Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Mr. H's Grandpa & The New York City Catholic Protectory

This summer I will be teaching an online course through St. John's University about Genealogical Sources & Services. Some time ago I determined the culminating project for the course to be an ancestor's biography. My students will write a 1500-3000 work biography on an relative; it doesn't really have to be a direct ancestor just someone who passed before they were born and that they are able to find records about. 

As a teacher you can write all sorts of checklists and rubrics conveying to the students your expectations and how they will be graded but in some instances I believe it is best to also supply them an example they can model. Some worry themselves that the students will just copy the example and not really learn the concepts involved. I disagree, especially in this instance. There is no way they can really copy the biography I wrote on my great grandfather, Albert.

Albert was quite a character. According to newspaper articles he had quite a few brushes with the law as a youth. At one point he was sentenced to the New York City Catholic Protectory. This institution was sort of an orphanage / juvenile delinquency program run by the Catholic Church in an effort to instill morality and ethics in children. Hmm. 

According to a New York Times article from July of 1865 this institution received children who were:

  1. Children under the age of 14 years, who, by consent in writing of their parents or guardians, may be intrusted to it for protection or reformation.
  2. Children between 7 and 14 years of age, who may be committed to the care of such corporation as idle, truant, vicious, or homeless, by order of any magistrate in the City of New-York, empowered by law to make committal of children for any such cause.
  3. Children of the like age who may be transferred, at the option of the Commissioners of Public Charities and Correction of the City of New-York, to such corporation.

For my biography on Albert, I researched the history of the Protectory as well as discovered records available about the young residents in FamilySearch.org.

As my regular readers know, I also work at a public library once (sometimes twice) per month doing one-on-one consultations with individuals interested in researching their family history. 

This past month I worked with a patron we'll call Mr. H. He has come to see me once before. At that time we worked on his father's side of the family. At this visit we focused on his mother's side. After finding a few records he began to tell me a story about his grandfather. He had heard his grandfather and his brothers were put in some type of orphanage after his mother died. "But it wasn't an orphanage really because they eventually went back to their father," Mr. H said. "He went there when he got in trouble with the law too one time. It was run by the Catholic church which is why he didn't want to have anything to do with the church."

I became silent. I waited for him to say the word protectory. I waited. I could see him struggling to recall the word. And then I asked. "Was it the New York City Catholic Protectory?"


I immediately switched over to FamilySearch.org and found the un-indexed database. The struggle to find this particular database was due to the fact that is it titled Residents' Identification Cards, ca. 1880-1938 and authored by The Society for the Protection of Destitute Roman Catholic Children of New York City. Lot of words to remember. However, it is indeed the records for what was part of the New York City Catholic Protectory

Because it is not indexed, we had to scroll through the alphabetically organized images. And there we found it, Mr. H's grandpa 12 index cards worth of information about the circumstances surrounding his residency there at what was then called The Lincoln Hall School in Lincolndale, New York.

The cards told of his brush with the law at a very young age, about the health conditions of his parents which landed him there at his first visit, it gave his mother's maiden name, and helped us to narrow down her date of death to sometime between 1905 and 1907.

Albert was just 2 1/2 years older than Mr. H's grandpa. And although I can't find Albert in those digitized records, not all of them are digitized mind you, I can't help but wonder if the two resided there at the same time and if so, did they know each other. Either way, I like to think that my great grandpa Albert helped me help Mr. H add a little more detail and color to his own family history.

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