Monday, March 11, 2013

Brush with the Law Proves Location and Name Change

When I started my genealogy research 22 years ago, I began on my father's side of the family trying to unpuzzle for myself some of the modern day connections I did not quite understand. I stayed on that side of the family for a very long time. I did not truly dig into my mother's lineage until after my grandpa passed away in 2004; about 9 years ago.

One of the big obstacles in researching my mother's side has been the fact that there was a surname change. My Great-great-grandfather, Damas Desjardins, French-Canadian by birth, Anglicized his name to Thomas Gardner. I suspect this was in order to obtain more work and avoid ethnic discrimination. I cannot find anything official about the name change and back then, before Social Security, it was easier to assume an identity.

In some records he appears as Damas Desjardins, in others as Thomas Gardner, in others as Damas Gardner, and still others as Thomas Desjardins. To make matters even more confusing, his offspring indiscriminately used either last name as well. His son, my great grandfather, Almond Desjardins, like his father also chose to use a more American sounding first name; Albert. Almond/Albert was indeed born in the United States; his name just sounded very French.

This flip-flopping of names not only makes constructing searches challenging it makes proving anything a daunting task. I often hear myself saying, "Well, yes, I know it says that but it is the same man." Anything I can find that helps me to solidify this family's surname change is precious to me.

Mind you, this branch of the family has also had some run ins with the law in nearly every generation. Which brings me to an article from the Brooklyn Daily Star titled "Sing Sing for John Miller: L.I. City Man who Swindled Magnus Larsen Sent Up on Suspended Sentence - Five Others Given a Chance to Reform" from December 21, 1907. In it is mentioned Almond Gardner. The first time I have seen my great grandfather listed with his very French-sounding birth name and Anglicized surname. In addition to showing his name in that way, it also documents that the family moved. What a gem of a find!!

It reads as follows:
"Almond Gardner, a former Astoria boy whose folks now live at Patchogue, took a quantity of lead pipe and brass sewer traps from a house belonging to George B. Ruthman on Main street last November. He is only seventeen years old and has promised to behave."
Interestingly enough, 24 years later, Almond's baby brother, Damas Jr. is also arrested for burglarizing a house while in his teens. That time, though, the house was out in Patchoque and Damas Jr. stole an electric pump with his soon-to-be brother-in-law, Elbert King. I found that in a March 31, 1931 article in the Patchogue Advance titled "Young Men Arrested for Stealing Pump." Tsk, tsk, tsk. What is with these boys?

Had Almond not committed his juvenile crime, though, I might never have had such concrete proof that he was known by variations of the names Almond Desjardins and Albert Gardner. Additionally, I knew the family had moved to Patchoque between the 1900 and 1910 censuses. This article, though, helps me to narrow the date of the family's move to after November 1906, when the crime was committed, and before December 1907, when the article was written.

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