Morris’s Memorial History of Staten Island

This two volume work is essential reading for the Staten Island genealogist or historian. Since it is out of copyright, many entities are offering reproductions for sale, mostly on CD. The entire work is available online for free at the American Libraries Internet Archive. You can select the format in which you want to view the book, including text, PDF, and the extremely wonderful, full color FlipBook format, which is as close to reading the hard copy as you can get, but with the added advantage of being able to search the text.

View Volume I here.

View Volume 2 here.

Obtaining Photos of your Ancestral Home

New York City genealogists are luckier than most. In the 1930’s and 40’s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) photographed nearly every single building in the five boroughs. This was done for tax assessment purposes at the time, but fortunately, the city Archives Dept. recognized the historical value of these photos and has carefully maintained, and restored where necessary, these images.

If you have the address of the home where your ancestors lived — easily obtained from census records (1930 or even earlier) — you can order a print of the image of the home on line. (The address, of course, appears on the left hand side of the census page, written vertically, and the house number will appear on the horizontal line where a family enumeration starts.)

To identify the exact photo you want from the collection, you can view the microfilm of the images available at the St. George, Staten Island, Library, and obtain the block and lot number, to save a few dollars.  Or you can simply order the image on line by inputting the address, and let the city identify the block and lot for an additional $5 fee.  For those of doing Staten Island genealogy long distance, that’s the best option.

Note that the building must have existed at the time the photos were taken in order to be included in the collection–but for the older buildings, it is possible you can get an image of the residence your ancestors lived in,  in 1880. 

Order photos of Staten Island homes online here.

The Church of St. Andrew

One of the most beautiful cemeteries on Staten Island is at The Church of St. Andrew,  Episcopal Church.

Churchyard of the Church of St. Andrew, Staten Island.

Churchyard of the Church of St. Andrew, Staten Island.

If you are researching ancestors possibly buried here, you will want a copy of The Church of St. Andrew, Richmond, Staten Island;: Its history, vital records, and gravestone inscriptions, by  William T. Davis,  Charles W.Leng and Royden Woodward Vosburgh. I am lucky enough to own an original copy of this work, inscribed by Davis.

But maybe a better buy is another more comprehensive volume that includes the original Davis work as well as the records of two more churches. This more comprehensive volume is Staten Island Church Records [Records of the Dutch Reformed Church of Port Richmond, 1696 to 1772; United Brethren Congregation, Commonly Called Moravian Church, 1749-1863; and St. Andrews Church, Richmond, 1752-1808], edited by Tobias Alexander Wright.

The Church of St. Andrew has been digitized by Ancestry.com, and full page images are available.  This wonderful because you can see who’s buried near each other, and you are treated to the full epitaphs.  Staten Island Church Records is also available at Ancestry, but only in index form; without the full context it not as useful. I’m also not quite convinced that their search identifies for you which of the three churches the records came from. So I use a hard copy as well.

This church, founded in 1709, is still an active parish. See the Church of St. Andrew website for a brief description of its history.

How Staten Island Got Its Name

It’s like this… Henry Hudson, the English explorer who convinced the Dutch government to finance his trip to the New World in 1609, was finally approaching land after months at sea. Henry, who despite his European heritage had an unexplainable Brooklyn accent, was notified of a land sighting by his men. Looking through the primitive eyeglass of the day, he said with excitement, “Is dat an Eyelandt?!!!”

No. Just kidding.

First inhabited by the Lenape Indians in the 16th century, the Indians referred to the island as “Aquehonga”, and as “Monacnong”, which translates as “Enhanted Woods”. (And, we totally get that, because Staten Island today still has more green space than any other part of New York City.)

In 1609, when Hudson arrived, he named it “Staaten Eylandt” after the Staten-Generaal, the Dutch parliament which had financed his voyage to the New World. And that is the name that stuck, although Anglicized, of course, to “Staten Island”.

The Dutch, who successfully settled Manhattan, didn’t make a lot of progress in settling Staten Island, and it was the British who later firmly established it. In 1683, King Charles of England rechristened the island “Richmond County”, after King James II of England, who also was Duke of Richmond.

When Staten Island became part of the Greater New York City in 1898, it became the “Borough of Richmond”. In 1975, the city changed this to make “Borough of Staten Island” its official name. The Borough of Staten Island actually includes more than just Staten Island itself; today the boundaries of the borough also encompass Prall’s Island, Island of Meadows, and part of Shooter’s Island. At one time, Ward’s Island was also part of the County, but it is now part of Manhattan.

If you are doing genealogy, I think the proper citation is therefore “Staten Island, Richmond County, New York”. Or, if you have a town/neighborhood name, then “Town, Staten Island, Richnond County, New York.” Other opinions welcome!