A week ago Saturday, on a brief visit to New York City, Martin and I drove to Kingston New York to locate Martin’s great-grandparents buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery. As we drove, there was no sense of profound feeling. Our genealogical mission was not a topic of conversation.
There had been a near miss earlier. I realized just before picking up the car rental that I’d left my new Wendy Brandes pendant on the bureau in our hotel room. We turned around and walked right back to retrieve it. Waiting for the down elevator the second time that morning, Martin made a witty remark. It had to do with a with a recent David Brooks column about the phenomenon of not suffering fools gladly.
Thinking of the necklace near miss I said, “You married a fool.” Martin said, “I did so gladly.”
It made me laugh. This was Brooks’ point, that happiness comes from realizing, and appreciating, that the person you married is a fool.
Still happy at the thought of being suffered gladly, I gazed out the window at the snow-covered Catskills in the distance, and the snow-covered farms and meadows closer to the road. The weather was beautiful, sunny and not terribly cold. The scenery reminded me of growing up in New York and of all of those trips over the years driving South on the thruway from Albany to visit family on Long Island. We talked about those memories, and my memories of visiting Kingston with my kids to visit a petting zoo there when they were little.
At the St. Mary’s Church rectory, the receptionist had us wait in a small front office while she summoned the rector to speak with us about the cemetery records. It wasn’t long before we heard him heavily, thunderously descending several flights of stairs.
“Lace curtains,” I said, gesturing at the office window. Martin said, “I was thinking the same thing.”
St. Mary’s Church in Kingston is situated prominently on Broadway, at the crest of a hill just West of the Hudson River. Further North, where the inland Saw Kill Creek drains into the Esopus tributary of the Hudson on its West bank, the mid-19th century Irish bluestone quarrymen attended St. Ann’s Church, now abandoned.
I wondered whether St. Ann’s Church had lace curtains on the windows.
Martin’s great-grandfather Thomas and great-grandmother Ann immigrated to Kingston from Ireland with their first-born child, a son, circa 1870, well after the Great Famine in Ireland. Thomas, a blacksmith, and his family set up their residence and the blacksmith shop on the part of lower Hasbrouck Ave near the river. The lower part of Hasbrouck Ave was later demolished in putting through Route 9W. At the time they lived there, this area was called Rondout. The Kingston Daily Freeman archives from this time cover Thomas’ activity purchasing and selling champion race horses, and cover their races, many of which they won.
Here is a view down Hasbrouck Ave, in the direction of the river.
Thomas and Anna had ten children, seven of whom lived. Their youngest child, a son, was Martin’s paternal grandfather. We know more about Thomas and his family, from our research, but that is Martin’s story to write, if he chooses.
For me it was a different story.
We didn’t plan well. It being Saturday, the woman at the church office who ordinarily might be able help with cemetery record inquiries wasn’t available. The woman who handles records located in a large Victorian house next to the cemetery outbuilding wasn’t available either. We asked a friendly cemetery worker at the outbuilding for assistance but he couldn’t provide any.
At the Fresh and Easy Bakery on Hasbrouck Ave, where we stopped for a bowl of homemade soup, I chatted with a lovely woman making pies about our mission. “It’s too bad you missed the regulars earlier this morning,” she said. “Many of them are quite elderly and have lived in Kingston all their lives. They might remember someone from your family.”
We decided to try spotting the grave on our own, despite the snow and a wind coming up. There were Irish surnames everywhere we looked. Duffy. Greely. Grimes. O’Hara. McCoy. The sun broke through the clouds and felt warm as we walked around and around the cemetery pathways reading names.
The older, more substantial headstones seemed to be clustered near a grove of trees extending from a round stone mausoleum located in the center of the cemetery. I suggested we concentrate our efforts there, thinking that a person of note dying in 1910 would be buried close to other contemporary notables. After some time passed trying this method without success we gave up and started walking back to the car.
“I see it!” Martin said. I turned and saw the back of him traipsing through the snow toward the grove of trees, his scarf flapping in the wind.
“It’s Thomas and Anna!”
Standing on Partlan ancestral ground, watching the back of Martin in his great coat and hat walk toward the grave of his great-grandparents, I felt profoundly moved, by his happiness in completing a desired connection with the past, and my own desire to belong to mine. I thought of my mother’s paternal grandfather immigrating from Scotland circa 1880 to establish a farm in Iowa, and of my distant Crocker relatives first settling in Barnstable Massachusetts circa 1639, then generations later heading West to Ohio to establish a farm. The son of one of those farmers, my paternal grandmother’s father, moved from Ohio to Chicago to work as a tire manufacturing manager circa 1920. There are others too, determined ancestors who worked hard and made sacrifices to build a future, a future that faltered in my own generation.
In my generation, mistakes and misfortune shattered family bonds and set me adrift, as a young woman. Estranged from living kin, I take comfort from the long ago dead, linking back to the energy and intention that was meant to create the possibility if not the guarantee of my future well being, and the well being of my children and their children.
As with style, I interpret my ancestral energy as a positive line of direction forward. Like Martin’s hat, angled just so, and my new pendant catching the light, this ancestral line of direction shapes my identity. It is who I am, or more accurately, it is who I hope to be.
Note: this post is dedicated to my friend Kerry Scott.