
(Especially the ones where pretty young women clamor for the officer’s attention. Ahem.)
When I finally began working on my family research several years back, I did not expect to find much detailed information on my great-grandfather Michael. After all, we’re talking about 100 years in the past and scant known information on him.
One tantalizing, yet elusive clue came from another story from my mother. When she first married my father she had seen a large portrait-type photograph in my grandmother’s collection of a uniformed Michael Tierney. Sadly, when she inquired about it later my grandmother told her that it had been ruined and thrown out long before.
Earlier this year, after connecting with some Tierney cousins (Thanks, Anne! See her Tierney Tavern blog here.) I began to work in earnest on my search for Michael and wife Anna (McDonald) Tierney. After some false starts having to do with an entire parallel family living in Brooklyn, we finally started to gain some steam in by finding them in the census. (Since that was a long trek, it will require a future post of its own.)
But in addition to the census, I began to find some possible naturalization records on both Ancestry and Footnote.com. (It didn’t help that there was a serial citizenship-witnesser with the same name. He owned a liquor store, so I’m guessing he was very friendly or drumming up business.)One record of particular promise was the index record at right. Your other right. If you are unfamiliar with these record types, the index card was a cross reference to the actual naturalization record. A clerk could flip through the index records quickly to find the basic information on the person.
The 1900 census recorded that Michael had emigrated from Ireland to New York around 1880, the time frame for the naturalization in this record is about right.But, having found that the 1900 census dates were, to use a technical term “wacky”, and without any other reference point, it remained in the “possible” pile and not the “Woohoo!” pile.
In the name of pointing out my attempt at objective research, I should probably state that until we found the family in the census I tried to keep an open mind that Michael may not truly have been a police officer. After all, the story was told to my parents by my grandmother, who married my grandfather several years after great-grandfather Michael died. We had no image of him, and none of the naturalization records that turned up listed that profession. The 1900 census, happily, confirmed that he was a policeman.
However, I started looking into the possibility of records from the police department itself. Eventually I found an address where one could inquire about historical records, so sent off as much as I knew: addresses from the census, when he arrived in New York and when we believe he died (from a family interview and a likely death index record.)
While waiting for that, my 7 year old son and I took a trek into Manhattan to visit the New York City Police Museum downtown at Old Slip.
We had a great visit, including a closeup view of another uniform from the time of my great-grandfather and a photograph of a heartwarming moment for any father: my son in the Hoosegow.
In the next part you’ll see some good news, some disappointment, a happy find and an absolutely amazing serendipitous one.