The Pleau Line

My Pleau family line past Edouard starts to get kind of sketchy. The following is his paternal line as far as I know:

Joseph Pleau was born circa 1780; he married Marguerite Proulx on November 15, 1802 in Nicolet, Quebec. The following are his children that I was able to find:

  • Andre, born around the time of his parents’ marriage.
  • Edouard, born March 18, 1807; died January 7, 1808.
  • Edouard, who I’ve written about here.
  • Antoine
  • Emmelie, born circa April 1825.

Joseph and his family lived in Trois Rivieres as early as 1825. I found two occupations for Joseph: one, a “navigateur” (which I believe is some kind of traveller), and the other (in the 1851 Census) is “Pilot Branche”. I have no idea what this is, but the handwriting is impeccable, so I don’t think it’s misspelled. Joseph died on January 16, 1857 and was buried at the Cathedrale de l’Assomption.

Louis-Joseph Pleau dit LaFleur was born March 30, 1755 in Les Ecureuils, Quebec. (In case you’re wondering about the “dit” in his name, it’s like an alias and is quite common in early Quebec. The Maple Stars and Stripes Podcast covers dit names.) He married Marie-Madleine Chaille dit Maturin on January 10, 1780 in Cap-Sante, Quebec.

His father was also named Louis-Joseph Pleau dit LaFleur. This Louis-Joseph was born circa 1726 in Neuville, Quebec. He married Marie-Francois Gueret dit Latulippe and Marie-Madeline Lefebvre (mother of the younger Louis-Joseph).

Francois-Ignace Pleau was born January 15, 1697 in Neuville. He married Marie-Madeleine Gaudin on February 4, 1722 in Neuville. He later died January 1759 in Les Ecureuils.

Pont de Châtillon-sur-Loire (bridge). The Loire River is the original Beautiful Water! Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The immigrant Pleau was Simon Pleau dit LaFleur, born circa 1641 in Chatillon-sur-Loire, France. He married Jeanne Constantineau on November 28, 1680 in Neuville. (As far as I know, she is not a Fille de Roi.) Simon died October 7, 1711 in Neuville.

Simon’s father is said to be Etienne Pleau, born circa 1615. He married Martine Audebert in Notre Dame de Chatillon-sur-Loire, France.

Obviously, there is much more to be learned about this family!

Third Great-Grandfather Edouard Pleau

I have not yet been able to find Edouard Pleau’s christening record, so I don’t have conclusive evidence of his birth date. However, census records indicate that he was born around 1812-1813. My guess is that he was born in or near Trois-Rivieres, Quebec (although I saw one unsourced place online that said he was born in Berthier). As best as I can tell, he was the fifth of the six children of Joseph Pleau and Marguerite Proulx, the fifth son and the second Edouard! If he wasn’t born in Trois-Rivieres, the family did eventually live there by the time he was an adult.

Trois Rivieres, probably when the Pleaus lived there. From The New York Public Library. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47da-222c-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Edouard married Julie LaMothe (sometimes spelled Lamotte) on May 30, 1835 at Cathedrale de l’Assomption in Trois-Rivieres. He became a shopkeeper, but owned 76 acres, 46 of which were gardens and orchards. Perhaps he sold some of his own produce.

As best as I can tell, the children of Edouard and Julie were all born in Trois-Rivieres. They are:

  • Francois Edouard, born November 28, 1835; married Sophie Danfousse on February 13, 1860 at Notre Dame de Montreal (maybe this is the connection by which my great-great grandfather George met Emma LeClair?); married Marie Alphonsine Rebecca Gagne on September 2, 1884 at Cathedrale de l’Assomption; died May 24, 1916 in Trois-Rivieres; buried May 16 at Cathedrale de l’Assomption.
  • Antoine, born April 12, 1839; no record of him after 1871 – I think he may have immigrated to the United States, but have no records one way or another.
  • George, born October 1841, died December 9, 1842 in Trois-Rivieres; buried December 12 at Imaculee-Conception Church.
  • George, born August 2, 1843, who I wrote about here.
  • Jean Baptiste, born February 1846; married Marguerite Olivine Boucher on November 10, 1868 at Notre Dame de Montreal; died August 26, 1913; buried August 27 at St. Louis Cemetery.
  • Marie Julie, born April 7, 1849; married Jean Baptiste Micheline on January 14, 1872 at Cathedrale de l’Assomption.
  • Joseph Louis Philippe, born May 27, 1851; married Marie Louise Gagne on September 2, 1879; married Marie Anne Henriette Gerin-Lajoie on July 11, 1896 in Yamachiche, Quebec; married Claire Mathilde Durand on November 25, 1902 in Loretteville, Quebec; died January 4, 1930 in Loretteville.
  • Marie Flore, born on or before May 12, 1853; died April 12, 1869; buried April 13 at Notre Dame de Montreal.
  • Louis Edouard, born May 2, 1855; died May 14, 1855.

Edouard died on February 1, 1882 and was buried two days later on February 3 in the St. Louis Cemetery in Trois-Rivieres (as recorded in the church records of the Cathedrale de l’Assomption).

Great-Great Grandparents George and Marie Emma E. (LeClair) Pleau

When I first started this blog, I began with the story of my great-grandfather George Edmund Pleau and continued with all his siblings. It’s high time that I return to that family line, starting with his parents.

I assume that my great-grandfather was named after his father, George Pleau (though I don’t know if my great-great grandfather had a middle name). George Pleau was born on August 2, 1843 in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec. He was the fourth child and fourth son of Eduouard Pleau and Julie LaMothe (their third son was also named George, but died as a baby in December 1842). He was baptized at the Cathedrale de l’Assomption on the day of his birth. George grew up to be a shoemaker, which was his life-long occupation.

Marie Emma E. LeClair was born and baptized on February 18, 1849 in Montreal, Quebec. Her baptism was at Notre Dame de Montreal. Emma, as she was commonly called, was the daughter of Joseph LeClair and Marie Julie Charpentier and had at least one brother named Joseph Napoleon.

I have no idea how George and Emma could have met, but on November 27, 1866, they were married at her home church. In 1869 they made their move to Rochester, Monroe County, NY, where they proceeded to have their family:

  • Napoleon Charles (who went by Charles), born March 30, 1870 (click here for his story).
  • Cordelia, born January 1874 (click here for her story).
  • George Edmund, born December 27, 1875 (click here, here and here for his story).
  • Albert Joseph, born January 30, 1878 (click here, here, here and here for his story).
  • Eugene Jule, born February 19, 1881 (click here, here and here for his story).
  • Evelyn L, born February 1883 (click here for her story).
  • Ida, born 1885.
  • Ella Jane, born March 10, 1888 (click here for her story).
  • Lucy, born 1890 (click here for her and Ida’s story).

I do see that George was enumerated with his parents in the 1871 Canada Census (between Charles and Cordelia’s births), but I assume the stay was for a short time. He was in Rochester to stay, and the Pleau family lived at many addresses throughout the central Rochester area.

There seems to be a blip in George and Emma’s marriage: the 1892-1893 City Directories show them as living apart. For whatever reason they were separated, they were back together again for the remainder of their lives.

George’s live seemed pretty quiet, but I found Emma’s name in the newspaper a couple times: once in 1899 when she was representing their son Eugene in court after the train wreck he was in, and another time in 1913 when she wrote to the mayor of Lowell, MA via the newspaper The Lowell Sun, searching for her uncle John Savard, who she had been corresponding with. (This tells me that Emma was literate.)

As their children married (and sometimes re-married), George and Emma never had an empty nest; the family (particularly the sons) came and went, and George and Emma themselves spent their last years living with daughter Evelyn and her husband Charles. George died on September 13, 1914 and Emma on February 8, 1918. I can’t find any accounts of George’s funeral, but Emma’s was held at Our Lady of Victory Church, which (being French Catholic) I assume was their home church. Both are buried at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Rochester, where I was able to find their gravestones easily first online, then in person.

Found in Section M: George and Emma Pleau’s graves in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery! Author’s collection.

It was an amazing moment for me to stand at their graves, connecting with a family whose name I had but only recently had gotten to know them through my research.

Third Great-Grandparents Adam and Elisabeth Valek

I know very little about Adam and Elisabeth’s life prior to the 1910 census. So for what it’s worth, the following is to the best of my knowledge!

Both Adam and Elisabeth were born in Lithuania (the censuses sometimes say Russia, which makes sense, considering the constant border changes). Adam was born on March 15, 1858 and Elisabeth (sometimes enumerated as “Eliza” or “Lizzie”) was born around 1862. The ages of their children indicate that they must have married when they were teenagers. All of their children, except for their last, were born in Lithuania, but I don’t know where. (My grandmother had photographs of relatives in rural Lithuania, but she had no idea where the pictures were taken.) Adam and Elisabeth’s children were:

  • John, born in 1886; I have conflicting evidence whether he died before 1942 or not.
  • Antone George, born circa 1887 (though that conflicts with Anna’s birth, unless they are twins); married Theodora Pulaski circa 1910.
  • Anna M., who I wrote about here.
  • Alice E., born June 11, 1890; married Martin Aksten circa 1910; died April 1974; buried at St. John the Evangelist Cemetery in Riverhead.
  • Joseph, born circa 1893; married Margaret, circa 1919; died 1965; buried at St. John the Evangelist Cemetery in Riverhead.
  • Mary, who married a Mr. Wesselau (I’m not even sure of the spelling, since the source for this had botched the spellings of her sisters’ married names).
  • Frank, born 1901 in New York state; left home around 1919 and was never heard from again.

Thanks to Suffolk County’s naturalization records, I was able to find Adam’s declaration of intention paperwork! I know that he immigrated from the port of Bremen, Germany to New York, NY in May of 1893. Unfortunately, he did not remember the name of the ship! But that is enough information to narrow it down to about eight ships, so I will need to carefully comb each ship’s manifest for his name.

Based on immigration dates in census records, it looks to me that Adam immigrated first and the rest of the family later (it looks to be 1899), like so many immigrants did. The Valek family eventually settled on a thirty acre farm on Manor Lane in Riverhead, Suffolk County, NY. Most of the children soon married and settled nearby. It seems that Adam sold the farm in late 1921, according to a newspaper announcement. Perhaps with Frank’s disappearance and the other children married with their own property, it was just too much for Adam to maintain. I know that Adam later lived with his son Antone, so I assume that is where he and Elisabeth moved once they sold the farm.

Elisabeth died sometime between 1921 and 1925. I don’t think she ever became a U.S. citizen. Although Adam filed his declaration in November 1921, he is still marked as an “Alien” in the 1940 census, so I don’t know if his naturalization was ever completed.

Elisabeth Valek. Author’s collection.

Adam passed away on September 26, 1942 and his estate (which netted about $7,000) seemed to be settled in 1943, divided among his children. I do not know where he or Elisabeth were buried, but I assume it was in one of the nearby Catholic cemeteries.

Great-Grandmother Anna M. (Valek) Urnezis Biliunas

Anna M. Valek was born on May 30, 1887 in Lithuania. To my knowledge, she was the eldest daughter and third of Adam and Elisabeth Valek’s children.

Different censuses place the year of Anna’s immigration anywhere between 1897 and 1900. I strongly suspect that the year was 1899, when other members of her family immigrated (her father was the first to come over in May 1893). Family legend says that Anna came through Ellis Island, but I have yet to find the ship manifest with her name on it. What I really need to do is research her brothers’ naturalization records to get more possible information on her arrival.

Another family legend is that Anna married her first husband, Anton “Tony” Urnezis, at the age of thirteen. I have not been able to confirm this one way or another. They were likely married in advance of their first child, John (known as Jack), born in 1908. Anna Marie (who later went by Ann) was born on August 31, 1910. There may have been a third child; the only Urnezis who I’d found on Find-a-Grave in the Riverhead area is Joseph Urnezis (born May 24, 1912, died October 15, 1912), who is buried at the Sacred Heart Cemetery in Cutchogue – the same cemetery that Anna’s second husband John Biliunas was later interred in. Personally, I think this is too much of a coincidence to discount him as a possible child, but right now I have no definitive evidence that he was born to Anna and Tony.

Although Anna’s parents were already established in Riverhead by the 1910 Census, it seems that the Urnezis family didn’t purchase land their until early 1912. Tony bought the Herrick Lane/Sound Avenue from a Mary Hallock. This farm is supposedly where Tony had a fatal accident; I don’t know what or when exactly, but of course it was before Anna re-married.

Anna as a young woman (wasn’t she beautiful?). Author’s collection

In my previous post, I’d covered Anna and John Biliunas’s children, as well as John’s naturalization. I’d always wondered if Anna’s citizenship hinged on John’s status. After all, in the 1925 New York Census, John stated that he had “filed papers” and Anna noted “same as husband”. However, in 1922 the United States passed the “Cable Act”, which stated that women could gain citizenship on their own. She would not have to file a declaration of intention (which explains why there is no paperwork filed with Suffolk County), yet she is counted as a citizen by 1930 and did eventually obtain a Social Security Number. I’m not sure exactly how it would have worked with her citizenship – she did not seem to be naturalized with her husband. This definitely would require some offline research.

Anna was widowed once again in 1948. I don’t know how long she stayed at the farm, but I do know that she purchased land on Bay Avenue in Mattituck, Suffolk County, NY near the beach in 1950. I believe that her son Jack eventually moved there (he definitely lived on Bay Avenue by the 1970s) and I believe she lived with him toward the end of her life. And when was that, you ask? Anna died in April 1983 in Mattituck; yes, she was pushing 100! Although I was a full-grown eighteen years old when she died, I never got the opportunity to meet her. I can only hope she knew that a great-granddaughter would have loved to meet her!

Anna in June 1964. Author’s collection.

Great-Grandfather John Peter Biliunas

As I struggled to put together this blog post, I wondered why? I had the basic high points of my maternal great-grandfather’s life; usually that’s been enough to get me going. I guess I sensed that John Peter Biliunas had a bigger story to tell. Now I think that who he was ties into the things that were bigger than himself: his family and his country.

John was born on September 16, 1886 in Lithuania. His US World War I Draft Registration does show his place of birth, which looks something like “Viaule” or “Virule”. (I’ve ruled out it beginning with “N”, based on the other writing on the form.) What do you think?

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

I have no idea who John’s parents were, but I know he had at least one brother (Anthony William) and perhaps two more (Ziborios and Kazimeras, according to some photos that my aunt has). I believe that John was the first to immigrate to the United States in 1907 (according to the 1920 census); Anthony followed in 1910. I strongly suspect that John came through Ellis Island, though I still need to order his naturalization paperwork.

John and Anthony Biliunas. John had brown hair and blue eyes. Author’s collection.

Somehow, John met an married the young widow Anna (Valek) Urnezis, probably no later than mid-1915. With Anna, he got more than a wife, but a farm on the corner of Sound Avenue and Herricks Lane in Riverhead, Suffolk County, NY, and two young children: John and Ann Urnezis (who were born 1908 and 1910, respectively). Soon young John and Ann had a little sister born on June 7, 1916: Viola Alice (my grandmother)!

John Urnezis, Viola Biliunas, Ann Urnezis. Author’s collection.

On his June 5, 1917 Draft Registration Card, John noted that he had a wife and three children depending on him for support. He also noted that he had filed his intent to become a citizen of the United States. Certainly Riverhead was established in his heart as home.

Two more children were born to John and Anna: Bruno Antone (or “Bert”) on September 6, 1917 and Evelyn Mary on April 20, 1920. The family was now complete.

December 21, 1926 was a big day for John: he was part of a group of 88 immigrants – the largest in Suffolk County history at that point – who became U.S. citizens. New York Supreme Court Justice James A. Dunne presided over the ceremony, at which each new citizen was presented with an American flag. (How I wish I knew what happened to John’s flag!) Mrs. Joseph Townsend, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, spoke at the ceremony. She encouraged the new citizens to join a church if they hadn’t already, and to obey all the laws of the land, especially the Eighteenth Amendment (the Prohibition one!). I have to wonder if the whole family was there to witness the event. Perhaps Anna and the children were all dressed up, along with other families.

John Biliunas in the 1930s in Riverhead. Author’s collection.

Other than his children’s marriages and the births of most of his grandchildren, John’s naturalization was the last major documented event in his life. He passed away on January 27, 1948 at home. His funeral was held four days later at Sacred Heart Church in nearby Cutchogue and he was buried in its graveyard.

That’s all I know about John Biliunas so far. Next time we will look at his wife, whose long life and surrounding family tell us even more.

Great-Grandmother Johanna J. (Gazda) Markoski

You would think there would not be too much to say about Johanna after all my posts about Stanislaus. On the contrary, what I’ve found about his life just adds to her story, rather than the other way around.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when Johanna was born; it seems to range anywhere from 1875 to November 1878. Her birthplace, however, was gen on the 1908 ship’s manifest (more on that later) as “Rehberg, Galicy”. As we saw in researching Stanislaus‘ home country, this area was Galicia, the northeastern section of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which stretched from modern-day Poland to modern day Ukraine. So where was Rehberg? According to the Galicia Town Locator on geshergalcia.org, it was in the Jaworow Administrative District and the Krakowiec Judicial District. With a little more poking and prodding on the internet, it seems that the town is now known ans Yavoriv, which is now in the Ukraine, very close to the Polish border.

Johanna’s parents, according to her 1896 marriage record, were Andrew Gazda (misspelled Garda, I assume due to a mis-reading of some original paperwork) and Marie Tenera (the 1908 manifest says her mother’s married name was “Marya Gasda”). Johanna arrived in the United States sometime between 1890 and 1892; the 1900 census (closest to that time) states 1891, and I tend to lean toward that. If she did arrive prior to 1892 in the Port of New York, she would have been processed at Castle Garden. I have not been able to find her or her parents in any immigration database yet. For all I know, she may have come over with brothers or other family members. From what my aunt says, there were other Gazda’s in Holyoke, Hampden County, MA, so it seems that she didn’t immigrate alone.

Castle Garden, today known as Castle Clinton. Author’s collection.

If Andrew and Maryah did in fact immigrate to the United States, Maryah did not stay here. The 1908 ship manifest I mentioned before shows “Joanna”, “Mieczyslaw” (Max), “Stefan” (Stephen), Edward and “Domicela” (Doris) “Markocka” sailing on the SS Kaiser Wilhelm from Bremen, Germany on June 16, 1908 and arriving in New York City on June 23. It is clearly our Johanna, as page 2 states that she is returning to her husband “Stanislaw” at 116 Lyman Street in Holyoke. Since Doris was just six months old upon this return journey, and other records show that she was born in “Poland”, a pregnant Johanna and the three boys must have departed America in late 1907. I strongly suspect that Stanislaus did not go along, since the manifest notes that Johanna paid the passage for herself and the children. While there, the family visited Maryah, who was then living in Wisniowa, which today is in southwestern Poland (about 175 miles due west of what was Rehberg). I don’t know why Johanna and the children made the visit; perhaps Andrew had died?

Poster about the SS Kaiser Wilhelm at the Ellis Island Museum. Author’s collection.

Another interesting tidbit on the ship manifest was it said that Johanna could read and write, whereas the 1900 census stated that shoe could not. Was the census wrong? Or might she have learned over the course of eight years? Perhaps Mater Dolorosa Church helped immigrants with this skill (I’m just guessing!), or maybe she learned through her own children’s schooling. In any case, Johanna stated on the 1940 census that she had a sixth grade education. That seemed to be enough to get by in her community.

Another thing the ship manifest provided was a physical description of the passengers. Johanna was four feet, eleven inches tall, but her growing children’s heights were not given. All were blond and had either green or blue eyes. (Johanna’s were green – now I know where my eye color comes from!)

Johanna’s life followed the same track as Stanislaus’ until about 1940, where the city directory stated that she “removed to Flushing, LI, NY”. That is where youngest child Charles (who changed his last name to Markham) lived with his wife and baby daughter. I’m not sure why Johanna went there – whether there was marital difficulty, or if Charles and Janet needed help with the baby, or she could have just missed her youngest son. The Holyoke City Directories don’t show Johanna by name again until 1944, but I can’t say for certain if she was actually away all that time.

In any case, Johanna remained with Stanislaus for the rest of his life. For the rest of her life, she lived with various children. My mother remembers her living with Bruno’s family for a time (although she never re-appeared in the Holyoke directories). From 1958 to 1959, she lived with son Stephen in Springfield, Hampden County, MA. Stephen’s wife Josephine died suddenly in 1958, so perhaps Johanna was helping him get through that aftermath. Of course the majority of Johanna’s later life was spent with daughter Doris Mieczianka in Riverhead, NY. Doris had no children, but her door was always open to extended family who needed a place to stay.

Johanna Markoski in the 1950s. Author’s collection.

On Friday, September 13, 1968, Johanna passed away in Westhampton Beach, Suffolk County, NY. I’m not sure why she was in Westhampton Beach; her residence was still Riverhead. Perhaps she was in the hospital there. Her wake was in Holyoke the following day, and her funeral mass was at Mater Dolorosa Church that Monday, followed by her burial next to Stanislaus at Mater Dolorosa Cemetery in South Hadley.

I never knew until recently that Johanna’s lifetime extended right into mine. I know I never met her, but probably wouldn’t have remembered her if I had. I’m just glad to have learned all that I have about her now.