Patriots Day and Ancestor William Grout

My dad worked as an Engineer, at Honeywell, in Lexington, Massachusetts, and enamored with the area and its history, cherished Patriots Day.  In the 1970’s, whilst much of Boston had plans to attend the Red Sox game or cheer for Boston Marathon runners, we rose Monday morning at 4AM and trekked to Lexington to view the early morning reenactment of the battle on Lexington Green. The Battles of Lexington and Concord were the first military engagements of the Revolutionary War, fought within the towns of  Lexington, Concord, Lincoln, Menotomy [Arlington] and Cambridge.  Although dark, typically cold and sometimes rainy, it was always exciting!

The Colonists wished to run their own affairs and sought their independence from England. In an effort to stop this, the Regulars headed for Concord, on the morning of 19 April 1775, with orders to destroy muskets, powder, cannons and provisions stockpiled at Colonel Barrett’s farm. The Red Coats arrived in Lexington at dawn to find the militia gathered on the Green. The British ordered them to lay down their arms and disperse. Then a shot rang out, “the shot heard around the world”, signifying the start of the American Revolution. When the smoke cleared, two were dead and several wounded.  Women and children ran to their fallen loved ones as the march continued to Concord [a YouTube video of the reenactment, filmed in 2010 can be found here].

Later, we attended the parade, toured historical homes and snacked.

Turns out, my 5th g-grandfather, William Grout, was engaged in the Lexington Alarm! [click on any image for a larger view]

Grout

soldiers

Grout pension

William Grout was born 25 June 1754 in East Sudbury [now Wayland], Massachusetts to William Grout and Eunice Moore (widow of Samuel Cutting). William was their only known child, as the elder William, age 29, was likely killed in action, during the French & Indian War while part of Captain Dakin’s company in Lake George.  Dr. Ebenezer Roby, jr. who was part of the Alarm List (persons between the age of 16 and 60 ordinarily exempt from military duty) that were called to join the First Foot company in Sudbury on 25 April 1757 during the 4th French and Indian war, kept a journal of his service which documents the elder William Grout’s death:

Thursday, 27  [July, 1758]

 A warm morning.  A smart thunder shower about 11 o’cock, very warm before.  I see William Rice who told me that Captain Dakin, Jones and Lawrence, Lieutenant Curtis, William Grout, Jonathan Paterson was killed.  A shower in the afternoon. Lodged on straw bed.

Click for full Diary.

William Grout death

The elder William was the grandson of John Grout, the Puritan, born 1616 who immigrated to America in the early 1600’s, and who from 1675 to 1676  saved Sudbury from certain annihilation in King Phillip’s war. Read of him here – “The Original Captain America Save Sudbury”  After his heroics in the King Phillip War, Grout was promoted to captain, equal to knighthood in England.  Grout was not in the employ of the government and was entitled to pay, but he volunteered his service and received no bounty. he died in 1697 age of 81.

According to g-grandsons Walter Franklin & Wilbur Henry Lansil’s SAR applications, the younger William carried forward his family’s patriotic tradition as part of the Minute Company under the command of Captain Nathaniel Cudworth, in Colonel Abijah Pierce’s regiment, at the Lexington Alarm; he was a private in Captain Thadeus Russell’s company in Colonel Jonathon Brewer’s regiment 1775; in Captain Ashiel Wheeler’s company, Colonel Reed’s regiment 1776 at Ticonderoga; in Captain M. Sawyer’s Company, Colonel Dyke’s regiment 1777-1778; in Captain Seth Newton’s Company, at the Battle of Bunker Hill, Colonel Abijah Stern’s regiment and in Captain William Howe’s Company, Colonel John Rand’s Regiment, 1776, thus serving sixteen months in Revolutionary War times.

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Captain Nathaniel Cudworth’s participation in April 1775 is documented in written accounts:

The news spread quickly that men had been killed on the Lexington Green.  In Revolutionary Times, this was known as “the Day of the Lexington Alarm”.  The alert went out to every Middlesex village and farm, and developed a life of its own, reaching Worcester and Hampshire counties, New Hampshire and Maine.  The roads began to fill with minutemen and militiamen, advancing on Concord from many directions.

Sudbury sent several units, one being Captain Nathaniel Cudworth’s, with 40 men, likely one of whom was our William Grout.  There is a strong town tradition that Captain Cudworth’s Sudbury Company was heavily engaged on Brook’s Hill [Hudson, Sudbury, 380] and it is also possible that the other six units from Sudbury joined the ambush at Hardy’s [Brook’s] Hill, about a mile from Meriam’s corner, on Wednesday, March 22, 1775 – the fourth day of the Battle.

130 PM

map battle

battle road

Red dawn at Lexington

Lex accout #2

battle 3

In 1833, when William applied for a pension he wrote:

“I William Grout of Frankfort in Said County of Waldo [Maine], do hereby on oath further certify that from old age and bodily infirmity I cannot recollect the precise times which I enlisted in the War of the Revolution, but as near as I can recollect my first enlistment was on or about the 19th day of April 1775 with Captain Thadeus Russell and that I served eight months, the term for which I enlisted….”

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Grout’s signed pension file tells us:

1. He was born in East Sudbury, Massachusetts in 1754.

2. That he believes his age is recorded at East Sudbury.

3. that he was living at East Sudbury when he enlisted and since the Revolutionary War he lived seven years in Hillsborough [New Hampshire], from thence two years in east Sudbury and from thence he removed to Frankfort [Maine] where he now lives.

4. That he volunteered his services.

5. That he recollects Col. Josiah Fuller, that General Putnam commanded on Cambridge Side, Prospect Hill, so called; that Col Patterson commanded a regiment and have up a ____ on Bunker Hill; that he recollects Col Carlton of Ticonderoga, but does not now recollect any other material fact but what is contained in his declaration.

6. That he never received any discharge for they were not generally asked for or given at that time.

7. The he is well known by the Rev Joshua Hall, Archibald Jones, Benjamin Shaw, Nehemiah Rich, esq., W. William Andrews and Tisdale Dean of said Frankfort, all or any of whom will testify to his character for veracity and their belief that he was a soldier of the Revolution.

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On 1 April 1779, William Grout married Hannah Jennison, daughter of Robert Jennison/Jenison and Sibbella/Sybil Brintall at Sudbury and worked as a carpenter.

Although my research is “work in progress”, they are said to have had at least seven children: Joel, Amos, William, Polly, Nancy, Hannah and Eunice.

None of these births are recorded in Hillsborough, New Hampshire, however William does appear on the tax records there from 1781 to 1785, after which he apparently relocated to Maine, where many records did not survive.   Since William was the only “Grout” to reside in Hancock County, Maine in that period, and as he had no siblings, it is likely that all Grouts recorded there are descendants.  His children William and Nancy are documented as residing with he and Hannah in 1822.  Nancy later married Nathanial Grant and his pension file further confirms her parentage.

According to the Lansil’s unsupported SAR applications, my family descends from William’s son Amos of Frankfort, who married Rachael Couillard of Bucksport.  At that time, SAR did not require documentation.  Walter and Wilbur’s mother, Betsey Turner Grout, likely told them that her grandfather had fought in the Revolution.  She had first hand knowledge, unlike today’s requirements, further proof was not a requirement.

amos rachael married

 

Two land deeds from 1802 and 1809 seem to link father William with sons Amos and Joel (note that Amos’ wife Rachael gives up her rights of dower, thus confirming this is likely “our Amos”).

Grout deed 17 Aug 1802

Grout deed 25 Feb 1809

Their daughter, my third g-grandmother, was named Betsey Turner Grout [her story here], perhaps after an aunt –  a Hannah Grout, who according to cemetery records, was born in 1791 on Orphan Island, Maine (home of William Grout the 1790 census year), married a Samuel Turner and named a child William Grout Turner.  Amos and this elder Hannah are likely siblings and he choose to give his child the Turner name, perhaps after a child of  his sister’s who was deceased.

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Later Years

1790 – Orphan Island, Maine [which was part of Massachusetts until 15 March 1820]

The William Grout household in 1790 included seven members:

Home in 1790 (City, County, State): Orphan Island, Hancock, Maine
Free White Persons – Males – Under 16: 2
Free White Persons – Males – 16 and over: 2
Free White Persons – Females: 3
Number of Household Members: 7

1790

Description of Orphan Island, once a shipbuilding village:

Desc Orphan

1800 Buckstown [later Bucksport], Maine [which was part of Massachusetts until 15 March 1820]

The 1800 census, having a column “from whence immegrated” further verifies William as the William Grout born in Sudbury. The household included 10 members:

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Home in 1800 (City, County, State): Buckstown, Hancock, Maine
Free White Persons – Males – Under 10: 1
Free White Persons – Males – 16 thru 25: 2
Free White Persons – Males – 45 and over: 1
Free White Persons – Females – Under 10: 1
Free White Persons – Females – 10 thru 15: 2
Free White Persons – Females – 16 thru 25: 2
Free White Persons – Females – 45 and over: 1
Number of Household Members Under 16: 4
Number of Household Members Over 25: 2
Number of Household Members: 10

Description of Buckstown [later Bucksport in 1827]

bucksport 1827

1810-1830 (and likely until death) Frankfort, Maine [which was part of Massachusetts until 15 March 1820]

In 1810 and 1820, the household included five members:

Home in 1810 (City, County, State): Frankfort, Hancock, Maine
Free White Persons – Males – 16 thru 25: 1
Free White Persons – Males – 45 and over: 1
Free White Persons – Females – 10 thru 15: 1
Free White Persons – Females – 16 thru 25: 1
Free White Persons – Females – 45 and over : 1
Number of Household Members Under 16: 1
Number of Household Members Over 25: 2
Number of Household Members: 5

 

Home in 1820 (City, County, State): Frankfort, Hancock, Maine
Enumeration Date: August 7, 1820
Free White Persons – Males – 10 thru 15: 1
Free White Persons – Males – 26 thru 44: 1
Free White Persons – Males – 45 and over: 1
Free White Persons – Females – 16 thru 25: 1
Free White Persons – Females – 45 and over : 1
Number of Persons – Engaged in Agriculture: 2
Free White Persons – Under 16: 1
Free White Persons – Over 25: 3
Total Free White Persons: 5

And in 1830, just two:

Home in 1830 (City, County, State): Frankfort, Oxford, Maine
Free White Persons – Males – 30 thru 39: 1
Free White Persons – Males – 70 thru 79: 1
Free White Persons – 20 thru 49: 1
Total Free White Persons: 2

History of Frankfort can be read here

William, age 68, applied for a land grant in Hancock County, Maine for his Revolutionary Service. Original documents here:Revolutionary war land grant application

He was a carpenter who is unable to work due to sickness and great debility. He did not own real estate. His possessions included: 1 hog $4.00, tea kettle & other iron ware $3.00, crockery ware $1.00, chairs, tubs and wooden ware $2.00, sundry small articles $6.00 – total $16.00. He resided with his wife Hannah (66) in Frankfort and two children, Nancy (24) and William (27).

Frankfort vitals

Based on the date of his final pension payment, Grout likely died in 1834/5.

 

The Mystery of Edith Haines….and Scandal!

Click on any image to see a larger version.

What I Know

My 2nd g-grandparents, William John “John” Haines and Jennie Ferguson both of Richibucto, New Brunswick, Canada, had eight children: Edith, John Galatis (my g-grandfather), Alexander (who died tragically in WWI – http://tinyurl.com/l8m4oja), Ella May, Margaret Elizabeth, Joseph (who died as a child), Minnie and Jennie.  I have photos and a pretty complete genealogy of those who lived to adulthood, with the exception of their first-born, Edith.

Haines kids

The pedigree chart prepared by my Aunt Natalie claims Edith married twice –  a Savard and a Taylor.  A handwritten note in the files I inherited places her death at 20 October 1940 and burial at Mt Hope, Dorchester section G #1541.  An arrow points to Edith Taylor and Edith Savard with a notation “SAME”.

note

A Look at Vital Records

Since John and Jennie’s marriage was recorded in Chelsea, Massachusetts on 8 March 1882 and my g-grandfather’s birth (the second child) was also recorded there on 22 Feb 1885, Edith was likely born in Chelsea. Other records place her birth in Chelsea [death/marriage record] on December 1882 [1900 census], just 9 months after her parents were married, however a search of Massachusetts Vital Records revealed no likely birth record for an Edith or female Haines in Chelsea or elsewhere.

A 25-year-old Edith married 24-year-old Edward Savard, son of Joseph Savard and Mary Emmen on 25 May 1908 in Boston, Massachusetts. Both claimed it to be their first marriage.  They resided at 7 Temple Street, she a waitress, he a waiter. They were married by JP, Robert McLeish.

No records were found of Edith Haines’s marriage to a man called Taylor.

edith marriage

Edith died from “Cancer of both Breasts” at age 57, on 20 October 1940, and is listed as the widow of Edward Savard.  Her death was recorded in Fall River, but her residence was given as 3 Malbow [likely Malbon] Place, Roxbury, Massachusetts. She was buried at Mt. Hope.

Edith Haines Savard death

Census Data

I began with the most recent and worked backwards:

In 1940, Edith, age 50 [likely an error since her death certificate a few months later lists her as age 57] was living as the wife of Peter Savard, age 57, at the same address of her recorded death, 3 Melbon [likely Malbon] Place; the same place they had resided in 1935. They were renting for $16 a month.  He was Massachusetts born, a barber working on his on account.  She was not employed.  Both had been educated through grade 8.  Peter was the informant, so the information is likely accurate. There were three families residing at this address.

Peter?  not Edward?  Was her husband’s name Edward Peter?   Did he change careers from waiter to barber? If Edith was a widow when she died, there should be a death record of Edward or Peter Savard between the census date of 11 April 1940 and her death 20 October 1940.  A search of the Massachusetts death indexes revealed no likely death.

1940 census

In 1930, the pair is found at 58 Highland Street, Boston with a border, Catherine Nash, a helper at a factory.  They were renting a home for $30 a month and had a radio set.  Peter, age 47 was “first married” at age 25.  Edith, age 46, was “first married” at 24.  Peter, born in Canada, was Naturalized and he worked as a Barber on his own account.  Edith is not working. There were three families residing at this address, the informant is unknown.

1930 census

The likely 1917 draft registration card was located for Edward.  He is a waiter living on 112 Howard Ave in Roxbury and claims that his nearest relative is Edith Savard of 490 Middlesex, Lowell.

draft city directory

A search of the 1920 census reveals only one possible match of an “Edith Savard” of about the right age (33), and sure enough, it is in Lowell.  She is married and working as a waitress.  But there is one inconsistency, Edith is listed with Massachusetts born parents, not Canadian.   But since Edward’s 1917 draft registration card indicates that his closest relative, Edith, resides in Lowell, there is a strong possibility this is our Edith.

Interestingly, a Peter Savard, age 49, is listed two lines away as “widowed”, born in Massachusetts to Canadian born parents. A different Peter? Neither an Edward or Peter were identified elsewhere in 1920.

1920 census

No likely entry was found for Edith with Edward or Peter in the 1910 census.

In 1900, Edith resided with her parents at their home on Wadsworth Street, East Boston.  She is 17 and working as a Baker’s helper.

1900 census

City Directories

I reviewed city directories with hopes they would reveal a move to/from Lowell or give a date of Edward/Peter’s death.

There were two entries in the Lowell directories, likely our Edith:

In 1920, Edith is residing on Central, but the only Peter (a barber), is at the same address as Catherine; 53 Washington. Interestingly, a Mrs. Catherine Savard (according to Massachusetts marriage records, Peter’s wife) is also listed separately at this address.  This is unusual as in the time period, women were typically listed only if single, divorced or widowed.

There is an Edouard (Malvina) listing, but through other records, I determined this was a different man and not the Edouard who Edith married.

1920 city directory

By 1920, Peter the barber has relocated to Central, he is in room 53 and Edith is in room 42.  Mrs Catherine Savard continues to reside at 53 Washington.

1921 city directory

Peter’s 1917 draft card reveals that he resides with Catherine on 53 Washington.  I begin to think this is not our Peter…. Then I notice that the draft registration lists a work address of 490 Middlesex.  This is the SAME address Edward gave for his closest relative Edith Savard on his draft registration.

peter draft

Edith was residing with Peter, a barber, and his wife Catherine in Lowell?  There must be a connection!   I began to look at Boston directories. Peter is listed in Boston beginning in 1923.  No listings were found for Edward.

In 1932, the directory lists Edith, widow of Edwd, at 52 Lambert Ave. Roxbury and two Peters.  Both are barbers – one listed as residing at the same address as Edith, the other works at 170 Neponset but resides in Lowell.  So Edward and Peter are two different people? Are there two Peters? Business directories list only one Peter Savard as a barber in Boston.

1932 city directory

The 1940 directory lists one Peter (Edith) implying they are married.  Peter is a barber at 170 Neponset (the same address where the Lowell Peter worked in 1932). Further review shows that they began being listed together in city directories commencing in 1934.

1940 city directory

I begin to suspect that Edith first married Edward, he died and subsequently she married Peter, however a second marriage record was not found.

The Savards

With the aid of some Savard descendants, I pieced together the Savard tree.  Edward and Peter appear to be brothers born to Joseph Theophile “Taffy” Safford and Marie Louise Emond/Hemond.  They were born in Canada, but by 1900, resided at 67 Leverett St., Lowell, Massachusetts.  Their mother, reported giving birth to 18 children, only 8 of whom are living in 1900.  Besides Edward and Peter, those with the family included Joseph, Henri, Charles, Frederick [Alfred ?] and Robert.  The 8th was likely Antoinette, who had married Edmund J. Charron in 1894.

1900 census

Edward married Edith Haines and had no known children while Peter married Catherine Wilkes, daughter of Job Wilkes and Helen Wilson, and had two known children, Alice Helen (who likely died young) and Beatrice (m. Arthur Pratt).

Peter marriage

My theory is that at some point, Edward and Edith separated.  He is last known to have been residing in New York in 1938, according to a sister Antoinette (Savard) Charron’s obituary (although this is inconsistent with the 1932 city directory which lists Edith as widow of Edward; it would not be unusual for a woman to claim being a widow to avoid the embarrassment of abandonment).

Antoinette’s obituary dated 1938 lists six brothers: Peter of Boston, Henri of Lowell, Edouard of New York City, Charles of Lake Sargent, Canada, Alfred of Lowell and Robert of Elizabeth, New Jersey.

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Whether Edward died or left the marriage, Peter appears to have taken up with Edith. They could live as husband and wife without anyone knowing as they both used the surname Savard.  This would explain why Edith’s death record reported she was the widow of Edward (especially if Peter or one of her siblings was the informant).  The order of events is unknown.

Peter is mentioned as Catherine’s husband of 44 years in her obituary of 1950, yet she is living without him from at least 1920 to 1940.  It’s unlikely they reconciled after Edith’s death as Catherine’s obituary mentions she was living with her daughter in Chelmsford.  No spouse is listed in Peter’s obituary.  No obituary has been found for Edith or Edward.

Catherine Savardpeter death

That being said, although they were residing in different locations, Peter’s 1942 draft registration does list Catherine as “someone who will always know your address” and in parenthesis writes “wife”.

peter 1942

I love a good family scandal!  Perhaps a “cousin” will find my post and have the answers…..

My questions: 

1. Who was the Taylor that most online trees and my aunt have connected to Edith as a spouse?

2. What is the story behind Edith living with Peter Savard?  Would Peter’s living g-grandchildren, the children of Arthur Pratt & Patricia (Pratt) Ludwig, have additional information?

3. Where/when did Edward die?

4. Was there an obituary for Edith or Edward?

5. Are there other Savard family obituaries that may have clues?

6. Would Mt Hope Cemetery have additional information? The records are held at the City of Boston Archives and Records Management Division and are available to researchers by appointment only at 201 Rivermoor Street West Roxbury, MA 02132, 617-635-1195. The require 24 hour advanced notice.  The collection consists of 37 cubic feet of records and spans the period of 1876-1952, click here for: Guide to the Mt. Hope Cemetery records_tcm3-33013

7. Why was Edith’s death reported in Fall River when she resided in Roxbury? I’d like to pull the original death record at the Vital Records office when I am next in Boston to see if information was omitted.

8. Why are there no photos or family memories in the collection of correspondence I have for Edith?  Was she estranged?

9. Where are Edward in Edith in 1910?  and where is Edward in 1920, 1930 & 1940?  It would be unusual for a person to avoid census takers for four decades! there is a potential in 1930 there is a widowed Edward in Fall River of about the correct age working as a Hatter – link (requires Ancestry.com subscription) in 1920 the same man might be listed as a single roomer working as a Hatter in New Jersey – link.  The 1942 draft registration – here – claims this Edward, a hatter, was living in New Jersey in 1942 . His birth is given as 18 Feb 1880 in Fall River [slightly off – our Edward likely was born in Canada in 1883 given an age of 24 when married, however our Edward did list a birth year of 1880 on his 1917 draft registration] He lists a contact name of Irma Martel in New York.

It is difficult to tell if the signatures on both registration cards were by the same hand…the E and S are clearly different… but both appear to be abbreviated Edwrd:

signatures

Descriptions are similar – both have brown eyes, medium height/5’4″, medium build/130 pounds, brown hair/gray hair – the 1942 card claims he is “very deaf”.  No birth has been located, but there is a marriage record (FamilySearch) in Fall River, for a Ophelia Gagnon to Edward Savard born 1880, son of Jean C Savard and Mathildel Stebin….so this may not be our Edward.

There was also an Edward residing in Franklin County, New York during this time period who through other records has been proven to be another Edward.

Uncle Anthony Has Been Found!!

I have written of my long-lost great-uncle Antanas Baltrūnas born on 8 April 1898 in Preibiai, Panevezio, Lithuania to Juozas Baltrūnas (Joseph Billie) and Salomėja Markevičiūtė (Sally Morris) – here. He immigrated to the United States arriving in New York on Tuesday, 22 April 1902 with his mother. The pair joined his father in Pittsfield, Massachusetts where he resided with his family and later a cousin Anthony Gaston/Gasson and wife Ona/Anna (Vyšniauskas/Wishnewski) Gasson (his mother’s niece through her sister Elžbieta). He used the name Anthony George Billie/Billings.  The 1923 Pittsfield City Directory reads ”Anthony Billings, rem to Detroit Mich. Then he is gone….

His two nieces recall that “Uncle Tony” arrived on Easter with solid chocolate bunnies for them (one Easter, many Easters?).  Details are fuzzy, but they recollect his joining the military, losing a leg (or maybe an arm) and residing in New York. His sister Connie, in 1959, mentioned at a funeral that her brothers were all deceased. So he presumably died after 1939 [the youngest niece would have been four and at an age to recall chocolate bunnies] and before 1959. When his sister Connie died in 1974, her estate was split between my mother and her siblings, so likely he never married and had no offspring.

My brother found a box of letters and photos whilst cleaning out my mom’s house this week. Amongst these papers was an envelope. In Aunt Connie’s handwriting it reads:

Family deaths
Ralph March 4, 1943
Tony May 26, 1955
Charles Sept 9,1959

envelope

Happy dance!!! – Tony May 26, 1955!!!

Then I opened the envelope. A mass card and a receipt for a single grave for Anthony Billings at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery from the trustees of St John’s Catholic Church in Rensselaer, New York!!!

4ce83402-e152-4eef-8d75-3ad077186bf5

Happy, happy dance!

That led to the discovery of him (likely) in the 1930 Albany, New York census residing with 73-year-old John Bruce at 103 Broadway:

Anthony 1930

Anthony was single.  It appears that he never married. The census tells us that he never attended school but could read and write.  He was a laborer working odd jobs. His birth year is off slightly (not unusual) and his birthplace is listed as Massachusetts (perhaps in error or he might have fibbed to avoid filing for Naturalization (which could explain why an alien registration card has not been located).  Both parents are reported to be of Russia (common for Lithuanians as the country had previously been under Russian rule).

The next discovery was a newspaper article mentioning an Anthony Billings of Troy being treated at the hospital for lacerations received while on a job site (Hotel Van Curler, Schenectady) working for Atlas Roofing:

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I haven’t located my uncle in the 1940 census or the 1942 draft.

I spoke to the cemetery.  Anthony died at Memorial Hospital in Albany, New York of conjunctive heart failure.  His last known address was 25 Glen Street in Rensselaer, New York.

I searched the New York newspapers on Fulton History for an obituary or death notice with success!

Happy, happy, happy dance!

Don’t let the name “Fulton History” fool you, the site offers a plethera of free New York papers; I have discovered hundreds of articles on other family members.  Hmmmm….  If I had searched “Connie Barton” AND Athol in this database, I would have located his death years ago – another lesson learned!

news death ant

 

anthony death

 

Off to order a death certificate!

Fingers crossed for more Anthony happy dances over the next few weeks!

The “Greatest” Aunt

This week, we lost my “Greatest” Aunt Natalie, Nana Hall’s sister, the youngest of eight, born four days shy of my grandmother’s 21st birthday.  My grandmother, the eldest, married at 22 and had a child about a year later.  I suspect three-year old Natalie got a kick out of having a nephew, perhaps requiring him to address her as “auntie” amongst their classmates, when they reached school age. She was seven when my dad was born, and adored “little Bobby”.

Life wasn’t easy. The Great Depression began when she was a babe. The family struggled; being unable to afford blankets, they used coats. They moved frequently and Natalie’s father, John Galatis Haines, held many different jobs (read about them here).  Natalie lost her dad at fourteen, just before Christmas, and her mom, Edith Bernice (Lansil) Haines, only eight years later.

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July 13, 1935, 228 Main St., Malden, Massachusetts
Joan Newhall, Natalie (Haines) Thomson, Charles G. Hall Jr.

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Aunt Natalie and Nana, Edith Haines Hall 

My grandmother married into a wealthier family and initially had little contact with her kin. Likely her new husband feared that the financial burden of Natalie’s struggling family would fall into his hands. Despite this inequity and the vast age difference, Ede and Natalie were close.  Aunt Natalie was the only of my grandmother’s siblings who was with us on holidays, birthdays and special occasions. She was our fun, wild, outgoing and crazy (in a good way) great-aunt who we jokingly referred to as our “Greatest” Aunt Natalie – she got a kick out of the pun.  Christmas gifts were delivered with the “wrong” labels –  Linda got David’s, David got Nancy’s and Nancy got Linda’s.  It was the same every year; she would claim exasperatingly, “I can’t believed I mixed things up again!!!”. We unwittingly believed, and laughed at her foolishness (while she likely had a good laugh at our gullibility).

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On Christmas she came armed with handouts for our annual sing-along; poems she crafted from family history, set to familiar Christmas tunes.

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Natalie, an avid genealogist, planned vacations around our heritage.  She tracked the Lansil’s in Bangor, Maine, dragged her husband and children through cemeteries and visited our homelands of Llanfairfechan, Wales and Richibucto, New Brunswick, Canada.  She spoke of Stephen Hopkins, our Mayflower ancestor and William Grout, our Revolutionary War hero – she “hooked” me and I became a genea-adict!  Several years ago, I was overjoyed to become the recipient of the Roots Research Books – Lansil & Haines  full of letters from many long deceased (and living) cousins, photos and other fascinating documents (such as”Mary Haines Diary” and the record of seaman Charles V. Lansil’s drowning off Bar Harbor) rich with details of our heritage, captured in the 1970’s, long before the public Internet.

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This past summer, on a trip to New Brunswick, my husband and I followed her footsteps with hopes to locate the, “Welcome to Richibucto”, signs Natalie had visited in the 1970’s when she was about my age, and to FINALLY locate the “long lost” family of Jennie Ferguson, Natalie’s paternal grandmother and my g-g-grandmother  (her story here). Alas, we succeeded at neither.

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Natalie was ahead of her time and a “blogger” in 1999, long before the term blogger was coined.  She left a wonderful array of posts with touching family stories and experiences: click here for her BLOG and here for a post I wrote of her blog.

Natalie’s self-written bio reads:

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Melrose, Massachusetts welcomed me on September 26, 1928. Of the two boys and five girls, I was the baby of the Haines family. That family moved to the next town, Malden, in 1931. My claim to fame was portraying the princess in the 5th grade operetta at the Glenwood School. I graduated in 1946 from Malden High School’s Commercial Course. Then, at a bank in Boston, learned how to wire the control boards for IBM computers.

Ed Thomson, a returned combat veteran of WWII, and I married in October, 1947, and had two outstanding children, Joanne, born 1953 and Edward, born 1958. Later, they further enriched the family by marrying Don and Patty and parenting five wonderful grandchildren.

For about a decade, I taught Sunday School while my children were growing. Ed served as a Deacon and we both worked on varied committees at church. In addition to our careers, our interests centered around our children’s activities. Starting in 1965, I helped organize the Central Little League Auxiliary in Malden. My husband coached a winning team. For many years I took various courses at local colleges. Ed died of cancer-from-smoking in April 1983.

It took a lot of money and several futile attempts for me to give up smoking. Then, by chance, I learned about a group called Nicotine Anonymous. I faithfully attended meetings, absorbed the message, and now it is eleven years since I’ve smoked a killer-cigarette.

For twenty years I worked for Intercity Homemaker/Home Health Aide Service. I retired as Administrative Assistant after years as a Caseload Manager.

In 1993, I moved back to Melrose. My stride has become comparatively a stroll, but retirement continues to be pleasant, productive and poetically progressive.

Rest in Peace my Greatest Aunt Natalie and thanks for the wonderful legacy….AND if you can hear me, please send a SIGN to help us FINALLY find Jennie Ferguson’s parents John and Elizabeth!!!!

Natalie Haines Thomson – Obituary

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Natalie Haines Thomson, longtime resident of Malden and Melrose, died Friday, March 13, 2015. She is survived by her daughter the Rev. Joanne Thomson (Donald Hausch) of Madison, WI; her son Edward M. Thomson of Malden; by grandchildren Patrick Kelley, Paul Hausch, and Jessie Hausch; by her step-grandson Justin Maggs; and nephew Charles (Ann) Hall. She was preceded in death by her husband Edward Joseph Thomson; by her daughter-in-law Patricia (Carrico) Thomson; by her step-grandson Richard Maggs; by her parents Edith (Lansil) and John Haines; and by seven brothers and sisters (Edith, John, William, Doris, Walter, Marion, and Bernice).

Natalie was for many years a case manager at Intercity Homemaker Service in Malden, and through her work she became acquainted with almost everyone in the area who needed help caring for an elderly or disabled loved one. She thrived on the many relationships she made while matching home health aides and homemakers with her clients. In addition to her work at Intercity, Natalie worked throughout her life at a variety of jobs in Malden and Boston as a bookkeeper or as an administrative assistant.

She brought her considerable organizational talents to volunteer and community work. She belonged to the First Congregational Church in Malden, where she taught Sunday School, served on committees, and produced masterful roast beef dinners. She organized one of the first auxiliaries of the Malden Central Little League, raising funds to support players and teams.

But in her family, Natalie was known as a poet, writer and genealogist. Every family event, each birthday, graduation, or anniversary, was marked by a poem created uniquely for the occasion. Natalie kept journals throughout her life, recording her thoughts and observations. She spent years researching her ancestors long before the Internet, creating meticulous documentation for future generations. After retirement she became part of the Silver Stringers at the Melrose Senior Center, which developed an online newspaper for senior citizens, one of the first of its kind.

Natalie loved nothing better than being with people. She was the most extroverted person ever born, had a legendary sense of humor, and was filled with endless curiosity about people and their stories. She made numerous friends among the shopkeepers in and around Melrose Square while on her daily walks for the past 20 years.

Visitation will be held at Weir MacCuish Family Funeral Home at 144 Salem St, Malden on Friday, March 20th from 4:00 to 8:00 PM. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, March 21 at 11:00 am at the Melrose Highlands Congregational Church (UCC) at 355 Franklin St., Melrose, with the Rev. Beth Horne officiating. Visitation will precede the service at 10:00 AM at the church.

In lieu of flowers the family requests donations be made to The Special Olympics.

Natalie Haines Thomson – Eulogy written and read by her daughter Joanne

Many years ago I swore that I would never, ever, speak at a family funeral.  It’s just way too hard.  But I think that my mother appreciates the fact that I want to try to have the last word.

I want to start with a few thank you’s.  Thank you to all of you who have come today.  You probably have some idea how much it means to my brother Eddie and I that you are here.  I also want to thank  the people of Melrose Highlands Congregational Church for offering us a church home today.  And I want to say thank you to my brother.  He has been there for Natalie through thick and very thin.  His commitment to our mother over these last few years of her dementia and illness has been extraordinary.  I have been proud of him for the way he has taken care of our mother, and I know our father would be proud, too.

By this point in our lives, we’ve all listened to a lot of tributes given at funerals.  Sometimes I’m jealous when I listen to these tributes, because more often than not, the eulogy makes it sound like the person who died was a perfect angel living on earth.  Sitting there listening, I’d envy that family, and I’d wish that my family members were as perfect as those people appeared to be.  Because my family members are not.  Perfect.  With all due respect.

But that’s what I want my last word to be.  My mother was not perfect.  And yet she set an extraordinary example for us.  There are things she did that hurt or confused us.  Some things I will never really completely understand.  And yet she was an incredible woman who loved us and who let us know how much she loved us, right up until the moment when she couldn’t communicate anything anymore.

I think about the values that our mother and father instilled in us, for example.  Hard work, honesty, compassion, laughter, love of family, and of the friends who become your family — I’m incredibly grateful to have grown up with parents who were rock solid committed to values like these.  But our parents’ values went much deeper and much farther.  There was something that led them to roll past other people’s expectations and do what they knew was right.  I mean, Natalie married a Catholic.

Here’s an example of the kind of values I’m talking about.  This is an excerpt from one of her journals.   She wrote this on the Sunday after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968.  “I attended church this morning,” she wrote.  “I regretted that (the sermon) bypassed an opportunity to promote brotherhood (and make) inroads (into) some people’s staunch bigotry….   Instead of propounding on God’s law, and reminding us of Jesus’ strength, (it) eloquently and fervently spoke on a theme of ‘America’s strength is in the obedience (she underlined obedience) of her laws.’ (she double underlined this)….Not a word of what Dr. King had accomplished or of what we (double underlined again) should try to accomplish.”   That is a mother to be proud of.  We are indebted to her for values like that.

On a lighter note, let me share that the following page of her journal records that, quote, “Joanne’s essay on ‘How We Can Build A Better Malden’ won at Lincoln Junior High.”  If only this masterpiece had been preserved for future generations, think of the Malden we would have today.

That’s the first last word I have:  a tribute to our mother’s independence of mind and spirit, and the values she passed on to us that go far beyond compassion and fairness and honesty.

The last last word I have is that she was the embodiment of the very deep truth that it is never too late, and that the world and its possibilities are always greater than you think they are.  There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God:  not mistakes; not wounds and scars; not a lack of options; not even our own confusion about how to do our best for the people we love.

Going through my mother’s papers, I found a print out (because she saved every piece of paper; every single piece of paper); of her registration for classes for a human services certificate program at UMass Boston from the early 1990’s.  She should have gone to college.  We all know this.  But at the age of 64 or so, she decided to commute after work on the subway to UMass Boston to take classes for a certificate in human services administration.  So what if she never had the chance to go to college.  She had the chance now.  I think of her finishing her class at UMass probably around nine at night, getting on the Red Line, changing to the Orange, walking back to her car through Malden Square.   It’s never too late.

But what will always be for me the greatest example of her character was that she gave up drinking and gave up smoking.  It would have been great if she’d stopped earlier. But it surely was magnificent that she gave up alcohol in her 50’s and smoking in her 60’s.  I remember when my father was sick, the very first night that he spent in the hospital, at the old New England Memorial.  I was at the hospital with her, and it was finally time to leave.  It was probably about eight o’clock at night, and the sun had gone down since we’d gotten there.  She asked me to follow her in my car from the hospital in Stoneham to her house on Kimball Street because she had never before driven alone after dark.  This is maybe a 10 minute drive.  She was 55 years old.  She had a long, long way to go.  But she brought all of her drive and all of her relentless energy to both of these challenges, and she did it.  I think she was astonishing.  Boy, was she mad at me when I made her smoke outdoors in Wisconsin in January.  And it’s true, she drove us completely crazy with all of the stories from her supposedly “anonymous” groups.  But what she did was pretty incredible.   She changed her life.  She saved her life.  She looked like a completely ordinary person.  She was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination.  But she was extraordinary.  

There is far, far more good that is possible than you might at first believe.  So don’t give up.  She never gave up.

 

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Meet Michael J. Hall – 2015 NERGC Speaker

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I met Michael J. Hall, in July 2011, a fellow student, at the National Institute on Genealogical Research (NIGR), held annually at the National Archives, Washington DC (Mike later became the assistant director and instructed at NIGR 2012-2014).  I had no idea who he was, or of his role in the genealogy world.  We spoke because name tags revealed a shared surname (my maiden name is Hall and my brick wall, Brian Hall, b. 1727, of Taunton [now Raynham], Bristol County, Massachusetts). I was interested to discover if our family tree connected.  It did not (as later confirmed by Y-DNA).

I, a “wanna be” runner, mentioned a desire to run on the National Mall.  Mike, a Marine, indicated that it was far too dangerous to run alone and offered to join me (okay, so he didn’t offer, he informed me that I wouldn’t be running alone – once a Marine always a Marine!).  We met each day at 5AM (before the heat of the day, when it was still a “cool” 100 degrees) and ran/walked between trees then finished with some intensive stair-climbing.  By sharing these mornings, I came to learn of this amazing man.

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Michael J. Hall

As a young man, Michael, a Marine, was first stationed in Okinawa, Japan where he found the LDS Church, and then later at the Mountain Warfare Training Center, Bridgeport, California, he developed a desired to research his personal family history.

After discharge from active duty, he moved to Provo, Utah where he attained a BS in Anthropology from Brigham Young University (BYU).  He “tested out” of several genealogy courses, certifying proficiency as a self-taught genealogist.   Initially Michael became a Research Archaeologist and was recognized as among the top in his fauna research. He had the ability to identify and apprise everything about a bone, albeit a job not long lasting.  His love for genealogy emerged; he switched careers and has worked in the Family History field for over thirty-two years.

Mike is currently the Deputy Chief Genealogical Officer at FamilySearch (familysearch.org), the largest genealogical organization in the world, headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.  He is tasked with working with libraries, archives, historic and genealogical societies around the world to educate how FamilySearch might help these organizations and to build goodwill.

During his tenure, Mike experienced many ups and downs. He was present  on 15 April 1999 when a mentally ill man stormed the Family History Library, killing two and wounding four before being shot by Salt Lake City police. Mike, who was working as a reference consultant, remembers the “pop, pop” sound and knew immediately what was happening. He and library supervisor, Stephen Young, mobilized to evacuate people from the building. Both were awarded the “Sons of the American Revolution” Medal for Heroism.

Mike’s role at FamilySearch keeps him away from his beloved family at least 12 weeks a year; he participates in 6-7 conferences annually.  Mike, a member of the Bristol Chapter of the Massachusetts Society of Genealogists is ALWAYS excited to come home to New England.  Although born in Germany to parents in the US military, over half of his ancestry has New England roots.

At NERGC, he will be speaking on one of his favorite topics, a lecture based on his maternal Portuguese ancestors who emigrated from the Azores to Fall River, Massachusetts (where Mike still has a lot of cousins). Mike began his Portuguese research by looking through church records on microfilm at the Family History Library using a Portuguese pocket dictionary.  Soon he could recognize key phrases. He jokingly adds “Don’t ask me to pronounce the words, but I am now pretty good at reading the language”.

Several years ago, Mike presented on the subject at a conference in Bologna, Italy in the presence of professional Portuguese researchers.  They inquired as to how he was able to translate the documents.  Mike asked “Why, did I do it wrong?”. They responded, saying they were just curious, the translations were perfect. Last year they honored Mike by inviting him to become a member of the Associação Portuguesa de Genealogia in Lisbon, Portugal (membership is by invitation only).

Mike has written various genealogical guides for the Family History Library, chairs the Genealogy  Committee of the American Library Association and serves in the Genealogy and Local History Committee on the International Federation of Libraries and Associations (IFLA). These groups allow Mike to participate in solving worldwide genealogy concerns.  For example, a group in Africa may be wary of losing their oral history as the younger generation might not want to learn. Mike offers creative solutions, not necessarily through FamilySearch but by working with whichever organization has the best resources to offer for a particular situation, be it Find My Past, Ancestry.com or another organization.

Mike’s latest endeavor is that of “The War of 1812 Pension Digitization Project” (http://www.preservethepensions.org/), an initiative of FGS. These deteriorating files, housed at the National Archives (NARA), are chock full of, as Mike puts it, “unreal stuff” – such as original bible pages and insane asylum records. Fundraising is in progress and 100% of your tax deductible donation goes to digitizing these records (.45 cents per page) which once online will be available to anyone forever for FREE. Currently 50% of the funds have been raised.  Ancestry.com has generously stepped up and agreed to cover costs to digitize half of the records. So every dollar donated will actually go twice as far.

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The talented Mike initially crafted and sold little soldiers, and then dragoons for the project (now sold out) and was looking for another method to raise money and awareness of this cause. He has decided to run, bike and walk 1,812 miles this year and is seeking sponsors. He is registered to race in three 5Ks, three 10Ks, two half marathons, two sprint triathlons and one Olympic triathlon.  You can support him by pledging through The Legal Genealogist (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2015/02/13/halfway-home/). In addition, Mike has found a source for little sailors, and will have them painted and ready for the National Genealogical Society annual conference in St. Charles, Missouri this coming May.

A goal of 1,812 miles might have been difficult a year ago, but in the past 6 months Mike has lost 80 pounds!  His doctor gave him an excellent bill of health and he credits the “Fast Metabolism Diet” by Haylie Pomroy (and more importantly his wife’s inspiration and cooking) for this new “35 year old body” and renewed energy.

Mike and his wife Joanne, the love of his life, a classmate at BYU, reside in Orem, Utah. Together they had four children and are now the proud grandparents of fifteen.

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Catch Mike at NERGC April 15-18, 2015:

Sailing Beyond Names, Dates, and Places in Family History Research: Using Newspapers to Provide the Rest of the Story  Michael Hall Int./Adv T-112 –  This presentation will focus on newspapers and how they can be used to provide clues to resources that can assist in proving the identity of your ancestor.

Sailing From the Azores to Fall River: The Documentation of One Family’s Journey  Michael Hall Beg./Int. F-236 –  This presentation will focus on how one emigrant Portuguese family from the Azores navigated through the various legal, cultural, and family obstacles to sail into a brighter future.

Early Bird registration ($120) ends 28 February 2015.
Registration after 28 February 2015 is $150.
Single day registration increases from $90 to $100 after 28 February 2015.

Register here, read the program brochure here.

Betty and Bob’s 53rd Anniversary

Happy Anniversary to my parents, Betty and Bob. Today, 18 February 2015, they would have been married 53 years. The first year, they lay at rest, together again.

About a year ago, my mother wrote an account of their first date, courtship, engagement and marriage:

Pat, my friend since the age of ten, and I, grew up in a  neighborhood [the Bellrock section of Malden, Massachusetts] with lots of kids our age.  When we were teens, we hung around the corner drug store, owned by Hy Goldberg, a very good friend of your grandfather [Dr. Charles George Hall]. A coke was five cents, an ice cream was eight cents. It was Kerwin, Ferrick, Short, Sheehan, O’Keefe, Dean, Skelton, Winchell, Keough, Hall, Murphy, Nugent, etc.

The guys all went to Malden High or the trade school. Most were in the high school with me and played sports of some kind.  Pat and I went to most of the games.

Your father played football and baseball.  The guys on the football team dated the cheerleaders.  Your dad dated a girl named Alice.  She would take the bus home from school, pass the drug store, see Pat and me there with other girls and the guys, and accuse Bob of cheating on her. She didn’t like us.  We probably weren’t even paying attention to Bob with so many kids hanging out there.  All just friends.

When your dad joined the Air Force with Kerwin and several other guys and was sent overseas Alice would write to him often.  He hated writing letters so he gave her letter to a friend to answer.  The friend typed a reply and your dad signed.  He said he very often didn’t even bother to read it.  What a brat! When he got home she had moved on and was seeing someone else.  His friends kept fixing him up with different girls. He said it was usually just the one date.

One night, in 1961, I got a phone call from Bob’s friend Woody Short aka Lloyd Short.  He was calling from the Kernwood Restaurant and Bar.  I don’t think either one of them were entirely sober.  Woody asked me if I’d go out with Bob on Saturday night.  Thinking he was drunk and it was a joke, I said, “sure why not”.  Saturday came, I was sitting around reading a book or watching TV, when the door bell rang.  I was shocked to find Bob standing there.  I did go out with him.  It was the middle of May.  We went to a drive-in-movie to see “Rally Around the Flag Boys”.

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We talked through most of the movie.  When he took me home, he said he never noticed how cute I was and what a good sense of humor I had, and then kissed me goodnight.  I figured it was one date and dismissed it.

He was a neighborhood friend!  Low and behold he called me again and again.

I did date a guy before your father, for seven years.  He was a Lithuanian guy from Salem, Massachusetts, named Eddie Piecewick.  I wasn’t seeing much of Eddie, with him working and going to school and living so far away, so I went out with Bob. We were not exclusive as you kids today put it.  That’s why I started dating your dad at the same time.  Bob and Eddie did not get along, the few times that they met.  Only because your father was rude to him or maybe just jealous. Bob and I went to Pat’s (she was married by then), out to dinner, movies, walking the length of Revere Beach, etc.  Pat was happy I was dating him, but my other friends were kind of cool toward him, because they were all friends with Eddie.

After your father got home from the hospital in Germany and recovered at home he got a an infection in the same stomach area and had to go into Chelsea Navel Hospital for medical attention.  Nana [Bob’s mother, Edith], who I had never met, called me and asked me to take her to visit him.  I had been invited to their house, because they knew we were dating, but thought “rich doctor, stuffy wife”, no way was I going there.  Much to my surprise, she was very down to earth and a lovely person.  Through a good part of her life she introduced me as her “daughter in love”.  We got along great.  Grampa [Bob’s father] told Bob that he made a good choice and he liked my sense of humor.  We all got along great.  I worried for nothing.

 

By August he asked me to marry him.  I said no, that was not for me.  He asked me again in September and then I said yes.  For my birthday he gave me an engagement ring.

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We planned a small wedding because I had little money, having spent it on funerals for my father and mother.  Also I had no family to speak of.  I wanted to wait a year to get married, he didn’t, so we picked 18 February 1962.

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Pat was my maid of honor, Janice [Bob’s niece] my flower girl, who hated having to wear a dress.  She looked adorable in the dress, Helen, her mother, made for her.  Joanne [Bob’s first cousin] took care of the guest book and did a wonderful job.  Also looked so cute.  Back then a person took the book around for the guests to sign.  Because my godfather [maternal uncle, Edmond Sylvio Roy] could not make it up from Florida to give me away, I asked Tom O’Keefe [Betty’s foster brother]. Joking, he said he’d be happy to get rid of me!  By then he was married to Liz.  I asked Aunt Margaret [Betty’s foster mother] to stand in for my mother. She did and looked lovely.

 

We were married at Sacred Heart Church in Malden by Father Hart later to become Bishop Hart.  We were not allowed inside the alter as most brides were, because Bob was not Catholic. I had to get permission from the bishop to marry outside my faith. My bans, an announcement in the bulletin, was not allowed. Bob had to attend a meeting with the priest on the Catholic religion.  He met with Father Hart and said they mostly talked about the greyhounds [Bob and his dad and grandfather raised and raced dogs], after Bob promised to bring any children up Catholic.

The reception was at the American Legion Hall on Pleasant Street, because Aunt Margaret’s husband was a member, and she was too, so she got us a deal. We had a band. An old boyfriend’s brother in law.  I forget his name.  No special song.  Maybe fifty people or less.  I forget.  Mostly Bob’s friends, mine from Malden and work. Some of Aunt Margaret’s friends and relatives and Nana’s friends and her knitting club. A couple of doctors that were friends of Grampa. Grampa’s only request was that he not wear a Tux.
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After the reception we stopped to see Georgiana [Bob’s paternal grandmother], because for reasons I never heard, she did not attend the wedding.

 

We went to Pennsylvania for a week.  I remember staying the first night in New York and leaving my only pair of heels there. I had to buy shoes in Pennsylvania but the hotel did mail my shoes to me.  We met a lot of nice people. We went to a place called Mount Airy Resort in the Pocono Mountains. It’s still there but looking at it on line it’s been updated after fifty two years. It is or was a honeymoon resort with a hotel and outlying cottages.  Lots of things going on and most of the people there were our age. It had it’s own restaurant and night club.  You could ski, sled, hike, etc.  Dancing and entertainment in the club.

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After the honeymoon we went to our apartment at 64 James Street in Malden, returning home in a miserable snow storm.  It was a nice surprise that your grandparents [Bob’s parents], went food shopping and left us food in the house.  We forgot to do that before we left!  Also we came back on a Sunday when the stores were closed. Would you believe I still have the giant sized can of Spaghetti O’s they left!!!

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We planned to work for a few years before having children, but come April, I found out I was having a baby!!!  I worked until September [at John Hancock].  Back then you could not work beyond five months.  On December 29, 1962 we had a baby girl. The rest of that story is yours!!!

This is a reminder to document your own courtship and that of your ancestors to preserve your story for future generations!!

A French pen pal?

As part of your ancestor search, have you considered that parents or grandparents may have had a pen pal? Someone who might have preserved their letters?

As a “tween”, in the early 1970’s, I acquired two pen pals, by responding to an advertisement in the Boston Globe or Herald.

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My first, Donna, grew up in Bondsville, Massachusetts.  I don’t recall the content of our letters – just that I was excited to receive mail. We corresponded until we departed for college,  and although we only lived 82 miles apart, lost touch and never met. The second (who’s name I can not recall), lived in Trinidad and Tobago.  The relationship was short lived; after several letters, she asked me to send money.

I was suprised to find that my dad may have also had a pen pal when he was 17.  He saved the initial letter of introduction, dated 26 Feb 1953, addressed to him at his childhood home, from Mademoiselle Solange Poncelet of the College Modern de Jeunes Filles at Thionville.  I haven’t had time to get this to a french speaking friend, but using “Google Translate” the jiste seemes to be: She has waited a long time for a pen pal. Miss Lawrence, an American was her teacher of English.  She is 17, small, with brown hair and dark skin.  She speaks of her father’s occupation and says that she doen’t see her parents much, other than holidays; she is boarding at school. She speaks of french examanations, perhaps related to college acceptance? She asks about his interests and schooling and whether they should correspond in Fench or English.  She asks that he send his photo first, before she sends hers. She thinks that Americans are friendly based on their apperance and gaiety.

Did dad write back? If he did, how long did they correspond?  My dad had a longtime girlfriend, Alice, during that time period (he didn’t start dating my mother until 1961) would she have tolerated a french pen pal? Where is Solange today? Although her initial letter is a bit commonplace, it would be interesting to track her down to locate further correspondence and to share the letter with her family.

Will our grandchildren know the meaning of the phrase “pen pal”?  Back in the day, it exposed us to other cultures in an era before the global economy, home computers, email, Internet and social media. Did you, your parents or grandparents have a pen pal?  Were the letters preserved? of what did you/they write?

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