Monday, January 19, 2015

My Grandpa went to Prison! (or did he?)

Genealogists like nothing better than to unearth a notorious ancestor.  The solid, upstanding, hardworking salt-of-the-earth “American Gothic” type ancestors are nice, but let’s face it, they don’t make the news.  Newspapers then, as now, were most concerned with selling copies, and what generated better sales than a story of crime and punishment?
I discovered just such a story quite by accident one day while tooling the newspapers online for any mention of my WALSH ancestors in the small upstate New York city of Glens Falls.  My grandfather, John Mortimer Walsh, who acquired his middle name in honor of his maternal grandmother Anne Mortimer, always went by the nickname “Morty”.  Since any search invariably turned up hundreds of Walshes to wade through, I searched using his somewhat unusual middle name, placing “Mortimer Walsh” in quotes and hitting the search button.
Up popped some articles from Glens Falls area newspapers detailing the involvement of Mortimer Walsh in the middle-of-the-night robbery of 36 tires from the showroom of the F.F. Newberry  Company Garage.  The business was located at 63 Warren Street, Glens Falls, which to this day still houses a tire business.  The robbery occurred on Thursday, August 27, 1925.  The three perpetrators, Jesse Brown, Loren Paul Guernsey and J. Mortimer (sometimes identified as Martin) Walsh were arrested with 36 hours of the crime.  Guerney was taken into custody upon his return from Yonkers, NY, where he had journeyed to sell the stolen merchandise. 
With all the Walshes in the vicinity, how could I be sure the one arrested for this crime was my grandfather?  Well, for starters, the unusual name was a dead giveaway.  Early articles about the crime identify him as “Martin Walsh”, but once court proceedings started, his name is given as “J. Mortimer” or “John Mortimer” Walsh.  Secondly, his address is given as “near Quarry Crossing.”  Having never heard of Quarry Crossing the area before, I Googled it and found there is a Quarry Crossing Street in the town of Kingsbury, Washington County.  The area is so close to the Warren County border and the town of Queensbury that it must have at one time been part of it.  A look at the 1925 New York State census (taken as of June 1) finds the parents of John Mortimer Walsh, James and Jennie Walsh, and some of his siblings, living at Quarry Crossing.  Thought John is not enumerated in the household, this is solid proof that he had ties to the area mentioned as his address.
   The ultimate end to the case was that Loren Guernsey supplied evidence enough to have a jury convict Jesse Brown, in exchange for what amounted to a slap on the wrist.  John Mortimer Walsh ended up pleading guilty as a result of Brown’s conviction.  Both Brown and Walsh received sentences of 2-5 years of hard labor at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York. 
The three suspects were charged with third degree burglary.
Unfortunately no record could be found for my grandfather ever having served any time at Clinton.  The records housed at the New York State Archives were checked and nothing was found.  An inquiry to the Warren County Court resulted in the claim that nothing about the case could be found.  I have yet to inquire there in person, which may yield a different result.  By 1930, he is enumerated living in his parents’ home, employed as a laborer.  So what is the story here?  Did he or didn’t he serve time?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Genealogy close to home

I’m thankful that my grandparents were savers, like many of their generation.  I have benefited greatly from the items they saved, such as pictures, newspaper clippings, photograph albums, and family papers, not to mention the countless objects that fill my house.  These things have helped me to solve many a family mystery, and it’s been my pleasure to share a lot of them with my extended family through the convenience of Facebook.
Another thing they saved were two years’ worth of letters  they wrote back and forth to each other during their courtship.  From time of their first date in October 1934 to after their marriage in July 1936, they corresponded faithfully, my grandfather from his family home in Middleburg, NY and my grandmother, first from Albany where she attended nursing school, then from her family home in Adams Center, NY.  Some family members and I are working on a project to make a book out of the letters, complete with photos, newspaper clippings and pop culture images. 
Often I often think of “genealogy” in terms of the family members I never knew but want to find more information about.  Sometimes this narrow thinking causes me to neglect the family history that’s right in front of me.  We all regret that we did not ask the questions when the people who could have answered them were still with us.  These letters present a history of my grandparents that I never knew about, and it’s like they are answering the questions about what dating was like during the depression that we might have had if we had thought to ask. 
Just because a relative was in our lives, doesn’t mean we knew that person, especially if they were brought up and lived a generation or two before us.  History doesn’t always mean colonial garb or an immigrant ship voyage.  Sometimes history, especially when it comes to family, can be as close as people who are familiar to us.  Just as the times we are living in will someday be history to our descendants, the everyday lives of those whom we knew before we knew them hold significance to the bigger picture of our family history.
The project status as of right now is that the letters have all been transcribed over the last couple of years by my aunt.  Now several people are proof reading them, and I am collecting pictures and memorabilia for inclusion in the finished product.  I’ll try to post an update on our progress now and then.
In the meantime, take a look around at some of the family stories you might be missing because they seem too obvious.  Your history might be as close as a phone call, a book on a shelf, or that box of papers you’ve been meaning to sift through.