My family history is Buffalo history. All eight of my great-grandparents lived in Buffalo, including my Great-Grandma Scurr, who is among the children in this Doyle family photo taken in Glasgow, Scotland.
Aside from Scotland, my great-grandparents came from Pennsylvania, Poland, and England. One branch of my family tree stretches back to Buffalo in the 1820s, and a seventh-great aunt was among the first babies baptized at St. Louis Roman Catholic church back in 1829, when the church was still a log cabin.
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My ol’man used to (somewhat proudly) tell the story about how he got suspended from South Park High School for ditching class to go see Lyndon Johnson speak in Niagara Square.
LBJ and Lady Bird with Buffalo Mayor Frank Sedita and New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller in Buffalo in 1966.In the 40 years or so I’ve had to let that story sink in, I think I have two takeaways.
The first is… When common sense dictates breaking a rule, do it. (There was nothing being taught at SPHS that day that could compete with seeing a President.)
The second is… common sense also dictates that you do your best to find an amiable solution to the breaking the rule. I’ve done plenty of things like skipping class to go see the President… but not while giving the finger to the guy who will paddle my ass and suspend me for doing it.
So thanks Dad and LBJ for the life lessons on this President’s Day.
There’s a full kitchen a few doors down from my office, and someone left the tea kettle to boil and walked away.
It was going for two or three minutes before I got up to shut it off… I felt like I was back at Grandma Cichon’s house, where a lot of times it felt like I was the only one who heard the kettle going.
By the time I made it down to the kitchen just now, I was thinking back to taking similar steps towards a whistling kettle to make a couple of cups of awful instant coffee for Gramps and me… so we could sit and talk with Lawrence Welk or Stan Jasinski playing in the background.
“Perfect. Thanks son,” Gramps would say to any cup of coffee, knowing that it was made with love.
This Hertel Avenue litter triggered an instant memory flashback:
Hey Steve-o, here’s a couple bucks. Go to the store and get your ol’man a pack of smokes. Your grandmother, too. And get yourself a candy bar, ok?
Even at 6 years old, Dad didn’t have to tell me to get him Parliament 100s or Grandma Kools.
There was never a note that I remember… and never a problem so long as I went to the corner deli and got the right brand of smokes. ( I tried to buy Marlboro for an uncle once and they literally chased me out of the store. Hahahaha.)
That was Grandma Cichon with the Kools.
Grandma Coyle, like my dad, smoked Parliaments. But the only thing she’d send us to B-Kwik for regularly was rolls for dinner.
Sometimes we’d stay late at Grandma Coyle’s house, and we’d take our baths there.
Sometimes, Grandma Coyle would have a beer– in an old school pint glass just like this one– while reclining on the couch watching TV.
It fills my heart even now to think about walking into the living room on Hayden Street in our pajamas, and seeing Grandma smiling as we walked in, all freshly scrubbed.
She smiled every time we walked into a room… and if that isn’t the greatest thing ever.
I’m so glad I decided to have a beer tonight– and that it took me to this story.
It’s been 22 years now– and sad for me to think about the fact that I’ve been without Grandma Cichon longer than the time we were here together. But there’s happiness, too, of course…
After helping raise her six brothers and sisters, ten kids and a million nieces, nephews, and random kids from the neighborhood by the time she got to me– she had an incredible way of finding the thing she could help develop in a person and quietly make an impact.
When I was 6 or 7, she saw something in me that displayed a love of Buffalo History– and gave me a wonderful Buffalo historical photo-filled magazine (which of course I still have– I’m a pack rat just like her.)
More than just a love of history and the past, Grandma loved what was new and exciting, too. She took us kids on the bus from South Buffalo to Hertel Avenue for the first year of the Italian Festival in its new location there.
She took us (again on the bus) to the “new show” when the new downtown movie theaters opened. Of course, her handbag was filled with cans of Faygo pop and that cheap waxy candy from D&K.
When I was 8 or 9 and started sneaking up to watch Johnny Carson’s monologue, she was the only person I knew who also watched Carson, so she was the only one I could talk to about all the great jokes. It was Grandma Cichon who suggested that I might like David Letterman, too… Even though I was in fifth grade and his show started at 12:30am.
Uncovering Buffalo’s history and trying to make people smile are the very foundation of who I am– in no small part thanks to Grandma Cichon. But it’s not just me, it’s dozens of people, and the people they’ve since touched.
She was really tough, and definitely not the type to tell you that you were a special snowflake. But even better, she saw what was special in you, and without pomp, circumstance, or self-congratulation, she helped you cultivate it, whether you realized it or not.
What would have been her 90th birthday comes up on July 4th. She remains a definitive example of The Greatest Generation and a definitive example of a wonderful grandma.
I will never forget the satisfied, heart-filled smile Gramps gave me when I told him that I cleaned up his parents’ grave. I didn’t know it, but not being able to tend to his family’s graves was one of the things that weighed on him when he was in a nursing home, the last of ten siblings still alive.
“You’re a good guy for doing that, son,” Gramps said to me. It rang in my ears and filled my heart today when I stopped by the cemetery to look after my great-grandparents’ grave, and the graves of Gramps’ brothers who died in childhood.
Roman was hit by a truck and killed, Czesław (Chester) had Leukemia and died at three months old. Chester didn’t have a stone– they couldn’t afford one– Gramps’ older brothers cast a cross in concrete, which eventually wore down and was toppled. But he was right next to the fence, Gramps said. There are other makeshift headstones nearby which survive.
It’s deeply gratifying to honor my grandfather by honoring his parents and brothers.
March 28th was Palm Sunday eight years ago– I remember because during the 3am hour, Dad had a heart attack in his hospital bed at the VA, and despite the best efforts of the ICU team, he died. That’s him, by the way, on the left with his older brothers Mike “Hooker” Doyle and Chuck Cichon.
I knew the moment my ol’man left. I wasn’t there, but something woke me up from a sound sleep in the middle of the night and instantly, with something like an electrical pulse of knowledge, I just knew. It was knowledge that was filled with peace and light and beauty, but as I started to think about it, it made me terribly sad.
Thinking it was some kind of dream, I calmed myself down and fell back asleep, just in time for the phone to ring at 4:11am, with mom telling me to get to the hospital. I was the first to get there, and they told me they tried for 20 minutes but couldn’t bring him back.
I later figured out that his official time of death minus the time they spent working on him was the exact time I popped up awake in bed. Dad was gone and it was terribly sad, but also filled with peace and light and beauty.
It’s beyond current human understanding how or why the universe let me know dad was gone, and that everything was OK… but you can’t be the same after something like that, experiencing some connection to the great beyond.
I’m really just fine with not understanding it.. and just knowing that my ol’man’s soul and who his was lives on in me until I breathe my last breath.
It also leaves me knowing that somewhere in time and space, on a plane that’s just outside our human grasp, my ol’man is waiting for me with a big smile, some cheap whiskey, and some thoughts on Donald Trump.
Having recently spent an afternoon going through family history with my mom’s older brother, my uncle Jim Coyle, there were plenty of wonderful, flashy items.
The dog tags (and attached Miraculous medal) Great-Grandpa Wargo wore as an Aviation Metalsmith 3rd Class in the Pacific during World War II.
Photos of Great-Grandpa Wargo’s parents’ wedding in 1906.
Photos of Great-Grandma Wargo’s grandparents, John Prentiss and Mary Greiner, outside their East Side Buffalo home in the 1910s. The spot is now covered by the Buffalo/Niagara Medical campus.
What looks to be a Kindergarten photo of my grandmother, June Wargo Coyle. It was instantly one of my favorite photos of her.
Not quite as flashy, a six-page letter, written in long hand, by an older Coyle cousin with information meant for young genealogist uncle Jim Coyle in 1971.
Mary Coyle was my great grandfather Coyle’s first cousin. She was born in 1906, and spent the early part of her life living among our ancestors and extended family in Pennsylvania coal country.
It was another Coyle cousin– Ceil Gallagher– who reached out to Mary on Jim’s behalf. Ceil lived in the Marine Drive Apartments, and the first couple of pages of Mary’s letter is the good, old fashioned kind of long hand letter that people don’t write anymore– complete with complaints about troubles with legs and invitations to come visit. “We have plenty of room,” writes Mary to Ceil.
Then there are several generations of the Coyle family tree, almost certainly (and perfectly) rendered from Mary’s memory… people who would have been Grandpa Coyle’s great-aunts and great uncles and their children and grandchildren.
Good ol’Mary couldn’t have imagined it writing nearly 50 years ago, but her longhand family tree helps close the gaps with several fourth and fifth cousins with whom I share DNA according to ancestry.com’s DNA test– but with whom I could not find a common ancestor (until now.)
My favorite part of the letter (and probably ol’Mary’s favorite part to write) is the last page.
Her handwriting shrinks in size as she shares distant fuzzy memories of long ago trips with her dad to visit aunts and cousins. At one point she admits, “I think I am the only one who knows anything about our relations.”
John Coyle (c.1849-1908) came to Pennsylvania from Ireland around 1861 and married Mary Dugan around 1865. Those immigration and marriage years are based soley upon data in the 1900 census.) Up until Mary’s letter, the information on census reports and this death certificate are all that I’ve known about John Coyle’s history.
He came to the US at a point when records weren’t kept as well as they would be in years to come. The fact that John Coyle is a common name doesn’t help. We can’t be sure when or through where he immigrated, or where in Ireland he came from.
But once he was here, the John Coyle family lived in and around the coal towns of Carbondale, Mayfield, and Jermyn in Lackawanna County. According to the 1880 census, their son Andrew was born in New Jersey– they clearly moved a lot, to where ever the mining jobs were.
There were seven boys in the family, and those boys worked jobs in the mines just like their father– things like breaking up larger chunks of coal and leading the donkeys pulling the carts of coal. They eventually moved about an hour’s drive south to Beaver Meadows in Carbon County. Some of the family also eventually wound up in the larger cities of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, which are in between these clusters of towns.
Mary Coyle writes what she knows about her grandfather’s sister.
In what was new information to me, Mary writes that John Coyle had a sister– who was known as Biddy, Fanny, or Frances. She married a man named Gallagher and had two kids. Margaret married Sherman Tompkins and Charles married Jennie Keating.
Searches on ancestry.com show many of Fanny/Frances Coyle-Gallagher’s descendants have traced their lineage back to her, but none have connected Fanny and John as brother and sister.
Like John, Fanny came to the US from Ireland. But she came a few years later– and already married, which makes her easier to trace.
Fanny Coyle was married to John Gallagher in Gweedore, County Donegal, on 22 Feb 1870– there were a few people who linked that information from a list at donegalgenealogy.com. The names look like other names that pop up with the Coyles– Gallaghers, McGees, Duggan, etc, which is another good sign that it’s the right place to look.
There are a few trees which mention Fanny Coyle-Gallagher, but appear to trace back the wrong Patrick Coyle as her father. Based on the dates alone, they have the wrong guy.
One ancestry.com member– Edward O’Donnell Neary– seems to have some good information from somewhere, perhaps from a family bible or other source that has been handed down. His tree has Fanny’s father as John Patrick Coyle, born 21 March 1824 in County Donegal, Ireland and died March 1894 in Dunfanaghy, County Donegal. The good news there, is he also has Fanny’s mother as Cecila McGee– the name that matches John Coyle’s Pennsylvania death certificate.
I’m reaching out to him to see where he got this information from, and to share the information that I’ve been working with.
Mary goes onto explain that her grandfather John must have had another brother or cousin, because she remembers visiting Mrs. Malloy and Charlie Coyle who both lived on Kidder Street in Wilkes-Barre.
She’s right once again. Charles J. Coyle and Isabelle “Bella” Coyle-Malloy were two of the six children of Andrew Coyle and Mary O’Donnell-Coyle.
At this point, given the facts presented in Mary’s letter, it’s clear this group of Coyles is related. What isn’t clear, is how they are related. To figure that out, we’ll have to learn more about Andrew, like his death date– with the hopes of finding his death certificate, which should give his parents’ names.
Mary visited Mrs. Turnbaugh(?) in Beaver Meadows, whom she believed to be her fathers’ aunt. This is the only lead that doesn’t bear any immediate fruit. The only Turnbaugh woman of the proper age in Carbon County was born in England. This needs further research.
She also remembers visiting Celia O’Donnell and the McGees in McAdoo, PA. McGee is John Coyle’s mother’s maiden name, and there are several McGee/Coyle marriages of people in McAdoo, but no solid connections without further investigation.
One final note on ancient Coyle history came in the beginning part of the letter. For all the she remembered about John Coyle’s relatives, she didn’t know anything about his wife– my great-great Grandmother– Mary Duggan Coyle.
“It never dawned on me that I don’t know anything about my grandmother’s side. I can’t recall ever hearing anything about her, except all the neighbors used to speak of her as a wonderful person.”
Because Mary Coyle sat down and wrote a letter 50 years ago, hundreds of her cousins all over the world are closer to understanding a little more about where we’ve come from.
In 1900, my third great uncle, Patrick Norton, was a grain scooper (or as the 1900 census has it, Longshoreman, grain) who lived above the Swannie House, 170 Ohio Street, First Ward, Buffalo, USA.
This 1920s photo of the Swannie is from The Buffalo History Museum via The Public.
His father, Miles Norton, came to the First Ward from Ireland to work in in the grain elevators and along the docks. He died in 1883 at the age of 45.
The Norton family lived a few blocks away in a tenement building at 64 Chicago Street.
Patrick’s sister, my great-great grandmother, Bridget Norton, married a seaman from Prescott, Ontario named Thomas Slattery. Slattery eventually became captain of the Juniata, one of William “Fingy” Conner’s Great Lakes passenger steam ships of the Great Lakes Transit line.
Slattery lived at 26 Indian Church Road, one house from Seneca Street behind Babe Boyce (now Hong Kong Kitchen.)