• History
  • Nov4

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    I took some time at lunch to catch up reading one of my favorite blogs (and the accompanying podcast), The Bowery Boys: New York City History. Their latest post is Photographs of Wonder from the American Museum of Natural History, which showcases several photos from the museum’s AMNH: Picturing The Museum image collection online.

    Children doing Indian Dances in Plains Indians Hall, American Museum of Natural History, 1939, Bierwert, Thane L.

    Children doing Indian Dances in Plains Indians Hall, American Museum of Natural History, Image 291994, Bierwert, Thane L., 1939

    They included some terrific photos from most of the earlier decades of the 20th century. My favorites are definitely the photos from the Education section of the collection, as they show students in various locations and activities in the museum, and reminds me of my own school field trips there in the 1970s.

    I enjoyed them all enough to scroll back up to look at the photos again… then I saw him: My Dad in 1939, dancing with other students in Native American headdress in the Plains Indian Hall!

    It is decidedly a sideways shot and not at the highest resolution, even on the AMNH’s own site, so I suppose there might always be some doubt.

    Comparison, AMNH Photo and a young Michael Tierney
    But having scanned and worked with all of my family’s photos over the last several years, plus knowing what my brother, nephews, son, and I all looked like around that age: THAT is a Tierney face.

    (Click on any photo to see it larger.)

    Another instance of genealogical serendipity – More proof that if you keep looking long enough, someone you know will show up!

  • Mar30

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    According to the Brief History of World War Two Advertising Campaigns War Loans and Bonds:

    On May 1, 1941, the first Series E U.S. Savings Bond was sold to President Franklin D. Roosevelt by Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau. On January 3, 1946, the last proceeds from the Victory Bond campaign were deposited to the Treasury. The War Finance Committees, in charge of the loan drives, sold a total of $185.7 billion of securities. This incredible mass selling achievement (for helping to finance the war) has not been matched, before or since. By the end of World War II, over 85 million Americans had invested in War Bonds, a number unmatched by any other country.

    There were eight War Loan drives in total –

    June 12, 1944 marked the beginning of the most ambitious war financing campaign. The $16 billion goal of the Fifth War Loan was the largest of the eight, but by its conclusion on July 8, 1944, $20.6 billion had been sold. It came at a critical time, as the tempo of war had increased dramatically. Production rates were hitting new peaks, while availability of goods was low and consumer earning rates were high. An estimated $42.7 worth of advertising was contributed towards the loan campaign, which served to thwart inflation as well as to finance the war.

    With such an ambitious goal and over $16.7 billion raised in the previous four ward bond drives, they must have realized they needed some serious tactics for getting people to pony up more money for the war.

    Reading through some Queens newspapers today, I happened upon an advertisement by a partnership of Gertz Department Store and Textron to sell war bonds with a decidedly unique slant: When you buy the bond, you can fill out a note directly to Hitler or Tojo and they’ll insure it gets shipped overseas and inserted in a live bomb!

    Now THERE’S some bang for your buck!

    Put Your Name on An Invasion Bomb Ad.21.JUN.1944.LI Daily Press.Page04

  • May20


    I have been going back over some of my research lines lately and working on a few dead ends to see if I could revive them. One of my mysterious ancestors is my 2nd great-grandmother Margaret Tierney, whom I first learned about when I found her living with my great-grandfather and family in Manhattan in the 1900 US census.

    It took a fair bunch of research and microfilm spinning to find her death certificate as filed a few years after the 1900 census, and since then I have been trying to find her crossing from Ireland to New York.

    The 1900 census info for my Tierneys is particularly wonky, so is not of great help in providing a date I trust for her emigration. So I have been casting a wide net, logging all of the even-marginally possible records, and hoping I can trim them down to find the most likely one for her.

    Margaret Tierney, Grass WidowFrom a few clues, I find it likely that Margaret arrived before Ellis Island was operating, so have been looking through Castle Garden records. During that process, I found an interesting Occupation listed for one Margaret Tierney: Grass Widow.

    Well, that was a new one to me, so I began digging a bit more.

    Over on The Google Books I found an 1873 book entitled Long Ago, A Journal of Popular Antiquities, (Edited By Alexander Andrews, Volume 1, Issue 1 – Volume 2, Issue 17) with a few references to the phrase.

    In fact, I find the book as a whole very interesting, as it contains queries by researchers that are answered by other fellows in subsequent volumes. Kind of like an early Twitter Lazy Tweet asking for help from the masses.

    Grass Widow Inquiry, Pages 120-121 Beginning on page 120 of the book there is a request to others for more information about it by a Mister J.L.C.

    As you can see, he found burial entries, such as “1615-6, March 15. Anne Houghton, an oulde grass widow

    Good old JLC notes that in America, it is a slang term for a “widow of light character”, which is a description I love.

    He also references a work (by John Taylor, whom I am unfamiliar with) implying that a grass widow might be a woman left by a husband because she is unable to have children.

    Grass Widow - Responses
    Happily, in the next volume (Page 150 in this same compilation), a few learned gentleman provide responses.

    I leave you with the full responses at right, including the idea that a grass widow is a wife temporarily parted from her husband, some saying for innocent reasons, others not so much.

    Also, another description of the meaning that might apply to my great-grandmother – she is here in Manhattan, but I do not know what has become of her husband John. Did he remain in Ireland? Is he alive? Is she “a widow, whose husband is abroad and said, but not certainly known to be dead?”

    Perhaps one day I will find out. For now, I’ll just put the phrase “grass widow” in my pocket.

    For extra credit, a pre-published, postscript:

    After I had finished writing most of this post, I happened upon a short entry in the Irish Genealogicial Society International blog that also mentions the phrase.

  • Jan8


    Today I spent some time perusing the wonderful newspaper resources of the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America newspaper archive looking for possible articles relating to my great-grandfather in New York.

    I did find one article referencing a Policeman Tierney that may be about him – the article mentions a chase to the rooftops and we have a single photo of him that has him in uniform and posing on a rooftop. (See my previous blog post Michael Tierney – Policeman, Part 2 for more on him.)

    While that was exciting, I stumbled on an unrelated article from the March 9, 1913 edition of The Sun that was even more so! I tweeted a link to it before I even read much of the article, since it seemed interesting.

    As I read onward, I learned that the Modern Historic Records Association

    “…sent two envelopes of imperishable paper to each of its members. In these envelopes each family was requested to place a message to its descendants 100 years from the present date, to be opened in the year 2013. this message might consist of photographs of the family, a genealogical history going as far back as practicable, or anything else deemed worthy of transmission.”

    That is quite interesting on its own, but I then found there was a further wrinkle to the plan:

    “Duplicate copies were to be placed in the envelopes. The two sets of envelopes so collected were to be placed in an indestructible box. One of these boxes was to be deposited in the New York Public Library, the other in a chamber in one of the pyramids of Egypt. Both were to be opened just 100 years from the present date and the envelopes turned over to the descendants to whom they were addressed.”

    NYPL TweetAs that plan sunk in, I began to get more excited. What could these men have written of? Where are their descendants now? Do others know of this plan still?

    My tweet was then replied to by the @NYPL account (“whoa!”) and cc:d to their other historical collections tweeter accounts. Looks like I’m not the only excited one here.

    I do hope something is found in relation to this project – and am left wondering what pyramid was supposed to be involved and if the plan was carried out fully.
    Updated on January 8, 2013 at 22:23:

    I have done a bit more more digging on the Modern Historic Records Association, and was able to find a listing in the book that may reference the items given to the New York Public Library for this project:

    Bulletin of the New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations , Volume 17 (1913), Page 118


  • Dec13


    While researching my grandmother’s family, I thought it would be interesting (and important) to learn more about the religious order her sister Kathleen had joined in Ireland.

    Sister Attracta (the name she chose when taking her vows) is recalled fondly in our home via her letters to my parents and a New York visit in the 1960’s.

    Sister Attracta Photo CollageLast year I posted a photo collage of Sister Attracta , and over the last year I’ve learned a bit more about her from a cousin in Ireland as we compared research.

    After many years of service in China and Hong Kong, she retired to the Columban Sisters home in County Wicklow Ireland.

    I found a bit of history on the Columban Sisters site that begins…

    “The first group of Sisters set sail on September 13, 1926 from Cobh Harbour in County Cork. The 13,000 mile journey ahead of them would eventually take them to China. After many weeks travelling the Sisters finally arrived in China at a place called Hanyang.”

    The small family stories I’ve heard of her mention the sisters being taken captive during the war, and their status as doctors and nurses was the one thing that saved them from certain terrible experiences.

    Maybe a Second Spring - book coverThe history page references a book entitled “Maybe A Second Spring: The Story of the Missionary Sisters of St. Columban in China”, which they will send you for free if you pay shipping. (I purchased mine at Kennys.ie)

    I received the book last night and am looking forward to start reading it tonight – but I couldn’t resist a flip through right away. Near the beginning it describes “…dozens of (missionary) women would, in time, go to the heart of China. They would face a civil war, bandits, war lords, Communist Geurillas, and Japanese invaders, to say nothing of opium addicts, lepers, floods, famine, and plague.”

    Photo: Sister Mary Attracta with patient in NanchegAnd what do I find in the center section of the book? A cache of photos, including one of Sister Attracta! Quite exciting – I also see her mentioned in at least one section where the sisters are heading off to found the mission at Nancheng.

    Once again, reading is good.