sun 18 may 2008 06:32:28 witte de withstraat
my ancestors are back!
i remember someone telling me that in certain languages the slogan "coke adds life!" translated to "coke brings your ancestors back from the dead!"
anyway today i managed to open my old gedcom file from 2001, into which i had been studiously entering as much info about my family as i could, until i forgot, or got distracted, or moved to holland or something. basically i had the start of a genealogy database for myself, but didn't get very far.
tonight i was able to "remember" some things i'd been letting the computer remember for seven years. the stimulus: my niece lee anne is trying to start her own family tree, and asked me and my sibs a bunch of questions about names and birth and death dates.
one time in 2001 i had auntie audrey on the phone and was about to interview her to get more information about my ancestors, but she had to get off the phone because somebody was gonna deliver a sofa, and then i never got round to calling her back, and then she freakin died on me. missed that opportunity huh. auntie audrey isn't actually in my blood line, she just seemed to be one of those people who remembered a lot about other people's business. she was the wife of my father's brother.
right after the end of the second world war, my mother (olivia may giles) was working at schrafft's restaurant on boylston street in boston. audrey was working there too, that's how they met. at the time olivia and my dad (william francis collins jr) were living in an apartment across the river in cambridge ma. i wanna call them newlyweds, but they were actually married in 43, then each of them went off an joined the armed forces (my dad a navy seabee, my mom a wac). anyway somehow olivia introduced audrey to my father's brother, fred collins, aka "uncle bud". they got together, married and eventually had eight kids. this is why i call her "prolific audrey".
right after the war there was a housing shortage. my mom was already pregnant with val. auntie edna, who lived at 6 kirk street in methuen ma, phoned my father to say the house at 4 kirk street was for sale. in 1946 somehow my dad and mom bought that little house (total price ca USD 6000, but they needed 30 years to pay it off). for a time, auntie audrey and uncle bud lived *with* them in that house. i wonder what the heck that must have been like. obviously this was before prolific audrey started popping kids left and right. anyway 12 years later i was born, and i grew up in that house by the corner of kirk and tenney streets. we lived right on the town line of methuen and lawrence, part of our back garden was in lawrence. my birthplace is lawrence, not that i was born in the back yard, but at lawrence general hospital on the bank of the merrimack river.
my furthest back ancestor i know about is called elizabeth hamilton, lived in america sometime in the 1800s. she's the grandmother of my crazy grandma eva burns (the one who married william joseph giles the musician / drunk). hamilton is one of my great great grandmothers on the maternal side dus. the only one i know of.
we never did find out much of anything about the mysterious great grandfather william collins, that is my father's grandfather. we think he was one of the immigrants from cork who came to the states in the late 1800s or very early 1900s. those collinses were catholic, i never knew that before 2001. i don't know his full name or the name of his wife. but i am told they were friendly neighbors with a protestant family, richard leach and elizabeth ripley. their son was william francis collins, my grandfather.
the leaches' daughter, louisa leach, was supposedly a strong willed and beautiful woman who, doggone it, was bound and determined to marry william francis collins. when they did, he turned protestant, and the whole mess caused a rift in the family. i guess the collinses and leaches didn't approve of their children intermarrying. i may be reading too much into it, but it sounds like my collins grandfather was literally disowned by his father. and this may be why nobody in my family talked much about that william collins who came over from cork.
my sisters also said that louisa in her old age was a scary looking lady with long straggly white hair and no teeth. i met her once, when i was four or five, at their little dark house at 3 chelmsford street in methuen. shortly before she died. i also met my grandfather william francis collins, the one whose father hadn't approved of his marriage. i met him exactly long enough for him to give me a hershey chocolate bar, which he got from a drawer in a really dark bedroom in the back. these people scared me, i remember that much.
more gossip: william francis collins was in love with somebody else for a long time while he was married to louisa. after louisa died circa 1962, he got together with said sweetheart and married, and was accepted back into the catholic church, and was buried from st patrick's in south lawrence ma. i don't even remember being told my grandfather died. somebody said my dad had to pay the funeral expenses with no help from his brother, who maybe didn't like the guy or something.
the "disowning" may have just been on the collins side. by the 1950s louisa's mother, elizabeth (ripley) leach, lived right across the street from william and louia on chelmsford street. my sisters met elizabeth and referred to her as "little grandma". elizabeth supposedly came over from england (or scotland?) at age 17, and met richard leach en route, but they didn't marry until they were settled in the states. richard had come over with an invitation to work in the textile mills, so he was probably an experienced weaver or something.