Tag Archives: family secrets

Cousin Jackpot!

Rita and me, on the day we met, February 28, 2013

Genealogists sometimes come across cousins they didn’t know they had.  The person maybe helpful and friendly or maybe they won’t.  In my case, by finding my cousin, Rita Hoadley, I hit the cousin jackpot.  She had photographs, stories, and even knew some of the family secrets.  And to top it off, she was a delightful person, beloved by her entire family. Here’s the story of how we met and what she meant to me. Continue reading Cousin Jackpot!

Family Myth Busting – Virtual Talk

Genealogical Tree, published by Daughaday & Becker, Philadelphia, ca. 1859. From the Library of Congress, LC-DIG-pga-01537.
Genealogical Tree, published by Daughaday & Becker, Philadelphia, ca. 1859. From the Library of Congress, LC-DIG-pga-01537.

On May 9th, I gave a virtual talk for the Enoch Pratt Free Library called, “Family Myth Busting.”  In it, I traced the steps I took to resolve the discrepancies in the stories my mother had always told me about her family. I share my strategies, in which I used maps, newspapers, and patient records from Norwich State Hospital to stitch together a narrative of my family story which was more connected than the one my mother told.  I also share my thoughts on the benefits of knowing one’s family history and how it has the potential to empower and to heal old wounds.

A recording of the talk is available through the Crowdcast platform at  https://www.crowdcast.io/e/virtual-genealogy-circle, or on Facebook at  https://www.facebook.com/theprattlibrary/videos/286558142501891.

Norwich State Hospital and My Family, Part 7: Family Secrets

Grandma Beatrice, ca. 1944
Grandma Beatrice, ca. 1944

[This is Part 7, the last of a series on Norwich State Hospital and its effect on my family. To start at the beginning, go to Part 1.]

In 1931, the delicatessen failed. Mom always said that it had failed due to the Great Depression, but Beatrice’s patient record from Norwich State Hospital told a different story.

Beatrice told the hospital social workers that while she was living with her aunt’s family,  her uncle by marriage forced her into a sexual relationship. She claimed, “He said it was nothing as we were relations and I felt it was the only way out.” Continue reading Norwich State Hospital and My Family, Part 7: Family Secrets

What To Do About the Children?

Ward of Notre Dame de Lourdes, Orphanage, Manchester N.H., ca. 1900. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Transfer from the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Social Museum Collection. 3.2002.2537.5
Ward of Notre Dame de Lourdes, Orphanage, Manchester N.H., ca. 1900. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Transfer from the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Social Museum Collection. 3.2002.2537.5

In July 1908, my great-grandmother Graziella Metthe was committed to Norwich State Hospital, diagnosed with manic-depressive psychosis. In the months leading up to her commitment, she was living with her family in a shed.  Once she was hospitalized, her four children (including my grandmother Beatrice) were left in the care of her parents, Pierre and Azilda Bonneau. Continue reading What To Do About the Children?

Family Myth Busting

Genealogical Tree, published by Daughaday & Becker, Philadelphia, ca. 1859. From the Library of Congress, LC-DIG-pga-01537.
Genealogical Tree, published by Daughaday & Becker, Philadelphia, ca. 1859. From the Library of Congress, LC-DIG-pga-01537.

I had been a reluctant genealogist most of my life until I realized genealogy’s power to unlock family secrets and make sense of the stories Mom told me about her family. Such was the case with my great-grandfather, Philippe Metthe.   (“Metthe,” a French-Canadian surname, is pronounced in English as “Metty”). Mom told me that he had left his wife, Graziella, which caused her to go insane. By looking at her patient record from Norwich State Hospital, I learned that this was not true. Philippe visited Graziella after she was committed, and when he couldn’t, he wrote letters inquiring about her condition. Mom also said that Philippe had gone back to Canada, but beyond that statement, she had no more details.  When I finally took up the role of family genealogist in my mid-fifties, I suspected there would be some family myth busting involved.
Continue reading Family Myth Busting

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.
Continue reading From Quebec to Connecticut

From Reluctant Genealogist to Relentless Family Historian

Mom as Family Historian

Selfie with my grandparents, November 2016 (taken after I became interested in genealogy)
Selfie with my grandparents, November 2016

You might think, with all the energy Mom spent on researching her family tree, that her stories would have become more detailed and connected than before. But Mom continued to tell the same old tales, which were unaltered by anything that she might have uncovered in her genealogical research. For that reason, genealogy didn’t interest me during the years that Mom was actively pursuing birth certificates and census records. Looking at the pedigree charts and family group sheets, filled out in Mom’s distinctive scrawl, I was unable to make any more sense of the past than I had by listening to her stories. Continue reading From Reluctant Genealogist to Relentless Family Historian