Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giving Thanks

In the midst of a gajillion things to be thankful for, I've decided that one of my deepest thanks this year is for all of my ancestors.

My thinking is a bit like Rick's in the 1942 film Casablanca: "Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine. . . . ."  Except even more so, and perhaps without the gin joints.
  • Of all the countries and all the cities in all the world, my ancestors moved across oceans, states, and cities to set up housekeeping.
  • Of all the people in all the world, each pair of my direct ancestors fell in love (I assume), married (another assumption) and in any case produced children who in turn also became ancestors.
  • Of the roughly 30,000 genes  and 3164.7 million nucleotide bases in my genome (a complete set of DNA), the genomes of each ancestor combined in such a way, throughout every generation, that I turned out to be who I am today.
Whatever your beliefs, or nonbeliefs, in a higher power, the chances are indeed pretty small that we have become who we are.  Reasons indeed to give thanks!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Prospecting for a Church

A search by TRAEA's Grandma for the Prospect Street Methodist Episcopal Church in Gloucester, MA, began with a yellowed clipping found in Alice May GODITT Hills' Bible.  Although the clipping was undated, it probably appeared between the family's move to Gloucester from Ipswich in 1913 and their retirement to New Hampshire in 1929.

Having a chance to zip through Gloucester a decade ago, this grandma included the Prospect Street Methodist Episcopal Church on an abridged list of stops.  By then the church was closed and its demolition appeared imminent.  How sad.

Several years after that trip, however, a postcard of the same church appeared for sale on line.  Its postmark of August 25, 1909, precedes Alice's birthday party.  Perhaps, however, the church bears a solid resemblance to the Prospect Street Methodist Episcopal Church that Alice May Hills called home.

Tree links:
Alice May Goditt was the granddaughter of Mark Godett and Monique (Minnie) Doucette.
She was the wife of Eugene Herbert Hills.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Look Both Ways at the Tracks

All Mary Betterly Carpenter French wanted to do was cross the railroad tracks.  Instead, she became a legal notable.

It was the early 1870s and 67-year old Mary and her preteen grandson, Everett C. Pierce, were traveling by carriage, approaching tracks of the Taunton (MA) Branch Railroad that passed near their Bristol County home in Berkley.  (There's not too much creative license here - Berkley is, shall we say, compact.)  Since they had seen a train just moments before, they proceeded across the tracks without stopping first.

However, unbeknownst to them, one car of the train had been decoupled so that it could make a running switch farther down the line.  As these Hackett relations crossed the tracks, that single rail car hit them, causing significant injuries.

Mary described, "The next I knew I was lying in the road, with blood on my face, and severe pain in my head.  I was holding the reins."

Everett said, "I found myself on the (railroad) car, a flat car loaded with scrap-iron; the car stopped; I saw my grandmother on the end of he car. . . . . "

While admitting that neither she nor Everett had looked before crossing the tracks, Mary nonetheless sued the railroad for personal injuries and for injury to her 10-year-old horse.  Amazingly, she won, although TRAEA's Grandma has not yet found out the exact settlement.  Winning was particularly noteworthy because similar suits against what were then the all-powerful railroads were routinely dismissed if it could be shown that the plaintiff bore the slightest degree of fault.

As a landmark case, Mary's suit has since been cited more than 70 times.

Not nearly as interesting as the case itself, but worth noting are the gyration's that TRAEA's Grandma went through to get the story.
  • Googled Mary's complete name, rather than any shortened version.  This generated a tantalizing synopsis in the 1884 publication by Houghton, Mifflin and Company and The Riverside Press, Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts / March-September 1874.  
  • Visited the Bristol Superior Court in Taunton, MA, because it wasn't clear to this non-legal mind whether Mary or the railroad prevailed.  The lady there was delightfully nice, kept assuring me that the case has been cited "more than 70 times," copied the Westlaw version of the case and never answered my question directly.
  • Called our family attorney to ask for a definitive answer.
He was astonished that Mary won.  He explained that during this time period if a plaintiff contributed in any way to their injuries they probably lost based on "contributory negligence."  Between the time Mary prevailed over the Taunton Branch Railroad and today, however, many states have instituted "comparative negligence" or "comparative fault" as a judicial standard so that a plaintiff who was perhaps a bit at fault may still receive compensation.

Did Mary play a part in that change?  This grandma would like to think so.

Tree links:
Mary Betterly / Bitterly Carpenter French, the widow of Ephraim French, may have been a child of Andrew and Mary Betteley
Everett C. Pierce was a grandson of Ephraim French

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Hiding in Plain Sight

Why do we sometimes make research so doggone difficult?  Brick walls are one thing, but answers sometimes can found so easily that we glide right by them.  Here are two of my embarrassing examples.

The first concerns the marriage of Francis F. Hackett and Evelyn Mae Thompson.  He was from Taunton, MA, while she grew up in Nova Scotia.  Francis had been married previously for about a year and a half to Mary E. Jennings, until her death on 15 Nov 1882.  Francis and Evelyn, along with at least one of Evelyn's brothers, ended up in Taunton.  But where and when were the couple married?

I found no success looking for Francis and Evelyn's marriage record in Taunton or anywhere else in Massachusetts, so I finally noodled around the Nova Scotia marriage records.  Bingo!  Francis and Evelyn were married 3 Aug 1886 at Pugwash River, NS.

Why hadn't I thought of looking in Canadian records years ago?  Dunno.  Of course, because genealogists are always asking questions,
  • What drew him to Nova Scotia?
  • How did they meet?
  • How did he convince her to return to Taunton?
Ralph Leslie Hackett, son of George Leslie Hackett and Elsie Evelyn Jones (and a grandson of Francis and Evelyn) "hid" in the second example.  Family mumblings had mentioned a child who died young after drinking tainted water.  But I had never heard anything definitive about him.

Part of the answer came from taking the time to study the other nine offspring of George and Elsie.  Beginning in 1910, a new child was born about every year or two.  EXCEPT - there was a gap between 1912 and 1916.  This was before I realized so many records were available online; instead, I contacted the Taunton City Clerk's office, sent the appropriate money and asked them to look for a child born between the birth of a daughter in March 1912 and another daughter in January 1916.  There he was, born 23 Jun 1913.  The certified copy of his birth record is shown below.

Then, not having a clue as to when this baby died, I went back to thinking - for a few years.  This summer I (finally) looked in FamilySearch and there he was.  Poor little guy was just two and a half months old when he died from enteritis 7 Sep 1913.  He was buried in Oakland Cemetery, in western Taunton, not far from the Tremont Street home where he had lived.  When TRAEA's Grandma visited the cemetery most recently she found no obvious marker to commemorate this all-too-brief life.

Ralph's birth and death records are available on under Massachusetts Births, 1841 - 1915 and Massachusetts Deaths, 1841 - 1915.

When closing my mom's house after her death, I decided that sometimes "it's the dumb stuff" that can hold the most meaning for us.  There is a corollary - sometimes "it's the simple answer."  Memo to self:  start with the simple answer.

Tree links:
Francis Hackett is the son of William Hackett and Maria Wilbur
George Leslie Hackett is the grandson of William Hackett and Maria Wilbur
Ralph Leslie Hackett is the great grandson of William Hackett and Maria Wilbur
Evelyn Thompson is the 2nd great granddaughter of John Thompson and Mary Sunley
Elsie Jones may be the 2nd great granddaughter of Jonathan Jones and Abigail Paul