ancestryink fisherman

Friday, June 29, 2012

Sailor's Snug Harbor

Postcard of Sailor's Snug Harbor
Sailor's Snug Harbor on Staten Island, Richmond County, NY harbored many an aged or ill mariner, sailor, seaman.  Some men would stay for periods of time, leave to work on the seas, and then return later.  Many stayed until their death and were buried in the cemetery there. Some men were without means, some without family to care for them in their old age, and I believe some came just to be in the company of other mariners, upon their retirement. My great-grandfather resided there, periodically, and finally until his death in 1932.

Perusing the census records for New England mariners one will often come across their name on a census report for "Richmond, NY."  Do not suspect you've found a different person than the one you are searching.  It's very likely this seaman, after residing so long in a coastal New England town, will have come to live in Sailor's Snug Harbor.

Below is an excerpt and (a rather eerie) photo from the extremely well-researched USGen website for Staten Island, Richmond, NY.
Click here to visit their pages.
Marine Hospital on the grounds of Sailor's Snug Harbor

"Seamen's Retreat Hospital and Mariner's Family Asylum"

Founded 1831. Cornerstone of building laid 1834. Located between Stapleton and Vanderbilt Landing, aka Clifton, aka Edgewater, over 35 acres. It was supported by a Seamen's Tax collected upon each ship entering the port. All nations used the Retreat. (Sailors' Snug Harbor required seamen to have served five years under the U.S. flag.) They also had a Lunatic Asylum, Mariner's Family Asylum (15th Anniversary: 1868), Old Ladies' Home, and a small cemetery "beneath the shadows of the willows" and mentioned a cemetery book "kept so well that a few days ago a woman from Chicago came to look after a brother she had not seen for years, and was at once shown the spot where the body had laid for fourteen Summers." In 1854 there were 170 patients being treated and in 1871 they had 140. In the first 25 years, they received 58,215 patients, cured 47,029, relieved 4,917, discharged at own request 1,777, and 2,813 died. In 42 years, there were 59,146 patients, 47,821 restored to health, 4,971 relieved, 1857 discharged and 2856 died. In 1882, New York sold the Seaman's Fund and Retreat property to the marine Society, of New-York, for $160,000 (or 86,000). The Government decided in 1885 to purchase the property from the Marine Society for $280,000 for the purpose of permanently establishing there a marine hospital for the port. Not mentioned again.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Maine Divorce Records

Maine Divorce records are showing up more frequently, in searches.  Here is a summary of this collection on

(To link to this collection directly, click here.)

Source Information Maine, Divorce Records, 1798-1891 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.Original data: Maine, Divorce Records, 1798–1891. Augusta, Maine: Maine State Archives.

About Maine, Divorce Records, 1798-1891

This database contains an index extracted from early Maine divorce records.
The details in this index were extracted by the Maine State Archives from divorce proceedings heard by County Supreme Judicial Courts in Maine. Details included are
  • plaintiff’s name
  • defendant’s name
  • term/date
  • docket number
  • county
  • court
  • volume and page number
This index does not include records for Lincoln County or cases heard in early District Courts or Courts of Common Pleas.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Jail Birds ...Literally

As I mentioned in my last post, the schooner Almon Bird holds some interest for me since Alonzo Henderson, a survivor of this unfortunate wreck of 1882, is of my family.

Today, to beat the heat for a bit, I spent some downtown time in the antique store mecca of Wells, Maine where I wandered into my favorite store for old postcards: Reeds Collectibles.  The "R"/Maine section of their vast collection yielded the following:

A very nice postcard of Beech St., Rockland, Maine, circa 1910.

But, the really interesting part is on the back of the card:

A letter written to Mr. Bert Bird, Northport, Maine from a Bert Mansfield.  The postmark is Feb 10, 1910.  Here is what it says:

"Camden, Feb 10-10
Friend Bert, 
I think we will go back to Northport the first of next week. Mr. Ritterbush said the lumber is in Belfast now and he wants us again as soon as the lumber is on the job.  Yours truly, Bert Mansfield"

From quick research on the "Almon Bird," I discovered that the schooner was named after a well-known limeburner and manufacturer from Camden: Mr. Almon Bird. Many a ship was laden with "plaster" or limerock, bound across the seas with their perilous cargo from the famous quarries of Rockland. The Bird family is fairly easy to track through the generations in the Belfast, Rockland, Camden area via online records on  Bert Bird, born in 1879,  is related.

I followed Bert Bird via his census reports.  He married Hazel Drinkwater  - from another large family known for shipbuilding. They have a daughter Velma by 1920. Bert is no mariner or limeburner. His occupation is "laborer" at a farm (this is on the 1910 Census), on another census, "nothing,"  and on the third, a "lumberman."

Why no occupation?  Well, because Bert and a certain Percy Bird were both in jail. 

Percy and Bert Bird, inmates at the Waldo County Jail, Belfast Maine, 1930

 Yes, Bert of my postcard ends up twenty years later at the Waldo County Jail, on Congress St. in Belfast Maine. For what crime we do not yet know.  His brother Percy A. Bird, (parents of both are: Frederick and Sarah Bird) is listed as a "carpenter" on his census records.  Percy Bird was born in 1885 and was married to Maud Price in 1906, but by the time he is in jail at age 44,  he is widowed.

The wonderful, newly-indexed 1940 Census also appears online for Bert Bird.  Now he is living alone (though 'married')  in the same place - Northport, Maine - and his occupation is "lumbering."

Whatever he did, he was freed from jail somewhere within 10 years time.  He passes away in 1948. Who knows- perhaps the brothers were there for a day, and it just happened to be Census Day in Belfast.

Percy Augustine Bird, his brother, seems fine as well.  He remarries to Bertha Harriman,   in Northport, in 1934.

So that, my friends, is the kind of saga one can expect from merely picking up an old postcard and having a name ring a bell.  All from news of ancestral cannibalism, aboard an ill-fated schooner named the Almon Bird, wrecked off Boon Island in a horrific, 3-day January storm in 1882.

(By the way, Mr. Bert Mansfield, author of our postcard?  He was not in jail with the Bird brothers!)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Maine Cannibal...

...Who happens to be one of my ancestors:  Alonzo B. Henderson

There are times when that which we find out about our ancestors is less than desirable. In this case, with the popularity of Edward, Bella and the "Twilight Series" and our current obsession with adorable vampires, I like to think of this particular discovery as "trendy" as opposed to:  appalling.

Click on the image to make it larger, and read the story:

A Maine Cannibal - 4 Feb 1882

In all seriousness, these things happened (and at times still do happen under dire circumstances) in the 1880's.  Life aboard ships was incredibly treacherous.  My family is a long line of master mariners, captains,  and sailors.  My salt-watery, ancestral trail is littered with shipwrecks.  Some men were survivors, most were not.  At times a father and son were lost on the same wreck. The entire nature of the surviving family could shift and change course altogether due to the loss of their men: changes of residence, widows re-married, children turning to the occupation of farming - and away from the sea.

This small article from the Philadelphia Inquirer, dated 4 Feb 1882, which I located at, carries a host of interesting tidbits besides the cannibalistic act of survival by poor Alonzo who by the way, went on to live life in Friendship, Maine, and later the last 20 years of his life in Sailor's Snug Harbor, Richmond NY - the home for retired (and usually 'without means') seamen.

Initially, I read this notice as indicating an application of "relief" from being convicted of the crime of cannibalism, thus pleaded due to the necessity for survival overriding the heinous act itself. The men were dead, the survivors must fight for their lives. Drinking the blood was the only solution. (Though I do wonder - 3 days and nights is not all THAT long to go without food...but it was winter, I suppose...)

However, on second reading, this seemed more an application to alleviate a tax burden upon Alonzo while he recovers from his ordeal. Being from the "Custom's Collector," perhaps a tax levied on the comings and goings of ships from port to port.

Finally, with the mention of "treatment"  at his home which commenced on January 14, and the Marin (sp?) Hospital Bureau, perhaps this application is in regard to the funding of Alonzo's recovery - all his medical debts being covered? More plumbing the depths, so to speak, needs to be done.

The history of Almon Bird will be a fascinating trail to follow, also. And always of interest too: the role of the weather - the relentless and epic winter storms - that took down so many ships as they carried their loads of lime or granite or timber, from Maine to the beyond.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Beauty in Stone Carving

Every now and then while researching people and searching for particular gravestones, the beauty of the engraving on a simple, slate stone will suddenly just stand out.  Here is one such example from the Old Town Burial Ground, in Rollinsford, NH.   The single word "Died" seems to be carved with embellishment, to honor the one who lies beneath maybe, or remind those who visit that death may indeed be anticipated as a  paradise after the earthly body is at last laid to rest.  Possibly it was a "signature" of this particular carver, identifying his work.  In any case, it is... simply lovely.

Please click on the image to see more minute detail:

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Mystic Seaport Museum Collections

If you are researching anything related to ships, vessels, schooners, shipbuilders - anything at all of this nature, the Mystic Seaport has incredible online databases, not to mention, of course - the availability of research at the Museum, with the help of professional researchers.

That was a mouthful.  Thanks to Bonnie Ayers D'Orlando, the assistant curator of the Nahant Historical Society (Nahant, MA.) who directed me to this valuable resource, I was able to locate and verify the origins and builder of a ship, the "Sea Lion," that wrecked off Simmons Point,  Nahant, Mass. in 1864, containing several of my ancestors from Rockland, Maine.

I had written to NHS after finding a death record for a father and son of my Henderson family, who both died the same day.  One of their records mentioned "died at sea, Simmons Point, Nahant, Mass." I thought -- why  not send of an email and just ask if they had any knowledge of shipwrecks near Nahant in 1864. All I was expecting back, was a simple "yes" or "no," or...honestly - maybe nothing at all - historical societies are overwhelmed by queries: this I know.

After a week, they wrote to me with detailed information leading me to locate the Lynn, Mass vital records for that time frame, deaths of 1864,  which specifically included mention of this actual shipwreck and 4 of the 6 people lost!  One of them listed was my ancestor.  And I'm pretty sure one of the two men not listed was his father.

NHS also suggested I try the Mystic Seaport Collection to see if I could dig up further information about the ship which I now knew to be the "Sea Lion."  Sure enough, I was able to locate the builder and master, John F. Harden - of Rockland, Maine -   exactly where my ancestors hailed from, all sailors and master mariners, to a man. Apparently this ship was loaded with stone (limestone quarries being one of Rockland's main industries, which was shipped to cities such as Boston and Washington, D.C. to make some of the most famous landmark buildings of those cities.)  Everything I was finding served to confirm my belief that this was indeed the ship on which they met their demise.

Take a "trip" to the online database at Mystic Seaport.  Just seeing what they have available there opens up new avenues of possible explorations.  For instance, they have listings of immigrant vessels; and detailed listings of ship's name, their exact specifications, and what they were used for.

And even more exciting, they actually have hand-written manuscripts published in their online database.  I was able to find many many letters written to John F. Harden in the 1870's, pertaining to his various ships. No mention of the Sea Lion, but interesting, nonetheless.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

St. Michael's Cemetery, Rollinsford, NH

Sometimes there is a moment of supreme serenity that exists in an empty cemetery, early evening, under an overcast sky.

The winged angel and her scroll at the gate of St. Michael's in Rollinsford.