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”.

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.

Week 2 – Favorite photo


While this photo is not a favorite, it is so evocative of a place and time that I had to include it. The photo is of my dad’s adoptive father and I stacking wood. I loved spending time with my grandfather, even if it included manual labor. When I visited my grandparents, there were no neighborhood children to play with, so I was usually found in the house, curled up with a book. I always preferred a good book to running around outside. Most kids were sent to their rooms as punishment – I was sent outside to play… But whenever I spent time at my grandparent’s house, I was my grandfather’s shadow. Constantly bugging him and asking if I could help with whatever he was doing.

Goff Earl Hawkins was born in East Providence, Rhode Island on June 17, 1913. He was the first child of Gladys Ida Goff and Earl Raymond Hawkins. Gladys, Nan to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, lived on her family’s farm in Rehoboth, MA when she met Earl. Earl lived in the neighboring city of East Providence, RI. She caused quite a stir in 1912 by marrying a fella from the city with indoor plumbing! Growing up, my grandfather had the best of both worlds. He spent a great deal of time at his grandfather’s  farm, while also enjoying the benefits of the city. Movies and soda fountains were the prime entertainment close to home. Time on the farm centered around roaming the fields, swimming in the nearby pond, and tending livestock, including his favorite horse, Nobby.

In August of 1913, two month old Goff and his parents were involved in a motor vehicle accident. Earl was driving the horse and buggy when an automobile skidded into them. Nan said my grandfather was thrown from the buggy, and she was afraid that if he had survived the fall, he would be injured by the nervous horse. Luckily, he escaped with just a few bruises. The buggy was wrecked, but “the machine was not damaged to any extent”.


Like many young men of the time, Goff never finished school. He completed the third grade and the family decided he was needed to help out on the farm. His grandfather had an egg business, so Goff mostly tended to the henhouse and rode with his grandfather delivering eggs. Goff’s father was an automobile mechanic and Goff learned to drive as soon as he could see over the steering wheel. He was able to take over his grandfather’s egg deliveries when he was just 13 years old.

Earl’s sister, Bertha and her family lived next door to them in East Providence. My grandfather and his first cousin Norman were only a few years apart in age. In 1931, Norman began dating a girl, Eva, who lived in Hope, RI. Since Norman did not drive, and Eva’s parents weren’t keen on her going out with a boy unchaperoned, it was decided his older cousin, Goff, would drive and Eva’s sister, Hazel, would also go along. Both couples hit it off. Norman and Eva were married in 1937 and Goff and Hazel followed suit the following year.


Now a married man, Goff moved to Hope and began a job in a rubber manufacturing plant. His new bride’s aunt was Postmistress, and they rented an apartment above the Post Office. He was drafted into WWII and spent the bulk of his service in India. While he was in India, Hazel bought the house where they would spend the rest of their lives. She had been earning money as a mail carrier while the regular postmen were off fighting in the war and had earned the funds for the down payment herself. Once he was discharged, he returned to a new home, ready to start a family.

Unable to have children, they chose to adopt. They adopted a daughter, Judy, in 1949, and a son, Duane, in 1951. When the children were young, Goff and Hazel built a summer home on leased land. The summer house was on a pond in Coventry, a whopping 8 miles from their home in West Warwick. Duane and Judy spent idyllic summers swimming, waterskiing, and boating. The extended family seemed to spend the entire summer there. There was always something to celebrate. Birthdays, anniversaries, bridal showers, baby showers, or even just cookouts for no reason…


As I got older, my grandfather shared his family history with me. His family history was so interesting! Several ancestors came over on the Mayflower. Another ancestor was a drummer boy in the Revolutionary War. I was interested, but didn’t pay attention as closely as I should have. Since my dad was adopted, I didn’t feel these long dead ancestors were really ‘my people’. I wish I could go back and kick myself! I remember when he was in his late 80’s, my grandfather showed me some family documents he had. I carefully unfolded his parents marriage certificate.

“Oh.”, I said. “Your parents were married in December of 1912.”

“That’s right”

“You were born in June of 1913.”

I watched the wheels slowly turn…

“That son of a bitch! Taking advantage of a young girl like that!”

I tried explaining that it takes two to tango and he would not be here otherwise, but he didn’t want to hear it. I’m fairly certain that if Earl were still living, he would have gotten a punch in the nose!

Goff lived to be 93 and passed away on 28 April 2007. Hardly a day goes by where I don’t find myself thinking about him or remembering a life lesson he taught me. Mostly car maintenance or the importance of shutting a light off when leaving a room… 🙂

Week 1 – Start

Welcome to my first blog post! I started this blog to participate in Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. By participating, I’ll receive weekly prompts  with keywords to inspire me to write about a particular ancestor. This week’s prompt is, ‘Start’. There are no rigid rules, and you can interpret the prompts however you like. If you’d like to join in on the fun, you can sign up here.

I’ve always been interested in knowing more about my ancestors, but with little info to go on, didn’t think I ever would. My dad was adopted and my mom’s paternal side was a bit of a mystery, as my grandfather was raised by foster parents. When my dad passed away in 2011, I was tasked with settling his estate. One of the surprises I discovered was that he owned a share in a piece of property he had inherited from his adopted father. I was curious to see how my grandfather was related to the woman he inherited it from and I signed up for a free trial of a genealogy website. I quickly found what I was looking for, and, while I had the free trial, decided to look up Mom’s family. I was hooked on genealogy from that moment on!

One of the first records I found was my maternal 2nd great grandfather’s naturalization record.
I found myself staring at his signature on the document that renounced his allegiance to Queen Victoria. Wow! James Herbert Marsden was born 21 September, 1872 in Briggs Fold, Turton, Bolton, Lancashire, England to Alfred Marsden and Anne Marsden (nee Whittle). Alfred died in February of 1883 at the age of 33 when James was just 10 years old. Anne remarried and marriage records show she married her second husband in the first quarter of 1889.

Family lore has it that James did not get along with his step-father. The fact that his sister Annie, daughter of Anne and Alfred, was enumerated with Anne’s brother Robert and his family on the 1891 census seems to support this by suggesting Anne’s children did not have a relationship with their stepfather. In 1891, Anne was living 12 hours away from her daughter with her new husband and stepchildren. On 3 May, 1890, 17 year old James boarded the ship, Servia, in Liverpool, England. The ship, bound for New York,  had a total of 1050 passengers and crew. While the ship had provisions for 32 days, they arrived in New York 9 days later on 12 May, 1890. I can’t imagine being at sea for 9 days. I wonder if James suffered from seasickness like his great great grandaughter does.

James settled in Rhode Island and married Rose McKenna. Rose was born in Rhode Island to Irish immigrants. To parents born during the Famine, it was unthinkable that their daughter would marry an Englishman, and family legend has it that Rose was disowned by her family. The legend goes on to say that James ran into his mother-in-law in Providence one day, and asked her to return home with him to meet her grandchild. She refused, and he picked her up and carried her to his home. I hope this story is true; I like to picture her slung across his shoulder like a sack of potatoes!

James and Rose settled in Providence and had 12 children. The family moved to the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston in April of 1912. My great grandmother was 11 at the time of the move, and always remembered that the day after they arrived in Boston, her father read about the sinking of the Titanic in the newspaper. My great grandmother’s former classmate had been on the ship and, though his body was never identified, was presumed dead. The family remained in Boston until at least September of 1917 when the last of the children was born. The 1919 Providence City Directory lists James and 2 of his children. The Directory for 1918 does not have any of the Marsden family in Providence, so it is likely they returned during the time between the 1918 and 1919 directories being compiled.

Back home in England, James had worked as a grocer. The new country brought a new career in the silver industry. Prior to the move to Boston, he worked for Gorham Silver. Census records and City Directories list ‘silver polisher’ as his occupation. My aunt recalls hearing that her great grandfather was credited with inventing a silver polish for Gorham Silver. When he died in 1963 at the age of 91, his obituary stated he had retired a silver finisher for Tilden Thurber 21 years before.


My mother paints a clear picture of her great grandfather sitting in her grandmother’s home, smoking his pipe and reading the newspaper. He never lost his English accent. On occasion, he would give a few coins to one of his great grandchildren and ask that they buy him a paper. My mother was always glad to be asked, as there was always a little change left over for penny candy! Though he died before I was born, through my research and the memories of my mom and aunt, I feel I got the chance to know my 2nd great grandfather who got me started with this genealogy addiction.