Story and Photos By Anne Gabbianelli
Napoleon Bonaparte bankrupted my family in 1814 by convincing them that paper money had no value so they switched to silver coins. I also have an ancestor who built the Catholic Church resting on a hill in Winn, Maine. Oh, and my great grandmother was kidnapped by the Gypsies when she was a little girl, and her father — who was a Major in the British army — took his entire regiment into the Gypsy camp to rescue his little girl.
It is amazing the tales you can learn when working on your family genealogy, and I believe I still have much more to learn on my endless journey of piecing together my lineage. What I have ascertained goes far beyond submitting a DNA sample to determine from what part of the world my ancestors came.
My quest to learn more about my roots began in 1976 while creating a family genealogy for a college course assignment. Little did I know this assignment would linger on all these years later, and yet still offer amazement with every faded and tattered document I review and every email exchange I have with family.
I dove into the college assignment with the help of my parents: my mother, Jane Crozier of Irish/Scottish/French Canadian descent, and my father, Peter Gabbianelli of Italian descent. My mother was a keeper of documents and ancestors’ wills and was quite up to date, including writing in the family Bible. I have many of these original documents in my possession now.
The Gabbianelli side was well documented by a relative in Italy who clearly mapped out a tree showing my grandfather’s family dating back to the 1700s, and my mother’s handwriting is seen throughout as the tree grew over the years. Mom was good at staying up to date as she learned more of the history for both her side and dad’s side of the family.
To bring the Gabbianelli side even further up to date, my aunts wrote to relatives in Italy seeking information. I have read their translated letters that span my grandfather’s family of eight children and the great story of Napoleon. On my grandmother’s side — Pierina Malchiodi — I have many documents with her first name spelled a variety of ways. A letter from a cousin says Pierina’s parents were married in 1880, however, there was no documentation of her grandparents.
I referred to some translation websites to help me with the documents written in Italian, and I reviewed an Ellis Island website thinking my paternal grandparents came to America via Ellis Island only to discover I was wrong. Boston was the entry point.
Efforts to learn more about my mother’s side of the family have not been as easy to follow as she had multiple families. My mom had been referred to by some as an orphan, yet I never considered that because she had family everywhere. Mom was born in 1918, and her mother’s death certificate reads Jane Knox Muir Crozier died of the Spanish flu a month after giving birth to my mother. How ironic to discover during the current pandemic that the 1918 pandemic impacted my family.
My mother had an older brother who was raised by their father in Vermont, yet my mother was shared among her aunts. First on her father’s side and later on her mother’s side who tended to her higher education (mom was a nurse like her mother). All the correspondence I have seen and stories I have heard show how greatly loved she was.
Her academic years were spent in New Hampshire with the Gormley family (a Crozier aunt married a Gormley) and her summers in Millinocket, Maine with the Corrigan family (another Crozier aunt married a Corrigan). So my research involves the Muirs and Croziers from St. Agathe going back to the mid-1800s. It also includes the Gormley family (originally from Ireland) and the Corrigan family (originally from Canada) and all their branches.
Tips to get started discovering your own family history
By Nancy Battick
Ready to dive into your family’s past and explore genealogy? Here is a list of tips to get you started on your journey.
- Begin by speaking with family members and family friends. Memories fade over time and aren’t always correct but don’t miss the chance to learn these stories before they’re gone.
- Make notes on all you remember about your family origins.
- Decide how many generations you want to cover. Starting with Jamestown in 1607 for example is much more work than beginning with your great-grandparents.
- Review documents such as family bibles, diaries, letters, bills, etc.
- Keep your various family lines organized by downloading free pedigree charts and family group sheets at www.ngsgenealogy.org/free-genealogy-resources.
- Note where you found your information. You may need to recheck sources.
- Include photos and humorous stories.
- Use free genealogical sites such as FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com (at local libraries). Check www.cyndislist.com for thousands of resources. If you need to research on a paid site, ask for a month’s membership or a trial period so you can cancel once your search is over.
- Other good sources include libraries, historical societies, genealogical groups, town/city directories, town reports and newspapers.
- On Ancestry you can track your family at 10 year intervals through the U.S. Censuses.
- Maine vital records (birth, marriage, death) are at town clerk offices, on Ancestry.com and at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Augusta. There are state regulations on who can access vital records so find out what you need before you visit.
- Be wary of online family trees. Don’t trust until verified.
- Ancestor naturalized? The 1910 U.S. Census lists the date immigrants came to the U.S. and the 1920 census lists the naturalization date. The National Archives holds many, but not all, naturalization records.
- Watch out for other families with the same surname. Be sure you’re researching the correct family line. For example, think of all the John Smiths in New England alone. It’s easy to get confused.
- Don’t worry about grammar or spelling, just write down your story. If writing is scary, try telling your story into a recorder.
- Don’t give out information about living persons without their permission.
- If you run into a long-held family secret how will you handle it? All may be dead but I advise do nothing that will hurt or embarrass descendants.
- Finally, have fun with your project and research. When you’re done you can write an essay, a book or a photocopied bound document and then share your labors with your family and the future.
Over the years, I have called on my older sister to fill in some blanks and my cousins for support. Close to 20 years ago, my cousin, Bill (Corrigan) Lewis, introduced me to various genealogy software programs and websites such as familysearch.org, rootsweb.com, 23andme.com, tribalpages.com and more. He taught me about numerous other venues including The Maine State Library which has a substantial collection of genealogies, town histories and vital records; local libraries including the Bangor Public Library’s genealogy department and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Bangor. Most recently, he installed a program on my computer which details marriage records for the State of Maine. There are so many valuable resources beyond the popular ancestry.com.
Bill’s knowledge is endless and his enthusiasm for family history is respectable. I wish for his passion to rub off on me as I continue to sift through pages and pages of family history that he kindly saved for me on a thumb drive. Meanwhile, my cousin Bruce Muir in Vermont regularly shares the most detailed stories via email of my maternal grandmother’s lineage.
His storytelling is captivating including the Gypsy story and a recollection shared with him about George Knox Muir (my great grandfather) attending his 30-year-old daughter’s funeral in Montpelier, Vermont. Bruce writes, “Being a Presbyterian (following Scottish religion), he returned home and did state with a great deal of grief, that she (my grandmother) must have ‘turned Catholic’ as she had a Rosary in her hand at the wake.”
In addition to securing family history, I have also been digitally scanning all the documents — authentic or copies — including naturalization papers and marriage and death certificates. I even have an original certificate of marriage and an invitation to my parents’ wedding on May 11, 1946. I have also scanned pictures from a photo album showcasing people I have only heard of but never met as our lifetimes were generations removed.
My mother always teased me when I was a child about how she got me from the Gypsies. It was a little joke, yet I never knew my family really had a Gypsy encounter. No doubt more stories will be told and much more work will be done as I continue my family genealogy project. After all, I have over 300 years of material I am sifting through and multiple families I’m aiming to connect to my family tree as I thirst to learn more each day.
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