As far as I can remember, while looking at our family’s old photo albums with my mother, I remember asking:
“Who are these people?”
“My American cousins, from Cohoes, New York”, would reply my mother. “During the summer, we would travel down there by car to pay them a visit. In the early days, my grandparents would come along as well.”
About six years ago, while I was babbling about my researches (my mother was a good listener even though she had no particular interest in genealogy), she turned to me:
“Do you think you would be able to find out how we are related to them?” she asked.
I got up and went to the computer, a big grin on my face.
“What do you remember about them?” I asked.
“The oldest was Delima Betournay, she was married to Sam. Her maiden name was Denis (or Lanoville, as Denis is a “dit” name) because she was related to my paternal grandfather, Joseph Denis. Delima had three daughters: Rose, Laura and Rita. They were living at 63 White Street in Cohoes.”
“Rose! Isn’t she the one who used to send us Christmas cards when I was a kid?” I said.
“Yes”, my mother replied. “Rose was married to Howard Van Buskirk; Laura was married to Sylvester Moak and Rita… Well, I don’t remember her husband’s name but I surely remember Marilyn, her daughter.”
“Mom, let me see the photo album again!”
“There, you see, Marilyn, Manda, Florida, Delima, Sam, Philip…”, she went on. “There was also George Denis and his wife, Anna Daus, but it seems these two do not appear in the pictures”, she continued.
“Wait”, I said. “All these people were called Denis?”
“Manda is Delima’s sister. Her husband was named Bergmann. Florida was married to Philip Denis”, she said.
“So he was Delima’s brother, right?”
“I guess so”, she said hesitantly.
“But you’re not sure?”
“Yeah, his name was Philip Denis”, she insisted.
At that point, I’ve decided trying to find Delima in Montréal records as we knew for sure she emigrated to the States. Lanoville is not a common name so I did track her down rather easily. She was born and baptized in Montréal (Sacré-Coeur Parish), on February 10, 1877. Her parents were Antoine Lanoville and Adélaïde Biette (sometimes, Billette), married in 1866 in Montréal. Antoine Lanoville: that name rang a bell for sure! My GG grandfather was named Antoine Lanoville. It turned out that Delima’s father was my GG grandfather’s son from his first marriage to Adélaïde Laurendeau.
“Hey, mom, I got it! Delima was not your grandfather’s cousin, she was her half-niece”, I said triumphantly.
Of course my mother was satisfied with this information but I wasn’t.
With that in hand, I turned to the 1900 census, hoping to find Antoine and Adélaïde Biette in Cohoes and I did.
The most interesting information for me in such a case is the one in the following boxes: “Mother of how many children” and “Number of these children living”. Oh! My God, she had sixteen children, seven still living in 1900! They emigrated to the States in 1878 and they were naturalized. So I have only five children, Delia, Manda, Florida and Duvola (George), and Delima married to Sam. Florida…?
“Mom! Are you sure your Philip’s surname was Denis? Look, Manda’s there and she has a sister named Florida. Do you think that Florida was the one with the Denis surname?”
“I have no clue”, she says.
While entering all this information on Ancestry, the name of Marilyn had a shaky leaf. It came from a member’s tree. It even had a picture of her as an adult. She had died more than two decades before.
“Marilyn’s passed away?!” my mother said dumbfounded. Marilyn was much younger than she was.
I therefore attached Marilyn to my tree and afterwards someone wrote to me, wondering why his mother was attached to my tree. And there you go, cousin Frank and I connected.
Since that productive evening, I then had the opportunity to look into Cohoes church repertoires where I came across Albina (1875-1910), married to Clément Lacombe and Joseph (ca 1870-?), married to Marie-Louise Michaud.
Determined to satisfy my mother’s queries about the past, I invited her on a trip down memory lane in Cohoes the next summer. She was so happy. We saw the house on White Street. We went to St. Agnes cemetery in Cohoes. We didn’t find Delima and Sam’s headstone but other people’s, my mother at least learning when they died. She kept telling me stories, she loved talking about the old days.
I was later told by Cousin Frank that Delima and Sam were actually buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery. My mother and I went back to Cohoes but no trace of them there neither but were able to locate other family members. I still have to continue my researches in order to identify the lot where they were buried in.
Lately, while browsing on an Ancestry public member tree, I learned that a Philip Deadware was married to a Florence Denis! Thanks to a recent newspapers.com subscription, I read almost all their obituaries which led me to confirm that Philip Deadware was in fact my mother’s “Philip Denis”. Mom, wherever you are, I found HIM!
However, in spite of those small victories, some people on that picture still have their story to be told. I was contacted recently by a relative of a sibling of Anna Daus, George Denis’ wife. I am hoping someone somewhere will be able to identify my “American cousins”!
I also have this old picture, probably from 1926 as my mother was not born yet, which is one of my favorite. My mother told me long ago these were people from Cohoes. Was she right? Well, at least we recognize Sam Betournay on that picture (last row, fourth from the right, with the dark hat).
This is my message in a bottle that I’m throwing out into sea. I am not in a hurry, I’ll be patient.