Category Archives: Leaf Litter

The Truth of Nanny’s Stories in Memory and Fact

From my Nanny's family history book (handwritten by my Pop-Pop). I don’t know why there are so many commas, perhaps it was meant to be a poem.

My Nanny’s family history as hand-written by my Pop-pop.  I don’t know why there are so many commas, perhaps it was meant to be a poem.

This is the paragraph that begins my Nanny’s family history.  It is not the story of her father’s (Dobbins) line, it is the story that looms largest in her imaginings, it is her story of the Greenwood/Boisvert.  It is all untrue, except for the fact that her grandfather was born in 1814.

Let’s walk through it, line by line.

My great, great Grandfather, was born in France, the year is unknown.

Nanny’s great, great grandfather was born in Ste. Croix, a small farming village outside of Quebec, in Canada on November 6th, 1779.

Nanny’s great, great grandfather’s great, great grandfather was born in France in 1627.

Nanny’s great grandmother, Euphemie Leborgne, was born on a tiny French island off the coast of Newfoundland (France’s last North American holding.) Maybe her birth in 1820 led to the confusion.

He was a ward of Napoleon Bonaparte, who had him, sent to Canada for his safety.

He was not a ward of Napoleon. He was not sent to Canada for his safety.  His family had been nestled into Set. Croix for five generations after an initial 30 years outside Quebec at Sillery.

The closest his family comes to touching history was when his great, great grandmother arrived in New France during the 1660s as a fille du roi, or a single woman who sailed to a new life across the Atlantic ocean with a promise of a small dowry to be provided by King Louis XIV if she married there, which she did, to Pierre Pichet dit (or called) Lamusette, who turned out to be a bigamist, one of two bigamists in my Nanny’s great, great grandfather’s great, great grandmother’s family tree.

His name was Boisvere, he married and, had two sons.

His name was Antoine Boisvert. He had eight sons and a daughter. The first five boys were Joseph, Jean Baptiste Benoni, Godfroi, Louis Hubert, and Julian. Then Antoine and his wife started repeating names. The next two were Joseph and Jean Baptiste. Then, Augustin.  And finally a girl, Marie Adelaide.

One son, married a Indian Squaw and, moved to somewhere in the area that is now, the State of Michigan.

I have not yet been able to find the family member who makes this true.

But another story sets the family in motion. Cholera came to Canada for the first time in 1832. Antoine (53) and two of his sons (Julian and the younger Joseph, age 12 and 11,) caught it and died in 1834.

The other son… my great Grandfather, was born in 1814.

Nanny’s great grandfather, Louis Hubert, was born in 1814. Like many of his brother’s he left Ste. Croix to make his way in life.

He stayed in Canada, married, had three children, Edward, born 1830, another son, Fred, and a daughter, Angel.

Louis Hubert stayed in Canada, made a living in St. Felix de Kingsey as a blacksmith, married Euphemie Leborgne, and had six children: Eduoard, Alfred, Francois, Angelle, Antoine, and Marie. Eduoard was born in 1848.

Their parents died, when the children, were still very young, and the children were brought up, by their Grandparents, in Canada.

I don’t know who they, of “their parents”, are. Louis Hubert Boisvert died in 1866. His kids ranged in age from ten to eighteen. His wife, Euphemie Leborgne, moved with the kids to Adams, MA. Eduoard and Alfred got married there, to different women, on the same day in 1871. I am not sure who the noble grandparents could possibly be.


I found these truths through records made available by Ancestry, BaNQ, and the PRDH.  They are a story that is verifiable, documentable — but it doesn’t mean that I have stopped loving my Nanny’s memories.  For me, my Nanny’s stories live on besides our family’s new facts.

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Rethinking my family tree

Next spring my son will face the family heritage project at school.  I have been thinking about this a lot lately because he is currently expressing grief over not knowing his birth parents.  And I feel for him — enough to talk to our post adoption counselor about search policies (he must wait until he is 18,) and enough to start thinking about how we will handle the heritage project when it comes up.

Our school tries to make the heritage project inclusive of adoptees by making the family tree just one part of what must be displayed on the poster board.  The bulk of the poster is actually dedicated to one’s family’s heritage.  But what exactly is that supposed to mean.  The Korean-ness I have managed to pass on to him is half-baked and I have pretty much failed to pass on any of the other family ethnic traditions we can lay claim to.  Sure we have attended some Korean cultural events and eat kielbasa and wide varieties of pasta, but if I am honest, I have been raising my kids less on ethnicity and more on sports, Ipads, and cheddar cheese.

My mental preparations for how I will support my son through this school-sanctioned identity crisis has gotten me to think about genealogy in a different way.  Instead of focusing on the question of who are my people, what if I focused on the question of how did my family get here?  This might not solve any issues for my son (or domestic adoptees), but it gives me a way to include my adoptive kids more significantly into my family tree.  Below is a quick sketch of the when and where of my family’s migration to North America.

My hastily drawn arrival tree.  March 2013

My hastily drawn arrival tree. March 2013.

I love this oddly branching tree.  It is a quick reminder of the push and pull of how my family got here.  We came in three waves.  We arrived in the seventeenth century after as the Reformation and Counter-Reformation and the Scientific Revolution shook up European practices and created opportunities in the “New” World.  We arrived in the nineteenth century as the Industrial Revolution changed economic practices and sent people searching for new stability.  And we came in the 2000s, products of globalization and adoption politics.

This tree makes me feel closer to all my accumulated ties – the Italian, the French, the Irish, the German, the Jewish, the Korean, the Norwegian, the Swedish, and the Polish.  And it gives me confidence that if I can find a tree that I feel is particularly suited to me, my son will too.

If thinking about the when and why rather than the who of your family inspires you, I would love to see your arrival trees too.

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Wishy-Washy Racial Categories

Source: family photo

Photo credit: family photo

In 1881, Massachusetts Labor Statistics Commissioner Carroll Davidson Wright declared French Canadians, such as my GG grandparents, “the Chinese of the Eastern States.”  I guess my Korean-born adoptive kids are not the first Asians in my maternal family line….


Want more on adoption and genealogy, try this post: Can adoption and genealogy mix?

Want more on anti-French Canadian bias in 19th century MassachusettsI hope to get more up soon (ie. in the next few weeks.)

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Can adoption and genealogy mix?


Today marks the beginning of the Year of the Snake.  You wouldn’t think that Lunar New Year means anything to a woman of English, French, German, Irish, Italian, and Jewish descent, but it does.  I adopted two children from South Korea.  While I don’t believe that blood makes a family, I do recognize that the world is not going to see my kids as recipients of my whiteness because of the shape of their eyes and the color of their skin.  So it is important to me that I make sure that they are familiar with the culture that everyone else will associate with them.

Part of how my husband and I keep the kids in touch with their birth culture is by incorporating bits of Korean culture into our family mix.  For example, the kids celebrated the Korean version of Lunar New Year, Seollal, last weekend.  They watched a dance troupe perform, they tried on traditional hanbok, they ate bulgogi and mandu, they sae-bae bowed and were rewarded with New Years’ cash.  This event was put on by a lovely group of first generation Korean-American teenagers and their parents who want to teach Korean-ness to adoptees.

And I was not there because I was off learning how to hunt down my Canadian ancestors on the internet.

It had been a hard call to spend the day seeking dead relatives rather spend it affirming my kids’ identity.  And when my phone beeped, I half-expected an emergency – because that is always what I expect when I am separated from my kids.  So I checked my phone….  And no, a crisis didn’t materialize.  Instead it was my husband sharing a few pictures of the kids in hanboks and letting me know that everyone was having a good time.  And I was so pleased and relieved that I shared the photos with the small group of folks that I was gathered with.

I know, I know.  It was incredibly rude to disturb the group with my phone.  But everyone was so supportive; they cooed over the kids and their cuteness.  And then the juxtaposition of my clearly adopted children and the genealogical setting overwhelmed one of my groupmates who blurted out: Too bad that all the work you are doing on your genealogy will be meaningless to your kids.  And our companion, whose beloved niece adopted a daughter from China, nodded her head.

And I get it.  I had been wondering what my adoptive kids would make of my passion for genealogy too.  But in the moment I was gob smacked by this new variation on the “adoptive families aren’t real” theme.  That in the end, blood is all that matters.  And maybe blood is all that matters to genealogists.

In South Korea, Lunar New Year is celebrated over three days.  Families gather and pay respect to both dead and living elders.  They feast on traditional foods.  They play traditional games and watch tv together.  The important part being that families are together – usually at the house of the oldest patriarch or his eldest son.  Blood matters to Koreans.  Lunar New Year is an opportunity to celebrate it.

But in my heart of hearts, I can’t believe that blood is everything.  So in the end this is how I responded to my fellow ancestor enthusiasts (and my own) doubts:  No, this family tree will mean a lot to my kids.  It is the story of their cultural heritage, the many ways that their family arrived in the U.S.  This cultural heritage shapes them just as sure as their Korean roots are reshaping me.  And some day, I hope to add their family’s stories to the tree.

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Which families deserve to have their story told?

Different types of family exist.  We have blood family, and social family. We have immediate and extended families.  We have intact families and broken families –and reformed families that are blended or mixed.

We have happy families and unhappy families and deeply troubled families.  We have the families that we start with and the families that we end with.  We have families that are built by birth, by adoption, by marriage, and by choice.  We have temporary families and forever families.  We have the family that we know and the family that we don’t — or maybe we have the family that we know, and the family that we know too well.

Do they all count?  Do they all matter when doing family history? For me, yes. And part of that is because I am a product of my times and my times have seen the validation of all sorts of family forms.  It used to be that a married husband and wife were the only acceptable foundation for family life — which is why my grandmother turned from her favorite sister, my great aunt Mary.

Mary served her country in World War II, built a career as a nurse, handcrafted Christmas ornaments for my family, and failed to accept a single suitor’s proposal even though my grandmother says that she had more than a few.

In the end my grandmother responded to social norms in a rather predictable way.  She could have held her favorite sister tighter.  But Nanny married in 1941 and fell sway to both the expectations of companionate marriage and the return to ‘traditional’ family life.  She didn’t realize that family forms shift over time in response to changing economic and philosophical needs* — and ultimately, Nanny could only embrace those who had made the same choices she had.

Me, I love my great aunt Mary even though I can’t recall knowing her.  I love that her story isn’t traditional.  And I love that her story is one that reflects an individual’s unique responses to the expectations, obstacles, and opportunities of an ordinary life.

*Here is a concise overview of American family history.

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