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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Weekend in New York: a family history pilgrimage

Alexander Hamilton Custom House, site of the conference 
Last weekend I had a great time in New York City.  It was really the first time I have ever been on my own, for multiple days, in a large metropolis.  No kids, I kept looking for them but they really weren’t there.  Nerve wracking at first but an absolute delight once I got the first minor anxiety attack out of the way.

I was there for a conference but secretly I had a plan.  A family heritage plan.  I unfortunately was not able to make it to the NYC Archives (drat you for not being open on the weekend) but I did make a family history pilgrimage of sorts to a very small green space in the middle of the concrete jungle.

Soldier's Monument, Trinity Church
In a previous post I talked briefly about Anneke Jans and her 62 acres on Manhattan Island.  She and her husband, Roelof Jansen, were originally granted the land in 1636.  After the English government came into power she and her heirs continued to own the land through a grant from the Governorof New York, Col. Francis Lovelace.  Unfortunately, due to a technicality (missing signatures on the deed) the family lost the land after 1671.

New York City and Trinity Church purchased parts of the land at that time but it was not the end of the story.  For over 150 years, in 16 lawsuits, the heirs of Anneke Jans sued the city for their land.  Then in 1847 the final decision was made that the land was purchased legally.

The last remaining remnant of the Jans farm is now a small park that if you didn’t know was there you would miss.  On my last day in NYC I was determined to find it.  Heck it was only a mile walk from my hotel!  What’s a mile when you are on a mission?

Plaque at Duane Park
My route took me past Trinity Church, which, of course, I had to stop at.  Sunday services were occurring so I didn’t go inside but I spent a good 20 minutes looking around the graveyard.  There  were quite a few beautiful tombstones that I stopped to admire.  I also discovered the Soldier’s Monument, which was quite moving and a piece of history I did not know about.

I continued up Broadway from there eventually crossing over to West Broadway until I came to the little diagonal street I was looking for, Hudson.  The small triangle piece of land that lies on Duane and Hudson Streets lies in the middle of one of the Tribecca neighborhoods.  Row houses with red bricks and brown stones lined the streets.  The local market was putting out fresh flowers and arranging pumpkins on the front steps.  Families were out for a stroll and joggers ran by with their headphones in oblivious to the wonder I was experiencing.
Duane Park

Standing there reading the plaques at Duane Park I got that familiar sensation again. You know the one you get when you develop a connection to something that had an impact on your past.  My family once walked here.  They farmed here.  They lived and they died here.  I just sat and took in the late blooming flowers for a minute trying to feel them.

I started back south and crossed over at Church Street.   This route took me past the new World Trade Center.  Stopping on a corner I looked up and appreciated the beauty of the new tower, but unlike the mass of tourists heading to the memorial I had no desire to go.  I am not ready yet, and if you don’t know why, go back and read this post.  Thankfully, I know I am not alone.

Across the street from all of the construction was St. Paul’s Chapel.  Of course it was another attempt to feed my growing addiction to cemetery research so I stopped in.  I did not go in the building and look at the exhibits on 9/11 and the church, but I once again spent a good 20-30 minutes meandering on the path around the church craning my neck to see the markers from the flagstones.  However, my searching was not in vein.  I did find heraldry marking one of the graves and I am now researching who this person was.

The Immigrants, Battery Park
From there I did the “touristy thing” and wandered around the area of my hotel.  Took a nice stroll through Battery Park, discovered the NY Stock Exchange was 2 blocks from my hotel, saw the steps where George Washington was inaugurated out first president, and watched silly foreign tourists try to feed the squirrels acorns.  Yeah, can’t make up that last one.

By the time I was done I walked 7 ½ miles in downtown.  No wonder I was so tired on the 5 hour train ride home.  However, sleeping is nearly impossible on a train I’ve decided.  It’s not like an airplane where the constant hum of the engines lulls you to sleep.  Instead I finished my new book (The Juggler’s Children) and did some work.  Ah, the life of a train commuter. 

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