Light a Candle: Rekindling the Flame

Probably the best part of genealogy is the process of discovery!  I started out with a pretty good knowledge base due to my grandmother sharing what she knew.  All that led to one discovery after another, and I’m still learning.  The coolest thing about all these discoveries, however, is rekindling the stories that have disappeared over time.  Some of these I’ve written about here, and some are just in my database.  Here are some of those discoveries:

  • Charles Hendrick, brother-in-law of my ancestor Mary (Randall) Williams, took part in the Civil War in the US Navy.  There’s not as much out there about the naval battles, but I was able to find out that during 1862-1863 he served on three ships:  the Ohio, the Princeton, and the Augusta.  
  • Learning that Jennie (White/Williams/Colomy) Starbard’s mysterious brother Joseph ended up in Washington Territory once he left Lynn, Massachusetts.
  • The discovery of Job Raynard White’s ancestral line, especially the suspenseful story of his Loyalist grandfather, David White.
  • My great-grandmother Eva (Lipsett) Atwell’s brother Claude apparently had a close relationship with her husband and my great-grandfather, Thomas Francis Atwell.  I found a newspaper article about his marriage to Clara MacWhinnie, and apparently Thomas served as best man!
  • The discovery of my Filles du Roi and Filles a Marier ancestors really makes me want to learn more about their stories.  I’m going to have to splurge on the definitive books on these groups.
  • What resonates most deeply with me is the fact that my great-grandmother Bertha (Colomy/French/Spratt) Pleau remained a dedicated pianist throughout the trials and tribulations of her life:  from her late childhood; to her indiscretion with Percy St. Clair; to her young adult years in church; through her three marriages and moves to Nahant, Brooklyn, Baltimore and back to Lynn.  Bertha continued playing at various performances and teaching others to play as well.  It’s no wonder that upon her death, my grandfather lived with another piano player, Benjamin Johnson.  Perhaps Benjamin was one of her students or at least an associate of hers in Lynn’s music scene.
Candles represent my genealogical discoveries!
(By Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0,

I Can Identify: How Many Ancestors?

I see this question every so often:  how many of my direct ancestors can I identify?  So I thought I’d go through that exercise here, with links to the primary posts I’ve done on that ancestor.

Excuse the imperfections of the fan chart I cobbled from my software!

Parents: 2 of 2
Identified but not naming here, since they are so recent

Grandparents: 4 of 4
George Edmund Pleau
Eugenie Beryl Atwell
Bruno Edward Markoski
Viola Alice Biliunas

Great-Grandparents: 8 of 8
George Edmund Pleau
Bertha Elizabeth Colomy
Thomas Francis Atwell I
Eva Christina Lipsett
Stanislaw Markoski
Johanna Gazda
John Peter Biliunas
Anna M. Valek

2x Great-Grandparents: 16 of 16
George Pleau
Marie Emma LeClair

Frank L. Colomy
Jennie E. White
William Armstrong Atwell
Altie May Williams
Robert Fenwick Lipsett
Sarah Sophia O’Brien
John Markoski
Marie Pytel
Andrew Gazda
Marie Tenera
Anton Biliunas
Mary Zrnsis
Adam Welikes (Valek)
Alzbieta (Elizabeth) Gudellis

3x Great-Grandparents: 16 of 32
Edouard Pleau
Julie LaMothe
Joseph LeClair
Marie Julie Charpentier
George Washington Colomy
Lucy Ann Goodwin
Job Raynard White
Elizabeth Phoebe White

Richard Atwell
Margaret Patterson

John Wesley Williams
Mary Elizabeth Randall

Robert Bruce Lipsett
Christeana McMaster
James Patrick O’Brien
Sarah Sophia Bruce

4x Great-Grandparents: 30 of 64
Joseph Pleau
Marguerite Proulx
Charles Cauchon dit LaMothe
Marie Genevieve Paille
Joseph LeClaire
Veronique Poulet
Francois Charpentier
Marie Elizabeth Lauzon Laquelle
Ivory Goodwin
Jerusha Taunt

Edward White
Desiree Nickerson
David White
Mary Hurlburt
William Atwell
Ann Armstrong

Thomas Patterson
Margaret _____
Jason Williams
Lucy ____
Gorton Bailey Randall
Mary Ann Gardiner

Edward Lipsett
Mary Irving
John McMasters
Sarah Scranton
Thomas O’Brien
Eliza _____
John Bruce
Caroline Scott

5x Great-Grandparents: 39 of 128
Louis-Joseph Pleau dit LaFleur
Marie-Madeleine Chaille dit Maturin
Joseph Proulx
Marie Claire Marquet dite Perigord
Charles Cauchon dit LaMothe
Malina _____
Hippolyte Paille
Marie Anne Desaulniers-Lesieur
Michel LeClaire
Charlotte Laberge
Pierre Poulet
Marguerite Savignac
Francois Charpentier
Magdelaine Frechette
Andre Lozon
Marguerite Therrien
Emery Goodwin
Mary Hamilton

Seth Billings Taunt
Anna Capernaum
David White
Margaret ____
Titus Hurlburt
Sarah Leonard

William Atwell & ___
George W. Randall
Betsey W. Keene

Benjamin Gardiner
Elizabeth _____
John Lipsett
Anne _____
John McMasters
Ann Cummings
David Scranton
Loraine Strong
Patrick O’Brien
Mary Anglin
James Bruce
Catherine Cadel

I’m going to stop at this point, since many of these ancestral lines drop off, but I have written of some of them already (such as the Strongs and Scrantons).  Of course I would like to break through my Eastern European brick walls, as well as a few others along the way!

I’d Like To Meet: Colonial Ancestors

This year instead of doing #52Ancestors in 52 weeks, I’m going the #12Ancestors route.  There are some other projects that I really need to get to, but I do want to keep blogging, so here we are! The luxury of doing #12Ancestors this year is being able to choose which of the January prompts I’d like to write about.  This month I’m choosing “I’d like to meet”.  

Of course, I’d love to meet all my ancestors!  But in particular, I’m thinking of my ancestors from American and Canadian colonial times.  Although AmericanAncestors has the best collection of colonial era records and the French-Canadian Catholic records are completely awesome, there are still many holes that I’d like to fill.  

1785 Colonial Map. Courtesy Library of Congress.

So if I were to sit down with these people, here are some of the questions I would ask:

  • For so many of my female American ancestors: what the heck was your maiden name, and who were your parents? (I have so many Mary’s and Hannah’s!)
  • Filles du Roi and Filles a Marier:  tell me your personal story! What made you decide to cross the pond? What was the voyage like? What did you think of the New World when you first saw it? Did your experience meet your expectations? What were some of your challenges?
  • New Hampshire and what was to become Maine ancestors:  please, please give me some vital record information on yourselves and your family members!  
  • Roger Williams: what was the deal with you founding a church and then leaving it? 
  • Mehitable (Plaisted) Goodwin: I want to hear the story of your capture and return in your own words.
  • American immigrant ancestors: tell me what personally drove you to make the journey to the New World?  And if I don’t have the name of the ship that brought you here, please provide that.

I suppose I could think of other questions, but I think these are a very good start!

Looking Ahead: #genchat Turns 10!

It’s the last week of #52Ancestors and it’s time to be looking ahead.  In 2023, #genchat (the oldest genealogy chat on Twitter) will be turning ten years old! I’ve been participating since the beginning and co-hosting with Kale Liam Hobbes since 2018.  This coming year will be a year of new things for #genchat, some of which were announced during our October 21 Open Mic.

First, Liam is retiring from co-hosting, although he’s offered to continue designing the graphics we look forward to during each chat.  That leaves me as the host, with my emergency backup will be the faithful attendee, Chris Ferraiolo.  So far I’ve only called on him to lead one chat next year (an Open Mic on March 10), since I’ll be in a completely different time zone. So now I’ve been looking over where #genchat has been the past few years and where it is going.

2023 will bring a scheduling and structure change: #genchat will be every second and fourth Friday on Twitter.  With the exception of March, the first chat will be topical, as we’ve normally done them.  The second chat will be a themed Open Mic session.  See our schedule for more details.

The next big change is that we’ll be having a #genchat on Mastodon the Saturday mornings after the Twitter chats!  There have been a lot of changes at Twitter that lead to many leaving the platform. Indeed, I was concerned about whether or not Twitter would last, so I started to set things up for #genchat on Mastodon, just in case.  It turns out that there are some on that platform who would love to see it there,  as well as those who can’t make the Friday time zone.  So I’m taking the plunge and starting a 9am ET chat that will start out at half an hour, depending on how it takes off.  Read the “How It Works” section of our website for details.

#genchat’s revised website header. Visit!

One thing I’m holding off on with Mastodon is having a #Treeverne lead-in time. If people want to gather independently, that’s fine. I’m just not sure that I can commit to that right now. Another thing is that I’m not requiring our guest experts to attend the Mastodon chat, unless of course they want to. We’ll still pose the questions they come up with, however. 

I’m looking forward to 2023 at #genchat.  The new schedule will be easier to manage, especially with two platforms.  So mark your calendars, pick your platform and join us!

Perseverance: Answers in 2022

At the beginning of the year, I posed a bunch of research questions I wanted answers to.  Through a little perseverance and skill, I’ve found some of those answers, as well as answers to other questions!

One of my hopes was to find the passenger lists of Adam Valek and the remainder of his family.  Thanks to some insight on name variations and some broad searches, mission accomplished!  Adam arrived May 26, 1893 on the SS Darmstadt under the surname Welikes (thanks, FindaGrave, for helping with that!).  Elisabeth and the rest of the family were harder to find; I had to search under her son Anton and using a wildcard for the surname.  There they were under the spelling Welikova (probably because they were coming from Russia) on the SS Weimar, arriving April 7, 1899.  Like my mom always told me, they arrived in Ellis Island!

Also thanks to FindaGrave, I found out how William Gorton Atwell died and where he is buried.  He died of lobar pneumonia on July 9, 1923 and is buried at St. Francis Cemetery in Pawtucket, Providence County, RI.  Sad, but fortunately not scandalous.

Another question FindaGrave answered this year was where my third great-grandfather John Wesley Williams is buried:  Pocasset Cemetery, Cranston, Providence County, RI.

Earlier this year, I posted about my great-grandparents John and Anna Biliunas’ wedding certificate and my discovery of where they got married.  This summer, thanks to my aunt giving me free reign in digging into boxes in her basement, I found their actual wedding picture! Here it is:

Anna (Valek) (Urnezis) & John Biliunas. Author’s collection.

Another mystery that is partially solved is where Job and Elizabeth White’s mysterious son Joseph ended up.  Last I wrote, they knew he “went West”, but I had no idea where.  This year, I found a somewhat detailed obituary for Elizabeth, who died in 1901.  It named each of her daughters, but only mentioned her two sons by location: “one of the sons is in New Zealand and the other is in Washington territory”.  Since I know Edgar ended up in New Zealand, that leaves Joseph.  However, I haven’t found him in any Washington-based records yet.

Of course there was the release of the 1950 Census, where I was able to find all my living direct ancestors, from my parents all the way back to my great-great grandmother, Altie May (Williams) (Atwell) Woodlock.  Yes, she had re-married, though I can’t tell when exactly, and ended up in New Rochelle, Westchester County, NY!

I wrote about how I searched for my numerous French-Canadian ancestors.  By doing this, I found even more ancestors!  (I love when that happens!)

And finally, I recently connected with a second cousin on my Markoski side through a DNA match.  I love finding new cousins!

I’m looking forward to new discoveries in 2023! 

Traditions: Yay or Nay?

As I reflect on the #52Ancestors theme of “Traditions”, I think about the past traditions that I’ve kept & those that I let fall by the wayside.  On the one hand, traditions are a great way of remembering times past; but on the other hand, they can lose their original meaning if you just do them for the sake of doing them.  These past couple of years have challenged my bandwidth for keeping up my usual Christmas traditions, so I figured I’d examine them here, marking “yay” to keep them up, “nay” for not.

Christmas tree – Yeah, the tree is a lot of work.  Making room in the living room for it, dragging out all the ornaments, hanging them up.  But when it’s all done, something about its beauty brings me peace.  So many of my ornaments are connected to my mom, my grandmother, and other memories of my life.  Verdict:  yay.

My Christmas tree this year. My maternal grandmother made the handmade ones! Author’s collection.

Christmas cookies – My mom used to bake a bunch of different kinds of cookies when I was young.  As she got older and became a working woman, she stopped baking for a very long time.  When I graduated college, I decided to take up the mantle and started with eight different kinds of cookies.  I eventually worked up to fourteen kinds and fudge.  Then lockdown happened and I got Covid, followed by a year of losing a number of family members.  So I haven’t baked cookies (with the exception of a batch yesterday) for three years.  Verdict:  nay for now; maybe a reduced yay next year.

A typical plate with the cookies I’ve baked in years past. Author’s collection.

Listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (now the Tabernacle Choir) – My mom loved listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at Christmas.  Mind you, we’re not Mormons, but she loved the music and passed that along to us.  I even have a couple of her CDs.  Verdict:  yay.

Christmas Light Drive – Driving around town (or even neighboring towns), looking at the extravagant light displays…my parents loved doing this.  As an adult, I’d seek out all the best spots and map out an effective route to take it all in.  Many places no longer decorate now (there was one place in my old neighborhood that did it for over 40 years!), but I do love seeing the lights.  Lately I’ve just enjoyed the lights I see on the way home from work, and these past couple of years, my husband and I have done a Christmas Light Walk in our neighborhood.  Verdict:  nay; replaced with a walk.

One of the houses from our neighborhood light walk last year. Author’s collection.

Christmas Eve family gathering – Growing up, we used to open the presents from our parents (mostly clothes) on Christmas Eve, then the Santa presents on Christmas Day.  As we got older, the Christmas Day present opening was phased out.  However, I personally thought Christmas should be celebrated on Christmas Day, and I prefer spending my Christmas Eve in church.  With our own kids, we opened all our presents on Christmas Day.  Verdict:  nay.

Pierogis on Christmas Eve – My mom & my sister would make pierogis on Christmas Eve, and they were awesome.  Since I’ve worked full time most of my adult life, I just didn’t have time.  Plus, since they were doing it, why should I?  (Though I do have my mom’s recipe.)  And because I’m not doing the Christmas Eve gathering, it just doesn’t work out for me.  Verdict:  nay.  

Pierogies on Christmas Eve – yum! Author’s collection.

Christmas Dinner – It’s one of the few times a year I go all out with the cooking.  The past few years, I’ve made a roast beef (roast beast!) and Apple Cream Pie for dessert, along with other dishes.  My mom used to make a fabulous Beef Wellington for years until my dad was diagnosed with hemochromatosis.  I don’t know if I’d have the patience for it, nor do we have enough people to eat all that.  The roast beef is still delicious, though!  Verdict:  yay.  

What traditions have you kept or let fall away?

New Horizons: What Made Them Immigrate?

I have to admit, when I saw that this week’s #52Ancestors theme was “New Horizons”, my first thought was the 1972 Moody Blues song!  But from a genealogy context, I think of my ancestors gazing toward the horizon, about to embark on their immigration journey.  

Over at #genchat this coming Friday, we’re going to be discussing migration patterns influenced by history.  This got me to thinking about what may have influenced my ancestors to come to this country.  Although I personally don’t know for sure, I want to examine the possible “why’s”.

1600s  Since just about all of my ancestors settled in New England, history tells me that those people had some serious religious differences with the Church of England.  I know that a lot of my ancestors ended up being Congregationalists, as many from the Great Migration were.  At least one of my ancestors (Nicholas Wallington) seems to have been an indentured servant, so he was basically along for the ride.

On the French-Canadian side, I know that I have a number of Filles a Marier and Filles du Roi that came to Quebec, motivated to find a good husband and start a family to help populate the new land.

1700s  A good number of my ancestors from this time period were arriving in Nova Scotia directly as a result of the American Revolution.  I’ve written about my Loyalist ancestors (the Whites and Hurlburts) who just could no longer live in the United States, and some received land grants as a result of their military service for England (such as James Bruce).  And of course there was Catherine (Quinn) O’Brien who inherited land through her dead husband’s family in Nova Scotia and took advantage of the opportunity to give her children a better life.

1800s  Both my Quebec (Pleau) and a branch of my Nova Scotia ancestors (White) arrived in the US about 1869, just two years after the provinces of Canada confederated into a single country.  I have to wonder if there was some dissatisfaction with that.

Later in the century, my Polish (Markoski and Gazda) and Lithuanian (Valek) ancestors arrived along with thousands of others immigrating to America, escaping depressed conditions and unrest in their homelands. With the Industrial Revolution, America was becoming the land of opportunity, and they took advantage of that.  The Valeks were a classic example of chain migration, where one person (Adam) went ahead of the family, bringing them over at a later time.

What we often think about when we think of immigrants. Courtesy Library of Congress.

1900s  There were just two more immigrant journeys to be had before 1920:  that of my great-grandfather John Peter Biliunas from Lithuania, and of my great-grandmother Eva Christina Lipsett of Nova Scotia.  Both may be cases of chain migration also.  In John’s case, his passenger states that he was connecting with a brother-in-law (who I know nothing about).  In Eva’s case, she had many cousins already living in Essex County, Massachusetts.  Perhaps they had good stories of opportunity where they were living, I can’t be sure.

Overlooked: Elsie Burns and Her Children

Remember all the terrible losses suffered by my third great-aunt, Frances “Fanny” (White) (Burns) Ives?  It seemed like it was one thing after another with her.  Well, her story was just the tip of the iceberg as far as family tragedy goes.  For some reason I hadn’t pursued descendancy research on her line until recently, and I have uncovered even more sadness.  Here goes.

As I wrote before, Elsie was Fanny’s last surviving child and lived to adulthood.  I only grazed her adult life last time; I’ve since discovered more.  On January 3, 1903, she married James Lewis McNichol in Lynn, Essex County, MA.  This marriage seemed not to last very long; in the 1910 Census, Elsie is listed with her maiden name and as “single”.  In later censuses, James is listed as a widower.  I’ve seen these statuses quite a bit for divorced people in that time frame.

On October 26, 1910, Elsie married William Younie in Boston, Suffolk County, MA.  What I recently learned is that on March 21, 1911 (just five months later), they lost an unnamed baby girl.  I assume this was a stillbirth.  However, William and Elsie were blessed with two more children in Boston:  Bernice Elsie on June 28, 1913 and William Jr. on February 15, 1916.

A blissful motherhood was not to be for Elsie; she died on February 25, 1917 of a cerebral hemorrhage. Her children were only three and one year old.  Apparently William Sr. eventually was able to get some help raising their children:  his mother Margaret was living with them in Boston in the 1920 Census.  She is listed as being widowed, but I’ve found that his father died much later, so they may have divorced.  Of course the children’s maternal grandmother (Fanny) would not have been able to help; at this time, she was committed to Westborough State Hospital which treated mental issues.  Five years later, Fanny would pass away.

By 1926 the Younie family was living in Quincy, Norfolk County, MA.  Bernice is shown to be a graduate of Atherton Hough School, an elementary school in Quincy.  The following year, William Sr. died.  I found Margaret and grandson William living at 82 Center Road in Quincy in the 1930 Census, but where was Bernice?  This is where I had a most interesting find.

On the Internet Archive, I found Bernice’s name among the June 18, 1937 graduates of the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Watertown, Middlesex County, MA.  (Yes, the same Perkins that Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan attended years earlier!)  I did not find Bernice among Perkins’ “inmates” in the 1930 Census; I can only assume she may have been at some other institution.  However, the answer to the question on the 1940 Census about where she lived in 1935 was “Watertown”, so she did spend some years there.

Howe Building Tower, Perkins School for the Blind. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

I have to wonder if Bernice started attending Perkins in 1933 when her grandmother Margaret died.  After all, her seventeen-year-old brother was probably in no position to take care of her.  I unfortunately could not find William in the 1940 Census but I did find Bernice.  She was at Monson State Hospital in Monson, Hampden County, MA.  From what I could see, Monson was especially known for treating epileptics.  One year later, Bernice had passed away at Monson.

William ended up in the military; I assume during World War II.  In the 1950 Census, he was a patient at the Vets Administration Mental Hospital in Bedford, Middlesex County, MA.  At that point, he is listed as “never married”.  Could he have been suffering from PTSD from the war?  William seems to have lived until 1989, so there is much recent history to find out about him.  I am hoping so much that he ended up with a better life!

Wrong Side of the Law: One More Crime

From what I’ve seen in old newspapers, the Pleau brothers at times found themselves on the wrong side of the law.  I’ve written about Charles Napoleon’s many troubles, which ended tragically.  Albert seemed to only have one brush with the law back in 1897, as I covered here.  And Eugene had stolen a coat in 1902.  Strangely, I could not find anything illegal that my great-grandfather did, unless you count the bigamous overlap of his marriages for which he was never arrested.

Well, there is one more crime that I’ve recently uncovered in the newspapers and it was committed by Eugene.  Apparently he rented a horse from liveryman Edward F. Higgins in Rochester, NY and drove it eight hours without a rest.  He ended up being convicted of animal cruelty on August 2, 1904 and fined $15.

This isn’t Eugene; this fellow looks like he’d treat his horse better! Courtesy Library of Congress.

The fine wasn’t good enough for Higgins.  By August 13, he brought action against Eugene in Municipal Court for $100 in damages to the horse.  I have yet to find the outcome of the suit, but I have a feeling that it didn’t end well for Eugene or the poor horse!

Tombstones: Some of My Favorites

This week’s #52Ancestors theme is “Tombstones”, and what genealogist doesn’t love a good cemetery?  (Actually, I’ll even take a bad one!)  For me what comes to mind are the graves I’ve visited that have moved me the most.  Here are a few:

Visiting the grave of my great-great grandparents, George and Emma Pleau at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Rochester, NY, was so fulfilling for a few reasons.  One, it was just an hour away from my in-laws, who my family visited often. And two, it really brought me full circle to the research that my aunt started so many years ago.  I had to wonder when the last time a descendant visited this gravesite.

George & Emma Pleau graves at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Rochester, NY. Author’s collection.

I was excited to find my direct ancestor Caleb Seward in Old Durham Cemetery in Durham, CT.  So many of the stones in that cemetery were badly weathered, but his was still in great condition!  The Sewards are tucked away toward the top of the steep hill that the cemetery is on; I only found them because I sat down to rest for a bit.  His stone notes that he was the first inhabitant of Durham.

Caleb Seward’s grave, Old Durham Cemetery, Durham, CT. Author’s collection.

I found my great-grandparents Stanislaw and Joanna Markoski in Mater Dolorosa Cemetery in South Hadley, MA only by taking an educated guess based off the Find-a-Grave photo.  Fortunately it was not far from where my grandparents were buried.  

Stanislaw and Joanna Markoski graves, Mater Dolorosa Cemetery, South Hadley, MA. Author’s collection.

When I made my 2013 pilgrimage to Pine Grove Cemetery in Lynn, MA, I have to say I was happy to find the graves that I saw; their map was so helpful!  But the one that moved me in particular was my second cousin twice removed Hazel Faustina (White) Hill.  I remembered her from when I was just a little toddler; whenever we’d visit she’d always have a little treat for me.  And later when my grandfather George Pleau died, she was sure to ask me, “Do you remember me?”  I sure did, I said.  Her kindness stayed with me, and visiting her final resting place was just a little way to pay that back.

Hazel Faustina (White) Hill’s grave, Pine Grove Cemetery, Lynn, MA. Author’s collection.