Traveling Through the Family History

Michel Gustave Anna OttoA couple of years ago, we were staying in the West Village of Manhattan when  I decided to check our family tree to see if any ancestors might have lived nearby.  To my surprise, my Great Great Grandfather lived and worked right around the corner.  In less than 5 minutes, we were standing in front his home.

Originally a 5 story building built in 1880 in a Neo-Grecian style, the building was now a partially occupied two story in much need of repair.  It was just within the Meatpacking District which, as a whole, was showing obvious signs of resurgence.

Door to the apartment building
Door to the apartment building

I found out later that the building originally had a grocer downstairs and tenements upstairs built for John Glass & Sons.  The height was reduced to 2 stories in the 1940’s (which explained the number of residents in the 1890 census).  What did remain of the original building were the cast iron pilasters framing the door.  Cast iron is one of my favorite building materials so I was fascinated by the artistic details.

DSC_0446We walked down the street to find that the barber shop was no longer there.  Call it urban renewal.  The new building was from 1911 so the building where my Great Great Grandfather had worked in 1890 was razed 20 years after his occupancy.DSC_0430

When my mother met us a couple of days later, it was great to show her our find.  She was unaware of this part of the family history but she was able to fill in all the pieces of the puzzle around it and tell us more family stories from the neighborhood.

J&L Diner as seen in Men In Black. I can't find any credits but I know that I saw it.
J&L Diner as seen in Men In Black. I can’t find any credits but I know that I saw it in the movie.

Last fall, we visited the neighborhood again.  Most of the building and much of the Meatpacking District had been restored.  Our first trip had been an introduction and the second opened new doors.  It was amazing to see some of the same buildings that my Great Great Grandfather would have seen in the district the way he would have seen it. After a clerk in a new shop made statements about what went on in the basement, I did some further research.  On the outside the neighborhood might have looked the same but I don’t think there was a transvestite sex club in the basement when my Great Great Grandfather lived there in the 1890’s.  DSC_0066DSC_0069DSC_0060DSC_0055

4 thoughts on “Traveling Through the Family History”

    1. First, a back injury kept me from moving for 3 weeks so I actually had time to sit, read and research. Then my cousins and I started with everything that we knew and laid out the tree on Geni.com. Next, I used all the resources I could find on the internet such as Ancestry.com, Findagrave.com, local historical society pages, and local genealogy sites to fill in the pieces. What I found was it was easiest to follow the path of least resistance: keep pursuing a branch until the clues disappear then start on another. Months later I would find something from the first branch and pick up where I left off.

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