I treasure all of these memories so much, but my paternal Great-Grandfather Matt has a special place in this project.  His photos are so dapper and jolly, even when middle age had its way with this already-chubby frame.  He seems like he was quite a character, so he’s sort of my mascot for genealogical endeavors:

bathing beauties

Young Matt 2nd from left

As of right now, I can only guess at a lot of details, based on the Reilly photos.  I’m guessing Matt was first generation American, and he appears to have been raised in, or at least settled in Newark, NJ

vintage brick city

Vintage Newark!!

He was a lawyer, graduated from Fordham, so I’m presuming his folks made good.

Matts Business Card

 Also, he seems to have made really good.  Every photo of him shows him in really nice suits, grinning.  Mae Reilly, my great-grandmother, was also really fashionable looking.  And the sheer amount of photos tells me something – they had money to burn on the Instagram of the day, the portable camera.  These are not just formal portraits (tho I have those, too).  These are snapshots, taken on camping trips, picnics, vacations.  It was a different America.

Reilly picnic

Matt and Mae owned a house in Newark, where they raised 3 kids: Frank, Maureen, and Jane. They were able to plan ahead, and purchased a plot in Gate of Heaven cemetery in East Hanover NJ, where today they are interred next to my Grandpa (Frank) and my Mom, Ann Marie.

Hazel portraitThis is Hazel McKay. She was Mae MacKechnie’s sister, Matt’s sister in law. She’s a very important person to me even though I never met her. All I have are scraps of stories and inferences from older relatives. This is all I have of her.

Hazel was a Ziegfield Follies girl. When she retired, she started her own costume design company. She was quite successful at this and when Ann and Will came along, she made their Halloween costumes. She lived for many years in Manhattan with her “friend” Jean. (this is usually the part of the story when older relations change the subject awkwardly. That is Catholic for “not straight”)

That’s where the facts end. I don’t know how well preserved Ziegfield records are. I don’t know where she lived in Manhattan, what the name of her company was. Are there databases out there? Could I track her down? I have no idea.

I am left with the image of a sexy, creative, out(ish?) queer woman making her own living in NYC in the 20s-30s. How cool is that?! I usually have her portrait hanging up around my work desk (I make jewelry), in an effort to keep the creative female spirit alive in the family.