Jumping right in…
When I found the actual U.S. entry documents on the USGenWeb, I knew for sure that in August 1920, my great grandparents, Commela and Henry, along with their son and daughter in law (my grandparents) and their four children left New Brunswick and moved to a bustling little farming community called Cricket Corner (I love that name!) just outside Amherst, New Hampshire.
As I started delving into gathering information for the narrative part of my pages, I casually began chatting about it with my aunt.
“I was going through some old photographs”, I began “and I came across some photos of Dad when he was a baby.”
I described the first photo. She knew exactly the one I was talking about.
“I’m curious… where was it taken?” I asked.
This casual question came as no surprise to her. For years, she had called me “Nancy Drew, my mystery detective” when I related tales of my latest dance with historical research.
This casual question provided my entrée into talking about our family history. It was also a precursor to openly broaching the subject of doing family research. An idea I knew she would love!
“That was taken before I was born. I think it was after Mom and Dad moved to New Hampshire.”
An aside note…
This turned out not to be the case. Cross border documents I found in my research later on indicated that my dad was nearly two when they moved to N.H. My best guess: the photo was taken sometime in the spring while they still lived in New Brunswick. How do I know that? I studied the picture. My Dad was born in November and looks about six months old in this casual, back step photo. Six months from November would make it April. I will never know but I am guessing that it could have been taken on my grandmother’s birthday in mid April.
I described the second photo. She wasn't sure she had ever seen it.
"Send me a copy." she said.
I did. In a conversation a few weeks later, she was able to tell me who was in the photo. She had never seen it before.
After the book was published and my Aunt Joy (an aunt by marriage) saw the photo of her husband (my uncle Wilfred) as a young child, she was absolutely amazed. "My goodness, we never saw that photo. That picture of "Bamp" (their family nickname for my uncle) is a carbon copy of our eldest son at that age."
Nancy Drew and the Mystery Case of Family History…
Aunt Flo chuckled. “Ah, is my Nancy Drew about to go on another mission?” she said. “It would be wonderful if you did this and we found out more about where we came from.”
Yep, the gateway to mining her family knowledge and memories was definitely now open! It was, after all, her idea now wasn’t it? LOL
She reminded me that I had a “jump start”. My Dad and one of my uncles had already done some “detective work” before they passed away.
I knew my dad’s were on “slips of paper” in a big envelope (he died unexpectedly in 1984) that my sister had. My uncle, who passed away in November 2006, had managed to create a family tree of his immediate family.
Two good places to start.
I called my sister and asked if she could dig out the information and send it to me.
I tracked down the last known whereabouts of my cousin David (I had never met him or his wife). I must admit I was rather nervous picking up the phone to call him. I had never spoken to him and I didn’t want to sound like a “dork” when I did. I needn’t have been nervous… the conversation went very well.
I fired up my computer. The quest for family information began…
Who was my Grandmother?
All my life, I had believed that my grandmother’s middle name was Bertha. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that it was Bessie. Bertha, it turns out, was the second name of her youngest daughter who was my grandmother’s namesake.
I wondered where these names had come from. Traditionally many of the same family names are passed down from generation to generation in many families. Fortunately I had a copy of my grandmother’s maternal family history I could scour for clues. In the end, I never did discover either of these names in my grandmother’s maternal family history. I can only surmise that they may have come from her paternal side.
Born in 1891 to Amelia and John Nugent, Ina Bessie Nugent was the fourth of five children. Her parents had met at the wedding of her mother’s sister in 1877 and they were married in October of the following year.
(This photo collage of Amelia and John was not part of "Scraps of Memories, Slices of Life")
Born in Ireland in 1842, John Nugent was a young, recently graduated doctor from the Cincinnati College of Medicine and Surgery with a successful medical practice in Briggs Corner and Chipman, New Brunswick. No doubt, for the times, he was classified a “good catch” by Amelia Jane’s father and didn’t encounter any resistance when asking for her hand. Well read, he also had a side job. He was a newspaper correspondent for a Saint John, New Brunswick newspaper.
As a child, my grandmother was termed “delicate”. Like her mother, she was a wisp of a child and often battled with her health. But be that as it may, she managed to attend and graduate from the New Brunswick Provincial Normal School (teacher’s college) and become a teacher.
She was in her first full year of teaching in a school not far from her birth place of Chipman when her eldest brother Arthur, a strapping, athletic young man with a penchant for the “manly” art of boxing, was diagnosed with tuberculosis.
She returned home to help her mother and younger sister Alida nurse her ailing brother. Arthur died within a few months at the tender age of 31. The family and particularly her mother Amelia was devastated by his early demise.
According to Dr. Nugent, who wrote the obituary that appeared in the newspaper, Arthur had taken one box to the head too many.
A popular sport among young men of his age at the time, the “obit writer” went on to rail against boxing and the matches being held in town. He concluded that the sport (and the beatings boxers take) had led his son to a weakened state causing him to come down with influenza. This bout with the “flu” further weakened him to the point that the TB “bug” could invade his body.
Reading between the lines of the obituary, I could hear the sobs of grief coming from a man who has just lost his eldest son.
While teaching in Blissville, Ina had been swept off her feet by a handsome, well read and established “army man”, Major George Thomas. Their romance continued, albeit at long distance (at least for those times... today it would be a hop, skip and jump!) once she returned home to Chipman.
Perhaps absence made the heart grow fonder, for soon after returning home, George proposed. Although there were some family concerns over their age differences (she was not yet 20 and George was 37), Ina was determined to marry him. After much discussion, a wedding was planned and they were married in June 1911.
Ina’s happiness was short lived.
In February of the following year, George died suddenly of a heart attack. The tragedy occurred almost to the very day her brother had passed away the year before.
Ina, seven months pregnant, in shock and disbelief at this tragic turn of affairs, returned to live in the family home.
Her mother was not well. The stress and strain of the past year was taking its’ toll on her health Run down from all the grief of the past year, she fell gravely ill.
Tuberculosis. That dreaded disease had struck his family again. My great grandfather knew that it was akin to receiving a death sentence. This time it would take his beloved wife. Very few people ever recovered from this disease, much less survived during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
Determined to live to see the birth of her first grandchild, Amelia Jane Nugent passed away in 1912 when my aunt Georgia was but two months old.
Piecing the story together…
Over the years, I have studied, researched and written “stories” about the lives of women who lived in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. I find this period in our collective history to be a fascinating study that provides some interesting insight into “who we were as a people and nation” before we became “who we are” today
As the puzzle pieces of my grandmother’s early life began to come together, my heart ached for her.
I had a pretty darn good idea what she must have been up against as fate handed her some painful blows. I could only imagine how helpless, hopeless and painful this time in her young life must have been for her. Many a day’s “work” of unearthing information left me feeling sad at the end of the day. The pain and grief in my grandmother’s early life touched my heart deeply. I felt vulnerable and fragile. Tears, always close at hand, tumbled.
I toyed with the idea of giving up. I knew there was more tragedy to come for my grandmother. I consoled myself with the thought that it would be okay because I already knew what it was. Well, not quite, as I was about to discover….
To end today’s post on a happier note, I’d like to leave you with a few notes and tips on gathering family information. Even if you don’t plan to ever do a family tree or delve into researching your family, you’ll find some ideas of things you can do today with your family information to make it easier for future generations.
But first, here’s the page I made with the photo of my Dad and uncles first school. It was such a fun page to put together!
Being “farm kids”, they all had chores to do before they left for school. As I studied the photos I had of their farm and thought about my visit to the area some years before, I found myself imagining those three young boys sauntering off to school picking up rocks, kicking at the dirt and playfully punching each other as they made their way to school.. It made me smile….
The narrative reads “Their morning chores on the farm done, Wilfred, Guy and Willis washed behind their ears, put on their school clothes, ran their fingers through their hair, spit on their shoes when their mother and grandmother weren’t looking, then trotted off to school just down the road.”
Some Thoughts and Tips on Gathering Family Information…
The conversations with my aunt Flo as well as gathering old family photographs from the past 100 plus years gave me a true appreciation for the importance of keeping good family records.
It very quickly became apparent to me that we all need to encourage our elders to write down or tell us about their lives and what they know about family members who have passed on. Memories, dates and names fade. They are lost forever when your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins are no longer here to supply the information. Get them talking! Offer to write it down or record the conversation if you aren’t into writing. Just get the information in any way that feels comfortable for you!
Even if you never plan to do your “family history”, I’d like to suggest that you take a few minutes to record current events for future generations in a small notebook. I am as guilty as the next person for not writing down family events as they occur. Now, not everyone in a future generation will be interested but I can guarantee you there will be someone who wants to know!
At a minimum, keep a record of birth dates, places, countries, marriages, divorces, deaths. Speaking of deaths… now that cremation is becoming more the norm, where are the ashes of loved ones residing or in many cases, being scattered? Someone will be curious and if it is not recorded, it will be lost forever.
Tuck family ephemera away, preferably all of it in the same spot! When I was a child, I remember my mother telling all of us where the “family” stuff was and how important it would be to “grab” the box in the event of a fire or flood. It was good advice… think of all the family stuff that was lost forever during hurricane Katrina! As much as many of those folks displaced by the hurricane were devastated by the loss of their homes, many of them mentioned feeling heartbroken at losing “family” ephemera and photographs.
Newspaper clippings, certificates, awards, your children’s drawings, family bibles, school records and special cards are just some ideas of what to keep. While you are it, make sure that your photographs list who is in the picture! Today, we may know when the photo was taken (it’s usually stamped on the photo) but often we forget to include the “where” and “who”!
Have a great week…