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 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.