The Washerwoman’s Genes

February 28, 2006

Great-Uncle Willie, 1856-1917

Filed under: Washboard — by WWG @ 10:48 am

I spotted my dad’s great uncle Willie on the Italian Genealogy Vital Records list of Brooklyn deaths. I was pretty sure it was him, and I sent for the certificate. The piece of paper didn’t tell me too much new, but it’s still a thrill to receive an old document from a past that had been so hidden.

William R. died in 1917, at 60, just a few weeks before turning 61. This was a difficult year: in the fall, my dad’s parents, living in the same house, would lose a young baby (and possibly two, if they were the twins). His wife pregnant, Grandpa would register for the draft, claiming exemption as husband and father of two. He didn’t have to serve, but he must have been worried.

Josie (my dad’s grandmother) was four years older than her brother, but she lived for another fifteen years.

Willie’s death occurred at Methodist Episcopal Hospital: another confirmation of what denomination may hold the family religious records. He was a widower—I knew that from the census. It says he had no occupation; he had lived with Josie for some time, and I had suspected he was ill or infirm. He died of, jeez, a “carbuncle of back of neck,” with “diabetes mellitus” as a contributory factor. He’s buried at Greenwood. His father’s name is correct on the certificate, but the spelling of his mother’s adds yet another to the list of distortions of the poor woman’s identity. Her first name is fine, but her birth surname here is “Quimbo.” Willie’s and his parents’ birthplace is listed as United States, leading me to believe the informant for the certificate was not too deep in the family details. We are all, of course, NYers.

And that informant is: William R., Jr. He would have been my father’s first cousin once removed (his mother’s cousin). In 1880, his father, the older William, appears in the census twice, once in Sleightsburg, Ulster County, as “Willie” (“works in mill”), living with his mother (whose married surname in this record has an “h” in it), and also in his sister’s household on Degraw Street in Brooklyn, as William R., (“works in mill”). There, his surname is spelled with an “e” instead of a “u.” In 1880, William appears to be unmarried and transitioning to Brooklyn.

In 1900, William is living with his two children, William, Jr., age 18, and Catherine, age 12, in his sister Josie’s household. The image shows young Willie’s birth date as August, 1881 (the “1” is ambiguous), and he is indexed as being 18. William Sr.’s wife is absent, although he is listed as married for 20 years. (By 1910, he is listed as “Wd.” so she died in the interval. I don’t know her name, although I wonder if it was Catherine, like her daughter’s.)

My dad’s name was William R. He told me the “R” was for Roger. I wanted confirmation of this, and hoped his great-uncle’s death certificate would reveal the middle name, but no such luck. My curiosity about Willie comes in part from my father being his namesake.

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