The Mysterious George Cardiff

I found George Cardiff in the 1870 Census in Jersey City living at the same address as Thomas Tennant.  At first, I didn’t even notice him.  I wasn’t looking for him, I had actually just found Thomas after quite a search (he’s indexed as Tannant).  Thomas Tennant was married to a Hannah Cardiff, but I know very little about Hannah.  In searching for other Cardiff’s in Jersey City, I was curious about this George. There is a fifteen year age difference between Hannah and George, which could make them siblings, cousins or completely unrelated.


George Cardiff (b. 1815, Ireland) appears in the 1870 Census with his wife Jane (b. 1814, Scotland) and two little girls, Emily Jane (b. 1844, New York) and Mary (b. 1847, New York).  The records of the Emigrant Savings Bank account that he opened in 1864 provide a treasure trove of information about George.  The Emigrant Savings Bank is the oldest savings bank in New York City, founded in 1850 by members of the Irish Emigrant Society.  Their records reside at the New York Public Library and have been digitized.  In these records George opens an account in February 1864 and his entry notes that he is living at 420 Atlantic Ave in Brooklyn where he is employed as a porter.  The record also states that his birth year is 1815 and that he was born in County Carlow, Ireland.  George arrived in 1841 on the St. Martin and is married to Jane Bain, with two daughters, Emily and Mary.  In 1882, the record is amended to allow access to Mary Cardiff, born 1847 daughter of George and Margaret Baker.



Much of the information in the bank record can be corroborated in other records.  George Cardiff appears on the passenger list of the St. Martin, arriving in New York harbor on 23 June 1841.  An M. Baker also appears on that list and this may be George’s first wife, Margaret Baker.  George and Margaret join the First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn in 1843, with the still confusing notation on page 2 of that record that says dismissed 16 May 1855 to Presbyterian Church of Davenport Iowa.  This cannot be corroborated but the notation about Margaret’s death on 20 February 1849 can be.  George marries Jane Bain (b. 1814, Scotland) on 23 April 1850.  Margaret is alive for the baptism of Emily Jane at the 1st Presbyterian Church on 14 May 1847 but not for Mary’s baptism which appears to be delayed by Margaret’s illness.  Mary’s baptismal record notes her mother’s name as Margaret but her middle name is entered as Bain.

Although George Cardiff and family appear in both the 1850 and 1860 Census in Brooklyn, by 1866 they are living at 83 Railroad Avenue in the same house as the Tennants.  This could be due to George needing to find work.  Through city directories and census records his job changes from porter to clerk to porter to signalman.  Interestingly, both George and daughter Mary are in Jersey City when she is added to the Emigrant Savings Bank account although she is at 107 Sussex St and he is living at 66 Sussex.  Unfortunately, they are not living at these addresses in the 1880 Census and do not appear in any index.  George Cardiff appears to have retired by 1890, as he appears in the West New Brighton city directory living with his son in law Edward D. Clark and daughter Emily Jane.  A death notice gives his death date as 27 October 1895, and notes his burial at Moravian Cemetery in Richmond.


While it is possible that George Cardiff and Hannah Cardiff Tennant are not related in any way, there are too many points of contact throughout their lives to rule out a connection.  What that connection is, remains to be seen.

Emily Jane marries Edward Dodge Clark on 26 September 1876, setting up housekeeping in Castleton, on Staten Island.  They have two sons, George Morton Clark (b. 1878) and Herbert Congdon Clark (1882-1937).  The Clark line continues through George M. with two sons, Raymond Dodge Clark (1906-1988) and Donald Elias Clark (1915-2009).  Perhaps the children of Raymond D. Clark and Grace Lillian Bertsch have evidence of their great-great-grandfather, George Cardiff.

One document or piece of evidence may be all that is needed to solve the mystery of George Cardiff.

My Tennant conundrum

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 visited the cemetery and found the monument in the section “O.”  There is one monument for the entire family, with Thomas and Hannah listed on the front, the children on the left side and what appear to be Thomas’ parents listed on the right.  The cemetery office has a burial record for Thomas’s mother Eliza (Elizabeth), but no burial for Robert.  It may be that he is not buried in the United States.


Thomas and Hannah lived at addresses on Newark Ave, Railroad Ave, and finally 4th St., all of which have 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 already attached to (married to) 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.


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