An Art Journey Into Family History, Part 6

Little Girl, Lost

“She was only three when she went to live with her aunt Ida. She never lived with us but she came to visit us often when we lived in New Hampshire.”

I was stunned. All my life I had believed that my aunt Georgia had lived with her mother after her marriage to my grandfather and had only gone to live with “an aunt” after her mother died in 1929.

“Who was Ida?” I asked.

I’d heard the name when I was quite young but of course hadn’t paid it much attention. I wanted to know. Was this the same Ida whose name was on the back of the fading family photograph at the Burnett farmhouse when my Dad was a baby?

“She was my mother’s first husband’s sister.” said aunt Flo. “She was a spinster and didn’t have any children of her own so when my mother re-married she offered to take Georgia. I think that’s why Georgia hated my Dad so much all of her life. He took our mother away from her and she never forgave him for it. She was so bitter towards him. She told me once she thought he was responsible for her death. That made me feel so horrible.”

“Whoa”, I thought to myself. “I am beginning to understand why she tore up all the family pictures, broke all of her records and ripped up the memorabilia she had gathered in the course of her career before she died. "

What Georgia may not have realized (although it is unlikely that it would have made a difference… emotions are much stronger than logic) is that during the Victorian era and the early 1900’s, it was not at all unusual for children of a first marriage to be sent to live with paternal relatives after the death of their birth father.

Women typically did not work outside the home. Unless they were independently “wealthy” or had inheritances of their own to sustain them, women and especially widows had to re-marry for their own security.

Although some men were comfortable accepting the children of a first marriage, many were not. Children were sent to live with relatives as a way to increase a woman’s chances of finding a new husband. Whether this was the case or not, I shall never know. That information died with Ina Burnett and Ida Thomas.

A Brief Sketch

Over the next hour, aunt Flo gave me a brief sketch of my aunt Georgia’s life after the death of their mother.

Georgia and her aunt Ida moved from New Brunswick to Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Ida Thomas was not wealthy but had sufficient means to give Georgia a home and first class education, not only academically but musically as well..

After high school, Georgia left Maine for New York city to study voice at the Julliard School of Music. She sang with the Metropolitan Opera, touring with them for a number of years. When the United States joined the war, she traveled all over the world with the USO entertaining the troops. She was with the USO for years.

Her first marriage to a man eight years her junior turned out to be a terrible mistake and ended quickly. She resolved never to marry again.

Over the years though, she kept in touch with her old friend James whom she had known since their school days in Cape Elizabeth. James, who was a language teacher and singer, left Cape Elizabeth in 1938 and moved to California.

In 1965, Georgia moved from Cape Elizabeth to Miami, Florida. She and James saw each other frequently over the years and eventually James convinced her to move to California and marry him. They had sixteen more years together before he died in 1989. In 1990, Georgia moved to Pleasant Hill, California to be closer to my aunt Flo in Walnut Creek.

“She told me she was moving to Pleasant Hill to be closer to me. But I hardly ever saw her after she moved even though she was just a hop, skip and a jump away.” said aunt Flo.

“Georgia was a hard woman to understand.” she continued. “She was always a part of our family, at least where my brothers and sisters were concerned. We included her as much as we could. We kept in touch with her throughout her life. I loved her dearly but oh my she could be very difficult. She was so hard to get close to. She’d “run away and hide” a lot. It makes me sad just thinking of her.” She began to cry.

Photo taken in New Hampshire circa summer 1927
during one of Georgia's visits to her mother.

Aunt Flo and I never spoke of Georgia again after that day. It was too upsetting for her.

A Family "Genealogist's" Dilemma...

I met my aunt Georgia but one time. She came to visit my parents and I remember being fascinated with her stories and awed by her beautiful singing voice.

I wrestled for days with whether or not I should include a separate page for her in the Burnett family book. It was one of the most difficult decisions I had to make in the entire process of gathering the information and photographs together.

In the end, I decided to include her in the family tree information and include photos of her but not make a separate page for her as I did for each of her step-siblings.

Today, my heart still aches when I think of that little girl inside of her who likely felt cast aside, lost and abandoned her whole life through.

I came to realize that my aunt Georgia likely forced herself to put on a brave face for 87 long, lonely years. Did that little girl inside of her feel heartbroken and rejected most of her life? Did she still long for the comfort of her mother’s arms and pine for the love she felt had been taken from her when she died at age 90 in 2002? My guess is yes.

This blog post is for you and you alone aunt Georgie. May you rest in peace.


Valentines Day Blog Party

Hi and welcome to the Valentines Day Blog Party. Glad you have stopped by for a cup of latte and a browse through my blog. To take a peek at the fun gifts I have for you today, just click here and it will take you to a special Valentine's Day page I made just for you!

Have a day filled with fun and chocolate. Remember to celebrate *YOU* and give yourself a big hug!!


An Art Journey Into Family History Part 5

A Valentine’s Day Invitation

Before I get into this week’s “episode”, allow me to invite you to the Valentine Blog Party sponsored by Flatwood Design this coming Saturday, February 14.

I love surprises (the good kind that is!) so I am keeping the fun projects and downloads I have for you in celebration of Happy Hearts Day a secret. Not easy for me to do! I want to share what they are with you so badly I have to bite my tongue in order to not give them away! LOL

So put a nice big heart on your calendar as a reminder to drop by and join the party on February 14!

My desk was a mess! Everywhere I looked, there were post it notes with scribbles of names and dates I had discovered in my research over the past couple of weeks. I was feeling bogged down, confused and getting more frustrated by the minute. I began to understand why my sister had felt so overwhelmed sorting through the myriad of “paper slips” with family information on them that Dad had left behind.

As I began plowing through old census’, it became more and more difficult to figure out who everyone was (and which family they belonged to) especially since many of them had the same first names! There are more James, Robert and Mary’s in my family than you can shake a stick at. What I didn’t know was that I was about to discover a few more just to add to the confusion…LOL

My biggest piece of advice to “would be” family genealogists: Record your information, family by family, in a spreadsheet on the computer right from the “get go”. Once I took the time to do that it made a tremendous difference. What I wasn’t prepared for were the number of changes I would have to make over the next few months before it was correct and complete.

Combing Through Old Records…

It took me awhile to figure out how to go about finding information quickly. But as I have said many times since, "If there is one thing that doing a doctorate teaches you, it's how to research!". That skill came in very handy in the weeks and months ahead. However, the deeper I got into the past, the more "stuff" I discovered to confuse, frustrate and challenge me. I began to understand why some people take years to complete a project like this. You need the tenacity of a bulldog at times. Having a good reason for doing it doesn't hurt either!

Wrong dates of births, marriages and deaths. Incorrect spelling of names. No first names at all. Difficult to read handwriting. “Extra” family members (I would eventually find out that my great-great grandmother was listed as a daughter of my great-great-great grandfather when in fact she was his daughter-in-law!). Missing records. Lost locations of cemeteries or incorrect transcriptions of headstones. Just a few of the things that had me literally tearing my hair out on some days.

By far, the biggest “snag” I ran into was a lost census. I was so disappointed. I needed it to continue. Without it I could go no further. It had simply disappeared from the county records at some point and was no longer available.

“I’ve gone as far back as I can.” I lamented to my hubby and aunt. “Without this census, I can’t tell who belonged to which family. They had so many darn children in those days, it’s hard to figure out which Robert, James or Mary belongs to which family!”

I was at a dead end…
The photo below is a "sample" of one of the family tree pages that I put together for each of the 9 generations of our family beginning with my 5G’s grandmother Mary who was born in 1791.

This is the family page of my great-great grandparents. They had eleven children in all. Four of their children died in their first year of life (Mary, James, Eliza and Annie). One of their daughters (Sarah) died in her early 20's of pneumonia.

Miracles Do Happen… Don't Give Up!

I was at my wit's end. I wasn't sure what to do next. However fate and a good dose of luck was on my side...

A few weeks later, I discovered a name mentioned in the notes left by my uncle Wilfred before he died. Something felt familiar about this unusual name but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

I asked my cousins, my sister and my aunt if they knew who he was. No one had ever heard the name before.

“Honey, you’ll never guess what I found!” said aunt Flo a few days later. “An old letter from your aunt Joy written in 1998! I was rummaging around in one of my drawers looking for something and I found it. I can’t imagine why I kept it at the time. She mentions that “a fellow who lives in America” (my aunt Joy lives in England) had got in touch with your uncle because he believed that he was related to our family.”

She chuckled. “So there you have it. He lives somewhere in America, Miss Nancy Drew. Good luck finding HIM whoever and wherever he is!” she laughed.

I went to bed that night wondering if this “fellow” was the elusive “Alva”. “Hmmm, I think I’ll take a whack at it and see if I can’t find something on line. I wonder if he wasn’t doing some genealogy on his family too? ”

Nancy Follows a Hunch

I woke up at the crack of dawn the next morning. Something told me to go online and look at the Family Search database from the Church of Latter Day Saints. I had been there before… right at the beginning of my research. I was just getting my "feet" wet at that point and didn't really know my way in the genealogy world. Had I perhaps seen his name before? Could it be there?

I started searching. Yes, by golly... there, buried among many others with the same first name was a man about the same age as my aunt. He lived in Idaho. Well that was America! LOL Could it be?

I searched some more and found an old request on one of the search boards from 1998 mentioning my great-great-great-great grandfather and his brother Robert.

Boy was I starting to get excited or what!

I continued my search and eventually found an address. More digging and I finally came up with a telephone number.

WOW! I was sure I had found HIM! There was only one way to find out.

By the time hubby came home from work that day, I was bouncing off the ceiling. I told him about my “finds” that day.

“So, are you going to call him?” he asked.

As nervous as I was about calling a complete stranger, I had made the decision to call him the next day. I wasn't sure how to start my conversation to inquire if he was the person I was looking for. I'm rather shy about approaching people I don't know.

The next morning, I stumbled through introducing myself on the phone. I must have mumbled something about why I was calling. Alva was patient as he waited for me to finish my “spiel”.

When I finally "shut up" LOL, he told me that he was just thrilled to hear from a long lost relative. We ended up having a delightful conversation chatting back and forth about our family connections.

Over the next couple of weeks, we exchanged a few emails. He kindly offered to send him all of his family information.

One bright sunny morning, a package was waiting for me in the mailbox. When I opened it, I could hardly believe my eyes. Not only had he sent me a copy of all his family research, he had enclosed a copy of… yes.... you guessed it… the missing census!

I jumped up and down for joy when I realized what it was. A relative in New Brunswick had made a copy of it years before and sent it to him.

Miracles do happen. Nancy Drew had found “her man” and solved the case. LOL

I now had all of the missing pieces to put the family puzzle together.

Sharing My News

I called Aunt Flo. “Guess who I found?” I asked with a grin in my voice.

She just chuckled at my news. “Well I sure hope that one day you can put all of this information together to share with our family. I just can’t imagine how you can find all this stuff! It’s just amazing. Looking for Alva was like trying to find a needle in a haystack and you did it! I am so proud of you.”

I assured her that one day I would get all the information together!

Only later did she realize just how significant finding Alva was to completing the book I would dedicate to her..

A Meangingful Poem

Another page I included in the book was a poem I found on one of the family genealogy sites that really spoke to me as I laboured late into the night going through census after census. . I took the liberty of personalizing it (somewhat!) to our family. I thought you might enjoy reading it...

The Census

“It was the first day of census, and all through the land,
the pollster was ready, a black book in hand.
He mounted his horse for a long dusty ride,
his book and some quills were tucked close by his side.

A long winding ride down a road barely there
toward the smell of fresh bread wafting though the air.
The woman was tired, with lines on her face
and wisps of brown hair she tucked back into place.

She gave him some water, as they sat at the table
and she answered his questions – the best she was able.
He asked of her children. Yes, she had quite a few,
the oldest was twenty, the youngest not two.

She held up a toddler with cheeks round and red.
His sister, she whispered, was napping in bed.
She noted each person who lived there with pride
as she felt the faint stirrings of the wee one inside.

He noted the sex, the color, the age.
The marks from the quill soon filled up the page.
At the number of children, she nodded her head
and saw her lips quiver for the three that were dead.

The places of birth, she “never forgot”.
Was it Kansas? Or Maine? Or New Brunswick… or not?
They came from Ireland, of that she was clear.
But she wasn’t quite sure just how long they’d been here.

They spoke of employment, of schooling and such.
They could read some, and write some, though really not much.
When the questions were answered, his job there was done,
so he mounted his horse and rode off toward the sun.

We can almost imagine is voice loud and clear,
“May God bless you all for another ten years.”

Now picture a time warp – it’s now you and me
as we search for the people on our family tree.
We squint at the census and scroll down so slow
as we search for that entry from long, long ago.

Could they only imagine on that long ago day
that the entries they made would effect us this way?
If they knew, would they wonder at the yearning we feel
and the searching that makes them so increasingly real.

We can hear if we listen to the words they impart.
Through their blood in our veins and their voice in our heart.”

To end today’s post, here are the three “art pages” I did for my generation (the 7th)

7th Generation - Crossword Puzzle with "Clues"

8th Generation - Bingo Card - Chips Off the Old Block

9th Generation - Monopoly Board

Thanks for stopping by today. See you this coming Saturday at the Valentine Blog Party!


An Art Journey Into Family History Part 4

He was a strapping, young farmer eleven years her senior when he walked into Ina’s life.

Foot loose and fancy free and in his mid thirties, he was said to be a little on the “wild side”. Good looking, fond of “the horses” and not adverse to pitchin’ back a brew or two with his buddies at the local pub, he had an aura of charm and excitement about him that was dangerously attractive for a shy, quiet, young widow. There is no record or family stories of exactly when and where they met.

From the time of her first husband’s sudden death, Ina lived at home with her young daughter, her father and younger sister Alida. Both of her brothers had left home, bound for university in the United States.

It must have been a lonely, secluded life for a young widow without her brothers around to protect and watch out for her.

Her brother Goldie had attended the Provincial Normal School and began teaching in 1901. In 1905, he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a doctor. He left New Brunswick for Kansas where he received his BA in 1909. He then moved to Oklahoma to finish off his studies at the University of Oklahoma and became an MD in 1914 He returned to Kansas to set up a practice, likely (and this is a good guess based on my research) to continue his romance with Belle McKaughan, a vivacious young Kansas gal he may have met during his university years there.

Her brother Hannington, the “baby” of the family, was an energetic and ambitious young man as well. After attending the University of New Brunswick, he decided to follow in his father’s and brother’s footsteps and become a doctor as well. He left home to attend the same universities as his brother before him. After receiving his MD degree, he returned home to marry Cora Redstone, a young woman from a neighbouring county.

At some point, he and Cora (both devoted Baptists, just as their respective families were) decided to become missionaries. Posted to the Belgian Congo, both died there of a tropical disease (likely malaria). The dates of their deaths are unknown.


Sometime between 1912 and 1915, Ina found romance in the arms of the charming, husky Jasper Wesley Burnett.

With her brothers away, an aging, grieving father and a fatherless child, Ina was likely quite anxious about her future. It is not known whether her family approved of the budding romance or not.

Who was Jasper Wesley Burnett?

Jasper came from an old, established farming family. His ancestors had arrived in New Brunswick from Ireland in 1824 and were among the first families to settle in Dumfries Parish, York County New Brunswick.

Unfortunately, no photos exist from this time. I don't know off hand when cameras were invented but I am betting it would have been a very costly affair to have photos taken for posterity.
Piecing together my research when it was complete, I wrote a “wee” Irish tale that spanned two pages in “Scraps of Memories, Slices of Life” to record our ancestors arrival in New Brunswick. Here is the first page…

The narrative reads…

“Once on the far side of yesterday and in the years before our years, there were two brothers who lived in a quaint village in Ireland.

One day, after much spirited debate and lively discussion that went well into the night, they decided to leave Ireland and try their luck elsewhere.

The elder brother James was but two and twenty years at the time. Being the elder, it was his duty to inform their parents, James and Mary of their decision. He and his younger brother Robert had decided to emigrate to British North America.

Although their parents were sad to hear the news, they understood. Ireland, at the time, could not offer young, ambitious men the same opportunities for success available to them in the emerging colonies of the Empire. With heavy hearts, they gave their blessings, wishing their sons Godspeed on their adventure.

Early in 1824, James Burnett and his young wife Sarah accompanied by his brother Robert, his wife Mary and their baby son James left their families and the shores of Ireland behind them. They boarded a passenger ship bound for St. John, New Brunswick, a seaside port in the Bay of Fundy.

Many, many days later, indeed it was more like months, they caught their first sight of the bustling port of St. John. Oh what a sight it was! Fish mongers plying their morning catch. Horses and buggies jostling for space on the wharf. Shrieking children running excitedly about yelling “The ship from Ireland is here. The ship from Ireland is here.”

Their travel trunks unloaded from the ship, the Burnett brothers immediately set out to find shelter and inquire about a place to homestead. Fortunately, there were many Irish in St. John and in the surrounding countryside who could help them find their way in those first few days and months. What an exciting time it was being in a new land!

While Robert and Mary eventually settled in Lincoln Parish, Sunbury County, James and Sarah decided to make their home near the Pokiok Stream in Dumfries Parish, York County. It reminded them of “home” and oh what a pretty place it was!”

In the early 1850’s, Jasper’s grandfather James, purchased a tract of farmland near the St. John River “on the road to Canada” and moved his family to Kingsclear (now Garden Creek, a neighbourhood suburb of Fredericton, New Brunswick).

My grandfather

The eldest child of three, Jasper, lived on the family farm in Kingsclear where he was born in 1886.

As the puzzle pieces about him came together, thanks to my conversations with my aunt, I finally understood where the “wanderlust” of my younger years and the strong need for “freedom” I still have, likely originated from…. my grandfather! I never knew my grandfather, he died long before I was born, but it was an “eye opener” for me that made perfect sense.

My grandfather was someone who had “itchy” feet. He treasured his freedom to the point of being irresponsible at times (thanks heavens I didn’t inherit that side of him). He had a daring, devil may care streak in him that caused my great grandmother many a sleepless night. His personality was such that if he found himself in a jam, he would successfully charm his way out of trouble. He was, as my aunt said one day “one of those fellows you’d like to just strangle for the things they do that just infuriate you to death. One minute gramma would be as mad as the dickens at my dad and the next minute, all of us, including her, would be laughing and throwing our arms around him… all forgiven… and glad he wasn’t mad at YOU!”

Yep, I have known guys like that in my lifetime! I nearly married one! WHEW! Thanks heavens I didn’t.

But in the spring of 1915, Jasper found himself in a sticky situation that wasn’t so easy to just dismiss and charm his way out of. Ina was pregnant. His wild and woolly “bachelor” days were over! He’d sown just one “oat” too many. LOL

Ina and Jasper were married on June 7, 1915 in St. John, N.B. I am guessing, but something tells me that they eloped before they broke the news to their respective families. I can’t put my finger on why I think that. It just is one of those “things” we feel deep down that we know..

Surprise… Surprise…

As my research on RootsWeb got into full swing, I began to realize that when you shake the family tree, be prepared to get “bonked” on the head with apples that fall from the ancestral tree. LOL

Imagine how surprised I was to discover their marriage record and realize that it had been a “shotgun” wedding. My aunt Joy told me later on after the book was published that Uncle Wilfred had not realized that he was conceived "outside the blanket" until he started gathering the information for his branch of our family tree just before he died at ninety-one!

The second revelation -- it wasn’t my grandfather's first marriage either. This was news to me! I had never heard anything about this when my Dad was alive.

Looking for the death certificate of another family member in the Province of Ontario online records, I had stumbled across the record of Jasper’s first marriage.

In 1908, when he was 22, he had married a young woman by the name of Cecilia Dommer in Port Arthur, Ontario.

I called Aunt Flo.

“Did you know that your father was married once before?” I began.

It turned out that she did. She hadn’t really given it much thought in 73 years!

My great grandmother had told her about it when she was a young teenager. She had even seen a photo of the young woman in question that her grandmother had tucked away in a drawer.

“Your Dad may not have known about it.” she said. “Gramma told me just before she died. I had completely forgotten about it until you asked. What was her name? I don’t recall.” she asked.

“Cecilia” I said.

“Yes, that's her name all right. All I remember was Gramma telling me that my dad had gone west to Ontario (I found it amusing that going from New Brunswick to Ontario was considered “going west”) and had met her in Port Arthur. She was really surprised to get a letter from him a little while later saying that he had married. I don’t know what happened… whether she died or they got a divorce. I just know that Gramma just shook her head back and forth when she told me. She said I should know. My Dad was her “wild child”, you know.”

A Child is Born…

In November of 1915, Ina and Jasper's first child was born at the Burnett family home in Kingsclear. He was christened Wilfred Jasper.

During my research, my aunt Joy told me that my uncle had hated his name all of his life! He understood the Jasper part but he was never sure why he had been “saddled” with such a wretched first name. As a young man, he changed it to “Wilf”… all the while wishing they had called him something nice like Robert.

I was curious! Where had the name come from? It certainly wasn’t a “Burnett” name. I started digging. I was surprised by what I found.

My uncle may have appreciated his name more while he was alive had he known the family background behind it.

He was likely named in honour of his mother’s cousin, Donald Wilfred Machum. Don left for the trenches of France in October 1915 just shortly before my uncle was born.

In June 1916, he was reported missing and presumed dead after nearly ninety percent of his battalion became causalities. A month later, it was discovered that he had indeed not died during the battle but was a prisoner of war. He was to spend 900 days in German prison camps.

Although Don escaped twice, he was recaptured and punished quite severely for his deed. When the war was drawing to a close, he finally made good on his third attempt. He arrived in Holland on November 20, 1918… 12 days after Wilf’s third birthday. Was Wilfred Jasper Burnett, Donald Wilfred Machum’s “lucky charm”? We shall never know but I like to think so!

Tragedy Strikes… Again…

Following her marriage, Ina moved with Jasper to Kingsclear. She returned to Briggs Corner to visit whenever she could. I can only imagine how thrilled Dr. John must have been to spend time with his infant grandson.

January 1916 ushered in two more crushing blows to this young mother. On January 10, 1916 her physician father, John Gordon Nugent, died unexpectedly at age 73 after contracting tuberculosis. Sixteen days later, her younger sister Alida, barely 22 years old, died from the dreaded disease as well.

Ina must have been devastated beyond belief. My heart ached for her as I realized the full extent of what she must have gone through at the time.

Not only had she lost George to sudden, unexpected death, her immediate family of origin had been gutted by tuberculosis in the space of less than five years. She was left alone to deal with her grief. Only her eldest brother Goldie remained and he lived in Kansas with his young bride Belle. He wasn’t there to console her!

To end today’s post, I’d like to share with you a favourite family photo. I loved this photo so much when I first saw it in 2007 that I choose it as the photo for the cover of my book….

Tune in next week for the continuing “saga” of my quest for family information as I attempt to solve mystery faces and dates of my ancestors in family photographs

Sharon ... aka Nancy Drew, Mystery Detective

P.S. RootsWeb is a great place to start your family research. It has tons of information and will give you a springboard into information you never thought even existed out there! It's a terrific starting point!