Monday, May 14, 2012

Genealogy: Fecund Families From the North Country

Few mothers as a group have seen more Mother’s Day celebrations than my own mother and her immediate ancestors. My mom turned 90 last September 5, an amazing milestone. Her mom, Mary Franklin Lagree, of hardy Churubusco farm stock (as they all were), lived to 96. Mary’s mom, Julia Toohey Franklin, was 93. And Mom’s paternal grandmother, Matilda Lagree, was 92.

Those four women collectively saw close to 300 Mothers Day celebrations. For good measure, I could include my mom’s Aunt Alice Silver (her father’s sister), who died in 2007 at 103, and was still active.

Both lines of my mom’s family were prolific, which got me to thinking about other fecund families from the North Country. There are some that put up startling numbers.

In late 1931, Jeanette Lee of Port Leyden (southeast of Lowville) died in her late eighties, leaving behind 113 descendants (10 children and 103 grand- and great-grandchildren). That’s an awful lot of people, but there are several families who exceeded that number.

Mrs. Hannah Galnow of Malone died in 1903 at the age of 88. By then, her brood of thirteen children had expanded to eighty-five grandchildren, thirty-two great-grandchildren, and four great-great-grandchildren. If her children were all still alive at the time, Hannah’s survivors totaled 134.

It would be tough to top Mrs. Tuffield Racette of Redford, who died in 1910. A Keeseville native, she survived her first husband by 48 years and her second by 14 years. Her progeny numbered 136: 7 children, 52 grandchildren, 74 great-grandchildren, and 3 great-great-grandchildren.

Besides a great number of ancestors, another nod frequently made to motherhood involves existing generations. In that category, it would be difficult to best an announcement made in 1929 regarding the lineage of four-month-old Joyce Manning of Whitehall.

Her mom, Mrs. Gerald Manning, was 16, and her grandmother was 34-year-old Mrs. Charles Ouimet, also of Whitehall. In Swanton, Vermont, near the Canadian border, were Joyce’s 50-year-old great-grandmother, Mrs. Lucy Blood, and her 68-year-old great-great-grandmother, Mrs. Louise Bernier.

To me, having five generations alive at one time is remarkable, but perhaps that opinion wasn’t shared by 90-year-old Kate St. Peter of Holyoke, Massachusetts, who was Joyce Manning’s great-great-great-grandmother. Six living generations! In the words of TV’s Frank Barone … Holy Crap!

As I wrote about all these unusual circumstances, particularly the high number of descendants, it occurred to me that the prolific Lagrees of Churubusco (in northwestern Clinton County) might have topped 100 at some point. A closer look revealed that my mom’s paternal grandparents, the aforementioned Matilda Lagree, 92, and her husband Peter, 97, were exceedingly fruitful.

In 1936, two years before they both passed away, they had five generations living, encompassing 129 descendants (and only 6 of their 14 children were alive at the time). They had wed in 1864 and were married for nearly 75 years.

Imagine a mother’s job back then … raising kids, growing food, cooking, cleaning, teaching, and more, all without the benefit of diapers, electricity, running water, and other modern conveniences. And they did it 365 days a year, including Mother’s Day. Seems like it oughta be Mother’s Week.

Photo: On the left is Alice Silver of Chateaugay in 2005 at the party for her 101st birthday, where she danced (and also sang a naughty song). Seated next to her is her niece, my mom, who was 84 at the time.

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Lawrence Gooley, of Clinton County, is an award-winning author who has hiked, bushwhacked, climbed, bicycled, explored, and canoed in the Adirondack Mountains for 45 years. With a lifetime love of research, writing, and history, he has authored 22 books and more than 200 articles on the region's past, and in 2009 organized the North Country Authors in the Plattsburgh area.

His book Oliver’s War: An Adirondack Rebel Battles the Rockefeller Fortune won the Adirondack Literary Award for Best Book of Nonfiction in 2008. Another title, Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow, was a regional best-seller for four years running.

With his partner, Jill Jones, Gooley founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004, which has published 83 titles to date. They also offer editing/proofreading services, web design, and a range of PowerPoint presentations based on Gooley's books.

Bloated Toe’s unusual business model was featured in Publishers Weekly in April 2011. The company also operates an online store to support the work of other regional folks. The North Country Store features more than 100 book titles and 60 CDs and DVDs, along with a variety of other area products.

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