Thursday, February 4, 2010

My Fantastical Family History

Searching through some old family albums, I came across several wonderful turn of the century portraits. As I find time I will post some on this blog and include any information about the subject I can.

Pictured here: Daniel John McCroskey,  Margaret Edin-McCroskey, Alden McCroskey, Anna (Pip) McCroskey and Alphonse the dog

I have been able to ascertain, based on disparate family stories that, sometime just before 1900, this quaint family unit emigrated from Scotland to Staten Island. Their first two years in the States found them living in squalor and nearly starving.

Daniel had attempted to find work bussing tables in the emerging industry of diners, only to learn that most of the diners on Staten Island had already relocated to the more lucrative area of Northern New Jersey.

Now, I was told that for at least two winters the children's shoes doubled as their food bowls. Some may find it a bit depressing that children would have to eat out of a shoe, but it actually wasn't all that uncommon and doctors of the time actually recommended the practice to nursing mothers. I believe it had something to do with the idea that leather held some medicinal property. Also, the laces added fiber.

Anna, who also went by Pip or Maggie May and sometimes Lisa, was able to find work sewing wool hats (or Scottish wigs) from the sleeves of surplus civil war era army coats. She would sell the hats to migrant workers as they made the voyage between Staten Island and New Jersey on their way to Woodbridge. It was Anna who would be the breadwinner for the family during those first two years. She also took up cigar smoking and price gouging.

Young Alden, also found some work where he could. Because he was young and unskilled, Alden would often find work as a billiard ball retriever. My grandmother explained that her grandmother had once told her that originally the pockets of the billiard table didn't have a way to catch the balls as they fell. A tavern owner would hire a boy from the street to chase down the errant balls and return them to the man who made the shot. When outdoor tables became popular a billiard retriever may have to chase a loose ball several blocks before it came to rest in a gutter or worse. Eventually tables began to be built with a leather webbing below the pockets and put an end to the billiard ball retriever.

Between the accounts of my grandmother, two of my great aunts, my father, and some distant cousins; I wasn't able to get too far past this point in the story. The accounts started to seriously contradict each other and a shouting match almost came to blows.

Here is the remainder of the information I have:

Either Daniel ended up becoming a fire fighter or joining the military as a nurse. Margaret may or may not have gone on to birth an additional five children. Apparently the family completely lost track of Anna after she was deported back to Scotland for burning down a brownstone. Alden either opened a Scottish immigrant buffet or moved to Ohio and died in a row boating accident on Lake Erie, or both.

I would have liked to learn more of this part of my family's past, but I am happy (and a bit confused) to know this much.


  1. So, now I know where all of the surliness comes from. ;) Good story.

  2. When are you going to tell the story of Uncle Aldus Brandon? Wasn't he the one who opened the magic shop after earned all that money selling elixirs?

  3. Oh wait, maybe he was just the weird one with the pet raccoon.

  4. Aldus is coming up. I don't want to unload all of the good ones at once.