Remembering Catherine Burns

My grandmother, who was born in 1882 and died in 1990, came from sturdy Irish and German stock. It’s a combination that yields what I like to call “very organized party people”. She lived longer than her sisters, but not by a huge sum. The other three all lived into their 80s and 90s.

Grandma was the third of four daughters whose parents were Henry Roman Englert and Catherine Trainor. Catherine died in her thirties, so I assume that when this picture was taken, the girls were without a mother — although grandma often spoke fondly of her Aunt Mag, Catherine’s sister. I still remember lessons handed down from Aunt Mag. Such as, “You’ve got it in your hand. Put it away.”

Catherine Trainor Englert was the daughter of Thomas Trainor and (as I recall) Catherine McLaughlin. Thomas emigrated from Ireland in 1825 at age 15 and worked as an indentured servant to Catherine McLaughlin’s dad in Boston, learning the carriage trade. After marrying Catherine he moved to New York, living at a farm in Harlem while running a successful carriage business on Lower Broadway, where the World Trade Center later stood and fell. The Trainors had two daughters and at least two sons. As I recall one of them fought in the Civil War and died of injuries not long after the war was over. As the family story goes, the son arrived home on Christmas in a box.

Henry Englert was the son of Christian Englert and Jacobina Rung, who emigrated from the Alsace region of Germany in the mid 1800s. Henry was the head of the Steel & Copper Plate Engraver’s Union in New York City. The family’s home was at 742 E. 142nd Street in the Bronx. Grandma described the site as a paradise for the girls growing up.

Grandma was third of the four girls. Fourth was Florence, with whom Grandma stayed closest all their lives. Grandma Married George Washington Searls and had three children. The middle of those was my father. His older sister was Ethel and his younger was Grace. Florence married John Jackson “Jack” Dwyer, and had three children: William, Catherine and Jack Junior. William died at 19, a tragedy that was still fresh many decades later when I was growing up. Catherine married Donald Burns and had two sons, Martin and Kevin. Jack Junior had many kids with his wife Ruth. This all added up to more cousins and second cousins than I can count.

From the late 1940s into the early 1960s, our extended family maintained three adjacent properties on the edge of the New Jersey pine barrens. In one, called “Bayberry” lived Grandma and Aunt Ethel — Grandma’s oldest daughter and my father’s older sister. Ethel was a successful businesswoman, running a Newark office of the Prudential Insurance company. As I recall she held the highest position of any woman in the company, which says a lot about glass ceilings in those days. In another lived Aunt Florence and Uncle Jack. In the third lived us. We were summer inhabitants, while Grandma and Aunt Florence became year round somewhere in the middle of the Fifties.

This post, written in summer of 2003, gives a good sense of what a wonderful place and time that was. I still remember vividly Aunt Florence and Uncle Jack’s 50th wedding anniverary, on June 8, 1960. (The photo series from that day begins here.) Now even the kids pictured in that post and those pictures are getting old. All but a few from our parents generation passed on years ago. Notable exceptions have been my aunt Grace and Catherine Burns, the mid-born among Florence and Jack’s three kids, and the third Catherine in four generations.

Grace will be 96 next month, and is doing fine living up in Maine. Yesterday, however, came news that Catherine had passed on Sunday. She was 94.

While I haven’t seen Catherine in many years, I’ve kept up a warm correspondence with her son Martin (pictured with the cat in that last link — a cat that he recalls scratching him while we were posing for Uncle Jack, who set up a large view camera on a sawhorse).

Catherine did an amazing job over several decades studying the genealogy of her family’s roots, and adjacent ones (such as the Searls) as well. Nearly all the photos in this collection are from her archives. Her studies informed many of the notes in the captions as well.

I’ll try to make it up to Portsmouth this evening for the visitation announced in Catherine’s obituary.  Meanwhile, it is moving to look back through her early life in this series here. It shows how the children and adults we were and become stay alive in us, and in our loved ones.

Love is life. To give it is to live it, and vice versa. I thank Aunt Catherine for giving us so much for so long.