Saturday, January 18, 2014

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks = Week #3; Nathaniel Gardner; Telegrapher


This prompt comes from Amy Johnson Crow at her blog, No Story Too Small. She suggests we “write once a week about a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, a research problem — any that focuses on that one ancestor.” Thanks, Amy, for the suggestion!



I have decided to begin with my grandparents and to work back in time to my great grandparents, etc. Here is my maternal grandfather. His parents, Leopold Gartner & Fannie Edelstein, came from Austria. Nathaniel and his siblings were the first generation Americans.


Nathaniel Gardner
21 July 1882 NY – 7 December 1944 NY
My Maternal Grandfather
Nathaniel & Helen Gardner
Nathaniel was born 21 July 1882 in New York City.[1] He was the second child of Leopold Gartner & Fannie Edelstein. His older sister was Florence Gartner Weissberg. His younger siblings were Arthur Moses Gartner, Albert Gartner and Anna Gartner Beaman.

In 1900 the Gartner family was living in Manahattan. Leopold was a tailor and Nathaniel was a telegraph operator.[2] In 1905 the family lived on East 78th Street. Nathaniel and his brother, Moses, were both telegraphers. Older sister, Florence, was a clerk.[3] The children were expected to contribute to the family’s finances.[4]

Nathaniel Gardner worked for the Western Union Telegraph Company for many years. As a boy he was a delivery boy, taking telegrams to customers. The telegraph was the first device to send messages by electricity. Telegraph messages were sent by tapping out a message with a telegraph key. Morse code was used to send the messages over the wire. As a telegrapher, Nathaniel earned the nickname ‘Sparks.’ The telegraph key that he used is still in the family. At times he would leave the Western Union for other jobs, but he would always return.[5]

At times Nathaniel worked as a telegraph operator on a freighter. The boat would leave from New York Harbor for California. When Nathaniel was 25 he was on a freighter that arrived off the coast of San Francisco on the 21 April 1906. This was just three days after the famous San Francisco Earthquake. [6] The earthquake shook the city at 5:13 a.m. on 18 April 1906. Fires broke out all over the city.  Broken water mains made it impossible to put out the fires. Three thousand people died in the disaster and 250,000 people lost their homes. Most of the city, more than 28,000 buildings, lay in ruins. [7]  When the freighter arrived off shore three days later, the city was still in flames. Imagine what a sight Nathan saw from the deck of the ship.
In 1910 the family was at 56 West 118th Street [8] Leopold was 56 and widowed. Moses, Albert and Anna, all single, were living with their father. Moses was working as a telegrapher at a telegraph company; Albert G. was working as a salesman at a dry goods store; and  Anna was without a job.[9] Nathaniel lived on his own. He was a lodger at 290 West 147th Street and an operator at a telegraph company.[10]

The US Congress declared war on Germany on 1 April 1917. In 1918 Congress passed the Selective Service Act that provided for a draft of men between the ages of 21 and 31.[11] Draft records show that Nathaniel Gardner was a telegrapher at the Western Union Telegraph Company. He was of medium height and build, with brown eyes and black hair.[12] Nathaniel did not serve in the War, probably because of his asthma.

In the year 1920 another federal census was taken. On 15 January 1920 the Gartner family was still 234 West 120th Street with Leopold as head of the household and three adult children living with him. Nathaniel, Moses and Anna were all single and all telegraph operators.[13] Nathaniel’s mother had died before the census. His brother, Albert, died soon after.

By this time Nathaniel was the manager of a Western Union branch. One of his employees was a young woman named Helen Coyle. He flirted with her and left flowers on her desk. She was the oldest child of Michael Coyle & Mary Josephine Mullane, both born in Ireland. There were many reasons they should not have made a good couple; the big difference in their ages and their religions. They walked together in Central Park. They went out on a rowboat in the lake in the park. In 1921, despite their families’ objections, they went to City Hall and were married.[14] Both families disowned them. 

In 1925 Nathaniel & Helen were living on Mt. Eden Street in the Bronx. Both Helen and Nathaniel were both telegraphers.[15] They wanted a family but no child appeared for several years. Alberta Joy Gardner was born 26 March 1928. She was named for her paternal uncle, Albert Gartner who had died a few years before her birth.[16] Once she was born Helen stayed at home with her daughter. In 1930 they were living at 1527 Plymouth Avenue in the Bronx.[17]

In 1940 Nathaniel, Helen & Joy were at 2856 East 197th Street, Bronx.[18] In 1941 Nathaniel’s doctor strongly suggested he needed country air to improve his health. He still had asthma and his heart was not good. The Gardners bought a small house in Columbia County, NY. Nathaniel had a small apartment in NY City and took the train north on the weekends. He was ready to retire. However, circumstances changed. World War II was declared. Telegrams were important methods of communication and Nathaniel was needed to continue working.[19]

On 7 December 1944 Nathaniel was home with his wife. He told her he was feeling tired and he went upstairs to have a nap. When Helen checked on him she discovered that his heart had given out.[20] From the front yard of their little house you can see the country cemetery was he was buried.

I have always wished I could have met Nathaniel. Family stories tell me he loved to laugh. He did magic tricks for children. He liked to spoil his daughter and I was always sure he would have done the same for me, his only granddaughter.

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[1] New York State Operator's License; 1923-1924; New York State Tax Commission; #272036; In poss of Colleen G. Pasquale, Averill Park, NY; "Nathan Gardner", 216 Mt. Eden Ave., NYC. Born 1882.
[2] 1900 Federal Census, Manhattan, NY; 1900; Vol.169, E.D. 804, Sheet 16; Line 64; New York State Library, Albany, NY; Gartner family at 445 East 83rd St., Manhattan.
[3] 1905 New York State Census, New York County, Manhattan; ED 13, AD 30, Block A, Page 8; Louis Gardner family on East 87th Street.
[4] Interviews with Alberta J Gardner Brown, daughter of Nathaniel; conducted by Colleen G Brown Pasquale.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Interviews with Alberta J. Gardner Brown.
[7] World Book Encyclopedia, Volume 17 (Chicago: World Book, Inc. 1990), 97 - 98.
[8] New York City Directory, 1910, NY Genealogical & Biological Society Record Search, 4 April 1996, 122 E 58th St, NY, NY.
[9] 1910 US Census, NYS, New York City, Manhattan; SD 1, ED 491, Sheet 4B. Leopold Gardner family at 58 West 118th Street.
[10] 1910 US Census, NYS, New York City, Manhattan; DS 1, ED 514, Sheet 1B. Nathan Gardner at 290 West 147th Street.
[11] Trager, James. The New York Chronology. New York: HarperResource, 2003.
[12] “World War I Draft Registration for Nathan Gardner,” September 1918, Draft Board 169.  Ancestry.com (online database) Provo, Utah.  National Archives and Records Administration, M1509, Roll 1787087, Washington, D.C.
[13] 1920 US Census, NY, New York City, Vol. 280, E.D. 1319, Sheet 14, Lines 26-29; NYS Library, Albany, NY. Leopold Gartner family at 234 West 120th St.
[14] Marriage License for Nathaniel Gardner and Helen Coyle, #13781, 9 May 1921, New York Dept of Health, County of New York, Division of Vital Statistics.
[15] New York State Census 1925; AD2, ED56, p. 51. Address:  217 Mt. Eden Avenue, Bronx. Nat Gardner.
[16] Birth Certificate for Alberta Joy Gardner, 26 March 1928, #4709, State of New York, City of New York, Depart of Health.
[17] 1930 United States Census.  ED3-400; Sheet 14B; New York City: Bronx; 1527 Plymouth Avenue; the Nathaniel Gardner family.
[18] 1940 US Census, New York State, Bronx, SD 24, ED 3 - 814, Sheet 11B. Nathan Gardner at 2856 East 197th Street.
[19] US WWII Draft Registration card serial #682; Nathan Gardner, age 60.
[20] Transcript from the Register of Deaths, #9; 1944; Public Registrar, Germantown, Columbia Co., NY; Nathan Gardner, d. 7 December 1944. Age 62, b. 21 July 1882 in NYC.

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