Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sister Rebecca Albert (1908-1996)

Pepere’s younger sister was a devout, educated and artistic person. In 1930, she was living with Pepere on Bridge Street in Westbrook as shown on the 1930 US Census. That same year in September, an article appeared in a local paper announcing she was to enter the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary in St. Hyacinthe, Canada to continue her studies to become a nun.  She was 22 at the time. Before living with Pepere, she lived with his sister, Mrs. Emmanuel Gallant (Antoinette Albert) on King Street in Westbrook.
Did you know there was a town in Quebec called St. Hyacinthe? It is located due northwest of Montreal. Below is an image of the town and its park taken from Wikipedia.
Sister Rebecca would later be transferred to Manchester, NH to continue her vows, teach and practice her art. She painted many pictures including a few images hanging over the piano at the home of Roland and Janet Albert in Westbrook. One of these paintings is shown in the Family Treasures post on this blog. The newspaper article goes on to say that she was trained in art at Coaticook High School in Canada where she graduated in 1929 as valedictorian. Later she attended the University of New Hampshire which was a real accomplishment considering that it was uncommon at that time for women to work on advanced degrees.

If you are an older Albert, what do you remember about Sister Rebecca? I remember visiting her with my family on regular visits to New Hampshire. For an older, seemingly sedentary person, she also had an animated quality about her.  She was always asking me questions about my lessons and somehow she knew I’d become a teacher. Sometime around the age of ten, she gave me a book on Longfellow poems as a birthday present. 
Note regarding source of the newspaper article: 
The article was clipped and attached to a handwritten letter but did not include the date or the name of the paper. Since she was living in Westbrook at the time, I assumed it was a local paper - either the Westbrook American or the Portland Press Herald.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Family Visit to Maine - Part 2

With the help of MaryAnn Albert, many pictures were taken during my recent trip to Maine of the former homes of the Albert and Gagnon ancestors in Westbrook.
These two families both moved to Westbrook from Canada in the early 1900's to work in the mills. Their residences were in close proximity to the mills for obvious reasons of having easy walking assess to their jobs.

Why did our ancestors emigrate to Maine?  The best answer to this question would have come from our great grandparents of course, but we hardly remember what they look like let alone what they ever said about their lives. To get a sense why French Canadian families left their homeland, I studied a document from a website on Quebec history. There I found a paper called "French Canadian Emigration to the United States1840-1930" written by Claude BĂ©langer. He points out that many families left a traditional rural society and "entered an industrial world, alien to them by virtue of its way of life, language and religion".
What pulled people to move away from their traditional roots were the chances of more prosperity than what they currently had. Their traditional ways of life and religion were not left behind. Besides a strong work ethic, French Canadian culture of Westbrook centered around the St. Hyacinth Catholic Church and most of the children attended the Catholic school across the street until grade eight (shown above). Classes were held in French in the mornings and English in the afternoons.

According to Mr. Belanger, the population of Quebec surged in the time period from 1784 and 1844 creating a deficit of farmland. Even before the population growth, agricultural success was limited by other factors such as a short growing season and distant access to major markets. Surely working class families, like the Gagnons of St. Malo, also must have experienced the same economic downturn causing them to look to the growing industrialism in the states.
Genealogy involves research and even though it was not a priority on my trip, I did get to search for records, pictures and newspaper articles with Mary Ann at the Walker library and at the Cumberland County Courthouse land records office. Here she is locating a map in the Plats room of a Pine Point property that Auguste and Bernadette Albert transferred to Jeanne and Ray Lebel in 1959. Auguste Albert had so many properties bought and sold over the years that we grew tired from writing a list of the transactions.