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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!

 

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