March 13 — Moment of Strength: share a story where a female ancestor showed courage or strength in a difficult situation.
When my Grampy, Henry Bowen, was dying of pancreatic cancer in May of 1973, my grandmother, Lil, had to show incredible strength and courage.
Grampy in March of 1971
On May 24, 1973, just 4 days before Grampy died - Nana's sister, Mary, died. Nana never let my grandfather know that not only was she dealing with watching her husband die, she also had to attend the wake and funeral of her sister in between her bedside vigils for my grandfather. She put on the brave face and continued to visit him and he never knew that Mary had died.
Nana and Grampy in December of 1971
I can't even begin to imagine the heartache she went through at that time. Grampy was the love of Nana's life. At the time of his death, Nana and Grampy had been married 41 years and had 15 children together. It must have been tearing her heart out to watch him slipping away - and then to lose her sister at the same time. She did it, though. She did what needed to be done and got through it as hard as that must have been for her.
March 10 — What role did religion play in your family? How did your female ancestors practice their faith? If they did not, why didn’t they? Did you have any female ancestors who served their churches in some capacity?
I tend to write more about my father's Irish/Catholic side of the family, only because I know more about them. My mother's side of the family was Protestant and I knew very few of them.
St. Patrick's Church, Roxbury, MA
Religion played a large part in our lives growing up. We attended St. Patrick's Church in Roxbury, MA - St. Pat's for short. I attended St. Pat's grammar and high schools for 12 years and at one point, even wanted to be a nun! My great-aunt was a Sister of Charity until her death a little over a year ago. I can't remember what her original 'sister' name was, but later in life it was Sr. Frances Boyle. Here I am with her at my First Communion:
When I was younger, religious events were great celebrations - not so much anymore. Weddings, baptisms, Confirmation, funerals, First Confessions, First Communions - all were celebrated with High Mass. The adults wore their very best and after each event, there would be a big family get-together.
My father with his father (Grampy) on his First Communion
Here I am with Nana and Grampy Bowen at my First Communion
We wore our best clothes to church every Sunday and would never dare to show up in jeans or sweats. Little girls wore their chapel veils and boys always took off their hats before entering the church. The May Procession, celebrating Our Blessed Mother, was a beautiful occasion. Mary's statue would lead the procession throughout the neighborhoods, followed by hundreds of the faithful carrying flowers and singing: "Oh Mary, we crown thee with blossoms today. Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May." I can't believe I still remember those words! But I guess that's how much of an impact it made on me and what a beautiful memory it is.
We strictly followed the rules: no meat on Fridays in Lent and always found something to give up for Lent; completely silent from 12 noon to 3 PM on Good Friday; church every Sunday and if you didn't go, you better have been dead - or close to it; no eating for an hour after Communion - writing that reminded me of the scene in Angela's Ashes after Frankie McCourt made his First Communion. If you haven't seen that movie and want more of an idea of what it was like to grow up Irish/Catholic - it's a must see. Of course I didn't grow up on the streets of Limerick, but the basic tenets of the movie still apply. Going to Confession every Saturday afternoon was a must. Of course, I had to make stuff up every week because I was such an angel. Just ask my mother, I'm sure she'll confirm that! ;-)
The church pictured above has housed the celebrations of generations of my family - but no more. No family members are left in Roxbury as of the early 1990s. Religion doesn't seem to play that big of a role in our family anymore. I have nieces and nephews who have never been baptized. Weddings are done by ministers or a Justice of the Peace now.
During the 1880s, St. Pat's issued postcards for just a few years. I found a laminated one online and bought it. Even back then, members of my family were attending this church.
Philetus Pollock and Susan Brewster are my 3rd greatgrandparents and they are one of my biggest brick walls. Philetus was born in 1826 in Canterbury, CT and Susan was born in anywhere from 1832 to 1835 in Franklin, CT - depending on which census you look at. I've never been able to definitively find Philetus' parents, but I think his father may be William Pollock, born 1800 in CT. I have Susan's death certificate, so know who her parents are, but have never been able to find a birth record.
I got a copy of Philetus' NARA record and in those records is a form he signed stating he and Susan were married on October 12, 1848 in Franklin, CT by the Reverend Dr. Nott. I've called several town clerks in that area and no one has a record of that marriage. However, I called the Franklin town clerk again today and she found a marriage record for Philetus Pollock and Susan POLLOCK from May 3, 1857! They have a daughter, Emma, who was born in 1853. Did they divorce and remarry?? The clerk read the marriage record to me and of course, no parents' names are listed, but it did say that Susan was born in Franklin, CT, so hopefully her birth record will be on the film I've ordered from familysearch.org.
The clerk also gave me the name and number for a person at the church in town that keeps the records of Reverend Dr. Nott but I haven't been able to reach her yet.
I think a road trip to Connecticut is in order for this spring to see if I can solve this mystery!
Thanks for reading!
ADDENDUM: I did end up finding the original marriage certificate - of course, no parents' names for Philetus. So it does look like they married, divorced and remarried.
March 7 — Share a favorite recipe from your mother or grandmother’s kitchen. Why is this dish your favorite? If you don’t have one that’s been passed down, describe a favorite holiday or other meal you shared with your family.
My personal favorite recipe from my grandmother is definitely not a favorite of others in the family! Creamed fish! YUM! It's made with dried, salted cod and served over potatoes or toast. I usually wing this recipe, so am trying to write from memory.
Dried cod fish (the kind in the wooden box) 1 box frozen peas Stick of butter 2 cups of milk Flour/water thickening paste - (1 cup of water, add flour to make a syrupy texture)
Soak the fish overnight in a pot of water. I personally love the more salty taste, so I don't soak it overnight, just for a few hours. Next day, replace the water and bring to a boil. Cook until the fish flakes.
While that's cooking, melt the stick of butter in a frying pan and then add the milk and peas. Add the thickening mixture and cook over low heat, stirring frequently. When the fish is done, add it and let it all cook until the mixture is like a thick gravy. Serve over mashed potatoes or toast.
My grandmother lived 'up the street' (family joke) and she would send creamed fish 'down the street' to my father. I would drive him crazy as a kid because more often than not, I'd eat half of it on him! But what goes around comes around - my daughter now does the same thing to me. :)
March 6 — Describe an heirloom you may have inherited from a female ancestor (wedding ring or other jewelry, china, clothing, etc.) If you don’t have any, then write about a specific object you remember from your mother or grandmother, or aunt (a scarf, a hat, cooking utensil, furniture, etc.)
The only things I've ever inherited have been from my grandmother, "Lil", Elizabeth Catherine (Boyle) Bowen. When she passed, some of her belongings were given to me: her watch, pearls, mink stole, the last check she wrote and a letter that she wrote to her kids that went with her will.
My grandmother's "Mother's ring" was inherited by her daughter, Anne. When Anne passed, the ring was given to my daughter. The ring is very special - it has 15 stones - one for each of her children. I can remember looking at it as a child and asking her which stone was for my father. She always wore the ring on her middle finger and after my grandfather passed, she wore his onyx on her other middle finger. Here is my daughter, her namesake, modeling the mink stole and ring.
I loved her mink stole and always thought how glamorous she looked in it!