Monday, November 11, 2019

Seven Come Eleven - Joseph A. Bray's Cigar Box

Kathleen Elizabeth (Bray) Cray passed on September 30, 2018. She was the daughter of Maurice Bray (1896-1969) and Mary K. Donovan. I had been in correspondence with Kathleen for a couple years regarding the family genealogy. She had urged me to visit her in Newport Beach, California. I was making arrangements to visit San Diego that December for the i4GG conference, and thought I could connect up with Kathleen then. But after several attempts failed to reach her, I contacted her friend, Lissa.  Lissa informed me of Kathleen’s unexpected and sudden death just a couple weeks earlier and invited me to visit. She also invited Kathleen’s nephew Gary to meet us at the same time. Gary and Lissa permitted me to keep several of the ancient postcards and photos that relate to the Bray side. I am so grateful to Lissa and Gary for the opportunity to present and preserve the items shown here. 

Kathleen kept some of the most precious artifacts in an old cigar box that had been among her father Maurice Bray’s possessions. The cigar box was made by or for Maurice’s father, Joseph A. Bray (1867-1912). Joseph ran the O.K. Saloon in Red Lake Falls, Minnesota in the late 1890’s, and by 1904 he’d moved up to the new town of Blackduck, Minnesota, where he was a proprietor of a "refreshment parlor" until his death in 1912.

The top of the closed cigar box showing the stamped logo

The cigar box bears a partial seal (torn) from the Cigar Makers International Union of America. A second fragmentary seal, on the opposite side of the box, has a portrait and the number 12, and the letters CIG from Cigar but is too incomplete for me to identify. The box is wooden, and stamped with a filigree design featuring the words “J.A. BRAY’s BUNCH,” below which appears “FACTORY NO 418 DIST MINN 12”.

Did everyone who bought cigars at Bray’s establishment receive them in a box just like this?  We suspect so! You can read more about Joe and his other saloon operations in Alberta, Canada here.

An example of a complete CMIU seal
On the end, pasting over to the back, is another colorful sticker bearing the words “J.A. BRAY’S BUNCH.”

On the back is the sticker of the Black Duck Cigar Company, including an image of a tobacco farm and the words “TABACOS SUPERIORES” and a notice from the Factory 418 denoting the proper manufacture of the cigars.

The underside and end of the cigar box
A newspaper article from The Pioneer, Bemidji, Minnesota, indicates that one H.C. Mickey “returned from Minneapolis last night, where he has purchased the necessary fixtures and stock for his cigar factory. He will occupy rooms over Bray’s saloon.” Was that Factory Number 418, directly above the saloon? Possibly not, because the photo in our cigar box likely dates to late 1904 – early 1905, as we will see below.

Bemidji Daily Pioneer, May 17, 1907

Pasted to the cover inside is a photo of the seven eldest children of Joe and his wife Rebecca Brunelle, the same photo shown here.  The photo is stamped with the words “J.A. BRAYS BUNCH.” The photo is surrounded by a border in a beautiful art-deco style featuring some gold-colored foil accents. Below the photo is pasted what appears to be the bottom two-thirds of a cigar band, bearing the text “Seven, come Eleven.” Perhaps this band was on every cigar sold in Joe’s saloon!

The inside of the cigar box showing the J.A. Bray’s Bunch photo and the “Seven, come Eleven” cigar band.  The crown-shaped seal has nothing to do with cigars and is thought to have been pasted in many years later.
Seven Come Eleven is an old jazz standard. Internet searches attribute one version to Charlie Christian, who played with Benny Goodman and recorded an instrumental jazz song by that title in 1939. A country song by the same name has lyrics attributed to Johnny Horton, a 1950’s country/honky-tonk artist. Both of these are far too late - Joe died in 1912. Perhaps these lyrics did not originate with Horton? They seem very relevant to Joe! (see below).

In any case, it looks to me like Joe Bray was very much hoping for eleven children. He would eventually have nine altogether but one, Rebecca, named for her mother, died in 1910 at age eleven from diphtheria. Joe was so proud of his children that he sent their picture to President T.R. Roosevelt. When Joe received a letter back from the Roosevelt along with Roosevelt’s signed selfie, Joe alerted the Minneapolis Tribune, who printed his story and the children’s photo in a two-column spread, but twice mocked his propagative pretentions. The Bemidji paper then followed up on the Tribune story, pronouncing the children “bright intelligent looking.”

The February 12, 1905 Minneapolis Tribune article
Brays, some questions: Have you ever seen another example of a cigar box from J.A. Bray’s saloon? Does anyone know the name of the Blackduck, Minnesota establishment?  It is much mentioned in the Bemidji Daily Pioneer, but never named. Whatever became of Joe’s prized photograph of Teddy Roosevelt, signed by the president himself?

And everyone: What do you know about Seven, Come Eleven? When did the phrase first originate? How about the lyrics below, are there any instances of these words before Horton?

Let me hear from you in the comments below!

Seven, Come Eleven
lyric attributed to Johnny Horton

Seven come eleven this is my lucky day
Now baby won’t you fade me cause love is on the way
With you here close beside me I’ll rattle and I’ll roll
Seven come eleven I know I’ll make my goal

Oh baby you’re a natural a specialty of mine
Come on and play the odds now I’m gonna play the line
Seven come eleven I think I’ll let it ride
I won’t see Little Joe now if you will be my bride

Just tell me that you love me I’ll put these bones away
You’ll be my only natural we’ll plan our weddin’ day

Oh baby you’re a natural a specialty of mine
Come on and play the odds now I’m gonna play the line
Seven come eleven I’ll never seven out
Don’t be an acey ducey don’t keep my mind in doubt

Just put your arms around me and say you’ll be my spouse
Cause seven come eleven and now I’ve broke the house

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Herminie DeGuire, 1846 - 1899

The DeGuire Family of St. Laurent, Montreal

Herminie Deguire was born to Jerome DeGuire and Cecile Groulx (also spelled Groux) on October 6, 1846 and christened “Marie Herminie Leonile Deguire” at St. Laurent the next day. As is typical for French-Canadians, she went by her second given name, Herminie. The name derives from both the Germanic “Herman” in feminine form, and from the French word “hermine” for ermine, the small fur-bearing mammal. Because we never see it spelled with an O, it’s unlikely that the Greek name Hermione was intended. Herminie’s godparents were Antoine Serre, and Herminie’s maternal grandmother, Cecile Richer.

Herminie was her father’s 7th child, yet he was only 34. Jerome was first married to Sophie Joron dite LaTulippe. Of Sophie’s five children, one was stillborn, but three boys and a girl, Philomene, appear to have survived their early childhoods. Sophie died five days after the birth of her youngest child, Ferdinand Alphonse, in June of 1843. She was just 25 years old. We imagine she died of childbed fever.

With small children to raise, Jerome needed to remarry. He did so within a year, to 27-year-old Cecile Groulx on April 29, 1844. The second marriage resulted in six children, three boys and three girls. Sadly, none of the sons lived to see their first birthday. The girls, however, seemed to be thriving when their mother Cecile died on August 15, 1853 at age 37. Jerome was just 42. He did not know then that his own days were numbered. But on July 23rd, 1854, a terrible tragedy occurred: Jerome and Cecile’s eldest daughter, baptized Marie Cecile her honor, aged nine on this fateful day, both died. The church records from the parish of St-Laurent in Montreal (also called Pierrefonds), where all the DeGuire marriages, baptisms and burials took place, do not tell us if death if this double tragedy was by disease or accident.

The motherless, grieving children were now orphans. Of the six children from the second marriage, just Herminie and her younger sister Cordelia, baptized Marie Cornile, remained. Herminie was nine and little Cordelia, not yet four. Their older half-sister, Philomene, 15, surely looked after the girls in the immediate aftermath of Jerome’s death. But the situation probably didn’t last long, as the young people from Jerome’s first marriage—if any survived besides Joseph Benjamin and Philomene is unknown—would surely have had to focus on establishing themselves, first and foremost. Not surprisingly then, Philomene married young, at age 16, in November of 1855, to Joseph Groux (he was 3rd cousin to his wife’s stepmother on their surname line).

A permanent situation was needed for Herminie and Cordelia. A correspondent of this writer, one Claude LaMarche, tells me that Herminie and Cordelia “grew up in an orphanage.” More likely than not, it would have been nuns who saw the girls through their remaining childhood and early teen years. By 1861 however, when Herminie was 15, she was residing with Philomene, Joseph, and their three young children. (this time, her name was transcribed as "Hermangilde"). Herminie was likely now done with school and assisting her half-sister with the childcare. Cordelia, just 11, was likely still in the orphanage and attending school. I am still seeking to find the orphanage and the 1861 census entry for Cordelia.

1861 Census, St Laurent, Jacques Cartier County, Lower Canada,

Joe and Herminie’s Somerville, Massachusetts Years

The mill towns in New England were actively recruiting young French-Canadian women to work in the textile factories during this period. Looking to start on her own, Herminie likely took a position in the mills in Somerville, Massachusetts, a new suburb just outside Boston. There she met Joe Dupont, baptized Joseph Andre Nazaire Dupont, a fellow French-Canadian who had first come to Boston in 1866 to seek his fortune. Joe and Herminie married on November 1, 1869 at St. Francis de Sales Catholic church in nearby Charlestown. The witnesses to the wedding were George Guenett and Eliza Vanile. Joe was 25 and Herminie, 23. Herminie’s sister Cordelia arrived soon after, probably about 1870. Cordelia would go on to marry Stanislaus Gervais in 1872, remaining in Boston to raise a large family and live a long life.

Herminie and Joe are not found under “Dupont” in the 1870 census for Somerville. However, a couple named Joseph and Armenia Bridge are listed. Because “Armenia” is a common misspelling of Herminie, and Dupont is French for “of the bridge,” is it appears that for a short while the couple considered Anglicizing their name to better fit in with their WASP neighbors. The Joseph of this census is working as a potter, and a city directory for 1871 lists a Joseph Dupont, also a potter, in Somerville on “Winthrop near Broadway.” The next directory, published in 1873, lists the Joseph Dupont of “Winthrop n. Broadway” as working as a Grocer, an occupation that Joe would return to in some of the last years of his life.

Joseph and Armenia Bridge in the 1870 census for Somerville, page 495. 

The couple soon began having children. The civil registries record the births of two babies named Joseph A. Dupont, both to Joseph and Minnie Dupont of Somerville. The first is born November 19, 1870 and the second, precisely one year later on November 19, 1871. The birth place is listed as Cross St. in 1870 and on Dane St. in 1871. Next, the St. Francis records record the birth and baptisms of “Joseph George Dupont” (13 and 17 March 1872) and “William Arthur” (19 and 20 December 1874). These are the sons who lived to adulthood, who we know as George and Will.

Joseph A. Dupont in the Somerville Civil Register 19 Nov 1870, NEHGS.

One year later: Joseph A. Dupont in the Somerville Civil Register 19 Nov 1871, NEHGS

George's 13 March 1872 baptismal record. St Francis de Sales, Charlestown MA, NEHGS
William's 20 Dec 1874 baptismal record, NEHGS

The November 19, 1871 entry is problematic. Joe’s obit informs us that the couple had four children, and we have found four entries. But it is impossible for a woman to have a baby in mid-November of 1871 followed just four months later by a surviving baby in mid-March of 1872. We believe that somehow Joseph A. Dupont’s 1870 birth was erroneously re-recorded in 1871 and that another child has yet to be found. The 1870/1871 baptismal record(s) have not been found – was the baby possibly a stillbirth, baptized at home? As of this writing [2019], the St. Francis burial records, which might provide more information, are not yet available .

Joe is not found in any of the Somerville city directories after 1873. Many newly arrived Roman Catholic French-Canadians became disenchanted with the chilly reception that so many received in Protestant New England and soon departed for friendlier climes in the lesser-established Midwestern states. That the Dupont family listed themselves under the name “Bridge” instead of Dupont in the 1870 city directory may be an indication of pressures they felt. In any case the family left Somerville sometime between 1875 and 1880.

Somerville / Charlestown Data, Chronological Order  

Occupation / Address / Witnesses
1 Nov 1869
Josephus Dupont,
Hermenia Deguire

Georguis Guenett, Eliza Vanile
SFdS marr rec
14 Jul 1870
Bridge, Joseph 25 [he’s 26]; Armenea 23, both b Canada

potter, married Sept 1869 [it was Nov]
19 Nov 1870
Joseph and Minnie both b Canada
Joseph A. Dupont
laborer, Cross [St.], Somerville
Civil BR
Dupont Joseph

potter, house Winthrop near Broadway, Somerville
City dir
19 Nov 1871
Joseph and Minnie both b Canada
Joseph A. Dupont
laborer, Dane [St.], Somerville
Civil BR
13 Mar 1872
Joseph Dupont, Armenia Deguire
Josephus Georgius Dupont
Bp 17 Mar. Stanislaus Jarvis, Cordelia Deguire
SFdS bpt
Dupont Joseph

grocer, h. Winthrop, n. Broadway, Somerville
City dir
19 Dec 1874
Joseph Dupont, Harmanie Deguere
William Arthur Dupont
Bp 24 Dec. Felix Ethier, Agnes Baptiste
SFdS bpt
SFdS: St Francis de Sales Catholic church in Charlestown.  In the civil birth registers for Somerville, (“Civil BR”), the address is for the place of birth, not necessarily the residence of the parents. There are no men named “Joseph Bridge” in the 1869, 1871 or 1873 directories for Somerville. City directories are available at

Allouez, Michigan

The family cannot be conclusively located after December, 1874 until the 1880 Federal Census taken on June 12. At this time they are living in Allouez, Michigan – high up on the Keweenaw Peninsula, the northward spike off the main portion of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The township is named for Father Claude-Jean Allouez (1622-1689), a Jesuit missionary and French explorer of North America. Commercial copper mining in the Keweenaw Peninsula began in the mid-1840s. Joe is listed as a “Com[mon] Laborer” and “Armenia” is keeping house. Just two children are living at this time. The boys ages are correctly noted as 8 and 5 for George and William, and the birthplaces are listed correctly. If a 4th child was born after the Duponts left Massachusetts, but died before the 1880 census (as must be the case), the child will be difficult to locate unless perhaps the Allouez church records (Marquette archdiocese) can be obtained.

1880 Census, Allouez Township, Keweenaw Co, MI

The Duponts left Allouez within a couple years after the 1880 census. Per the 1895 Minnesota census, they were already in Minnesota by 1882; corroborating this, the Duponts do not appear in the 1884 every-name Michigan census. City directories for the towns on the Upper Peninsula are few; its unlikely little Allouez had a directory during this period.

Terrebonne, Minnesota

By 1882, the family was settling into Terrebonne, Minnesota, located in Minnesota’s far north in Red Lake County. The 1885 state census finds Joe and Minnie living in a household with an August Dupont, age 20, and with their sons George, 12 and Will, 10. August’s relationship to the family is unknown. The village of Terrebonne was never large; today it is nearly a ghost town with just a couple houses occupied near the site of the now-closed St. Anthony de Padua Catholic Church and cemetery. But here Joe and his sons ran Dupont and Sons Grocery Store.

The family was much the same in July of 1895 when the next Minnesota census was taken. Joe is listed as a farmer, “Ermina,” George and William are all listed together. George, age 23, is clerking at the store; William is listed as a laborer. In between the listing for the Duponts and the next adults is a 5-year-old boy, Philip Chagel, born in Minnesota. The census does not list relationships or distinguish individual households, but because he’s listed below the Dupont sons and above the next adult, its quite possible he was being cared for by the Duponts.

Changes came shortly after 1895. On December 28, 1896 Will married Rosealba Juneau, daughter of Edouard and Marcelline (Sauve) Juneau. In 1898, George married Zelia Juneau, Rosealba’s sister. For about a year, things went well.

Tragedy struck Joseph first on July 26, 1899, when Herminie died. She was only 52 years old. Will and Rose had a productive union, with children Rosealma M, Philippe, Luc Ovide, and Walter Joseph born in Terrebonne between November 1897 and May 1902. George and Zelia had a daughter Emma Frances born in 1898. Then Zelia took sick and died on Jun 15, 1900. The same sad fate was to end Rose’s life too soon: she passed on Dec 3, 1902. The Juneau sisters Rose and Zelia were tragically young at the time of death, at ages 25 and 24 respectively. All three of the Dupont men of Terrebonne, widowed in a timespan of less than three years! Their wives were buried in the churchyard of St. Anthony of Padua in Terrebonne. Will had Rose’s stone inscribed in French.

All three of the men remarried. Joseph married Odelia “Delia” Berthiaume in 1902. George married Anna Mary Perra in Waverly, Minnesota on April 19, 1903. Louisa Poirier was recruited to help Will with the children. In February, 1904. Will and Louisa would have nine children of their own together; George and Anna would have eight. The story of Will’s life with Louisa has already been told by Jeannette.

Tired of the harsh winters and not-so-good land around “Terrebonne,” in 1911 Joe and Delia departed Minnesota for Selah Heights, Yakima County, Washington. Delia passed on December 13, 1925 in Selah. In 1929 Joe, now 87, returned to Terrebonne to live out his last days with his son George. Joseph Andre Nazaire Dupont passed this life on January 10, 1933. He had made it all the way to 90 years old.

Correction posted 20Jan2020: "If a 4th child was born after the Duponts left Massachusetts, but died before the 1880 census (as must be the case)," originally appeared erroneously as ...before the 1870 census...

Sunday, June 25, 2017

New Old Photos of Joseph A. Bray and Rebecca Brunelle and their Children

Last month I received in the mail two packets of very old photos, from Kathleen Bray Cray, daughter of Maurice Bray, 1896 - 1969.  I am so grateful to have the opportunity to view and share these old photos.  I've scanned them, and am posting a few here to make them more available.  If you're related let me know and I can get you higher resolution images.

This is Joseph Avonsurelle Bray.  He's the son of Moise Bray and Leocadie Chatel.  Joe's dates are October 18, 1867 to December 6, 1912.  He was born in Les Cedres, QC and came to Red Lake Falls with his parents in the late 1880's.  Joe died of an accident, far away from his Blackduck, MN home in Calgary, AB.  His middle name is alternately spelled Evanturel, Evanturelle, etc., but he signed his postcards JAB so I'm going with A. from here forward.  His tombstone at St Joseph's in Red Lake Falls says Joseph E. Bray.  You can read a lot more about Joe and his life in the saloon business at my post Revelations from a Postcard.  

Until now our family had no photos of Joe.  Thanks to Kathleen Cray, our family can now see what this ancestor looked like.  

This is Joe as a young man, I would guess about 1885 at age 18, what do you think?

Here's Joseph a few years later, with his bride Rebecca Brunelle on their wedding day in 1892.  Rebecca was born on November 10, 1873, Near Penetanguishene, Ontario and baptized there at St. Croix.  She came with her parents Georges Brunelle and Eugenie Marchand to the Red Lake Falls area as a small child.  Rebecca Brunelle and Joseph A. Bray were married on September 5, 1892 in what was then Polk County, Minnesota, at St. Joseph's of Red Lake Falls.  Rebecca is such a beautiful bride! It looks like Rebecca captioned this photo herself.

Joseph and Rebecca had nine children.  There are a couple other photos of the seven oldest children taken a couple years before this new photo that have been in our family for years.  This photo was taken a little later, about 1906, and shows the eight oldest children.

The children of Joseph A. Bray and Rebecca Brunnelle are:
  • Madeline Evonne Bray, 2 Jul 1893 - 1942 Detroit MI
  • Gilbert George Bray, 7 Jun 1894 - 11 Apr 1956 Fresno CA
  • Maurice Joseph Bray, 12 Jan 1896 - 28 Feb 1969 Los Angeles, CA
  • Annetta Irene Bray, 25 Mar 1897 - UPDATE d. 16 Apr 1965, bur. Muskegon, MI
  • Rebecca Helen Bray, 18 Aug 1898 - UPDATE d. 7 Mar 1910, bur. Blackduck MN
  • Alfred Napoleon "Fritz" Bray, 10 Apr 1900 - 12 Nov 1950 Minneapolis MN
  • Cecille Marie Antoinette Bray, 5 May 1902 - 16 Feb 1997 Orange County CA
  • Marie Louise Polla Bray, 24 Feb 1905 - 25 Jan 1999 Seattle WA
  • Dorolese Margaret Bray, 07 Mar 1909 (not pictured) - 12 Sep 2001 Vernon MO

The kids appear to be standing in order from youngest to oldest so that would be Marie on the left and Madeline on the right.

All the children were born in Red Lake Falls except Marie and Dorolese who were born in Blackduck, Beltrami County, Minnesota.

For one year, the entire family was alive and intact. Then in March of 1910 young Rebecca, aged 11-1/2, died of diphtheria.  Then just two years later, on December 6, 1912, Joe met his untimely death. 

After Joe died Rebecca married Ovilla Robillard in 1915; this marriage was childless.  Rebecca Brunelle Bray Robillard died on December 8, 1927 in Terrebonne, Red Lake County, MN.  She is buried next to Ovilla in St. Anthony's cemetery in Terrebonne.

Update - New Section - The surviving children married as follows. Madeline and Annetta died childless. All three boys and the youngest three daughters all had children.
  • Madeline married Henry Bray, son of Damase Bray and Adeline Cerre. Henry was Madeline's first cousin once removed, both being descendants of Simon Bray and Elisabeth Sedilot. They married on Feb 11, 1918 at Ste. Anne de Detroit, in Detroit, where Madeline died in 1942. Henry later moved to Seattle.
  • Gilbert married Ellyn G. Bystrom on Sept 23, 1923. They lived in the Tower, MN area until the early 1930's when they moved to Los Angeles.
  • Maurice married Mary K. Donovan. The couple settled Los Angeles.
  • Annetta married Clair Wright Williams on Oct. 30, 1920 in Moorhead, MN. By 1927 the couple was Detroit. Records are found in Detroit and Muskegon.
  • Alfred married Mabel Bernadette Dupont, in Terrebonne, MN on Nov. 26, 1928. The couple raised their family in Minneapolis and lived for a few years in Navarre, MN.
  • Cecille married Thomas A. Fitzgerald on April 23, 1923. They lived in Detroit through 1950 and then moved to Laguna Hills, CA.
  • Marie married Thomas J. Ducharme in Red Lake Falls, MN on Nov 15, 2927. The family remained in Red Lake Falls through 1940 before moving to the Seattle, WA area.
  • Dorolese marred Richard Lyle Piper on Nov. 5, 1938 in Metz, IN. They lived Michigan in the late 1940's (Muskegon and later Ann Arbor). Richard died in 1965 in Toledo. Dorolese was in California in 1970 and lastly made her home in Vernon MO.
Are you related to this family?  I'd love to hear from you, post a comment so we can get in touch.  Let's get connected and see what we can share!

Finding Aunt Katie

Author's note:  Earlier versions of this post have been published in the CAGGNI newsletter and in Treasure State Lines, the journal of the Great Falls Genealogical Society (Montana).  This post represents a departure from the French-Canadians and addresses Michelle's maternal side, who are Poles and Slovaks.

Mom was convinced she knew everyone in her grandmother’s family, the Harmatas.  Mom’s grandma, Susie Harmata Svidron, was the eldest, and she had two sisters, Mary Harmata Hanzely Swanson and Sophie Harmata Kissel Morse, and a brother, John Harmata.  That was it for the Harmatas, mom said, four kids, one marriage, nothing more to it.

Cooper Street on the Mississippi River flats, 79 steps below Washington Avenue in the boisterous, saloon-filled Cedar-Riverside district.  The river terrace neighborhood was known as The Bohemian Flats; this photo from Hennepin County Library shows the northern half of the neighborhood.  A squatter’s community, it was populated primarily by newly arrived Bohemian Czechs and Slovaks like the Harmatas.  Emmanuel Lutheran Church is visible on the left, note the steeple between the bridge piers.  Breweries bracketed both ends of the neighborhood:  Norenberg Brewery is on the right. The flats would regularly flood in spring.  Undated photo, probably c. 1905.
I was a beginning genealogist and had uncovered the Harmatas online in the 1895 Minnesota State Census.  Unlike the US censuses, this one bore an anomaly:  a girl named Katie, said to be 11 in 1895, was mixed in with the expected Harmata kids in this one aberrant record.  Mom knew nothing about any Katie.  And by 1900, Katie was gone.  I searched every variation I could think of on Katie’s name and came up bare-handed in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.  Katie was neither married nor buried.  She was just phhhtt!  Gone!

1895 Minnesota census excerpt, Minneapolis Ward 6, 69 Cooper Street.  Andrew, Anna [Annie Frances] and Katie were born in Austria-Hungary, today, Slovakia.

Over the years new collections came online and I learned more about the mother of the family, “Annie Frances” Harmata.  I learned that Annie Frances’ maiden name was Marhevka.  But occasionally I’d find her with the surname Novak.  Could Katie have been the child of a first marriage?  Mom said no, and that was that.

In 2014 a re-read of a long held document and one lucky search result led me to a new sibling in this family, Anna.  The mother, Annie Frances, had died at a 27th Avenue address, Minneapolis, in 1923.  I had just assumed this was at her daughter Susie Svidron’s 27th Avenue home, but I was wrong.  Susie was living at 3455 27th Avenue but Annie Frances died at 3529.  You might make this mistake too if you knew, as I did then, that Susie’s husband was a builder and that the Svidrons had lived at several 27th Avenue addresses.  The lucky search result was the Harmata surname as “mother’s maiden name” in a Minneapolis birth records index.  When I finally wrote for the complete record, I discovered Susie’s sister, Anna Harmata Dunn.  Census records showed Anna, not Susie, was the woman of the house where Annie Frances died.  With the discovery of Anna Dunn, I knew mom’s info was not 100% correct.  Anna seemed to be a lot older than Susie, so this too indicated the possibility that their mother, Annie Frances, had had a first husband in the old country before she immigrated and married Andrew Harmata.

1897 Davidson’s City Directory, Minneapolis.  Katie is working as a domestic.  Katie’s stepfather Andrew Harmata is at the same Cooper Street address as in the 1895 census.

I found just one other trace of Katie online in Minneapolis – paging through city directories I found a Catherine Harmat working as a domestic servant in Minneapolis in 1897.  I knew by then that our Harmata family was the only Harmata family in Minneapolis at the time.  But a city directory is pretty weak evidence.  Would a thirteen year old servant be listed?  This Catherine could have been anybody.

I’d also known all along that in the 1900 census Annie Frances, the mother, had claimed to have borne 10 kids, with 6 still living (and this before Sophie was born in 1901).  I just thought this was bogus information.  I’d learned that Annie Frances had died of cirrhosis “probably from acute alcoholism”.   I did not consider her a reliable witness.  Ten kids!  No way!

Finding the sister Anna Dunn had been a small breakthrough.  The next breakthroughs came after I finally wrote the St. Paul Archdiocese for the sacramental records for this family.  Why I put off this task for so many years I no longer understand.  The archivist was helpful and the records invaluable.  “Kath. Harmata” was a godmother to one of Anna’s children!  This cinched it for me, Katie was real.  I figured she must have married out of state at a young age.  But with 49 states to consider, I despaired of ever finding her.  

What I did not know was that my family tree on Ancestry was busy doing my work for me.  I had entered in Katie as a child of Annie Frances and of the person I now thought might be Annie Frances’ first husband, John Novak.  I knew the information would not pass muster per the genealogical standard of proof, but I posted it anyway.  Am I glad I did!

Then one Friday in June, Ancestry user S…97 made contact:  “thanks for putting info in about the 1/2 siblings, I have searched and searched for Katie Novak family and found it under her 1/2 sibling, Susie Svidron” went the email, “This is my husbands great grandmother which he knows little of.  It was thrilling for both of us!!” 

There was no further information.  Who was S97?  What did she know about Katie?!  I wrote back at a furious pace, and for three days watched in agony as S97’s green light indicated she was logged into Ancestry, and the Ancestry news feed showed more and more of my old family photos getting posted to S97’s private tree.  Still no reply to my email!  Indeed, S97 was thrilled with that treasure trove of my family photos!

1898 Marriage License of John Nalevanko, son of John Nalevanko and Lise Drubatky and Katie Novak daughter of John Novak and Annie Marhetta [Annie Frances Marhevka].  The marriage took place October 15, 1898 at St. John’s Catholic Church in Great Falls, Montana.

The munificent reply finally came that Wednesday evening, chock full of the evidence of Aunt Katie.  S97 and I would go on to have a delightful telephone conversation.  She pointed me to the 1898 Montana marriage record of Katie Novak to John Nalevanko.  The record listed all four parents’ names… yes, it was John Novak and Annie Marhetta [Annie Frances Marhevka].  Best of all was the obit, an old newspaper clipping fortuitously saved by S97’s mother-in-law.  This precious obituary listed Katie Baker’s surviving sisters:  Susie Svidron, Mary Swanson and Sophie Morse.  This Katie could be none other than ours.  I learned Katie had had at least three husbands.  The unfortunate John Nalevanko died in a coal mining accident in Stockett, Montana just before Christmas in 1902.  John left Katie with two children, John Jr. and Agnes Sophie.  Katie remarried, to Joseph Fedick, and had Joseph Jr and Mary, (seemingly baptized as Sophy).  Lastly, she married George Baker.  Katie Baker died back in Minneapolis, where her sisters and brother resided, on April 1st, 1964.

From the birth date on Katie’s death record, I could now authenticate a whole set of baptismal records I’d found on Family Search from modern Slovakia.  The records were the baptisms of four children born to Franciska Marhevka [Annie Frances Harmata] and Joannes Novak [John Novak] between 1877 and 1885.  Anna [Dunn], Maria [Zahuranec, spelled Zohunones in the obit], Catharina [Katie Nalevanko Baker] and Michael (died in infancy).  Katie’s death record was a perfect match to the Slovak baptismal registry entry made all those years ago, recording her birth on April 29, 1883.  Katie had been just 15 years old when she went out to Great Falls, Montana and married John Nalevanko.  Katie had fudged the age on the marriage record to appear to be 18, whereas the matching baptism and death records demonstrate otherwise. 

John Nalevanko and Katie Novak resided in Sand Coulee, Montana when they married October 15, 1898.  Photo courtesy of G. Nalevanko.

My research had Katie’s life covered from birth to age 13 and not a moment later.  S97 knew Katie’s story from marriage to death but not a moment before.  When S97 found me, we could put Katie’s whole life together.

In closing, four suggestions from this little story.   First:  You [still] cannot get everything off the internet.  While the internet provided clues and indexes, most of the real information, such as the birth certificate of Anna Dunn’s daughter, Anna Dunn’s death record, Katie and later Anna Dunn’s obit, the baptisms of all the Harmata and Dunn children, and the Coroner’s report for John Nalevanko, all had to be written for the old fashioned way.  I stamped many an envelope, joined societies, and spun hundreds of feet of microfilm at the local Family History Center in my quest to assemble the stories of this impoverished but enterprising Slovak American family. 

Second:   Follow the siblings.  Had I not thoroughly researched a half-sister’s children - where I found Katie as godmother - it’s unlikely I would have believed in Katie enough to list her in my tree.  Which leads me to the third point:  Posting dubious information is not always a bad thing.  Had I not listed Katie in my tree, S97 would not have found me.  I was in no way certain of Katie and her relationship to our family when I listed her in my online tree.  But my post for the family contained lots of artifacts, and S97 had information I did not.  Together, we both demolished long standing brick walls.  This entire Montana branch of our family is now restored for posterity.  

And finally:  The best work most of us will ever do may be right at the edge of living memory.  By now, there’s not a lot more to learn about that Mayflower ancestor who now has 30,000+ descendants.  Legions of genealogists have covered that territory.  Whereas how many people are researching your mom’s grandmother?  Not so many.  Yet there may still be photos, physical artifacts, and misty memories.  When you capture these and release them online, you are providing what nobody else can.  You are performing a service to the entire genealogical community, not to mention your own grandchildren.

 Novak - Harmata Family Tree

The Novak-Harmata Family. All named children of John Novak were baptized Roman Catholic in what is today Smižany, Spišská Nová Ves, Slovakia except Katie, who was baptized “Catharina” in Spišský Štvrtok, Levoča, Slovakia. Unnamed children based on the count in the 1900 census. All Harmata children were born and died in Minneapolis.  The Novak daughters Anna, Mary and Katie also died in Minneapolis. Update April 2018: I've recently located another daughter, Julianna, who survived only three days. She was born "illegitimately" to Annie Frances on March 11, 1887. Assuming John Novak was dead, his death date is now bounded by Annie Frances' youngest Slovak children: between late March 1885 and June 1886. Julianna's birth and death are recorded in the Smizany records. I hope to update the chart at a later date.