We always welcome and Brooklyn or Genealogy related guest posts on the site. Enjoy the following:
My grandfather, Murray Fox, fell in love with Edie Zebrak in the summer of 1947. Newly home from the war, Murray and his friends spotted Edie, a friend of a friend, at one end of Coney Island Beach with tuna fish sandwiches. My grandfather promptly went back for seconds, and the rest as they say is history.
I started recording music under the pseudonym “Here Comes Brooklyn” in 2011. According to an infamous family story, my grandma Edie’s cousin used to say at the sight of my grandfather, “Ay! Here comes Brooklyn!” in her low, scratchy, Yiddish ridden accent. My grandfather always found it vaguely irritating, but the story has since become an integral part of the Fox-Tepper family oral history, and has resonated with me ever since.
As three of my four grandparents are from Brooklyn, I find myself living an eerily parallel existence to my grandfather in his 20’s. Originally from Rockville, MD, I moved to New York for college and soon found myself attending concerts in the deep end of the dried McCarren Park Pool where my grandpa Murray and grandma Edie swam in as children.
I wrote the song “Bluebirds” using a very repetitive, circular musical phrase to represent the circular nature of generations, specifically my parents growing up, becoming adults, having children of their own, and watching their children, my sister and me, grow up.
After the song was finished, my mom found old reels of 16mm film in our basement and realized they were long lost home films dating from the late 40’s to 1963. My grandma Edie died of lung cancer when I was only five and, as those were the days before Facebook, Instagram, and iPhones, I had not seen real film footage of my grandmother at any age or of my grandfather as a young man. I had at least pictures of my mom and uncle as children, but up to that point only grainy black and white renderings of my grandparents.
Eventually I took the film and cut it up to “Bluebirds,” superimposing the song on a generation earlier so the boy and girl depicted at the beginning were my grandpa and grandma, and their kids my mom and uncle. Out of everything I’ve done as Here Comes Brooklyn, this is the most personal.
My grandfather grew up on Siegel Street where his family owned a housewares store called Fox’s Trimmings, and my grandmother on McKibbin Park where her father was the neighborhood’s kosher butcher. While my grandmother sadly is no longer with us, my grandfather at 85 has not matured a day since his goofball days in Brooklyn.
Like most of you, genealogy is a hobby of mine. I think we all would like to have more time to build our family tree, and we would like to more easily track down our ancestors. With Ancestry.com recently updating their 1940 U.S. Census to make searchable Brooklyn, New York City and in fact all of New York State, we have just had our job made much easier.
That was something we had been expecting, and waiting for. What was not expected, was the release of the 1892, 1915 and 1925 New York State Census’s. As I am sure most of you can relate to, I have a branch of my family tree that has remained a mystery for years. When I hear Ancestry.com has indexed the 1940 census I immediately type in that same name I have typed in a hundred times before – John N Murray, Born 1882 in Brooklyn, Kings County, New York. The results this time however, were very different. There was no immediate match in 1940, but at the top of my search results, right next to my saved records from 1900, 1910, and 1930 were 2 perfect matches that I had never seen before. The 1915 and 1925 New York State Census Reports.
There has been a New York Police Census of 1890 out for many years, but it is basically useless, this State census is however, the opposite. Including such information as address, names of all family members, ages and profession, this report is every bit as informative as the U.S census, and in fact appears to be modeled after it. It includes everything you would expect to find, except the birthplace of each parent (which I have found is incidentally not included in the 1940 U.S. census).
In this specific case of John N Murray Sr, Born 1882, I knew who he was married to in 1910, a Miss Catherine Twyford, a clothing store saleslady from the same Red Hook neighborhood (I have spent many hours searching all her siblings descendants) and I know they had 3 children, 2 of which were boys with the very common names of William and John, and the oldest, a female named Agnes. These 3 children were my grandfather’s cousins. I also had a very likely match for him in 1930, living with a different wife, Anna, and a young daughter, Mildred. I used the fact that he was exactly the right age, holding the same profession as an Iron Worker, and having both parents birthplaces of Brooklyn and Germany being correct as the “proof” needed to make this match.
The new 1925 census confirmed the same household at 285 Himrod St, Brooklyn, including wife Anna Murray (nee. Scholl) and 3 year old daughter, Mildred. No earth shattering revolution there, but as any genealogist knows, a 2nd source to back up every detail from a person’s name, to their age, is very important when searching for ancestors.
1915 New York Census
The real break came from the 1915 census. Before finding that I had the 1910 census and then the WWI Draft Card, badly damaged, for John N Murray. This WWI card from 1918 has his oldest sister listed as his nearest relative, not his wife, Catherine, leading me to believe that the couple had either divorced, or John was widowed. I could not find a trace of John, Catherine or any of the 3 children in the 1920 census (and still have not). What the 1915 census did was to finally provide clarity on this case, and also provided me with the names of 2 new children, born between 1910 and 1915. One was Theresa, born 1912 and Robert, listed as 47 days of age on census date on June 1st, making his birthday about April 12th, 1915. The clarity I mentioned came from Johns marital status as a widow. Rarely in genealogy do you get so lucky as to find out from a census exactly when somebody died, but with a child being 47 days old and the father being a widow, you have that 47 day window for the death of the mother, which is very necessary when searching a common name like “Catherine Murray”.
A quick search of New York Birth, Marriage and Death records provides me with a perfect match, a 34 year old Catherine Murray from Kings County, that died 2 weeks after Robert was born.
Holy Cross Cemetery
Searching Holy Cross Cemetery provided me with her gravesite.
Sometimes the biggest source of genealogical discovery is burial information with the other names on an ancestors tombstone being the children, or other unknown family members. This can provide you with much needed dates of death, and married names of daughters. This is invaluable when you have no clues for ancestors with common names. The bad news in this particular case was that there was only one other person in that grave, Robert, her 47 day old son who did not live very long, dying at 6 month of age on November 15th, 1915.
About a month ago I received notification that somebody was saving some of the same records I had saved on Ancestry.com. I looked at this persons’ family tree, and saw that they added my John Murray section of the family, but not a lot of the information matched. One of the discrepencies was that there was a sister named Theresa. Also, the first born of the family was named Ruth, and not “Agnes”, as in my John Murrays family. After e-mailing this person and asking why they thought our families were a match, she explained that her father had told her he remembers a “Willie” and a John (which are match’s), and that “Ruth” was the Jewish name of the converted Agnes Murray, after marriage. WOW! What seemed to be the case of another ancestry.com member jumping the gun, turned out to be an actual match, and the Great Granddaughter of my John N. Murray.
When I said earlier that there was no match for these children of John Murray in the 1920 census, I kinda lied. There are matches, in Orphanages, and “Asylums”. I never gave those much consideration, because I knew with 95% certainty that their father was living with another wife and raising a daughter born in 1921, in 1930 census. How could he have 4 children between the ages of 8 – 16 in orphanages in 1920’s census, and in the meantime I have his marriage record to Anna Scholl on June 20th, 1920!? The family lore provided from my new cousin on Ancestry.com is that Agnes, or “Ruth” did infact provide that she and her siblings were raised in orphanages for a period of time. It appears my John Murray either had his children taken from him, or he possibly abandoned them.
R.C. House of Good Shepherd
My source did not have much information on brothers William and John, but if her father remembered them, then they had to have lived until the 1950’s at least. Knowing that, and the new details of their childhood, I can begin to find them in the 1920 census and beyond. 16 year old Agnes is located easily as an “Inmate” and a machine Operator in the Roman Catholic “House of the Good Shepherd” located on Hopkinson Ave, in East New York. She was in the Pacific Street Wing, which was the “Juvenile Delinquent Reformatory”.
I hope for the best as I research these 2 brothers. Whatever I find though, I realize that none of it would have been possible whithout the 1915 New York State Census.
Like many of you, I have a few ancestors in my family tree that have served our country during WWII, and are a great source of pride to our families, as well as our country. On this day though, there is one particular ancestor of mine that comes to mind due to his death in Normandy.
My great uncle, James Murray was born In Brooklyn, New York, in 1919. He can clearly be found as 7 months of age in the 1920 census, the youngest of 6, and the first male child of his parents that would live past infancy. You can find the family again in the same Red Hook apartment in 1930, this time with a younger brother (my Grandfather) and sister.
Sometimes I think about these 2 brothers, both serving their country. One that lived until old age, and the other taken way too soon. I think about the fact that, as I do some quick math, there are no less then 50 of us descended from my Grandfather, and 0 from his brother. A young Brooklyn Kid of 23 years when he joined the Army in 1942, PFC. James J. Murray, as he would become, never had a chance to begin a family.
According to military records, my great-uncle enlisted at Camp Upton, in Yaphank New York, on February 19th 1942. The next 7 months are a mystery, but I know that his unit, the 508th P.I.R (Parachute Infantry Regiment) was founded at Fort Blanding Georgia in October, 1942 and they spent the next 14 month conducting Airborne Training there, and at Camp Mackall, North Carolina. After a short 2-day liberty pass to visit family while in New York, the unit was called to action on Christmas Day, 1943, and the unit soon sailed from New York, to Belfast, then Glasgow en route to Wollaton Park, England. It was there that they waited almost 3 months until June 6th. Shortly after 2am they participated in “Operation Overlord” and jumped at 300 feet into Normandy with the objective of capturing Sainte-Mère-Église, as well as securing several river crossings in the area.
Unfortunately, this is where the mystery begins again. As most know, the airborne operation, although eventually successful, was a complete disaster. Many of the paratroopers never lived to see their feet hit the ground. Some landed and drowned in the rivers, some became hung up in trees or on the sides of buildings, and some were shot dead while waiting in line to jump from their plane. Of those that did manage to land safely, almost none were where they were supposed to land, and even fewer landed with their own unit. Because of this, and without a first hand account of his whereabouts, it makes it difficult to know what James Murray would have been doing until his death 10 days later on June 16th. I do know that his company, F (Foxtrot) Company, 508th P.I.R, was on a mission to secure the entire peninsula west of the beachheads. On June 16th the unit was in the small town of Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte, and on that day, he died. The record from a 508th PIR website shows us that James J Murray was indeed a member of F Company, and was in fact “Killed in Action” on June 16th.
But as we often find in genealogy research we do not know for sure the circumstances surrounding his death. All we can do is assume that he was with his assigned unit and in action the day he died. The K.I.A classification lets us know that he was alive and fighting on that day, and then died as a result of enemy action, as opposed to dying from wounds or injuries that would have occurred at an earlier time. This, combined with the information on his units maneuvers on that day give us a probable scenario surrounding his death. He was probably somewhere around Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte with F Company, 508th PIR on June 16th, and died as a result on gun fire or an explosion. Until the time in my life comes when I can dedicate some real time into finding better information, these details will have to be enough.
You’ve seen this famous photo of General Eisenhowser speaking to troops on the Eve of D-Day, in England. A few years ago I heard of the family tale that James Murray is actually in this photo. He is claimed to be the man in the center of the page, his head right above Ike’s hand. This is the type of thing I would be thrilled about, but a quick bit of investigative work raises some doubts. We already know that my Great-uncle was killed on June 16th and was a member of F Co. 508th PIR, which was part of the 82nd Airborne Division. The unit in this photograph is E Co, 502nd PIR, part of the 101st Airborne Divison. I can not see a scenario that has him changing units between June 5th and June 16th, when they obviously had much bigger things to worry about then transfer orders. Also, the soldier has stripes on his left arm indicating he was higher rank then the “PFC” that James Murray was. I don’t know where this rumor came came originally, but at first glance, it appears to be untrue.
A mention in “The New York Sun” tells me that my grandfather returned to New York aboard the “Aquitanina” from Europe in September of 1945. I don’t know when he learned of his brothers death, but that was not the only death of a close relative he had to deal with. In fact, his mother passed away in September of 1944, and then right after Christmas, her father, died at age 84. They all lived a few blocks apart in that same Brooklyn neighborhood. These 3 deaths combined with the horrors of fighting the Nazi’s must have made this 18 months of his life incredibly traumatic.
Many people have experienced time at war, and everybody will suffer the loss of loved ones, but I think few will ever have to endure what my grandfather did between 1944 and 1945.
I will spend the next 10 days the way I always spend June 6th – 16th. Using my genealogy time towards investigating my Great-Uncle. Searching for anything new that might have found it’s way onto the internet in the attempt to better paint a picture of his last days on earth. RIP PFC Murray.
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