Greenwood Heights

Green-Wood Cemetery helps people search for roots

February 3, 2014 By Raanan Geberer Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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You may be someone who’s been in Brooklyn for five generations searching for news of your long-lost uncle. Or you may be someone from the Midwest who’s never been to Brooklyn, but who has heard rumors that some of your ancestors lived in Brooklyn in the late 19th century.

Either way, you may be able to find out more about your family, thanks to  “Green-ealogy” – a new genealogical research program launched by the Green-Wood Historic Fund and historic Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. Green-Wood is the oldest active cemetery in Brooklyn, and was its largest green space before the construction of Prospect Park.

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Staffed by five trained researchers, “Green-ealogy” provides unprecedented access to Green-Wood’s institutional records and historical collections of documents and photographs dating back to 1840.

With records of more than 560,000 individuals who are interred there, Green-Wood estimates it has information on the family roots of more than 20 million individuals alive today. This information can include cause of death, family trees, family and business correspondence and more

Also available are copies of Green-Wood’s early photographs, paintings and drawings, correspondence, maps and posters.

Jeff Richman, official historian of Green-Wood, says the program started in February 2013 with one researcher and has now grown to include five trained researchers.

“The cemetery has always had people on staff who have regularly answered questions as they came in. It occurred to us last year to offer this service on a regularized basis,” he told the Eagle.

“There are half a million people buried in the cemetery,” says Richman. “We have gotten inquiries from people all over the world, from eight different foreign countries and 38 states. The statistic that is usually cited is that one-seventh of the population of the U.S. can trace their ancestry back to Brooklyn. We can supply information that is not available anywhere else,” he says.

Among Green-Wood’s “permanent residents” are “West Side Story” composer Leonard Bernstein; Henry Chadwick, the “father of baseball”; notorious “Murder Incorporated” boss Albert Anastasia, artist Louis Comfort Tiffany, telegraph inventor Samuel B. Morse and thousands of Civil War veterans – both Union and Confederate.

One person who found out more about her family from the Green-ealogy program was Beth Shirey from Omaha, Nebraska, who grew up in New Jersey. Because her parents were not together when she was growing up, she never knew much about her father’s family.

She knew that the family had been in the U.S. since the Revolutionary War, but when she started researching them, she found out a lot of inconsistent information – varying dates for marriages, different spellings of surnames, first names that were changed, people disappearing after second marriages.

When she contacted Green-Wood,  she found that her grandfather’s sister, Laura Mohrmann, who had lived in Brooklyn, had purchased an entire lot in the cemetery. After finding out about her, Shirey found out more about the other family members buried there.

She also found that her grandmother had died in 1910 in Hudson, N.Y., and then had her remains moved to Green-Wood in 1924. Unfortunately, she hasn’t yet been able to contact surviving members of the family, some of whom may be in Ohio, where her great-grandfather, a Civil War veteran, died after remarrying.

Although Shirey, the wife of a career military officer, acknowledges that some of her relatives may have been somewhat “squirrely,” she was told that once she found information about one stable member of the family, she could find out information about others. That stable member was Laura Mohrmann.

Another person who found out more about his family was Dusty King, from Oregon. “Through the research provided by Green-Wood, I’ve been able to trace my King ancestors within the Brooklyn area as far back as 1741,” he says. “My father signed on to the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) for work and left Maine and New York about 1938. The CCC work sent him to Oregon, where he married my mother in 1940.”

His father only returned to Brooklyn once in the mid-1950s to visit his brother, and King had very little knowledge of his paternal family.  However, he found out more once he contacted Green-wood. “My fifth great-grandmother, Rachel Noe (Ackerman) King Ryckman, first bought the family plots in Green-Wood on Sept. 14, 1854 for $110. Researching under her name pointed me towards the Dutch Reformed Church in Brooklyn.”

Eventually, King was able to trace his ancestry back to the Revolutionary War era. “My 5th great grandmother, Rachel (Noe-Ackerman) King Ryckman was born in 1774 in New York,” he says. “What I’ve found so far shows her birth name was Noe but her mother remarried and Rachel used her step-father’s last name of Ackerman for some records. She married my 5th great grandfather, John King, around 1795-96.”

King became interested in genealogy about 20 years ago, and found out about Green-Wood through his research on the web. “My father and uncle refused to talk of their father, so I assume there were hard feelings between my grandparents that extended with the children,” he says. “Doing research, I discovered my grandfather had died in Delaware in 1974. Had I known more about my grandfather, I might have been able to meet him before he died.”

Those who are interested in using the service can visit (then click on the genealogy link; and then click “Green-ealogy”) and answer a few simple questions. Green-Wood’s expert researchers will conduct a preliminary document search of its records and collections relevant to the inquiry, at no cost, and provide the user with a time estimate to produce a full report.

After the initial free document search, research fees are $28 per half hour.  Photocopies, digital scans and digital lot/monument images will be provided at an additional charge.

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