LOTS OF RECORDS, FEW ANSWERS
The Landmark Preservation Commission Historic Designation report for the Ladies’ Mile District includes 927 Broadway and lists Sarah Mills as the owner in 1857 when, supposedly, the building was constructed. Ladies’ Mile District consists of an area encompassing Broadway and Fifth Avenue, part of Sixth Avenue stretching from 15th Street up to 24th Street. It is an area which was lined with fashionable shops and stores during the nineteenth century. But my hunt to discover Sarah Mills’ identity led me to a different conclusion than the report indicated. I began my search by obtaining the property deeds and studied the purchase and sale by Sarah Mills. In these she is particularly noted as a “single woman,” in other words, she never married. My continued search led to maps, tax records, and even Minutes of the Common Council of the City of New York with her name attached to the property records. Yet not one provided any information beyond her name.
WHICH SARAH MILLS?
The next step would be to check genealogical records such as censuses, birth, marriage, and death, but problems abounded here as well. Aside from Sarah Mills being a rather common name, without being able to attach her to another individual, she could be any Sarah Mills in the records. The 1850 census was the first year to list all names in a household, not just the head of the household. Unfortunately, the only Sarah Mills which I discovered in those records were either too young to have owned property or were married.
BRICK WALLS ABOUND
Since we had no idea of Sarah’s age or where she was born, looking for a birth record would have been more difficult than looking for a needle in a haystack. Since the 1857 deed of sale to the next owner noted that she was “single,” it was clear that she had remained so throughout her life. There was no point in looking for a marriage record. During that era, if she had been married, it would have noted her husband’s name or indicated that she was a widow rather than single if a husband had predeceased her. Given the brick walls presented by the other records, the next best bet would have been a death record. The only problem with that was that officially recording deaths was not mandated until the mid-nineteenth century, and so it was unlikely that we would find one.
It appeared that we had run the gamut of typical records which might reveal Sarah Mills’ identity. So, where to go from here? Look for the answer on Tuesday when our hunt continues and is resolved.