Maternal-Side Christmas: Christmas Eve

My maternal grandparents (Bruno and Viola (Biliunas) Markoski) lived on the other side of the state, so I don’t think I ever saw them at Christmas time. However, my mom carried on the Polish tradition of pierogies on Christmas Eve.

Being good Catholics, we were not to eat meat on Christmas Eve, so the Polish often made pierogies for dinner. Folks would later ask me, “Were they stuffed with potatoes?” I’d never heard of such a thing! My mom’s family made their pierogies stuffed with farmer’s cheese (which is kind of like ricotta) or kapusta (a sauerkraut mixture). (Personally, I prefer the cheese-stuffed pierogies slathered with melted butter spooned over them!)

Cheese pierogies on the top, kapusta on the bottom! Author’s collection.

Both my sisters have made pierogies, as well as a few of my first cousins on that side of the family (as reported on Facebook). Me? I do have my mom’s recipe, but I’ve never made them. Maybe someday! For now, I’m enjoying everyone else’s!

My side of the family continues this cooking tradition, as well as opening presents on Christmas Eve. It all started with our opening the gifts from our parents on Christmas Eve (which included the obligatory matching jammies that we’d put on that night), then Santa gifts on Christmas Day. As we got older, the Santa gifts faded away, and we were just left with Christmas Eve. Usually, we had the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing classics in the background as each of us took turns opening our gifts. When my dad was alive, and if we were really lucky, he’d play some Christmas songs on the cornet. He had a really awesome tone! (And yes, I would say he inherited his musicality from his ancestors!)

We continue these traditions to this day on the years we have Christmas with my side of the family. For my own family (husband and kids), we have our own presents on Christmas morning as well as a yummy Christmas dinner on a table with Great-grandmother Bertha’s tablecloth and my aunt Cheryl’s silverware set that Great-grandmother Eva gave her.

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Paternal-Side Christmas: Party!

Growing up, we lived in the next town over from my paternal grandparents, George and Eugenie (Atwell) Pleau. My sister and I saw them often, and every year our family was invited to their annual Christmas party.

Actually, everyone was seemed to be invited to their party, which was held on or right before Christmas (I can’t remember). It was an early exercise in genealogy, as many members of my grandmother’s family were there: Great-grandfather Thomas Atwell, Great-great Uncle Claude Lipsett and his wife Clara, Great-Uncle Thomas Atwell and his second wife Helen, Uncle Tom’s two adult children (both of whom are still living) and my second cousins, who were a little younger than my sister. I remember my grandmother’s cousin, Carolyn Lipsett and her mother Marion. There may have been – no, there probably were – others at the party as well.

An early incarnation of the Christmas party – my first! Pictured are Uncle Claude, myself and Great-Grandfather Tom. Author’s collection.

My grandparents’ house was always decked out in 1960s Christmas kitsch. Giant glowing electric candles at the front door, orange-light candlesticks in each window, a choir of red-robed ceramic angels on the mantle over a fake fire, pretty curly ribbon candy in Christmas dishes on the end-tables. Their small fake tree, decorated with sparkly red and gold balls, stood in the corner where my grandfather set it up under my grandmother’s changing instruction.

At some point in the evening, us kids (me, my sister and the second cousins) got to open our presents. Perhaps it was early in the evening, to keep us occupied for the rest of the night. It was clear that the presents were from my grandparents, not Santa. No matter what the toys were, we’d always get a net sack of chocolate coins in our stockings (which I later learned was a popular Hanukkah thing). I can still hear the sounds of the empty gold foils hitting each other.

Then the grown-ups would talk and talk. There were probably appetizers on the dining room table that they’d eat. For my immediate family, this continued until I was ten, and then we’d moved away the following summer, too far to visit at the holidays. I wish I could time-travel back to the parties to hear what the grown-ups talked about; I bet I’d pick up a lot more family stories!

A Second Look

Last week I began to draft a blog post about the mortgage deeds of Frank L. Colomy and how that shed some light on his life and his family. As with most of my posts, I decided to look over the source documents again more closely.

Boy, did that open a can of worms!

What I was originally going to post has been put aside as I realized that I really need to take a much closer and more detailed look at these deeds. Additionally, what I’ve found seems to indicate that I need to do more research, including some in-person visits to Lynn, Massachusetts, which I’m not sure when I’ll be able to get to do.

So the story will have to wait, but I can promise, it looks like a great one! For now the genealogical adage to go back and look at your documents again continues to hold true!

Rosener, Ann, photographer. Washington, D.C. OWI Office of War Information research workers. District of Columbia United States Washington D.C. Washington D.C, 1943. May. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2017851716/. (Accessed April 15, 2018.)

U-Turn: Great-grandfather John Biliunas

Way back when I wrote about my great-grandfather, I included a snippet from his World War I draft registration that stated his place of birth. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what it said, whether it began with an N or a V.

Portion of John Biliunas’ Draft Registration. Courtesy Ancestry.com.

Well, it turns out that it begins with an S! (If you look really carefully, you can see the very, very light line of the cursive S.) What I did was post that snippet on the Lithuanian Global Genealogy Facebook group, and someone was able to answer me right away. Apparently, the name of the town is Siauliai (I guess it has various spellings, including Siaule), which is in the northern portion of Lithuania and is the fourth largest city in Lithuania.

Cathedral of Siauliai. Courtesy of Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=81090)

Now, whether John was actually born in Siuliai or in a nearby village, I don’t know. I have yet to order his naturalization paperwork which may give me more information, but that is on my To Do List this year.

The House on Herricks Lane

All these years, I believed that my great-grandparents John and Anna Biliunas just lived on some nondescript potato farm in Riverhead, New York. Little did I know that it was so much more!

Recently my maternal uncle and I were exchanging emails and he was giving me various pieces of information that I could follow up on for our family history. He told me that he thought he saw somewhere that the Biliunas house was on the National Register of Historic Places. WHAT??

Off to Google I went, and found this link. So it was true! The house, at 733 Herricks Lane, was listed as the “Hallock-Bilunas Farmstead” and on the National Register as of 2003 (#03000251). Searching on the address, I found that it operated as a bed & breakfast for 14 years in the early part of this century. The best search result was this article about when it went up for sale in 2012, because it showed pictures of the rooms inside! (Oh, that kitchen!)

Hallock-Bilunas Farmstead. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The article also gave some good historical background of the house, but also threw me for a bit of a loop with this sentence: “The Herricks Lane land belonged to Lemuel B. Hallock, and was later sold in 1940 to John Bilunas, a potato farmer.” This directly contradicted my original finding in a 1912 newspaper that Mary Hallock sold the farm to Anton Urnezis (Anna’s first husband, who died within the next couple of years). The U.S. Census always showed the Biliunas’s on Herricks Lane; so what was the story?

Fortunately, there are many Long Island newspapers online through New York Historic Newspapers. I didn’t find anything under John Biliunas’ name regarding a transfer of land at any time. What I did find was Lemuel Hallock’s obituary in The County Review dated March 17, 1938! (So Lemuel was obviously dead before this supposed selling of the farm.)

I did have the correct Lemuel: the obituary talked about him having lived on Herricks Lane. It also provided key information: he did have a wife named Mary and they lived in Mattituck “for the past 26 years” (which coincides with the 1912 sale of the farm). I wondered how Mary would have been the one to sell the farm. The 1912 newspaper stated it was sold by “Hallock, Mary &ano.”; obviously she was not the only person on the sales side. So why wouldn’t the sale have been “Lemuel &ano.”? I think one key fact in the obituary may lend a clue: Lemuel was deaf! Perhaps Mary, being able to hear, carried out the transaction on behalf of both of them.

So where would the 1940 date have come from? The only thing I can think of is perhaps that is when the mortgage on the farm was paid off; the time frame certainly makes sense. In any case, this ancestral home is a historical site (although not open to the public). That is pretty cool.

U-Turn: Fifth Great-Grandmother Anna (Capernaum) Taunt

This particular story begins at the end of Anna (Capernaum) Taunt’s life, because it raises many questions for me.

The end came on January 29, 1856 in Braintree, Norfolk County, MA. Anna died of old age as a pauper. Being a widow, this did not raise any flags for me; but the 1855 Massachusetts Census, taken just six months before, did. On July 13, 1855, Anna is listed separate from any family members and boarding with the Albert and Eliza Howard family with about a dozen other boarders. Albert’s occupation was listed as a “keeper of poor house”. The 1860 Census notes that this was an alms house that was supported by the town. (Thank you, meticulous census-taker!)

The question I ask is: why wasn’t Anna with any of her family? Her husband Seth died on April 7, 1837, so he was out of the picture. The 1840 Census showed her living next door to her son Seth and his family, but she was head of her own household and living alone.

I wondered how long Anna lived apart from her children, so I looked at the 1850 Census for each of her children:

Cynthia (Taunt) Savil had been widowed in 1846 and was living with her two surviving children in Braintree, being supported by her son Elisha, who worked as a bootmaker.

Seth Taunt lived next door to his sister with his wife and two youngest children. He also worked as a bootmaker.

Jerusha (Taunt) Goodwin lived in Berwick, York County, Maine with her own family, as she had since her 1824 marriage to Ivory.

William Taunt was living in Braintree with his young wife and month-old baby.

Anna was not in or very near any of these homes. In fact, I could not find her on the 1850 Census. Albert Howard did not yet run the alms house, so I wonder if there may have been another alms house where Anna could have boarded. It is possible that she may not have been living in Braintree, but I strongly doubt it, since she lived there since birth and all but one of her children lived there.

So I am left wondering why Anna did not spend her widowed years living with her children, as so many women of her generation did. Was she especially independent-minded, in spite of her poverty? Did her children not have sufficient means to support her (which is possible)? Or was she difficult to live with? Whatever the answer, there is a story here!

Third Great-Uncle Joseph White: Wait – What?

Technically, this is kind of a U-Turn post for my entries on Job and Elizabeth White and on John David White, but I think Joseph deserves his very own post.

One of the great things about online genealogy is connecting with cousins who may have pieces of information that you may or may not be looking for. I had the pleasure of meeting online, and later in person, one of Edgar Douglas White‘s descendants from New Zealand. (For purposes of privacy here, I will refer to him as “my cousin”.) My cousin is the fortunate custodian of many letters from the White family in Lynn to far-away Edgar. He shared with me the first letter dated January 3, 1869 that Edgar received from Job, which includes the following:

I have been in Lynn about six months. I am doing pretty well. I board with Fannie. She is married here well off. Your mother and the family will be here in the spring. Joseph lives in Glosseter [sic]: 30 miles from here.

Excerpt from Job White’s letter to his son Edgar. Author’s collection.

This was my first inkling that another son named Joseph even existed! What else could I find out about him? And how would this impact my previous conclusions about the family?

My first stop would be the 1870 Census. Since I had a name and a location, it was easy to find Joseph: he boarded at James Bennie’s house in Gloucester, Essex County, MA and worked as a laborer. The census confirmed that his birthplace was Nova Scotia and his age was 22, putting his year of birth about 1848. This fits in with the timeline of births in the family.

Joseph’s existence changes my narrative about his older brother, John. Since Joseph was living by the 1870s, he would have been the one enumerated on the 1861 Canada Census rather than John. This would mean that John probably died no later than about age 15.

Judging by Job’s letter, it seems that at least Fannie was in the United States before Job, and I suspect that Joseph might have been as well. It would have made a lot of sense for a single woman to travel with her brother, and they could help take care of each other in their new homeland. Once Fannie married Harmon Burns in 1868, Joseph was free to live on his own, as he was by 1869.

I’ve found a few stray records that mention a “Joseph White” in Massachusetts at about the same age, but the information is so scant and the name too common to confirm that it would be this Joseph. The only other information I have is that Joseph “went West” sometime before May 3, 1872, according to another letter that my cousin transcribed. The letter stated that the family had not yet heard from Joseph, so I don’t know if they ever did, or where in the “West” he went.