Sunday, April 17, 2016

My Favorite Genealogy Resources

Over the years, I have relied upon the same resources time and again. Most of my research is centered on New England and Nova Scotia, and these resources reflect that. They are the most useful in my research and I return to the websites week after week:

Family Search - this is my go-to for general genealogy. This free LDS-funded site is for searching family trees, censuses, various records (vital, land, court, and more), as well as sharing photos and stories. You can give back by volunteering on transcription projects.
The New England Historic Genealogical Society - the oldest genealogical organization in the U.S. with extensive holdings both in their library and online. For anyone with predominantly New England ancestry, like me, the $89.95 annual membership is well worth it. They also have records for the rest of the U.S., as well as Canada and many other countries.

Ancient Landmarks of Plymouth Project - this is a transcription of the book by William T. Davis. If you have any family in Plymouth, Massachusetts in the 1800s or prior, it is well worth searching the index for their surname(s) and reading the entries.

Nova Scotia Historical Vital Statistics - a free searchable database of births, deaths, and marriages in Nova Scotia. Absolutely recommended for anyone with ancestors or family in the province. There are some gaps in the coverage, but you will not find a more comprehensive online resource for Nova Scotia vital records.

Library and Archives of Canada - known for the widest variety of microfilm and digital holdings for all of Canada, it can take time to learn your way around the site. The digitized microfilms are not indexed, so you're in for the long haul if searching through them, but you can do it from the comfort of your own home.

Genealogy Resources for New England & Nova Scotia

Copyright (c) 2016 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, April 10, 2016

What If...?

I'd like to share a little something from the heart this week, inspired by what I posted last week about the great-grandmother I never knew, and my belief that she was not a bad person, but instead subjected to hardships that shaped her as a person.

When we look at our ancestors, we can only guess so much based on their actions. In the episode of Finding Your Roots with Mia Farrow, she was appalled to learn that her grandfather, Joseph Farrow, committed her grandmother, Lucy Savage, to an asylum after the birth of their only child. For a while, she was angry about it, but when she learned of Joseph's heroism in World War I, she wondered if he was really such a bad guy.

She'll never know, just like I will never know about my great-grandmother Mildred, which is why I cannot and will not judge her.

I know very well there are two sides or more to every story, because I am a story. When I was only 3-years-old, my parents divorced. Once it was finalized, I did not see or hear from my mother again until I was 19.

We gathered for a Bartlett family reunion in Massachusetts in 2008 and that was when, at long last, I would see her again... 30 years after the last time I saw her.

Did I judge her? Did I wonder why she left? Of course, so I asked questions and I received three different answers from three different people.

Whose answer is most accurate? My mother's, because she was the one involved in the situation? What about the opinions of the outside observers who perhaps saw something she did not see? Or were their observations merely inaccurate perceptions of the overall situation?

I think that's the key word when dealing with family stories: perception.

Where one person perceived my great-grandmother's behavior and choices as wrong, another might perceive it as the only thing she could possibly do in her circumstances. We were not in her shoes, so we were not the ones sick after childbirth or giving birth to frail children whose lives hung in the balance. We were not the ones with five mouths to feed and a husband who left. We were not the ones reported to reported to the state for neglect, our children removed from our care to go into foster care.

It was with help from her second husband (my great-grandfather) that my great-grandmother was able to get on her feet, but it is not an overnight process, as anyone who has gone through hard times understands.

Things often look one way from a certain angle, but it's when you take the time to see the other side that you realize it's not the shape you expected.

It was such a different world only 50 years ago, let alone 100 years ago, and though we look at genealogy analytically and judge family stories harshly at times, we need to remember that we were not there. And those connected to the stories can only tell their side.

I think we also need to remember not to hold on to judgements or regrets that things did not turn out differently. That holds us back in the past, and not in a good way.

Genealogy and family history is going to have good and bad, amazing triumphs and awful tragedies. I believe the key is to understand that we aren't just dealing with names and numbers. We're talking about human beings with hopes and dreams, and the capacity to suffer and hurt.

As the ones still living, I think we should embrace the opportunity to learn from the past, rather than dwell on it, and heal the present.

Copyright (c) 2016 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Family Secrets

Last night I finally watched "Finding Your Roots." Like "Who Do You Think You Are," I think it is a good way to stir up the general public's interest in genealogy. Interesting personal stories of others often make us wonder about our own family.

For the most part, my family seems pretty normal. If there are any awful family stories or secrets, they are mostly relegated to the 1800s and earlier, and none of us are aware of them.

But there is one family member about whom we have heard awful things and I wish I could know so much more about her. I've written about my great-grandmother, Mildred Marian Burrell, before in 2011. Much like my great-great grandma Emma, who I revisit often, Mildred remains a mystery - one we know is full of secrets.

Mildred was born 12 June 1897 in Randolph, Norfolk County, Massachusetts to George and Susan (Jones) Burrell. She died 9 October 1972 in Abington, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, so I never got to meet her, let alone know her.

She first married Joseph William St. Onge on 17 April 1920 in Dover, Strafford County, New Hampshire. They had:

1. Joseph Edward St. Onge, 1919-1978 (paternity questioned; Mildred was pregnant before marrying Joseph)
2. Mary Ellen St. Onge, 1920-1985
3. Gertrude Mildred St. Onge, 1921-2000 (tried to find all her siblings after they were scattered)
4. William St. Onge, about 1924 to...? (paternity questioned; raised/adopted by William Perry of West Bridgewater)
5. Frank St. Onge, 1925-1996 (left in the hospital and spent his first 5 years in an orphanage)

What we know from the children and grandchildren of some of these five children is that Joseph William St. Onge was a cruel man and possibly involved in illegal activities. I'm not sure if it was Mildred's upbringing, her marriage with Joseph, or the pressures of the depression, but she was also known as a not-so-kind woman. I have a feeling she endured abuse at Joseph's hands, but I'll never know for certain.

It's also possible Mildred was seeking love and intimacy elsewhere, as family members have hypothesized that William St. Onge was the son of another man. Mildred left Frank at the hospital after his birth, and fostered her other children out at some point before 1930, because they are all living with different families in the census.

I have yet to find Mildred or Joseph in the 1920 census. It's possible they were moving or Joseph was "on the run" during that time, since Mary Ellen was born in Biddeford, Maine, but her younger siblings were all born in Massachusetts.

At some point, Mildred must have divorced Joseph or given up on him being a part of her life after he left the family, because she moved on with my great-great grandfather, Herbert Benjamin Haley.

After 20 years of searching, I still have not located a marriage for Mildred and Herbert, but her death certificate shows her as Mildred Haley. Together they had:

1. Herbert Benjamin Haley, Jr., 1926-2014 (my grandfather, paternity questioned)
2. Lorraine Janice Haley

Herbert was reared by his Haley grandparents, Hiram and Rosanna (Cassidy), and Haley aunts and uncles all living in Middleborough, but Mildred chose to raise Lorraine. Why did she make that choice? Was she just not equipped (emotionally, I wonder, not financially) to handle a baby at that moment in her life? Was Joseph St. Onge still a presence in her life or long gone out of the picture? Did she fear for her child, born when she was not yet married to his father, but still married to another man? (The surname "St. Onge" appears on my grandfather's birth certificate.)

We do have one possible way of determining whether or not grandpa Herbert was a Haley or a St. Onge, and that is thanks to my Uncle Dave Haley, who had a DNA test. So far, we don't have any Haleys or St. Onges to compare him to, but maybe someday we will.

Maybe someday, we'll resolve one mystery - was Herbert Jr. the son of Herbert Sr. or Joseph St. Onge? But I think even if that happens, it will still leave many secrets, like why Mildred made the choices she made.

Those of us here today waver between sympathy, disdain and confusion about the person Mildred was and why things turned out as they did for our father/grandfather/great-grandfather Herbert Jr. - why she would not or could not be a mother to him.

When family tried to reach out to Gertrude (St. Onge) Templeton, she refused to speak to them about the family. I wish she had talked, because it might help family understand and - one hopes - not perpetuate any sort of negative cycle.

Copyright (c) 2016 Wendy L. Callahan