Mary Jane Anderson did not die twice. Tell that to the doctor who completed two New York City death certificates for her in 1881. The story of her death (or deaths) is for another day. The records prompted a research tangent that will benefit those with New York City ancestors.
It started when I sought a New York City Sanitary Code section referenced on the death certificates.
- “The Physician who attended any person in a last illness is responsible for the presentation of this Certificate, accurately filled out, to the BUREAU OF VITAL STATISTICS, within 36 HOURS after said person’s death. (Sec. 161 of Sanitary Code.)”
- “NO PERMIT FOR BURIAL CAN BE OBTAINED WITHOUT A PROPER CERTIFICATE.”
I wanted to read Section 161 of the Sanitary Code to see what was meant by a death certificate being “accurately filled out.” Maybe one record was not done correctly, and the doctor had to submit another.
New York City codes were not part of the existing historic New York law pages on The Advancing Genealogist. If I wanted a city code, I had to find it. I started finding and I kept finding. I realized the online law library needed a Historic New York City Ordinances, Codes, Resolutions, and Extras page.
That Sanitary Code? It was good to check, but it did not wave a magic wand over my research question.
That’s okay. I found neat stuff for you!
It was hard deciding when to stop collecting and where to draw the line. Some items are not quite the law as we usually think of it. There are city ordinances and codes, but some volumes include people who were granted permits. Those books are chock full of names, include things like which shopkeeper was allowed an awning, a watering trough, or a sign. How could I leave those out? Enjoy volumes on the regulation of city firemen, about obstructions on sidewalks, the keeping of cows and cow stables, and on tenement house laws.
Check for personal names and street names in volume indexes. You can search digitized volumes with the hosting company’s search feature, but names and streets do not always appear as expected.
Ordinances, Resolutions, Etc., Passed by the Common Council of the City of New York, and Approved by the Mayor. 1877. Vol. 55. (New York: Martin B. Brown, Printer, 1887); digital image, Hathi Trust (https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=chi.097570232 : accessed 27 September 2022).
- “Cody & Salisbury, managers of “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” to drive through the streets of this city with two advertising vans, each to be drawn by two horses.” [p. 4]
- Francis L. Weiss was permitted “to erect and keep a watering-trough in front of his premises, No. 340 Stanton Street…” [pp. 12–13]
Ordinances, Resolutions, Etc., Passed by the Board of Aldermen of the City of New York and Approved by the Mayor. 1909. Volume 12. (New York: Martin B. Brown, Printer, 1909); digital image, Hathi Trust (https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=nnc1.cu09047239 : accessed 27 September 2022). Index:
- Renaming of streets and avenues, see index
- Renumbering of houses, see index
- The Grand Union Vaudeville House was given permission “to parade a man with an advertising sign through the streets and thoroughfares of the Borough of Manhattan, under the supervision of the Police Department.” [p. 25]
- James S. Shea, Eighty-third street and Amsterdam avenue, northeast corner of, Borough of Manhattan, was allowed to “erect, place and keep three storm doors within the stoop line…” [p. 583]
The permissions granted immediately painted images in my mind’s eye. A horse-drawn wagon advertising the Wild West Show. Watering troughs outside of businesses, making them friendlier to the customer. Going to the city council for permission to put up a storm door! They were in big demand, judging by the permits granted. And that human bit of Grand Union advertising, wandering the streets with a sign while drumming up business, under the watchful (or disinterested) eye of the police.
If you close your eyes, you can almost see them.
Open them, look at the books, and find your people.