Showing posts with label Andrew Fitzgerald. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Andrew Fitzgerald. Show all posts

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Finding Uncle Andrew

Long Island Light-Courtesy Boston Public Library Archives
Growing up, I peppered my father with questions about the Fitzgeralds and the Cooks. He could tell me very little. One thing he did remember was going to visit "Uncle Andrew" at a hospital somewhere in Boston. My mother later confided that this was my grandfather's brother who supposedly was dying at the time of cirrhosis. I can guess why THAT story didn't make it into family lore.

I discovered that there WAS, in fact, an Uncle Andrew. Andrew Fitzgerald grew up in the house on Charles River Avenue and became a teamster like his father. There's no evidence he married and very little about him in the census in his adult years. In the1930 census I came across this:

So the April 1930 Census puts 62-year-old Andrew in the Long Island Almshouse, also known as the Long Island Prison Hospital. This is where 13-year-old John and his dad would have visited Uncle Andrew. Yet again, some facts that fit a family story. I would imagine Andrew died on the island. I'll have to make inquiries with the City of Boston. I haven't found a death record yet, but his grave is either in the small cemetery on the island or unmarked in the family plot at Holy Cross.


Long Island is one of the harbor islands inside Boston Harbor now in the control of the National Parks Service. You can take a ferry ride to several of the islands, but Long Island is still closed to the public. It has an interesting history as I found laid out in a report to Mayor Menino in 2002. It is the largest of all the harbor islands and was inhabited early on by Native Americans. Later it was used as a sort of holding facility for native tribes. The report goes on to talk about its role in the American Revolution:
"Its height and strategic location also allowed it to command both entrances to Boston's inner harbor (Broad Sound and the Narrows). In 1775, 500 Continental soldiers landed on Long Island, stole livestock, and took seventeen British sailors prisoner. The following year, a force of Continental soldiers and militia men occupied the island and built defensive batteries which were used to bombard British vessels entering Boston Harbor during the Revolutionary War."

During the Civil War it was used as a place to drill and train soldiers and was fortified with gun emplacements. Later, in a complete change of use, people began to use it as a recreational spot.
A hotel was built which remained in operation until 1885.
Courtesy of Boston Public Library Archives



In 1887, the city of Boston acquired almost the entire island to house city charities. An almshouse for the poor, a treatment hospital for chronic illness, a nursing school a prison facility and other charity facilities took over the buildings. The hospital treated chronic alcoholism at a time when this was considered more of a "defect of character" than an illness. People whose chronic drunkenness caused a public nuisance would be likely to end up at Long Island. (By 1940 they were calling it an alcohol treatment facility rather than a prison) This, I suspect, is how Andrew ended up there in 1930.


Men's hospital on Long Island-Courtesy BPL archives
Men's ward-Long Island hospital- Courtesy of BPL archives


The island again became a military facility during WWII and later NIKE missiles were housed there. Many buildings have been demolished, but many still remain on the island and are used to house shelters and substance abuse treatment programs.  I would imagine it is a pleasant place to be in the summer, but miserably cold and windy in Boston winters.

I came across one last tidbit of lore concerning the island- a ghost story.
Woman in Scarlet
Boston Harbor’s Long Island is home to one of the most tragic Boston Ghost Stories. At the close of the American Revolution, the British still had several ships lagging in Boston Harbor. On board one of these ships were William and Mary Burton. The newly weds, like so many others, were fleeing the chaos of this besieged city and looking forward to spending their lives together across the Atlantic. 

As their ship attempted to sail out of Boston Harbor, a cannon ball from the Long Island Battery hit Mary in back of the head. Unbelievably, she was not killed instantly, but lingered on for several days in excruciating pain before succumbing to her massive head trauma. As she lay dying, Mary pleaded with her husband not to bury her at sea. She was never fond of the sea and could not bear to have her earthly remains consigned to a watery grave. Eventually mary died of her injuries and William was permitted to venture to Long Island to bury his love. Once ashore, he sewed her body into a soft red blanket that Mary had brought aboard with her to keep warm on the long journey home and laid her to rest in the sandy dunes. He fashioned a headstone out of a piece of driftwood and as he carved her name into it he swore that he would return to Boston and give her a proper marker. He never returned.

But Mary, it seems, refuses to be forgotten. To this day, visitors to the island report seeing a woman with “muddy-gray skin” and wearing a scarlet cloak stumbling over the sandy dunes. Blood is usually seen streaming down her cloak from a gaping hole in the back of her head—the exact spot where the cannon fire had smashed her skull. 

This story sounds like a yarn to me, but I'm sure for some it was effective at keeping people away from the island.  There is a movement afoot to catalog the graveyard, where stones are few and most are undocumented on Find-a-Grave. Perhaps this will turn up one last trace of Uncle Andrew.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Traces of the Past

Charles River Avenue...possibly about the time my great grandparents lived there
Courtesy Boston Public Library
I have mentioned before that I have very little of the story of my father's family, the Irish immigrants who settled in Boston and Charlestown. One day, noodling through an archive of old Boston photos, I found this (identified as Charles River Avenue). I see a blurry trace of a horse entering the picture on the left, so I know this is pre-1900.  I also see, in the glass above the doorway, a numeral beginning with a "one". This got me very excited because my great grandparents, Andrew and Catherine Fitzgerald lived in this very block for over ten years. I had to dig into old directories and old maps to figure this one out. First I went to the directories
This is the entry for the 1869 Boston City Directory. There is Andrew who at this time would be living with his wife and oldest son at 10 Charles River Avenue. Next came the 1880 Federal Census, just to make sure I had the right Andrew Fitzgerald.
In the left margin you can see where the census taker wrote Charles River Avenue. And there are Andrew, Catherine, Andrew Jr., Robert, Nora and John (my grandfather). Next I looked at the
1886 Directory.
This time it even identifies him as a teamster. The family has moved to 16 Charles River Avenue. I began to be curious about the buildings in the photo, but no amount of PhotoShop made the numbers readable. So I went back to antique maps. And finally I found this with the house numbers along the street.
Numbers 10 and 16 are the two sides of the very large center clapboard building with all the shutters.
The docks and several mill buildings were immediately to the right and out of the picture. They lived right on the waterfront. So even if I don't know much about them personally, I have some small trace of their lives in the geography of Charlestown that has long since disappeared. It is a block that doesn't exist anymore. Once a thriving row of shops and apartments, there is a park and the ramp to a large bridge into Boston and a large hotel complex sitting there now where Route 1 meets Route 93.

Later, Andrew and Catherine moved to Stetson Court, another place long made invisible with parks and freeways and modern backyards replacing the crowded tenements.
All the smaller streets on this old map are long gone from the area around Winthrop Square, but it's still just blocks from St. Mary's Church and a stone's throw from Monument Square where my father grew up. Small discoveries like this can be very satisfying when so little remains of the past.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Mysterious Andrew Fitzgerald

I know very little about my father's side of the family. I know even less about his father's side of the family. When I began I knew that someone on that side was possibly named Andrew and he married Catherine. She was a Fitzgerald as well. The census records bore this out. I found Andrew, Catherine, my grandfather John J. and his siblings. I kept working back and back through the records trying to piece that side of the family together. I found what I was sure was an early census, a marriage record and then....a passenger list. But the curious thing was that on every document I found a different birth date for Andrew Senior....different ages. It was all very curious.

My father never knew much about the family. Almost nothing about his father's family. His cousin Catherine knew a little bit, but she was never close to my father. And he said the family was always "secretive" and closed-mouthed. My dad was an only child and his closest cousins were on his mother's side. A dead end.

I decided to try something that was suggested on Ancestry and make a table with all the pertinent information. Maybe my error would reveal itself.

From this I would guess that the passenger I found was the wrong Andrew. I remember seeing an immigration certificate in the family papers that gave 1850 as the year he arrived. But this can't be him.
I suspect that the 1870 census was possibly a mistake by the census-taker or a lie. But why? And the birthdates are all over the place. I looked carefully at each record. In each I found Andrew Fitzgerald and his wife Catherine, an address in Charlestown (in later years Charles River Avenue) and his profession stated as laborer or teamster. My guess is that he worked on the docks as a driver.

If Andrew was born in 1814 or 1815, he would have been 82 when he died. If he were born in 1834 he would be in his 60's. Certainly whoever certified his death would have known the difference. I can understand why an immigrant would make himself older...but almost 20 years older?

So I'm no closer to an answer, but at least I have a timeline for his life. I'm hoping someone out there may have an suggestion. It's all very mysterious....