Finding Family

Written Sept 25, 2021

One of the main reasons for stopping back in New York as we headed south was to visit Brooklyn. My Mother was born there in 1929. She didn’t live there long, only until age 5 when she and her parents moved to White Plains, an upscale neighborhood in the suburbs. I shared a pic of that home back in Discovering the Hudson (https://sylviacrain.com/hoy/?p=37071). Shortly thereafter the family moved to Manhattan and by age 13 or 14, she was in New Mexico and never looked back.

Thus, having a sense of history in New York is foreign to me (no pun intended). In doing some of my genealogy research, it struck me that my mothers grandparents and great-grandparents might be buried there. Yes! This whole clan, my Maternal Grandparents, all recent immigrants, arrived through Castle Garden (pre-Ellis Island) in the 1850’s and 1860’s from Germany and France.

I was unaware of how immigrants came to New York; had not thought of the process much. I’d always thought it was Ellis Island. At first, people just came. Then it was determined a process was needed. So, in 1855 Castle Garden was leased to the State of NY as the immigrant registration center. More than 8 million people entered the US through this round building in Battery Park at the tip of Manhattan This continued until 1890 when Ellis Island was opened across the Hudson as the immigration center. Immigration became the responsibility of the US Government. The round building is now used as the ticket booth for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

Turns out they are all buried in Brooklyn and Queens. Although I had found photos of some of the graves, there is something to being in the environment where they lived and visiting them. Sometimes you can “feel” them. Thus we made a sojourn one day via ferry, subway and foot from Jersey City where we were docked to 3 different cemeteries. We really got a sense for how big the New York City and Burroughs are.

The Seegers at All Faiths Cemetery in Middle Village

My Maternial 2nd Greatgrandparents Henry Seeger (1832 – 1900) and Pauline Hochner are buried here. I don’t have any photos of them. I am still hoping something will surface. Pauline is the 2nd wife of Henry. The stone in the graveyard shows Henry and both his wives, Martha Boeh (who married Henry in France and apparently came to the US with him, likely in the 1860’s after their son and daughter were born near Paris) and Pauline, his 2nd wife whom he apparently married in the US and with whom they had a daughter Pauline Seeger. Henry was apparently a shoemaker or an upholsterer. I’ve found several immigration records for Henry, but nothing for Pauline, nor a marriage license… yet.

My 2nd Great Grandparents Henry and Pauline. The top of the stone, “Heir Rhuen in Frieden” means “Here Rests in Piece” . There are lots of interesting stories of this cemetery of pilfered funds for maintenance and stolen or destroyed headstones, so I am happy that their stone is in good shape and the grass had been cut this year.

Getting to Queens was about an hour and a half process, taking the ferry to Manhattan, then taking two subways to get to Middle Village/Queens. Subways to not tend to go through the prettiest sections of a town, especially when they are raised subways.

Apparently almost all the subway in Manhattan is underground. A very large amount in Brooklyn/Queens seems to be above ground. Does not make for upscale neighborhoods. It is nice to be able to see the city though. Tons of interesting graffiti and one could do a study of rooftops.

The Ebels at The Evergreens in Brooklyn

My grandfathers paternal line is Ebel. This family came from Baden-Baden, Germany in the 1850’s. William Joseph Ebel, Sr. and his parents Valenine Ebel and Louise Wickman (these are the immigrants) are all buried at The Evergreens in Brooklyn. Valentine was a tailor and was a Lieutenant in the New York National Guard. Clearly a man of more means as an immigrant given his military service and being buried at The Evergreens, a more upscale cemetery. His son William, my Great Grandfather has been listed as an electrician, taxidermist, salesman and broker! Now THAT is a change of professions. My Mother told me a story that William was a millionaire on paper until the crash of 1929. Apparently he never recovered his fortune.

Valentine Ebel (1826 – 1895) My 2nd Great Grandfather. I love this pic in uniform! I have not been able to find more than his draft card for Civil War service.
Lina Wickman (1848 – 1924) My 2nd Great Grandmother married to Valentine Ebel. She is the mystery woman as I cant find any definite arrival records or marriage.
William Joseph Ebel, Sr (1878 – 1935) My Great Grandfather. Quite the dapper man.

These three are all buried in the same lot at The Evergreens.

Now this was a surprise and a disappointment. I was so hoping for their given names and dates. I had not realized how much that mattered in connecting with them. I knew that Sophie Bahlburg (daughter of Valentine and Lena) was buried in the same plot, but I had no knowledge of Nunez. Who is this person(s)?

Further talking with the cemetery clarified that there are 11 people buried in this lot. Eleven?! I knew of Valentine and Louise, William Sr., Valentine August (son of Valentine) an Sophie and her husband. That is six.

The cemetery is doing research to tell me everyone who is buried there along with additional information. I have discovered however that another son George’s (another son of Valentine and Louise) wife Elizabeth McMail is buried there, but not George as he died in California. And that the Nunez clan are included through Sophie’s son Howard. Howard married a woman who immigrated from Chile in 1922 at the age of 6! There is a story to learn there.

As for the stone, this has to be a new stone that came into being with Nunez being added to the plot. I will likely have to wonder what the original stone looked like.

We walked to a different location to re-board the Metro. We had a heck of a time finding entrance to get up the steps to ride this subway.

Pauline Seeger Ebel Littelle and The Green-Wood Cemetery

We’ve slowly been moving from the farthest cemetery back towards Manhattan. Every cemetery includes lots of walking within the cemetery (these are cemeteries that may be a mile square) and to and from the Metro stop. All in all, we walked more than 10 miles! The Green-Wood is another cemetery on the historic register, founded in 1838. It is designed more as a park than cemetery in many ways, being 478 acres and having tours, birding and an arboretum. A lovely space.

This is a side entrance to the Green-Wood Cemetery. Pretty Fancy!

But, our goal was to find Pauline’s grave. She is my Great-Grandmother. She died two years after I was born, but I don’t believe any of my older siblings met her either.

Pauline Seeger Ebel Littell was a classy lady!

Pauline and my Grandfather William (son of William Sr who is buried in the Ebel plot mentioned above) separated afters some years of marriage, however Pauline was not able to remarry for many years. Divorce was not common in 1930. Pauline was a nurse and raised her son William and at the age of 53 married Warren Littell who was in advertising. Apparently Warren had never married. My mother always said the married between Pauline and Warren was a good one. She is buried with Warren and his parents in a common plot with a single stone.

The stone for Warren, his parents and Pauline. Although I’d seen pictures, it was to see it in person in this beautiful park.

What does this all mean?

I was very happy to see these graves, but I don’t feel much closer to these grandparents and great-grandparents than I had previously. There is more connection to those with given names vs the stone with family names only. Perhaps a rural setting that has more of a sense of place from the past helps graves to feel more real, even though much of Brooklyn with its old brownstones could conjure a sense of life there. We did not walk the specific streets where these ancestors lived, and only some of the buildings remain in any case. I am looking forward to learning more about the 11 folks buried in the Ebel plot at The Evergreens. I know that will provide more of an understanding of this family. Or, perhaps the issue is that my mother was somewhat estranged from this side of her family and thus I feel those separation vibes! Ha!

Wee did walk some pretty streets. stopped for a bite of lunch and got some feel for the nice parts of Brooklyn

We did enjoy walking around Brooklyn, riding the subways and getting a sense of a different piece of New York City. A fun place to visit, but way too much humanity crammed into a small space for my taste as a place to live. Even with the beautiful parks and green ways, you just cannot get away which is critical for me.

Chatting with a local she told us there is a whole Instagram stream for people getting a whole subway car to themselves. Ok, I did not get that pic, but we did end up in several cars where we were the only ones left. Apparently, although many cars had lots of ridership, the usage is till way down.
A very compelling statue dedicated to all merchant marines lost at sea. Fairly close to the ferry terminals in Manhattan.

I hope I have not bored you too much with the genealogy thing. Next post is a visit to the Metropolitan Museum.