One great resource for researching people who lived in Brooklyn in the late 19th century is the Brooklyn Eagle Newspaper. The Brooklyn Public Library has digitized over 60 years of this newspaper and made it available for (free) online viewing. The database includes articles, ads, and pictures that were published during the period from October 26, 1841 to December 31, 1902. You can search by keyword and date range or just pick a date and read an issue cover to cover.
My sister and I are currently trying to research one member of our family, John Mahoney, who lived in Brooklyn between 1879 and 1898. Specifically we are trying to find out if an old family story, explaining why the family suddenly moved from Brooklyn to New Jersey in 1898, is in fact true. And if so, what exactly happened? What I remember being told is a man died, possibly run over by a train or trolley, and that John Mahoney had been implicated in the man’s death.
Compounding the difficulty in sorting through vital records and articles is that our ancestor had a very common Irish name (many people of Irish descent have this same problem). My sister brilliantly figured out that by including the street name where he might have lived (based on a search of Brooklyn directories) with his surname in a keyword search we could narrow the results down to a smaller subset of articles. And voila! Three interesting articles did emerge in which a John Mahoney was held by the police as a witness in a possible murder case. We have not yet been able to ascertain if this person was our relative or not. The year is right, the age is right, and the name is right. But was it him?
Going on the assumption that the individual mentioned in the articles might be him, I have just written to the pastor of the nearest church to the address given in the article and directories St. Brigid’s R. C. Church. I provided them with names and dates and have asked if they can provide copies of the sacramental records for the family. I have my fingers crossed that they will in fact search their records and send them to me. I included a donation to the church as is customary. But we have so often sent and paid for requests for vital records from the New York Archives that have resulted each time in a dead-end that I’m almost afraid to believe I will get a reply that says more than – no records found. I’m keeping my fingers crossed anyway!
Once we find out if this is in fact our John Mahoney we’ll start a search for the Brooklyn coroner’s and police records to try to find out whether the inquest and investigation ever led to charges being filed and if so, against whom, and what exactly did happen in 1898 that led our great-grandfather to move as fast as he could to New Jersey. We do know from Brooklyn-Eagle articles that the Coroner was accused of taking bribes to falsify records that same month. I can’t help but wonder if that had something to do with why our great-grand father high-tailed it out of Brooklyn. One thing I know for sure, I am having a very good time researching this family story with my sister.