Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Summer at the Ocean View Hotel

I’m in vacation mode right now, taking a break from writing my blog and spending some time at Biddeford Pool, the Maine seaside community where my mother and her parents spent their summer holidays. This is an article my mother wrote in the 1980s in which she described her memories of those family vacations. It sounds pretty unsophisticated, but it also sounds like they had a lot of fun. By the way, she mentioned attending services at St. Martin’s in the Field Episcopal Church. This past weekend, that church celebrated its 100th anniversary. JH

Summer at the Ocean View Hotel
by Joan Hamilton (1918-1994)
In the twenties and thirties, my family spent summers at a hotel overlooking the beach in Biddeford Pool, Maine. The Ocean View was a family-type hotel catering to a great extent to Canadians, especially Montrealers, since it was only 300 miles from Montreal. In the early days, we used to take the overnight train to the city of Biddeford. Frank, the man of all work at the Ocean View, met us at the station and drove us to the coast. It was a banner day in the 1930s when the first person did the drive by car from Montreal in one day.
The Ocean View letterhead read, “Henry D. Evans, Prop.”, and a proper proprietor he was. Fully in charge of all that went on in the hotel, and knowing all of us children well enough to tell us off if we got out of hand, he nevertheless had a wonderfully dry sense of humor. I’ll always remember the time he answered the one and only public telephone in the front hall. The call was for a very popular teenage friend of mine who was being pursued by a number of boys, amongst them one named Black and another whose surname was White. Mr. Evans came to the dining room door and boomed out for all to hear, “Margot, it’s for you. I don’t know if it’s a Black or a White.”
The kitchen was supervised by Mrs. Evans, who managed to produce delicious meals in an antiquated kitchen with coal stoves and ice boxes. The ice came from an old shed down the road where it was stored under layers of sawdust. The fare was simple by today’s standards, but always fresh and perfectly cooked, and with choice enough to suit everyone’s tastes. How my mouth waters when I think of that Saturday night special, “Boston baked beans, brown bread.”
The Ocean View was far from luxurious. There were no elevators, few private bathrooms, no telephones in the rooms and wide, dark linoleum hallways that echoed to our footsteps. We quickly learned to recognize everyone’s individual pattern as they walked down the hall. If we were up to some mischief, it gave us lots of time to hide the evidence.
There were a lot of children at the hotel and many of us had nannies, so we ate in the children’s dining room. It was in a glassed-in area off one of the balconies, with a marvelous view of the dunes and the sea. Putting us in our own dining room was also an effective way of keeping us out of the hair of the adults at a time when children were supposed to be seen but not heard.
The balconies of the Ocean View, with their wood and cane rocking chairs, were ideal for children’s games. On rainy days when we could not get out of doors to play, we would pull the chairs into a long line for a game of trains, turn them upside down for hiding places or houses.
Sometimes traveling shows came for the evening. Usually they were magicians who made shredded newspapers whole again and pulled rabbits out of hats. The chairs in the lobby were pulled into rows and parents and children alike watched the entertainment. Afterwards, the hat was passed. This must have provided a pretty meager living for the entertainers.
Sunday evenings were hymn-singing time, with one of the guests playing the piano and a group of us children gathered around singing. “Now the Day is Over” and “For Those in Peril on the Sea” always seemed to me dramatically mournful and appropriate, while the fundamentalist fervour of songs like “Shall We Gather at the River” and “Onward Christian Soldiers” had us raising the roof with our voices. After this observance of Sunday as a special day, everyone played games again. That is, everyone but me. My strict Presbyterian upbringing meant no Sunday games allowed.
Sundays also included a morning walk across the golf course to St. Martin’s in the Field Episcopal Church. Straw hats and white gloves were de rigueur for the women and girls, while the men looked handsome in navy blue blazers and white flannel pants.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Breaking Through My Shearman Brick Wall

In 2014, I wrote about the brick wall surrounding the Irish origins of my great-great grandmother Martha Bagnall Shearman.1 Thanks to the generosity of a new-found distant cousin, I have now demolished that brick wall, moved the family tree back another six generations and discovered additional Shearman family branches in New Zealand and the United States.

I knew that Martha Shearman was born in Waterford, Ireland, married Charles Francis Smithers there in 1844 and came to Canada three years later.2 Because of Charles’ career in banking, the Smithers family lived for several years in Brooklyn, New York, and I discovered that two of Martha’s brothers and a sister had also immigrated to Brooklyn. I knew nothing, however, about the Shearman family’s roots in Ireland. 

Shearman Esq. in Grange, lower right corner

I posted the article online and eventually Lorraine Elliott, who was born in New Zealand and lives in Australia, came across my blog. She contacted me to tell me that her ancestor Robert Clarke Shearman,3 a New Zealand policeman, was another of Martha’s siblings. The clue that helped convinced her we were related was a photograph in her great-great-grandfather’s album identified as Maria Boate, Martha’s and Robert’s sister in Brooklyn.  

Some years ago, Lorraine’s research led her to a genealogy of the Shearman family written in 1853 by John Francis Shearman (I’ll refer to him as JFS). He was a cousin of Martha’s and Robert’s, an amateur archaeologist and a Catholic priest. (Some of the Shearmans were Protestants, others converted to Catholicism.) This document is in the archives of the National University of Ireland at Maynooth, near Dublin. She sent me the notes she had on that document, along with some of her own research on the extended Shearman family.   

The JFS genealogy takes the Shearmans back to the mid-17th century when Thomas Shearman (c 1610-1704) came to Ireland from England with Oliver Cromwell’s invasion forces. He then settled in Burnchurch, County Kilkenny. Subsequent generations of Shearmans lived in and around Grange, not far from Kilkenny City. 

Lorraine’s notes stated that Martha was one of 13 children, and that their parents were Thomas Shearman (c 1785-1850) and his wife, Charlotte Bennett Clarke (no dates available).4 Her research suggested that Thomas lived in Dunkitt, Kilkenny, near the city of Waterford, but other sources say that he was from the nearby city of Waterford. Perhaps he lived in Dunkitt in his early life, then moved to the city. 

Ruins of Burnchurch, Kilkenny
I recently came across another Shearman genealogy on familysearch.org.5 This 15-page manuscript was written in 1863 by a member of another branch of the family, George Shearman (1818-1908) of Penn Yan, a small town in New York State. It was clearly based on the family history written by JFS 10 years earlier, and it added more detail about George’s line and had less information about mine. It listed Thomas Shearman and named his sons, but only mentioned that he also had five daughters.

All this information comes with a caveat: neither of these documents meets the requirements of genealogical proof standards. The names and dates of birth, marriage and death were probably based on family records and anecdotes and parish records that existed at the time, but today there are no official records in Ireland to back them up. Nevertheless, Shearman family members can be found in various cemeteries, old Irish city directories, newspaper articles, Tithe Applotment Books and indexes of wills. Kilkenny researcher Edward Law found numerous records pertaining to Grange House, home to my Shearman ancestors in County Kilkenny, and the librarian with the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, Rothe House, Kilkenny was extremely helpful in my search for traces of the family.

This article has also been posted on the collaborative blog www.genealogyensemble.com.

Photo Credits: Rothe House; Janice Hamilton


1. Janice Hamilton, “My Shearman Brick Wall”, Writing Up the Ancestors, Feb. 9, 2014, http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/2014/02/my-shearman-brick-wall.html

2. Janice Hamilton, “Waterford Cathedral: A Tale of Two Weddings”, Writing Up the Ancestors, June 8, 2016, http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/2016/06/christ-church-cathedral-waterford-tale.html

3. Robert S. Hill, “Shearman, Robert Clarke”, from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://TeAra.got.nz/en/biographies/1s10/shearman-robert-clarke. Note that this article says Robert’s uncle was William Hobson, first governor of New Zealand; Lorraine has been unable to confirm that. 

4. Charlotte was the daughter of Waterford pewter manufacturer Charles Clarke and his wife “Miss Bennett, late of Bath.” This maternal line has now come to another brick wall.  

5. “Genealogy of the Shearmans”, prepared by George Shearman of Penn Yan, New York, c. 1863 https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:939K-VQH2-8?mode=g&i=113&wc=9DWX-ZNL%3A1040900401%2C1040900901%3Fcc%3D1880619&cc=1880619