The Flower Girl

My mom and dad were married at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in the West New Brighton area of Staten Island, New York. Mom’s Maid of Honour was her best friend, Gladys Osier; my dad’s Best Man was one of his ship mates aboard the USS Zircon (PY-16), John Gigarijian. For the longest time, however, I only knew Gladys’s name. During trips to New York as a kid, we visited Gladys and her family. We knew Gladys.

Gigarjian, on the other hand, was a mystery. As far as I know, once my parents had moved from Staten Island to Toledo, where Dad had grown up, Dad never called him (long distance charges!) or wrote to him as a matter of keeping in touch. John’s name on the Certificate of Marriage was written as Gigarten and years ago, once the internet became a thing, I tried to locate this Gigarten fellow. I think I tried at Ancestry, only to discover that there was no human being on the planet with that name. But four or five years ago, when I started researching my dad’s history on the Zircon, I discovered “John Gigarjian” listed on the ship’s muster rolls. I uploaded a cropped version of John in one of the wedding photos to an Ancestry profile I found for him, and before long, one of Gigarjian’s daughters contacted me about the photo.

The flower girl, however, proved to be an even bigger mystery. Who was she? I recall asking Mom who the girl was and she either couldn’t recall her name or never had really known her all that well in the first place. I asked Mom’s brother, Skip, about it while I was in Chicago for work a few years ago, and he unraveled a little bit of that mystery as he seems to know everything about everything as pertains to my parents. Her name: Emily Anne McDermott. She lived in the house that is kitty-corner from where Mom, Skip and their mother lived, at the corner of Maine Avenue and Wardwell Avenue in the Westerleigh area of Staten Island. He also knew that her father had died when she was young (less than a year before my parents’ wedding), and that he had owned a car dealership, Island Chevrolet, on Castleton Avenue, which his sons took over.

And so, with that nugget of information, Mike and I started looking for Emily Anne. Besides the New York City Birth Index, which gave her birth date as 19 July 1940, the only other official document we found was a Surrogate Court Decree in which Frances McDermott was appointed guardian of “Emily Anne McDermott, a minor under fourteen years of age.”

I searched and and an assortment of other newspaper archives sites only to come up empty. I moved on to other things.

Since fate seems to be a fickle little bastard, a few weeks ago, an email from GenealogyBank reminded me that I still had an active account (I thought I’d unsubscribed!), and a discussion on Facebook inspired me to look up another of my dad’s ship mates. I hadn’t found anything about him at the other two sites so I gave GenealogyBank a try. He had lived in Staten Island, so numerous Staten Island Advance articles with his name in them popped up. It would seem that the entire archives of the Advance were available!

I found articles about another Zircon sailor yesterday, and because it looked like his brother might yet be alive, I found his number and called. His daughter picked up, though (it’s yet to be determined if the sailor I was calling about was her uncle or great-uncle), and at the call’s end, she offered to help if I needed any other historical research done with regard to Staten Island. I don’t why it came to me, but after the call ended, I started to write an email asking if she might be able to help find what became of Emily Anne McDermott. Before I finished it, however, I went to GenealogyBank again to see if I might find an engagement announcement or something related to her. I found two instances in which she was the bridesmaid for girls with whom I assumed she’d attended Port Richmond High School (I later found that she graduated from Toms River High School in New Jersey). I found her father’s obituary — no Emily Anne; I found her brother’s obituary — no Emily Anne; nothing else about Emily Anne.

It was then that I recalled the court document. So I went back to that and then did a search for Frances McDermott. I found only one reference and that was a wedding announcement of Helen Boniecki for which Frances McDermott was Matron of Honour. I wasn’t sure that I could make the leap that it was the same person, but then I noticed that Mike had created a file for Frances as the spouse of Emily Anne’s father, George James McDermott. The profile indicated she’d remarried… someone by the name of Williamson. I found Frances Williamson’s obituary, wherein I found that Emily Anne McDermott was, in fact, Emilyanne Risko. For some reason, I hadn’t realized that Frances was Emily Annes’s mother. That she was made legal guardian suggested to me that she was her stepmother.

I can’t express the excitement I felt. I did a search for Emilyanne Risko and found a listing for her in Mountainside, New Jersey. The indication was that she was alive, but because I have found personal data sites can’t be relied upon for up-to-date information, I did a Google search for an obituary. I didn’t find one, but I did find a memorial for her at FindAGrave. I didn’t want to believe it, so I scrolled deeper into the results, which is where I found a listing at “RISKO, EMILYANNE was born 19 July 1940, and died in New Jersey, U.S.A. 8 June 2015, according to New Jersey death index entry number 20150032594.”

I found an email address for her husband and I sent an email. It bounced. Had I done a quick search first, I would have found that he’d died in 2009. There were several other people listed as possible relatives of Emilyanne, so I tried one of those this morning, and was delighted to find that it was her middle daughter, Jenn Risko.

There is some satisfaction, I guess, in finding her daughter. Of course, it would have been wonderful to have found Emilyanne sooner and shared the photos directly with her, as I’m 99.99999999999% certain she’d never seen them, and to find out what she might have recalled about that day in 1945, if she recalled it at all.

As I was re-reading this, proofing it and making some changes, it occurred to me to go back to the GenealogyBank site and do a search for “Emilyanne McDermott” instead of “Emily Anne McDermott”… and what do you know! Almost twenty years later, on 14 November 1964, she was married in the same church as my parents. Well… sort of. The original Church of the Blessed Sacrament was demolished in February of 1964. Its replacement, in which Emilyanne was married, was built in 1952.



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