Sunday, May 27, 2012

Remebering

The Native Americans are known for their oral histories, telling the stories of the tribe from one generation to the next.  Recently, my mom's cousin asked me if, in my genealogy research, I had found any information about our Native Indian ancestry.  To this point, I have not, but I think that there must be some there.  My mother's family is French Canadian, and it is widely accepted that there was inter-marrying between the French-Canadians and the Indians.  Even without proof, I think it must be true because of my love for family history.

Each year, for Memorial Day, we visit the cemeteries.  This year, while technically no different, is much different.  This year, we said good-bye to my great-Aunt Millie, who was the last surviving of my grandfather's eight siblings.  Six weeks after that, we said good-bye to my grandmother.  Mimere and Aunt Millie were the last of their generation, the Greatest Generation. The cemetery visits this year meant going without my grandmother, but also seeing two new names.  It was hard.
Mimere, Aunt Millie and Aunt Mae in 2005.  Aunt Mae passed away in Oct 2006.  

My kids come with my mom and I to the cemetery now.  Jake has been coming the last few years, and I think this is Sophia's second year.  Every year, we go through the stories, making the same comments.  But now, we're telling my kids where they come from.  Helping to impart the wisdom (hopefully) that years of hard work has brought.  Hoping to enlighten them as to how luck they are as to live in this age with this technology, with their health.  My grandfather (who we called Pipere) was one of nine children born to very poor parents.  Only 7 of the 9 survived childhood, which, considering the times and the poverty level, is pretty amazing.  We visit all nine graves (8 of which are in St. Joseph's in Waterford).  We visit some other relatives and good family friends as well, who happen to be located near our family members.  My grandfather and uncle poured the cement into crosses in their basement on Hamilton Street for the markers for the 2 boys who did not survive childhood.  They do not have the names on them, but we think we know which one is which.  There was no money for headstones.

One of the confusing things about my grandfather's family, besides the number of players, is the names.  All had given names, but at least half went by some other name.  Sometimes it was a middle name, sometimes it was just a random name.  Confusing nonetheless.  We visit my mother's Mimere and Pipere, my great-grandparents.  Rosario O. Morris and Rose Biette Morris.  Their children (and spouses, if appropriate) were:

  • Rosario ("Boy") Morris.  Buried in St. Joseph's.  Grave is marked by a homemade white cement cross. No name is on it. Died at the age of 12.  He was burned by hot water (I think while making tea), and the burns got infected.  
  • Mary R. ("Rosella") Morris and Mitchell Gagnon.  Buried in St. Joseph's.  They share a grave with Aunt Mae and Uncle Earl.  I believe some of their great-grandchildren (stillborn) are also with them.
  • Genevieve and Ephraim ("Pete") Fredette.  Buried in St. Joseph's.
  • Edna Flora ("Mae") Morris and Francis Earl ("Earl") White.  Buried in St. Joseph's with Aunt Rosella and Uncle Mitch.  Even in death, Aunt Mae never got away from her sisters.
  • Edward G. Morris and Dorothy Slavin Morris.  Buried in Memory Garden.  They bought the plot from a neighbor on the street who was selling them in 1966.  At that time, my grandmother would not have been able to be buried in St. Joseph's, as she was not Catholic.
  • Mildred M. Morris and Leo ("Chick") Fredette.  Buried in St. Joseph's.  Aunt Millie and Pipere were twins.  They were born on February 22, George Washington's birthday.  As such, their middle names are George and Martha. It was hard seeing Aunt Millie's name etched in stone today.
  • Leo and Patricia Morris.  Buried in St. Joseph's.
  • Amos Morris.   Buried in St. Joseph's.  Grave is marked by a homemade white cement cross. Died at 3 months old.  We don't know why.  
  • Margaret Morris and Victor A. Bouchard.  Buried in St. Joseph's.  Also with them are their two sons, Joseph and Victor, Jr, who were both stillborn.


My grandparents with my great-grandparents.  My middle name is from my great-grandmother.  My daughter's middle name is from her great-grandmother.  My brother is also named after our great-grandfather.
We visit my Pipere's godparents (Uncle Jack and Aunt Flory).  They died within a few weeks of each other when my mother was about 6.  They had no children of their own, so we make sure Uncle Jack has his flag (WWI) and remember that they existed. They are at St. Agnes in Cohoes, along with my mother's birth mother, grandparents and cousin.  She remembers well the cousin, Rosie, who had emigrated from Cuba.  She lived up the street.  She was a fantastic cook, and died the day after President Kennedy.

The kids like seeing the names.  Jake has a fantastic eye for reading and spotting the names a midst a sea of granite.  We explain where our names came from.  My mother was named after her two grandmothers, Mary Louisa Badue Milan and Rose Biette Morris (who is in the pale blue shirt in the picture above).  We visited both of them today.  I am named after three of my great-grandmothers, Kathryn Kuzan Kopach (who is buried in Western Pennsylvania.  Someday I will visit her and my great-aunts who did not survive childhood), Catherine Ryan Wunderlich (visited today at Most Holy Redeemer in Niskayuna) and Rose Biette Morris.

My mom and I talked about heading up north to the Witherbee/Mineville area where Mimere grew up to visit her parents and grandparents.  Her grandmother lived with her when she was little and she often told me stories about her grandmother.  My great-great grandmother.  How cool is that!  And the story that we most often pass down is that my grandmother's grandmother, Etta Smith, was widowed.  Her second husband had fought in the Civil War, but for the Confederacy!  Not many of us from up here (and she was from way way up north) can say that.
Mimere at about age 4, which is Sophia's age.  She is with her grandmother, and her parents, John and Nellie Slavin.
One of the last "new" things Mimere told me about herself was that, after her mother died in October of 1942, Mimere moved back up to Witherbee to take care of her father.  I don't know if he was in ill health, or being in his early 70's, was just dependent on a female to care for him.  Mimere stayed up there for 6-9 months when she got the call that they needed her back down at General Analine in Rensselaer.  She moved back down to Albany and her sister Mary moved in to care for their father.  Mimere lost both of her parents within 18 months of each other.  She was orphaned by the time she was 25.  Her sister died at the age of 59, and Mimere was about 45.  Mimere had lived 48 years without her nuclear family, with only her married family, the Morrises to care for her and to take care of.

I am so lucky that I have as many stories as I do.  My other grandmother, Genevieve Wunderlich Kopach, wrote down many of her stories, which my father typed up and copied and gave to everyone after her passing.  She had taken a writing class in her late 60's and left behind a binder full of stories and recollections.  We would not know much about her family without that binder.

While I know that Memorial Day is about remembering those who served and made the ultimate sacrifice (which I do and deeply honor), I also like to use this time as a reminder to connect to the past to pay forward to the future.  My children need to know where they come from and what our family has endured to get to where we are now. It is a time where I truly remember.

Four generations, last Mother's Day.  How lucky I am to have this!

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