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!

Police parade. (1876) on NYPL.org

Police parade (1876) (via NYPL.org)

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.)

Naturalization Index

Click any image for a larger view.

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.

1900 Census Detail

Detail: 1900 Census.

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.)

Uniform at NYC Police Museum

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.

Son in Hoosegow. Story at 11.In time, that most wonderful of things happened: the postman delivered a large envelope from the NYPD.

In the next part you’ll see some good news, some disappointment, a happy find and an absolutely amazing serendipitous one.


  • avatar

    Comment by John — May 9, 2011 @ 9:17 pm

    Hi David,

    Great to hear from you! Unfortunately I believe mine is a different Michael. Also, some family stories have his middle name as Joseph, but I’ve no documentation on that yet.

    Is your Michael W. the one who worked with Theodore Roosevelt when he was cleaning up the Municipal police force? He has turned up often in my newspaper research of the time. (Also saw him as a character in Caleb Carr’s period book “The Alienist”)

    My great-grandfather Michael died in December, 1913, Certificate 34658. He was still a patrolman when he retired in March of that year. You can see the certificate on my Flickr account here.

    He’s buried with his wife Anna (McDonald), son Thomas Francis and granddaughter Winifred at Calvary Section, Range, Plot, Grave: 43-13-BB-18. Photo of the grave is here.

    Right now I’m working on turning all of the Tierney pages in the NYC directories into a database that I can map out and see if I might find any other related Tierneys. I’ve been having a tough time trying to get my Tierney’s location back in Ireland and am trying alternative approaches now.

    I’d be glad to discuss any ideas you have or compare notes – you never know, we might end up with a connection!

    Love hearing from Tierneys –

  • avatar

    Comment by David Tierney — May 9, 2011 @ 8:59 pm

    I don’t believe this,and I doubt that you will either
    Michael William was my GRANDFATHER!!!. My father was Francis E. the oldest son of MWT I also dabble in genealogy and have several matches with your info.
    I don’t swear by the info I have but I have MWT retiring as a Lieutenant in 5 Feb., 1917. He is buried(and lots of the Tierneys)
    28-15-C-10/11 Calvary Cemetery, Laurel Hill Blvd., Woodside. Death Cert. is #1094
    I can’t believe this! Do you have anything on MWT father?
    Look forward to hearing from you. Dave Maj., USMC (Ret)

  • avatar

    Comment by David Tierney — August 13, 2011 @ 5:26 pm

    13Aug., 2011 Hi John. Still here in NC, but without any progress
    tracking down my GF Michael William Tieney. It’s incredible that we are looking for the exact same name.
    If I find anything that must be your MWT I will certainly pass it on to you All the best Dave Tierney

  • avatar

    Comment by John — August 13, 2011 @ 5:46 pm

    Sounds good Dave! You’d have to think that two guys with the same name on the force at the same time knew each other, even if not related. (I don’t have any evidence for against their relation, but one can hope!)

    Here’s hoping we both have some breakthroughs soon.

    Have you had your DNA tested to join the Tierney and McTiernan projects on Family Tree DNA yet? I had mine done this spring and have some connection to the McTiernans in Roscommon and Leitrim apparently.

  • avatar

    Comment by Steve Keegan — February 2, 2013 @ 9:03 am


    I came upon Part 2 and worked my way back to part 1 and I thouroughly enjoyed your post. I found them as I was searching for ways to trace the NYPD service records for my Grandfathers.

    My parents are both turning 80 this year and both of their fathers were NYPD officers. My father’s dad, Joseph Keegan, was a NYPD officer who died when he was a little boy. I am think around 1940 or so. He left behind a wife and a total of 3 children. I really have no other information about his service record.

    My Mom’s Dad, Andrew Dillon, lived thru the early 1960’s. His NYPD career included a stint as a traffic cop in the “insurance district” of Manhattan. I have found Andrew on Census Records but other than that nothing relating to his NYPD service.

    What do you suggest about finding out service information for both? What do you say when you write the police? I appreciate any tips you may have. Unfortunately, over the last 10 years, I have lost several Aunts and an Uncle who could have provided some more information.

    Thank you and thank you for the contribution of your Great-Grandfather who paved the way for other Irish Police officers, like my Grandfathers, and for the other Irish-New Yorkers in the greatest city on earth.

  • avatar

    Comment by John — February 2, 2013 @ 12:56 pm

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks for the comment! It was very easy to get the service info from the NYPD – You can find a complete thread I contributed to on the topic over on the Ancestry forums here.

    I’ve copied the relevant info of my comment for you below for easier reference. I’m planning to get in touch with the Police Museum when I have time one of these days and see if there are any papers or photo archives researchers can look through and see if I might get lucky again and find my great-grandfather.

    By the way – my wife has Keegans on her side – her great-grandmother came down to New York from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia where there were quite a few Irish and Scottish immigrants.

    “I sent a request into the following address:
    New York City Police Department
    Personnel Resource Unit
    1 Police Plaza Room 1014A
    New York, NY 10018

    I suggest you include as much information as you can – all I had at the time was his name, a possible death year and his addresses from the 1900 and 1910 censuses.

    I also sent in a self-addressed, stamped envelope – not sure if they prefer it or not. They did not use mine and sent the info back in a large envelope.

    I’m very happy with just the cards I got back as it tied a few things together for me. But, one of my cousins received a package back from the NYPD with his great-grandfather’s records and they were a few inches thick and had a photo – so you never know what you’ll get!

    By the way – don’t forget to search for your GGF in the NY Times historical papers as well as try looking him up in Google Books.

    The municipal services published roster and assignment changes in the Times, so you may get some extra hints at his precincts or time taken off in those.

    On Google Books I found some old almanac listings with my GGF’s name as the secretary of the Traffic Police Benevolent Association. It turned out they still exist and a current board member was actually able to send me a photo of their first muster. Neat stuff.

    Best of luck!”

  • avatar

    Comment by Steve Keegan — February 3, 2013 @ 2:52 pm


    Thanks for your speedy reply to my comment. I will persue the NYPD for any servie information. It’s interesting about the Keegan connection as my Dad has often said there’s some Scots connection there. I believe he was 8 when my grandfather died and his grandfather on his mother’s side moved in with his family. My Dad turns 80 tomorrow.
    I’ve bookmarked this blog and looking I’m forward to reading more of your finds and to make discoveries of my own.


  • avatar

    Comment by Alexandra — August 13, 2013 @ 12:12 pm

    Hey John!

    I absolutely love your posts about your hard work searching. I as well found records of my grandpa’s grandfather being an Irish NYC Police Officer!
    It’s thrilling because I’m in Canada, and everything is leading me to Ireland and NY!

    I am going to contact the NYC Police Department – I will keep you posted if they have any “Golden Treasure”. I love how you’re blogging about your experiences, I have started to do the same. Thanks so much for sharing your information!!

    Alex –

  • avatar

    Comment by John — August 13, 2013 @ 2:31 pm

    Hi Alexandra, Thanks for your comment! I appreciate it.

    Good luck with your research and blog – love to hear of people’s stories.

    I looked at your site and see you have Mackinnons – just throwing it out there: my wife’s 2x-great grandmother was Isabella Mackinnon from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Her parents were Angus Mackinnon and Catherine McKillop, he born in Scotland and she in N.S.

    Let me know how the NYPD request comes out!

  • avatar

    Comment by Alexandra — August 15, 2013 @ 1:53 pm

    That is so cool John! Catherine MacKinnon will be my next search – wonder if she will lead me to Nova Scotia!.. OoO!

    I am sending my letter to NYPD Today! wish me luck! Can’t wait to read more of your posts 🙂

    – Alex

  • avatar

    Comment by John — August 15, 2013 @ 4:26 pm

    Good luck Alexandra!

    I just took a look at the map and seems like the St Boniface area of Manitoba is a far way off from Nova Scotia, but who knows?

    There are a ton of people researching the Mackinnon/Mckinnon and other lines of my wife’s family, so if your search does lead you there you’ll sure find some trees to pick through. I have so much work to do on her lines to get everything tied to proper sources.

    BTW, looked at your post again and don’t know if you have this of course, but I Googled the Manitoba Vital Stats database and searched for John Golden in marriages. His and Catherine’s marriage popped right up. Date: 28/12/1909


    If you go to the detail view you’ll see that they have her as “CATHERINE ISABELLE MCKINNON” and his middle name as “TERANCE”, but no other fields populated. Not sure if that means it isn’t on the record, or if they don’t put them out on the site and you have to order to get their parents’ names etc.

  • avatar

    Comment by Melissa Posival — March 17, 2016 @ 8:54 am

    Have you been in touch with the Tierney’s from Ohio? We have information about our shared grandparent Michael Tierney. Ohio Tierney’s are children of his daughter, Veronica Tierney ( she married Leopold Posival )

    Melissa Posival

  • avatar

    Comment by John — March 17, 2016 @ 9:15 am

    Howdy Melissa,

    Thanks for your comment, always good to hear from Tierney folk, especially on St. Patrick’s Day. 😉

    There’s a funny coincidence going on here, (you’ll see above in the comments that David and I discussed): I believe you are referring to the family of Michael W. Tierney, NYC Policeman and sidekick to Theodore Roosevelt.

    My great-grandfather Michael Tierney (1858-1913) was also a NYC policeman, on the force at the same time as Michael W., but born in Ireland. My Michael’s parents were John Tierney & Margaret Murphy.
    My Michael lived on East 35th Street for many years if you look for them in the census. He’s also buried in Calvary, as is your Michael W.

    I’d love to know if there’s a connection between them, but haven’t found any other Tierneys in NYC I can tie to mine, yet, although there are a few who lived near mine over time.

    Do you have anyone who has taken a DNA test from Ancestry, 23andme or Family Tree DNA? I’ve tested at all and could looks for shared DNA.

    I’m always happy to share and compare any info I have…

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment