In Part 1 of this post I gave a running description of my search for information on my great-grandfather Michael Tierney. I also left my son in the jail at Old Slip. I better get on that.

And I promised something surprising.

Several weeks after writing a letter to the NY Police Department inquiring about possible records for Michael they replied with some terrific items: a letter from the First Deputy Commissioner outlining what they found, some useful pages on genealogy research at municipal archives and copies of my great-grandfather’s Force Index card and his Transfer and Assignment card.

Detail: NY Police Transfer and Assignment Card

Click on image to view full version of the card.

This was a terrific find for our family! The cards included his shield number, birth and naturalization dates, country of birth, former occupation, addresses, dates of service, retirement and death and even how much his annual pension was. ($700 per year in 1913.)

Celebration ensued.

With all of that information, I couldn’t be too disappointed that his country of origin was not more detailed than “Ireland” – especially since the given date of naturalization matched one of the “possible” index records I had already collected. An additional clue that it was the right index record: the former occupation field on the Assignment card was “Hostler.”

A hostler is someone who works with horses, and the index record I was eyeing had an occupation of “Stabelman” (sic). The next day I went right to the National Archives at New York City site to order me up some documentation.

Pro Tip: I had a slight difficulty with ordering the record; one of the required fields in the online form did not have an equivalent on the index record. A quick call and chat with someone at the archive and I found that I could enter anything in that field as long as the other ones pointed to the original record I was requesting.

Michael Tierney NaturalizationWithin a week the record arrived – excitement once again! A naturalization would mean information on the origin of the new citizen, would it not? No, it would not. While the record is indeed for our Michael, contains his signature and is wonderful to look at, there is nothing more specific on it than his name, occupation and address.

<insert annoyance here.>

I made a second call to the archive to ask for guidance on other possible records relating to his naturalization, but the archivist let me know that in 1885 in the Superior Court of the City of New York, th-th-th-that’s all folks!

With indefatigable optimism, I made a notation to order the possible 1913 death record obtained on italiangen.org and moved on back to my family photo album scanning project. My mother had split our family photos into a set for each of us kids and I have borrowed them all back to digitize them so we all have a complete set.

Michael Tierney in Uniform on FlickrAs I slowly chipped away scanning photos, my brother searched his house for his album. After a few months, he found and handed it over – right smack in the front was a small photo of Michael Tierney in his police uniform. Bingo!

So, while not the lost portrait of Part 1, we have a clear image of our great-grandfather.

In fact, it is an intriguing photo: Oddly, he is standing on a roof. Also of passing interest: there are two boater hats stacked on the wall behind him. Seems to be from a work event?

The photo itself looks to my untrained eye to be from the 1900 – 1910 time period. I tried to determine a more specific time period by comparing his uniform to various images I found on the New York Public Library Digital Gallery. Several of the uniforms in those images made me think it was an earlier photo, perhaps the mid 1890s.

But I think the subtlety of the uniform differences was too much for me to guess properly. Then I remembered the Collections page on the NYC Police Museum page and fired off an email to the contact person there.

Within a few days I had my answer:

“I can tell you with certainty that it was taken sometime after the spring of 1901. In 1901, patrolmen began to wear metal precinct number pins on their left collar, and this is visible on your great-grandfather’s summer uniform (starting in 1912, they began wearing numbers on both collars).

Also, by 1908, the hat that he is wearing was no longer in use as modern regulation-style shorter hats had replaced these.

My guess, based mainly on intuition and having seen many photos from this era, is that the picture was probably taken sometime between 1901 and 1905. But it is possible it is as late as 1907 or 1908.”

Brilliant! I could never have gleaned that amount of information on my own. I would like to express my thanks to both the NYPD and Joshua Ruff at the Police Museum for their help.

In Part 3 of this post, using historical NY Times and other contemporary newspaper articles, I will delve into the question of why Michael might be on the roof in that family photo.

But, wait! As promised earlier, there is one more surprising and serendipitous find to be discussed…

To help better understand the context of my Irish ancestors I have been looking for books to help me on my way. While scanning the bookshelves at my local library, I noticed a collection of essays entitled The New York Irish. I slipped the hefty book from the shelf, and let it fall open in my hands.

Looking down at the randomly found page 230, I saw a photograph of a group of policeman in 1887 standing in front of the newly opened New York City 25th Precinct. I recalled that according  to my great grandfather’s records, he was assigned to the 25th precinct from 1886 until 1908.

And one of the few fellows in the photo sans moustache, on the far left of the 2nd row of officers looked vaguely familiar to me. So I scanned the photo and enlarged it enough to take a better look and placed it next to our own photo of Michael Tierney.
Photo Comparison: Michael Tierney
There is about 17 years difference in time between the two photos, but it looks like Michael wanted to be found.

Hello, Great Granddad.

Bonus Items!
See my post The Finest Station House for some information on the 25th Precinct in 1887.
Below you can see the 25th Precinct as it looks today using the magic of The Google Maps Street View. You can also see a post with a magically transforming photo of my kids and I standing in front of the station last year.

View Larger Map


  • avatar

    Pingback by Tweets that mention Michael Tierney – Policeman, Part 2 - Currach -- Topsy.com — October 27, 2010 @ 2:07 pm

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by John J. Tierney, John J. Tierney. John J. Tierney said: Blog post:Whereby amazing serendipity helps me discover my great-grandfather in 1887. http://bit.ly/cJFBex […]

  • avatar

    Comment by Gary Warner — May 19, 2012 @ 12:51 pm


    Found your website via Twitter exchanges on the Security side. I’m also a genealogist, though I have not been “practicing” in a while. Got far enough to have “crossing the pond” issues on all my major lines of immediate interest and lost motivation. With so many records coming online now since I stopped looking, stories like yours above are extremely motivational! Thanks for shaing…

    Gary Warner
    http://garwarner.blogspot.com/ <= security
    http://www.askgar.com/genealogy/ <= genealogy

  • avatar

    Comment by John — May 20, 2012 @ 9:57 pm

    Hi Gar,

    Thanks for the comment! I’m sending this directly since I didn’t get around to adding a comment notification plugin until today so not sure you’d see my reply.

    I’m pretty lucky in that I’ve been able to work with specific origin locations on three of my lines since those grandparents were immigrants. Within the last year I’ve also tracked down several cousins in Ireland and the Czech Republic so they’ve helped to get me further. But my Tierneys are not offering up their info too easily.

    If you haven’t worked your research in awhile, now is definitely a great time to revisit it. In the last few years things have exploded – Familysearch.org for one is almost worth a weekly check to see what’s new there. And you can’t beat free. It has helped me with some terrific breakthroughs on my wife’s side – and I was flying blind on a few of her lines.

    Also, if you haven’t thought about any DNA tests yet, you’ll find there’s plenty of ancestral data to play with in an automsomal test. I’ve tested over at 23andme for the autosomal and FTDNA for the Y-DNA (I’m hoping my matches via that one may have given me an Irish county or two to look at more closely.)

  • avatar

    Comment by John — January 28, 2013 @ 10:54 am

    I am going to shut down comments on this post for awhile until the spambots calm down a bit. They are hitting this one post extremely hard and I am getting tired of clearing the Akismet queue.

    If you would like to leave a legitimate comment, you can still do so on part 1 of this post. Thanks!

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