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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Mary Starr

Mary J Starr was the wife of James Ryan, and the grandmother of James Leo Calhoun (the first).  She was most likely born in Pennsylvania, in about 1827, and seems to have died between 1890 and 1900.  She married James Ryan in Pennsylvania around 1844, and by 1850 she and James were living in Providence PA, which was soon to become part of Scranton.  By 1870, Mary and her children were living in Boston.  She was a widow, James having died just after the Civil War.  In 1890, Mary apparently moved back to Pennsylvania.

There are a couple of interesting family myths about Mary and James.  James is said to have been not Irish, but Spanish, and to have changed his name to Ryan to be able to get work.  Mary is said to have been German (Pennsylvania Dutch) and/or Quaker.

Any record I have found of James indicates that he was born in Ireland, but of course he may have been providing false information.  Certain kinds of labor were certainly made available to Irish immigrants, though usually it was undesirable work.  Still, it is not far-fetched to think that James could have changed his name, and there would be no way to know.  His supposed name, D'Orion (or something like that), seems more Italian than Spanish, and there were Italian immigrants in Pennsylvania at the time.  I have more to say on this below.

It is unlikely, though possible, that Mary was both Quaker and German.  Her name is no clue; there were both English Quaker and German Starrs.  One hint is contained in her daughter's death certificate.  The name is printed as Stair, which could be a misspelling, but is probably how it was pronounced.  That would mean that she was German:  the German Starrs pronounced it Stair, and sometimes spelled it that way, and also Stehr and Stohr.  The original German would have been Stoehr or Stöhr.

The Pennsylvania Dutch were German Protestants from the Rhine region of Germany, bordering France, an area called the Palatinate.  In the 17th century and beyond they were persecuted by Catholics, overwhelmed by French invaders, and decimated by famine.  Families fled to Switzerland and elsewhere in Europe.  In 1709 the English Queen Anne offered refuge for German Protestants, not knowing that thousands would come to England.  The English placed many of the families in the American colonies, and Pennsylvania, with its religious freedom, was particularly welcoming.  For decades Germans poured into Pennsylvania, and settled in the farmland in the south of the colony.  Among these immigrants were Stöhrs who had moved from the Rhineland to Alsace, and then to the New World.

When Mary and James settled near Scranton before 1850, it was a small town just beginning to grow.  It had been called Slocum Hollow, and was home to a single iron manufactory and a handful of buildings.  In 1840, the Scranton brothers from New Jersey decided to take a gamble, and they bought the town, with its iron deposits.  They completely rebuilt the iron mill, and began using coal instead of charcoal to smelt the iron.  It became a hugely successful venture, and the word went out that workers were needed.  It's quite possible that agents were sent to the port of Philadelphia to round up willing Irish immigrants and bring them to Scranton.  James worked in such an iron mill; he was a puddler, which is someone who scoops the impurities off the surface of molten iron.

So how did a German farm girl meet an Irish immigrant and wind up in the middle of nowhere?  As the Pennsylvania Dutch population grew, it also spread.  Some of the "Dutch" moved north until they hit the Susquehanna River.  By the early 1800's, Stairs were living in towns just downstream of Wilkes-Barre.  One village was named Stairville, in fact.  At the same time, Irish immigrants had been slowly moving northwest of Philadelphia and beyond, and some Irish families had also settled near Wilkes-Barre.  The success of the Scrantons would have been big news in the nearby city of Wilkes-Barre, and labor would have been sought initially from the local populace.  A newly-married couple might have sensed their opportunity.

The couple may have needed some breathing room, too, for theirs was a mixed marriage:  Irish Catholic and German Protestant.  Unless, and this brings me to an interesting theory of my own, James Ryan did in fact change his name, not from the Spanish but from the German.  There were plenty of German names that began with the name of the river in the old homeland, the Rhine.  Some of the names had already been reduced to just Rhine or even Rine.  How big of a stretch is it from Rine to Ryan?

James apparently volunteered for service in the Civil War.  I have not found his records, but Mary is recorded as the widow of a veteran.  Family lore says that James died in Boston after the war, but he may have died in Pennsylvania, and Mary may have moved the family to Boston after that, perhaps to be near one of her married children.  It was her daughter Mary Cecilia who married Joseph Calhoun in 1875.


Related websites:
History of the Palatinate
Pennsylvania Dutch history
Stoehr history
Scranton history

Saturday, October 21, 2006

My French-Canadian Moment

When I moved to Woonsocket, I already knew about its history as a mill city dominated by French-Canadians.  In Rhode Island, Woonsocket is famously French.  Just don't come here, as someone I know once did, expecting French cuisine.  You'll get meat pies and pea soup (both quite good, by the way).

I knew that my mom was half-French, whatever that meant.  I would ask her about it, and all she knew was that her family came from upstate New York, where it had been for a long time, apparently.  Were they from-France French?  She didn't know.  Her mother could speak French, her grandmother spoke nothing but French, and pea soup was a part of her childhood, but she didn't know where they had come from.  Canada was never mentioned.

In Woonsocket, my wife and I became friendly with the older couple across the street, Marcel and Terry.  Marcel, born in Quebec, was a musician.  We would occasionally catch him playing at local events.  His big hit was the song "Charlie Brown," which he would sing in French.  It was pretty funny, especially the "Why is everybody always picking on me?" part.  Marcel was close with some other musicians we knew, a fact we learned only after Marcel had fallen ill, and was confined to his home.  My wife called up our other friends, and arranged to have the gang of us visit Marcel at home one afternoon.  It was great fun, and it would be the last time we saw him alive.

Woonsocket is home to the largest American-French genealogical library in the country.  It happens to be within walking distance of my house.  In time, I formed a habit of walking over, notebook in hand, to discover the history of my family.  One odd thing for me about living in Woonsocket was that many women in town seemed to resemble my mom for some reason.  Not until I started researching my family's genealogy did it begin to dawn on me that my mom's family was not just French, but French-Canadian.  I was a bit nervous asking her about it, but she really had not ever heard Canada or Quebec mentioned overtly.  She supposed it could be true.  There was a story that her grandmother had been born in Montreal, for instance.

The term "French-Canadian" is confusing.  In the US it is used to mean those Quebec-Americans whose ancestry is French-Quebec, or Quebecois.*  But Canada, like the US, is a melting pot, so "Quebec" isn't really an ethnicity.  To get the ethnic sense of a person, you refer to him as French-Canadian or English-Canadian (or Pakistani-Canadian).  In the case of French-Canadians this is misleading, since the actual connection to France is about three or four centuries ago.  As with African-Americans whose families have been in America for three centuries, the cultural connection with the "ancestral homeland" is pretty abstract.

I do think that "Quebecois" can be used as an ethnic term.  A relatively small number of French came to Quebec during a relatively short period of time, then lived together in relative isolation, intermarried, and created a unique culture over three centuries.  The people are no longer strictly French, any more than meat pie is French cuisine.  And though their language is obviously derived from French, even the French can't understand it.  So why did my mom know she was French, but not Quebecois?

We went to Marcel's wake at the funeral home down the street.  His mother and many of his siblings were there, some having journeyed from Quebec.  The room was lit an eerie pink, and packed with older people who all seemed to be speaking French.  Some of the people we recognized from the neighborhood.  It was lively, like a giant family gathering.  We introduced ourselves to Marcel's mother, who spoke to us in French until my wife explained that she only knew "un peu," which made everyone listening laugh.  Then a priest called for attention, and conducted a brief service.  This was followed by a statement, a reminiscence, read by one of Marcel's friends.  All of this was in French.  We were immersed in a part of Woonsocket that we normally only glimpsed.

My mother grew up in Barre, Vermont, as did her parents.  Her grandparents, both sets, had come to Barre in about 1890 to work in the granite industry, an industry so grand at the time that stoneworkers were regularly recruited from all over Europe.  Though a small city in the middle of Vermont, Barre hosted several ethnic communities.  These communities arranged themselves socially based on the status of their work in the granite industry.  Italians were the prized stonecarvers, they were at the top of the ethnic ladder.  The Scots were trained stonecutters, right below the Italians in status.  At the bottom were the unskilled laborers, more often than not French-Canadian.  In fact, French-Canadians were recruited as strike-breakers whenever there were labor disputes.  This did not help their status.

My mother's mother came from a line of French-Canadians who had left Quebec generations earlier, before 1840.  They had worked in New York's Ausable Valley, had fought in the Civil War, and generally regarded themselves as Americans.  When she married another Barre native, a Presbyterian Scot, in 1923, it was a scandal, but hadn't her family been in America longer than the Scottish family?  Hadn't her family been in America long enough to be called American rather than Canadian?

A couple of weeks after Marcel died, his friends and family held a musical tribute for him.  The tribute took place at a performance hall run by one of the musicians we knew.  The hall was packed, and there were several different groups of musicians who played fiddle tunes, French songs, and Country-Western songs.  The MC kept everyone entertained in French, sometimes translating into English (but not the jokes).  What most impressed me was when the entire audience sang along with the French songs.  The songs reminded me of songs my mother had learned from her mother.  I don't know if they were French songs, she never sang them in French, but the melodies had a similar lilt to what I was hearing that night.  It was dawning on me that I, too, was French-Canadian.


* I am using the word "American" here to mean someone from The United States, though technically anyone from South, Central, or North America, including Canada, is an American.

Monday, October 16, 2006

André Bombardier

André Bombardier dit LaBombarde dit PassePartout came to New France in about 1701 as a soldier in the D'Aloigny Company.  It is probably safe to assume that his name indicated his role in the French Army as cannoneer.  He was born in about 1679 in Lille, in what had been Flanders but had recently become a part of the French Empire, won in battle and treaty from the Netherlands.  He was the son of Jean Bombardier and Marie Françoise Cambin Flamand Guillin.

One of King Louis XIV's first tasks in consolidating newly won territory was to improve the defenses of cities like Lille, and that meant improving the walls of the city and expanding its defensive brigades, including the cannon brigade.  Lille was a significant city in the Middle Ages, and had had a cannon brigade for some time.  Cannon were finicky weapons - they could explode while being fired, so the cannoneer had to be knowledgeable about the bronze of the cannon.  Thus cannoneers were often drawn from the families that made the cannon, a skill passed down from father to son.  Perhaps André was from such a family.

The French Army kept excellent records, and required soldiers to have both a family name and a nickname.  In the Middle Ages, it was not common to have a family name.  Aristocrats and other important people had identifiers, like titles and estate names, that eventually became family names.  Common people would just adopt a family name, based perhaps on their trade or where they lived or the name of the Lord of their land.  The nicknames, dit nom or nom de guerre, were assigned depending usually on which company you were assigned to.  If you left the company, you also left the nickname behind.  In Québec, however, the dit nom often became a family name.  André was unusual in having another dit nom of PassePartout - not too many other Québecois carried it.  It seems to mean "free to pass."  I have not seen an adequate explanation of it, so here's a guess:  if André was an expert cannoneer, and thus a specialist, he might have been assigned to different companies as needed, and he would have been allowed to keep his nom de guerre, LaBombarde, as he moved from company to company.*

In New France, André would have been part of the defense against both Native Americans and the British.  He may have seen service at Fort Frontenac, in what is now Kingston, Ontario, and at Fort Pontchartrain in Detroit, which was also a French colony.  In a few years, he served out his term and returned to Montréal, where he probably became part of the local militia, as did all other former soldiers.  In 1706, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the founder of Detroit, arrived in Montréal with a proposal.  He would give any former soldier willing to settle in Detroit free land.  The hitch was that the soldier had to be married, and had to be prepared to leave right away with Cadillac.

Marriage was not quickly done in those days.  Precautions were taken to ensure that the marriage would be legitimate, and those precautions took a lot of time.  Cadillac was in a hurry, though, so he convinced the religious authorities to allow marriages to happen quickly for the soldiers who wanted to go to Detroit.  André was among these soldiers, and he married the daughter of a long-time Montréal family, Marguerite Marie Dumais dite Demers.  Then off he went with Sieur Cadillac to his new home at Detroit.

Detroit was a very small colony out in the middle of nowhere, high on the banks of the Detroit River.  Cadillac had a small village inside the wooden palisade of the fort, large plots of farmland up and down the river, and small settlements of friendly Native Americans nearby.  Each soldier was given a tiny "city" lot inside the fort for constructing a house, and then allotted a plot for farming, for which rent was paid.  The houses were tiny one-room cabins, 20 feet square, made of small tree trunks driven vertically into the ground as pickets and topped with a roof of split rails covered with bark or thatch.

Cadillac ran the colony like a fiefdom.  He controlled every aspect of the colonists' lives.  Most of the former soldiers were loyal to him, but there were plenty of complaints.  There were also business interests trying to wrest control of Detroit away from Cadillac.  Finally, Cadillac was "promoted" by the King's minister to another colony (Louisiana), thus losing everything he had in Detroit.  Many of the former soldiers left Detroit at this time, including André.  It was 1710, and André and his wife moved back to Québec with their two sons.

André settled on the northern end of Île de Montréal, the opposite end of the island in the St Lawrence River where Montréal was located.  He farmed land somewhere between Pointe-aux-Trembles and Rivières-Des-Prairies until his death in 1754.  He was widowed in 1741, and married Marie Thibault dite LeVeille, who died a year later. 

During this time, New France was being regularly attacked by England.  By 1710, the English controlled half of Newfoundland and were raiding Acadia and Québec.  They took Acadia finally in 1713, and Cape Breton in 1745.  Ten years later, the French and Indian War, an extension of the Seven Years' War in Europe, went in favor of the French initially, but the English finally gained control.  The Treaty of Paris in 1763 ceded all of New France to Great Britain.

I am descended from André's fifth child, Pierre Jacques Bombardier dit Labombarde, born August 30, 1714.  He married Marie Françoise Thibault dite St Louis in 1738.  Not long after his father died, about the time Montréal fell to the English in 1760, Pierre moved east to the Chambly region, down on the Richelieu River.


* My apologies for the all the guesswork.  It's equally possible that André was dragooned into the French Army, assigned a French name, and sent as far away as possible, to New France.  This would have been part of a standard policy of clearing men of fighting age from newly captured territories like Flanders.

Related websites:
Musée des Canonniers Sédentaires de Lille,
translated from the French by Google.
History of Detroit

Friday, October 13, 2006

John and Joseph Calhoun

Joseph Charles Calhoun is my great-grandfather, and the father of James Leo (the first).  Joseph was born in St John, New Brunswick, Canada in January of 1848.  His parents were John Calhoun and Catherine Dooley, both born in Ireland.  This is all according to Joseph's death certificate from 1903.

Unfortunately this is the only solid information I have about John Calhoun.  There was a huge fire in St John in 1877, and almost all vital records up to that date were burned.  There is other information that is useful, but only if I make certain assumptions, which, of course, could be wrong.  There's a lot more research that could be done in New Brunswick.

A John Calhoon received a grant of land from the Province of New Brunswick in 1856.  He received 100 acres in Petersville Parish, Queens County, which was 40 miles north and inland from St John.  Ten years later, an 84 acre tract was transferred to Joseph Colhoun from John.  Both John and Joseph were listed in the Hutchinson Directories of 1865 and 1867 as living in Clones Settlement, a part of Summer Hill in Queens County.  John is listed in the McAlpine's Directory of 1870.

The entire family shows up in the dominion census of 1871 for Petersville Parish.  The family name is listed as Calchoon.*  There's John, a farmer and a widow, 75 years old, and Joseph, apparently his son, 22 years old, and Catherine, apparently a daughter, 26.  All are listed as being born in Ireland, and are listed as Catholic.  So what can we assume here?  Joseph is the right age to be our Joseph, his father is named John, and he has a sister named Catherine who could have been named for her mother.  The family is Irish, and as far as I can tell, our family has always been Catholic.  Joseph (and probably Catherine) would have been born in New Brunswick, not Ireland, but census takers often made assumptions of their own.  I think the odds are good that this is our family.  I have found no more records or listings of this family after this date, which agrees with the fact that Joseph had left New Brunswick not long after 1871 (He was married in Portland, Maine, in 1875).

What else can we assume?  According to the census, Petersville Parish was full of farmers from Ireland who were Protestant.  This would indicate immigrants from Northern Ireland, probably Scots-Irish, and I have read that many of these farmers had come from Tyrone County.  There is only one place in Ireland where people with the name Calhoun or Colhoun are from:  the border region between Tyrone and Donegal Counties.  This makes sense, since large estates owned by Colhouns were located there.

Let's assume John's daughter Catherine was born in New Brunswick.  That would mean that John arrived in New Brunswick sometime before 1844, which would be right in the middle of the potato famine.  Was John already married to Catherine when he arrived in St John?  I think not - Dooleys came from a few places in Ireland, but northern Ireland was not one of them.  It is quite likely that John was originally Protestant, like all his neighbors in Petersville Parish.  Catherine was probably Catholic, and maybe John converted as part of the marriage arrangement.  This was more likely to have happened in St John.  And John was 53 years older than Joseph, so I'm willing to bet that Catherine was also much younger than John.  An unconventional, perhaps "convenience" marriage would have been more likely in the highly unstable environment of 1840's St John.  Sick and poor immigrants were pouring in to St John from Ireland, and the city was not prepared to handle the influx.  Irish immigrants were kept in refugee/quarantine camps, or confined to city ghettos, where disease and hunger were rampant.  Conventions are easily abandoned in exchange for survival.

I have found no further records about Joseph's sister Catherine.  Joseph went on to marry Mary Ryan in Portland, where they had their first child, Mary (Aunt Mazie) in 1878.  By 1880, Joseph and his family were in South Boston, living near Mary Ryan's relatives.  He worked as a machinist, and died of tuberculosis at the age of 55.


*This gives a clue to pronunciation.  The "ch" would have been hard, like the "ch" in "loch."  The Irish in Ireland often spelled it similarly.  Compare with the Scottish "Cahoon."  Even in this case the "h" would have had a hint of the "ch" sound.  By the way, the "a" would be pronounced like "ah" or even like an "o," hence the official Ulster spelling, "Colhoun."

Related websites:
The Provincial Archives of New Brunswick
History of the Petersville Parish region (which is now a military base)
The 1877 Fire at St John
The Irish in St John

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


All the basic and relatively recent family information is directly from close relatives:  primarily my grandmother, Mildred Bombard McKnight; my mother, Mary McKnight Calhoun; my aunt, Josephine Calhoun Perry; and my cousins, Alison Pike and Jennifer Hogan McBride.  Some of Alison's information is from Mary Laramie's family Bible.  Some important information is from a second cousin, Ella Calhoun Black, and information about the McGraw branch is from a genealogy provided by another second cousin, Susan Olney Mikula in Ithaca NY.

All of the Clinton County NY information and much of the 19th century Quebec information is based on my research of repertoires and microfilms at the American French Genealogical Society in Woonsocket RI.

Joan Mustard of South Carolina and Mike Harvey of Montreal provided much information on the Bombard family.  Brian Laramie of Missouri provided much of the information on the Aupry Laramees.

All of the Quebec information from before 1800 is from the PRDH database at the University of Montreal.  I have used their conventions for the spellings and arrangements of French-Canadian names.

The Acadian information is mostly from The Great Settlement of Acadians in Quebec, by Adrien Bergeron, with updated corrections here and there.

Some of the Scottish information is from a chart assembled by a researcher who sent it to us after having tramped about in various Scottish cemeteries.  Other sources for Scottish information:  Scotland's People, the official online repository of Scottish vital records; and the 1851 census index from the Dumfries and Galloway Council website.

Other sources for early information:  the Massachusetts State Archives; the online records of the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick; and the Dorset (England) Online Parish Clerk Project and its Bridport coordinator, Rachel, who was kind enough to answer my queries.

All sorts of bits and pieces were gleaned from various family trees, message boards, census and vital records, and LDS records available on the Internet.

Bill Calhoun

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Héberts of Acadia

Joseph Aupry Laramee (or Aupry dit LaRamée), born in LaPrairie, Québec in 1807, is my 3rd great grandfather, and one of Mildred Bombard's great grandfathers.  He was the son of Joseph Aupry LaRamée and Marie Françoise Perrault.

On March 5, 1832, he married Cecile Hébert at St-Jean-François-Regis (St-Philippe), Québec.  Cecile was herself descended from an Aupry LaRamée:  her 2nd great-grandmother was Marie Françoise, daughter of Louis Bertrand Aupry LaRamée and Anne Dumas Rencontre.  (Joseph was descended from Marie's brother, François Antoine.)

Cecile was also descended from the long line of Héberts, ultimately from Poitou, France, who settled in Acadia in about 1650.

Cecile's 2nd great-grandfather, Rene Hébert, along with his wife and married children, was deported during the infamous English relocation of 1755, when the Acadian French were cleared out of Acadia and dispersed among the other English colonies or sent to France.  Many of these exiles, like the Héberts, found their way eventually to Québec.

Rene and his family were sent to the colony of Connecticut, where the authorities scattered the French families, about 900 people in all, throughout the colony.  Rene's son Pierre was placed with his family in a home in Guilford; this house still exists, and is now called the Acadian House.  Pierre's daughter Anne married her cousin Joseph Hilarion Hébert sometime around 1765.  Shortly after, Joseph Hilarion and his family relocated to LaPrairie, Québec.  In order to have their children properly baptized, the married cousins had to have their marriage "rehabilitated," and this happened in 1768.

Their son Isaac Charles was born in 1782.  He married Catherine Cassan or Cassant (dite SansRegret) in 1809, and daughter Cecile was born in 1812.


Related websites:
Acadian History
Acadians in Guilford CT

Sunday, October 01, 2006

About This Blog

It's a bit unusual to present genealogy in a blog format.  Genealogical data is often presented as a database, displayed and searchable in some fashion.  There can be an awful lot of raw information:  So-and-so was born, was married, had children, worked, and died; on and on and on with endless dates, names and places.

As much as I love collecting all that information, what I really want to communicate are the narratives, the historical contexts, and the personalities hidden in the information.  The blog format might be perfect for this - a way to present information in small bites, with stories, histories, hunches, myths, and experiences.  For you, my intended audience, which I assume will be mostly my relatives, I'm sure this format will be more approachable than a database presentation, and it will allow you to participate by providing comments, suggestions, stories, and more information, which I sincerely hope you do.

The posts in this blog are arranged chronologically, just like in any other blog.  In this blog, though, the chronological arrangement doesn't really make any sense, so I have also arranged the posts according to category.  The categories are listed near the top of the panel on the left, where every post has a link.  In addition, many of the posts have links to related posts.

Bill Calhoun