• History
  • May5

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    Emma S Clark Memorial Library DoorBack when our kids were fairly small, my wife started a terrific tradition while looking for things to do in the otherwise lazy summertime: Library Field Trips.

    She began to seek out various libraries in our county of Suffolk on Long Island and they would pack up some things for snacks and/or lunch, pick a town and just browse the library there. As a life-long book and library fiend, I am aghast that such a thing never occurred to me, except maybe for larger libraries such as the New York Public Library in Manhattan.

    The kids have loved it – an opportunity to find new books they’ve never seen before along with at least the small sense of adventure one feels when visiting a new place. We’ve found some wonderful libraries, and also found that even though they’re all in the same county system, the facilities – and rules – can vary greatly. We’ve toyed with the idea of creating a dedicated blog for these trips, and now I regret not creating one a few years back. (Especially now that our son is 12 and less inclined to find the adventure. *sadface*)

    Stained Glass WindowToday I believe we have found my favorite Long Island library: The Setauket’s Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, opened in 1892 in memory of Miss Clark, who was the niece of millionaire confectioner Thomas Hodgkins.

    The library has been greatly (and beautifully) expanded several times since that first day, when the annual membership charge was a whopping 10¢ per year. The magazine area is housed in the original structure, constructed of arches and old wood that creaks comfortably beneath one’s feet.

    As my wife and son perused other areas of the library, my daughter Lily and I sat in this wonderful spot. I could easily imagine people running up to the overlarge entrance door in older times, shaking off the snow, pulling a volume from a shelf and sitting in the nook beside the fireplace and golden bottle-glass adorned windows.

    Clark Library StairsLily read quietly as I imagined these ancient goings on, and spoke only once to say “It is so peaceful here!” *Sigh.*

    As an added bonus to the library itself is that the area is of historical significance and has some beautiful churches and cemeteries to explore nearby. Walking out through the library’s nice plantings we then crossed the village green to learn that the Revolutionary War Battle of Setauket was fought here.

    Lily in a Flowering Tree




    For those who are viewers of the show Turn: Washington’s Spies on AMC, you might recognize the location name. (I have requested the first season from my own library, so please don’t tell me who wins!)

    NYS Historical Sign for Setauket village GreenThe area still has a nice rural feel to it, and it is easy to imagine carriages and soldiers milling about while crossing the triangle-shaped green on our trek over to the Setauket Presbyterian Church. As usual, the headstones in the cemetery called to us and we wandered through for the better part of an hour.

    Setauket Presbyterian Church

    Grave of Abraham WoodhullWe noted a few Revolutionary war soldiers as we walked through, and more than a few DAR markers. Then we stumbled upon one raised memorial that appeared to be built over the original headstone and had coins and stones scattered across its face.

    Abraham Woodhull PlaqueThe plaque on the top of the memorial informed us it was for Abraham Woodhull, “Friend and confidant of George Washington, head of Long Island Secret Service during the Revolution, and operated under the Alias of Samuel Culper, Sr.”

    Overall, an excellent field trip day, I must say.

  • Apr8

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    I am only a couple of generations removed from my Irish immigrants to the United States, so my own direct Irish ancestors were not here during the American Revolution.
    But, while scanning Chronicling America for interesting things, I happened upon a 1919 newspaper article in The Sun entitled Irishmen In Our Revolution, which is a review of Michael J. O’Brien’s (then) new book A Hidden Phase of American History.

    Irishmen In Our Revolution
    The review itself is an interesting read from a historical perspective – both the role the Irish played in The Revolution, and the 1919 perspective of it all.

    However, perhaps more interesting than this to those researching their Irish family that may have been in America that early is that the book itself has an Appendix entitled Officers of the American Army and Navy of the Revolution of Irish Birth or Descent – with a very long list of names and assignments. And a bonus: he has marked all of those born in Ireland with an asterisk. You can find a full copy of Irishmen In Our Revolution over on The Google Books.

    Who could asterisk for anything more?

  • 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.