When I first started putting my family tree together, my mother’s side had all sorts of information gathered by my uncle and various other Tompkins, Van Syckel and Mount family members. But one line really tested my genealogical mettle: the Tennants. The direct line back was clear, as this simple family chart shows.
However, when I turned the tree around and tried to work out the siblings and other details, I constantly ran into people I had never heard of, and connections I couldn’t quite make. This line is one that I come back to every six months or so to plug in a random search in Google or Ancestry just to see if anything new has come up. I don’t have all the pieces yet and I am not sure I ever will. The family story is that we are Scots-Irish through this line. Thomas Tennant clearly identifies on every census as born in Ireland, and I think I have found a connection to County Carlow. However, the family lived in Jersey City, New Jersey, and I can find no links to the very Irish Catholic community there. In fact, I find that Thomas, and his son George, seem to have distanced themselves from the “Irish element” as much as possible.
Jersey City history fascinates me. From its Dutch settlement in the 17th century, on into the 21st century, the city plays an important role as a conduit through which immigrants first settled, then passed through on their way west. Street names highlight the early Dutch families, Revolutionary heroes and railroad history so central to Jersey City’s place in the 19th century transportation explosion. Although the Tennants appear on the scene at the mid-century point, their story is one of settlement and achievement.
I am going to focus on Thomas and Hannah in this essay, with later essays going into greater detail about their children. That way if people have bits to add, they can do so closest to the person or family.
Thomas Tennant was born in 1824 in Ireland. His naturalization records date his arrival in the US as April 1847 and sometime between then and 1852 he marries Hannah Cardiff (I have yet to find a marriage record but their first child is born in 1853, so…). I find Thomas and Hannah in the Census from 1860 to 1895 (US and NJ census, that is) with Thomas listed as a carpenter first and then a foreman with the railroad from 1870 on. I cannot find either Thomas or Hannah in the 1850 Census, even though I have paged through the Jersey City part of Hudson County one name at a time. Thomas’ city directory entries start in the 1860’s and corroborate the census occupations. He is listed as a member of Hercules Engine No. 3, a fire company formed in 1844, along with several neighbors and I also find him listed as a Mason in the Enterprise Lodge No. 48, of which his son George G. Tennant was also a member. His story is the quintessential “start with nothing and by shear determination build a life”.
I know less about Hannah Tennant ne Cardiff. She appears in records primarily as Thomas’s wife or as the mother of children. Hannah’s New Jersey death certificate gives some interesting details about her: born in Ireland, resided in New Jersey for 45 years by 1896 and parents John and Martha Cardiff. And speaking of children, here was my greatest surprise: Thomas and Hannah appear to have had ten children! Sadly only three survive to adulthood, but the birth and death records have lead me to other records and further insights into the lives of Hannah and Thomas. Initially, I found many of the children listed in Ancestry’s Births and Christenings of New Jersey, but had no idea what records were providing that information. Later, I found that many of their children were baptized and buried through various Episcopal churches in Jersey City.
According to church records, Thomas and Hannah are buried with their infant children in Bayview-New York Bay Cemetery. I intend to visit this December to photograph the stones and see if there are others nearby. I would love to be able to flesh out their story. Their addresses on Newark Ave, Railroad Ave, and finally 4th St. have all drastically changed over the years but I have found images of Railroad Ave contemporary to their lives.
I would also like to know whether Hannah came to this country alone or as part of a family group. Did she come with Thomas? Did they come from the same area in Ireland? I don’t know much about her, but Hannah calls to me. What a struggle of a life she must have lived, so many babies, so many deaths, and yet her son George grew up to be a lawyer and judge and is counted as a force in the development of public education in Jersey City. Others must have other parts of this story and I hope that by writing this, I have created a place where people can add what they know.