Category Archives: Families

From Quebec to Connecticut

This post was revised and expanded on March 30, 2018.

I have spent the last six years researching and writing about the five women in my family tree who were mentally ill and committed to state hospitals.  Along the way, I learned that they were descended from French-Canadians who immigrated to the U.S. in the late nineteenth century.  Throughout the preceding fifty-five years of my life, I knew very little about my Quebecois heritage.

Quinebaug Mill and canal, ca. 1901. Danielson, Connecticut
Quinebaug Mill and canal, ca. 1901. Danielson, Connecticut

The Quinebaug Mill in Danielson, Connecticut is where several of my French-Canadian ancestors worked, after leaving their Quebec villages. These photos, from the collections of the Killingly Historical and Genealogical Society, offered me a window into what my great-grandparents’ working lives were like.
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The Intergenerational Self

Standing in the old St. James Cemetery (photo by Robert Cantor, Oct 2013)
Standing in the old St. James Cemetery (photo by Robert Cantor, Oct 2013)

I started out, during my transformation from reluctant genealogist to ardent family historian, just wanting a narrative of my mother’s family history that made sense. I hoped that knowing what had really happened to Mom and Grandma would help me understand why they sometimes behaved in ways that were emotionally hurtful: Grandma toward Mom, and Mom toward me. Beyond that, I sensed that there might be a broader benefit to knowing the truth about the past, but wasn’t quite sure what it might be.
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Not Your Typical Grandparents

Grandma and Grandpa Tillotson, in1956 (before they remarried).
Grandma and Grandpa Tillotson, in1956 (before they remarried).

Grandma and Grandpa’s relationship status, had they been on Facebook, could have been “it’s complicated.” My grandparents married in 1922, but two months later, Grandma left Grandpa. In 1925, when she became pregnant with Mom, they reunited.

My grandparents had a stormy relationship.  She continually accused him of cheating on her, and sometimes their arguments came to blows.  In retrospect, her suspicions were probably symptoms of her paranoid schizophrenia.  Grandpa suffered from PTSD and the effects of mustard gas from World War I.  He didn’t know how to handle Grandma’s rantings, which is why their marriage devolved into domestic violence. Continue reading Not Your Typical Grandparents