Why we lost touch 4 generations ago …

Most everything my Nanny knew about her maternal grandfather’s family was fiction.  Her great, great grandfather was not a ward of Napoleon sent to Canada for his safety.  Instead her great, great grandfather died of cholera in 1834 — setting into motion the first migration in his family line since they arrived in Ste. Croix, Quebec, Canada four generations before.

So why was all of Nanny’s accurate Greenwood (previously Boisvert) information limited to the family of her mother’s siblings?

Photo credit: family photo

Nanny’s mother Minnie (Greenwood) Dobbins (right, standing) next to her brother George Greenwood (3) and above her mother Adele (Charbonneau) Greenwood (1), Eugenie (Boisvert) Merlet (4), and Charles Henry Arthur Greenwood (5.)  Minnie’s elder brother Edward is not pictured.  Photo credit: family photo.

I think the answer lies in geography.  Many of Minnie’s siblings and their children stayed on in the Adams/Pittsfield, MA area.  Those who didn’t — like my Nanny — visited often.

Nanny’s grandfather’s siblings arrived in Adams, MA in the late 1860s.  The Greenwoods first showed up in the 1870 census.  They formed a single household headed by their widowed mother.  They didn’t stay together for long.

The Greenwood household that starts on line 7 includes widow Phebe Greenwood (Euphemie Leborgne), Edward, Alfred, Frances, Jennie (Angelle), Anthony. Hubert and Marie are no longer with the family.  Source: 1870 U.S. Census. Adams, Berkshire, Massachusetts. Phebe Greenwood household.

The Greenwood household that starts on line 7 includes widow Phebe Greenwood (Euphemie Leborgne), Edward, Alfred, Francis, Jennie (Angelle), Anthony. Source: 1870 U.S. Census. Adams, Berkshire, Massachusetts. Phebe Greenwood household.

In 1880, Edward and Alfred are the only ones still found in Adams.  They both had wives and were raising young families.  Their mother Phebe and brother Francis can’t be found.  Perhaps they had returned to Canada.  Perhaps they were elsewhere in the States.  Perhaps they were dead.  I haven’t found any clues yet to tell me what happened.  Their sister Jennie and brother Anthony were no longer in Adams. but they can be found boarding in Manchester, NH.

In time, Edward died (1888), Alfred and his wife joined their daughter’s family in Schenectady, NY,* and Jennie disappeared like her mother and brother Francis (probably due to a name change at marriage.) Only Anthony persisted in nearby Manchester, NH– but it is easy to imagine that the families didn’t keep in touch.  By time his brother died, Anthony would have been living away for over a decade and raising his own young family.

In the end, the lack of geographic proximity to a dead brother’s family probably had a lot to do with why my Greenwood family’s Canadian history was imagined so much. And it comforts me to think that Edward’s siblings had become far-flung. How painful would it have been if they couldn’t pass on their stories while living in the same small town?!

***

*Alfred and his wife Eliza (Hill) left Adams and  followed their daughter Louisa to Schenectady, NY where they lived out the rest of their days.  (Alfred’s wife only appears in the George Lawson household in 1910, Alfred persists with his daughter’s family into 1920 and 1930 as well.)

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