Saturday, March 29, 2014

One Reason I Love Genealogy...

When I located my mother in 1994 (my parents divorced circa 1978-1979), we started a dialogue first through letters, then emails. This also led to exchanging letters and then emails with aunts and my maternal grandfather, and visiting with great-aunts and my maternal grandmother.

In email exchanges with my maternal grandfather, I learned he had many half-siblings and a sister, none of whom he had seen in a long time.

With my aunts, I compiled all the facts, and ultimately put together as much of the story as possible - my great-grandmother Mildred Marian Burrell (b. 1897 in Randolph, MA, d. 1972 in Abington, MA) had married a man named Joseph William St. Onge (b. 1893 in Marlborough, MA, d. ???).

Together they may have had 5 children:

1. Joseph Edward St. Onge (1919-1978)

2. Mary Ellen St. Onge (1920-1985)

3. Gertrude Mildred St. Onge (1921-2000)

4. William St. Onge (1924-?)

5. Frank W. St. Onge (1925-1996)

There are many sad stories about Mildred and the children. There are family stories and speculations that she was already pregnant with her first son when she met Joseph, that she was impregnated by a co-worker. This is certainly possible. She had Joseph Edward (20 July 1919 in Biddeford, Maine) before she and Joseph William married (17 April 1920 in Dover, New Hampshire), so there certainly is a question about his paternity.

There was also a question about William's paternity since he was adopted by the family of George Perry in West, however he supposedly was Mildred's and Joseph's son... At that point, however, it seems they didn't want to deal with having children. They left Frank at the hospital when he was born, and Gertrude apparently suffered horrible abuse from both her parents. 

However, it was Gertrude who ultimately found the boys and her sister, and helped bring the siblings together.

Joseph William St. Onge disappeared at some point. No one knows what became of him. I've talked about Joseph a few times on this blog and he remains a mystery. Supposedly he was a rum-runner during this era, who ditched the family and changed his name to Joe Brown. He did visit sometime in the 1940's, but was never seen again after that.

I guess it's fortunate for my grandfather, then, that when he was born in 1926, he was given to his aunt and uncle to raise. Grandpa's paternity has also been in question. Of course it says on his birth certificate that Joseph St. Onge is his father, but it also lists his surname as "Haley".

At some point - we don't know when - Mildred did marry Herbert Haley. She named my grandfather Herbert Haley as well.

Mildred had one more child (that we know of), and that was Lorraine Haley in 1927. She apparently chose to do right by Lorraine, and keep and rear her, though I imagine it was also the right thing to do to give Herbert to his aunt and uncle (Charles and Edith Haley).

Unfortunately, my grandfather and his sister lost touch over the years. However, I helped reconnect him with some of the children of his half-siblings. And then, thanks to one of my aunts, Herbert and Lorraine also got back in touch.

I write this today because, a couple of weeks ago, my grandfather had a stroke. My uncle made the very difficult decision to move him to hospice care, after grandpa suffered complication after complication.

Because of my parents' divorce, I never knew my maternal grandfather beyond emails we exchanged.

But I'm glad I was one of the people who was able to help him connect with his nieces and nephews. I'm glad my aunts and I made every effort to find his sister, and they got to meet again after so many years, thanks to all of us looking for her. I'm glad I got to exchange letters with her too - Aunt Lorraine, another family member I've never been able to meet.


At least we know that once, when grandpa was in better health, he got to see the sister he never thought he would see again.

Genealogy is not just about tracking down the dead, but the living as well.


Copyright (c) 2014 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sideways Searching

Most of the time I concentrate on one specific ancestor at a time, and then their parents, and their parents, and so on. If I included every single sibling and their families, I would have a huge family file full of distant cousins. I would also find myself getting confused and clicking around my family file too much. As it is, with all the intermarriages in my ancestry, things are tricky enough.

So my personal policy is only to bother including siblings from 1850 to present (and full families for 1900 to present), or a distant cousin's lines if I know that person and we are working together.

Of course, some researchers always include siblings, no matter what. It all depends on personal preference. I prefer to keep my file limited to direct ancestors for the most part.

But there is one other instance where I include collateral relationships, and that is when I hit a brick wall or need additional information on a family. This "sideways searching" can be important for many reasons - not just helping eliminate brick walls. Developing a fuller, more complete picture of a family might lead to evidence we wouldn't have located otherwise.

For example, my ex-husband's Hawksley line is one of the most fascinating families I am actively researching. Based upon a wide variety of sources, we know this family goes back to John Goodwin Hawksley of Mars Hill, Maine. John was probably born in Frederickton, New Brunswick, Canada, on February 8, 1810.

But the question was always this: who were John's parents?

Over the years, I've compiled records that help give a more complete picture of this family. John and his wife, Lucy, had a son - Samuel - who died in the Civil War. They had other sons who served and survived, so it was Samuel I was most interested in.

Why? Because since Samuel was a young, unmarried man, his parents could claim a pension for his service in the war.

Sure enough, Samuel's Civil War Pension file gave me a great deal of insight about John Goodwin Hawksley, his wife, and children, and his life in general. It told me all about John's health issues, and how much he and Lucy relied upon Samuel to take care of the family farm. It is a gold mine of information.

But it still didn't answer the question about his parents.

Fortunately, searching "sideways" through one of John's siblings and her family did answer the question about one of their parents. John had three sisters (two of whom still bear fleshing out), and one was Margaret Elizabeth Hawksley who married Isaac Adams on 3 October 1833 in Prince William, New Brunswick, Canaday.

Margaret's daughter, Mary Elizabeth (Adams) Foster wrote a letter that gave me insight about their parents - an Englishman named Hawksley, and a woman from New Jersey with the surname of Goodwin, who later remarried a Madigan.

That was a "Whoa!" moment for me when I read through those papers in the NEHGS manuscript collection, because I had found an 1860 census entry with a Mary Madigan living with Margaret (Hawksley) Adams. Thanks to the letter, I realized Mary Madigan was Margaret and John's mother. (There was an Irish family also living with Margaret Adams at the time, and I am still trying to figure out if there is any relationship.)

So that's just a little story about the importance of seeking out siblings when you have a family mystery on your hands. Sometimes, they have the answers.


Copyright (c) 2014 Wendy L. Callahan