Saturday, October 9, 2010

Climbing , Shaking and Trimming the Family Tree !!

Growing up in the North End ( Indiantown / Pokiok ) of Saint John , New Brunswick back in the late 1930s and the 1940s  I guess I knew as much about my immediate kinfolk and ancestors as anybody else did about his or hers........ an Gorta Mór or the Great Famine of Ireland , the coffin ships carrying death , disease and survivors in the aftermath.......along with the tough times endured and withstood since the arrival of my forebearers in the "promised land".......long periods of quarantine on Ellis Island for those going to the States or on Partridge Island or Grosse Île for those coming into Saint John and Québec City respectively. One of my important progenitors and future great grandfather ...... a lad named Séamas from County Donegal , sailed into Saint John sometime during the Great Famine on a "coffin ship" along with his father (my great great grandfather) , Owen / Eoin , his mother (my great great grandmother) , Mary McShane and his older brother , Myles , a rather odd name for an Irish Catholic back then..... and , therefore , easily spotable by someone like myself climbing and shaking the family tree a century and a half later.We know nothing about Owen and very little concerning Mary except that she was a native of Donegal , died at age 90 and was buried from her son's , Séamus/James , home along the the Strait Shore on August 9th , 1893. I found her obituary in the Thursday edition of the Saint John Globe for the same week.

My Dad told me that Séamas or Old Jimmy as he called him , a millman by trade and classified as such in the City Directory , spent most of his life sawing and piling deal at Murray's sawmill by the Falls, doing carpentry work around Saint John as well as some shipbuilding in nearby Saint Martins......... and my truly documented family history begins with his first marriage to Anne Bryson which took place at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on November 3rd , 1862........ with Henry and Ann McGinn as best man and bridesmaid. Of this union five children were born...Frances ( Fannie ) , 1864 , William , 1866 , Mary Ann (Mamie) , 1868 , John , 1871 and finally Catherine ( Katie ) , 1873...... who unfortunately would drown at age 11 in the Reversing Falls on April 14 , 1884. At the time of her death the family was living on the edge of Marble Cove just above the Falls. I found a lengthy article in the newspaper describing the mystery behind her disapperance.

Fannie would marry  John Brookins and boost the demographical statistics of the West Side by a half dozen birth to six children many of whom I knew in my youth by name only . William married Mary Dawson , raised a family of six .... and then , at age 53 , packed up "kids" and belongings and moved to Boston in search of fame and fortune and was never heard from after that . Mary Ann married Daniel Doherty in 1891 and moved to Oregon. We know that Daniel died from a heart attack in San Francisco in 1929 .... and then lights go out for Aunt Mamie ! And now comes my grandfather , John Joseph ....born on January 11 , 1871 and died on May 15th , 1909 at age 38 of TB. My Dad told me that all he could remember of him was that he was tall and carried a big cane. I still have the receipt for the burial lot he bought at St Joe's Cemetery dated 1908....... maybe he had a premonition of his imment death which happened the following year.

Sometime between Catherine's birth in 1873 and 1880 my biological great grandma , Anne Bryson , died since the diocese archives bear witness to Old Jimmy's second marriage to Mary Buckley which , like his first , was celebrated at the Cathedral. Mary gave birth to only one child .......Ellen G. ( aka Ella ) .... born in 1881 . She would later marry Ned Furness and live across the river from us in Fairville. I knew her well in my youth as Aunt Ellen ( she was really my great aunt though ) , a stubby , comely old lady with lots of facehair and a wide variety of odd hats. Old Ned smoked cigars and the pipe and their house "stenched thereof " !! He never missed a spitoon either .... not even at three paces !! Séamas / Old Jimmy died at the Saint John Infirmary on the 28th of January , 1924 , from blood poisoning at age 83. Mary Buckley would die three years later at her daughter Ellen's home , 12 Mill Street , Fairville , December , 1927. She was 89.

Parallel to the preceding  "saga" of events unfolding in Saint John and of equal importance for the make up of my family tree are the intermingled stories of the Brochet and Valpy families of the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec and Isle of Jersey , one of the two Channel Islands ......... just off the French Coast but belonging to England , the population of which was more or less bilingual at that time. On February 2nd , 1843 at age 40 James Brochet of Jersey marries Henriette , 16-year-old daughter of John Laurens .... both likewise of Jersey. The marriage took place at Percé , Québec and eight children were born of this union. The third child , Mary , was born in 1847 and would become fatefully linked to my coming into being !!

In her mid twenties while working as servant to Monsieur Dumaresq Valpy , originally from Jersey and local merchant at Percé , Mary became pregnant twice by him giving birth to two baby girls.... the first in 1872 was named Emma , the second born in 1874 was christened Matilda Georgiana........ my own dear sweet Nanna whom I knew and loved so much !! I remember her well as she died in 1954 when I was 18 years old. Remarkably for that period in time Emma and Matilda , both illegitimate , opted for their biological father's surname , Valpy , and not that of their mother's , Brochet. Thus , my true biological great-grandfather , Dumaresq Valpy , was born on the Isle of Jersey in 1848 and died at Percé in 1890 .When in their early twenties Emma married Joe LeBlanc and moved to Montreal ( rue Visitation ) where she gave birth to three children ..... Roland , Lucienne and Edna called Deda .............whereas Matilda , accompanied by her mother , Mary , found her way to Saint John , New Brunswick looking for work as a house servants. For years afterwards people would refer to Mary as " Aunt Minnie " and the "secretive pair" never once revealed their true relationship to anyone , not even to their children and grandchildren respectively. Matilda met John McAnulty in the mid 1890s and they were married at the Cathedral on July 10th , 1900 . They had two sons , Leo Francis in 1901 and Edmond John , my Dad , in 1903............ a future Pokioker !

P.S. I am writing this brief geneology of our family so that my two sons might know more about and appreciate more ,,,, even love and respect more...... those who have gone before them and that yes , there had been life before they came into existence !..........In the top photo is my Nanna , Matilda Valpy-McNulty. In pic on left , Uncle Leo Francis McNulty standing , and my Dad , Edmund seated. The wedding photo of Matilda and John Joseph and bottom picture is Mary Rachelle Brochet , better known as "Aunt Minnie" , my true biological great grandmother.......... who spoke French better than English and would die in 1933.



  1. Chris Navel PearceOctober 9, 2010 at 8:45 PM

    Chris Naven Pearce Remarkable that you have all this history Gerry and the old photos to go with it! I'm sure your sons and their children will appreciate this :0)

  2. Hi Chris , my sons probably won't read this post before I've become ripe compost for organic gardening but at least it's there for their perusal.And there is so much more to tell .... and I am blessed with oodles of old photos of almost everyone,

  3. Sylvia Johnston SpencerOctober 10, 2010 at 7:53 AM

    Hi Gerry,
    If I am reading your posts regularly, I just bet your sons are, too. If they are not at this time, then you are correct...they will later and will appreciate your efforts. What a gift!!!

  4. Hi Sylvia..... great to see you in here once more .... and yes , I certainly do hope they'll drop by some day but as I said in above comment to Chris... I'll more than likely be eating dandelions by the root by then ! but at least they'll have some reading material should they so wish. Hope all is well down in Kentville.

  5. Read it again...great past.Derek