Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Moore Family Cemetery, St. Felix de Kingsey, Quebec

This month I was fortunate enough to travel with Cousin Ashlee and Cousin Bitzy (Elizabeth by birth, Liz to her friends, she will always be Bitzy to me) to Montreal for a weekend. They are cousins on my father's side of the family but Montreal is a homeland of my maternal side. 

We took this trip in part because I really wanted to see a tiny family cemetery abandoned in the woods. I guess that sounds creepy but every since I learned of this location I wanted to see it. We were joined by my father's cousin Roseann on our adventure to find the cemetery. 

The Moore Family Cemetery is the final resting place of my great-great grandfather, Daniel Sharp (14 March 1822 - 12 October 1898) who was the son of Annie Moore (about 1873 - 14 January 1868) and Peter Sharp (about 1783 - unknown) of St. Felix de Kingsey, Quebec. My 3rd great-grandmother, Annie, is also buried in this cemetery as well as her brother, Daniel Moore. 

Annie was born in New Hampshire. It is her line that leads to my American Revolutionary patriots. Peter was apparently born near Massina, New York; up near the St. Lawrence River. Their son Daniel was a shocking 46 years older than his wife, my great-great grandmother, Lydia McLean-Sharp. Ugh. Their union, though, resulted in two children, the eldest of which was my great grandmother, Mary Elizabeth "Mayme" Sharp-Gardner; the mother of my maternal grandfather.

I assume this land was once the property of my Moore ancestors and what a lovely piece of property it is.I suspect that all the souls interred in this small wooded cemetery are related to me in some way but I haven't pieced them all together just yet.

Someone has documented the cemetery on FindAGrave.com and I am so incredibly grateful to them for having done so because they provided the GPS coordinates making it exceedingly easy to find this tiny wooded cemetery.

The entire cemetery consists of 9 headstone which document 14 individuals. Many of the stones are either vandalized or perhaps just falling down due to age and lack or care. 

Daniel and Annie's headstone is one that is broken.

It was also evident that someone was camping or perhaps even living in this old abandoned family cemetery. I can't really blame them the view of the river from this point is magnificent. 

I wouldn't mind a burial location like this for myself; one in which my relatives could have such a magnificent views in a quiet, peaceful place. I'd hope for less mosquitoes though. Sorry about your bites, Bitzy.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Class of 1919 Reunion

I love graduations. I love to see families come to campus; to see students show off the grounds to their parents and children and spouses. "Look, honey, this is where daddy went to his classes." The pride and exuberance that exudes from the thousands of guests around us, the faculty, at graduation is infectious. Can't help but beam with joy upon meeting our students' families. Well, at least I can't help it.

Tuesday evening, May 21, Farmingdale State College (FSC), where I am a member of the library faculty, celebrated it's 100th commencement. Well, technically we have had more than 100 graduations if you count mid-year graduations but it had been 100 years since our first graduation.

All semester long I have been engrossed in a project to find the descendants of the first graduating class. It started out harmless enough. I just wanted to write a few biographies. You know, just 4 or 5 lines on each of the 15 class members. Nothing big. I was just curious about what became of them, who they turned out to be, and if their education had impacted the trajectory of their lives. 

In fact, it started out as an academic service learning project. I had a graduate student come to FSC from St. John's University's Division of Library and Information Science; Robert Voyles. He needed a project to do for 15 hours for one of his classes. I showed him a little bit about finding genealogy records and he set about gathering up some documentation for me so that I could draft these short bios: Farmingdale Class of 1919 Biographies Nothing big.

It didn't take long though before I was poking around in public family trees on Ancestry and FamilySearch and reaching out to researchers who had our graduates in their trees. Before I knew it I was stalking non-responders on social media. In short time I was able to communicate with 8 out of 15 of the graduates' families. 

It was just one fascinating story after another. We exchanged photos and I gathered details about the campus that we had always been curious about. For example, had Theodore Roosevelt really given the first commencement address here? Um, no. Through the journal of the first valedictorian, Bradford Kenneth Southard '19, we learned that it was Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. who gave the first commencement address.

I also got to write a web article for the college on the daughter of one of the first graduates. The daughter of Albert W. Berg '19, Claire M. Berg, was also a graduate of Farmingdale back when it was just a two-year school. She was a graduate of the floriculture program in 1955. She went on to be a faculty member at UConn where she taught and researched transposons; small segments of DNA that move around in the genome. You can read the article here: Claire M. Berg: Roots at Farmingdale A fascinating woman. I would have never known she started her higher education at Farmingdale if not for conversations I had with her brother, Doug. And I only found him by talking to Jane, Bradford Southard's daughter.

It wasn't long before family members expressed an interest in coming to centennial events on campus. 

The great nephew of Kathryn Freeman attended a luncheon to honor his aunt. In March we renamed the Phenomenal Womyn's Award after Kate. It's an award the Student Government gives out every year to faculty, staff, and students who exemplify the significant work women do on campus. It is now the Kathryn Freeman Phenomenal Womyn's Award. His visit was a surprise. He flew in from Maine to be there. I was elated. And when I say flew, he literally flew himself and a colleague in from Maine on his own small craft airplane. He works as a medical air transport pilot.

My Library Director, Karen Gelles, and I hosted a dinner for the families the night before graduation. We called it Descendants' Dinner. Four families, totaling 9 guests, attended that function during which we ate in the Great Room with the College President and folks from Alumni Relations. That Great Room is in the building that was the first dorm on campus and was the residence of few of their ancestors.

Two of those families returned the next night for graduation, where our President, Dr. John Nader, gave a moving address and included them by name.

The day after graduation, Wednesday, May 22, there was a reunion brunch held by Alumni Relations which 2 families (4 guests) attended. During that time I presented once again on my experience of Finding the Class of 1919.

The graduation address might have been my favorite part of this whole experience if not for the conversations I got to have with each of the descendants. I got the opportunity to sit with some of the descendants and research their family trees with them. For others I gathered together documents they had never seen about their family members. That's what I enjoyed the most.

The most rewarding moment though was when Alfonso Tello Jr., son of Alfonse Tello '19, told the College President at Descendants' Dinner that he had never known his father. Al Sr. died when Al Jr. was just 4. Al said to Dr. Nader, "I want you to know, April introduced me to my father."

I don't think this graduation will be one I'll soon forget.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

John Joyce, Is That You?

About 10 years ago I finished collecting the names of all my third great grandparents of which there are 32. All of us have 32 great grandparents but it's an accomplishment to be able to name them all. I can't say that I know all their dates of birth and death though. One in particular has always plagued me; John A. Joyce. 

He was the great grandfather of my maternal grandmother; Marilyn Irene Fay-Gardner. Grandma Marilyn died before I was born so I had very little reference for researching this branch of my family. In fact, my mother's whole side of the tree has proven to be quite challenging given the nature of the relationships among the living relatives. No one speaks to each other. In any case...

I knew virtually nothing about 3rd Great Grandpa John. Based on U.S. Census records I know he was born in Ireland in about 1828 or 1829 but I didn't know when, or where, or who his parents were - still don't know any of that. I knew he married Mary Ann O'Neill but I don't know when or where. And obviously he's dead but I can't find a death certificate or burial record for him which is the most befuddling part. 

My Joyces have a huge headstone in Calvary Cemetery in Queens, New York. A big flashy thing! No branch of my family has big flashy headstones. Most of them don't have headstone at all. I am not of a wealthy stock. But here it is; a big shiny, showy headstone.

Years ago I wrote to Calvary and purchased what they call the Interment List; basically a list of every person buried in a single family plot. The cost of such a record begins at $120 and increases by $10 for every additional name. If you have a family plot with 10 bodies interred in it that will run you $210 for that list. Pricey if you ask me. I mean, I come from people who couldn't afford headstones, you think I have $210 laying around for lists? I don't! So I saved up. Yes, yes I did. And when I got the lists I was stunned to learn John A. Joyce bought the plot but he's not buried in it. I then combed the NYC Death Index for records that might possibly be him but nothing that jived. So I gave up.

Recently though I have been meditating on the fact that I tell my genealogy students to forget everything you think you know. Maybe he didn't die in NYC. Maybe there were no remains. Maybe he died in some awful fiery blaze. Or maybe he dies in another state and they never brought his body back to NY. Hmm. Maybe they spent all they had left on that flashy freakin' headstone.

Last night while poking through some Ancestry.com hints there was a records for a John A. Joyce in a U.S. National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. Actually, there are many of them all for the same man. A careful read revealed that he was married to a Mary Ann Joyce who resided at 763 9th Ave. in New York City. 

1910 Census
That's her!

The above image of the 1910 census clearly showed my John Joyce, his wife Mary Ann, son George, and daughter Mary J, all living at 763 9th Ave. in Manhattan. 

My 3rd great grandmother, Mary Ann O'Neill-Joyce, died on January 11, 1911. Her death certificate listed her as married, as opposed to widowed so I assumed that she pre-deceased John. But maybe not...

According to the military records for John he died on September 30, 1910 in Dayton, Ohio; just months before his wife. 

I am still trying to corroborate this information to confirm that is my John Joyce but that address makes for pretty solid evidence in which case, this is my 3rd great grandpa's headstone...

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Defining Family

I have lots of thoughts floating around in my mind regarding this topic of defining family so if this post comes across as scattered, it is.

2018 was in general an exhausting year. My plans to have a warm sunny Christmas vacation with Cousin Kelly were thwarted a bit by the occurrence of significant passings in my family.

Our trip to Miami began on December 22. That evening I received the call that my father's cousin Brian had passed away after a brief but heartbreaking battle with cancer. 

Cousin Brian was only 51. Yesterday would have been his 52 birthday. He was the youngest of my father's first cousins and really the first of this very large group of first cousins to pass away from an illness like this. 

Some, including myself, would argue that mental illness is what took my father's other cousin, Richard, back in 1995. However, Richard took his own life, he didn't wither away in a hospice bed like Brian. But I digress...

The youngest great grandchild of Charles Henry & Anna Marie Sauer-Henry, Brian was a quiet, gentle soul. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in early October. And it was a fast moving aggressive cancer. When he was asked by his siblings about announcing his diagnosis and inviting family to visit, I was deeply touched by his request to see me. It had been years since I had really seen Brian but he was very much my family and his passing brings me to tears daily still.

Years ago I had requested Brian to take an Ancestry DNA test because he would have the y-chromosome for my father's mother's line; the Henrys. A very private man, Brian consented to take the test. Among those of my father's cousins who have taken the test, I match closest to Brian. DNA defines us as family, no doubt.

On our way from Miami to Key West on December 26, I received a call from my father that my Grandma Mary, my step-grandmother, had passed away on my dad's birthday after a rather long, exhausting, decline that I cannot attribute to anything other than old age. 

Over the past few years her organs had slowly stopped functioning. Others in our household would say that it was really just the last few months but she had been living with us for the last 4 years. First it was a fall that put her in a wheelchair and into the back bedroom of our house. It was not long after that she needed to be put on a colostomy bag. Another year or so later, after a series of infections, she received a foley catheter. When moved back into the hospital for the last time before hospice, they discovered she was not actually swallowing. Her alimentary canal was not moving the food fully through her. Slowly, her organs were failing.

Grandma Mary was, again, my step grandmother. We had no biological connection. I didn't need her to take a DNA test to know that. But I lived with her everyday for the last few years of her life. She had been my grandmother for the last 30 years since my father remarried in 1989. My mother disowned me when I was in my mid-twenties so it feels Grandma Mary had been my family longer than my own mother. DNA does not defines us as family though.

Last night the first episode of season five of Finding Your Roots aired on PBS. The episode was subtitled Grandparents and Other Strangers. It featured comedian Andy Samberg and author George R. R. Martin. The pair of guest has similar stories really, although they were kind of polar opposites.


Samberg, who knew his mother had been adopted, set out on a journey to discover his biological heritage whereas Martin, whose family had held great disdain for his grandfather for abandoning the family, uncovered an NPE; a Non-Paternity Event. Unbeknownst to Martin his grandfather, the abandoner, was not his biological grandfather. 

Samberg's story was remarkable in that not only did the program determine who his biological maternal grandparents were, his mother met her previously unknown half-brothers and received photographic evidence of her biological parents' association.

The two guests stories underscored this genealogical matter weighing on me for much of the last half of 2018; how do we define family. 

I don't have an answer. I just spend an awful lot of time thinking about it lately.

Because you spit in a tube and match some stranger half-way across the country, you're family? 
I would say, YES! 

But what if you spit in that tube and find out all the people around you, the ones who have known and loved you your whole life, are not biologically your family as in the case of Martin (and so many others I have encountered this year), are you no longer family? 
I would say, NO, you are still family even though you have no common ancestors. 

Which brings up other philosophical contemplations for me; like, does the definition of family change over time? And if it does, does that change relate to physical proximity? Is it impacted by death? If I define my dead people as my family and all my biological connections as well as those who I "live with" how big is this family unit? 

Fundamentally who do I personally define as my family?

...And can each of the living ones get me a discounted phone plan or gym membership? I don't think I am making the most of my family discount potential.

Things that keep me up at night.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Family Photos in an Antique Shop

This past week I attended some training for work up in Syracuse, New York. On the way back a colleague and I stopped for a late lunch in Ithaca, NY; a town she really loved visiting before. I had been through it once or twice but never really spent much time there so I was open to wandering around a bit. 

We stopped into the DeWitt Mall which is an odd assortment of little shops in what appears to be a re-purposed parochial school. My colleague and I wandered independently for a bit. There was a little antique shop that had several shelves of items for sale out in the hallway between stores. As I passed the shelves I saw some little eyes peeping over the edge of a box. 

It was a portrait of a handsome woman, Mrs. Elizabeth Neu Wagner, as noted on the back of the photo. Many of the photos in the box appeared to be from the same family album but none of them were labeled well; not like this one at least. This had a brief genealogy on it. In a small neat print, much like my own, the label reads: 


PROJECT! I had great fun this past year helping a patron at my part time job put a family heirloom back in the right hands. Why not see if I could get this photo to an appropriate family member. 

As soon as I got home last night I sat down and searched for those names on Ancestry.com. And in less than 10 minutes I had found an Ancestry member who had a robust tree naming all those individuals indicated on the photo with the proper connections between them. The tree had many photos including one of Frederick A. Wagner and Barbara Wagner-Woodams. But the tree did not have a photo of this woman, Elizabeth. Now it will because I contacted the Ancestry member who made that tree and in less than 20 minutes heard back from her. Elizabeth is her husband's 3x great grandmother.

A little poking around and I learned Elizabeth was born in Bavaria, Germany in 1832; no known date of death. She was married to Frederick Wagner. She arrived in the U.S. in about 1855-1860; so probably before she was married...maybe. She has at least 6 children with Frederick; some if not all were born in New Jersey.

It appears as though her great granddaughter Barbara was the last family member to own the photo, at least that is what I assume from the labeling. 

Barbara Ann Wagner-Woodams was born on January 15, 1929 to Alfred Walter Wagner and Barbara Althea Lounsberry in Bradley Beach, New Jersey according to her U.S. Social Security Applications & Claims indexed information on Ancestry.com. She married William John Woodams on January 12, 1951. She passed away on December 3, 2000. Her husband was from Ithaca, NY. William outlived his wife by 11 years. He died September 14, 2011 and I suspect he passed in Ithaca and that this antique shop purchased a family album in an estate sale or auction or something of that nature.

I am sure there are more Wagner Family photos in that antique shop but they were all mixed in together with thousands of other photos. Some were obviously taken from the same family album though; those could have been images from an album that also contained this woman's photo. Who knows. It would be quite a task to comb through them all. The descendant I tracked down lives in Oregon. I don't think he will be in Ithaca any time soon. Hmm. I wonder if any of the other family photos will make there way into the hands of the right family. Well, I know this one will.

Merry Christmas, Mr. Wagner.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

An NPE in the Tree

It has been one long, crazy summer. Life has been filled with all sorts of adventure; so much so that I just have not had the time to write. My days have been filled with countless revisions of my tenure portfolio, massive amounts of travel packing and unpacking, 3 or 4 jobs (I can't keep track), and lots of genealogical digging.

Shortly after I returned home from my trip to my ancestral homeland in Newfoundland with Uncle Thomas in July, I was contacted through Ancestry.com by a man who stated he had a DNA match with me. Well, he actually has a match with a relative of mine for whom I manage their DNA test. Three or 4 emails into our exchange, (again, I can't keep track), I called him. It was obvious this man had done a lot of research before taking a DNA test and didn't quite understand the results he was seeing. 

It was not long into our conversation, maybe 3 or 4 minutes, I asked him, "Jack (I'll call him Jack), do you think you're adopted." To which he responded, "I didn't think so until this morning."

It was at that instant that I was fully invested. (By the way, he isn't adopted but...)

What Jack is experiencing is what many are referring to as an NPE; a Non-Paternity Experience. And I have seen it before with others I have worked with one-on-one doing genealogy research. His life is going along just fine, he takes a DNA test with no real serious expectations, just wants to see a pie chart of his ethnicity, further his research, and maybe meet a cousin or two (or 3 or 4 - hee hee), and BAM!  He discovers that the man he knows to be his father is not his biological parent. His mother is his biological mother; we found people who he matches on that side of his family tree. Sadly though, his mother has passed away and so he has no one in his own immediate family to ask about these results. 

This initialism, NPE, is a term not just used for people who discover their father is not their biological parent but for those who discover they are adoptees as well. It is also sometimes called a false paternal event or misattributed paternity. These are all terms I just don't like but I haven't come up with anything better yet. In any case, I read somewhere that in one specific yDNA study the rate of NPE was about 10%. In other words, 1 in every 10 men who contributed to that specific yDNA study experienced an NPE; 1 in 10. That's a lot. NPEs are not at all uncommon but each one is unique and each deserves sensitivity and intense research. 

Back to Jack. Since our initial contact we have communicated nearly every day. We've dug through records, translated foreign records, contacted lots of other people he matches, combed through family photos, talked about centimorgans, sketched out diagrams of potential connections, shot down a handful of theories, found biological connections to his mother, and have arrived at a short list of potential biological fathers. We don't have the answer yet, but we will. 

Jack has a tenacity that I respect and admire. It's not ferocious, it's a patient, respectful, relentlessness that is going to bring to light exactly where he comes from. Where for some people this might completely unhinge their entire sense of self, for Jack it doesn't seem that way. He seems confident, accepting, and again, completely respectful of the other lives this discovery might impact. For others though, these revelations often stir up family secrets that are scandalous and perhaps even dark and painful; like infidelity and rape. Painful discoveries occur so often because of these simple DNA test that there are actually support groups for people who experience these discoveries.

It's my hope that people would go into these DNA tests with their eyes wide open to the fact they may learn things they were not expecting and may not want to know. Jack wants the people who take these tests to participate in their DNA findings; provide information to the people you match to. "Don't just take the test and leave," he says. It's my prayer that everyone is like Jack and has the courage to approach their matches for insight; ask them all to share what they know! Do so with respect, sensitivity, and persistent patience. Those matches, those are your cousins; they are your family. So when someone comes to you in the midst of an NPE, remember, if they match you, you are their family. Be kind.

Yeah. It's been an incredibly wonderful, enlightening, long, crazy summer.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Cousins in Unlikely Places: Part 2

Uncle Thomas and I got to visit with the Pumpkin House host, Charlie, at his own newly acquired property just down the road; the property that once belonged to John Earle. 

I have to say, Charlie seemed just as excited as we were to have us this close to our Earle Family history. He was eager to take me on a walk down his beach, to marvel with me at the fact that this was probably the beach my great grandfather, Abe Earle, played on as a child.

The two small red structures near the center of the image are Charlie's stages. The white house on the left is his home on Farmers Arm Road, Durrell, Twillingate, Newfoundland

Charlie was also eager to show Uncle Thomas around his stage. A stage is a kind of shed along the water where fisherman would have unloaded and cleaned the fish they caught.

While Uncle Thomas and Charlie poked around the old structure, I stood outside on the beach chatting with Charlie's friend, Sylvain. Our conversation went a little like this.

"So do you live here year round?"
"No, I live in Montreal."
"Oh, that's where my mom's side is from. My father's side is from here in Twillingate but my mom's side has deep roots in Montreal."
"I have ancestors who were early settlers in Montreal. What's the family name?"
"It would have been Desjardins." 

And he froze. This very blank expression came across his face and he slowly said, "My mother's maiden name is Desjardins."

I stared at him what must have been a whole minute. "Get the fuck out. Are you kidding me?"

Shortly there after the four of us ventured into Charlie's actual house where Sylvain and I scrolled through our phones looking at our respective family trees. Sure enough he and I have my 9th great grandfather in common; Claude Jourdain Desjardins Charbonnier.

I don't know much about Claude except that he was born in France in in 1636 and 30 years later married Marguerite Lardon Cardillon in Montreal. Marguerite was a Filles du roi, one of the "King's Daughters." Not really royalty she had the support of the royalty. She was one of many women sent to the New French settlement between marry and help settle the area.

 I know that AND that I still have a cousins in Montreal.
Cousin Sylvain, me, and Cousin (by Association) Charlie
on Farmers Arm Road, Durrell, Twillingate, Newfoundland
June 21, 2018