Saturday, 24 March 2007

Entwined Branches

When I began the research into my birth ancestry, I had no idea just how intertwined the branches of the tree would become!

Nova Scotia saw the arrival of its first European immigrants in 1604. Pierre Dugua de Monts (Sieur de Monts) had received a monopoly for fur trading from the King Henri IV with the stipulation that he establish a permanent settlement in the New World. Accompanied by Samuel de Champlain and 77 men, he crossed the Atlantic Ocean, setting up a community on a small island in a river on the north shore of the Bay of Fundy. After losing almost half of the settlers during that first winter to the harsh weather conditions and malnutrition, he decided to relocate the settlement to the head of the Annapolis Basin on the northern tip of the Bay of Fundy which was more sheltered and promised to be a good port for future trade. He named this settlement, Port-Royal.

In the succeeding years, approximately 100 families came to Port-Royal from France. Among those settlers was Daniel LeBlanc his wife, Francoise Gaudet, and her daughter from a previous marriage. Daniel and Francoise would add 6 sons to their family. Five of the 6 would have large families - and so would their children. It is from this Acadian family that I am descended...more than once!

My great-grandfather was Charles B. LeBlanc (Belone, Belone, Belone, Claude, Rene, Jacques, Daniel). Census records list his wife as, Sophie, but I could not find her maiden name anywhere in any of the records available online. It was not until the province of Nova Scotia announced their Nova Scotia Genealogy website online (this month) that I was able to search the marriage records and discovered his wife's last name: LeBlanc!

I am still in the early stages of researching this new line, but at first glance, it seems that Sophie (Dominique, Lazare, Joseph, Joseph, Francois, Rene, Rene, Daniel) is descended from a different son of Daniel and Francoise than Charles. Appearing in the lineage with both of these LeBlanc lines are Chiasson, Hebert, Arsenault, Bourg, Cormier, Landry and many other Acadian family names.

Unraveling the twists and turns in the LeBlanc lineage has been a challenge for many genealogists. I am hoping to benefit from their hard work and find some living relatives in Margaree, Nova Scotia!

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Saturday, 17 March 2007

In Search of the Shamrock

On St. Patrick's Day, I thought I would go on a hunt for my elusive Irish ancestors.

For years, I've been at a standstill with the research into my Celtic background. I have been able to identify the emigrant families, but have had no luck discovering where in Ireland they had their roots...and did not have any additional success this time around, either.

The exception to that is my grandmother, who emigrated to the United States from Ballyshannon, Donegal. My grandmother was born in 1879, the third child of twelve born to Patrick and Mary Jane (Maguire) Gilfedder. Following traditional Irish naming patterns, she was named Mary Jane, after her mother. But to us, she was known as "Grammie."

Grammie's arrival in the United States was a mystery to us all. Although we knew where she came from, she would not talk about her voyage across the Atlantic. We did not know the date of the trip, the name of the ship she took, with whom she traveled, where she landed nor where she lived when she landed. It was not until the Ellis Island website opened up that the mist began to clear.

Mary Jane Gilfedder was 20 days past her 20th birthday when she left Ireland to begin a new life in the United States. She made her way to Londonderry, where on 29 September 1899, she boarded the ship, "State of Nebraska," destined for New York City.

The State of Nebraska was built in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1880. It was 385 feet in length and 43 feet wide. It carried 1,001 passengers (175 in First Class and 826 in Third Class) and traveled across the Atlantic Ocean at the speed of 13.5 knots. It remained in service for only three years after bringing my grandmother to America to begin her new life.

Twelve days after leaving Londonderry, the State of Nebraska arrived in New York City, unloading its human cargo on the docks of Ellis Island. What the young Mary thought when she first set foot on American soil will never be known. We also do not know who was there to greet her, if anyone, after passing through the immigration process and making the ferry trip to the city docks.

The ship manifest provides not only information about the passengers, but details about their destination. Grammie's entry indicates that her destination was Boston, Massachusetts, that she already had in hand a ticket to The Hub, paid by K. Gilfedder, and that she had $5 in her pocket. "K. Gilfedder" was most likely her sister, Kate, who had already made this same trip and was living in Newtonville, Massachusetts.

The 1900 US Census confirms that Mary completed her journey from New York City to Boston and had found employment in the home of Frederick Cutter of Newton, Massachusetts. By the time of the 1910 US Census, Mary has been married and now appears as the wife of Arthur W. Haviland, living in Belmont. Also listed in the census is her sister, Kate (aka "Catherine," after whom I was most likely named) and 4 daughters!

Grammie would see more changes in her life within a few years. She will give birth to the long-awaited son, her husband, Arthur, will die from a work-related injury at age 32 and she will build a new home in Belmont where she sets up a neighborhood dry goods store.

I have to marvel at the accomplishments and determination of the young woman who made the long voyage from her comfortable home on Bachelor's Walk in Ballyshannon, Donegal, to the uncertainty of a life raising and supporting 5 children alone. Not only did she manage to support her energetic brood, but she instilled in them the values of family, religion and patriotism. She embraced her new homeland with her whole being, even managing to lose the "brogue" which distinguished many Irish immigrants trying to get a foothold in the New World.

So, on this St. Patrick's Day, I celebrate the life of Mary Jane Gilfedder, an inspiration to her children and grandchildren, the ninth (and last) which I was privileged to have become.

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Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Two Trees

In my family garden, there are two trees: Adoptive and Birth.

The Adoptive Tree

My knowledge about my Adoptive family has come gradually over the years. Surrounded by aunts, uncles and cousins, I grew up with a "working knowledge" of this family's tree.

My mother was very proud of her heritage, both its origins and its longevity on the North American continent. Every now and then, she would mention yet another relative, about whom I was unaware. But, she became most excited when one of her many cousins would write to her, sending along another piece of the relationship puzzle.

She kept a folder of wrinkled and yellowing clippings about family members which had appeared in the local newspapers. In other folders were collections of old letters and photos; boxes hidden in the attic were full of more photos and letters. It was not until I inherited this treasure trove that I understood her fascination with her heritage.

Names in this tree include: Haviland, Gilfedder, Goodhue and Maguire.

My father's family was largely unknown to him. He knew that he was of Irish descent and that his family had lived in Boston and Lowell, Massachusetts, but his parents did not often talk about (or know) where they came from in Ireland. It's still a bit of a mystery, but research has unearthed some rather interesting tidbits and hints.

Names in this tree include: Donovan, Quigley, Norris and Gilman.

The Birth Tree

My Birth tree has been revealing itself over the past 10 years, since the time when my birth mother and I first made contact.

Although she believed that she was of Irish ancestry, my birth mother was actually a descendant of the hearty Acadians and Scots who settled in the picturesque province of Nova Scotia, Canada. I did not have enough time to ask her about her lineage, but my siblings and a cousin have been helping me piece together the family history.

Names in this tree include: Sutherland, LeBlanc and Chiasson.

My birth father's family hails from the American South. He is of English heritage. That is the extent of what I know for sure. However, I believe that I may have located him in the 1930 United States Census. Until I can confirm my findings, this branch of the tree may remain unknown.

Names believed to be in this tree include: Harvey, Jones, Agee and Perkins.

As this blog develops, I intend to share the results of my research and stories about the people in both of my family trees. It's meant to compliment my Family Harvest genealogy pages, which are undergoing a major revision.

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Thursday, 1 March 2007

Preparing the Ground

In the beginning, there were only three: Mom, Dad and me.

Mom was the middle child in a family of five, but she had 20 aunts and uncles and a multitude of cousins. Surprisingly, it was a tight-knit clan. Over the years, annual get-togethers reinforced the family ties and kept the family in touch with each other.

Dad had one older brother, only 6 aunts and uncles and virtually no cousins. His father had been raised by his grandmother, with whom he had lost contact. His mother had been orphaned at a young age and raised her two younger sisters. It was a tiny family, but a close one.

My parents married late in life. Desperately wanting children, they decided to adopt. Three years into their marriage, I entered their lives. Although it was a surprise to their families, they accepted me as one of their own.

I've always known that I am adopted. My parents had been advised to tell me at an early age, so it has never been an issue with me. In fact, my adoptive status has been, in an odd sort of way, a source of comfort for me. Knowing that I was "chosen", made me feel special while I was growing up. I still feel that way, even though I know I'm no different than a multitude of people on the face of this Earth.

Maybe it was because I am adopted that my obsession with genealogy began. Maybe it was the occasional letters my mother received from a cousin who was researching the family history that piqued my interest. Or, maybe it was a lack of information about my father's ancestors that launched me on the quest to discover their origins. Perhaps it was a combination of many factors. Whatever the reason, I find myself constantly seeking out new information about the lives of the people who came before me.

Ten years ago, I sought out and located my birth mother. Sadly, we did not meet until it was almost too late. Now that she has passed away, I cherish the short time I spent in her presence. I have many unanswered questions about her and her family. Tantalizing clues have lead me to begin a new genealogical adventure. Unraveling the past and understanding my blood lineage is the next phase of my research. It promises to be a challenge!

My husband does not quite understand my fascination with family...but he indulges me in my ancestral quest. For that, I truly thank him.

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