One experience I had in New York City while on a New England Historical and Genealogical Society sponsored week last May was fascinating and productive but kind of macabre. Consulting with one of the Society professional genealogists, I was expressing my frustration with my inability to document my great great-grandmother’s death. I had tracked her, Catherine Elizabeth (Molyneux) King and her spouse, Joseph B. King, through the census and through city directories as residents of Brooklyn from 1863 through 1892 (other locations earlier). In the 1900 census, Joseph is still there, listed as widowed. Years ago I had written, and paid for, death certificates for various Catherine Kings in New York City within my eight year time frame without any matches.   Later I found Joseph in the Green-Wood Cemetery (Brooklyn) index as having died in 1905 but Catherine was not listed. As “Find-A-Grave” developed, I searched and found Joseph’s gravestone. There, in the picture of his stone, in all its glory, was Catherine’s name and date of death.

But I was still unable to find “real proof”, a death registration or certificate.

Lincoln Funeral Train (from WikiCommons)

Lincoln Funeral Train (from WikiCommons)

I showed my documentation to the NEHGS genealogist while we were at the New York Public Library Main Branch and sputtered a bit. Recalling my maritime merchant ancestor who had died in Peru, I blurted, “The only thing I can think of is she had gone off somewhere before she died.” This would not be in character for the person as I understood her. He looked up, said “Just a minute”, and clicked away on his computer.  Then said “She did die outside of New York”. It turns out that as society, and our government, became aware of the contagious nature of many life threatening diseases, they became concerned with the number of ships and trains carrying the remains of people from other locations into or through New York City. Procedures were developed to document and report details of such transportations to the authorities before the bodies were allowed to enter or even pass through the city. Abraham Lincoln is on the list. The records began in 1859 and continued until 1894. These have been microfilmed and were immediately available to me. My consultant gave me the film number which he had extracted from an index and I trotted down the hall to the microfilm room. There I found the right image for Catherine E. King, her death date, her transport date, the cause of death (Cancer) and her place of death, East Greenwich RI, where her son was living. I’m sure I can now get a certificate.

I don’t know how he found the index for the microfilm, but I later tried FamilySearch, Ancestry, and the NYC library without success. The “German Genealogy Group” site popped up when I simply googled “Bodies in Transit, NYC”. As usual, I had to play with the search engine to find Catherine but I knew she was there. It did not give me all I found on the original record, of course. But I’m still struck by what a curious list of people the Bodies in Transit is and amazed to find someone in my family among them solves a long standing mystery.

Sue R.