Great-Grandfather Thomas Francis Atwell I: Beyond the Navy

I’ve already touched on my great-grandfather’s life with respect to his time in the navy and partly through writing about his wife (my great-grandmother), Eva Christina Lipsett. Now it’s time to dig a little deeper.

Thomas Francis Atwell I was born on October 4, 1891 in Providence, Providence County, RI. He was the fifth child and third son of William Armstrong Atwell and Altie May Williams. I don’t know much about his childhood, other than that his schooling ended with a ninth grade education and that his parents divorced sometime between 1900 and 1905. I’m told that Thomas’ father William could be difficult to get along with, but in spite of that, all the children seemed to remain with him as opposed to Altie after the divorce. When William re-married to Ethel Fane in 1905, Thomas got along well with her and later his half-brother Wallace.

There is a family story that says that things were so bad at home that Thomas lied about his age to join the navy. However, from what I can tell, he enlisted in 1909 when he was eighteen, so I don’t know about the part about lying about his age. Perhaps joining the navy was Thomas’ best option for leaving home once he turned eighteen? In any case, he seems to have begun his naval time at the academy in Newport, Newport County, RI.

We already know that Thomas married Eva on June 30, 1920 in Salem, Essex County, MA. I would love to know how they met; perhaps he had some shore leave in Boston and ran into her somehow? Whether he had any prior relationships, I do not know. I’m sure it would have been difficult to maintain a relationship for very long, being stationed on a ship for great lengths of time. In any case with Eva, it was love; this was obvious in the way my great-grandfather spoke of her even after her death.

Eva + Thomas Atwell in Swampscott, MA, 1959. Author's Collection.

Eva + Thomas Atwell in Swampscott, MA, 1959. Author’s Collection.

As I’ve written before, Thomas and Eva started their family in the 1920s. After a brief time out of the navy in the 1930s, he worked as a superintendent in an office building. Then after his time back in the navy during World War II, Thomas again returned to civilian life and began working for the Lynn Institute for Savings (a bank) in 1947 and continued there until retirement in 1967. Since Eva had died in 1963, the house on Timson Street in Lynn must have seemed too big for him, so he put the house on the market in November 1964 and bought the tiny home on Bulfinch Road that I remember. A few months later, the house on Timson Street was sold.

Although he was retired and downsized, Thomas in no way checked out of life. He still drove around town, and attended Christmas and other family parties that his daughter Eugenie threw. One thing that I discovered was that during the 1970s, he wrote a few letters to the editor of the Boston Herald-American. (I suppose that he also must have written to the Lynn Daily Item, but those archives are not yet online.) Many of the short, pointed letters had a political bent to them, such as properly addressing the President of the United States and anti-union sentiments. One outlined eight ways to “save the U.S.A.”, which would be seen as very conservative (and probably politically incorrect) today. He also wrote about his beloved Boston Red Sox, who he often watched on the TV set in his living room. Mind you, this was deep in the years during the “Curse of the Bambino”.

Thomas lived on his own for many years, but spent the very end of his life in a Lynn nursing home, passing away at the very respectful age of 96. He is buried with Eva at Pine Grove Cemetery in Lynn.

Atwell-Pleau grave, Pine Grove Cemetery, Lynn, MA. Author's collection.

Atwell-Pleau grave, Pine Grove Cemetery, Lynn, MA. Author’s collection.

Vienna Fingers and Ginger Ale

Vienna Finger.  Courtesy Wikimedia.

Vienna Finger. Courtesy Wikimedia.

What in the world does this strange snack have to do with genealogy? To me, everything!

I was lucky to grow up knowing my great-grandfather, Thomas Francis Atwell I; in fact, I was 23 years old when he died (though sadly I did not see much of him after we moved away when I was 11). When we lived in Massachusetts, my family would often visit with Grampy Tom. Inevitably, my sister and I would ask him for a snack and he’d give us what were probably the only sweets in the house: Vienna fingers and ginger ale.

Grampy Tom’s house in Lynn was very small, only four rooms as I recall, but that was all he needed after the death of his wife, Eva (Lipsett) Atwell. Besides the kitchen (where the snacking occurred), we spent most of our time in the sparse living room. Grampy would always sit in a fanback Windsor chair (I don’t think it even had a cushion!) as he spoke with my parents. I don’t remember much of the decor, but I do know he had some pieces of the USS Constitution from when it was refurbished in the late 1920s.

Grampy Tom was partly deaf; whether it was from age or some other reason, I don’t know. We always had to shout to be heard, and even then, it was difficult for him to understand (he never did get my youngest sister’s name right, despite numerous corrections). Another thing that made Grampy unique was the tattoo on his arm. I don’t even remember exactly what it looked like (an eagle?), but I remember staring at it, wondering how old he was when he got it. If memory serves me correctly, he got it sometime during his navy years.

Me & Grampy Tom at my first Christmas.  Author's collection.

Me & Grampy Tom at my first Christmas. Author’s collection.

I remember on one of our visits, my mom told me I should really listen to the stories Grampy Tom told; after all, he was in two world wars and he’d seen a lot of history! That sounded like a good idea to me. I liked stories! So I tried – I really tried to sit and listen. But I didn’t understand, and the little girl in me would rather go outside and play. How I wish that I could go back now and absorb some of the things he said!

So now, nearly thirty years after his death, I have to satisfy my curiosity by searching for Grampy Tom’s stories as I’ve done for my other ancestors, as well as talking to the very few relatives left who knew him personally. From here, we will look into my great-grandfather’s life, family and ancestors, based on my findings.

Fourth Great-Grandmother Sarah (Scranton) McMasters: Born in the USA

Just three years after the end of the Revolutionary War, Sarah Scranton was born on August 11, 1786 in Durham, Middlesex County, Connecticut to David Scranton and his second wife Loraine Strong. Sarah was Loraine’s first child, but David’s second. His first was Phebe, who was born on May 11, 1782, to David’s first wife Phebe Curtis. The elder Phebe died less than three weeks after her daughter’s birth on May 30, 1782.

David was a mariner of his own sloop called Nancy that dealt in trading. His hometown of Durham was a landlocked rural town, at least twenty miles from the Connecticut shore and about ten miles west of the Connecticut River. Every time he was to make a trip on the Nancy, he would probably need extra days just to travel to and from wherever she was docked. (I have to admit that as I drove to Durham last summer, I was surprised just how far it was from the shore. “No wonder David didn’t stay here!” I said to myself.)

Durham, Middlesex County, CT. The southern border of Connecticut is its shoreline. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Durham, Middlesex County, CT. The southern border of Connecticut is its shoreline. Courtesy Wikipedia.

On one of David’s trips to Quebec, he had stopped in Chadebucto Bay in Nova Scotia, which runs along today’s Guysborough County’s southern shoreline. Apparently he was quite impressed with the area, for when the Hallowell Grant in Nova Scotia opened up for settlement, he took the opportunity to find a new home that was more convenient to his occupation. (A great description of the Hallowell Grant can be found here on the “From Maine to Kentucky” blog.)

In mid-1787, Sarah was only one year old when she made the voyage with her parents and fourteen-year-old cousin Henry Scranton (who was recovering from a “fever-sore in one limb”) to Nova Scotia; she likely never saw the country of her birth again. Other settlers came with them on the Nancy, some of whom had been Loyalists during the war. The Scranton family settled on a farm in the newly formed town of Boylston* on east side of Milford-Haven River, a tidal river that empties into the Chedabucto Bay. This seemed to be a perfect location for David, who could easily split his time between his travels and the family farm.

Left behind in Durham was Sarah’s five-year-old sister Phebe, who was being raised by Phebe’s maternal aunt (whose name I do not know). I have to wonder if this aunt may have stepped in to help raise the newborn Phebe after her mother’s untimely death. Perhaps the two formed a mother-daughter-like bond that David could not break up. In any case, I am sure Phebe and her father kept in touch; one of her children was named after him, after all.

Cousin Henry’s illness did not get any better with time. On December 21, 1787 (just a few months after his arrival), Henry passed away. I have to wonder if his was one of the first deaths in Boylston. So Sarah became the “oldest child” of the family, having nine younger siblings that were between one and a half and sixteen years younger than herself, all born in Manchester. (I will detail them in a later post.) As such, Sarah probably helped her mother run the household and take care of the children; perhaps she even helped out on the farm.

Meanwhile, in 1790, a Scotsman named John McMasters arrived in Manchester and was deeded 172 acres of land. The two books that mention him say that his parents were John McMasters and Ann Cummings. I assume that John must have been close to twenty years older than Sarah. John and Sarah were married on November 20, 1808 in Manchester. They had nine children, all born in Manchester:

  • George Henry, born October 10, 1810; died August 1812 of rheumatism
  • Lauraine, born November 16, 1811; died September 11, 1838
  • Ann Charlotte, born October 26, 1814; married Thomas McKeough December 19, 1848; died sometime after 1891
  • John, born December 9, 1816; married Catherine J. Cummings before 1855; died 1906
  • Catherine, born November 8, 1818; married A. Henry Partridge before 1843
  • David, born April 19, 1820; married Margery E. Fox 1855; died 1903
  • Samuel, born February 25, 1823; married Margaret Pyle October 2, 1873; died 1903
  • Christina, born May 26, 1826; married Robert Bruce Lipsett January 8, 1859; died June 15, 1891
  • Margaret, born June 23, 1829

John died somewhere between 1838 (where he appeared as a farmer on the census) and 1861 (where Sarah seemed to be living as a widow with her son David). Sarah died of old age on March 23, 1865 in Manchester. (Her son David was the informant of her death.) I assume both are buried in Manchester, but I don’t have any records of that yet.

* Harriet Cunningham Hart’s “History of the County of Guysborough” indicates that “Boylston did not thrive as a town” and became a part of Manchester township. Therefore, the Scrantons did not move, but their residence became known as Manchester. The town of Boylston was later re-established in 1874.

Behind the Brick Wall: Third Great-Grandmother Christina (McMaster) Lipsett

When I was fifteen, I was on my first quest to trace my family tree (just like Alex Haley!) and I was in name-collecting mode! My paternal grandmother Eugenie Beryl (Atwell) Pleau was a wealth of ancestral information. She had given me dozens of names and relationships of not only her family, but my grandfather’s as well. My recent forays into family research have (so far) proven all her memories correct.

When telling me about her mother’s people, my grandmother named Lipsetts, O’Briens and Bruces. She was able to get me back to Robert Bruce Lipsett and his wife, Christina McMaster. Later I was easily able to find more information on Robert, thanks to online records and yes, some online trees.

I did find a little information on Christina: born in 1826 (I later found out it was on May 26); married Robert Bruce Lipsett on January 8, 1859 in Manchester; died June 15, 1891 and was buried in Manchester Cemetery. Some alternate spellings of her name were: Christiana and Christeana. On the 1891 Census, her father’s place of birth was listed as Scotland and her mother as the United States. Being an unlikely (in my mind) match, I was sure the census taker did not make a mistake. But who were her parents? And if her mother was from the USA, where was she from and what could her maiden name possibly be? Even online trees had no clues for me. I could find other McMasters in Guysborough County who must have been related to Christina somehow, but I couldn’t make the connection.

In May of 2013, I turned my annual trip to my favorite genealogy society, the Essex County Society of Genealogists, into a genealogy pilgrimage. Arriving the night before, I visited Pine Grove Cemetery in Lynn, MA and stayed overnight in the affordable and historic Hawthorne Hotel in Salem. I took advantage of being in the area by visiting the genealogy room in the Lynnfield Public Library, which ESOG maintains. I was hoping to find all kinds of information on my New England ancestors! Little did I know that I would find a golden nugget for my Nova Scotian ancestors…

The genealogy room not only has a lot of information on Essex County, MA, but information on other New England States and some on Canada as well. One tiny little booklet caught my eye: “1838 Census of Nova Scotia Consolidated Index of Heads of Guysborough County Families” (Prepared by Mary Elizabeth Koen, Swampscott, Massachusetts, 1985). I took pictures of the pages with my surnames on them, and there on page 21 was “John McMasters, Farmer”. He was the only McMaster/McMasters in the book!

Snippet from Mary Elizabeth Koen's census compilation.

Snippet from Mary Elizabeth Koen’s census compilation.

At that point, I knew enough not to merely accept at face value that John was Christina’s father. Now that I knew a first name, I scanned online trees to see if they could lead me to further clues. Out of all the sites I knew to search, I only found one tree on myHeritage that connected John to Christina, and named a mother: Sarah Scranton (a new name!). I emailed the tree’s owner to find out where she got her information, but she never got back to me. So I hit Google with the search terms “John McMasters” AND “Sarah Scranton”.

Google Books came back with a hit: “A Genealogical Register of the Descendants of John Scranton of Guilford, Conn., Who Died in the Year 1671.” Yes, John McMasters was in there. He was a Scottish immigrant who was an early settler of Manchester. And Sarah Scranton was there, daughter of David Scranton and Loraine Strong of the United States. (So far, it’s lining up with that census information!) The book also listed their children, which included Christina, listed as Christiana.

But the awesomeness does not stop there. Although I could find nothing further on John McMasters, Sarah Scranton was quite a different story. Her roots go deep back into colonial Connecticut and beyond. There will be many more stories from her lines in the future!

So what is the moral of this story? Not everything is online, and although not everything online is true, it can help you get to the truth. The truth can put a crack in the brick wall, which can lead to an avalanche of information!

The O’Brien Line

Last year, I bought a book: “North America’s Maritime Funnel: The Ships that Brought the Irish, 1749-1852” by Terrence M. Punch. I was hoping to find specific information on my Lipsett and O’Brien lines; yet there was little genealogical information there. Instead I got a feel as to why my Irish ancestors may have immigrated to Canada in the late 1700s/early 1800s. Apparently Ireland was becoming overcrowded and with that, job opportunities became increasingly scarce. Even those who farmed had limited land on which to cultivate and provide for their families.

Michael O’Brien (born 1726) and his wife Catherine Quinn lived in Cahir, County Tipperary. They had at least two and possibly three children. Things took a turn for the worse when Michael passed away. Some online trees say that he died on October 18, 1770, but he had to have been dead at least two years beforehand, as we shall see.

An Internet search brought me to an article written for the September 2012 issue of “The Seniors’ Advocate” by Terrence Punch. (This is someone whose work I need to give more attention to!) Dr. Punch told the story of Catherine’s brother James, who was a Halifax, Nova Scotia innkeeper. He died intestate in 1768, which proved to be fortunate for Catherine, his only heir. When she heard of her brother’s death, it seems that she saw a great opportunity for herself and her family. She was able to gather the necessary paperwork that proved their relationship and whatever was needed to make the trip to Halifax in 1769. Of course Catherine was able to procure James’ land.

Eventually Catherine’s son Patrick and his family immigrated to Halifax to join her and inherit her land. This established my O’Brien line (below, in bold) in Nova Scotia. Catherine passed away on April 16, 1806 in Halifax.

The children of Michael O’Brien and Catherine Quinn:

  • John O’Brien – b. 1750 Cahir, County Tipperary, Ireland; d. 1819 (so far, I’ve only been able to find him on on-line trees)
  • Patrick O’Brien – b. 1751 Cahir, County Tipperary, Ireland; m. Mary Anglin; d. Jan 10, 1813, Halifax, Nova Scotia
    Mary Anglin – b. 1763 (Cahir, County Tipperary, Ireland); d. July 20, 1813, Halifax, Nova Scotia. They seem to have immigrated between 1786 and 1790 from Ireland to Nova Scotia.
  • Ellen O’Brien – b. Cahir, County Tipperary, Ireland

Children of Patrick and Mary:

  • Michael O’Brien – b. circa 1781, Cahir, County Tipperary, Ireland; m. Ann Elizabeth Prescott, June 4, 1816, Cornwallis, Nova Scotia; d. Dec 18, 1821, Caen, Normandy, France
  • Catherine O’Brien – b. circa 1784, Cahir, County Tipperary, Ireland; m. William Newman, May 24, 1806, Halifax, Nova Scotia; d. Sep 1, 1824, Pope’s Harbour, Nova Scotia
  • Ann Nancy O’Brien – b. circa 1786, Cahir, County Tipperary, Ireland; m. George Matthew, Dec 6, 1812, Halifax, Nova Scotia
  • Mary O’Brien – b. circa 1790, Halifax, Nova Scotia; m. Robert William Barber, Nov 30, 1816, Halifax, Nova Scotia; d. Feb 2, 1881, Halifax, Nova Scotia
  • John O’Brien – b. 1794, Halifax, Nova Scotia; d. Jan 21, 1819, Halifax, Nova Scotia
  • David O’Brien – b. 1796, Halifax, Nova Scotia; m. Margaret Seckar, Apr 12, 1825, Halifax, Nova Scotia; d. Jan 7 1844, Manchester, Nova Scotia
  • Thomas O’Brien – b. 1798, Halifax, Nova Scotia; m. Eliza _____; d. Jan 7, 1868, Manchester, Nova Scotia
    Eliza _____ – b. circa 1800
  • Matthew O’Brien – b. 1798, Halifax, Nova Scotia (could he and Thomas be twins?); d. Oct 16, 1839, Halifax, Nova Scotia
  • James O’Brien – b. 1804, Halifax, Nova Scotia; d. Jan 22, 1828 at sea
  • Eliza O’Brien – b. 1806, Halifax, Nova Scotia; m. Francois Laurent, Jul 15, 1822, St. RochDesAulnie, L’Islet, Quebec; m. Charles Hilaire Tetu, Sep 19, 1837, Quebec City, Quebec; d. circa 1877
  • Eleanor O’Brien – b. Halifax, Nova Scotia; m. Henry Newman, Dec 7, 1822, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Children of Thomas and Eliza:

  • James Patrick O’Brien – b. 1822, Manchester, Nova Scotia; m. Sarah Sophia Bruce, Jan 13, 1853, Guysborough, Nova Scotia; d. 1898; buried Boylston Cemetery, Boylston, Nova Scotia
    Sarah Sophia Bruce – d. 1898
  • Mary Ann O’Brien – b. Nov 30, 1824, Manchester, Nova Scotia; m. James Mitchell Whitman, Jan 25, 1853, Manchester, Nova Scotia; d. Mar 16, 1915, Mulgrave, Nova Scotia
  • William M. O’Brien – b. Jan 5, 1830, Manchester, Nova Scotia; m. Lydia Elizabeth Martin, Feb 16, 1858, Manchester, Nova Scotia; m. Margaret McKeough, Feb 27, 1868, Guysborough County, Nova Scotia; d. 1904, Guysborough County, Nova Scotia
  • Thomas Masters O’Brien – b. Apr 1, 1833, Manchester, Nova Scotia
  • Michael England O’Brien – b. Nov 29, 1835, Manchester, Nova Scotia
  • Robert Barber O’Brien – b. Apr 15, 1837, Manchester, Nova Scotia
  • Eliza Master O’Brien – b. Sep 5, 1844, Manchester, Nova Scotia; m. Joseph Henderston before 1866
  • John Henry O’Brien – b. Nova Scotia; m. Catherine Livingstone; d. circa 1856, Manchester, Nova Scotia

Children of James and Sarah:

  • John Bruce O’Brien – b. 1854, Manchester, Nova Scotia; d. Aug 22, 1876, drowned in the Salmon River, Guysborough County, Nova Scotia
  • Caroline Eliza O’Brien – b. Sep 6, 1855, Manchester, Nova Scotia; m. Edward Stanley Lipsett, Dec 29, 1883, Gloucester, Essex County, MA; d. 1934
  • Eva Amelia O’Brien – b. Apr 26, 1859, Manchester, Nova Scotia; d. before 1881
  • Annette Morton O’Brien – b. Jan 19, 1861, Manchester, Nova Scotia; m. Parker Hart, before 1880
  • John Winslow O’Brien – b. Mar 11, 1861 (I believe he may have been adopted. A 9-year-old appears on the 1871 census as “Basto Bruce”; in 1881, an 18-year old “James.”)
  • Sarah Sophia O’Brien – b. Aug 31, 1864, Manchester, Nova Scotia; m. Robert Fenwick Lipsett, Jan 18, 1893, Manchester, Nova Scotia; d. July 23, 1932, Halifax, Nova Scotia
    Robert Fenwick Lipsett, b. Jan 23, 1866, Manchester, Nova Scotia; d. Feb 19, 1948, Antigonish, Nova Scotia
  • James Robert Cooney O’Brien – b. Apr 20, 1867, Manchester, Nova Scotia; m. Irene _____, between 1883 – 1892; d. 1956 (“Jim” is the only O’Brien of whom I have a picture.)
  • Effie May O’Brien – b. Feb 23, 1870, Manchester, Nova Scotia; d. 1951
"Uncle Jim" O'Brien, August 1953, Manchester, Nova Scotia. Author's collection.

“Uncle Jim” O’Brien, August 1953, Manchester, Nova Scotia. Author’s collection.

Lipsetts Beyond Robert Fenwick

Robert Fenwick Lipsett’s father was Robert Bruce Lipsett, born October 25, 1819. I have not been able to determine whether he was born in Ireland or Nova Scotia (censuses give conflicting information). He was definitely in Manchester, Guysborough County, Nova Scotia by 1838. He married Christina McMaster on January 8, 1859. They seem to have lived and farmed in Clam Harbour, Guysborough County, Nova Scotia (which is southeast of Manchester) between July 1859 to March 1864, but lived in Manchester for the remainder of their lives (although Robert’s probate package states he farmed in Clam Harbour, so perhaps he moved back there after his wife’s death). They had eight children, whom I’ve blogged about previously. Their religion was listed in censuses as Church of England. Christina died June 15, 1891 and Robert died February 26, 1894. Both are buried in Manchester Cemetery. (Much more on Christina in a later post!)

Robert Bruce Lipsett was the second child of eight and second son of Edward Lipsett and Mary Irving, my 4x great-grandparents. I believe they are from Kesh, County Fermanagh, Ireland (which is currently in Northern Ireland). Because of the conflicting information of their children’s birthplaces, I am not sure when exactly they immigrated to Nova Scotia, but they were definitely living in Manchester by 1838, as Edward is enumerated there on the census as a farmer at that time.

Kesh, County Fermangh, Ireland. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Kesh, County Fermangh, Ireland. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Edward and Mary’s eight children were:

  • John, born 1818; married Mary Ann Torrey, September 18, 1855
  • Robert Bruce, born 1819
  • Ann Jane, born 1821; married William Frederick Porper Scranton on June 23, 1870; died January 26, 1907
  • Edward, born 1822; married Mary Jane MacKay, April 6, 1859; died between 1881 and 1891
  • George Irving, born April 28, 1826; I’m not sure how long he lived, but I believe he may have been alive in 1838, as represented by one of the tick-marks of males 14 and over in his father’s home.
  • Margaret Elizabeth, born September 27, 1827; married James Richard Bruce, March 24, 1857; died October 22, 1917
  • William Daniel, born October 13, 1832; died April 15, 1837
  • Richard Christopher (who went by his middle name), born Feb 13, 1836; married Sarah Ann Campbell, October 10, 1872; died June 15, 1891 (it was his daughters Margery, Iola and Jennie with whom his niece Edith lived in Gloucester)

Edward died in Manchester on May 1, 1857. Mary died much later on March 10, 1868. I assume they are buried somewhere in the Manchester area, but I have no record of where.

As a side note, Edward had a brother Jared who also immigrated to Nova Scotia, though I don’t know when. He was not in Manchester as of 1838, but was definitely in Guysborough County by 1861 with his wife Ann and daughter Eliza. He passed away on May 24, 1885.

Third Great Aunt Edith B. (Lipsett) Grimes

Edith B. Lipsett was the eighth and last child of Robert Bruce Lipsett and Christina McMaster. She was born June 1879, most likely in Manchester, Guysborough County, Nova Scotia.

Once her mother died in 1891, Edith immigrated to the United States in 1892. The 1900 Census finds her living (listed as “Edette”) with her second cousins Margery, Iola and Jennie Lipsett at 12 Centennial Ave, Gloucester, Essex County, Massachusetts. She worked as a seamstress.

On September 15, 1902 she married William F. Grimes in Gloucester, where it appears they lived for the rest of their lives. Their only child George G. was born between 1903 and 1905. I believe George died on October 12, 1976 in Gloucester.

In the 1940 Census, William seemed to be unemployed, like so many during the Depression, so Edith took in laundry at home. Later city directories show William working as a gardener. From what I can tell, the last city directory Edith is in is 1957, where she is shown as a widow. I have not yet been able to locate either of their death or burial information.