Saturday, August 18, 2012

Heritage Trail Road Trip

At the beginning of July we searched some family cemeteries in Kentucky as described in my post, "Gone But Not Forgotten." From Kentucky we drove to New Englend where my ongoing search took us to Shelburne, Massachusetts and Langdon, New Hampshire. I had never seen the burial place of my mother's sister, my Aunt Alice.  Alice W Currier was born in Langdon, NH in 1909, three years after my mother, and is buried in Shelburne, Ma with her husband,  Donald R. Morrissey. They rest together in Arms Cemetery in Shelburne.

The entrance to Arms Cemetery and the view as we entered makes it clear that it is a well maintained and finely manicured graveyard. Like everywhere in the Northeast these days the grass is somewhat burnt up and yellowing due to drought but the large number of trees providing shade throughout the grounds allows for plenty of green grass.

The cemetery is cradled between forested hills (people from Massachusetts would call them mountains!) with a winding river on the West, a pond on the East, and the Mohawk trail running East/West on the South. It is a beautiful setting for an attractive and peaceful resting place for my Aunt Alice and Uncle Don. We visited on a hot and humid Wednesday morning and only saw two other cars visiting during the hour and a half we spent there. The cemetery has two central circles around which the headstones are arranged in semi-circular rows. 

The photo on the right shows the entrance road leading to the first circle which contains a fountain and what's called, the Arms Monument.  We drove around this circle and proceeded to the Northwest side of the cemetery where we knew the Morrissey's were buried. I had obtained the plot numbers and a map from communication with members of the Shelburne Historical Society. My search coincided with the society's efforts to catalogue and photograph all Arms Cemetery headstones for the FindaGrave website. 

Donald Morrissey and Alice Currier Morrissey rest beneath a headstone engraved with their names and years of birth and death.  The stone is in good shape as you would expect it to be after only fifteen years but did have some moss growing on the face which we cleaned with a soft sponge and water. 

This stone is placed about ten feet or so forward of another Morrissey headstone marking the burial site for Donald's parents and two sisters (one of whom died in infancy at 15 days of age) and his maternal grandmother.   Both stones share some shade from a tree next to the larger stone and since they are on the Western perimeter of the cemetery it appears they are in the sun for just a few hours in the morning followed by a longer period of shade in the afternoon and evening. That's my conclusion, anyway, and seems a valid theory to explain why the stones are surrounded by mostly green grass. 

There are other Morrissey's buried in Arms Cemetery that I have not fully researched yet. I believe they might be uncles or cousins of my Uncle Don. My uncle's grandfather, Thomas Morrissey, apparently was born in Ireland around 1846 and resided in Buckland, Ma per the 1900 Federal Census. Buckland is in the Shelburne area and is where Uncle Don was born. I have no record of where or when Thomas Morrissey died so that's more research that I will have to pursue.

Satisfied that my Aunt Alice and Uncle Don were resting in a beautiful and nicely maintained setting we departed Arms Cemetery late in the morning to look around the area a bit and grab some lunch. We had seen signs for the Bridge Of Flowers in Shelburne Falls and that sounded interesting so we made a brief tourist stop to check it out. It was very nice but hard not to notice that most of our fellow tourists were our generation or older! Guess that's what happens when we age...we have plenty of time on our hands and nothing better to do than check out tourist traps so just like sheep, we join the herd (or flock) and walk around viewing and smelling flowers.

After lunch we hopped back onto I-91 North into Vermont and then jumped East over the Connecticut River and into New Hampshire on NH-12 and NH-123. Our destination was Langdon, New Hampshire. My mother was born in Langdon and although I'm not sure, her sister (my Aunt Alice) may have been born there as well. Their father, Marshall Currier had inherited a home in Langdon when his father passed away in 1902. Langdon is only about 60 miles from Shelburne so it only took a little over an hour to reach our intended destination. Our GPS, (who we call Penelope) decided to crap out on us and went totally brain dead once we got inside New Hampshire. Fortunately, I had already printed up Google Map directions so we weren't entirely lost when Penelope suffered her dementia. Our intent was to locate the house my great grandfather, Austin Currier (1838 - 1902) had built and passed on to his son Marshall. We last saw the house in 1977 on a road trip with my mother who wanted to show us the house she was born in. She had no problem finding it despite the fact she had not seen it in several decades. I tried finding it a few years ago utilizing my world famous dead reckoning technique and found nothing. But in my own defense I had two passengers in the car with me who got nervous whenever I started to drive on unpaved roads and protested going any further into uncharted territories. My wife and sister don't have the same faith in my internal GPS that I do.

Anyway, a few months ago in anticipation of this trip to Langdon I found some old maps online depicting the town in 1892 and 1860. Although not official plat maps, the maps I found identified land owners by name in general locations. By viewing these I was able to approximate the general location of the farms owned by my great grandfather, Austin Currier and his father, John Currier. Moreover I have a copy of a letter my Aunt Alice had written to my mother in 1977 (same letter mentioned in my June post about letters) describing the approximate locations of John Currier's homestead as well as the land owned by his father, Joseph Currier.  All in Langdon and adjacent to each other. Aunt Alice's letter stated that the two oldest homesteads (John and Joseph) were "cellar holes" and she referred to the Austin Currier home as "Hillside Farm." Armed with her contributions to our search and trying to recall details of the 1977 trip with my mother we unplugged Penelope and suggested she take a nap while we forged ahead with pre-printed Google Map directions and satellite images of our objectives.

Langdon 1892 - The "A. Currier" notation is one and the same  "Hillside Farm"

Langdon 1860 - The "J Currier" notation is John Currier (Joseph died in 1854)

Thanks to the advance research we found Hillside Farm quite easily. It has been modified and improvements made both to the structure and the grounds since 1977 and the result is a beautiful home. It is located at the far reaches of a dead end dirt road which provides plenty of privacy. I introduced myself to the owners and explained the purpose of my unannounced visit was simply to see the house where my mother was born and asked for their permission to take photographs. They graciously approved and granted my wife and I permission to look around and take pictures as much as we wanted.

Hillside Farm

Sandi admires the views looking South from the house

A reflection pool with waterfall behind the home make a peaceful setting

Hard to see but in distant pasture was a herd of bison!

From Hillside Farm we resumed our search to see if we could locate the cellar holes of the homesteads of John Currier and Joseph Currier. Long story could find. Even Aunt Alice's 1977 letter indicated their locations were largely overgrown "when we were last there" which didn't generate much optimism we'd find anything. We didn't but we gave it a good shot at least. Aunt Alice had indicated that one of the cellar holes was near "the Bascom farm."  The Bascom name is mentioned on both the 1892 and 1860 maps as located towards the north of the Curriers so we roamed around a bit in that direction when we left Hillside. Nothing jumped out at us even though some of the turns of the road looked familiar to our 1977 visit when we found and photographed what my mother thought was the cellar hole of John Currier's home.

1977 photo of a Langdon cellar hole

In the vicinity of where I thought I recalled this photo being taken we saw an attractive home with what appeared to be a good sized vegetable garden off to the side. A woman was working in the garden  so we stopped to see if she might be aware of any cellar holes in the area. We showed her some of our maps and info citing the neighboring Bascoms and Curriers and were surprised to hear that she was part of the Bascom family that has continuing farming operations in Langdon. She was familiar with the Currier name (there is a Currier Road in Langdon) but was not familiar with any cellar hole locations. She volunteered to call a relative (father, I think) and was given some suggestions of possible places to look that sounded like they were pretty far off the beaten path. Of course, most things in Langdon are far off the beaten path but while I'm not too bashful about driving around on dirt roads in the middle of nowhere for the sake of ancestry searches, I have some reservations about walking around in people's back yards which is what it sounded like our new found Bascom family friend might have been suggesting. It was very generous of her to allow us to interrupt her gardening and even make calls to assist our search. We were grateful for her attempts to help us but it was getting late in the afternoon by this time and we still had to drive back to Connecticut for the night so we thanked her and departed. She volunteered to call if she or her family came up with any more ideas of cellar hole locations so I left her my cell phone number. 

I have found in the course of researching family history that most people try to be very helpful if you ask for their assistance.  Our visit to Langdon is proof of this both from the Hillside residents and the Bascom family descendants. And while my communication with Shelburne Historical Society members was either on the phone or online, they too were willing to bend over backwards to help us with our ancestry search. If any of them read this post, please accept my gratitude for your contributions to my search. And because of people like you, my search goes on.