Descendants Speak: Mr. Frank Nattrass

This post is the first in our series Descendants Speak, in which I interview descendants of those buried at the church.  Mr. Nattrass’s interview is particularly moving, as he talks about what it means to him to learn about the life of his great great grandmother who is buried at the church.  If you think you might be related to an individual who was buried at Spring Street, please contact us.  –Meredith A.B. Ellis

Mr. Nattrass, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I was born Frank Peter Nattrass on November 19, 1932 in Brooklyn, Kings, New York. The Nattrass family had been living in the area since my gg grandfather John Nattrass and his family moved there from Dutchess County, NY in about 1828. John is listed in the directory as a grocer at 204 Varick corner Hamersley from 1828-1837. In the 1830 Census the family is enumerated on Hamersley. My gg grandmother Sarah (Sally) died January 19, 1836 and was buried at the Spring Street Presbyterian Church. Since I suspect that the business was probably a Ma & Pa type grocery business he found that after her untimely demise that he couldn’t run the business without her, and the next reference I found for him is in the 1850 Census where he is living with one of his sons who is in the business of manufacturing and repairing stoves in Brooklyn. My gg grandfather John died on April 30, 1851, and was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Shortly after my birth, my parents moved to New Rochelle, Westchester, NY, which is where my Nattrass grandparents had moved previously. My father was a music publisher and would commute to NYC to his office at 145 W. 45th St.

I graduated from New Rochelle High School in 1951 and went on to The Art Institute of Chicago Goodman Memorial Theater on a scholarship. From there I served 2 yrs. in the United States Army during the Korean War. I have lived in the Los Angeles area and the San Francisco area of California, Minneapolis area of Minnesota and now the Phoenix area of Arizona. I have had a colorful and wonderful life so far and am happily married to my wife Sherrie who you met.

Why did you get involved with your family’s genealogy?

I have been interested since childhood. My mother told us stories about our grandfathers both of whom had died before I was 3 yrs old. In 1973 I became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and began doing research in earnest. In the Church we believe that families can be sealed together for eternity. So as members of the Church we search out their names and perform sealing ordinances for them in our Temples.

What have you learned about your family, particularly about your relatives buried at the Spring Street Presbyterian Church?

Sarah (Sally) Nattrass was born Sarah Nelson on 9 Aug 1777 in Poughkeepsie, Dutchess, New York to Thomas Nelson and Sarah Wright. Sarah is the only ancestor who was buried at the Spring Street Presbyterian Church. I have a good deal of family history on the Nelson line with that lineage traced back to the 1620’s.

What favorite stories have you learned about your ancestors during this time period?

Recently I was very interested to learn that the Spring Street Church was an abolitionist congregation and that the Sunday School and other services were multiracial. This information gives me new feelings of pride for my heritage knowing that they stood up for what was right in spite of the political correctness and social stigma of the time.

How did you find out about the Spring Street Archaeology Project?

I knew where the other members of my family were buried but I had no idea about the location of the Spring Street Church. In my mind, I pictured a quaint old church with a graveyard adjoining. I decided to find the address of the church so I did and online search and got the surprise of my life!

What did it mean for you to attend the memorial for the Spring Street congregation?

It was an honor to be in attendance and to celebrate the lives of those brave people who believed that all men are created equal in the eyes of God.

Why does this archaeology and history project matter to you?

It is a search for truth. Uncovering truth is a way to understand our past and gives us a sense of our heritage. For me especially, I received a great feeling of pride in my ancestors who risked everything to follow their conscience and stand firm on their beliefs regardless of the type of persecution they must have endured.

Why is important to you, as a descendant, to be a part of a project like this?

I have learned that my direct ancestors turned out to be heroes. It gives me an incentive to be a better citizen and a better person.

Frank Nattrass pictured with students and Dr. Shannon Novak at the Spring Street Memorial Service Reception, October 2014.