This week a guest blogger shares her story of how researching in our digital newspaper database, Brooklyn Newsstand, led her to a surprising discovery about her family history, and a new heirloom to boot! We librarians are always so happy to hear these kinds of stories, as we often don't get to learn where research in our collections leads after patrons exit our doors. Our guest blogger Joan Harrison is an artist and author. She is a Professor Emerita of Long Island University, where she taught for many years.
One evening in early March as my husband was watching the PBS show "Finding Your Roots," I, with iPad in hand, decided to search the Brooklyn Daily Eagle Online one more time to see if I could find mentions of my paternal grandparents. The site had been my go-to source for the daily late 19th and early 20th happenings in Glen Cove, Long Island when I was doing pictorial histories of the city and neighboring Locust Valley for Arcadia Publishing. Previous searches had yielded no information. I can only assume more links were fed into the search engine since my last visit for I suddenly discovered a goldmine of information about my grandparents and their siblings. [Editor's note: these were likely articles from Brooklyn Life, a society magazine that was added to the online database shortly after the Brooklyn Daily Eagle was digitized.]
The first entry to appear was the May 20th, 1911 announcement of the engagement of my paternal grandparents, Grandma Bess and Grandpa Herb, aka "Pop" Harrison. I went on to find their wedding announcement, notations of their social engagements, obituaries of a great grandfather and a great grandmother, and then, amazingly, a photogravure of W.H. Harrison's and Sons, the legendary family store!
W. H. Harrison's was a wholesale and retail dealer in flour, butter, sugar, teas, coffees and spices as well as a purveyor of meat and produce. The emporium and warehouses were located at the corner of Washington Avenue and Pacific Street. The picture caption noted that the business had been at that location since its founding in 1865. It remained at that location until closing in 1917. A look at Google street view reveals that the store building still stands, though seemingly repurposed into an apartment building.
On St. Patrick's Day when everyone was posting "green greetings" on Facebook, I posted a screen grab of the picture of the store. To my astonishment, it drew over sixty comments and included among the entries was an image of a stoneware jug with the name W.H. Harrison and the location of the store impressed into the surface and stained cobalt blue. I discovered that an artist friend, Sarah Hogan -- whom I had met in the local library history room -- had made the post.
I immediately got in touch with Sarah, who revealed she had found the jug while on a childhood archeology expedition. While searching for vintage bottles in a ravine in neighboring Sea Cliff, Long Island nearly forty years earlier she had uncovered the jug, intact and without a single crack or chip. We arranged a meeting and amazingly Sarah felt the heirloom, the earliest prize of her considerable collection of local artifacts, should come home to its family.
Since my siblings, cousins and cousins' children heard about this amazing gift they have set to intensive family historical and genealogical research, with a field trip to the old neighborhood of Prospect Heights and environs planned for next month. If you have any pictures or artifacts from the store or information about the Harrison or Redmond clans we would love to hear from you.
Now, on to the next question: Was Grandma Bess' claim that we were descendants of the 9th and 23rd presidents, William Henry Harrison and Benjamin Harrison true or merely an apocryphal story?