Friday, March 28, 2014

An Unexpected Email is like a Great Gift - Shaws (52 Ancestors - #13)

The hobby of Genealogy to me is like an insatiable obsession. A day does not pass that I don't look up one if my ancestors in my tree, scout around for a "new" vintage photo, ask relatives for information or surf the net for any clues to where our family originated. Family research is like assembling an endless puzzle or trying to investigate a mystery that might never be solved. Admittedly I've been blessed by many friends and family around me who have been able to provide memories, stories, and advice for my quest to family research. Some of the people who have been my biggest role models are my dear friend Patty S., long lost cousin Tom G., new cousin Trooper Bob, cousin Pat C., friend Jean, and Aunt Mal to name a few. However, on occasion people come out of nowhere to help a stranger.  I've had the pleasure of a stranger coming out of the woodwork this week to help me.  Earlier this week I was doing my usual poking around websites to find anything I could about my husband's Shaw family.  In my search I found an a friendly, robust genealogy site for those seeking information about ancestors from the Grand Banks of Newfoundland,  It had a virtual bulletin board where I could post a note saying I was looking for Shaws from Little Heart's Ease and Brendan responded to my post!  Here is what he said via a personal email to me:

Hi Karen
I saw your posting on the Grand Banks site and decided that I had to reply. My name is Brendan Doyle and I live in xxx, Newfoundland. My family came from nearby Grates Cove which is just across the bay from Little Heart's Ease in Trinity Bay. I am not a genealogist but I have been researching families of my area for quite some time now and the Shaw's come into my search because they were originally from Grates Cove. If you look at a map of our area you will notice that Grates Cove is located at the tip of a peninsula and right on the bountiful fishing grounds of Baccalieu Island. In the early 1800's it was a very inhospitable place especially in winter and it appears that it was quite common for many residents to move across the Bay to the more sheltered areas like Little Heart's Ease. Some settled permanently while others made it their winter living area because of the availability of plenty of firewood. Many would come back to Grates Cove for the summer months to carry on their fishing.
The Shaw surname dates back to at least 1800 in Grates Cove. James Shaw married Tamar Blundon from Bay de Verde about 1805 (no marriage date found) and had George in 1805, James 1816, John abt. 1818, Stephen 1824 and Anne in 1831. Your James Daniel (1886) line descends from Stephen who had a son Daniel in February 1859 by Hannah Duggan of Grates Cove (no marriage date found). It seems that this Daniel moved across the bay where he married Catherine Frances Flynn of Southport, Random Island on 6 Nov 1883 at Little Heart's Ease (Witnesses Thomas and Margaret Shaw). They had James Daniel 1886, William George 1887, Daniel Francis 1891 and Michael Thomas in 1892. Daniel is one of those who made the trip back to Grates Cove because their son Daniel Francis died there 3 June 1892 age 1 year and is buried in the RC Cemetery. 

This information is a gold mine and how nice was Brendan to go out of his way to email me this information!?  I'm certainly eternally grateful to him for this wonderful email.

As I mentioned, I did find the website and was perusing through the posts to see the various topics.  One person asked why so many Newfoundlanders moved to Boston and Edward gave the following explanation:

Emigration from Newfoundland to Massachusetts involved the push-pull factor.  From the 1850s until Confederation in 1949 life in Newfoundland was difficult.  Boston was the "Athens" of the New World, the epitome of culture, education, and opportunity.  By 1925 there were roughly 40,000 Newfoundlanders in the greater Boston area. They had their own newspaper, churches, and stores.

What is particularly fascinating is the impact of religion on emigration.  Catholic Newfoundlanders settled in South Boston, Gloucester, or Cambridge.  However Protestant Newfoundlanders tended to settle north of Boston in places like Chelsea, Everett, Malden, etc...

If you visit the old cemeteries in Newburyport or Gloucester many of the headstones say "a native of Newfoundland" or "a native of Carbonear" which is very interesting because the emigrant's family is embracing Newfoundland as an identity rather than merely being English or Irish in origin.  (Link to post:

Another member, Eileen (enobe), went on to say the following about hardships our ancestor's children experienced in Newfoundland which may have been another reason for the great emigration:
Starvation probably was a reason why many moved away. I hesitated to mention this before because I thought that maybe the people in my little area of NFLD weren't doing something right. While going through the death registers, I noticed that many young children had died of "marasmus". I'd never heard of that so I looked it up, then cried.  It means malnutrition and/or starvation usually ending in death. Often occurring in third world countries. Can you imagine the horror of losing a child that way, no wonder so many left.
Note: This week I've found a wonderful website and even better, a super email!  This goes to show you, never give up your search.  Something will eventually give!!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Emiel: From Geraardsbergen to Boston (52 Ancestors, #12)

This week we are going to get to know Emiel VanCauwenberg, not to be confused with Emily, Emiel’s daughter, who I wrote about a few weeks back.  Emiel was born in Geraardsbergen, Flanders, Belgium on March 20, 1866.  What makes this week different is that I do not have any photos of Emiel which is a first.  Many thanks to my friend and professional genealogist, Liz Barnett, for her amazing talent in composing this story basically from researching documents and her vast historical knowledge.  Everyone needs help from time to time and what makes “Getting to Know You” such a great blogging experience is all the help I’ve received from family and friends.  Contributions from family, friends and professional genealogists is so necessary and will make any budding genealogist’s work more enriching, exciting and successful!  So here is what Liz told me about Emiel…

Geraardsbergen, Belgium

The first record found for Emiel was the 1901 English census, which found him and his family living in the Hackney section of London, where Emiel worked as a cigar-maker. The family was still there in February 1902, when they welcomed daughter Mary Willhemina Van Cauwenberge (birth record 1902 Q2 v. 1b, p. 459, Hackney Registration District). Emiel left for the US soon after, arriving in New York on the SS "New York" from Southampton on July 5, 1903. He was described then as a married cigar-maker, aged 37, born in Belgium and of Flemish nationality, heading to a friend in Boston. Emiel was part of a wave of skilled Belgian and Dutch cigar-makers who came to Boston and other US cities in the late 19th and early 20th century. Their presence upset other cigar-makers, whose union protested their influx, feeling they did not support the established unions. So many Belgians came to Boston that they formed a "Belgian Union" in 1907, and later a federation to support their countrymen at home in the wake of WWI.
Cigar maker photo

Emiel's wife, the Netherlands-born Marie Wilhelmina Feller or Filler, followed Emiel with their children, arriving at NY on the SS "Kroonland" on June 7, 1904. (The purser's handwriting is so difficult to decipher that the surname was transcribed as "Coreabey" by the Ancestry indexers, and "Covebeity" by the indexers at Ellis Island's website.) The "Kroonland"'s passenger list shows Mary, "Alina", Frank, and little Mary were heading to "Emil", then living at 34 Highland St. in Chelsea, Mass.  Daughter Emelie was not listed with them, and may have arrived earlier or perhaps was inadvertently omitted from the list; in 1905 she married fellow-immigrant Casimir Bruyneel, who also lived on Highland St., at #93.
Emiel found work in Boston as a cigar-maker, and by 1910 the family was settled in South Boston. Emiel's English was apparently good enough that he also worked as an interpreter for the Immigration Service.  They later moved to Dorchester, where Emiel and his wife raised their four children and at least 2 grandchildren. Although in 1920 Emiel claimed to have started the naturalization process, no record was found of his becoming an American citizen. At the 1940 census (in which he was named as "Amiel Vann"), his wife told the census taker that Emil had submitted the initial papers for naturalization but neither was yet a citizen. She and her husband then lived at 155 L St. in Boston, along with a great-grandson, Robert "Burnell", aged 14 (elder son of their widowed grandson, Oscar Bruynell). 

Emiel died of a cerebral thrombosis in the Boston City Hospital in 1943. He was buried in St. Joseph's Cemetery in West Roxbury (under the name Vann), as was his wife in 1957; their daughter Helena (Van Cauwenberge) Stephan, who died in the 1918 flu epidemic, is also there.  The informant for his death record was his son, Frank H. Vann, who said that his father's parents were "John Vann" and "Adelaide Vanderhooten", both born in Belgium.
Grave at St. Joseph’s Cemetary in W. Roxbury
The naturalization petition of Emiel's son, Frank, said he was born in "Grammont, Oost Flanderen" (East Flanders); Frank's WWII draft card also said he was born in "Gramont, Belgium", today more commonly known with its Flemish name, as Geraardsbergen, Flanders, Belgium. When Frank died in 1950 his death record said that Frank's's father was born in Brussels, but the informant was not a family member and may have been mistaken; Geraardsbergen is 23 miles from Brussels.  A logical place to look for Emiel's birth would be Geraardsbergen or one of the villages nearby. Frank gave a very specific age for his father at death: "77 years, 1 month, 10 days"; the year corresponds exactly with Emiel's age on arrival in the US in 1903.

Note:  If I could have a conversation with Emiel today of course I would like to find out more about his family in Belgium.  It must have been difficult for him to move from Belgium to London to Boston in a short span of time – what was it like to live in three different cultures? 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Gerald Boudreau: The Man on the Mirror (52 Ancestors - #11)

Growing up my brother and I often slept at Nana Amirault's house. Her quaint house was across the street from my house in Weymouth, Massachusetts. We slept in a room that was the size of a decent closet with a brown door that closed like an accordion attached to Nana's room. When we cut through her room going to bed we saw her giant off-white bureau with an enormous mirror and on this mirror she had the Mass card for Gerald tucked away. Unfortunately when Nana passed in 1997 Gerald's Mass card disappeared. Luckily Gerald's sisters, Claire and Alice Boudreau, my Canadian first cousins x2 removed, were able to fill me in on the man on the mirror.
Gerald in his Canadian Air Force Uniform
"We have no memories of what Gerald was like as a young boy. We were too young. Later on when he was older Alice and I recall how many times on Sunday mornings we would torment him to get up when this was his only morning to sleep in. He was so patient and good to us, of course, we were looking for a nickel!

Gerald joined the RCAF sometime in 1940 after Canada became involved in the 2nd world war. He was sent to Kingston, Ontario for gunnery training and then on to Montreal for radio training, which was a good part of one year. They were flying Wellington bombers and they crashed upon taking off the airfield. All were killed, the pilot and Gerald were Canadians and the other three were Australians.

Gerald is buried in Stratford-upon-Avon, on Evesham Rd. just down from Anne Hathaway's cottage. We have all been to his grave site in England. He was only 25 years old.
Gerald's Grave Stone in England - Source:

We have been told later that Gerald was interested in several of the local girls, but nothing serious or he would have married.

Claire shared with me a letter from the House of Commons and with that letter a copy of the pages from the House of Commons book."

After reading and thinking about my cousin Gerald it really makes my heart ache for all soldiers who have lost their lives no matter what war or what country. It makes me remember they have grieving parents and family who may never have a daughter-in-law (or son-in-law if it was a female soldier). It makes me wonder more about what was that person was like...did they play sports, did they have a hobby, what was their favorite subject in school, what did they enjoy for dinner, how many children might they have if they lived, how much do their families miss them.

What makes this story so additionally wonderful is that Claire and Alice are in their mid eighties and live up in Nova Scotia. We may have met once, but they embraced my request for stories about their family and there is more to come! Thank you!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Visiting with the Griffins: Southie was more fun than Disney! (52 Ancestors - #10)

Imagine sending your 14-year-old daughter to Boston to bring home your 2 year-old-daughter every week.  Imagine a loving sister who was happy to take your two year old daughter!  Imagine a spread of goodies that leaves deliciously vivid memories.  Family are wonderful!  When I was a child, I too had fond memories of Southie...visiting Aunt Cassie, despite being wheel-chair bound by the 1970s, put out a mouth-watering spread of goodies (bologna sandwiches and bake shop treats).  My Aunt Marilyn (Amirault) Lima, the writer of this story, tells us of how wonderful she felt when visiting her Griffin relatives in Southie!
Aunt Mal (white hat) with her mom and sisters (1939)
By the time I was born in 1934 and all my grandparents had died. Therefore, I have no memories of grandparents (Michael & Elizabeth (Leggett) Griffin and Lawrence and Mary Alice (Boudreau) Amirault).

I do recall going in to South Boston to visit my mother’s sister, Cassie, every Sunday. I was seven when my father died but I have heard we visited Cassie every Sunday before my father died and as he pulled his Dodge automobile in to Bolton Street, the street was so narrow, my Dad had to pull half of the car up on to the sidewalk to make room for other cars to get by.

Harry's car that would almost block the street in Southie!
My more vivid memories of visiting relate to after my Dad died and my mother, along with the five of us, took a bus to Quincy, switched to a trolley car which took us to Fields Corner followed by the subway train that took us to Broadway Station. We went up the stairs, out of the station to Broadway where we got a trolley to C Street. I can picture my mother with the five of us in tow.

Oh, what fun we had at 96 Bolton Street. We played with our cousins which consisted of Cassie’s kids and my mother’s younger sister, Nonie’s kids. Nonie lived in the next building. Rita, another sister, lived in the same building as Cassie in her own apartment. Rita was widowed when I was young and she had no children. My mother’s brothers, Tom and Buff also visited Cassie and that is where we got to know them. My mother’s maternal aunt, Jo Leggett used to come over also. It seems in looking back that Cassie’s was the focal point for all to visit.
Tom Griffin
Cassie’s husband was Charlie Hurl. I can recall his coming to North Weymouth by bus to do something for my mother in the way of yard work. He was a great guy.
Charlie Hurl
When Judy was about two, she moved in with the Hurl family where she lived until she entered the first grade in Weymouth. Cassie did not hesitate to add another little one to her family of seven kids. Cassie was the best. Joan, at a very young age, went to Southie every Friday to bring Judy home for the weekend. When we would leave Cassie’s on a Sunday late afternoon, my mother and Cassie would both be crying as it was so hard for my mother to leave Judy. At this point in time, my mother was only 38 years old.

My cousins were so good to all of us. We played outside until the gas lights came on and I can remember their listening to "The Shadow Knows" on the radio which I found very scary. I also remember McCarty’s store where I would get orange sherbet in a cone that was like paper but I thought it was delicious.
Uncle John and Aunt Cassie (siblings)
Every Sunday, Cassie put out the best spread a kid could imagine. There were boxes of pastries from the bakery shop plus rolls and cold cuts and soda (which we called soda "tonic"). Soda was a definite treat as we did not have that at home. Happiness is something we all experience in our own individual minds. Kids today go to Disney World and are happy. They are no happier than I was when visiting Cassie each and every Sunday when growing up in North Weymouth.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Letters from Caroline (52 Ancestors - #9)

Growing up I was always writing letters. Letters to my Aunt Ann in Pubnico, some to Cousin Cathy in Yarmouth and even one to the President of the United States asking him to not raise the price of a candy bar to .25 cents!!! After stumbling across my paternal grandmother's letters, I see where I get my enjoyment for writing. Family shared with me some of her letters, one letter I found at the National Archives and I've even had to the enjoyment of reviewing her diaries. One distinct difference about Caroline's letters is that they have neat tidbits of history tucked into them!

Caroline (O'Meara) Nickerson - 1937
On a warm June day in 1903 Caroline (O'Meara) Nickerson was born to Richard and Sophia (Farrenkopf) O'Meara. On another blog I'll write more about Caroline's life. Today I'd like to highlight some of her letters. The first letter was one that Aunt Doris had stored away dated August 8, 1927. This letter was from Caroline to her younger brother, Joe O'Meara. We are not sure where Joe was, but wherever he was, my grandfather Charles S. Nickerson, Sr. was with him. This letter was like a window into the past. Birth certificates went for just $.50 and that was a lot of money because my grandmother said "Joe first show it to them try and keep it as it cost 50 cents to get it."

To my surprise my grandparents were living together with Caroline's parents in Milton, MA. Prior to doing family research I just assumed everyone lived in their own homes, not together.  However, most likely for monetary reasons they lived together. Genealogy means some guessing involved, so I also wonder if Sophia, my great grandmother might have been sickly in the last few years of her life because she died just 2 years later.

After reading this short letter I discovered that Caroline's brother, my grand uncle Gene, was a police officer during the Sacco and Vanzetti murder trials. Boston must have been in quite a state because Caroline told Joe that "officers are to stay at their station houses and just allowed home for their meals and report right back again." She also said that "The people had quite a time over the Vanzetti & Sacco yesterday on the commons there was 4 arrests and one man slapped an officer in the face."

In 2012 while rummaging through Richard O'Meara's pension file (which was exciting in and of itself) another letter from Caroline brought me to the discovery that my great grandfather Richard O'Meara and Speaker of the House, John W. McCormack were "close friends."  Living near Boston and working in Boston brought me in and out of the McCormack Building and now when I go in and out of there I think of the person who was friends with my great grandfather.
Caroline continued to write.  She wrote two diaries full of interesting information.  In fact a childhood friend and I discovered that our ancestors were neighbors in Dorchester because Caroline had mentioned the street address and my friend's great grandfather upon his passing.  Caroline wrote to the Canadian Government looking first for her husband's WWII Canadian military pension and then she wrote to them again to discover that my grandfather did not have a birth certificate. 

Thank you to Caroline for all the writing she did - it makes me appreciate the letters I've written and I wonder if some day my granddaughter or great granddaughter will look through my letters and diaries!