Thursday, 10 June 2010

Who Was George G. S. Norris?

One of the more intriguing people in my paternal lineage is my great-great-grandfather, George G. S. Norris. Just who was he? Who were his parents? How does he relate to the Norris families of New England? What did he do for a living? How many children did he have? Where is he buried?

Many questions about him have been circulating in my consciousness since learning about him. So, I set about to find some answers.

I knew that George G. S. had married Julia Ann Kennedy in Chelsea, MA, on 29 Nov 1860.

I knew that they moved to Lowell, MA, between 1861 and 1866 with their two children, Annie and George.

I knew that George G. S. had served in the Union Army (1st Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, Co. I), was incorrectly listed as being a deserter (he was injured, hospitalized in New York and transferred to the Veteran Reserve Corps) and had applied for a Civil War pension.

I knew that George G. S. died in Lowell on 24 Sep 1876.

That was all I could learn...until today. I now believe I have a few more answers to the many questions that I've had for so long.

As I often do, I visited the FamilySearch website to search for anything that might give me a clue to George G. S. Norris' life before he first shows up on the 1860 US Federal Census. The records had just been updated, so I thought it was worth another try. What I found has led me to more information than I ever could have imagined!

Listed in the results was the death record of George G. S., naming the parents as George and Susan. Also in the results was the marriage of George G. S. to Julia A. Kennedy with George's parents named as Phineas and Susan. I did several other searches to determine which pair of parents was correct, deciding that Phineas and Susan were probably the parents, as I could not find a George and Susan combination.

Searching Ancestry, RootsWeb and FamilySearch, I began to find the answers to many of my questions.

Here is a quick rundown of what I was able to piece together:

Samuel (b.1828)
+ Lydia Washburn
....Samuel (b. 1751)
....+ Jedidah Swift
........Mercy Ann (b.1773)
........William Ichabod (b.1775)
........Mary (b.1778)
........Benjamin (b.1786)
........Delia Rebecca (b.1789)
........Phineas (b. 1791)
........+ Susan Saunders
............Ida J. S.(b.1831) m. Francis H. Cushing
............George G. S. (b. 1835)
............+ Julia Ann Kennedy
................Anna Maria (1861-1906)
................George F. (1865-1904)
................Walter H. (1869-1870)
................Susan E. (1874-1876)
................Elisa J. (1876-1877)
................(unknown additional child who died young)
....Nathan (b. 1760 - Revolutionary War Soldier)

Two things surprised me more than any of the other discoveries.

First is that I was able to learn the names of three more of George and Julia's children. From the 1900 US Federal Census, I new that there were six children, but only two had ever shown up in the census.

Second is that my initial thought when finding George G. S. living in the home of Ida J. S. and Francis H. Cushing in Chelsea (1860 US Federal Census) was correct. They are brother and sister, which was confirmed by a birth record for Ida J. S. found at years later.

There is still much research to be done, but this is a good start.

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Finding Grandma Norris

It has been a long time since I've posted anything to this blog, time being so hard to find these days. However, I have not been completely idle with the research and have made a couple of breakthroughs which have been nagging me for years.

The first breakthrough was finding "Grandma Norris"...

My paternal grandfather, George Leo Donovan (aka "Did"), died before he could locate the grave of the grandmother who raised him, Julia Ann (Kennedy) Norris. I remember my father talking about how they had looked, but never did find it.

When I learned of the pilot search at, I thought I would try to find Grandma Norris one more time. So, I typed in her name and the location of Massachusetts, USA. To my surprise and amazement, there was a listing for her record of death!

After selecting the record for more information, I noticed that there was an image available for viewing. That's when I found Grandma Norris. Not only was there her date of death and circumstances, but the location of her the town where I was raised!

Being so excited at this find, I contacted my cousins who still live in the town and asked them to go to the cemetery (Cavalry Cemetery) to try to find the grave and take photos of the headstone.

Two of my cousins made the quick trip to see this long-lost ancestor's final resting place. Finding the gravesite was the challenge, as there was no one in the caretaker's building at the entrance to the cemetery to help. By chance, an elderly grounds keeper happened by and asked my cousin if he could be of assistance. He then proceeded to pull out a worn and torn plot map, which they poured over to find Grandma Norris' location. There it was! But...the sad news is that there is no marker on the gravesite.

A call was made to The Catholic Cemetery Association of the Archdiocese of Boston (administrators of Cavalry Cemetery) for more information. They confirmed that this was the correct location of the gravesite, but would not provide any further information about whom was buried in the plot. Of course, if we wanted to pay for the information ($35), there would be no problem. The only other way to find out information about the plot would be to erect a headstone on the site. Then, they would be more than happy to tell us about the plot - for free!

Erecting a headstone on this gravesite is what I would like to do, anyway. However, living in another country makes investigating this difficult for me. Some day, though, I would like to have a stone placed on the site as a tribute to Grandma Norris and to finish what Did set out to do.

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Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Gilfedder Re-connection

Having been raised as an only child is quite likely the reason that I am fascinated with tracing my ancestral history. My father had one sibling and knew he had some aunts and uncles, but didn't know much about most of them. My mother, on the other hand, had 4 siblings and 17 aunts and uncles. It is the siblings of her mother that have provided the most interesting challenge.

Unlike most Irish immigrants, my Gilfedder family's emigration to North America began in the late 1890s. This was the period in Irish history during which "Home Rule" was enacted - a period of internal conflict among the Irish people. Most of the Emerald Isle wanted the right of self-determination, while those in Ulster wanted to retain ties with England. Whether or not this had any impact upon the decision to emigrate, eight of the Gilfedder siblings decided to leave their homeland for the calm across the sea.

The first to cross the Atlantic Ocean from Ireland to the Americas was Katherine in 1889. She was followed in successive years by seven of her siblings: Mary (1899), Rose (1911), Thaddeus (1911), John Joseph (1912), Patrick (1915), Theresa (1915) and, lastly, Felix (1921.)

Thaddeus, the 11th child of Patrick and Jane (Maguire) Gilfedder, did not emigrate to the United States, like most of his siblings, but chose Canada as his destination. In 1867, Canada had become an independent nation - the "Dominion of Canada." By the time of Thaddeus' immigration, the country had expanded westward and seen the addition of Manitoba, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Alberta (and
Prince Edward Island) as provinces. The internal conflicts of the Red River Rebellion and the North-West Rebellion had been quelled and the Klondike Gold Rush had virtually ended. Unlike the atmosphere in his homeland, Canada was a peaceful place to live.

After landing in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the S.S. Hesperian in 1911, Thaddeus decided to settle in Montreal, Canada. There, he established a trucking company (Killfeather's Cartage), married and raised a family. Recently, I've reconnected with this Canadian branch of my Gilfedder family. I had been searching for source documentation on Ancestry and came across a reference to one of my grandmother's brothers (Thaddeus) in someone's family tree. Through Ancestry's site, I was able to email the owner of the family tree to see how we might be related. To my delight, I received a reply message!

The correspondence is still in the early stages, but has already provided valuable information about the family of Thaddeus Gilfedder and reconnected me to a family I have been seeking for many years.

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Monday, 26 May 2008

Fallen Leaves

Memorial Day (in the United States) is a time to celebrate the lives of those who have fallen in the service of their country. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it was instituted as a Federal Holiday following the American Civil War. Most Americans think of it as the kick-off for Summer and a time for partying, but my memories of this holiday are different than most.

As the child of two parents who served their country during World War II, I was raised to respect and remember the fallen. Each year, my father would go to his VFW Post (which I believe was Walter C. Campbell Post #544) in Charlestown, Massachusetts, to gather bundles of small flags and a list of gravesites on which to place them. He would drive from cemetery to cemetery in the Greater Boston Area, seeking out the headstones of those soldiers and sailors. At times, I would accompany him, marveling at the number of "stars and stripes" gently waving in the breeze. I was too young at the time to realize that under each flag lay the body of a victim of war.

Most of the ancestors in the Family Harvest tree who served their country in times of conflict survived. However, there are some who did not. In their memory, here are a few stories:

Caleb Harrington
American Revolution

When the word arrived in that the British Regulars were on their way to Lexington and Concord to destroy the ammunition supplies of the colonists, Caleb was among several of his kin to assemble on the Lexington parade grounds. He was also one of the first to die that fateful April morning.

There is much debate over who fired the first shot of the American Revolution. Whichever theory you may believe, of the known 77 colonists on the parade grounds of Lexington that day, eight colonists lost their lives: John Brown, Samuel Hadley, Caleb Harrington, Jonathan Harrington, Robert Munroe, Isaac Muzzey, Asahel Porter, and Jonas Parker.

According to the account of Joshua Simonds, who was in charge of the town's stock of ammunition which was kept in the upper gallery of the Meetinghouse, Caleb Harrington was shot and killed as he left after replenishing his supply of powder.

My 2nd cousin 6 times removed

Jonathan Harrington Jr.
American Revolution

Jonathan Harrington was also on Lexington Green on April 19, 1775. He was killed on the defense line during the second round of fire. He fell in front of his own house on the northerly end of the common. Although mortally wounded, he staggered towards his home, falling before reaching there. His wife saw him fall, then rise, the blood gushing from his breast. Stretching out his hands towards her, as if for assistance, he fell again. Rising once more on his hands and knees, he crawled across the road toward his home. His wife, Ruth (Fiske), ran to meet him at the door, only to watch as he expired at her feet.

My 2nd cousin 6 times removed

Theodore Francis Haviland Jr.
World War II

On January 19, 1942, Theodore Haviland was on his way home to his family in Savannah, Georgia. He recently had been transferred from another vessel (when that ship went into government service) to The City of Atlanta. The ship had sailed from Boston, January 9th, and from New York the following day.

At 9.09 in the morning, the unescorted and unarmed City of Atlanta (Master Lehman Chapman Urquhart) was torpedoed by U-123 about 12 miles south of the Wimble Shoals Buoy and about eight or ten miles off the coast of North Carolina.

The German torpedo hit the port side of the ship, forward of the #3 hold. When it struck, the ship listed sharply and quickly, making it difficult for the crew (eight officers and 38 crewmen) to abandon ship. It took about ten minutes for the force of the blow to cause the vessel to roll over - none of the four lifeboats could be lowered in time to save the crew. Only one officer and two crewmen survived, clinging to the wreckage of their ship. After six hours they were picked up by the American railway car carrier Seatrain Texas.

Theodore did not survive.

Although not an "official" casualty, Theodore did die during World War II, serving aboard a merchant vessel which was torpedoed by a German U-Boat. The United States had been at war for just 6 weeks when his vessel was torpedoed. In my eyes, he is as much a hero as the other members of the Family Harvest Genealogy who perished in defense of Liberty.

My 1st cousin once removed

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Sunday, 20 April 2008

Home From The Forest

During the long Winter of 2007/8, I have been occupied with the job of shoveling snow, so have not had the time (or energy!) to write anything for this blog. However, my quest for family did not get shoveled aside like the flakes which continually fell from the skies...I found three "new" cousins!

As an admirer of Gordon Lightfoot's music, my husband and I have been involved with the online community at the Corfid website. For fun, I decided to try to trace Gordon's lineage and post it on the forum. That little post lead to conversation with other members who wondered, as I, if we might be related.

It did not take very long to establish that we were indeed cousins! By tracing all three of the LeBlanc lines (mine and theirs), it was inevidable that a common ancestor would turn up. Wading through the lists of LeBlancs in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, I eventually uncovered the connections. Now I know that both of my correspondents are my 9th cousins once removed...and they are 6th cousins to each other!

Ironically, during one of my regular searches for ancestors at, I came across an entry in the Ancestry Family Trees which had a familiar name, John Tufts. When I looked at the owner of that tree, I realized that the line was that of another member of the Gordon Lightfoot forum! Confirming that it was indeed the same person, I began to establish our relationship. With several ancestors in common, we are 8th cousins!

The moral of this story is that you never know where you'll find family!

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Saturday, 3 November 2007

The Unenumerated

It occurred to me while sourcing the census for my mother and her family that I could not find them listed on the 1920 U.S. Federal Census!

Knowing that she was age 12, lived in Belmont, Massachusetts, with her mother, 3 sisters and one brother and that the address at the time was 311 Beech Street, I could not fathom why I could not locate the family! I needed to unravel this mystery.
I first did a search on for each member of the family using their full names. I came up empty. So, I started changing the parameters of the searches. I decided that my best bet would be to search for my grandmother, as her place of birth would distinguish her from any other Havilands in the state. Again, I got no hits. I tried using wildcards, spelling variations, first name only, last name only, with and without the town and county, with and without dates of birth. All of which came to naught. I even (foolishly) went through 3,500 of the names that came up in the search results to see if I could find my grandmother. Nope!

I thought I might be misinformed about where they lived, so searched the town directories. In 1918, they were living in the house; in 1922, they were also there. Huh? Then, why were they not showing up in the 1920 census? I decided a page-by-page search was in order.

The 1920 Census indicates that there are seven enumeration districts for the Town of Belmont: Districts 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 and 465. I would have to figure out which one I needed to search. Each district's boundaries were listed on the general page for Belmont, Middlesex, Massachusetts. Although I was somewhat familiar with the streets, I needed a map to outline each district. Getting a town map from Google Maps, I started the chore of determining the district boundaries.

Using my graphics program, I created a layer for each district and began to plot the general outline of each. The landmarks and street names have changed a bit, but I was able to determine that the district which I should search was District 18.

Going back to, I began a page-by-page search of the census. After not finding the family listed anywhere, I thought I should try to plot the enumerator's route to see if she missed any streets. Although the town has grown over the years, the names of the long-established streets have not changed much, so following her route was not a problem. What I discovered is that she did not stop at my grandmother's house! The family should have been listed on Sheet 16A or 16B. Their neighbors (at 261 Beech Street) are enumerated, but 311 Beech Street is not!

I thought I was mistaken, so went through each page of the other six districts, including the McLean Asylum (my grandmother's occupation in 1922, according to the town directory was as a nurse), but could not find anything even approximating the surname. I found the names of friends and family, but not the inhabitants of 311 Beech Street!

The only conclusion that I can make is that the enumerator missed the house. There may be a reason for this. As mentioned in a previous posting, my grandmother supported the family with a store on the first floor of her home. The door to this store faced onto Beech Street with large display windows on each side of the door. It could be that the enumerator did not realize that the building was also a home. Or, it could be that the family was not home at the time (unlikely) and the enumerator forgot to return. Whatever the reason, the family is not enumerated on the 1920 U.S. Federal Census!

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Friday, 24 August 2007

Margaret Helena Sutherland

It is almost ten years ago since I first made contact with my birth mother, Margaret Helena Sutherland. Today marks the 8th year since she passed from my life. After learning the first tiny tidbits of information about Margaret and her family, I set about trying to trace her ancestry.

It was from my new-found family that I learned that Margaret was born in 1933, the 4th child of William James and Emelie Sophie (LeBlanc) Sutherland. That's all I needed to start on the quest for my bloodline!

The Sutherlands

William James Sutherland was born in Portland, Maine, in 1889, to James and Millie (Burris) Sutherland. James and Millie emigrated from Nova Scotia to Maine shortly after their marriage in 1887. Millie must have died shortly after William's birth, as there is no record of her after 1900. His father, James Sutherland, remarried when William was about 7 years of age, having three children with his second wife, Fannie D. Daily.

The available records for Nova Scotia cannot verifiably establish James' parents names. However, I believe them to be John/William and Bridget Sutherland. Until there are more Canadian databases posted online, this is as far as I can go with Margaret's paternal lineage. There is much independent research that has been done on the Sutherland arrivals in Nova Scotia, but I have not been able to "connect the dots"...yet.

The LeBlancs

Emelie Sophie LeBlanc was the 11th child of Charles B. and Sophie (LeBlanc) LeBlanc. (Although her mother shared the same surname with her father, their common ancestor was many generations removed, making it unnecessary to obtain any dispensation to marry.) The union of Charles and Sophie eventually produced a total of 13 children!

Charles died in 1906 and Sophie in 1910, when Emelie was about 17 years of age. They are buried in the Old Cemetery of St. Michael's Parish in Margaree, Nova Scotia, with many of their children and ancestors. It was not until 1918, however, that Emelie emigrated to Portland, Maine, where she met William James Sutherland. Her motivation to leave for a new place where the language and customs were very different from her Acadian heritage is unknown. Was it for economic necessity, or just for the adventure? No one knows for sure.

The Sutherland-LeBlancs

William James and Emelie Sophie were married in Portland, Maine, in 1922. Shortly after the birth of their first child, Armond James, they moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is there that Amelia Grace, Joseph Arthur, Margaret Helena and Patricia Ann were born. Patricia died when she was about 2-years-old. Whether it was the difficulty of dealing with the death of Margaret's younger sister, for financial or some other reason, Margaret's mother sent her to Nova Scotia to live with relatives for a good part of her early childhood. To this day, the reason is not known. Margaret would not talk about it, only to say that she liked her family there, but did not want to go back.

Eventually, Margaret returned home to her family in Massachusetts. However, their reunion would not last for very long. When she was about 8, her father died; two years later, her mother also died. Her older sister, Amelia Grace, would become Margaret's legal guardian.

Although Margaret's life was full of trials, she eventually married and lived a good life, short though it was. I was her first born child, but did not get to know her until the last few years of her life...and continue to learn new things through my relationships with my new-found family.

To learn more about my connection with Margaret, see the Family Harvest Genealogy website.

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