Saturday, January 25, 2014

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks = Week #4; Helen Coyle; My Nana

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 grandmother, my much loved Nana.


Helen F (Coyle) Gardner
9 January 1897 NY – 13 October 1965 NY
My Maternal Grandmother
The Gardner Family
Helen was born[1] and lived most of her life in New York City. She was the daughter of MichaelCoyle & Mary Josephine Mullane. Helen was the oldest of seven children. Her siblings were: Francis, Marion, Marguerite, Thomas, Lillian & Kathleen.

In 1900 the Michael Coyle family was living at 159 113th Street, Manhattan. Michael was a baker.[2] The Coyle family was renting a home on Third Avenue in 1910 when the U. S. Census was taken again.  Michael was 39 and Mary 38.  He was listed as a baker in a bakery. Four children were at home: Helen, 13; Marion, 10; Margaret, 8; and Thomas, 7 years old. [3]

My Nana, Helen Coyle Gardner, used to tell me many stories about the adventures of the five Coyle sisters. To me the stories of these sisters were wonderful, magical tales that would transport me back in time to the streets of New York City.  Perhaps it is the Coyle sisters’ same love of storytelling that impels me to share these stories. Here is one of those stories.

New York City was divided into neighborhoods. The Coyles lived in an Irish neighborhood. One day the girls were invited to visit a friend who lived in ‘Little Italy’. Helen, Marion and Margie brushed their hair, put on their best frocks, and set out for a nice visit. Their friend was glad to see them. She introduced the girls to her family and invited them to sit in the parlor. Parlors were living rooms that were used only for company and special occasions. Everything was kept neat and clean and children were not allowed to play there. The sisters felt like young ladies being entertained in the parlor. Conversations with the family were difficult. The Coyle sisters could not understand their girlfriend’s parents who spoke only Italian. The girls smiled, nodded and relied on their friend to translate. The sisters were always on their best behavior.

In Italian tradition, the girls were each given a small pretty glass with wine in it. They smiled and took the beverage but when they realized it was wine they were shocked. The Irish girls were never allowed to drink wine. At their house a guest would be given tea. They whispered together trying to decide what to do.  They did not want to insult their friend by refusing to drink the wine. But they knew their friend’s parents would be upset if they did drink it. Marion had an idea. They waited till their hosts were out of the room. The girls were seated on a sofa in front of a large picture window. It seemed like the perfect solution. At the right time they flung the wine at the window - but - my Great Aunt Marion laughed as she told me - the window was closed!  It was so clean it just looked open! The sisters would laugh in later years as they remembered their adventure. [4]

In 1910[5] and 1915[6] the Michael Coyle family rented an apartment on Third Avenue in Manhattan. The children lived at home and went to school. In 1920 they were living at 223 E 113th Street in Manhattan.[7]

Helen found a job at the Western Union Telegraph Company where she earned $12 a week.  She had to bring her pay home to their mother who kept $11 and let Helen keep $1 a week.[8] Her boss was NathanielGardner who had worked for the Western Union since he was a delivery boy. He flirted with Helen, teased her and gave her flowers. On 9 May 1921 Helen & Nathaniel Gardner were married.[9] Helen continued to work until their only child was born. Alberta Joy Gardner was born 26 March 1928 in the Bronx.[10]

In 1940 the Gardners were living at 2856 East 197th Street in the Bronx. Nathaniel was still working at Western Union and Joy was going to school.[11] Nathaniel was not well and his doctor said his health would improve if he would move to the country. In 1941 the Gardners bought a house in Columbia Co., NY. Nathaniel worked in NY City and took the train north on weekends. He planned to retire and live in the country full time but World War II began and telegraphs were important for communication so he kept working. On 7 December 1944 Nathaniel died. Helen and Joy were heartbroken. They decided to stay in the country rather than return to New York City.

Helen, who had been a city girl, learned about country life. She raised chickens, planted a vegetable garden and learned the names of all the birds around her house. She raised her daughter alone and they always remained very close.

Helen died 13 October 1965.[12] She was buried beside her husband with a stone that simply says: Mother. Her love and laughter are still missed today.




[1] Certificate and Record of Birth; 1897; City of NY Depart of Health, State of NY, Manhattan, #2566; Nellie Coyle, born 9 Jan 1897.
[2] 1900 Federal Census Soundex, Manhattan; 1900; Vol.178, E.D. 930, Sheet 2; Line 72; NY State Library, Box 106; NOTES: 159, 113th Street, Manhattan; Michael Coyle family.
[3] 1910 US Census, Third Ave, Ward 12, Manhattan, NY City, NY, S. D. 1, E. D. 330, Sheets 16 A & B. Michael Coyle family.
[4] Family Stories told by Helen Coyle Gardner and Marion Coyle McCall, to Colleen G. Brown Pasquale, in the 1960’s.
[5] 1910 US Census, New York, New York, Manhattan, Ward 12, Third Avenue; SD 1, ED 330, Sheets 16 A & B.
Michael Coyle family.
[6] 1915 NYS Census, New York City, ED 9, AD 28, block 1, pages 2, 3; Michael Coyle family at 2033 Third Avenue.
[7] 1920 Federal Census, New York City; 1920; Vol.279, E.D.1292, Sheet 18; Line 70; New York State Library; NOTE: 223 E.113th Street, Manhattan. The Michael Coyles.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Marriage License #13781, NYS Dept. of Health; 1921; County of New York, Division of Vital Stats; Nathaniel Gardner and Helen Frances Coyle, May 9, 1921.
[10] Birth Certificate for Alberta Joy Gardner, 26 March 1928, #4709, State of New York, City of New York, Department of Health.
[11] 1940 US Census, New York State, Bronx, SD 24, ED 3 - 814, Sheet 11B. Nathan Gardner at 2856 East 197th Street.
[12] Transcript from the Register of Deaths, #261; 1965; Registrar of Vital Stats., City of Hudson, Columbia Co., New York; Helen Gardner, d. 13 October 1965.

1 comment:

  1. A beautiful collection of stories! Oh, if only we could do a little time travel to be there when the wine hit the window. Whose reaction would have been more shocking, more funny -- the girls' or the parents'?

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