|IN SEARCH OF CORA
By Angela LaFlamme Nickerson
Saturday, December 15, 2001 11:53:03 AM
Message From: Angela_Nickerson@umit.maine.edu
Subject: Final Project - IN SEARCH OF CORA
To: Rhea Cote
Rhea: The photo's did not come out when
I sent this to you. I am sending you a hard copy through intercampus
mail now. Sorry this did not paste well. The pictures truly make
IN SEARCH OF CORA
A Final Project for Franco American Women's Experience
FAS 329/WST 301
By Angela LaFlamme Nickerson
My journey to find my paternal grandmother
began on one of those rare November days in Maine when the temperature
was nearly 60 degrees, bright sunshine, and blue skies that held "cotton
ball" white puffy clouds. She died three years before I was born, and I
knew almost nothing about her. I had searched through the old wooden box
of old family pictures and scrounged what few pictures I could find of
my Dad's mother. I also found her wedding invitation and her obituary.
It was noted in the obituary that she was born in Orono, Maine. This was
a surprise to me, as I had always believed my Grandmother was born in Canada.
Treating myself to a day off from work,
I arrived at the Orono Town Office at approximately 9:30am, and was
surprised to find an acquaintance, Ms Susan Tuholski seated behind the
desk. It was good to see a familiar face, as I really had never done anything
like this before, and didn't know how to begin. I explained to Susan that
I was on a mission to find my Grandmother. Her name was Cora Rousseau,
and she was born in Orono in 1877. Susan went through a myriad of documents,
files, drawers, books, and cards. Nothing. There was only one Rousseau,
and I had no reason to believe that he was a relative.
Not to be discouraged, I left Orono, by
this time it was nearly 11:00am, and headed for the Bangor Public Library.
I thought that perhaps I could look at the 1880 Census, and find some record
of Cora, or her family. Once there, a very courteous Mr. Cook [didn't
catch his first name] took me to the microfilm room where he installed
the film of the 1880 Federal Census in the viewer and left me to
my work. The quality of this film was less than awful, but I was determined
to find something, anything that would lead me to information about my
It was nearly impossible to discern any
names, but if I was not going to be successful, it would not be from lack
of trying and I was determined to view every inch of tape available. It
is important to note, here, that back in 1880, names were not entered alphabetically.
. . they were simply entered randomly, thereby making it necessary
for me to look at every single entry. (Sigh). As the tape rolled, I found
my eyes glazing over from time to time, and had to force myself to concentrate.
Suddenly a name leaped out at me: BROOKS.
Why my next thought popped into my head, I'll never know. But I think that
perhaps my Father's spirit was sitting on my shoulder, and literally pushed
my face into the screen and said "That one!" Many years ago when
I was just a child, I remember my father saying to me (once) . . . "you
know, my Mother was a Brooks". Now, her wedding invitation and her
obituary both indicated that her name was Rousseau. Keep in mind, here,
that I do not speak or read French. As I looked
at the entry for Brooks, which by the way, was one of the only legible
entries on the film, I noted that there was a 3 year old girl named Cora
and one named Alice. My Grandmother had a sister named Alice. The other
names I did not recognize. Here's what the entry said:
Brooks, Joseph 39
Selena (Boardway) 29 Wife
Alice 11/12 (meaning less than 1
I don't even know why I wrote this information
down, because I never expected this to actually be my family. But, I did
write it down and continued on my search. I viewed the entire
tape for the Town of Orono on the Census, and finding nothing, somewhat
discouraged, went back into the reference room. A young woman who never
did tell me her name took over for me and together we started looking at
various city directories. I knew that my Grandmother's family moved to
Waterville when she was quite young, although I had no idea when. So, I
picked up the earliest Waterville City Directory I could find, and looked
for Rousseau. Going down through the list I still had nothing to connect
to Cora, but at the end of the list of Rousseau's there was a note. It
said: "See Brooks" (Gasp!) Both the librarian and I were astonished. Brooks
is Anglican translation for Rousseau! Who Knew?! Not me! I nearly shouted
right there in the library, but thought better of it. With
my new found information, I raced to my car (took the overtime parking
ticket off the windshield...(sigh)) and headed back to Orono. By
now it was nearly 2:30, and I knew the Town Office closed at 4:30. Surely,
there was enough time. When I arrived in Orono, Susan was not in, but another
equally accommodating woman came to my aid. I could hardly contain
myself as I gave her my story about Cora "Brooks" Rousseau. She went to
her files and EUREKA! There she was! Cora Brooks, Born June 10, 1877, daughter
of Joseph and Selena Brooks! I obtained a copy of her birth certificate,
which was not an actual Žbirth' certificate, as town offices were not obligated
to record births in 1877. The birth record is the sworn affidavit
of a cousin of my Grandmother, a Ms. Mary
Elizabeth Clancy who gave all the vital information to the town office
upon the death of Cora Rousseau LaFlamme. Apparently, when an obituary
appeared in the newspaper indicating Orono as the place of birth, and if
the town had no record, they placed an ad in the paper searching for people
who may have known the deceased, and asked them to give sworn testimony
as a record of birth.
The woman I was working with asked me to
wait just a moment while she got the town tax records for 1877. These are
records, which can not be copied for the public but they can be viewed.
There was nothing in 1877, but we hit pay-dirt in 1889. That record indicated
that my Great Grandfather Joseph Brooks owned a home on the north side
of Water Street, on land owned by a Horace Walker. This information was
taken from the 1899 tax records for the Town of Orono. This wonderful woman
took me upstairs to look at an antique map of Orono, and showed me where
Water Street is located. I thanked her profusely and flew to my car to
go exploring. Water Street is an extension of Mill Street where Pat's
Pizza, and Margarita's Mexican Restaurant are located. Mill Street actually
turns into Water Street when it bends to follow the Penobscot River. It
is not a long street, and there are some very old houses, although I had
nothing to indicate where Horace Walker's land may be. I cruised the neighborhood
several times, and noticed that there is a very old business, whose name
I recognized, on Water Street. The company is Shaw & Tenney, Co. and
they make wonderful wooden fishing creels and pack baskets. I passed by
several times before I got the courage to go in. I know the company has
been in business for many, many years, and perhaps, just perhaps they knew
about old Horace.
Mr. & Mrs. Tenney could not possibly
have been more helpful! They didn't know which land belonged to Horace
Walker, but they gave me the names of some people who might. Sadly, I was
never able to connect with these people, but I fully intend to continue
my quest even after this paper is turned in. Mr. Tenney followed
me out to my car, and told me that Byer Manufacturing Company, which is
on Mill Street, and manufactures wood and canvas camping gear among
other things, used to be the old Catholic Church!
Suddenly that made infinite sense to me.
Thinking about Bangor, most of the ethnic neighborhoods, are located near
their churches. St. Mary's Church on Cedar Street (which burned in the
1970's) was surrounded by Irish. St. John's Church on York, was located
in a French and Irish neighborhood, the Synagogues were located in mostly
Jewish neighborhoods, etc. So it would follow that my Great Grandparents
would settle near their church.
I went back and took a picture of
Byer Manufacturing Co. ±
One would never guess looking at it today
that it had once been a church. A farmer's barn, maybe, but not a church.
By now, the sun was starting to go down, and I had the contented feeling
of someone who had accomplished a great deal in one day! I had found Cora
My second excursion took me to Waterville
on a foggy Saturday morning before the crack of dawn. I had arranged to
meet a cousin, Estelle Guerette Quimby, whom I had not seen in at
least 15 years, for breakfast in Waterville. It was a wonderful reunion.
We both told each other what little we knew about our common ancestors.
My Grandmother Cora Rousseau LaFlamme was the older sister to her Grandmother
Marie (we called her Aunt Mary) Rousseau Rancourt. We exchanged ancient
Cora Rousseau LaFlamme (r.) Alice Rousseau
(l.) (From family photo's)
She was able to identify a couple of people
in a family group picture that I brought for her, and I was able
to identify one in a picture she brought to show me. Estelle told me that
one of my Grandmother's brothers, Louis, had been killed by a train although
she didn't know where or when. But she said he was young when it happened.
She also told me about a sister to Cora of whom I had never heard.
Her name was Blanche and she died in 1912, the same year that my Father
was born. After breakfast, I joined Estelle in her car and she took
me to the graveyard where my Grandmother's parents and several of
her siblings are buried. I don't believe these were poor people. Their
grave plot is adorned with a very impressive granite monument with the
names of everyone buried there engraved on the front, back and on the sides,
in addition to each having a single headstone. I told Estelle that we could
not possibly have picked a better day to go rummaging around a graveyard.
It was cold, foggy and dark. Perfect graveyard weather! The Rousseau
family monument is a large upright oblong shape with a roll, or log shape
on the top.
I'm sure there must be some significance
to the shape, but, as yet, I have not found it. The name of my Great-Grandfather
is written "Ovide" Rousseau, which my cousin Estelle assures me is Joseph.
Here again, the not-so-Franco Franco would have glided right
past this because the name was not J-o-s-e-p-h! It was certainly my fortune
to have someone along who can guide me in the right direction. Ovide Rousseau
was born in 1840 and died in 1928. Selina is written as Selina M.
Boudoin (Sigh),the 1880 census and Cora's birth record both indicated that
Selina's name was Boardway. (I may weep). Nonetheless, Selina was
born in 1852 and died in 1916. Cora's siblings were listed as follows:
Blanche Rousseau Donahue, born 1889 died 1912; Louis Rousseau born 1884
died 1905; Phillip Rousseau born 1872 died 1914; Charles Rousseau born
1869, died 1902; Fred Rousseau was not listed on the stone, however his
daughter, Lauretta age 5 at the time she died, was listed as the daughter
of Fred and Lora Rousseau. Marie Rousseau is buried with her husband Henry
Rancourt in Waterville as Cora is with her husband Peter LaFlamme
in Bangor. Estelle and I commented that how sad it was that just about
all of our Grandmothers' siblings died young. While Cora was in her mid-sixties
when she died, which by today's standard is not "old", Marie was in her
70's, and Alice we think lived into her 70's as well. Their other siblings
all died before they were 40! What I also find interesting is that
both of my Father's sisters died before they were 40 as well. His brother,
however, lived into his 70's as did Dad.
After we finished at the cemetery, Estelle
and I made our way downtown to the Waterville Public Library, to look into
the Waterville City Directories after 1889. The Waterville City Directory,
1897-1898 is the first one in which Joseph Brooks appears. The directory
indicates that he resides at 25 Veterans Court in Waterville, and is employed
at Lockwood Company Textile Mill. Listed along with Joseph is Charles Brooks,
also employed at Lockwood.
Now, it starts to get interesting. Progressing
on to the 1899-1900 directory, I find that Joseph Brooks is listed as well
as Ovide Rousseau. Both listings indicate residence as 25 Veterans Court.
For the first time, Phillip appears, as a millman at Lockwood Co. Slowly,
the family is materializing in Waterville.
1901-1902. Rousseau: Charles, Pulp Maker,
resides at 25 Gold Street. Charles must have gotten married and moved into
his own home at some point after 1900. Then, my eyes nearly popped right
out of my head: Cora, 22 Veterans Court, employee Lockwood Co! I never
knew my Grandmother had ever worked, much less in the mill! She was a very
regal, distant woman according to my sister Therese, and it's hard to imagine
her ever working outside the home. But, there she was. The directory does
not indicate what she did at the mill, only that she was employed at Lockwood.
Louis Rousseau appears for the first time in the 1901-1902 Directory, a
weaver at Lockwood and residing at 22 Veterans Court. Phillip is listed
again, only this time he is residing at 8 Redington Street. I noticed that
the family had moved from 25 Veterans Court to 22 Veterans Court. That
is the home in which my cousin and her sisters grew up! It was in the family
from 1901 until the death of Estelle's father, which I believe was in the
1980's. Wow! I had no idea that her home had such a history.
Curiosity got the better of me, so I had
to find out what kind of a mill Lockwood Company was. I found a book on
the history of Kennebec County from the late 18th through the late
19th Centuries. "[R. B. Dunn]. . . built at a heavy expense what is now
Cotton Mill #1, Amos D. Lockwood, of Providence, R.I., became enlisted
in the enterprise and the present Lockwood Company was formed in 1874.
. . . Mill No. 1 was completed and began spinning cotton in February 1876,
made sheeting until 1882, , when the additional buildings now standing
were erected. . . The total output of the Lockwood Co. for the first half
of 1892 was 8,752,682 yards of cotton cloth, weighing 2,978,000 pounds.
To produce these large results 2,100 looms, 90,000 spindles and the labor
of 1,250 people, ten hours each week are required [Note: there must be
an omission here of the number of days per week.] From fifty to seventy-five
skilled mechanics are constantly employed. . ."
Photo copied from: Reflections, a Historical
Look at Waterville and the Upper Kennebec Valley Region. Central Maine
News- paper's publication 1996.
Back to the City Directories! 1903-1904
the listing was unchanged except there is a listing for "Mary, widow of
Charles, employee of Lockwood Co., residing at 4 Gold Street. Charles passed
away in 1902, and it looks as if his wife went to work in the mill after
he died. She was not listed prior to this. I also noticed that Fred may
possibly have kept the name Brooks. There is a Fred Brooks, weaver at Lockwood
Co., residing at 7 Kelsey Street. Of course, it may not be Cora's brother
at all. I just mention it as a possibility.
I knew my Grandparents had married in Waterville
in 1904, so out of curiosity, I looked to see if there was a Peter LaFlamme
listed in the 1904-1905 Directory. There he was! Listed as a hairdresser
(barber) working at 25 Main Street and residing...... at 22 Veterans Court!
So, my Grandparents moved in with Cora's family when they were first married.
It is also interesting to note that Cora disappears from the City directories
after 1903-1904 . Her mother was never listed, and as each sister married,
they too disappeared. Women were not listed as homemakers or anything once
they were married. The only exceptions were widows.
I continued looking through City Directories
until my Grandfather disappeared. The last listing for Peter LaFlamme is
in the 1909-1910 Directory. Looking through various Directories various
members of my Grandmother's family appear and disappear (through death
or marriage) up to 1912 when I ended my search. By now it is approximately
1:30pm, and the Library will be closing soon. So, armed with perfect directions
from Estelle, I head for 22 Veterans Court, and the Lockwood Company (which,
is Marden's now!).
22 Veterans Court looks a little different
to me now that I realize that my Grandparents lived there also. The house
itself is in very good condition, it has been renovated and sided, but
the basic structure is still the same. As I took the picture, I realized
that a huge amount of my family history is connected to this house. First
it was my Grandmother's childhood home, a home for her entire family, a
home for her and new husband, eventually her sister Alice lived there,
then Marie's daughter Cleora and her husband Emile Guerette. So,
it passed through four generations, and is still standing.
I thought about my Grandmother and her
family and how so many people lived together under one roof. At one time,
there were Cora's parents, at least five siblings plus Cora and Peter all
living in this house.
The next picture is of Cora as a young
woman, her siblings and parents. Probably taken right around the time that
she was married. I think she was extremely beautiful. Estelle and
I studied this picture for a long time, and we kept coming up with one
extra male. We counted brothers and there was still one extra. We were
puzzled about who this could be, or did Cora have another brother who somehow
did not show up in any documentation or records? Upon returning home, I
was looking at the photo, sitting in my living room. On a wall in my living
room I have two very large portraits. One is of my Grandmother Cora,
circa 1904, and one is of my Grandfather in the same time period. Suddenly,
as I looked at this old photograph, and then up at the portrait of my Grandfather,
I think that the extra man is Peter LaFlamme!!
Cora is in the third row on the far left.
Peter is on the third row, the second from the right.
The last leg of my journey was to place
Cora in Bangor. Again, the wonderful Bangor Room at the Bangor Public Library
came to my rescue. Since the last Waterville City Directory
that Peter LaFlamme appeared in was the 1909-1910 Directory, I started
with the Bangor City Directory of 1908-1909. Peter was not listed.
It was pointless to search for Cora because married women simply did not
exist in these directories. In the 1910-1911 Bangor City Directory,
however, Peter LaFlamme was listed as having a barber shop at 20 Water
Street in Bangor, and residing at 115 Second Street. So, Cora and
Peter moved from Waterville some time in 1910 and settled on Second Street.
Which, incidentally, was one block away from St. Mary's Catholic Church.
They lived on Second Street only briefly, because in the 1912 Bangor City
Directory, Peter is listed as living at 5 Boutelle Road. I know that my
Father was born on Boutelle Road. It is a beautiful old square house with
a beveled glass front door. Sadly, the picture I took of it did not come
out, and I didn't have time to get another one developed. From Boutelle
Road, Cora and Peter moved to 373 Main Street in Bangor, according to the
1919 Bangor City Directory. Main Street, in those days, and up until the
late 1950's was residential. There were beautiful old mansions belonging
to wealthy Bangor families where today there is a used truck lot. By selling
the house on Boutelle Road, Peter was able to buy two houses. 373 Main
Street was a big old duplex located on the corner of Patten Street, and
he also bought 9 Patten Street which was another duplex. Therefore, he
emassed income from three rental properties, and was probably able to live
rent free in he and Cora's side of the house on Main Street. Now, the house
on Main Street can not begin to compare with the house on Boutelle Road.
While it was larger, and it was certainly an attractive house, the one
on Boutelle Road was beautiful, in a fine neighborhood and had more land.
My Grandfather was a cripple. As a small boy in Quebec, he had fallen out
of a hay barn onto a pitch fork which left him with a stiff left leg. While
he was able to walk fine, long distances tired him and caused him pain.
The Boutelle Road home is three or four miles from the Water Street barber
shop, and it was too much for him to walk. Because of the hours he
worked, public transportation was difficult for him to use. He went to
work early, but closed his shop after pubic transportation had stopped
Cora and Peter lived at 373 Main Street
for the rest of their lives. After my Mother and Father were married, they
rented the other side of the house and remained there until 1959. I was
15 years old when we moved, and I felt I was leaving my whole world behind.
I loved that house. Sadly, the people who bought the property totally
destroyed its character, and in the end the old house became a sleazy bar
and grill on one side, and a bakery on the other.
But during my Grandparents lifetime, the
house had two terraced lawns, one on each side of the house, plus there
were three huge old elm trees which shaded my Grandparent's side of the
house. It was really quite lovely.
I asked my sister Therese if she had any
memories of Grammie LaFlamme. She said that Grammie was not a warm, loving
person, but that she was distant. Therese was not sure she really liked
children very much. Our other Grandmother was full of fun and was very
loving, so there was a stark contrast. Therese said that Cora was fastidious,
and she did wonderful needlework. Cora never accepted my mother because
she was Irish. From what I have heard over the years, she was pleasant
to my Mother, but never really let her into her heart. I think Mum spent
a great deal of her married life, up to the day my Grandmother died trying
to please her. But she never truly measured up. That's really sad, because
my Father was the only one of her children to marry. I think
that is one reason why my father insisted that no French would be spoken
in our house. This was my Mother's house as much as it was his, and he
did not want her to be uncomfortable. Theirs was a truly beautiful love
story. There was much laughter and music in our home, and there was not
in my LaFlamme Grandparent's home. I think that Dad made a concerted effort
to raise his children completely different from how he was raised. I am
very grateful for that, for I had an extremely happy and loving childhood.
I'm proud of my parents, proud to be their daughter, and will keep their
memory alive as long as I live.
I have tried very hard not to paint either
to harsh a picture or too light a picture of Cora Rousseau LaFlamme. I
did not know her. When I started this quest to find her, I had no idea
that her family went by the name Brooks, that she worked in a textile mill
in Waterville, or that she lived with her husband in a family homestead
in Waterville. An image of the beautiful young Franco woman emerges and
ripens into a regal, stately woman of 64 when she died, sadly, of a kidney
infection, which today would have been completely treatable. I found a
woman I never knew, but who is a part of me. I can't tell you if I would
have loved her, but I can tell you that I admire her, and really wish I
could have known her.
Should she wish to do so, Rhea Cote Robbins
has my permission to publish my final project paper "In Search of Cora".
Angela LaFlamme Nickerson 12/15/01