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A Haunting Reality

Over the years, I have learned many things about life and myself by researching my ancestors. Through interviewing my parents, grandparents and other descendants, making visits to town halls, libraries, vital statistic offices and cemeteries I have discovered several things about my family’s past. Every now and then though, this look back comes with a very unexpected and haunting look forward.

The story of my great grandfather, Robert Henry Williams has always been a mystery. My grandfather was only 13 when his father passed away from a massive heart attack at the age of 39. Being as young as my grandfather was when he became the “man of the house”, he really didn’t know or remember a lot about his father.

Grandpa was able to tell me that Robert was born in Waterville, Maine. He said that he remembered taking trips to Vermont with his parents to visit his father’s family. I also learned that Robert was a WWI veteran who served in France as a wagoner. The only story passed down through the family about his service, had to do with trench warfare and Robert being “gassed”… Tear gas? Chlorine? Mustard, perhaps?

Following the war, Robert became the district manager for Waldorf Café, which had him traveling around New England. He married my great grandmother, Marjorie Washburn and together they had a total of seven children. The family seemed to be living a comfortable life in Lynn, Massachusetts when they were dealt an unexpected and devastating blow.

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On April 19, 1935, Robert was in the middle of a meeting inside a Waldorf Café freezer when he began to feel ill. His co-workers instructed him to lay down on the floor of the freezer while they called for a doctor. By the time the doctor arrived to have a look at Robert, he was feeling better.

Shortly after the doctor left, my great grandfather died of a massive heart attack.

Growing up I had heard many stories about the chaos that followed Robert’s death. His untimely passing changed my grandfather’s family forever. Outside of the obvious emotional and financial problems, he and his siblings watched on as their mother (who was pregnant with her seventh child) was forced to make tough decisions in – what she believed to be – the best interest of her family.

I have often wondered, as I am sure the family did, how different their lives would have been had Robert lived to an old age. It’s no surprise my grandfather and his siblings knew so little about their father, they were so young when they lost him. As they got older, their days were spent going to school and finding odd jobs to help their mother financially. Their focus wouldn’t have been on enjoying their childhood; it would have been focused on survival.

My grandfather’s story has always upset me.

I couldn’t imagine how hard life was for his family and I couldn’t imagine losing my father at the age of 13. It made me realize how fortunate I was; not only did I have an amazing grandfather, he and my grandmother gave me an amazing father.

Listening to my grandfather’s stories, I could tell he wished he knew more about his father. His need to know more motivated me to do some digging… I wanted to know more as well. What kind of man was he? What did he do in the war? What was his childhood like? What was his family like? All of these questions lead me to many places, one of which was Chestnut Hill Cemetery in Burlington, Massachusetts.

There I was… finally standing in front of his headstone for the first time…

My stomached turned, I began to tremble and my eyes welled up with tears… I thought I was going to be sick. Having been so set on learning more about my great grandfather, I wasn’t prepared for the haunting reality that was waiting for me at that headstone.

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“Robert Henry Williams”, it read…

The same name as my brother, my father and my grandfather, who were all alive and well… Three men in my life that meant the world to me… and there was their name, etched in the cold granite staring back at me. I cried uncontrollably while I tore away at the grass and dirt that had begun growing over the ground level stone with my hands.

While the purpose of the visit was to learn more about my great grandfather, I walked away with much more than that. As important as it is to learn about your family’s past, it is just as important to learn how to be present.

Too many of us take our loved ones for granted. We forget (or refuse to acknowledge) that they won’t always be there. We tell ourselves we’ll visit, call or email tomorrow, this weekend or next week. Life gets crazy, we get sidetracked with day-to-day bullshit and we make excuses.

What’s the old saying, “time waits for no man”?

As if my grandfather’s story of loss wasn’t enough, it took seeing the names of my loved ones carved in stone for that message to stick.

Robert Williams Sr

Today’s Advice? Get off your buttocks and reach out to your loved ones. It’s time spent you’ll never regret.

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On a Lark with Captain Fairfield

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There are times when all I want is a getaway with my guy or have a weekend away with the girls… then there are moments where I am badly in need of a little “me” time. When I find myself in such a place, I like to look for somewhere new to explore, refresh, unplug and hide.

There is nothing more liberating than ditching your daily routine to do what you want, when you want-without having to worry about boring anyone else or playing by their rules.

Being the history nerd that I am, I tend to find sanctuary in older locations that embrace their roots and a simpler lifestyle. On a recent solo trip, I was able to find all of the above and more at the Captain Fairfield Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine.

The Captain Fairfield Inn, one of many boutique style locations owned by Lark Hotels, has so many amazing things to offer its guests.

Here are five things that left a lasting impression on me during my stay…

 A Story to Tell…

Those who know me, know I love a good story rich in history and intrigue – Captain Fairfield didn’t disappoint!

Following their marriage, newlyweds Captain James Fairfield and Lois Walker were given a plot of land in Kennebunkport as a wedding gift. It was on this land in 1813, that they built a Federal-style mansion, known today as the Captain Fairfield Inn.

Shortly after its completion, Captain Fairfield invited his sister Polly and her husband Joseph Lord to live with him and Lois. Since James and Joseph were both sea captains, they hoped their wives could keep each other company while they were away at sea for long periods of time.

The time apart between the women and their husbands was one I could relate to personally. Although I am not married, I have dated a man who lives in Australia for the last five years and it’s hard to not find the distance unbearable at times.

Even still, I could not fully imagine what life was like for these ladies… having lived in a time without phones, video chat, text and email, all they could do is wait for a letter to arrive and pray for their husbands’ safe return.

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A Mix of Old & New…

The Captain Fairfield Inn has a mix of new and old elements that really give it its own unique vibe. The rooms, decorated in both new and old furniture, were covered in pops of bold, modern colors and eye-catching patterns.

What really made me fall in love with the inn though, were the unexpected surprises.

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On a tour of the property, the original pine floors and decorative trim caught my attention immediately. I don’t think I could have smiled any wider when the floorboards began to creak beneath my feet!

The second nerdy smile involved the music playing throughout the first floor. Sinatra, Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald, Jimmy Durante, Louis Armstrong… all musicians I love listening to when I’m badly in need of a chill out.

The final goofy grin came just as I was getting ready for bed… while lowering the blinds in my room, I noticed the windows were the old weight and pulley system style. Mentally, they brought me right back to one of my best childhood memories- living in my great grandmother’s old house.

Although I do enjoy inns that are furnished with antique and vintage pieces, I sometimes find them hard to fully relax in out of fear of breaking something. With Captain Fairfield’s mix of old and new, you trade the stuffy museum feel for a location that feels more like a cozy home away from home.

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A Few of My Favorite Things…

Adding to the home away from home feel were the amenities.

How many locations hand you an ipad on arrival to use for the duration of your stay? The Captain Fairfield Inn was a first for me. The ipad was loaded with apps that helped familiarize me with Kennebunkport, the inn and gave me the opportunity to browse other Lark Hotels’ locations.

Breakfast was fantastic and consisted of freshly made, small plates that you could mix and match. This was no “one boring plate serves all” scenario. From lemon-ginger scones, sea salt & cracked pepper biscuits and sweet breads to coconut and currant oatmeal, caprese baked eggs with basil and tomato, and a berry granola salad… breakfast was worth getting up for.

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Then there was the coffee station and wine nook located just off the dinning room.

After 3pm, all I could smell throughout the first floor were the freshly baked cookies waiting to be devoured in the coffee station… and devour, I did.

In the adjacent wine nook, there was a fridge full of complimentary sodas and a counter full of freshly made pastries.

Wine and beer were available for purchase, but the thing I loved most about it was that it was all accounted for by honor system. Grab your beverage(s) of choice, then write your name, room number, date and quantity on a sheet fixed to the refrigerator door.

Trust & honesty… Two things there aren’t enough of these days.

Helping myself to a couple of cookies and a glass of red, I ended each night at the Captain Fairfield in front of a fireplace in the privacy of my own room.

I couldn’t think of a better way to end a long day!

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Out and About…

Location. Location. Location.

Tucked away on a quiet street, the inn was barely a five-minute walk from the center of town. I literally parked my car at the inn and there it sat for my entire stay.

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I spent my days bouncing from art gallery to art gallery and popping into just about every boutique Kennebunkport had to offer. When it came to great food, there was no shortage.

While Maine is known worldwide for its lobst-ah… I am known locally for my sweet tooth. So, of course two stops were of the sugary variety. From pigging out on dark chocolate and salted caramel ice cream at Rococo’s to watching the world go by with a hot chocolate and pastry at Mornings in Paris… my cavities were in heaven.

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Morning in Paris

Since leaving Maine without having some form of seafood would be the sin of all sins, I decided to splurge on a dinner at Hurricane.

Table for one please!

A candle lit table over looking the water as the sun set… bread paired with a seasoned oil, a wedge salad and a glass of red to start. The main, baked haddock paired with mushroom risotto… What more could a girl ask for?

Besides the company of her handsome Aussie… of course!

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Breaking Misconceptions…

As a New Englander (born and raised), the area has played a big part in making me who I am.

It is my heart.

Having said that, it is funny how you can live in an area your whole life and not really know it. To me, and many others, Kennebunkport is the Bush family compound-a presidential hideaway. It is a well-known, picturesque town with old money.

With money, comes the expectation of snootiness.

…How wrong was I.

I cannot tell you how many genuine conversations I got into with locals, especially shopkeepers or fellow restaurant patrons a table over. And it wasn’t the forced conversation for the sake of conversation either, which is my least favorite thing in the world.

People actually acknowledged each other.

They stopped what they were doing to say hello, to ask how you’re doing or to crack a joke. People’s faces weren’t buried in a phone or avoiding eye contact… they were relaxed and welcomed interaction. Taking in the beachy, seaside setting, their laid back nature was contagious.

I honestly felt like I was on another planet, one much friendlier than I am used to.

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When it comes to escaping your normal day to day for a little time away… there are times when you just need a place to drop your bags and then there are times you want a place that will enhance your overall experience.

The Captain Fairfield Inn is a special place where history meets the modern world, allowing guests to step back into simpler times while giving them the ability to stay connected.

I couldn’t have found a better place to hide while not really hiding at all. Hidden-in-plain-sight, The Captain Fairfield Inn gave me a chance to get away from the day-to-day stress and minutia to explore the history and culture of a unique seaside town.

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The Mystery of Alice McCurdy

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Anyone who has spent years researching their family history will tell you to be prepared for hidden surprises. The lives of our ancestors were just as complicated back then as our lives are today. I think most of us tend to forget they were living breathing people until we start uncovering their lives through the paper trail they left behind. Even after 20 years of research, uncovering my family’s secrets, I must admit that one of my ancestors left me speechless and feeling a little lost last night.

My 2nd great grandmother Alice McCurdy had been a bit of a mystery to me for many years. I knew she existed, she appeared on my great grandfather’s death certificate and I was able to find a marriage certificate for her and my 2nd great grandfather, Melville Williams. However, it wasn’t until the last couple of weeks that some new documents emerged, which helped fill in some missing pieces to her story.

About a week ago I had stumbled upon her death certificate online. I felt like I had hit the jackpot with that discovery since she had been a difficult one to track. From the death certificate I learned she was only 34 when she passed away… the same age I am now. To make matters worse, she left behind a husband and three young children, one of which was my great grandfather Robert Henry Williams.

I had figured she had died young over the years since she didn’t appear in the 1900 census living with her husband, children and parents, Henry Martin McCrudy and Frances Abby Hinds. Given the situation, I figured her parents must have moved in to help Melville with the children. It wasn’t until I got this missing puzzle piece (Alice’s death record) that I was able to learn she died of “Phthisis”, commonly known as Tuberculosis or “consumption”.

As most of us know today tuberculosis was a horrible infectious disease. Many people died from it since it was easily spread by air through the coughs and sneezes of an affected person. Tuberculosis victims would end up weak and gaunt, coughing up blood while suffering from night sweats and extreme weight loss. In many cases, those who were kind enough to care for infected victims ended up coming down with the disease themselves. This was the case for my great grandfather, Percy Leslie’s 16-year-old sister who came down with it after caring for an elderly neighbor who suffered from it.

Learning that this was how my 2nd great grandmother died, I felt horrible. What a terrible thing for the family to witness and for Alice, what a horrible end. At the same time, I felt so fortunate that the disease did not spread to the rest of the family. Had it spread, I would not be here today. Learning her cause of death also made me think back on the many TB hospitals I have visited over the years and the awful stories that came out of them. Did Alice end up in one of these hospitals? That is now on my list of things to research next.

Just as I was finally getting over this new bit of news surrounding Alice’s death, researching her father Henry Martin McCurdy let me in on another family secret.

A few weeks ago I decided to go back through my family tree as an attempt to fill in missing information and just to clean it up. I began writing outlines for each family member, double checking all the details and making more of a story out of the information I had gathered. After finishing up on Alice, I moved on to her father last night. Going through Henry’s information I saw that he married Frances Abby Hinds on January 6, 1864 in Boston, Massachusetts. Skipping ahead to the 1870 U.S. Federal Census I found Henry (age 31) and Frances (age 30) living in Pittston, Maine. Recording all the information I could gather on Henry, I then moved on to the 1880 U.S. Federal Census where I noticed… something just doesn’t add up.

In the 1880 census my 2nd great grandmother Alice makes her first appearance, however I realized that it said she was 13 years old. “Well, this can’t be right…” I thought. If she was 13 in the 1880 census, she should have appeared in the 1870 census with her parents. Knowing that an age being off on a census isn’t that uncommon, I figured I would take a closer look… and there it was…

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Alice was adopted. Just like that, in a matter of seconds everything I thought I knew about my McCurdy branch was wrong. Two little letters left me with a million questions and a sick feeling in my stomach.

Who is Alice? Where did she come from and who were her birth parents? Why did they give her up? The only time I have dealt with adoption in my family the child was adopted by another family member… could this be the case with Alice? Then at least part of the tree I had for her would still be correct. However this all made me wonder, how many ancestors do we have hiding in our trees that were adopted and we have no idea? Entire sections of our tree would be wrong when it comes to tracing bloodlines. If it weren’t for me deciding to clean up my tree and this one document pointing out the adoption, I would have never known.

While I am now left feeling blindsided and facing a new roadblock with Alice, I can’t help but also feel very appreciative towards Henry Martin McCrudy and Francis Abby Hinds. They not only took in my second great grandmother, they took in her children after she passed away. As I said, the 1900 census showed Henry and Frances living in the house of Alice’s husband but the 1910 census showed the kids still living with Frances (who was then widowed) with their father no where to be found.

Last night I learned that it doesn’t matter how long you have been into genealogy or how much you think you know about your family, there is always room to be surprised.

 

 

Have you dealt with adoption in your family tree? Any advice on breaking through the dead end? Are you currently battling that road block? Keep an eye out for updates on Alice’s story as I attempt to find the names of Alice’s birth parents.