Doing Genealogy With My Mother

My mother and I both are avid genealogists.  We just usually don’t work together.  And not on the same families.

My mother’s ancestors include some very interesting characters:  an 18th century pirate, the founder of Salem, Massachusetts, Roger Conant, a Pensacola doctor who purchased a used French Revolution guillotine to perform more painless amputations,  a governor of Bermuda, John Trimingham, a great-grandfather who owned his own Pullman car in which his daughters could ride first class to go clothes shopping in New York to name just a few.  But by the time I and my father became interested in genealogy, my mother had long been working on hers and he and I stuck to his side.

english cem-2

Anne Field looking at English burial records in Madeira

I have in the past done some genealogical work with my mom.  We once went to the Sutro Library in San Francisco and spent hours looking at microfilm of ship’s manifests.  The entire time we were there another patron reminded us many times that there was a one hour time limit.  There were four empty microfilm readers, but apparently she wanted our machines.  After hours of searching my mother found the Healy family on the SS England which left Queenstown, Ireland, on March 29, 1866 bound for New York.  Disappointingly I found nothing.

We have tramped around Irish cemeteries with Irish 4th cousins.  We have spent a week in the library at Salt Lake City, where I was relegated to making photocopies.  We have been to Watsonville to the Pioneer Cemetery to photograph the stones of the Aldridges.  Then there was the time we went to Bermuda to do some work on the Trimmingham and Brent families.  Here we were in one of the most beautiful places in the world and we spent most of our time in a basement archive.  One day I told my mother I was going to go do something else.  I hopped a bus and headed for a bird reserve.  The brochure photos showed flocks of herons and ducks and flamingos.  Oh my! I really wanted to see a flamingo.  We don’t have those in California.  After a half hour bus ride I started walking in the reserve.  No birds.  No birds?  Then I saw it.  Way off in the shimmery distance.  One lone flamingo.  It, beautiful and pink.  Me, no binoculars.  So I went back to Hamilton and bought some coconut cookies.  We found more records in that basement than there were birds in the reserve.

Funchal, 1807

Funchal, 1807

Last month my mother and I went to the Azores to spend time with some friends who own a house on Faial and generously invited us to spend time with them there.  My mother, who has been talking about going to Madeira for years quickly added it to our itinerary.  She has a 3rd great-grandfather (my 4th great) Joseph Dundas Miller, 1792-1847, who was a British shipping merchant.  He sailed between Bahia, Brazil, Madeira and Liverpool,  most likely transporting Madeira and sugar cane.  She had been corresponding with a woman  who was connected to the English Church in Funchal, Madeira, Valerie.  Valerie told my mother that she found Joseph’s burial record in a church register.  He was buried at the English Cemetery, but had no tombstone.  We were welcome to contact Carlos at the cemetery who would know where Miller was buried.

The English Church in Funchal

The English Church in Funchal

So Madeira was first on our itinerary and the English Church and Cemetery was our first mission in Funchal. After getting seriously lost, my mom stopped and asked some bombardeiros where the church was.

Sign for the cemetery

Sign for the church

Lots more walking was involved but we made it.  The church we later learned was built like a masonic temple and did not look at all like a church.  Kevin, the church administrator, led us to a tiny little room on the balcony floor wherein was a plastic cupboard with record books, a table and piles of other records, all quite dusty.

Looking down from the balcony

Looking down from the balcony

He also gave my mom cotton gloves to handle the records.  My mom began perusing the books while I took photos of the church.  After looking in two books my mom easily found the record.  She and I both took lots of pictures of the record and the book cover.

Kevin then directed us to Carlos, the caretaker of the English Cemetery down the street.  He would know where Joseph Miller was buried.  At the cemetery Carlos pulled out his plot books and began looking through them.  Much to my mom’s surprise Miller

The English Cemetery

The English Cemetery

indeed had a tombstone, but here is where it got wierd.  He was buried in a section of the cemetery that is now a road.  When the road was built, all the bones of those buried there were placed in the cemetery walls and their stones hung.  Carlos led us to his grave.  The stone was readable.  We were thrilled.  We took lots of pictures.

Miller's tombstone embedded in cemetery wall

Miller’s tombstone embedded in cemetery wall

These finds continue to make genealogy a fascinating hobby and I am sure my mom will continue to entice me to exotic locations to find out more information.  But I am also sure that I will continue down the Field and Grasz paths of my father’s side.  Because if I don’t no one else will.