North America

Discovering my great great granddad’s infamous NYC history

Today’s blog was written by STA Travel’s very own Social Media wizz and self-professed genealogy geek, Dana Windley. This is the story of how he came to discover his family history wasn’t as ordinary as he first thought.

Who do I think I am?

Do you watch the TV series “Who Do You Think You Are?” I do, religiously. It’s my guilty pleasure. I’d watch celebrities go on these incredible journeys around the world and discover the secret pasts of their relatives, and I’d long for my own fascinating story to share. Whereas my family seemed like any other normal working class family from England. Surely we didn’t have any skeletons hiding in our Windley closet? Little did I know, I was just a couple of generations away from a murderer…

As ordinary of a family as we were, we did have one mystery yet to be solved. What happened to my great great granddad, Manuel Tribino? We all knew he came from Chile. We’d argue all the time over who in the family got the Chilean genes and who didn’t. For the record, I didn’t – too pasty. Anyway, as the story goes, when Manuel’s wife passed away, he vanished and left his two children behind, never to return. My great grandma never wanted to speak about him, so I knew he can’t have been a very nice chap. What an understatement!

I hadn’t tried researching my family history before and didn’t have a clue where to start, but after a few Google searches, I stumbled upon a picture of a murder scene.

View post on imgur.com

(Photo by Weegee (Arthur Fellig)/International Center of Photography/Getty Images)

It was captioned as follows: “30th July 1941: Manuelda Hernandez holds Manuel Jiminez in her lap after a fight in the El Munda Restaurant on West Street, New York. Jiminez was shot by Manuel Tribino in an argument involving Hernandez, and when the police tried to help the wounded man onto a stretcher, she would not let go of him.”

The person who shot the man in the photo had the same name as my G.G Grandad. The plot thickened; it would make sense that he went to New York as he’d been there a few times when working as merchant seaman. From here, I didn’t know where to go next. With no more search results from my trustworthy friend Google, I’d hit a brick wall. So I looked for more clues in the caption. I decided to find out more about the photographer ‘Weegee’.

The famous Weegee

Weegee, AKA Arthur Fellig, worked in New York City’s Lower East Side as a press photographer during the 1930s and 1940s, and he developed his signature style by following the city’s emergency services and documenting their activity. He would listen into the police radio stations to be the first to know when a crime had taken place. He’d then rush to the scene with his camera and take pictures to sell to the newspapers – some say he was the first form of paparazzi.

I wondered if Weegee had taken any other pictures of the crime scene that night, but with the photographer passing away in 1968, there was no way of asking him. I found out that team at the National Institute of Photography in NYC specialized in Weegee’s work.

After a few back and forth emails with a lovely woman called Claartje, she suggested I set up an appointment and view what they had in their archive. Problem was, I was over 3,000 miles away from their office. Solution: flight booked, appointment made. The adventure began!

NYC Times

Walking into the Institute of Photography building made me feel like I was in a scene straight out of “Who Do You Think You Are.” People in lab coats, check. Old books that require you to use gloves to turn a page, check. Vintage newspapers, check. I took a closer look at the newspaper clipping and there he was, Manuel Tribino. This was the first time I’d ever seen a photograph of him, and the resemblance to my grandad was uncanny. This was him. I began to read the article and discovered why Manuel never returned home to his family.

As it turns out, Manuel lived above a bar called El Mundo on W.12th Street. In that bar, he got into an argument with another man who then in anger threw a drink at Manuel. So, he went up to his room, grabbed his gun and came back downstairs. I couldn’t believe what happened next: he shot the man. It was an overwhelming feeling finding out that I’m related to a murderer. Thankfully, I don’t think I have his bad blood in my genes! Manuel went to prison and this is where he spent the rest of his life.

After taking in this news, I sat with Claartje to work out where El Mundo bar was and whether it still existed. Unfortunately, the buildings in that area were demolished a long time ago and replaced with luxury flats worth over $30 million – Daniel Radcliffe (AKA Harry Potter) once lived there, which goes to show how dramatically places can change!

I decided to go there anyway and see some of the sights he may have seen in his day to day. I noticed the pavement was identical to the brickwork in the picture I was shown, but that was all that remained. If this was an episode of “Who Do You Think You Are,” this would be the ending scene where the celebrity looks back on their adventure. I finally had my own fascinating story to share, as chilling as the history might’ve been.

Taking a bite out of the Big Apple

I don’t think I’d have found myself in New York if it wasn’t for seeking out my own ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ story. Since that first visit, I’ve gone back four times and can’t get enough of the Big Apple. Whether my love for the city is something I inherited from Manuel, I don’t know. What I do know, is that researching my family past history led me on an incredible adventure that I’ll never forget. I fully recommend it, who knows where you’ll end up?

Are you ready to shake your own family tree and find out who you really are? Then be sure to enter the Relative Distance sweepstakes with World Nomads and win a trip for 2 to immerse yourself in the culture of your ancestors! 

This is a chance to travel back in time, trace your family heritage and immerse yourself in the culture of your ancestors. Travel across generations, explore your roots and discover your story.