At first it was dead ancestors that drew me to cemeteries. Once I started researching my family history, I began to feel connected to them through their stories. I was particularly interested in mother’s family, who emigrated from Quebec to New England in the late 19th century. My curiosity was piqued by the high incidence of mental illness and institutionalization among the women in the family. I was even fascinated by the occasional bad behavior of certain relatives. I visited my first ancestral graves not long after I began work on the family history in 2012. Continue reading The Allure of Cemeteries: Introduction
Every genealogist has one; a brick wall in their research through which they are unable to break. Mine is my great-great-grandmother, Rosalie Lapointe. I have come to the conclusion that she did not want people to know where she came from, so she made sure to cover her tracks.
Continue reading Rosalie Lapointe: My Brick Wall
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?
I was honored to be interviewed by Lisa Louise Cooke for her podcast, Genealogy Gems. Lisa is well-known and respected in the field of genealogy. She travels widely, speaking and teaching at conferences and genealogy societies. Her free podcast is downloaded an average of 35,000 times per month.
The episode in which I was featured pulled stories from this blog, and wove them into a fascinating story of a part of my family’s history. I was surprised and moved that Lisa chose to devote an entire hour to it. It is not only informative from a genealogical point of view, but Lisa turned it into an entertaining narrative. I hope you will take time to listen to it, or at least read the summary in the show notes. Both are available via the link below.
Cooke, Lisa Louise, narrator. “Pulling Teeth.” Genealogy Gems, episode 219, featuring Julianne Mangin, July 11, 2018. https://lisalouisecooke.com/2018/07/10/episode-219/
Here’s another snippet of family history from Mom, one that sent me on an unexpected genealogical journey.
When my mother was a little girl, she lived with her family in a shed behind a relative’s house. Her sister, Pauline, was born there.
When I asked Mom why Grandma’s family was living in a shed, she just shrugged and said, “That’s what I was told.” She didn’t know where the shed was or which relative had owned it. At first, I suspected that this story was another one of those crazy things Grandma had told her a long time ago, and which she simply took at face value. I imagined that my grandmother, who suffered at times from hallucinations and delusions due to schizophrenia, had exaggerated her living conditions. Perhaps it was small, rickety house, I thought, but surely not a shed! At the time, I hadn’t realized how poor Grandma’s family had been. But as I pieced together their story, the impoverished conditions under which they had lived became ever more evident. After a while, the story about Grandma Beatrice living in a shed didn’t seem so preposterous.
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
Mom as Family Historian
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