The Story of Mémère Morin

I recently connected with a second cousin whom I have never met. Our mothers are first cousins. It has been fun getting to know him a bit, and I am helping him with a genealogical puzzle on his father’s side. He asked me if I had any stories written down about our family, and I had to admit that I don’t have as many of those stories committed to paper as I would like. Many are still in note form. As with many professional genealogists, work on my own family has slowed as I’ve worked on other puzzles. I remembered an earlier version of a story about our great-grandmother. I’ve updated the tale and present it here as an example of how you can take the information from the records in your research and turn it into an interesting story of your family members, to bring them to life for others.

My great-grandmother, Marie Louise Houle, was an amazing woman. She was born in the small farm town of Warwick in Quebec, the sixth of Joseph Houle and Marie Louise Martel’s eight children. The Houle and Martel families were close, and five of the Houle siblings married siblings in the Martel family.

In 1891, Marie Louise Houle’s uncle, Célestin Martel, brought his family to the village of North Grosvenordale in Thompson, Connecticut. Three years later, thirteen-year-old Marie Louise Houle left her immediate family behind in Canada and joined her uncle and cousins in North Grosvenordale to work in the mills there. Eventually her siblings and even her parents immigrated. 19-year-old Anselme Morin immigrated to North Grosvenordale with his family in 1895. On 20 June 1898, Marie Louise and Anselme married at the local Catholic parish church of St. Joseph.

The Houles, Martels, and Morins were all working class families. Anselme and Mare Louise at first lived with his parents on a small farm. But family members also worked in the nearby mills for income. In April 1899, Anselme’s twin sister Angelina married Marie Louise’s cousin Napoleon Martel. A month later, Marie Louise gave birth to her first child, daughter Florence Marie Louise. Another child, son Joseph Arthur, was born in May 1901. The next few years were marked by successive tragedies for the young family.

Anselme’s mother, only 51 years old, died in March 1902. His father Onésime survived her by only a few months, dying in August. Marie Louise gave birth to daughter Annette Louise in December, but she was sickly. She died only a few months later in March 1903, and was laid to rest family plot in the St. Joseph cemetery with Anselme’s parents.

The following year, in September 1904, Marie Louise gave birth to twin girls: Marie Alice and Josephine. Unfortunately, Josephine died just a few hours after the birth and she, too, was laid to rest with her sister and grandparents.

The years following these tragedies were relatively happy ones for the family. Seven more children were born over the next thirteen years, including my grandfather, Theodore Edward “Eddie,” in 1915. The last of their thirteen children, Emile, was born in October 1919.

There were two more losses in this time period. Anselme’s brother Mathias Adrian Morin died 16 October 1911, the day after his 28th birthday. He left a young widow and a year-old baby boy. In 1918, his single brother Éloi, my grandfather Eddie’s godfather, enlisted in the U.S. Army and went to war in France. He was killed at the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne  that fall.

Anselme worked in the local cotton mill even though he had asthma. The family was poor working class, and it was the only way to support the large family. The 1920 census, taken on January 16, shows that the three eldest children, Florence, Joseph, and Alice, had joined their father in working at the mill. Unfortunately, Anselme’s luck soon ran out. On April 24, 1920, he had a major asthma attack and died.

Marie Louise was just 39 years old when she became a widow. Of her eleven surviving children, nine were under the age of 18, and six of those were age 10 or younger. In September of that year eldest daughter Florence married. The family encouraged Marie Louise to let Florence take baby Emile to raise to make the burden on her easier. Marie Louise, however, was adamant. Emile was her son, and she would raise him as she had his older siblings.

The family was quite poor, and often there was little food. Because he was unmarried, Éloi left his pension to my grandfather (only three years old when Éloi’s died). Probate records show that after Anselme’s death, Marie Louise often went to the court to ask for money from the pension to take care of Eddie. This money was actually used to help pay for food for the entire family.

Work was difficult to find in North Grovesnordale in the 1920s, so in 1930 Marie Louise sold the farm, which ended up in the hands of her daughter Florence. Marie Louise took the youngest children with her to Central Falls, Rhode Island. Central Falls had a number of mills, thus much more opportunity to find work. In 1933 my grandparents married and shortly thereafter they took the rest of Eloi’s pension money to buy a small farmhouse in nearby Cumberland, Rhode Island, a much more rural place to raise their children.

Tragedy struck again in 1938, when Marie Louise lost a grandchild. Just a week after the Great Hurricane of 1938 dropped a tree on my grandparent’s house, their son Frank, only nine months old, died in my grandfather’s arms. Just three and a half months later, my grandmother went into premature labor. Baby Floura was too week to survive and died the same day.

After Anselme’s death, Marie Louise dedicated her life to her family and never remarried. She always lived with one or another of her children. In the 1940s she moved with her daughter Dora’s family into a home a few doors up from my grandparents. This allowed my mother and her siblings to spend a lot of time with their grandmother. My mother remembers that Marie Louise was a great cook, and she would often invite the children into the kitchen to taste the tortière (French-Canadian meat pie). She would also take them blueberry picking in the fields across the street. My aunt still vividly remembers being awoken at 5 a.m. to go berry picking.

During World War II Eddie and his youngest brother Emile served in the U.S. Merchant Marine. Someone, likely one of their sisters, put together a collage of each of the members of the family and sent it to them.

The family of Anselme Morin and Marie Louise Houle. Clockwise from center top, Viola “Sister Florence” Morin (1908–2000), Jeannette “Irene” (Morin) Rapoza (1913–2004), Anselme Morin (1876–1920), Joseph Theodore “Teddy” Morin (1917–1987), Joseph Arthur Morin (1901–1970), Marie “Minnie” (Morin) Houle (1910–1998), Beatrix (Morin) Gousie (1912–1985), Florence Marie Louise (Morin) (LaPierre) Mandeville (1899–1972), Alice (Morin) Caron (1904–1974), Marie Louise (Houle) Morin (1881–1953), Medora “Dora” (Morin) LeBlanc (1906–1984). Center: left, Theodore Edward “Eddie” Morin (1915–1969); right, Emile Alphonse Morin (1919–1984).

In 1949, Marie Louise lost another grandson. Her daughter Minnie’s son Emile was killed in an accident at the age of 19. As Marie Louise got older she got more sickly and developed diabetes. At the time there were few treatments. On a cold winter day in February 1953 she succumbed to complications from the disease. Her body was brought back to North Grosvenordale, where she was laid to rest in the family plot with her husband, children, and in-laws.

I wish I could have known her. Despite all the hardships she endured, my mother remembers Mémère Morin as a warm, loving woman. Clearly she was very strong. She was a widow far longer than she was a wife. She bore 13 children in 20 years. During the course of her life she buried her parents, five of her siblings, her husband, two brothers-in-law, two children, and three grandchildren.

 

But she left a lasting legacy of love and family. Her 13 children, raised in very poor conditions, gave her 50 grandchildren whose descendants now number in the hundreds. They have served their country in times of war, and times of peace. Among them are teachers, business people, sales people, singer/musicians, and even a professional genealogist. And we all carry our heritage of a loving woman who did everything to keep her family together in a caring home through the most difficult situations.

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