Sunday, January 6, 2019

Lorraine Albert Johnley (1924-1970)

Lorraine Albert, the oldest child of Gus and Bernadette, married Gerald (Joe) Johnley at St. Hyacinthe Church in Westbrook, Maine on April 28, 1948. Her maid of honor was her sister, Jeanne and best man was her brother, Roland.  
Wedding Day - April 28, 1948
Another family member played a key role in the wedding; Lorraine’s uncle, Reverend Wilfred Albert, officiated. The bride’s attire was a Navy suit with matching accessories and a panama straw hat trimmed with a Navy ribbon, and she wore a corsage of white roses. The maid of honor wore a corsage of pink roses. Her husband to be had just served two and a half years in the Navy in the Pacific. He was employed as a chef at the time of his marriage.

In addition to raising three children and being a devoted wife, Lorraine strived to pursue a career in the medical field. Her passion to be a nurse began before her marriage and family. As the record below shows, she entered the United States Cadet Nurses Corp in 1944 while WWII was still raging on. I believe her membership in the Corp at Mercy Hospital in Portland, Maine was where Lorraine received her medical training. As seen on the card, her date of graduation was September 14, 1947. The 1951 Portland City Directory showed Lorraine working as an Registered Nurse at Mercy Hospital. She later worked at the Osteopathic Hospital in Portland.

Lorraine was a special aunt to me.  I remember she gave me special attention as one of her many nephews.  Something that stands out to me even today is that she did not treat me like I was a child therefore I feel I bonded with her in a different way than with my other aunts and uncles. She really was like a second mother to me. This is a bold statement to make because I truly loved all my aunts and uncles. 

Baby Diane in Dec 1950
Struck with breast cancer at such an early age, Lorraine passed away from the illness on May 10, 1970 at the age of 44. The event was a tragic loss for the Albert family. Her giving spirit and devotion to family and others will live on forever.

Credits: Thanks to Diane Bell for providing the photos for this post.
Source of the Cadet Nurse Corp record:

Sunday, February 18, 2018

DNA Test Confirms the Albert's Connections to the Gaspe Peninsula

To date, I have taken two DNA tests; one from Family Tree DNA and one from Ancestry DNA. I urge other Alberts to take their DNA test also. Cheers to Susan Young for having tested already. In the image below, she appears on the top of my results page as my first cousin.

With the more delineated breakdown of the "Ethnicity Estimate" that Ancestry DNA provides, it shows that I have ancestors from the Gaspe region. This estimate aligns well with research I have done in this area and others represented in the red circle on the image above.

Fishing boats on the Gaspe around 1900

Our immigrant ancestor, Gabriel Albert, moved from France to the Gaspe region in the mid-18th century surely attracted by the rich industry of cod fishing. What lured fishermen like Albert away from their homeland in France?  According to GaspeCured, a modern day processing plant, the old tradition of curing cod dates back to 1755. "The region's perfect weather conditions, a cold and dry climate, make it the ideal place to salt and dry the cod." Seemingly, those conditions have not changed from Gabriel Albert's time.

The map with description above shows the closeness of the DNA report to my actual French Canadian heritage.  Two of my family lines immigrated from areas where the line emanates from (France).  Of course, one of these families is the Alberts. 

Creative Commons image of an English Silk Mill
One of the Albert descended sons, Ferdinand, decided to change the course of our family history and move to Southern Maine sometime before 1895.  Just as Gabriel had started a new life spurred on by the promise of a new industry, so had Ferdinand. The focus of our family's sustenance changed from an agricultural context to an industrial one as Ferdinand learned the craft of silk weaving in the growing French Canadian mill town of Westbrook, Maine.

Image Sources:
1. Fishing boats:
2. Silk mill:

Monday, April 20, 2015

Silk Weaving in Westbrook

     Westbrook’s mill history began with the making of paper in the mid 19th century.  Although my ancestors worked in several of Westbrook’s mills and was the motivation for their emigration from Canada at the turn of the century, I found one ancestor and one mill, in particular, fascinating to focus on here.  Inspired by silk weaver Ferdinand Albert, I wanted to learn more about the industry he worked in and the history of his chosen work location, the Haskell Silk Mill.

     In 1858, James Haskell moved from Massachusetts to Maine to acquire a cotton mill at Saccarappa. At that time, it was called The Westbrook Manufacturing Company.  Innovations in the industry caused him to refocus his business plans to manufacturing silk, and the Haskell Silk Mill was formed.  He hired two experts with industry expertise, Ernest Gearharts and Ernest Rathgrab, and sons, Frank and Edwin, served as managers.

     Long before the Haskell family opened their first silk mill in Westbrook in 1874, American silk manufacturing existed as a handcraft.  Just as today’s tech giants look to the next big thing to transform people’s lives; the Haskell men, living in the industrial age, wanted to use advancements in industry technology to open the market for silk products.

     New inventions unique for producing silk were made available, to which the Haskell entrepreneurs took full advantage. With the implementation of these new machines, the business prospered and Haskell’s customer base expanded to garment makers and stores nationwide.  In this regard, the mill brought some notoriety to Westbrook as the Haskell Silk Mill gained a reputation as a leader in the silk business. 

Silk Machines in use at Cheney Brothers Silk Manufacturing Company in Manchester, Connecticut, ca. 1925

     As stated on the Maine Memory Network website, a project of the Maine Historical Society, reporting on silk manufacturing in Westbrook: “by the late 19th century, Haskell and others relied primarily on Japanese raw silk (filament), turning out previously unimaginable quantities of affordable silk goods and ending American reliance on expensive imports.”  The supply of Japanese raw silk made silk weaving a viable trade. Silk products came to be enjoyed by all classes of people rather than being considered as a luxury item for the wealthy.

     While silk manufacturing never reached the magnitude of the cotton and woolen industries, Haskell’s business in Westbrook thrived for over fifty years offering fine quality silk products to customers all over the country.  Moreover, due to the successful manufacturing and marketing efforts of the Haskell businessmen, Westbrook benefited economically and enjoyed having one of their local businesses be a leader in the industry throughout the tenure of the mill’s operation.  In 1930, the mill closed due to market instability and the emergence of a man-made fiber called rayon.  

     The occupation of my great grandfather, Ferdinand Albert, had always intrigued me and now I know why. Silk weavers were highly skilled workers and their expertise contributed to the success of one of Westbrook’s most respected and successful businesses.

Note:  A version of this article was submitted as an entry in the 2015 Westbrook Historical Society's writing contest.

Photo references:  The directory image courtesy of Walker Library in Westbrook.  The Haskell mill images courtesy of the Maine Memory Network.  The Cheney mill image courtesy of the University of Connecticut. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Railroad Man, Pierre Gagnon

In a 2009 interview with Roland Albert, former owner of the Men's Shop, I asked him to tell me about the oldest relative he could recall. He remembered his grandfather, Pierre Gagnon (aka "Pepere Gagnon"), to be a track supervisor on the railroad, and that he was always well dressed at family functions. Roland's sister, Jeanne, also recalled Pierre as the oldest relative when she was interviewed in the same year, but she remembered him as an older man living out his retirement years at Kinney Shores in Saco. Her image of Pepere Gagnon was of him doing something he loved: walking along the beach picking up driftwood logs to later use in the fireplace.

Diana and Pierre Gagnon in their later years.
Pierre Gagnon was born in the municipality of L'Islet, Quebec, Canada in 1863.  He married Diana St. Pierre also from Quebec. Like many families in 19th century rural Canada, the Gagnons wanted to immigrate to another land for a better life. He set his sights for such a move at the very early age of 16 when he first entered the United States.  The career he chose for himself would propel him to be part of one of the great migration movements of the industrial age.  He worked on the railroads for over forty years in Canada, Maine and New Hampshire. The story told here comes with the help of a genealogist's gem of a find: a naturalization record containing an affidavit written in Pierre's own words and signed by him in 1935.

Maine Central Railroad General Office Building in Portland Maine, c.1920

     The naturalization record states that Pierre married in Westbrook in 1886 and resided there while he was employed in the "section gang" for the Portland and Rochester Railroad. Hearing of higher wages being offered at the Maine Central Railroad in North Stratford, New Hampshire, he transferred to that site to work as a foreman. Soon after, Maine Central acquired a railroad in St. Malo, Quebec, and he relocated back to Canada. Pierre's wife and two daughters (Marie and Exilia, both born in Westbrook) were living in Westbrook during these transitions, but she joined her husband when he moved to St. Malo for his new work assignment.

Image taken from the online ebook: 

The Official Railway Guide: North American Freight Service Edition

     The census records of Canada show the increasing size of the Gagnon family; by 1901, eight children are enumerated. The family needed larger living quarters than what could be provided by rented apartments so Pierre bought a piece of land and built a residence. As the children approached school age, Pierre and Diana desired for them to be educated in American schools. In 1905, Diana moved back to Westbrook, Maine to enroll her children in the fall term. Even though a request had been put in to change job locations, Pierre would have to wait another three years before the transfer came through. During this time, he continued to work for the Maine Central Railroad in St. Malo, and visited his family in Maine every two weeks.

Signature section from the 1935 document
     When Pierre returned to Westbrook in 1908, he would remain a Maine resident the rest of his life. All of his offspring including the children born in Canada would later marry and vote as American citizens by virtue of Pierre's naturalization. Two sons joined the Maine National Guard; one of them enlisted in the Army and served overseas. From the statements provided by Pierre in the naturalization document, a clear picture of his means and motivation for moving to Westbrook became clear; he lived and grew his family in St. Malo because he needed to be there for work, but he and his wife's vision were to have their children be raised and schooled in Westbrook.

Willey Brook Bridge in New Hampshire, circa 1906
Working on the railroads was certainly not a glamorous career, but an important one nonetheless; maybe even an exciting one in the sense of being part of a revolution that paved the way for fast and reliable transportation from and between the remote areas of New England and Canada.  Pierre Gagnon lived a long and fruitful life, and realized his dream of providing a better life for his family.

Postscript: Thanks to David Gagnon of Denmark, Maine for providing a copy of Pierre's naturalization papers. The Maine Central Railroad images (and the NH bridge image) are all sourced from Another post on Pierre Gagnon appeared earlier on this blog.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Art of Good Business

The following story won 2nd prize in the first annual history contest sponsored by the Westbrook Historical Society:

The mills represent a large part of Westbrook’s history, but another part comprises the legacies of local businesses making good for its citizens.  During Westbrook’s earliest days, the businesses of lumbering and blacksmith helped to make the town more inhabitable. It was a time “everything was done by by honest and hard work, a competence was acquired”.  Local made products contributed to successful businesses in Westbrook, but a connection to the community was always a necessary ingredient.

The above image, courtesy of Maine Historical Society, shows two of Westbrook's early Main Street buildings:  the Presumpscot House and the Brigham Block.  This image is from 1880 but later the The Brigham Block would house Porell's and The Men's Shop.
A story about such a connection can be told by hearing about one of Westbrook’s successful, long-term businesses of the twentieth century.  In the 1926 Directory of Westbrook, Gorham and Windham, there amongst the residential listings is the name of a clothing business that was founded only a few years before: The Men’s Shop.  The three proprietors of the business were named as Hormidas Vincent, Auguste Albert, and Emile Thuotte along with its address as 874 Main Street.

The business would later lose a partner but my grandfather, Auguste “Gus” Albert, would remain at its heart and soul until his death in 1982.  Over the years, The Men’s Shop never lost its focus on quality products and personalized customer service.  Certainly, these characteristics held true for other long-term Westbrook businesses as well, such as McLellan's Department Store, or A. H. Benoit Co., where my grandfather worked as a clerk when he was a young boy. 

The legacy of Auguste Albert’s salesmanship and personal connection to his customers was carried on through his son Roland, and later through his grandson Peter.  Of course, there were other major players in the success of The Men’s Shop, but the Alberts may have been the key contributors for turning the business into a culture.  The business acumen of Auguste and Roland were extended to the community with their involvement and leadership in the Westbrook Chamber of Commerce.    Motivated by the pride I felt for my grandfather’s business and his standing in the community, I created a family history blog in his honor called August Legacy.

In May 2010, I was fortunate to sit down with Peter Albert at his home in Westbrook as he reflected on his twenty years of experience with the business.  Three themes that emerged from that conversation could easily be themes that relate the stories of other businesses in Westbrook that proved the test of time.  Quality products, knowing your customers, and adjusting to the changing local economy stood out as factors that led the Men's Shop to serve the residents of Westbrook for seventy-five years.  In describing how the business thrived in the heyday, Peter gave a picture of Westbrook as "a close-knit town, everybody knew everyone, the shops on Main Street were busy, and people supported the downtown businesses".

1. Karen Sherman Ketover (ed.), Fabius M. Ray's Story of Westbrook (Bowie, Maryland: Heritage Books, 1998), p. 184-185.
2. Portland Directory Company. Directory of Westbrook, Gorham and Windham (Maine). (Portland, Maine: Portland Directory Company/Fred L Tower Companies, 1926), p. 172.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Clarifying the Albert Line

In an earlier post (Connecting Canada to France), the Albert's earliest ancestor was known to be Pierre Albert based on a genealogy book written by Gabriel Drouin. I have since discovered that information is apparently a mistake. As I trace the ancestry back from Ferdinand Albert (Auguste Albert's father), I see the line to be represented in the following graphic:

The Albert book written by Mr. Drouin did not include sources so I cannot confirm the lineage that he suggested. What I have confirmed is that Gabriel Albert did have a son named Pierre but the Drouin book references another Pierre Albert who came from Lucon area of France. I have seen no linkage of this Pierre Albert to our Ferdinand Albert. The Pierre Albert line described and highlighted in the Drouin book derived from the Kamouraska area of Canada, but we know that Ferdinand's ascendants (our correct lineage shown above) came from Normandy in France and Caraquet in Canada. What I believe is the spot in the Drouin book where the mistake begins is shown circled in red.

Source: Acadiensis, Vol VII, 1907, David Russell Jack, ed.
Gabriel Albert's first son was Pierre and they both were among the founding families of Caraquet who received land grants from the British government. The image above shows an early map of Caraquet with the Albert names among the founding families of the town. The map also shows Caraquet Island where Gabriel moved his family to after the turmoil of the Acadian expulsion in 1755. Gabriel's second son was Jean Baptiste (see green arrow below) whose descendants included Ferdinand, Auguste, myself and the other Albert recipients of this blog.

Friday, September 30, 2011

A Life of Devotion and Education

     Thanks to the documents provided by the Presentation of Mary Manchester Province Archives, we can know much more about the life of Rebecca Albert (1908-1996). As her grand nephew, I called her Aunt Rebecca but most people called her Sister Rebecca due to her chosen profession and service to the church. Her death and burial records recorded her name as "Sr. Rebecca Albert". She lived to the ripe old age of eighty-eight.  
Rebecca Albert in 1930
     Rebecca's childhood included a tragic life event - the loss of her mother to cancer. Like her siblings, she was raised by different relatives. In a recent conversation with her nephew, Roland Albert, he recalls that Rebecca lived with the family of an her aunt after the death of her mother. Upon graduating from grammar school at St. Hyacinths in Westbrook, she was sent to a girls boarding school in New Hampshire. The Diocese of Portland apparently provided financing for orphaned children to receive a Catholic education. Other Albert girls were sent to boarding schools in New Hampshire as well, including my mother, but only one went on to become a nun. In February 1933, Rebecca received her Profession of Vows and chose the religious name of "Sister Wilfrid-Marie" presumably to honor her brother-priest, Wilfrid Albert, whom she had a special affinity for. She took her final vows in the Order of the Presentation of Mary on August 15, 1938. 
St. Marie Parish in Manchester, NH
     The other lifelong passion of Rebecca's was teaching. Her teaching assignments detailed in the archive document shows she taught at nine different elementary and high schools from 1933 to 1987 which allays my concern of the numbers of schools I have taught at. Most years she taught at St. Marie High School in Manchester, NH. The subjects she taught were English, Writing and Art. She also taught writing skills to her fellow sisters in a college extension program. 
     In 1987, Rebecca retired to St. Marie Residence in Manchester, NH. She passed on March 23, 1996. Her life was devoted to God and education. Although I have not been able to confirm that she received a college degree, an obituary printed in the Portland Press Herald of March 26, 1996 reported that she obtained a bachelor of arts degree from the University of New Hampshire. In a call to the UNH Alumni office, she was not listed in the database.
Notes:  Much of the information in this post was taken from a short biography written by Sister Gabrielle Messier, and the source of the Manchester picture came from Susan Bailey's website.