Alfred Genereux: from crime in Boston to fame in Lynn

14 Sep

Alfred Genereux: a 13-year old burglar

I love old newspapers, I mean I really do, especially being so far away from my country I really appreciate the fact that I can research my family history (or just history in general) from the comfort of my own home nestled in the French Alps countryside.  I have discovered several articles about my ancestors who went stateside in the late 19th century that helped me flesh out their lives in New Hampshire, California and Massachusetts.

Here is one individual that gave me plenty of hours of research in newspapers: Alfred Genereux, son of Paul Genereux. He was born on the 9th of November, 1862 in Quebec city. He moved with his family to Boston around 1869. He married Minnie Etta Cash (daughter of Charles Emery Cash 1832-1907 and Elisabeth Chapman 1835-1886) on the 1st of March 1892, in Lynn, Essex, Massachusetts. But before he was married, Alfred was a very naughty boy.

In the space of ten years, he got arrested at least three times for burglary and theft. On his first attempt Alfred was only aged 13!

Source: The Boston Post, 18 May 1875, p.3 on Newspapers.com

Source: The Boston Post, 18 May 1875, p.3 on Newspapers.com

Source: The Boston Daily Globe, 5 Jan 1876, p.5 on Genealogybank.com

Source: The Boston Daily Globe, 5 Jan 1876, p.5 on Genealogybank.com

Source: The Boston Herald, 8 Oct 1884, p. 4 on Genealogybank.com

Source: The Boston Herald, 8 Oct 1884, p. 4 on Genealogybank.com

Luckily, he put a stop to his youthful enthusiasm for shiny things and married his Etta. They had four children :

Alfred went on to become a Century Road Club Centurion for the region of Lynn, he won several bicycle races and became involved in local fraternities such as The Improved Order of Red Men, the Odd Fellows Society, the Knights of Pythias as well as local cycling clubs.

Source: Boston Globe, Sep 8th 1926, p.10

Source:
Boston Globe, Sep 8th 1926, p.10

 

Online Newspapers Archives Quick Tips

There are so many newspapers archives out there that it can seem a bit daunting so I’m sharing (again) a few tips for researchers out there who want to get the best out of newspapers.

  • Start your research by identifying a location (state, county, city, etc) that might have an online archive of newspapers. I use the U.S. Newspaper Directory from the Library of Congress to locate specific newspapers (online or not) and publication dates.
  • Don’t spell properly : OCR is not infallible so whenever I search for a surname (especially foreign ones), I use wildcards (they are your best friends in online research). A “*” to replace a given letter in a word and a “?” to replace the ending of a word.
  • Search for addresses and locations, names of businesses, neighbors you have found in census records, clubs and fraternities, etc. Anything that might be connected to the individual you are researching.
  • Check out Kenneth R Marks, the Ancestor Hunter’s Beginners Guide to Newspapers Research for Genealogy: this is the best info and updated lists of links to several newspaper archives in the U.S. and Canada

There is one thing missing out on big newspapers archives databases: the possibility to create alerts for a specific individual, newspaper or time frame in a given region. That would certainly help my research instead of having to crawl through the websites every so often to search for a reference.

Aime Belanger AKA “Jack Acer” : A naturalization mystery

8 Sep

I learn a lot about my genealogy research every day, especially that I can be prone to overconfidence. I said in my last post, that finding french-canadian cousins in the USA was an easy task for me: this one got the best of me after 48 hours of research. Aime Belanger did indeed cross the Canadian border in 1923, in Vermont but until his untimely death in 1988, this man remains a complete mystery.

Let’s start with what I know:

  • Aime Joseph Charles Napoleon Belanger was born in St-Etienne de Lauzon (parish), Quebec on 12 August 1907 to Napoleon Belanger and Anna Blanchet;
  • He is with his family in 1911, in the Canadian Census;
  • No trace of him in the 1921 Canadian Census;
  • He died on 10 October 1998, in Volusia, Florida according to the Social Security Death Index;
  • His Social Security Number says it was issued in Maryland.

I have managed to track down two obituaries for him: the first is in the Orlando Sentinel, 12 October 1988, p.2 (source: genealogybank.com), the other is in the News-Journal, Daytona Beach, 12 October 1988, p. 10A. This last one gave me the hint that I was looking at the right individual (you can read the obituary here in Google Archive News). The names of his siblings correspond to the family tree I have of his parents Napoleon and Anna. So far, so good. However, when I started researching Aime, I had no knowledge whatsoever of what happened to him between 1923 and 1988! From his obituary, he moved to Volusia, Florida around 1976. At the time, he was living in Unionville, Connecticut and worked for United Tool & Die, in Elmwood, Connecticut. His wife’s name is Agnes.

Using reverse search techniques, I have managed to track down Aime in Hartford, Connecticut from 1953 to about 1967 in Ancestry.com City Directories database. In one of the records, in 1953, I found Agnes’ previous husband, Harry H Hallstrom (he died in 1949, in Connecticut).

Agnes H Hallstrom in 1953, married Aime Belanger

Source: Ancestry.com City Directories database

I have not found any record of their marriage in Connecticut but in Agnes’ obituary, 8 September 1996 in the Hartford Courant, I learned that her full name was Agnes Helen Skac from Collinsville, Connecticut and was the wife of the late Harry Hallstrom and the late Aime Belanger.

So, the late 50’s available records provided me with information about Aime in Connecticut, but what was he doing before that? I went back to the obituary and found that he was also an World War II Army Veteran: I found a record of his enlistment in the U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File on Ancestry.com. It didn’t give me much apart from his Social Security Number (which fit other info I had found) but not his military serial number. I could have used this to locate any relevant military documents in Ancestry and Fold3 databases. As I searched, I couldn’t find any records of enlistment or military service for him. Knowing he was in the army, I did find a couple of passenger lists from New York showing an Aime Belanger as a messman on navy vessels, his date of birth corresponded and he was stated as being American so there must have been a naturalization process somewhere in his life.

His younger brother Alexis Belanger died in 1951 in Hartford, Connecticut, in his newspaper obituary and funeral service article, Aime is said to be living in Harbor, Oregon. I used this piece of info to track him down in city directories but with no luck.

I was left with two options in my research: census records and naturalization records. The first one didn’t not give me any results, Aime Belanger is not found either on the 1930 or 1940 US Censuses. I remembered that his SSN was issued in Maryland; I ultimately found an indexed entry in the U.S. Naturalization Records Indexes, 1794-1995 on Ancestry again however the name entered was “Jack Acer” and between brackets [Aime Joseph Charles Napoleon Belanger].

"Jack Acer" Source: NARA M1168. Index cards for Naturalization Petitions filed in the U.S. Circuit and District Courts for Maryland, 1797-1951 on Fold3.com

“Jack Acer”
Source: NARA M1168. Roll 18 Index cards for Naturalization Petitions filed in the U.S. Circuit and District Courts for Maryland, 1797-1951 on Fold3.com

Now, on Ancestry I did not have any further information about why his name was changed to Jack Acer so I used Family Search to locate Maryland Naturalization Index cards and it did give me two entries on Fold3 and I found this card next in the roll:

"Jack Acer" Source: NARA M1168. Index cards for Naturalization Petitions filed in the U.S. Circuit and District Courts for Maryland, 1797-1951 on Fold3.com

“Jack Acer”
Source: NARA M1168. Index cards for Naturalization Petitions filed in the U.S. Circuit and District Courts for Maryland, 1797-1951 on Fold3.com

His name was changed by order of the court from Aime Joseph Charles Napoleon Belanger to Jack Acer! My first question is why? I understand that name changes are frequent in immigration to the USA; foreign names made “bad publicity” to the immigrant communities in the last century so they did anglicize their names. I have seen my surname, Goulet, changed to Goulett, Goulette and Goulais in the USA. I have also seen “translations” like “Couture” (as in the verb sow) to “Seams”. Nonetheless, I have no idea Aime’s name was changed so dramatically. Unfortunately, I have no access to physical archives and I can’t see his naturalization certificate for myself. I did notice that on the index card, he was residing at the Holabird Q. M. Depot, Camp Holabird, Maryland. It was an old US Army facility (now closed) in Maryland.

My GOD (Genealogical obsessive disorder) tells me there is something more to discover in Aime’s life from his arrival in the USA in 1929 to his residence in Hartford in the 1950’s…. and why he changed his name: I welcome any information on this subject!

 

US Immigration forms in the 1920’s: “Are you an anarchist?”

5 Sep

After all the research I’ve completed on my ancestors who went to the USA during the 1850’s, I decided to go back to my close ancestors on dad’s side in the Levis region, south of Quebec city.

Now, in my family tree, there are a lot of Belanger surnames, in fact most marriages between Goulet and Belanger have always been tinted with a touch of consanguinity. People use to marry their first or second cousin all the time! But let’s get back to Quebec where I’ve been extracting information on records on the Belanger family of Levis, St-Jean Chrysostome and Breakeyville region. My 2nd great-granfather Jean-Philippe Belanger (1856-1909) had a son Napoleon Belanger (1881-1937) born in Levis. Napoleon married Anna Blanchet (1882-ca1925) on 25 Aug 1904 in Quebec city.

Amongst their children, Aime Belanger was born in August 1907: according to family he left with his younger brother Alexis J (1910-1951) to Berlin, NH and never came back to Quebec. Now, I was back in familiar territory, I’m quite used to finding french-canadian cousins emigrating to the US (always remember wildcards using databases and search engines!): I found a record for Aime Belanger crossing the border at Beecher Falls, VT on 23 Nov 1923, going to North Stratford, NH. All the information from the record seemed to fit the info I had on Aime.

Aime Belanger in Nov 1923, Vermont Source: Ancestry.com. Border Crossings: From Canada to U.S., 1895-1956

Aime Belanger in Nov 1923, Vermont
Source: Ancestry.com. Border Crossings: From Canada to U.S., 1895-1956

Now a closer look at the image left me a bit shocked, on the lower right of the form, the immigration officer had to tick whether the alien was… an anarchist? It left me baffled the same way when I heard stories of people traveling to the USA post-9/11 and having to fill out forms where you were asked if you were a terrorist, etc. I know for a fact that the great depression, prohibition laws and the fear of communists drove to silly behaviors US officials but I can’t quite place the relevancy of this question in the 1920’s: “Are you an anarchist?”. A Catholic French-Canadian. Come on.

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