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It turns out I am a sucker for a good records search. or a bad one. Or one of those searches where you’re not sure what your are looking for, but are pretty sure its out there so you deepen by an extra few millimeters the indentation on your desk chair and the circles under your eyes. You know, one of those.

Anyway, I thought one recent experience of a records search was a good example of how you might not find what you are looking for – but find out you were looking for the wrong thing. (Note to self: reread that sentence later and make sure it makes sense.)

Of the eleventy-six message boards that I monitor, I find the New York County board on a little too broad to check very often. But I like to scan through the topics once in awhile and often learn something new.

One day this summer I noticed a simple request for help:

“Can SKS tell me the name of the church at 960 Madison Ave. I don’t believe it is there any longer since I have tried looking it up in a variety of ways.”

Well, I thought, that couldn’t be too hard to find, could it?

In the course of researching my Tierney family down around East 35th Street in Manhattan I had been trying to learn as much as I could about Roman Catholic churches in the area at the turn of the century. Since I was striking out with the family record inquiries I had sent to churches still around today, I had also found a few compiled lists and was attempting to shore those up with missing or demolished churches found in various old publication on Google Books.

So, I took a gander around and within a few moments on the Internets I had found the building at that site had been there since pre-1877 and was not a church. Further searches then led me down a path to Miss Edith Sabine, then her father Reverend William Tufnell Sabine, some of his sermons, the church where he gave said sermons, and ultimately information that he sometimes performed weddings at his home.

I responded to the original request with this information and found that the person who had originally asked the question wasn’t really looking for the church. She was trying to find information on her great-grandaunt’s marriage and had assumed the address she had was the church itself.

Lessons to be learned:

  1. Let the data take you where it may and you may be pleasantly surprised.
  2. Google Books is your friend.
  3. You can’t swing a bishop in New York City without hitting a church.

Since this wasn’t my own research and I really wasn’t too sure what the objective was, I was relaxed enough in my researchiness (did I just type that?) to let the information guide me.

For the more hardcore genealogy searchers, below is my full response on the message board to show the path I took, and the final response from the original poster. By the way, it took me longer to note down all of the links and resources than it did to find them – not more than 40 minutes in total. Fun Stuff, fist bump.

My response to the post:

I have been searching for some demolished (Catholic) churches in NYC lately, but did not find any at that address in the listings I’ve used for reference.

I took some time to search around and although I have no definitive answer for a church that may have been at 960 Madison Avenue, I did find some clues that might be helpful later:

It looks to me like Bishop William T Sabine and family lived at 960 Madison Avenue for quite a few years until his death in 1913, but I don’t see any evidence of a church at that address from 1877 onward.

He was assigned to the First Reformed Episcopal Church of New York, which was at 551 Madison (no longer there), so perhaps the 960 address was a secondary reference to the church he was at further downtown? (Just thinking out loud.)

In any case, I found a NYC Historic district Docket that has a description of the address and includes a drawing of the building:
“960 Madison Avenue – Upper East Side Historic District
A neo-Grec style rowhouse designed by James frame and built in 1877-78 altered in 1916 with a two-story storefront extension. Application is to alter window openings.”

So, unless the church you are looking for is pre-1877 something seems off.

In case you or later readers are interested how I found this info, below are some links and thoughts. A lot of info I know, feel free to ignore below this line. 😉

First I ran a Google Books search for: church “960 madison avenue”
Returned several hits for the exact address, including many listings for a “Miss Edith Sabine” and her father (as evidenced in a 1908 NY Times article about her marriage) the Reverend William Tufnell Sabine (later Bishop) circa 1880s onward.

Short link for the google search:

However, oddly none of the books on Google Books was naming the church, just the address. So, I searched for “rev. william t. sabine”:

One page listed sermons given by him:

These sermons were given at two churches: Church of the Atonement, which I think in in the Bronx, and the First Reformed Episcopal Church of New York, Madison Avenue and 55th Street. (960 Madison should be further uptown in the 70s.)

Bishop Sabine’s 1913 death notice in the NY Times give the 960 Madison address as well:

Another Google book has a paragraph on the First Reformed Episcopal Church, but gives an address of 551 Madison Avenue:

So, the Sabines lived at 960 Madison in a house built around 1877 that still stands today. Street View of address: I didn’t find any information about a church in that area pre-1877.

On a related note: for anyone looking specifically for Catholic church listings, these are very useful:…

Also, this Wikipedia entry on demolished NYC Churches has good info and a ton of reference links.

So, sorry I didn’t come up with an answer, but I had fun looking!


Her answer:

“Wow JT, you were dead on. My gr-grandaunt was married by Wm. T. Sabine on the 7 Nov 1895 at 960 Madison Avenue. It says that 960 is his residence but I assumed (and yes I have heard that old saw about assume … lol)that his residence was part and parcel of the church. And now that I know what I am looking for it also says Clergyman, (and this was the part I couldn’t decipher) Ref. Epi. Ch. Thanks for your help.”

And finally, my last word on the subject:

Terrific – you’re welcome!

BTW, the article about his daughter’s marriage said she was to be married at their home as well. Have to love Proquest for those historical NY Times articles.


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