Thursday, February 6, 2020

Finding Black Sheep in Your Family

In the 1950s Leon Nutes was at his mother-in-law’s New York City apartment when a stranger came knocking. Nutes recalled that the man’s handshake was a firm as steel. “Who is he?” he asked. In a hushed tone, his mother-in-law explained, “He’s a cousin of mine and he just got out of jail.”
     Nutes told of this encounter years later in a phone call to Carl R. Migden, a distant cousin who was researching the family tree. Bronx-born Migden learned that the “jail” was the infamous maximum-security prison Sing Sing. And the cousin released from there was Jacob “Kuppy” Migden, a member of the criminal organization known as Crime, Inc.
Kuppy’s criminal activities—an embarrassment to the family—were a long-held family secret. “It was the most fascinating genealogical research I ever undertook,” says Carl R. Migden, who wrote of the quest to uncover his criminal kinsman’s hidden story for a book entitled A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding Black Sheep in Your Family.
In the 165-page paperback, published in 2016, author Migden gives advice about the sources available for research while detailing his own success with the clues and leads from newspapers, hospitals, cemeteries, courthouses, state archives, the Social Security Administration, municipal archives, census, prisons, U.S. Treasury Department, and the FBI.
    In newspapers, for instance, the author found more than 20 articles about Kuppy Migden’s involvement in a first-degree murder case in 1939. An order to assassinate a would-be court witness from testifying in a racketeering case led to mistaken identity and the shooting death of the wrong man. Kuppy unsuccessfully attempted to thwart arrest by having his face surgically altered. When he was apprehended, federal agents found Kuppy had planned to conceal his identity with a falsified birth certificate and other documents.
“I discovered the very interesting and rich details that criminal records can reveal… It put faces and images onto the pages of genealogical notes: precise dates, times, locations, buildings, allegations, and more,” says Kuppy’s cousin-turned-sleuth, Carl R. Migden.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding Black Sheep in Your Family may be ordered online for $15.95 plus shipping from eBay:

Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Mysterious Woman Upstairs

In November 1915 Mary Connor purchased a large two-story home in the small town of Newmarket, New Hampshire. Mary and her sister, Annie, moved there from their farmhouse two miles away. The middle-aged, unmarried sisters were soon joined by a reclusive older woman, a stranger to townsfolk. George Bennett, the sisters’ former neighbor, would often drop by their new house for a visit. As Bennett recalled, “that lady living with them would instantly slip away and disappear upstairs.”
The mysterious lady was sometimes seen—dressed in black—stepping outside the house briefly but only at night. From a second-floor bedroom closet, the mysterious lady had a hidden staircase built that descended to the back of the house. She made a strange, cryptic remark to one of the Connor sisters of her inevitable fear that “one night they will come for me.”
Mail carrier Robert Bennett (brother to the sisters’ former neighbor, George Bennett) knew the name of the mysterious lady living with the Connor sisters, because he delivered letters addressed to her. She was Emma Borden, the estranged sister of Lizzie Borden who was acquitted of the 1892 axe murders of her wealthy father and stepmother in Fall River, Massachusetts. Emma’s New Hampshire residence was nearly 130 miles away from Fall River.
This story, from Frank Spiering’s Lizzie: The Story of Lizzie Borden (New York: Dorsett Press, 1984), pp. 219-222, says Emma moved into the Connors’ home in 1916. However, in Lizzie Borden: Past & Present (Fall River: Al-Zach Press, 1999), pp. 312-313, author Leonard Rebello notes the appearance of Emma’s name in Fall River directories during 1914 to 1918. She then moved to an apartment in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1919. Annie Connor later told a newspaper reporter that Emma moved into her home in 1923.
What caused Emma to relocate to the small New Hampshire town? Why did she live in fear?
While Spiering speculates Emma chose Newmarket because of its remoteness, Rebello’s book (p. 314) points to a 1981 newspaper article in which Louis Fillon recalled that while delivering grain to the Connor house, he learned that Emma Borden was living there. “He was requested by Emma’s lawyer to keep his discovery a secret to prevent Lizzie from finding Emma’s whereabouts and taking her money.” Annie Connor was surprised that Fillon discovered the mysterious lady’s identity.
In Lizzie: The Story of Lizzie Borden (p. 224), Spiering tells of Emma’s being awakened at night after hearing a noise on the first floor. She came down the concealed staircase to investigate but missed her footing and fell, breaking her hip. She died on June 10, 1927, nine days following the death of her sister, Lizzie.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

When walking with Mrs. Fitzpatrick after 9 p.m. could get you arrested

In Stephenville, Texas, in the late 1890s, any man seen walking with Mrs. Mary Fitzpatrick after 9 p.m. could be arrested and fined. Why? Because city penal code made it a misdemeanor for any male over 14 caught strolling the streets or riding in a vehicle with a known prostitute. Mrs. Fitzpatrick was one such character.

In December 1896, six men were arrested for taking night-time strolls with the strumpet.