Week 3 – Longevity

This week, I had planned to write about my 6th great grandmother, Patience Potter, who lived to be 102. However, a conversation with one of my relatives sent me in a different direction. When we were discussing this week’s theme, she commented that ‘longevity’ made her think of family members who had died young. I thought it was an interesting interpretation, and instead of writing about Patience, have chosen to write about my great grandfather, Philias. A chance meeting at a local historical society last weekend has had me thinking about Philias all week, so it seems appropriate to focus on him in this post. Maybe Patience’s story will be told another time…

Philias is my father’s birth mother’s father. I never expected to be able to learn anything about my father’s birth family, so every tiny detail is such a gift. Philias (Pete) Gouin was born in Warwick, Rhode Island on 01 May 1896. His parents Louis Oscar Gouin and Alphonsine (nee Chaput) Gouin, were French Canadian immigrants who had come to the United States about 9 years prior. Philias had a short life, dying at 45 from a cerebral hemorrhage. The death certificate lists hypertension as a secondary condition, so I’ve always assumed he died of a stroke.

An interesting record I have found online is a military questionnaire from the state of Connecticut. In addition to the usual vital statistics found on these types of military forms, this questionnaire asks all sorts of fun questions. When responding to the questions on 03 March 1917, the young Philias Gouin indicated he was able to ride a horse, handle a team of horses, and while he was able to drive an automobile, he was unable to ride a motorcycle. It is also noted he was a good swimmer.

I love this military census. I cannot think of any other document that references an ancestor’s swimming abilities! BUT… Is this my Philias Gouin? The age fits. On March 3rd he would have been 20 as he did not turn 21 until May. The name is certainly not a common one. But was my Philias in Connecticut in 1917? If so, why? The 1910 and 1920 United States Census records show him living in Rhode Island. In the same house. The Military Census shows his occupation as a carder in a cotton mill. The family lived in a mill town in Rhode Island, and I have not heard of a shortage of work in the area that may have prompted him to relocate temporarily to Connecticut.  The application for his headstone shows he enlisted on 09 May 1917 – just 2 months after the information was gathered on the CT military census. Since I know he served with a Rhode Island regiment, I do not think he would have enlisted in Connecticut.

I plan on requesting his full military file from the National Archive, and if that shows he was in Connecticut when he enlisted, I will feel more confident that this is my Philias.

The 1910 Census shows that Philias was not attending school, but nor was he working. At 13, a lot of children were working, so it would not be unheard of that he would not be in school. But why did it not list him as being employed?  A random Google search may have answered that question.

I found reference of a court case involving Philias in Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Rhode Island, Volume 38.This volume was originally published in 1916, has been digitized and is now available online at Google Books. Dated 02 July 1915, it states that the suit was originally filed on 24 December 1909, and the first trial occurred in February of 1912. Philias was “knocked down and run over” by an automobile driven by the defendant. The accident took place in the village of Natick, where Philias lived. In December of 1909, he would have been 13 years old. The court found in favor of the defendant, basically saying that Philias could not have been looking where he was going, otherwise, he would have seen the car approaching. An appeal was filed, and again the court found in favor of the defendant. The case was ultimately sent to Superior Court. In Rhode Island, Civil Court records are destroyed after 30 years. The clerk I spoke to stated that they have been a little lax in destroying the records, so they currently have transcripts going back almost 50 years, but everything prior to 1970 has been destroyed.

Last Saturday, I visited the Pawtuxet Valley Preservation and Historical Society. They have books of old newspapers going back to 1876. I was hoping to find newspaper articles pertaining to the accident, and was disappointed to learn that the paper was only published through 1906. The woman working there asked what I was looking for, and I told her I was looking for articles about the accident. She asked for the name of my ancestor who was involved, and when I said the name Gouin, she mentioned that was the maiden name of one of their members. She said the family was from Natick and that the woman’s husband was downstairs. He came up to talk with me, and we determined that his wife’s father was Philias’ brother! He called his daughter, who is the family genealogist, and she told me she had a copy of a newspaper blurb mentioning the accident! She also said that her Great Uncle Pete carried a scar from the accident for the rest of his life. I was glad I was sitting down when she casually mentioned that she had a photo of Philias with his parents and siblings. I had never seen a picture of Philias, and neither had my aunt. Philias died before she was born, and her grandmother remarried and didn’t have any photos of her first husband. Later that night, my new cousin  emailed me a copy of the photo. 

Philias is the handsome devil standing in the center of the back row

I couldn’t wait to share the photo with my family. I emailed it to my cousin, who replied, “Philias is the one who was trampled, right?”  What?!? This is the first I’d heard of a trampling! I began to wonder if his cerebral hemorrhage was caused by an injury, and maybe he didn’t have a stroke after all.

Last night was a monthly family supper at my aunt’s house. Once a month the extended family gathers to share a meal and catch up. It’s a nice tradition, and I’m so happy to be a part of it.  I printed out the photo and framed it for my aunt. She was thrilled to receive it. Everyone present had to hear who each person was at least once. To their credit, even the teenagers seemed interested. 

When I arrived at my aunt’s, one of the first things out of my mouth was, “so, what’s this I hear about Philias getting trampled?” Apparently, he was trampled by horses during the war while he was in a trench. Nothing to do with his cause of death at all. I guess I’ll go back to assuming he had a stroke…

Philias was a member of the 103rd Field Artillery Regiment during WWI. He enlisted on 09 May 1917 and was discharged on 29 April 1919. The regiment was part of 6 different campaigns in France. Philias left the States from Hoboken, NJ on 09 October 1917 on the SS Baltic. He and his regiment left from Brest, France on 31 March 1919, and arrived back at Fort Devens in Massachusetts on 10 April 1919.

The following year’s census shows him working as a laborer in a cotton mill. Five years later, he married Grace Gilkerson. Not too long after 1920, he left the mill and began a career painting houses and doing light carpentry work. When he passed away at the age of 45 on 31 Aug 1941, he left behind his wife and 6 children ranging in age from 8 months to 15 years.

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