Tag Archives: Immigration

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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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.

Paul Genereux (1833-1883): The saloonkeeper in Boston

24 Aug Corner of Lewis and Fulton street, around 1855

Since I’ve started working on my family history more than 10 years ago, I have always envisioned that my ancestors were adventurous and hard-working people, the kind of people would take any chance available at having a better life and never looking back on the past.

Paul Genereux, my 2nd great-uncle is one of those individuals. He was born in Berthier, Quebec to Paul Genereux (1803-1881) and Marguerite Lippe (1804-1886), his sister Emilie Genereux was married to my 2nd great-grandfather Maximilien Dulac (1825-1900), the navigator from Berthier. In fact, two other sisters of Paul, Philomene and Lina got married in the Dulac/Aubuchon family as well.

Paul was born in a rural area, Berthier (also know as Berthierville at the time) where most people would work the fields and raise cattle for the rest of their lives. Paul wasn’t one of those. In 1860, he married Catherine Johnson (1838-1906) in Quebec city, at Notre-Dame de Quebec parish. On his marriage certificate, he is mentioned as a “merchant”. Paul stayed in Quebec working as a trader/merchant for about 8 years. I’ve located him using the online “Annuaires Marcotte“, historical directories from Quebec city. He lived on 90 Richelieu street, in Saint-Jean, until 1867.

In the meantime, he had two living children born there: Louise Alexina Genereux and Alfred Genereux. Paul Eugene was their third child but he didn’t make it a year. I don’t know if this is what prompted his departure to the USA but nevertheless when I found entries in the Massachusetts, Marriage Records, 1840-1915 database on Ancestry.com for both Alexina and Alfred marriages, I knew he had decided to settle in Boston for a while.

Let’s backtrack a bit: I’ve used traditional sources to retrace the steps of Paul in Quebec, he is found on the 1871 Canada census (Census Place: Berthier, Berthier, Quebec; Roll: C-10038; Page: 8; Family No: 23), living with his father, mother and spouse Catherine, in Berthier. His family might have told the census clerk that he was still living in Berthier when he was in fact in Boston, Massachusetts. How do I know this? Because I found Paul living on 148 Fulton street, Boston in 1867 through 1870 in Boston City directories working an oyster saloon (a what??).

Paul Genereux in 1868, oyster saloon.

Paul Genereux in 1868, oyster saloon.
Source: Boston City directories

To prove my point, I tried to locate Paul and his family in the 1870 US Census for Boston but with no luck, I know this is typical of some ancestors moving to the US that they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) be found on censuses. But I had other evidence proving that he was there at the time.

The first is an article from the “Boston Journal” (Boston, MA), 6 December 1869, p.4 (viewable on genealogybank.com), here’s the transcript:

“Augustine Grossire reports at the First Station that he either lost or had stolen from him Saturday $358 in bank notes, while at the saloon of Paul Genereux, 148 Fulton street.”

I was wondering what the North End in Boston was looking like at the time, there are several online digital collections that helped me flesh out the neighborhood in the 1870’s and 1880’s. There’s the Bostonian Society where you can search for photographs & manuscripts, and also the Boston Public Library on Flickr where I found these images :

Altlantic ave at the corner of Eastern ave, around 1891

Altlantic ave at the corner of Eastern ave, around 1891
Source: The Bostonian Society http://rfi.bostonhistory.org/boston

Fulton Street around 1880

Fulton Street around 1880
Source: The Bostonian Society http://rfi.bostonhistory.org/

Corner of Commercial and Fleet Street in Boston around 1880.

Corner of Commercial and Fleet Street in Boston.
Source: The Bostonian Society http://rfi.bostonhistory.org/

Paul stayed on 148 Fulton street for a while, still using Boston city directories, he was renting the space to Mr. Blanchard a french-canadian who also had a saloon on 146 Fulton street. I’ve used the Massachusetts, Boston Tax Records, 1822-1918 on Familysearch to locate tax rolls and I found that Paul had another saloon in 1874 on 76 Broad street in Boston. I thought that life was getting good for Paul so I continued researching him and his family throughout several documents. Using the Library of Congress historical newspaper collection “Chronicling America”, I landed on this mysterious information in a German newspaper in Baltimore:

Der deutsche Correspondent, January 04, 1875

Der deutsche Correspondent, January 04, 1875 Source: Chronicling America

Now I don’t know about you but my German isn’t necessarily up to speed, the only words I could decipher from this where “Boston” “Paul Genereux” and “morden” which… stank of death to me! I went hunting for Boston newspapers at that date, I have to tell you that this wasn’t easy because OCR (Optical Character Recognition) is not perfect. Here are a few tips to help with your research :

  • Don’t use exact names (especially if they are foreign sounding), use wildcards like “*” which will replace a letter inside a keyword or “?” which will replace the ending of a keyword. For example, I’ve used “gene*eu*” several times in my research because Paul’s surname would get a beating in most records I found;
  • Use date-ranges instead of keywords. In my case I’ve tried locating the major newspapers of Boston in January 1875 and looked through them, one by one;
  • Use addresses instead of surname keywords. For this I’ve used “Broad st” or “Fulton st” combined with a date range to narrow my results.

Using those techniques, I found an short article in the “Boston Daily Advertiser”, 4 January 1875 which left me astounded:

Attack on Paul Genereux

Attack on Paul Genereux

The Wild West wasn’t far, we were in a saloon and shots were fired! Eventually Paul got better and he moved from Broad st. to 19 Eastern Ave. where he can be found on the 1880 US Census still working as a saloon keeper. His surname was “Genevaux”, again wildcards are your friend. During that time, another son was born to Paul and Catherine in Boston, Arthur Genereux (1873-1909) and an infant daughter Mary A Genereux (1872) who lived only a few months.

Paul died on 20 February, 1883 of the Brights disease leaving his wife Catherine in charge of the family and their income. You can also view the original record in the Massachusetts Deaths 1841-1915 database on Familysearch.

Newspaper obituary

Newspaper obituary

Catherine lived until October 1906, changing the saloon to a boarding house. In the 1900 US Census, she is found staying with her son Arthur, who became a plumber, and a couple of sailors staying at her boarding house on Eastern Ave. None of the family members ever came back to Quebec, they had stayed in Boston for better or worse. In further posts, I will reveal the lives of Paul & Catherine’s children in the USA and their descendants in the McGurk, Cook & Volz families.

I dedicate this story to Jim Simon, an excellent historian and researcher of the Genereux family pioneers,  who has been working on the Genereux family for more than a decade, I’m more than happy to contribute!

 

  • Boston’s North End: Images and Recollections of an Italian-American Neighborhood (Google Books)
  • Historic Taverns of Boston: 370 Years of Tavern History in One Definitive Guide (Google Books)
  • The Saloon: Public Drinking in Chicago and Boston, 1880-1920 (Google Books)
  • The Boston Directory, Volume 64 (Google Books)
  • Boston’s North End (Google Books)
  • Oyster Bar (Wikipedia)
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