- Posts for 52Ancestors tag
52 Ancestors, Week 8: Courting | Our Prairie Nest
52 Ancestors, Week 8: Courting

For Week 8 of 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, the topic is courting.

Well, I have to say I’m not sure I have any romantic stories to tell. Many people in my family seem to do better the second (or third or fourth) time around in partnerships. That includes me. I am currently in a polyamorous relationship with two wonderful partners, and worlds happier than I was in my first marriage. I think that’s because we really do outgrow other people or make ill-considered choices when we’re younger, or a combination of both.

However, that’s not the kind of courting I’m going to talk about this week, because I don’t think my story is interesting (I got to know both of my significant others through playing D&D). Instead, I’m going to write about my favorite topic again, great-great grandma Emma Anna (Murphy) (Regan) Shaw.

What is it about her life that fascinates me so much? I don’t know. I think it’s because who she is remains a mystery, despite having many of the facts of her life from birth to death. Again, I wish I had a picture of her, as if that could somehow magically give me some kind of insight into her personality.

This newspaper article from 1910, however, tells me more about her as a person than I’ve ever been able to learn anywhere else:

To sum up the article, Emma and my great-great grandfather, Erastus, co-owned a cranberry bog with a man named Alfred Hennessey. When they had disagreements about it, the land was partitioned, and Hennessey was given a right of way over Emma’s portion of the bog.

According to Hennessey, she wasn’t too keen on this, because when she saw him out there picking berries one day, she whacked him over the head with a gallon jug, which broke, and then hit him again with the handle that remained in her hand.

Emma’s story differed in that she intentionally went out to watch for whoever was trespassing and saw Hennessey and some children picking berries for him. She then confronted him to demand that he leave, and she claims he responded by calling her names. Supposedly, he grabbed her by the arms and pushed her, so Emma “biffed him one” with the jug she had with her – though she also claimed it was a quart, not a gallon. When he swore at her, she then hit him between the eyes.

I love that her testimony is quoted verbatim close to the end of the article, because regardless of the kind of jug she had when she hit the plaintiff, she was clearly a feisty lady who didn’t take crap from anyone! Even funnier is the statement by the judge that he was well-acquainted with the dispute over the bog. Do you think he was having a Judge Judy moment while these two fought over the land?

52 Ancestors, Week 6: Maps | Our Prairie Nest
52 Ancestors, Week 6: Maps

I was a little stumped for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, Week 6. The only idea that came to mind was how much I loved looking at maps as a child when we went on our annual summer vacation, usually to a campground in New Hampshire or Vermont. But I couldn’t think of a genealogical context until my mother and I started discussing a recent DNA match. That’s when I decided we needed to map the known movements of my great-grandmother’s first husband, Joseph William St. Onge.

Joseph William St. Onge

My great-grandmother, Mildred Marian Burrell, had seven children with four different men. Fortunately, DNA helped us untangle the various threads of paternity, but the fate of one of the fathers remains a question we hope to answer.

Joseph was born 30 August 1893 in Marlborough, Middlesex, Massachusetts. His parents were Joseph St. Onge and Mary Fortier. We know where he was born, where he lived in the 1900 and 1910 censuses, and the addresses he lived at when his children were born. But we don’t know where he died or when. I didn’t realize how much he had moved around until I started analyzing records more closely and found that for nearly every documented event in his life, he was living at a different address.

His life began in Marlborough and by the age of 6, he was living in Whitman, Plymouth, Massachusetts with his family. In 1910 they were still living in Whitman, but at a different address. He was married to Amanda Jean in 1915 and living at a new address when their baby was stillborn at the end of that same year. He lived at the same address when he registered for the World War I draft in 1917.

52 Ancestors, Week 6: Maps | Our Prairie Nest

But in 1919 he ran away with my great-grandmother to Maine. She was pregnant with her first child, not Joseph’s though, and he had apparently offered to marry her. They lived in Biddeford, Maine when Mildred’s first child was born. Joseph’s wife, Amanda, filed divorce the next day. Less than a year later, the divorce was granted and Joseph and Mildred were married in Dover, Strafford, New Hampshire ten days after the divorce. Three months later, their daughter, and first child together, was born in July of 1920, and they were still living in Biddeford, but at a different address.

Map of Joseph William St Onge

I am not sure what took Joseph to Maine, but they were back in Plymouth County, Massachusetts by September of 1921 for the birth of their second child. A son was born to them in 1924, and once again they were living in a different address. One more son was born to them in 1925, and yet again they were living at another address. During those years, they lived in Rockland and Abington. However, by 1925 Joseph had run off on Mildred. She went on to conceive my grandfather with a different man, who we were able to identify through DNA testing. She then married her second husband, Herbert Haley, and had a daughter with him.

Joseph, meanwhile, seemed to disappear off the face of the earth. After many years of gathering family rumors, the most promising lead we have is that he had been found by a detective his children hired in the early 1970s. According to that story, he died in Chicago five years before. However, after his children read the detective’s report, they destroyed it.

Another family rumor is that Joseph was a rum runner. Only one family member disputes the idea that Joseph was a gangster or in trouble with the law, but all the rest agree he was likely involved in criminal activity. When I look at how often he moved as an adult, I just have to wonder what he was running from. Clearly he wasn’t about to settle down in one place or raise his children, both step and biological. I can only speculate as to why he made the choices he made, but the main thing we want to know about him is where he ended up after 1925.

This map doesn’t give me answers, but I think it tells me that this won’t be an easy question to answer, even if we think we know his alias(es) and moves after 1925. And even if we get the answer, there are probably still many questions in between.

Branching Out | Our Prairie Nest
52 Ancestors, Week 5: Branching Out

This week’s topic for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks is “Branching Out” and I would like to look, not at my family, but people who were forced into a connection with my family: the people my ancestors enslaved.

Richard Howett of Tyrrell County, North Carolina

In a post from last year, I wrote about my Unexpected Southern Ancestors. My ancestor, Martha Howett, came from Tyrell County, North Carolina, along with 3 of her sisters, to Duxbury, Massachusetts. These women had married 3 Winsor brothers and 1 Winsor cousin, and if you are familiar with the Winsor family of Duxbury, you’ll know they were prolific.

Unfortunately, having this connection to southern / Tidewater area ancestry also meant a connection to people enslaved by my ancestors. My 5th great-grandfather, Richard Howett (abt. 1755 – 1805 or 1806) had no less than 19 people enslaved at one point in his life. They, or the proceeds from the sales of these people, were bequeathed in his Will, because of course enslaved people were treated like property. The stories of so-called benevolent enslavers giving them “good lives” are, we now understand, ridiculous. No enslavement could ever be viewed as acceptable or good for anyone but the enslavers themselves.

Worse than that, it’s clear from the Will that Richard expected the women to be used as breeders, since the document specified that he wanted his wife to “raise the increase” of two of the enslaved women. If you would like to get a better understanding of enslaved women used as breeders, please watch “Researching the Children of Breeders” on Genealogy Adventures Live.

I’m not related to any of the people forced into this terrible life… as far as I know. That remains a possibility considering how enslavers took advantage of the people forced into slavery, though I’ve started giving extra scrutiny to my Black cousins on DNA sites. As far as these enslaved folks are concerned, I want to get to know them. Why?

Because I think it’s important not to let their stories get lost in time and history. Because enslaved people were still people, no matter what enslavers then and people today do to strip them of their humanity and to discount their experiences. Because I don’t want to forget that these people’s lives were changed by my ancestors’ actions:

  • Chloe and her 4 children: Nancy, Mary, Samuel, and Patience
  • A woman named Moll
  • An old woman named Doll
  • A boy named Spinner or Spencer
  • People sold in 1821 as part of the Estate of Richard Howett:
  • Jim (23 – b. 1798)
  • Aggy (20 – b. 1801)
  • Jimmy (5 – b. 1816, Aggy’s son)
  • Cooper (3 – b. 1818, Aggy’s sons)
  • Mariah (15 – b. 1806)

This year, I’m branching out by making an effort to research and learn more about these people, and their lives.