A belated Christmas gift

map-of-coos-julie-wilmotSome people are extraordinarily difficult to shop for. My parents fall into that category. They’ve collected several things over the years, so even thinking of something they would like is a challenge. My father is also the sort of person who goes out and buys whatever he thinks he needs within a week or two of thinking of it, which leaves me, and my sisters, struggling for gift ideas at the holidays. This year, instead of buying my parents something they’d neither want nor need, I decided to make them family trees. I have a family tree on RootsMagic that I’ve been working on for the last few years, and I thought they might like to have the information I’ve collected.

After struggling with a ruler and several sheets of paper for longer than I’d care to admit, I determined that no more than five generations would fit in the 11 x 14 frames I’d chosen. I had most of the information I needed for those generations already, and thought I could gather the rest in the month or so I had left before they needed to be ready. I should have known better.

My mother’s family has been residing in northern New Hampshire and western Maine for more than one hundred and fifty years. Most of what I have been able to piece together has been through the use of vital and census records. The courthouse in Coos County, New Hampshire burned down in 1886, along with most of the deeds and probate records held there. Persons who held copies of deeds and wills were invited to refile them, but few did. Thankfully, due to the small population, census records have proven a decent substitute.

It took me several hours to identify the last four ancestors I needed on my father’s side.

My father’s family has resided in northern New Hampshire for the last century or so. His maternal great-grandparents immigrated to Berlin in Coos County from Palombara (Sabina), Italy in the early 1900s. His paternal great-grandparents immigrated to Berlin from Quebec at about the same time. Berlin, a bustling pulp and paper mill town in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, attracted many immigrants. Most modern-day residents of Berlin and nearby towns can trace their ancestry back to Quebec.

It took me several hours to identify the last four ancestors I needed on my father’s side. I had no trouble identifying them in census records in New Hampshire, but isolating them in Quebec was another matter entirely. Using immigration records and Canadian census records, I managed to identify the two males I had been looking for, but I could not locate their wives’ maiden names.

I struggled with the idea of giving my father an incomplete Christmas gift, but ultimately decided that I could add the information when, or if, I do manage to discover it. Sometimes we forget that we are at the mercy of the records that are available. In some cases, those records have been destroyed, or simply never existed in the first place. I have realized that incomplete is just another term for unfinished, and that genealogy, even for seasoned researchers, can be a time-consuming process.

About Julie Wilmot

Julie, a native of Errol, New Hampshire, holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology with a concentration in Native American Studies from the University of Maine, Orono, and a Master of Arts degree in History and Culture from Union Institute and University. She has worked at the Northeast Archives of Folklore and Oral History in Orono, Maine, and was a presenter at the New England Historical Association Spring 2014 Conference in Springfield, Massachusetts. Her research interests include French-Canadian migration to Northern New England, and international cases.

10 thoughts on “A belated Christmas gift

  1. You used just census and immigration records? Do you not have access to the Druin Quebec records? One can find just about anyone using them.

    1. We do have the Drouin records available here in our microfilm collection. Unfortunately, I could not locate baptism or marriage records for the ancestors I was searching for in them. They are a great resource, though, and I would recommend that anyone researching Quebec ancestry search them.

      1. If you give me what you have, I will look for you. Sometimes fresh eyes are just what the doctor ordered. I’ve done the ancestry of everyone I know (and some I don’t know), I might as well do yours!

        Most sincerely,
        Bud Dorr
        Gorham, Maine

  2. I’m sorry, but I had a long laugh at this sentence: “It took me several hours to identify the last four ancestors I needed on my father’s side.”
    It takes many of us decades to do that sort of thing!
    Great gift idea though!

  3. Many Christmases ago, I decided to take advantage of my wife’s New England ancestry to connect each of our five children to some of their ancestors and cousins. Starting with an ancestor, I traced their line to them (on one side of the page) and to a U.S. President (on the other side). At that time, I was able to show their connections to twelve Presidents. The icing on the cake was the connection to Princess Diana and, thus, to Princes William and Harry (and now to George and Charlotte). Making a book of all this, I presented a copy to each of my kids as we gathered on Christmas morning. Needless to say, they were impressed. Over the years I have used family genealogical information to interest them, so when (years ago) my daughter came home asking, “Who was that writer we’re related to?” ( I determined she was referring to Emerson) “Yeah,” she said, “We were talking about him in school today.” Their interest in history has, thankfully, continued.

    1. Years ago, around the time that Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles were married, I was able to determine that Diana was my 8th cousin (we both descended from Preserved Strong and Tabitha Lee). My kids were mildly impressed, and asked if I was invited to the wedding. I told them the invitation must have been lost in the mail, along with invitations to the other thousands of distant relations she had here in the US.

    2. I’ve said it at least 100 times to colleagues – if only they used basic genealogy to teach history, how much more we could have learned from history class. Genealogy makes history come alive – close and personal. Quite frankly I memorized dates and names long enough to get through the tests and then I thought it was gone from memory. Fortunately, as I embarked on my trail of research 30 years ago, much of what I learned in high school was still there. My dilemma is that my parents are 1st generation Americans whose parents were from French Canada. It’s interesting as an adult to reflect on the French and Indian Wars, the American Revolution and the War of 1812 from a French perspective after having learned it from an American [English] perspective. Not to rub salt in the wound, but it took me about a year to complete my 10-generation fan chart to include all wives’ maiden names and their parents and their parents on out to 9 and/or 10 generations. I had a few late comers who arrived in the Province of Quebec in the mid-1700s with no clue to parents in France!

  4. What a sweet gift for your parents, I’m sure they enjoyed it. You should post the couples you are looking for information on, we might be able to help. Also wanted to say hi, I also live in .NH, in the lakes region.

  5. Hi Julie – a great gift. I’m trying to do the same with my family, but it’s taking a lot longer than a few hours!
    You have what looks like a beautiful color map of Coos county, NH that I would love to include in a project for a friend from that area. Would you please tell me where you found it? Thank you.

    1. Hi Sandy,

      I located this particular picture at gettyimages.com. If you do a Google search for “historical map of Coos County, New Hampshire,” it should be in the image results. Copies of this same map are available for a fee from online retailers as well.

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