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Posts Tagged ‘Coleman’

I always wondered why the Colberts rented for so long. As far as I knew my father, Larry Colbert, was the first in the family to own a home.  Actually another Larry was the first.

Lawrence Coleman, or Larry as he was called, arrived in New York in 1851 and lived with his sister Mary Coleman Colbert and her family until he married. The Colberts and the Colemans all lived on East 121st Street in Harlem. Larry seems to have worked mainly as a laborer, sometimes as a driver. He and his wife Julia Sullivan opened up an account at the Emigrant Savings Bank in 1875 and saved until they had enough money to buy a house.

On October 27, 1885, Larry and Julia purchased the house at 106 East 121st Street for $4,750.00. The building was wood framed and 2 stories. It looks like there were 2 apartments and Larry and Julia rented out both of them and lived in an apartment a few blocks away.  They may have had a mortgage, but in those days people often put down as much as 50%. By 1900 when they moved in to one of the apartments, they owned the house free and clear.

106 East 121st Street

Larry died in 1906, two years after his wife and left no will. Letters of Administration were issued to his son, Lawrence F. Coleman. According to the paperwork the son filed, Larry’s house was valued at $8,000.00 and he had personal property of $1400.00. Lawrence Jr.  must have sold his father’s house. When he died a year later he had no real propety, but he did have personal property of $11,000.00.

Larry Coleman’s real property was valued at $8,000.00

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I recently searched land records in not one, but two counties: New York and Dutchess.

New York – 66 John Street

I went back to 66 John Street to get more information about the lot that Mary Coleman Colbert leased. She was quite the fighter. She did not give up on her right to the 15 year lease she had obtained in 1865. The plaintiff, Cornelia Austin, did not give up either and kept appealing decisions that did not go her way. The property was finally sold at auction in late 1877, with Mary’s case still open. The other tenants were apparently paid costs out of the sale. I don’t know what happened with Mary’s costs, but she seems to have been able to stay until the end.

The property where Mary Colbert lived was sold at auction in late 1877.

Her grandson, John Grossman, first child of Mary Colbert and George Grossman, was born in his Grandmother’s house  in September 1879.  Mary’s lease ended on April 1, 1880. A few months later, in June 1880, the family is living in Bronxville, Westchester County.

When they returned to the city they lived at 421 East 12oth Street. Not only was this right in back of their old place, it was the lot that had been leased by Charles Spear, one of the other tenants named in the lawsuit! Curious. Spear gave a description of his house in his testimony, so I’m going back to the Old Records Room to check  it out.

I was also able to find that Mary Coleman Colbert’s brother owned a house in Manhattan, also on East 121st Street, but  several blocks west. He bought it in 1885, but didn’t move there until 1900. Maybe he rented it out?

Lawrene Coleman and his wife Julia bought this house in 1885.

Dutchess – 22 Market Street, Poughkeepsie

In New York you usually look up the block and lot number – after all, New York is divided into a grid. In the Dutchess County Clerk Records Room you search using the grantor/grantee books and look for the name. I found what I was looking for quickly and then went straight to the liber to see the deeds. These libers are heavy, and I believe the ones on the bottom row are heavier!

I have to admit  the typed deeds are much easier to read, but it was interesting to read the handwritten property description in one deed. The property was transferred in 1835 in Amenia and was a farm. The description went on and on – a very long page with very small handwriting. Here’s how it starts:

…end of a stonewall  North of the road and north west of the house of Noah Brown thence south eighty three and one half east twelve chains and nine links to stake and stones thence north ten and one half and five chains and fifty links to stake in the wll thence south…

I gave up at that point.

I looked at another deed (typed). This one was from 1926 for property in the City of Beacon and had an interesting clause. I think it may have been carried over from a previous deed. What do you think?

…Occupants and servants at all times to freely pass and re-pass on foot, or with horses, cattle, beasts of burden, wagons, carts, sleighs, carriages, or other vehicles whatsoever to and fro, over said right of way as above bounded and described..

This did  have cars by 1926 and the horses and sleighs were almost a thing of the past. And just how long did people keep cattle in Beacon?

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When I found the description of Mary’s house (see: Mary moves her house) I wanted to know more. Why was the house sold? Just who was William Austin? I always wondered how long the Colberts had lived on 121st Street and why they moved – to Bronxville in Westchester County.

Land records can be found at 66 John Street so I went there. I knew the block and lot number (1808 – 41) so I was able to find the old records pretty quickly. As I went through them, I found them confusing – referees and people selling and selling back to each other – what was going on?

There was a nice map in the beginning of the book and I could see that Mary’s lot straddled two old farms that had been overlaid with the new Manhattan Grid that had been established in 1811.

In the 1850s the properties were being “lotted” and partitioned and sold but there was plenty of open land.

Mary's lot was number 41. Lots 40, 41, 13, and 13 1/2 were under dispute. The names are of the owners of the farms that were there at the time the grid was created.

I decided to go to google books and check out some of the names I had found. Up popped Austin v Ahearne et al. As I read the case I saw the names of the “et al” – the tenants of Ahearne. They were : Spear, Wright, Hickman and COLBERT!

The case was full of legal terms, like “attornment” and “ejectment”. What had happened?  Was there more information?

Yes – in the New York County Clerk’s office, Old Records Division. They have the original case file, folded and wrapped in a ribbon, unopened for at least 100 years. Fragile pages crumbled as I opened them. I had to take digital pictures because the records were too fragile to photocopy.

Mary's lawyer wrote "exceptions" to the findings of the referee.

So what had happened? I’m still trying to sort it out, but basically – two women, Cornelia Austin and Margaret M. Ahearne (no relation to us) each owned 1/2 of an undivided interest in property that Margaret had leased to 4 tenants: Charles Spear, Amelia Wright, Nicholas Hickman and Mary Colbert. In 1869 Cornelia filed a lawsuit to eject the tenants. That seems to have been settled when they “attorned” – acknowledging her as their landlady. I still can’t figure out if they had to pay more rent. I do know she wanted to raise Mary’s rent to $100.00 a year, from $30.00 a year.

My great great grandmother resisted these efforts. I know this because the New York Tribune said so in an article called ” The Referee System Illustrated” on June 24, 1872:

…Margaret M. Ahearne executed leases of these lots to four tenants, and that she and her tenants refused to acknowledge any rights of the plaintiff, Austin in the premises. She accordingly began suits of ejectment against Mrs. Ahearne and the tenants, two of whom recognized her claim and became her tenants also, while a third, Mary Colbert, who had resisted her demand, was nevertheless allowed, from motives of humanity, to remain….

After the ejectment case was worked out, Cornelia filed another lawsuit to partition the property. The court seemed to say that it was too complicated to partition and that it should be sold.

I wonder what it was like for my great great grandmother – she could not read, although her daughters and her son-in-law could.  She had to hire an attorney to fight the ejectment and then the partition. In one document, her lawyer, Abram Wakeman, told the court that she was infirm and had no way to support herself without her house. It’s possible that Mary had hoped to buy the property when she’d saved enough money. If it went to auction she wouldn’t have a chance.

Mary's lawyer represented her in court.

The case eventually went to the New York State Court of Appeals. In the end, the lots, including the houses, sold at auction for $250.00 – the buyer? William Austin, a relative of Cornelia’s.

Newspaper ad for the sale of the properties. Note Mary Colbert is mentioned in the last sentence.

When Mary’s lease ended on April 1, 1880, she had to move – but why Bronxville?

Probably because her next door neighbor, Nicholas Hickman, also caught up in this lawsuit and whose lease ended a few months earlier, had moved there.

The Colberts didn’t stay long, but returned to New York, not far from East 121st Street, by the fall of 1880. But something had changed: From 1865 to 1880 city directories and the census show that Mary and later her sons and son-in-law were in the milk business. After they returned to New York there is no more mention of milk. Now my great grandfather and his brother are usually shown as drivers and their brother-in-law as a truckman, expressman, or stevedore.

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Mary moved her one-story house, which included a store, to East 121st Street not long after John died.

East 121st Street between Pleasant Avenue and First Avenue did not have many houses at the time and most of them were like Mary’s – one or two story framed buildings. They don’t appear on the maps of the time. The lots to the west of Mary were empty. Mary was in the dairy business and may have kept cows, or goats, or geese, like many Irish in Harlem.

1867 Map - Mary's house was by the arrow - note the lines of the old farms. There were several other small houses on the block that are not on the map.

When I started researching the family history I didn’t even know the name of my great great grandmother. So how did I manage to find a description of her house?

It took 30 years and the internet, plus some good old-fashioned court house research.

At first it seemed that Mary and John left few records and even fewer family stories.

There was one story that was a little strange. The Colberts, it seems, had a farm in Harlem and it was taken from them by greedy people? the city? That wasn’t clear.  My grandmother, or maybe it was my great grandmother, was going to look into getting it back, but nothing ever came of it.

As I found more records, Mary and John and their children slowly came into focus. The Emigrant Savings Bank records revealed that Mary came from County Waterford. Cemetery records yielded clues about her husband and children (see Colbert Mystery Solved and Where’s John Colbert?). I learned that she had a brother named Lawrence Coleman who also lived on East 121st Street. The census records showed that the houses must have been small – only one or two families per house. I found that the family lived in Bronxville for a very short period in 1880.

Emigrant Savings Bank, April 7, 1865, Note she used her maiden name. Avenue A is now Pleasant Avenue.

Later I learned that the family moved to Manhattanville in 1890 when Mary’s daughter bought a house – more on that in a later post.

Could I find any else?

The New York Public Library has a great blog and their post on researching NYC Homes was the key to more information about Mary than I ever thought I would find. I decided to try the Real Estate Record first and found this description of Mary’s house.

422 East 121st Street - sold to William Austin

Who was William Austin and why did he buy Mary’s house? As it turned out, there was a lot more to this story.

Next post:

How Mary got caught up in the case of

Austin v Ahearne 61 N.Y. 6.

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No! I said Colbert!

I thought I had seen every variation of Colbert – Corbert, Calbert, Calvert, Caulbert, to name a few, but Holbrook?

I know I promised to tell the story of Mary Colbert in my next post, and I will, but first, I want to talk about one of the more challenging aspects of genealogy – mistakes in the old records. Just because a record is old, doesn’t mean it is correct.

At the time of the 1870 census, New York City was full of immigrants from all over. The census takers may have had a hard time understanding the immigrants or perhaps this particular census taker was hard of hearing.

Was Mary home when the census taker came to the door? Did her neighbor, Nicholas Hickman, who was born in Germany provide the information? Somehow, Colbert became Holbrook.

I had already found Mary in one version of the 1870 census years ago. BUT – New York City had 2 enumerations – that’s because the first one was on the wrong form – it didn’t have street addresses, just dwelling numbers. So they did it over – but the second time the census taker who came to Mary’s house didn’t complete all the columns – maybe he did better the first time?

I couldn’t find her in the first enumeration until I looked for her neighbor and saw the “Holbrook” family. Funny thing, I should have found them before – after all a few doors down was Mary’s brother Larry.

Here’s the comparison

Note that in the 1st Enumeration we see that John and Garrett are at school and the  Marys are both “at home”. The first census was taken in July, the second in December, so you might expect some people had birthdays, BUT –  Mary loses 3 years and is now 44. Her daughter Mary and son John gain a year. The youngest child, Garret, is now Garry and a year younger!!

First enumeration (click on the link to see Nicholas Hickman and Larry Coleman, Mary’s brother.)

1870 Census First Enumeration

1870 Census First enumeration

Second enumeration

1870 Census Second Enumeration

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On Saturday I went to Astoria to visit my son, Joe, and my niece, Kate. We intended to tour the neighborhood and see where some of the family lived. My father had quite a few cousins in Astoria: Ryans, Durneys, and Colberts. My mother also had a cousin there – Anne Ahern Getty.

As it turned out we did the Calvary tour. We have a lot of relatives there too. Joe was the driver, Kate the navigator and I realized how congested Queens is and how much easier it is to drive in Dutchess County.

The Calvary office was closed, but I had printed out some maps. Calvary is HUGE and it is easy to get lost, but the navigator and driver were both very skillful. We went to First, Second and Third Calvary. Of course, many of the family sites are missing headstones, but we found a couple:

George Grossman – only his name is on the stone – his wife, Mary Colbert Grossman is also buried here.

Lawrence Coleman, brother of Mary Coleman Colbert         

James and Anne Whelan and their children: Nan, Thomas, William

My father worked at Brewster Aeronautics, by the Queensboro Bridge, from 1939 to 1942. It’s now MetLife. We had a hard time getting there because of traffic detours – we didn’t know it at the time, but it was because they were filming the Dark Knight on the bridge.

Brewster

By the time we left the old Brewster building it was getting dark, so the rest of the tour of Astoria will have to wait for another visit.

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When I started researching the family history I sent
to Calvary Cemetery for a listing of interments in the Colbert family plot.

Were Mary E. and Ellen relatives?

Among the names were two babies:

Mary E. Curtin, age 1 year, buried August 11, 1865

Ellen Curtin, age 8 months, buried August 27, 1868

Who were they?

This week I learned they were the grandchildren of Mary Coleman, and the step grandchildren of John Colbert. (See Colbert page for the pedigree chart of Lawrence Colbert)

Mary Coleman had been married before she came to the U.S. Her husband’s name was Martin Smith and they had at least one child, Bridget, who was born in the late 1840s. She came to the U.S. when she was about 3 years old on the Montezuma, with her uncle Larry Coleman. I don’t know why her mother sent her on ahead. Maybe there were other children to care for. Maybe she thought Bridget stood a better chance of surviving the trip if she went with her uncle. It was a tough trip for women and children, especially when they were traveling alone.

In the 1855 and 1860 censuses Bridget is living with her mother and stepfather John Colbert.

Bridget is 14 years old in 1860.

Around 1862 she married David Curtin, an Irish immigrant.  They had 14 children, only 7 survived. David and Bridget lived on East 130th Street; according to city directories, David was a grocer. James Woods, a grocer, is a neighbor. He’s also the one who posted bond for Mary Coleman Colbert when she applied for Letters of Administration after her husband died.

1880 Census for Curtin - note James Woods

1880 Census - children of Bridget and David Curtin; note the gap between James and Martin

Around 1894 Bridget’s husband David died. She moved from East 130th Street to 2360 Broadway. Her half brother John, my great grandfather, lived there at the time. Her half sister, Mary Grossman, and her half brother, Garrett, lived nearby. A few years later Bridget married again.

I found a lot of information on the internet and I was pretty sure the Curtins were related to the Colberts but I needed to check the NYC Municipal Archives to find the solution to this mystery. I went last Thursday and found two records:

Bridget’s death certificate:  parents are John Smith and Mary Coleman.

Marriage to James Trainor: parents are Martin Smith and Mary Colbert.

Mary Coleman is Mary Colbert’s maiden name.

I also checked some of the birth records of Bridget’s children and found that she sometimes used Colbert and sometimes Smith as her maiden name.

Mystery solved

Now, can I find the record for Bridget’s baptism? the marriage record for Mary Coleman and Martin Smith? What happened to Martin? Does Bridget have any living descendants? And why did none of my Colbert relatives know about the Curtins? My grandfather certainly knew them – one of his godparents was an M. Curtin – could that be Bridget’s son Martin Curtin – he would have been about 19 years old at the time.

More mysteries to solve.

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