Friday, May 27, 2011

The Wills Family in the Neighborhood, circa 1919

When I was a small child I was fascinated by this photograph.  The children look happy, clean and fairly well attired but the exterior of the home looks forlorn and shabby. Was this the house the Wills family lived in?  I can't remember my mother ever giving me an answer perhaps because she did not know -  she was only 2 or 3 years old in the photograph.  Unfortunately,  I can only identify a few individuals in this photos.  If you, dear reader, know a few others please share the identifies with me!  The youngest child in the photo is Etta Wills born in September 1917 in Cohoes; she looks no more than two years old. If that is so, the photo was probably taken in Cohoes after the Wills family return there from living in Schuylerville, NY.  My mother never identified the man seated in the surely looks like a young John Albert Wills before the ravages of alcoholism. Who are the two young men standing on either side? cousins? neighborhood boys?  And who is the more mature woman seated in the center of the children? Is that John's wife Libbie Bissonnette??? Her eldest daughter Celena with the bonnet and knitting in her hands is on her left.  Next is Anna Wills.  Is that Julia Wills with neatly parted hair and pretty plaid dress on the right side of Libbie? Or is that Julia next to Anna on the far right end?  In the front row, from right to left: attentive Elizabeth Wills, unidentified boy, Johnny Wills, another unidentified boy, little Etta Wills, then a space and then a toddler in motion with her mouth open, head angled and knees askew - that is my mother! Two more children were still to come to the family after this photos was taken - Earl and Bobby.

Yes, there are many unknowns but one thing is certain...the Wills family was a poor family.  John Wills was never "successful" in his photographic business and Libbie Bissonnette often took in laundry to survive.  The house behind them is in desperate need of attention.  Life was hard...but the children were clean and happy.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Doris Ann Laurent

Doris Ann Laurent of Troy married Robert William Wills of Cohoes on 25 April 1948. They honeymooned in New York City. The bride to be was given a shower by her future sister in law Dorothy Wills Mylott.

Left to right: Doris's mother Ann Dugan Laurent, ?, Doris Laurent,
Ann Wills Benoit, Dorothy Wills Mylott

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Silenced Remains of Lock #9 on the Enlarged Erie Canal

The original Erie Canal officially opened in 1825.  The enlarged Erie Canal opened in 1842 and Lock #9 was a part of the enlarged system.  The remains of the lock still stand off Alexander Street between Central Avenue and Lincoln Avenue at the southern end of Cohoes.

Once this space was full of the sounds of rushing water, mechanical movements, metal on metal, wood on stone, voices over the air. Families, children, merchants, livestock and workhorses.

Now days, the space is quiet. Still.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sunny Day on the Bike Path through Cohoes: When railroads killed horses and men were never the same afterwards

Saturday and it was gorgeous for a change in the northeast! So we put the tandem bike in the car and headed up north.  After a breakfast at Uncle John's Diner (a really good breakfast) on Ontario Street in Cohoes, we were on the bike in Cohoes.....

The bike path follow the RR line from Cohoes to Schenectady

Historical marker at the site of High Street station
needs serious scrub work.  Tree sap !

Under Johnston Avenue named for the Harmony Mills superintendent

View to the east and the hills beyond the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers

Here a Lansing of  the Dutch Hudson Valley family owned a huge farm.
Louis St Hilaire from Napierville, Québec bought the land
from the Dutchmen in the late 19th century.
He farmed and fed the textile factory workers below in the town

The St Hilaire family farm was here

At his intersection, the old railroad crossed Lansing Lane
Here the RR hit and killed one of the St Hilaire's horses
Lea Langlois said her grandfather was "never the same" after his horse was killed!
Louis St Hilaire and his wife, Elisa Paré, gave each of his sons and daughters a plot of land on Lansing Lane to build a house and raise a family. Instead of farming, some of his sons went into brickmaking and masonry.  Louis Street, around the corner, was probably named after Louis St Hilaire - before he went crazy over the death of his beloved horse.  Many of the houses on Louis Street were homes of extended family... the Benoits, Krameks (Marie St Hilaire married Walter Kramek), and Sheperd (Chabot).

Soon after passing this point, the path went out of Cohoes, under Route 9 and along the southern side of the Mohawk River and old Erie Canal.  We cycled past the old Niskayuna train station that's been restored and whose roof is home to a huge hive of carpenter bees.

A few thunder clouds and some threats of rain couldn't change a beautiful day!

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Québec Cholera Epidemic 1832 and the Champlain Canal

Isabelle Casssegrain/duBorg dit St-Chaumont/Livernois (I'll explain all the surnames in a later posting) was the grandmother of Solyme Beauvais who came to Cohoes from St. Césaire, Québec.  Isabelle, 72 years old,  died in August 1832 of cholera when the Quebec Cholera Epidemic of 1832 was raging in lower Quebec. Isabelle lived in the area of St Mathias, Pointe Olivier an important port on the Richelieu transportation network.

 A new paper published this month in the Journal of Public Health Policy, "Cholera, canals, and contagion: Rediscovering Dr. Beck's Report" (advance online publication 5 May 2011; doi:10.1057/jphp.2011.20)  describes the work of Dr. Lewis Beck who tracked the  epidemic's rapid spread from Quebec City to Montreal down the Richelieu Valley to Lake Champlain, to Whitehall, down the Champlain Canal to Rensselaer and Albany counties. From those counties, it spread west along the Erie canal and south to New York City along the Hudson.  The disease was following the major commercial transportation routes of its time.  Dr. Beck's data supported a contagious theory for the rapid spread of cholera.  The paper points out despite the strong evidence, the doctor's "disbelieved" his own evidence and argued the disease was brought on by excesses of appetites, intemperance and other immoral behaviors.

Click on the link below to see the

As I continue to research our family lines in the Richelieu Valley, no doubt, more of our ancestors who died in the cholera epidemic of 1832 will be made apparent.  Meanwhile, it is a comforting thought to know our tap water and shellfish can generally be trusted in New York State and the northeast.   More readings about cholera epidemic of 1832:

Below is the Pubmed Abstract for the recent paper about Dr. L Beck and his conclusions
J Public Health Policy. 2011 May 5. [Epub ahead of print]

Cholera, canals, and contagion: Rediscovering Dr Beck's report.


Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Room 678, 155 College Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5T 3M7. E-mail:


Cholera first appeared in North America (in Montreal and Quebec) in 1832 and spread rapidly across the eastern half of the continent. The dispatch of American disease control experts to Lower Canada in anticipation of cholera's spread implies that medical professionals expected spread, possibly from contagion, even though the notion that cholera was contagious was disparaged in medical writings of the time, and would be until John Snow's landmark work in London in the 1850s. Snow's insights derived largely from his observations on spatial and temporal patterns of cholera cases. We discuss a document from the 1832 epidemic, the report of Dr Lewis Beck to New York's Governor Throop, which anticipates Snow in presenting geospatial data that imply cholera's contagiousness. Beck shows that the movements of immigrants along the newly completed New York state canal system resulted in sequential cholera outbreaks along the canal's path. Although aware of the degree to which this suggested contagion, Beck argues strenuously against the contagiousness of cholera. We explore the social context of early nineteenth-century medicine that probably led Beck to disbelieve his own observations, and to favor a medical model inconsistent with his data. Themes that emerge from our inquiry include belief in disease as a physical manifestation of defective morality, stigmatization of the poor and immigrant groups, and reluctance to overturn prevailing medical models that themselves reflected the economic position of medical practitioners. We show that these themes continue to serve as obstacles to innovation in medical and public health practice today.Journal of Public Health Policy advance online publication, 5 May 2011; doi:10.1057/jphp.2011.20.
PMID:21544099 PubMed - as supplied by publisher
Here are links to other stories on this blog about our family and medial diseases
Tobacco Addiction

Friday, May 13, 2011

Family History Road Shows

Slowly, very slowly, I've been assembling Google Maps for families of this site who may want to take a road tour of towns and villages in Québec, New York, Vermont, and Nova Scotia.
 I've also added towns in France, England and Germany if anyone is planning a big trip.  If these Google maps are set right, you can see the places where our ancestors and family lived, worked, went to school and church, were born, died and buried.  The places in the Old World where our adventurous ancestors left are also included.
I will also try to put a link to the maps on the Family Page.

These maps are not completed; they are works "in progress".  If anyone in the family reading this would like to collaborate and add information, please contact me at and I will add you as a collaborator.

Take a look and send your comments!
FA Gravy

Wills Family History Road Tour

Mylott-Millott Family History Tour

Rivet and Lacasse Family History Tour

Glode-Poissant Family History Tour

Beauvais-Bissonnette-Goekel Family History Tour

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Champlain Canalmen: A Mylott Family Resemblance

Do you see a resemblance?  Milo Benjamin and Walter Robert were brothers and both canalmen on the Champlain Canal....
Walter Robert Mylott 1882-1934

Milo Benjamin Mylott 1884-1937

There was another brother who was a canalman, George Lesile Mylott 1887-1964, who I do not have a photo of.  If you are descended form George Lesile Mylott and Carrie Blanchette (Blanchard) please contact me and send me a picture!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Juncta, where the Erie and Champlain Canals Came Together in Cohoes, NY

Old Juncta, Cohoes, NY
Juncta doesn't exist on contemporary maps, paper or digital. Juncta is the old area near the southern ends of Saratoga Street and Main Street where the Champlain and Erie Canals joined together to continue the route to Albany, New York or if your direction was north or west it was where the canal separated to to to Buffalo or to Whitehall and Lake Champlain.  It once was the hub of canal boat activity and commerce. It was here in Juncta, that stores sold food supplies and hardware for boats, stables, livestock, animal feed and all the commodities necessary to a canalman. Hotels were operated to give travelers, merchants and boatmen a rest.

Juncta in its Heyday

Below is the New York State Historical Marker explaining the Juncta site today:

facing south.....

facing north...Main and Saratoga Streets join together...

and a section of the old Champlain canal along Interstate 787....

Canadian Army Called In Amid Worst Flooding In Quebec In 150 Years

Even the Wall Street Journal reports that FLOODING ISN'T GETTING BETTER in southern Québec.  Here's the story from the Montreal gazette.  The Burlington Free Press reports, it isn't better in Vermont: VERMONT DECLARES A STATE OF EMERGENCY.  And it's rain, rain and more rain until Sunday!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Flooded Fort, Flooded River at Chambly

We should be thankful the flooding is not as widespread an area as it is presently in the Mississippi  River Valley, but the high waters and rains of late April and May are wrecking havoc in the waters of our forefathers - the Richelieu River in Quebec and Lake Champlain in NY and Vermont.

You can make out the fort behind the trees in the photo below....

and in upstate New York: Flooding states of emergency extended in Plattsburgh