Today would have been my paternal grandmother’s 129th birthday; she was born in High Falls, New York on May 31, 1883.  I do not know much about my grandmother; she died in 1927 when my father was just 9 years old. Yet I sometimes feel a connection.

In addition to carrying my grandmother’s name, Elizabeth, as my middle name, I share a vocation with her. Elizabeth Antonia Duym graduated from New Paltz Normal School in 1905 and was, by all accounts, a teacher in or near High Falls until she married my grandfather in 1913. What levels or subjects she taught are a mystery that I have not yet uncovered.

Records are hard to come by as a fire at the Normal School in the early 1900s destroyed most of the documents that could possibly reveal what she prepared for.

What impresses me, however, is that my grandmother and her younger sister both went to normal school (college) in the early 1900s – I would imagine that to be unusual for two women, daughters of immigrants from a small New York village.

I often wish I could ask my grandmother about her growing up years — and how she became a teacher. What was it like to teach in the first decade of the 20th century? Questions without answers except when a genealogical find lifts the curtain of history to reveal some small detail of everyday life.

We share other connections, my unknown grandmother and I. Elizabeth’s middle name, Antonia, is derived from both her father’s name, Anthony, and honors a brother also named Anthony who died in infancy. My middle name honors hers. Cancer had an impact on both of our lives; hers cut short by it and mine has been spared through advances made my medicine.

I wonder what my grandmother would have thought of all of that has changed since 1883. Of course, even given a long life on this earth, she would no longer have been with us. But the connections endure and the questions as well.


Genealogy Connections

I was sucked in almost the very minute we – Adrien and I – went to a talk at the New England Genealogy and History Society’s Library on Newbury Street in Boston. For a while, I would go in to Boston almost weekly and, while Adrien poured over the Drouin Index for his French Canadian ancestors, I would rummage through fragile directories and volumes for my Puglisi, Duym, and Flournoy relatives.

One puzzle piece that had remained missing was that of my maternal grandfather’s father, Richard Wilson Flournoy. Not much was known about him; there are some family artifacts: his train conductors’ scarf, a wallet with a small scratch pad, a time table, a formal portrait. It was known that he died in a train accident when my grandfather was about a year old.

Periodically, Googling an ancestor’s name yields a result. This week I tried that with Richard’s father, Peter Creed Flournoy. About two entries down, was Richard’s name attached to a cemetery database in Albany, New York.

Richard Wilson Flournoy, was born on March 4, 1859 in Linneus, MO. His father was a Civil War colonel on that “other” side, so when the War ended, the family moved to Arkansas. Eventually, they were able to move back to Missouri and, in 1882 he married my great-grandmother, Minnie Palmer. After living in Bennington, Kansas, Richard went ahead to Albany where he worked on the Hudson River Railroad. We have a letter Richard wrote to Minnie, who was still in the midwest, telling her he would be sending for her and their daughter Carrie soon. In 1889, my grandfather, Palmer, was born in Albany.

And that’s where things had come to a stop. This week, through the cemetery listing, we learned that Richard’s death came on March 19, 1891 caused by gangrene of  the arm. The family story that Richard was in a terrible train accident has been finally confirmed. We also now know that Richard was buried, not in Missouri with his Flournoy relatives, but in Menand Cemetery in Albany.

As usual, new genealogical information brings more questions. Is there an account of the accident that eventually took my relative’s life?  My great-grandmother Minnie retained a lawyer to get some compensation for the loss of her husband – a bold move by a woman in 1891.  Why?

Questions and more questions. And the hunt continues.