Week 11 – Lucky

This week’s prompt is ‘lucky’. I’ve given the topic much thought this past week. Which ancestor had good fortune? Which Irish ancestor truly had the ‘luck o’ the Irish’? Thinking about genealogy and luck, it is my own luck that springs to mind. I’ve spent a lot of time and effort researching, but I cannot deny there has been an awful lot of luck involved. When I began researching my family history, I never expected to learn all that I have. I have made some amazing discoveries, through both traditional research and DNA testing. When I started out, I had far more questions than answers. Questions I thought would be impossible to answer. Now, most of them have been resolved, but there are still a few answers out there waiting for me.

My father was adopted. The adoption was closed and we had no information about his birth family. Incredibly, I was able to find my father’s birth family. The first huge piece of luck I had was finding a sympathetic Chief Judge who unsealed my father’s birth record and mailed me a copy. My father was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1950. I knew the agency he was adopted from, but as it was a sealed adoption, they could not provide any information. I could not even obtain his non-identifying information, despite the fact my father was deceased. Rhode Island gave adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates (OBC) on 01 July 2012. Unfortunately, this did not extend to the adult children of deceased adoptees. One day a woman in one of my social media genealogy groups posted a comment about her mother who had been adopted in Providence in 1910. I asked her how she got access to her mom’s OBC. She answered that she simply sent an email to the Chief Judge of Rhode Island Family Court. 

I procrastinated for a while. Surely my circumstances must be different… Maybe she got her record because there was no chance her mother’s parents could still be alive… Eventually, I sent an email. A few weeks later, I received an envelope from the court. Inside was a blank form to complete and return. The form had clearly been designed for another purpose, and most of the questions did not apply. I filled it out the best I could and sent it back, refusing to get my hopes up. I was still afraid that somehow the judge had misunderstood my request, and I would get a response telling me to get lost. It could not possibly be that easy. It was! Within a couple more weeks I had my father’s OBC. The was no father listed, but my grandmother finally had a name – Rita.

My luck continued, and I found an online obituary for my grandmother’s sister. One of her sons still lived in Rhode Island, so one Sunday, I picked up the phone and made my first phonecall to a stranger to request family history information. My new-found cousin so dearly wanted to help, but the sisters had lost touch over the years and he did not have much information about his aunt. He knew my grandmother had remarried, but not what her married name was or even if she was still alive. I left my contact details in case he remembered something, or spoke to another family member who did. I surprised to see his number pop up on my caller ID a few hours later. It was his wife, calling to tell me that she had once written for a newspaper, and could not let a story lie. She had called her sister-in-law, who knew quite a bit about my grandmother. I furiously scribbled down notes as she talked. By the end of the call, I learned my grandmother’s married name, and the names of her seven (!) other children. My grandmother had been married and had 2 children before divorcing her first husband. She later remarried and had another 5 children with her second husband. Wow! What luck! How fortunate I was that I found people willing to help.

A quick Google search showed a local address and phone number for my grandmother. Before I could even think about what I was going to say, my fingers started dialing the phone. The number was probably disconnected… OMG! Someone answered! I asked to speak to Rita. The woman who answered replied, “My mother is on death’s door and cannot talk on the phone. Can I help you?” All at once, I had more thoughts than could comfortably fit in my head. This is the right number! My grandmother is alive! She’s on death’s door! This is my aunt I am speaking to! Even though the timing was terrible, I could not let the opportunity get away from me. I gently eased into my story. I told my father’s sister that I was doing some family history research and discovered my father was related to her. I told her my father had been adopted, and told her his full birth name. “That’s my big brother’s last name.” I then told her the name of his birth mother. She had never heard about a child being placed for adoption, and was having a hard time comprehending. We talked for a bit, and when I hung up the phone, I felt that she would probably just dismiss me as a kook. I know if someone called me to tell me I had a sibling I did not know about, my first reaction would be to think they were crazy. My next reaction would be to demand proof.

The next day, I made a copy of my father’s birth certificate and adoption paperwork. I wrote a letter telling a little of what my father was like as a person. I also included a few pictures of him at various ages. A few days letter, I got a phonecall from another of my father’s sisters. She identified herself as Gail, and then added, “I guess I should say, Auntie Gail!” She said her sister had shown her my letter. From their pride in making homemade tomato sauce, to their love of reading western novels, she could not believe how similar my father was to his mother. She said my father was the spitting image of her older brother. We spent over an hour talking. From her, I learned that my grandmother had suffered a stroke the month before, and was non-verbal. Even though I dearly wanted to meet my grandmother, there was no way I would even think about suggesting we meet. I could not bring myself to possibly upset a sick, elderly woman at the end of her life. 

My grandmother passed away about 6 months later. I continued to stay in touch with Gail. Gail and I finally met about a year after our first phonecall. She had told me that Rita’s first husband was not her father. Rita had told Gail that her father was Rita’s childhood sweetheart. His name was on her birth certificate and he even paid support until Gail was 18. Gail and I speculated about whether or not she and my father had the same father. Fortunately for me, Gail agreed to take a DNA test. Regardless of whether she was my full or half aunt, we were family. It did not really matter, except to show if her father was my grandfather. 

I was immediately welcomed into Gail’s family. From the first day meeting them, it was as though I had known them forever. Once a month, she gathers her loved ones for a family supper. It’s an open invitation, and extends to neighbors, and friends of the family. Everyone shares what has been going on in their lives, and spends the evening eating delicious food and catching up. It’s a wonderful gatheringloud, crowded, and lots of fun. Auntie Gail cooks for days, and everyone leaves with a plate of leftovers. Every time I go, I meet another member of my new family. I am blessed to have found them. 

When the DNA results finally came in, it was confirmed. She and my father were full siblings. I now knew the identity of my paternal grandfather! He has already passed away, but his daughter is still living. I’d love to reach out to her and learn more about him, and I would love to see photos of him, but I do not think the ends justify the means in this case. I can only imagine how she would feel finding out that her father had fathered two other children whilst married to her mother. Maybe it would not upset her, or maybe she already knows, but I don’t think I have the right to potentially destroy her memories of her father. 

Learning about my father’s birth family took a lot of research, but there is no denying there was a large amount of luck. From seeing the right post on social media, a sympathetic judge, people willing to talk to a total stranger about their family, to a wonderful woman willing to spit in a tube, I was truly fortunate. Learning my father’s family origins was only the tip of my lucky iceberg. I’ve also had the good fortune to find an unbelievable amount of information on my mom’s paternal side. And my biggest piece of luck – finding out I have a sister, and having the opportunity to get to know the amazing woman she is. Such a blessing for this formerly only child! So, when it comes to luck, I don’t think any of my ancestors could’ve possibly been any luckier than I.


Week 10 – Strong Woman

This week’s prompt is “strong woman”. I am surrounded by strong women. From my mom and sister to my aunts and close girlfriends – I am fortunate to have such women in my life. The ancestor I have chosen to write about this week is my third great grandmother, Anne Whittle.

Anne was born 27 November 1851 in Dean Mill, Halliwell, Bolton, Greater Manchester, England to James Whittle and Elizabeth Whittle (nee Crompton). There was a mill in Halliwell called Dean Mill that was built in 1831. The mill owners also built housing for their employees. James was a cotton spinner, so it is not much of a stretch to think that he worked for Dean Mill and it seems likely that the Whittle family lived in company housing. Prince Albert visited the mill in 1851. I wonder if James had the opportunity to meet him? Or maybe at least see him walk past?

Anne married Alfred Marsden sometime in the fourth quarter of 1871. Like her father, Alfred worked in a cotton mill. Their first child, James Herbert, was born within their first year of marriage. A daughter, Annie followed 7 years later. I wonder why there was such a gap? Were there miscarriages? Most families of the period were having children every year or two.

Alfred died in 1883, leaving Anne with the two children to raise. James was 10 years old, and Annie was only 3. How Anne must have struggled! It must have been so difficult trying to care for and find a way to provide for her children while mourning her husband. Perhaps James was able to help out by getting work in a mill. Plenty of children worked in mills at that age. Maybe Anne worked in the mill. Though, with a three year old at home, it’s more likely that she took in laundry or sewing to make a little money.

Many women (and men) in that situation quickly found a new spouse. Anne did remarry, but not for another 6 years. Anne married a widower, Edward Houghton Heyes in 1889. Edward had 6 children ranging in age from 10 to 20. Their mother had been gone for 10 years. I wonder how they felt about their father remarrying?

According to the 1891 UK Census, 5 of Edward’s children lived with the couple. One of the daughters had married, and her husband and 6 month old son lived with them as well. Where were James and Annie? James had left the previous year for the United States. Eleven year old Annie was living with Anne’s brother, Robert, and his family. In a previous post, I mentioned that the family story was that James did not get along with his step-father. Did Edward mistreat his step-children? Why was Annie sent to live with her aunt and uncle? I can’t imagine a mother wanting to send her young daughter away while she raised the children of another woman.

In 1901, two of Edward’s children from his first marriage were still living in the household. Anne and Edward had added 3 more children of their own by this time. James was married and raising his family in the United States. Annie was enumerated as a ‘visitor’ in the household of Emma Kay. Emma was Anne’s widowed sister. So, in 1891 Annie was living with her uncle, and 1901 finds her with her aunt. Was she just visiting Emma, or did she get bounced around between her aunts and uncles?

Edward died in 1908, and Anne was once again a widow. The children she had with Edward were 17, 15, and 11. The 1901 census shows Edward was a grocer, draper, boot, and shoe dealer. It also states he was an employer. Presumably, Anne was left in a better financial state this time around.

On 09 October 1913, Anne arrived in Boston, Massachusetts with her youngest daughter, Vera. The ship record shows they were going to visit James and his family in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Interestingly, the ship record also shows that Anne had visited the States before for a period of 3 years. Specifically, she had visited Providence, Rhode Island, where James had lived before moving to Jamaica Plain. In 1920, Anne is enumerated on the US census and is living with her daughter, Edith, in Boston. Her youngest daughter, Vera, is living down the street with her husband and infant son.

In 1930, Anne was enumerated with James and his family in East Providence, Rhode Island. Annie was in Beverly, Massachusetts with her husband and children. Edith and her family were living in the nearby town of Haverhill, Massachusetts. Vera and her family were also in Massachusetts, in the city of Worcester. Norman and his family had relocated from Bolton to Queensland, Australia.

Anne died 18 April 1937. She was buried in a plot purchased by her daughter, Annie.

I wish I had the opportunity to know Anne. She seems like she was a remarkable woman. The courage and strength it must have taken for her to uproot her life and move halfway across the world at nearly 62 years of age is really something. I’ve done a bit of traveling, but I’ve never lived more than 20 miles from the place I was born. My mom and I will be visiting England in a couple of months, and are both looking forward to seeing the places Anne lived and spending a couple of days walking in her footsteps.

Week 9 – Where There’s a Will…

This week’s prompt is Where There’s a Will. Another challenge… I wish more of my ancestors had left wills. Far too many died intestate. In some of those cases, there was an inventory of possessions taken. Even without the bequests, inventories can be interesting, and provide insight into the daily lives of our ancestors. 

There is so much that can be learned from wills. Previously unknown names of parents, children, and children’s spouses, locations our ancestors lived, etc. Often we can read between the lines and deduce relationships between the deceased and their heirs.

One of my ancestors was a widower with several sons and four married daughters. In his will, he spelled out what he bequeathed to each of his sons. Three of his daughters received 20 pounds each. The fourth daughter received 3 shillings. Why??? Did she marry better than her sisters and not need the money? Was he trying to make a point that she was not worthy of a bequest? Like someone leaving pennies for a tip to let the waitress know that her tip wasn’t forgotten; the service was just that lousy. 

My 8th great grandfather, Caleb Arnold, was born in Rhode Island in 1725. He died 21 March 1799. His will was written on 1 October 1787.

Caleb first mentions his wife, Susannah. He leaves her his home for as long as she remains his widow. He also leaves her his ‘riding beast’, one ‘milch cow’, and his riding chair. All with the stipulation that she remain his widow, of course. He leaves the bulk of his estate to his three sons Joseph, Samuel, and William. Excepting the sloop built by Thomas Westcott. The will later says that his son-in-law Thomas Westcott “shall have liberty to remove his sloop off my land which he hath lately built”.

A mystery is created by the will. We learn that Caleb’s son Samuel hasn’t been heard from in years, and may be dead.

So, since Samuel is MIA, Joseph and William will split his share. But, I want to know what happened to Samuel! Did he just disappear one day, or did he strike out for another place, hoping to make his fortune elsewhere?

Caleb comes across as a fair man. He leaves his unmarried daughter “as much of my household furniture as to make her equal with what I have already given her other sisters.” He also states she has the privilege to live in his dwellings so long as she remains single.

After he died, an inventory was taken of Caleb’s possessions.

Everything owned by Caleb got listed. Fifteen pewter plates, a metal teapot, 1 old bedpan, 1 copper tea kettle, 2 small skillets, 3 curtain rods, 1 old coffee pot and mill, 7 coverlets, 1 bed quilt, and many more household items.

I noticed an interesting fact when writing this blog post. At the start of the inventory, it reads, “A true inventory of all and singular the personal estate of Caleb Arnold, innkeeper, late of Warwick…” Wait! Innkeeper? The start of the will states Caleb was a yeoman, so I assumed he was a farmer. A Google search of “Caleb Arnold” “innkeeper” generated a bunch of hits. It seems Caleb owned a tavern in the Knightsville section of Cranston, Rhode Island, and when Cranston incorporated in 1754. Caleb’s tavern was chosen by lottery to be the location of the first town council meeting. Fascinating! I’ll have to see what else I can discover about Caleb’s tavern.

Caleb’s will provided some interesting information, but,  WHAT HAPPENED TO SAMUEL?? Did he ever return? Did he get his fair share? Wills can be a great source of information, but sometimes they leave you with more questions than answers. 


Week 8 – Heirloom

This week’s prompt is Heirloom. This topic could not have come at a better/worse time. Family heirlooms have been very much on my mind this past week and I’m having a hard time even  thinking about writing this blog post without tearing up. To me, heirlooms come in all shapes and sizes. Some are valuable and are worthy of lugging on Antiques Roadshow. Others have nothing but sentimental value. 

One inherited item I cherish is my grandmother’s diary. Marie Elizabeth O’Connell was born 28 May 1924 in Rhode Island. She passed away when I was less than two years old, so this diary means so much to me. I only have a few pages; I don’t know what became of the rest. The pages are from a large book, 11×14, and are yellowed and brittle. The pages I have are from 1939 and 1940 and she would have been 15 and 16 years old when she wrote them. The diary reads like you might expect from a teenager of that era. Or really, any era.  Lots of talk of boys, school, spending time with her friends, and dancing. She was taking shorthand, and used that for the bits she didn’t want anyone else to be able to read. 

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A few times she mentions my grandfather, Bill Shanley, whom she would marry 7 years later. Who says nice guys never win?

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Just a typical teenaged girl – impressed by a classy car even when the guy is not so hot!

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I just love these snippets into the life of a grandmother I never had the chance to know.

A lot of my ‘heirlooms’ relate to cooking…

My grandmother, Nancy Lewonis, was known for her baking. She made the best baked goods. She lived across the street from me while I was growing up, and I would love it when the phone would ring, with her on the other end, telling me to come over to get a loaf of raisin bread that had just come out of the oven. My mother would cut thick slices and I would hover over the toaster, waiting for my piece, ready to slather butter across every bit of surface area. Yum! I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. Nancy Sheffield Lloyd, or Mimi, as she was known to her grandchildren, was born on 2 August, 1923 in Easthampton, Massachusetts. Perhaps she would have been a stellar baker anyway (as so many of her generation were), but I wonder if her mother-in-law’s skills spurred her on to become even better. Nancy married Bernard Lewonis on 23 October 1942. Gramps’ mother was a pie-baker extraordinaire. Well, according to Gramps, anyway. He would often tell the stories of the many pies of all varieties his mother would bake on a Saturday.

Mimi made delicious pies with perfect crusts, but I loved her breads and muffins best. She passed away in 1997, and while Gramps did not take up baking her breads and pies, he did master Apple Crisp. I’ll never forget the first time he made it for a dessert following a family dinner. He surprised us all! After Gramps died in 2015, I inherited Mimi’s baking pans. They were thin aluminum, ancient, misshapen, scratched and dented, but baked like nothing you can buy today. There were two muffin pans and two loaf pans. I used the loaf pans the most. Quick breads and even meatloaf baked beautifully. And, they were so easy to clean. Nothing stuck. Knowing how much I loved them, my mother bought me a square aluminum baking pan a few years ago for Christmas. I like it and use it often, but it is just not the same. The last time I used one of the loaf pans was to make a loaf of cranberry bread for Thanksgiving 2017.

Mimi collected Franciscan Apple dinnerware and had every imaginable serving dish and accessory. Candle holders, glasses, teacups, butter dish, gravy boat, EVERYTHING! The dishes would come out of the china cabinet for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and other family celebrations. The appleware was as much a part of each gathering as the family and food. After Gramps passed and the house was being sold, the tableware was divided. I took just a few pieces to round out my eclectic collection of dishes.


Over the years, I accumulated a hodgepodge of dishes that had belonged to other family members. A few pieces of Corelle to remember my Grandmother Hawkins, Pfaltzgraff bowls to remember my late Aunt Judy, etc. Every time I used one of my aunt’s bowls, I’d remember her loading up the bowl with pasta, me protesting that it was way too much, and her telling me to eat what I could. Every time I used a dish that had belonged to someone else, I was reminded of meals shared with the original owner. The Corelle makes me think of frozen fish sticks (yuck!) and lumpy mashed potatoes.


Of course, some heirlooms aren’t just sentimental and have monetary value as well. Years before my Grandmother Hawkins died, she passed her aunt’s ring on to me. Bertha Mae Brayton was born 23 June 1879. She was my grandmother’s father’s older sister. Her father, Charles Brayton, was a farmer. Her brothers were also farmers and Bertha may have been the first in her family to attend college. After finishing college, she worked as a bookkeeper in Providence, Rhode Island until 1912, when she was appointed Postmistress of the Post Office in Hope, Rhode Island. My grandmother said her Aunt Bertha was a formidable woman who didn’t take any guff from anyone. She never married. When she was in her 40’s, she decided to buy herself a diamond ring. It’s a stunning vintage ring in a setting with gold flowers and onyx accents. I don’t wear the ring often, but always get compliments when I do. 

I still have my precious diary pages and family jewelry, but no longer have my dishes or bakeware. Unfortunately, last week I lost 99% of the contents of my kitchen when a car missed a turn whilst fleeing the police, and crashed through my kitchen. I do still have one Franciscan apple glass and a saucer, now chipped. While I may have lost the physical objects, I still have my memories. And isn’t it the memories attached that make an heirloom so valuable?


Week 7 – Valentine

This week’s prompt is Valentine. My first thought was to share the love story of my grandparents, Bernard and Nancy Lewonis. Their story began in elementary school when she used to walk behind him on the way home from school, tossing pebbles at him. The pebble tossing story was much loved by their children and grandchildren and was told again and again. Each would declare the other the perpetrator.  After many years, my grandmother finally admitted that she had been the one throwing the stones. After that ‘rocky’ start, their love story had a happy ending. But not all do. I’ve chosen to write about one that didn’t.

In a departure from the typical genealogical blogpost, I won’t be providing any biographical details of this couple. My goal with this blog is to share discoveries I have made and to hopefully show that researching family history is far from boring! It is not my intent to hurt or upset anyone. In my research, I have unearthed long buried secrets that would likely upset people living today. While I’m all for full disclosure, and want to know everything there is to know, I understand that not everyone feels the same. This post is one of those secrets that I’m sure was thought to have been taken to the grave.

My paternal grandparents, Nick and Rita were childhood sweethearts. They grew up in the same neighborhood. He was a first generation Italian American, and she was of French Canadian and Irish descent. Nick was 5 years older. Their lives could not have been more different.

Nick’s father worked in a mill and his mother ran a variety store out of the first floor of their home. This was fairly common in the 1930’s and 40’s when they were growing up. Some of the stores even remained through the next few decades. There were quite a few in the small neighborhood they lived in. Coincidentally, my mother and her siblings grew up nearby, and they all remember the stores. They were great places to stop for a snack or a cold drink. With two sources of income, I imagine Nick’s family was a bit better off financially than some of their neighbors.

Like Nick’s father, Rita’s father worked in a mill. Rita’s mother did not work. Rita’s father was a veteran of WWI, and spent a lot of evenings at the VFW swapping war stories, having a few drinks, and spending money his wife could have made better use of. Rita’s father died young, and left 6 minor children. His wife found work in a factory, and the oldest daughter quit school to go to work as well. Rita was the next oldest, and after a while, she too quit school. Besides the age difference, it seems Nick and Rita’s home lives were also very different.

It has been said by one of Rita’s siblings that Nick’s parents did not approve of their relationship. Rita was just not good enough for their son. I don’t know how serious their relationship was, or for how long they dated before going their separate ways. When Rita was 17, she was married in New York City. Her husband William was 16 when they wed on 15 January 1945. He would turn 17 twelve days later..

In March of 1946, Rita and her husband had a son. In 1950, William petitioned the court for divorce and cited abandonment as the reason. The divorce documents state that he had not seen her since 1945. The divorce decree said they had no children together. I wonder if at the time he did not know he had a son. I know that as the child grew up, William would come visit and take him on outings, so William did eventually know they had a child together.

In the meantime, Rita had returned home. One day, Rita was in the variety store owned by Nick’s mother. Nick was working there at the time, and he and Rita rekindled their romance. The fact that they were both married to other people didn’t seem to be a concern to them. Rita’s youngest sister was about 9 years old at this time and remembers how much fun Nick was to be around and how deeply Rita loved him. In 1948 Rita found herself pregnant and gave birth to a daughter on 23 December 1948. She told her family that Nick’s family would not allow him to marry her. I guess that sounded better than telling them he was married. Though, she was also still married…

I don’t know if Rita and Nick continued seeing each other, or if they were on again/ off again. Before too long, Rita was pregnant again, and gave birth to a son on 18 September, 1950. Rita made the choice to place this child, my father, for adoption. With an absent husband and a married lover, she was struggling to provide for the two children she already had. I don’t know if she and Nick still continued seeing each other or if this pregnancy ended their relationship. Her divorce was finalized in December of 1950. In 1951 she married again and had 5 more children. That marriage was rather unhappy and also ended in divorce. Rita dated, but never married again. Two of her daughters have said how in love Rita was with Nick. She rarely said much about him, except to say that he had broken her heart.

I often wonder what Nick’s feelings were. Was she just a bit of fun? Or was he as madly in love as she was? Perhaps his family really did prevent him from marrying her. Maybe he was willing to divorce his wife, but his Italian, devout Catholic family wouldn’t hear of it.

I tend to think that Nick felt as Rita did. I don’t think he would have spent so much time with Rita’s family if she was just a casual fling. It makes me smile to think my father was born to a couple who loved each other, but circumstances kept apart.

Happy Valentine’s Day.


Week 6 – Favorite Name

Favorite name? Ugh. It’s so tempting to skip this week! I’ve got names that some may find unique or unusual. Experience, Silence, Deliverance, Thankful… Though, if you have ancestors from colonial New England, you likely won’t bat an eye at these names. I’ve got names that I find unusual, but perhaps people who have been researching their French Canadian ancestry see as ordinary. Names like Isaie, Leocadie, and Exina.

One of my favorite names is Roger Williams. The Original Rebel is my 12th great grandfather. Given the boot by Massachusetts in 1636 for heresy, rabble-rousing, and spreading “new and dangerous opinions”, Roger gathered some like-minded friends, and traveled south a bit. He purchased a parcel of land from the Narragansett Indians and formed the settlement Providence Plantations.

There are also names that have been passed down through the generations. In some cases, the parent choosing the name had no idea it was a family name, or there was an adoption and the adoptive parents coincidentally chose a name that was in the birth parents family, causing the continuation of the name to be just a happy accident.

I’m pretty sure my grandmother told everyone she met after 1972 that my name went back 5 generations. The name Ellen began with my grandmother’s grandmother, Ellen Cylinda Andrews. Ellen Cylinda was born in Johnston, Rhode Island on 31 March 1854. Her daughter Mary Ellen Wilbur was born on 09 April 1887 most likely in Cranston, Rhode Island. Next in the line of Ellens was my grandmother, Hazel Ellen Brayton. Gram was born in Scituate, Rhode Island on 30 March 1916. My aunt was christened Judith Ellen Hawkins. When I was born my mother put some thought into my name. She wanted a name that wouldn’t generate a bunch of nicknames. She went through her mental Rolodex of women she knew, and remembered a woman named Ellen she had worked with at Sax 5th Avenue a few years before. She mentioned the name to my father who replied that his mother would be happy because Ellen was in her family beyond just being the middle name of her and his sister. It was settled – I was to be Ellen Lee.

Another name that has been passed down through the generations is Elizabeth. Even with an adoption in the family, the name has endured. The first Elizabeth was Elizabeth O’Donnell who was born around 1848 in County Donegal, Ireland. Her first daughter was born in Providence, Rhode Island 24 November 1871 and was given the name Rose, presumably after her mother Rosanna. Her second daughter was named Elizabeth. Rose gave birth to Elizabeth Marsden on 30 Aug 1899. Rose’s sister Elizabeth also named one of her daughters Elizabeth… Elizabeth Marsden’s daughter, my grandmother, was Marie Elizabeth. My mother is Elizabeth Rose. My sister and her daughter both have the middle name of Elizabeth.

Despite the number of unusual names and the over abundance of Johns, Marys, and Michaels, I have to say that Elizabeth is my favorite name. Whenever I hear it, it makes me think of the women I love and our maternal ancestors.


Week 5 – In The Census

One of the first things I learned when I started researching and using census records was to look at the neighbors of my ancestors. Quite often there were other family members living nearby. It turned out my groundbreaking research strategy was not as original as I thought… At an early conference I attended, I learned of the FAN Club principle. The term “FAN Club” was coined by renowned genealogist Elizabeth Shown Mills and is a research strategy in which one expands their research to include the Friends, Associates, and Neighbors of an ancestor.

You never know what you will discover when looking at a census record. The information collected varied from year to year. The 1870 US Federal census told if an ancestor’s parents were foreign born. The 1900 US Federal census included immigration information. Here you could find out what year your immigrant ancestor arrived in the United States, how long they had been here, and whether or not they were naturalized. In 1910, the US Federal census revealed if your ancestor had served in the Civil War by indicating whether or not they had served in the Union or Confederate Army or Navy. The 1930 US Federal census indicates if the family owned a radio. That’s a fun little tidbit! There is so much information to be gained from Census records other than just the usual name, age, and location.

Canadian census records typically list the wife’s maiden name. Such great information for researchers! The UK census was conducted a bit differently than in the US. In the United States, the census taker went from door to door collecting the information from the person who was home at the time. In some cases, neighbors provided the information. As a result, ages tended to vary from census to census, names would often change spellings, etc. In the United Kingdom, a form was left with each household with the instructions that they were to complete it on a specific Sunday. The census taker would go around and pick up the reports on Monday. They would then transcribe them into their census books, and the originals were destroyed. With the exception of 1911. The household schedules were retained and if you’re lucky enough to have had ancestors in the area in 1911, you will see their signature on the form, and know that they completed all of the information. In 1911 my 3rd great grandmother was widowed from her second husband and living in Bolton, England at 35 Halstead Street with her three youngest children.

I spent a lot of time with my father’s parents growing up and heard many stories about the ‘good ole days’. My grandmother played piano and organ and my grandfather played saxophone, so there were frequent gatherings where friends and neighbors got together for sing-a-longs. Everyone would gather and bring whatever instruments they could play, and the music would go on until the wee hours. They put on skits and held variety shows at the church. They had cookout and picnics and got a little silly at times…

I heard about these shenanigans so often, I felt I knew them all, even though many had died before I was born. I was so excited to look through the 1930 and 1940 US Federal census records and see so many familiar names! Even though I had only known a few of them, it was delightful to find them in the census records. “Oh! There’s Helen Card who was my grandmother’s main scholastic competition. And Annie Remington as a young bride!” I had never known Helen, but had heard plenty about the spelling bee she won. She was the pet of the teacher in charge of the bee, and my grandmother was certain Helen had purposely been given an easy word enabling her to win. (My grandmother was capable of holding a grudge for decades…)

It was interesting to find that my great great grandparents lived on Pawtucket Avenue in East Providence, RI just a few blocks from where I rented an apartment nearly 70 years later.

The 1900 US Federal Census shows my maternal 3rd great grandparents living on the same street in Providence where my paternal 2nd great grandparents lived just a few doors down with my 4 year old great grandmother. The two families were not close and each probably knew little about the other. My third great grandparents certainly had no idea that their great granddaughter would marry the son of the little girl down the street 47 years later.

Looking at the census now as I am posting the photo, I’ve noticed the O’Donnell family living next door to my McKenna’s. Since Elizabeth’s maiden name is O’Donnell, it seems likely that this family next door is related. Is William her brother? When I began my research and first viewed this census record, I did not know Elizabeth’s maiden name, so the O’Donnell’s next door meant nothing to me. Looks like I have a new line of research to pursue! See ya next week with the prompt, “Favorite Name”.