Purcell Family of America
An association to help those trace the Purcell family line
The Purcell Name
The triangle Shirtwaist factory fire-- A day that will live in genealogical infamy
Posted: 22 April 2011 at 11:29 a.m.
When we keep our genealogical records, why do we keep them? Is there a sense of duty for our living families? Is there also a sense of passing once we reach our 60s that, if we don’t record our family histories, the records will be lost for succeeding generations? Is there a logical sense of preservation for our paternal lineage because the name remains unchanged? What duty do we feel for our maternal lineage?
What sense of genealogical duty does one feel for a group you’re not related to? This aspect piqued my interest when watching CBS Sunday Morning/60 Minutes Story on the 100th Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in late March. It was recounting the tragic day in New York’s Washington Square area where 148 women and men perished in one of the most tragic workplace accidents in American history.
A majority of them were identified, but there were many bodies that were burned beyond recognition. Many were recent immigrants from Europe, so records were not readily available. As a result, there were a number of individuals, mostly women, who were buried without identification at a cemetery in Queens, New York.
From Kimberly Powell’s About.com article on February 22, 2011 “Putting History Right – List of Factory Fire Victims Complete 100 Years Later” she recalls the story of the event and also the persistence of a genealogist to determine the identity of victims who were heretofore unidentified.
“Just before closing time on March 25, 1911, fire broke out in the top floors of The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City. By the time the fire was extinguished, 146 (or 148) of the 500 workers were unaccounted for and presumed dead, marking one of the deadliest industrial disasters in U.S. history. Many of the 146-8 victims were young women, some as young as 15 – most of them recent Italian and European Jewish immigrants working for a better life in America. With very little left to distinguish many of the fire victims, some were never identified. Eight unidentified victims (internments 214,654-214,661) were laid to rest under a stone monument to the Triangle garment workers in the Cemetery of the Evergreens/Mt. Zion Cemetery on the border of Brooklyn and Queens.
Now a century later, at the centennial commemoration of the fire on March 25th, the names of all (146-8) dead will finally be read thanks to the persistence of genealogist/biographer and historian Michael Hirsch,‘who became obsessed with learning all he could about the victims after he discovered that one of those killed, Lizzie Adler, a 24-year-old greenhorn from Romania, had lived on his block in the East Village,’ according to an article in The NY Times. It’s a great example of what genealogy is all about – uncovering and telling true stories of the people who lived before us.
When bringing this down to the local level, so to speak, or to the extended genealogical family lines we have, it’s amazing that there are several individuals who have assisted with capturing genealogical information from four parts of my/our extended family. Helen Englebrecht published a 200-page book on her husband’s family, which is part of my mother’s family, the Simons. She did this for ten years for the love of her husband before she began work on her own family. Hope (Shoemaker) Peterson* did the same thing with Purcell/Shoemaker descendants that descend through Long Island and New England. In June I will attend the Reynolds Family Reunion in South Glens Falls, NY. There I look forward to meeting Annette (Reynolds) King, who has been documenting extensive amounts of Reynolds history, including Trout Brook Farm, where my descendants lived on the family farm.
I recall at our PFofA Reunion in Salt Lake City the “history of giving” that retired Board member Aloa Dereta has done for others over the last fifty years, not just in terms of research as a genealogist, but personally for schlepping two Hoveround mobilized chairs to/from the Reunion.
Who is the recorder in your family? What stories do you have to tell? Take time now to share them with our Editor, Connie Rinaldi. We’d love to hear from you.
Joe Frank ‘J.F.’ Purcell
President, Purcell Family of America
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