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.

Ancestor Road Trip: Holyoke, MA

As I blogged about my Markoskis, I began to explore Holyoke, MA’s online resources to give me a greater context for their lives. It became apparent to me that it would be a good idea to visit the Holyoke Library’s History Room and Wistariahurst Museum’s Research Room to see if I could uncover some off-line resources. After all, Holyoke is only a two hour drive away. A day trip would be very fruitful if I did some careful planning, just like I’ve read about on other genealogy blogs.


The first thing I needed to do was decide what day of the week to go. Wistariahurst’s Research Room had open hours on Monday and Thursday, and Holyoke Library’s History Room was open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. So Thursday it would be! Wistariahurst’s website said it was open until 1pm, and the Library until 4pm, so I would hit the museum first, then the library. That would give me some time to squeeze lunch in between.

Both websites had finding aids for their collections. Awesome! This helped me see what was in their collections, what might apply to the Markoskis, and how to easily locate the items for a pull request if needed (at the museum, it is always needed). It also helped me prioritize what I wanted pulled.

Another thing I wanted to do if I had the time was visit the “old neighborhood” (what used to be Fountain Street), which has long since been razed and redeveloped, and Mater Dolorosa Cemetery, which was just over the Connecticut River in South Hadley. I’d already been comparing pre-redevelopment maps with Google Maps, so I knew where Fountain Street was; I just had to plot out the most efficient route to drive, as well as determine where to park.

Research Stops and Their Bonuses

First stop: the Research Room at Wistariahurst Museum, which was in its Carriage House. The first thing I learned was that the posted closing hours was at noon, not 1pm (and I arrived at 11:30)! (Lesson: always, always call ahead.) Going in, I was a little apologetic (“I know research hours are almost over, but can I still take a look?”). The small staff was very helpful and accommodating, especially when I provided them my list of things I wanted to look at (that made it so much easier for them and faster for me). I didn’t find anything mind-blowing, except for a few photographs of the area, including an area shot of the Lyman Mills tenements, which they kindly allowed me to photograph.

Lyman Mills housing. Holyoke History Collection, MS 201, Wistariahurst Museum, Holyoke MA.

Bonus: the museum was only a block away from an apartment building my grandparents lived in during the late 1970s, so I was able to take a quick walk to take a picture.

Beech Street apartment building. Author’s collection.

After lunch at a friendly McDonald’s (seriously!), it was off to the library, whose ample parking was just across a non-busy street. A funny side note about both the McDonald’s and the library: the public bathrooms are locked; you have to ask for a key. Judging by the surroundings being somewhat run-down, perhaps this was to keep undesirables out.

It turned out that most of what I needed at the library was available on the shelves. My favorite collection was the Holyoke High School yearbooks, going back to 1915. Neither my grandfather nor his siblings seemed to have graduated from HHS (and older yearbooks didn’t have underclassmen pictures like they do now), so I only found my mom’s generation, which included her cousins who lived in Holyoke as well. In my search, it was neat to see the photos from the 1910s and 1920s and all the hairstyles of the day! I also did a little newspaper microfilm searching, since I had just a few events with definite dates to search under. It was nice to know that I remembered how to use the machine!

As I was getting ready to leave, one of the workers asked if I found everything I was looking for. I said, “Well, your finding aid didn’t list anything for the Kosciuszko Club, so I doubt you’d have anything on that.” “Let’s check!” said the gentleman, and he did in fact have one small folder with two newspaper articles about the club, which he copied for me. Moral of the story: even if you don’t think a repository has something, ask about it anyway; you never know! And even if they don’t, they may know where you can get more information. In this case, the worker suggested the Polish Center of Discovery & Learning in Chicopee (which will be my next road trip for this area).

Memory Lane

I had plenty of time to make my more sentimental side-trips. The first stop was the old Fountain Street area, which modern maps basically show as St. Kolbe Drive. Again, parking was no problem, as the lot for the now-closed Mater Dolorosa Church was open. It was sad to see the church that my great-grandparents attended and that hosted my grandparents’ funerals; it was all fenced off due to being closed and on-going issues with the diocese.

Mater Dolrosa Church. Author’s collection.

The one building in the old neighborhood that I remember from my early childhood was the Mater Dolorosa School, which was built in 1959. My grandparents’ rental house was right next to it and my grandmother had worked in its cafeteria for a time. Today, Pulaski Park stretches behind the school and along the Connecticut River. Back in my great-grandparents’ time, it was known as Prospect Park and was named after General Count Casmir Pulaski in 1939. Today, it is very hard to envision the old buildings and tenement housing that stood where some of the park currently extends to. I tried to picture just where my grandparents’ house was, knowing that there was an old tree in their yard. But today there are quite a few trees that have grown large since the mid-1970s.

Could this area be where my grandparents lived? Author’s collection.

From Pulaski Park, you can see the mouth of the canal that fed the mills, and you can see the mill buildings down-river. Despite being a couple blocks from the former industrial are, the old “neighborhood” looks pretty suburban now.

Pulaski Park, Holyoke. Author’s collection.

Finally I had time to run over to Mater Dolorosa Cemetery in South Hadley. I had not been there since my grandmother’s burial in 2000, and the cemetery is rather large, with its sections unmarked. This is how I found my grandparents’ grave: at my grandfather’s 1992 burial, my uncle took a picture of all of us at the site, showing the surrounding headstones and houses in the background. The houses told me that the grave was not far from the street. I went to Google Maps Street View and saw what the houses looked like today, and the approximate position along the street that the grave would be near. Then I looked at the unique-looking stones and the nearby names. It took a little while, but there it was! My eyes filled with tears as I made my way to the heart-inscribed stone.

My grandparents’ grave. Author’s collection.

After a little visit with my grandparents, I wondered if I could possibly find my great-grandparents in this vast cemetery. Pulling up Find-A-Grave, I looked at the photo taken by Vicha and noted the sloping shape of the stone, as well as the fact that it was in front of pavement — it had to be along a driveway! Since the cemetery is loosely organized chronologically, I thought maybe they might be buried near the next “block”. Looking that way, I saw some sloping headstones along the driveway. “I bet that’s them!” I said, as I walked there.

Well, not only did I find Stanislaw and Joanna Markoski, but right next to them was oldest son Max and his wife, Catherine! (Special bonus photos for my second cousin, who was not able to make the trip.)

Max and Catherine Markoski’s grave. Author’s collection.

Stanislaw and Johanna Markoski’s grave. Author’s collection.

After a good-bye to my ancestors, I stopped for supper at the Friendly’s that was around the corner from my grandparents’ last apartment, which we would go to together when visiting my grandparents. (No locks on the bathroom there!) And on the way out, I had to drive by the house that held that apartment. I was so glad to have plenty of time to spend on the sentimental portion of my journey, thanks to good planning on the research side of it!

U-Turn: Frank Valek’s Whereabouts

When writing about my great-grandparents Adam and Elisabeth Valek, I listed their children and what became of each. The youngest, Frank, seems to have disappeared around 1919.

I think I may have found what became of him; the fly in the ointment is that there seems to be other Frank Valeks in New York State. What I really need to do is sort them all out, which is hard to do with the lack of New York records!

What I found was a 1918 World War I Draft Registration with a Frank Valek listed, who has the same age and also born in New York. Frank was working as a bus boy and living in New York City with a wife, Lizzie. I also see subsequent indexes for National Guard service. Then I see Frank Valek (obviously the same one as on the Draft Card, having the same birthday) on the Social Security Death Index, dying in February 1972 in Albany, Albany County, NY.

I really want to believe that these records are for my Frank. But I know my research has to be more thorough to ascertain this!