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