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1890 New York City Police Census: Example

A guide to understanding the alternative census conducted in New York City. Guide by Andy McCarthy.

6. Example: Thomas F. Byrnes

Checking Trow's New York City Directory 1890/91 for the police officer Thomas F. Byrnes shows that Byrnes lived at 13 West 58th Street, his occupation was Inspector, and his work address is given as 300 Mulberry Street, which at the time was NYPD headquarters.

Manhattan: Mulberry Street - Houston Street (East) 1910

The Jensen guide shows that 13 West 58th Street is located in Book #740; checking the AD/ED listing in the Jensen guide, the address is in the 21st Assembly District, Election District 17.   

Book #740, Map, 21st Assembly District, Election District 17

Pulling the microfilm reel for Book #740 and scrolling through to the AD/ED 21/17, the opening pages show occupants for the addresses west of Fifth Avenue on West 58th Street, and are generally in sequential order for each side of the street. 

21st Assembly District, Election District 17, Police Precinct 23

The address is located at Police Precinct 23, but note that the enumerator, Matthew J. O'Donnell, works out of Precinct 3.

Scanning the pages of odd address numbers, one finds Thomas Byrnes, his wife Ophelia, and their six daughters are enumerated several pages in on an unnumbered page.

Thomas Byrnes, 1890 New York City Police Census

The advantage of the microfilm over the databases is that the full page is provided.  Here the researcher finds the names of Byrnes' wife and children, which are not included in the results on Family Search.

Thomas Byrnes, 1890 New York City Police Census, Family Search 

Also, note that in Family Search, Byrnes is indexed as "Thomas E. Byrnes."  Checking this against the source page, and comparing the "E" with the "F" in the sex column, it does appear that Matthew J. O'Donnell of the 3rd Precinct enumerated the Chief Inspector of the police department and supervisor of the police census with an incorrect middle initial.

Thomas F. Byrnes, sketch portrait

For the researcher, there is no doubt that the Chief Inspector's middle name began with "F;" Byrnes was a celebrity NYC super cop of the gaslight era, and his full name often appeared in print at the end of the 19th century, most notably in his investigation of the 1891 murder of Carrie Brown, known as “Shakespeare” in the dives of the Fourth Ward because of a talent for reciting the monologues of Ophelia and Lady Macbeth in exchange for free quaffs from the gin bottle.  Carrie Brown was strangled and eviscerated in the grisly style of Jack the Ripper at the East River Hotel, a notorious flophouse at 14 Catherine Slip at the corner of Water Street where today stands the Governor Alfred E. Smith Houses. 

1891 Manhattan Atlas, Catherine Slip, Water Street

Byrnes had previously boasted that the infamous serial killer of Whitechapel in London—just recently in world headlines—would have no doubt been apprehended had the murders been committed in The Big Apple, given the swift and pummeling fist of justice with which Byrnes pursued transgressors of the law.  Pressured by publicity concerns to quickly solve the case, Byrnes arrested an Algerian immigrant who spoke little English called Frenchy.  A familiar character in waterfront dives and an admitted drinking companion of Carrie Brown, Frenchy was sentenced to life at Sing Sing following a heavily biased trial.  In 1902, the governor of New York pardoned Frenchy after evidence proved the real killer was a printing materials dealer from Cranford, New Jersey. 

Newsclipping, New York Tribune, Thomas F. Byrnes

Byrnes entered the annals of U.S. historical literature as the author of a seminal tome on 19th century crime, Professional Criminals of America.  He pioneered the use of mug shots and was an early proponent of studying blood samples in investigations, but was forced to retire as New York’s top cop after allegations of departmental corruption and bribery; Theodore Roosevelt, the president of the New York City Board of Commissioners, refused to believe that the hundreds of thousands of dollars with which Byrnes augmented his $5,000. a year cop salary was earned by wise financial investments recommended by friends on Wall Street.  In his 1910 obituary, the New York Times referred to Inspector Byrnes as the “best known and most picturesque figure in the department.”

Thomas F. Byrnes, photograph 

Any questions about the 1890 police census, reach out to librarians in the Milstein Division at history@nypl.org.