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In 2007, I joined Ancestry.com. It never occurred to me that online, unsourced trees were inaccurate. I essentially “copied” my entire Acadian family from potentially erroneous public trees and never looked back. Although my newer entries are sourced, a visit to Stephen A. White, at Moncton University’s Centre d’Études Acadiennes [Center for Acadian Studies] in 2014, revealed a number of errors. I am determined to start from scratch, and verify that I have all available records beginning with the 30 direct ancestors, connected to my maternal grandmother. This includes her parents, grandparents, g-grandparents and g-g-grandparents.
To keep the project manageable, I will write of one ancestor each week.
Week #1 – Yvonne Marie (Roy) Billings
Week #2 – Pius/Paul Dost Roy
Week #3 – Marie Laura Norma “Laura” Melanson – my mother’s maternal grandmother
My mother, Elizabeth Norma Billings aka “Betty”, did not know her grandmother well. Betty was taken away from her parents, Yvonne (Laura’s daughter) and Charles Billings and placed in foster care. Laura, in her early 50’s, could not financially (or likely emotionally) care for four young grandchildren, all under eight. She raised seven of her own children in abject poverty (her youngest was just 13 years old when the state took the Billings children), her husband was an alcoholic who worked little and Laura, working menial odd jobs, was the sole family supporter. Betty, being about six or seven may not have understood why Laura or another family member could not step in and take them. In later years she reached out to her grandmother with a note attached to a high school photo, which read:
Gramma – To the most wonderful Grand Ma in the whole wide world. May you have everything you may ever want for the rest of your life. God only knows you deserve it. Please take good care of yourself. – With loads of Love – Always – Betty.
“I didn’t really know my grandmother. I can count on one hand the few times I saw her except for a week I stayed with her after high school when she moved to Florida with her daughter. I did go to Athol to visit her once but when I got there she said it was bingo night and she was going out. I never went back to visit. She was a nice lady but devoted to her daughter Alida. Alida was a widow at a young age [editor’s note: Alida was actually in her late 40’s when her husband passed] with four kids. My grandmother lived with her until the day she died”.
3. Marie Laura Norma “Laura” Melanson, daughter of Magloire Melanson (a farmer) and Ausithe/Osite Dupuis, was born on 23 Mar 1892 in Scoudouc, Westmorland County, New Brunswick, Canada. She was baptized two days later on 25 March; her godparents were Pierre Melanson (her uncle) and probably Marie Bibianne Dupuis (her aunt).
Laura’s sister and only full sibling, Melesse “Melissa” Belzemie Melanson, was born in Scoudouc 16 Nov 1894.
Their mother, Ausithe, passed away a few months after Laura’s fifth birthday, 28 Aug 1897.
Around that time, a 10-year old local girl (death record lists her age a 7 1/2), Salome Bourque was killed by the train in Scoudouc near Dorchester Road. The girl and her widowed mother were likely well known by the Melanson family and the tragedy likely affected the entire community. The story tells us that the St. John accommodation train ran through the community and gives a glimpse of the responsibilities given to young children (the girl was driving her mother’s cows across the track when she was killed).
By 1901, Laura and Melesse lived with their widowed paternal grandmother, Pélagie (Leger) Melanson, and four paternal unmarried aunts Rose, Magdeline, Marie and Zelica, on the family farm run by their 27-year-old unmarried uncle, Pierre Melanson (Laura’s godfather), in a place called Dorchester Road, located 4.51 km SW of Shediac in Shediac Parish, Westmorland County. Next door (or very close by) lived their uncle (Ausithe’s brother) Phillas Dupuis, his wife, children and Laura’s widowed maternal grandmother, Nathalie (Boudreau) Dupuis. Other Melansons and Dupuis lived nearby, likely all related. Laura’s father, Magloire’s whereabouts are unknown in the 1901 census year.
This is likely where Laura was born. Scoudouc included the community of Dorchester Crossing which in 1898 was a farming and lumbering settlement with 1 post office, 1 sawmill, 1 grist mill and a population of 250.
I hoped to visit the Melanson farm in 2014; some locals in Shediac knew exactly where it “used to be”…. The farm was torn down to make way for a highway/bridge and what remains is a field.
Nine-year-old Laura was Roman Catholic and in April 1901 had been enrolled in school for 6 of the last 12 months. She could read, write, speak French and English (French was her native tongue). Laura reports attending school through the 7th grade when she spoke to the 1940 census taker. There were at least four schools in Shediac Parish, Westmorland County. The “Annual Report of the Schools of New Brunswick – 1903” describes the general state of the schools in this parish as follows:
Laura’s father, Magloire, remarried on 26 May 1902 in Richibouctou, and reported his residence as Scoudouc, so he did perhaps live near the girls. Laura’s granddaughter Pat, wrote in 2015 saying:
Meme told me she worked on the farm as young child, she was sent there after her father married his second wife. Not sure exact age, she earned .25 per week and had to buy all her needs out of that income. She did not say if any help financially from her Father. That is where she learned to cook and bake and she was a great baker.
His second wife was Judith Cormier, of St. Mary’s Parish, daughter of George Cormier and Magdalene LeBlanc. Judith gave birth to Laura’s half-brother, Antoine on 12 July 1903. He died at the age of 10 months, 12 days, on 25 May 1904 in Scoudouc (cause unknown). On 17 Mar 1905, Laura’s half-sister Marie Alida was born in Shediac.
Laura’s daughter Alida, recalls that Judith did not treat Laura well. Judith favored Melesse, with whom in later years she shared a two family home. Judith would intentionally tell Laura that she planned to leave Melesse certain items when she was gone, usually an item Laura admired. Laura’s young daughter and son would trek up the street to Judith’s after school to pick up the newspaper. Judith always seemed angry and yelled at them regularly, stopping them in their tracks before they could enter her house. Yet, in her later years, Judith would call Laura’s daughter in Athol (with whom Laura resided) every Sunday to demand an invitation and ride from Gardner to Athol for dinner.
Laura, 17-years-old, 5’5″ with fair skin, brown hair & eyes, crossed the border in Vanceboro, Maine, Apr 1909, claiming that she had no relatives in the area from whence she came in Canada (it is not clear where her journey started but she lists her last permanent address as Shediac; the manifest completion instructions say that a friend should be listed if there is no family, but in Laura’s case, simply “no relation” was written). Her father had paid her passage, she had $3.00 in her pocket and was listed as “Class-E” on the manifest. She was a domestic; final destination was her father’s home, 4 Knowleton Street, Gardner, Massachusetts. It was the first time she had ever been to the United States, and she appears to be traveling all alone and likely journeyed to Gardner via train.
Arrival documents have not been located for other family members, but Magloire is next found listed in the 1909 & 1910 Gardner, Massachusetts city directory employed by Heywood Brothers & Company (a furniture manufacturer) and living at 184 Reagan Street; presumably Judith, Laura, Melesse and Alida reside with him.
Central Street, Gardner circa 1908
In 1910, Magloire, Judith, Laura (18), Melesse (15) and Alida (5) resided at 184 Reagan Street, a rented home. Magloire runs a circular saw at a wood chair shop (Heywood Brothers & Company), he can not read or write. He is an alien. Judith is a self employed washer woman, Laura and Melesse also work. Laura as a hoodmaker at a ??? shop and Melesse a winder at a reed and rattan shop.
Two days after Christmas, a cloudy cold Tuesday (temperatures were in the low 30’s), on 27 Dec 1910, Laura Marie Melanson, married Pius/Paul Dost Roy, the eldest child of Docité/Dosithée Roy and Victorie LeBlanc, in Gardner, Worcester, Massachusetts. He was a 24-year-old Chairmaker and she a 19-year-old shop girl. The marriage was performed by Wilfred J. Choquette, a priest, of the Acadian French, Holy Rosary Church, Nichols Street, Gardner.
Their eight known children were –
(1) Leo: Leo born in New Brunswick in 1911, had some type of head trauma and Laura cared for him until he died. He died 1929 in Gardner; his death certificate is on order, he was 18 years old.
(2) Yvonne Marie : Yvonne, born 16 Aug 1912 in Ste Marie, New Brunswick, Canada was my grandmother – her sketch here.
(3) Joseph Magloire: Magloire was stillborn or died soon after birth in New Brunswick, in 1913.
(4) Melisse/Elsie “Nelsey”: Nelsey was born in New Brunswick 16 Nov 1914. She attended school through grade six. In 1938 married Emil P Bergeron, son of Amador Bergeron and Geneve Dayer, and had three children, one who died in infancy. In 1940, she worked in a shoe factory. She lived all her life in Gardner and Athol. She passed 10 Sep 1987.
(5) Lena: Lena, my mother Betty’s godmother, was born 08 Mar 1917 in Gardner and married three times – (1) Earl Cromp son of Fred B. Cromp and Elizabeth “Lizzie” Venette with whom she had at least three children (James, Fred Earl and Edward), one who died in infancy. She divorced Earl (who was a bit strange according to a niece), his second wife, who he married while stationed in Europe, also divorced him, citing cruelty.
Lena then married (2) Millard Cummings son of John Norman Campbell/Cummings and Emma/Eva Venette [her sister Alida married Millard’s brother and Emma/Eva Venette was a sister to Elizabeth Venette; mother of Lena’s first husband], he died in 1949 at the age of 34; Lena next married (3) Frank McGuire (parents unknown). She lived all her life in Gardner and Athol; she passed in 1989.
(6) Edmund Sylvio: Sylvio, my mother’s godfather, was born 28 Sep 1919 in Gardner. We he was young and living in Massachusetts, he (and his sister Lena) would visit my mother Betty and aunt Shirley in their foster home most Sundays. He love his cars and showing them off. In 1940, Sylvio, who attended school through the 6th grade was living at home and working as a laborer at a baby carriage factory.
He participated in WWII, after enlisting 8 Aug 1942 at Fort Devens.
Sylvio married Lena Ida “Johney” Paul daughter of Napoleon Paul and Eva Duval in New Hampshire, 4 Aug 1945, and then relocated to Florida, they had no known children. Aunt Lena used to send me (and my siblings) $25 every Christmas until I was well into my 30’s or early 40’s. We would send thank you cards, but in reality, at the time, I had no idea how she was related. I do not recall ever meeting her. Cousins say she was a very controlling and protective of Sylvio. He died in 1977, she died in 2006.
(7) Alfred: Alfred was born 7 Jan 1923 in Gardner, he served in WWII – Technician fifth grade, Battery Company 440, Civil Affairs Battalion; he was given a number of awards which are now with his niece.
Alfred passed a week after his mom in 11 Nov 1968, at age 45. He never married and had no known children.
A niece recalls: “Alfred showed up one time in Florida very sick. His sister (my Mom) got a call from the Tuberculous clinic in Boston tell her to be careful about all of us being exposed. She was furious that he put us at risk. Dad drove him to the VA Hospital. None of us kids ever saw him again. Such a sad situation.”
(8) Alida: Alida married Earl Cummings and had four children. She is loving life in Florida, her details thus private.
Sadly, three of Laura’s children, Alfred, Yvonne and Lena became alcoholics.
What is known of Laura’s married and family life and their Acadian community is described in last week’s sketch of Pius – here.
Laura’s sister Melesse married Joseph Theodore or Thadee Landry and had at least nine children – Alfred, Herve, Edward, Jean Ulysses, Lionel, Raymond, Pauline, Lorraine and Albert. Her half-sister Alida married Maxime Lavoie and had three children Claudette (who became a nun), Joseph Herve Emile and William.
Laura endured her share of tragedy, she lost her dad 17 Sep 1926; son Leo to a head injury in 1929; sister Alida in 1948 to a house fire while trying to save her son, husband Pius in 1954, step-mother Judith in 1957, daughter Yvonne in 1961 and sister Melesse in 1967.
Laura returned to New Brunswick at least once, on 11 November 1932 for an 11 day stay. Her father-in-law, Docité/Dosithée Roy, died 16 Nov 1932 in Ste Marie, New Brunswick while she was there. She perhaps went to see him. She appeared to be traveling alone. On 22 November 1932, she returned via Vanceboro, Maine and listed her contact in Canada as Aunt, Miss Rosie Melanson of Shediac.
Laura’s husband Pius was an alcoholic and rarely able to work. He gambled away their home or rent money [land records have not been examined in the US, but they did not own a home before 1940 in the US nor was Pius located in the New Brunswick Grantor/Grantee land deed indexes before 1917].
In later years, Laura, known as “Meme” and Pius had no choice but to move in with their youngest daughter on her farm on New Sherborn Road in Athol. Laura, had a very sad life, she raised their children close to abject poverty. She worked very hard to keep things together. She basically ran the small family furniture business (the 1922-24 city directories lists an occupation of “second-hand furniture”), laundered for people and held other odd jobs. Pius died 9 Aug 1954.
Shortly after Pius’s death, in 1955, Sylvio called from St. Petersburg, Florida and suggested to his sister Alida and husband Earl that they come to Florida. He promised great jobs and housing! So they sold the farm, gave the animals to neighbors, packed up the car with the four kids, Laura, the dog and all their worldly possessions. The furniture was shipped, but arrived damaged. They of course arrived in Florida to no job and no house! They had to live with Sylvio and Lena for a several weeks, but then found jobs, housing and decided to stay permanently. Laura stayed with the Cummings for the remainder of her life.
Her granddaughter Phyllis recalls:
“Meme (Laura) had no friends in Florida, did not drive and became very isolated. Her only outlets were church and a weekly bingo game. Her other children didn’t seem to have much contact, nor did they assist financially.
Her Social Security checks were $145. I can remember her waiting at the mailbox for them. Had my folks not taken her in I am not sure how she would have lived. Her daughter Elsie (Nelsey) came to visit her one time while she was alive. They spent most of the time playing cards and speaking French. Sivio (Sylvio) was not much help with her, never bothered to take her anywhere and never provided her with any financial support.
I shared a room with her, she was very superstitious and would make me look in the closets and under the bed for little people that might be hiding to steal her stuff. If something went missing then they stole it. She would buy a pack of Dentine gum once a week, at night she would save the chewed piece next to her dentures to chew the next morning.
She owned five dresses, one was for church , one for bingo and the other three for around the house. We all ate most meals together around a big table my Dad built, my brother sat at Dad’s left and by ages we ranged around the table. She would admonish us girls to leave enough food for Dad and my brother.
She was never a physically demonstrative person but showed her love by baking our favorite treats. I remember opening the door from school to the smell of warm pies and bread. She always made me a tiny pie all to myself. She collapsed one day from abdominal pain. Dad and Mom rushed her to the hospital. She died a few hours later from abdominal cancer. The doctors said she must have been in awful pain but never let on. I still miss her.”
Her granddaughter Pat recalls:
Phyllis mentioned when she was home from school if it was baking day, Meme always had a little pie or something special just for her to eat, but she did that for all 4 of us kids and I think she baked twice a week or more. With 4 kids and 3 adults the food went fast..Also when I got married I didn’t know how to cook very many dishes or bake, well she taught me how gave me a lot of recipes but no cook book they were all in her head..She also was a great seamstress, and we all had the best dressed dolls in town as well as clothes for us. She also made beautiful quilts, Phyllis was the only one that knew to keep one unused so it is in great condition, next time you come have Phyllis show it to you..I have one but well used and both my kids want it left to them in my will. May have to draw straws on that.She was never idle always making something by hand, quilts rugs, doilies, doll clothes or making something for us. She also made her own patterns for tablecloths and doilies. She was artistic and wound sketch out birds flowers etc on the doilies or table cloth..I always admired her, while she may not been much to hug or give you a kiss, she showed us her love in other ways..She had a lot of sayings that were superstitious, or maybe just a way to have you do something. To this day I have to put things in place, before I go to bed shoes in the closet, clothes hung up, things in place so the borrowers would not take them. Ha I think it was her way to keep our rooms neat. And I can’t sleep if the closet door is open , and few years ago we were all talking and I brought it up and found Phyllis and Wilda do the same thing. Funny !.She used to tell us if we could peel a potato in one unbroken strip, when we dropped it on the ground it would tell us the initial of our future husband. We tried again and again (surely just a way to get us to peel potatoes)!.Also not sure if you knew Pepe (Paul Roy) lived with us as well in Athol, he used to rock me and sing me funny little French songs, he died when I was around 3 or 4 years old..
Laura died at St. Petersburg, Florida on 3 November 1968. She is buried at Gethsemane Cemetery in Athol.