A tough year for research

2013 has not been kind to me for genealogy research. I simply had no time to properly dedicate to my favorite hobby. There is of course many downsides, but one upside is the past week I have had time to start diving in again and with fresh eyes, some important discoveries have come about.

I’ve long been looking for Mary Gonyea (~1849), one of (perhaps the oldest) daughter of Louis Gagne (~1814-1899) and Salome LaRoque (~1823-1887). The single shred of evidence I had of her existence was a mention in old notes from my great-great uncle Alberton Gonyea (1891-1986) and a mention in the 1850 U.S. Census. Picking up this research, I discovered someone on Ancestry.com who posted an obituary from 1941 for a Mary Devins (Plattsburgh, NY) who had surviving brothers named Frank and Thomas Gonyea (Rutland, VT) , Fred Gonyea (Newport, NH) and a sister named Rosanna Pelkey. A big victory! I’m going to try and get her death certificate to see if it sheds any more light into her parents and when/where she was born. The obituary did say she was 98 years old.

Speaking of Rosanna Pelkey (1868-1953), I also found someone who posted a photo of her grave stone. Still need to track down her death certificate and obituary, but that is promising.

I also had some success tracking down the first wife of Joseph Francis Gonyea (1910-1989) (or as my family knew him, Uncle Joe), the brother of my great-grandfather Nelson Warren Gonyea (1912-1989). Her name was Alma Emmert and they and a very messy divorce from what I heard in family legends. While I haven’t found her birth date/place yet, I did find her second marriage certificate to a Perley Jordan and starting to fill in some gaps on her history.

I continue to have little success tracking down the Delias side of the family. This is the mystery I can’t seem to solve.

Not as productive as past years, but ending on a good note. Let’s see what 2014 brings.

1940 U.S. Census

Today the 1940 U.S. Census was released to the public.

I’ve already dug on, dealt with timeouts and errors, and managed to download the complete census of Newport, NH and are currently working on Claremont, NH. Just about all of my Gonyea side of the family was within those two towns in 1940.

A few notable discoveries include:

  • My grandmother as a 2 year old living with my great-grandparents, Edwin Smart  and Irma (Parker) Smart. She was on the supplemental question line, unfortunately given her age there is practically no useful info on it.
  • My quest to figure out the mystery of the Delias family continues. I found decedent Mary Gebo and her son Cornelius Gebo living together in Newport. No new clues at first glance.
  • My great-great grandmother, Mary Cutting and her daughter Maude.
  • My great-great-great grandfather, Frederick Gonyea and his wife Nora (Hadley) Gonyea in Newport, NH. This one is notable as Frederick on the supplementary question line. Not much info on there that I don’t already know given his age (79).
  • My great-great grand uncle, Alberton Gonyea with his wife Mary (Louiselle) Gonyea. This is the first census to list them living in the house they had built during the depression.
  • Apparent neighbors to Alberton is my great-great-grandparents on my mom’s side, Amos and Sylvania Parker.
  • In a census image that makes a family story a little more interesting is my great-great grandfather, Warren Daniel Gonyea and his wife Mary Julia (Fontaine) Gonyea living with their 13 year old daughter Catherine. Just down the street is the Quimby family, including a 15 year old kid by the name of Norman Quimby. Norman and Catherine would marry a few years later in what was apparently a controversial wedding from the family stories I have heard.

Still doing lots of downloading, but so far we are off to a good start!

“Robbed of My Childhood” by Mary Jane Cutting

I am trying to track down a copy of a book my great-great grandmother wrote. The book, “Robbed of My Childhood,” was written by Mary Jane Cutting in 1968 (just two years before she passed away). Within it contains a largely autobiographical account of her childhood (with a few names and places changed) and how awful her step-father was to her family.

My parents somehow found a copy of the book being sold online a few years ago and were able to purchase it, but I really would like to own a copy for myself. Having a priceless first hand account of my great-great grandmother’s childhood preserved is extremely important to me.

There are several problems tracking down a copy of this book:

I am going to research who actually owns the copyright on this book by finding and examining the will of my great-great grandmother. If my great-grandmother was granted the rights to the book, that would mean children (my grandfather and his sister) would own the rights currently. Current copyright law is silly and says that the book remains copyrighted until 2063. I would love to release this book from copyright and put it into the public domain.

If there is anyone out there that currently owns a copy of this book and would like to sell it, please contact me. I will be very interested in owning a copy of this priceless (to me) book.

Memorial Day

Memorial Day has always been one of those special days to me. While we honor those who fought for our country every day, on this day it just seems to be even more important to honor them. For those who served and are part of my family, I think about them a lot on this day.

As far as I can tell, the first Gonyea in my branch of the family to ever be in the United States Armed Forces was my great-grandfather, Nelson Warren Gonyea (1912-1989). He joined the Army in World War II, but never saw combat action. From stories that my grandfather told me, he was about to be shipped out to Japan when his father (Warren Daniel Gonyea, 1883-1945) passed away after being hit by a car. Looking at the dates, it appears it would have been after the war officially ended and as part of occupation of Japan. My great-grandfather ended up spending over 30 years in the Army Reserves stationed in Rutland, VT.

I think of one of my other great-grandfathers too, Edwin Franklin Smart (1910-2003). He served in World War II against my great-grandmother’s wishes, figuring that the best way to protect his family was by protecting the country. He nearly lost his life when an artillery shell hit right near him during the Battle of the Bulge. He spent several years in hospitals recovering from his injuries. One of his arms never was the same due to the injuries he suffered.

Edwin’s grandfather, William Smart, served in the Civil War on the union side.

My great-grandfather Amos Currier served in World War I, although I know very little about his involvement in it. I’ve only seen a couple of photos of him in his military uniform.

Probably the most famous person in my family tree that served in the military is Captain John Parker. Yes, Captain Parker of “Parker’s Revenge” who fought in the first battles of the American Revolution.

Living in small towns

I grew up in the small town of Goshen, NH, which is about a 5 minute drive from downtown Newport and a 15 minute drive from the town of Sunapee. I had no idea growing up how long both sides of my family have lived in the area. Until I started doing my genealogy research a few years ago, I assumed that most of my ancestors moved to the area relatively recently. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

A few examples:

  • On the Gonyea (father) side, there has been a presence in Newport and/or a surrounding town for over 120 years, with my 3rd great-grandparents moving their family into town around 1891.
  • On the Collins (mother) side, there have been relatives that grew up in surrounding towns as far back as the early 1800s and a sustained presence in Sunapee since about 1910.
  • On the Currier (grandmother) side, evidence suggests a continued presence in Newport and surrounding towns since about 1900.
  • On the Cutting (great-grandmother) side, there is evidence of a presence in Sullivan County since amazingly the mid 1700s!
  • On the Parker (great-grandmother) side, evidence says a presence in Sullivan County since the late 1700s.

It is clear that many of my ancestors, once they moved into Sullivan County, clearly thought they had found a great spot. Very few members of my family and ancestors have moved away from the area since then and if so, only a few hours away at most.

The big benefit of this? Much easier for me to do research given that so many of the records are located in just a couple of towns all close to each other. For example, I could spend all day at the Richards Free Library in Newport given how many ties I have to Newport.


I would like to welcome you all to Breaking Brick Walls, my latest effort to share my genealogy knowledge with other genealogists online (and hopefully learn a thing or two as well). I will also share my successes and failures in the most interesting hobby I have ever had.

The name of this site comes from something that all genealogists have to do at some point: break through a brick wall. The brick wall of course something blocking you from going further in your research. Let’s say you have your 3rd great-grandfather, but you have no information that indicates who his father was. None of the records for your 3rd great-grandfather state who his father was, where he was born, or anything. Quite the mystery! That my friends is a break wall.

Sometimes it is a research find gets past that brick wall, sometimes it is noticing something in information you already had, or it is a distant cousin halfway around the world who has that piece of information you have been looking for.

Brick walls are meant to be broken through. Simple as that. I hope we break through quite a few together.