Friday, March 1, 2013

Digging Up the Ancestors

1885: Dedicating the Rebecca Nurse Memorial
I got a call from a previously unknown second cousin on the Gallison side the other day requesting information about my dad's forebears. I couldn't help her very much. I have a lot more information about my mother's side of the family than my father's side, because they paid attention to that stuff. I'm sure I told you about Rebecca Nurse, my 9th great-grandmother, who was dragged out of her sickbed and convicted of being a witch on the say-so of those wretched little girls. Rebecca Nurse had many children, and they all had many children, and so there are a lot of us descended from her. But Rebecca Nurse is neither here nor there a far as the Gallisons go. No relation. Anyway nobody seems to know who the Gallisons really were.

My dad, who never let the truth stand in the way of a good story, used to tell us they were descended from the inventor of the Guillotine. We all knew that was a bald-faced lie. But the other family traditions–that I had a great-great grandmother named Marie LaChance, that the earliest known Gallison was named David–even that he was named Gallison–these were all false as well. I discovered the true facts by signing up for for an international membership in order to access the Canadian census records, spurred on by the questions my newfound cousin raised. None of that crowd called themselves Gallison until they crossed the border into Maine and settled in Vanceboro.

In the old country, which is to say Canada, they called themselves Galishan, and told the census taker they were Welsh, even though my grandfather was christened with a French name. That is, I guess he was christened. They also told the Canadian census taker they were Baptists, but I feel their hearts weren't in it; I think they were "Home Baptists." There was no Marie LaChance. Thomas Alexander Galishan's father was called William, not David. In Vanceboro they told the census taker they all came from Ireland. I'm beginning to suspect they were crypto-French, maybe going clear back to the days when the British were deporting all the French people in Acadia to the swamps of Louisiana. Hey, I could have been a Cajun, if my forebears weren't so good at hiding out.

Or not. Fact is, the Galishans are lost in the mists of history, at least for now. It doesn't help that they were perfectly willing to tell tall tales to the census takers.

But the ancestors on the other side, the ones who settled Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, are well known and have been closely examined by scholars, genealogists, and descendants who wanted to get into the Sons and Daughters of the Revolution. Next week I'll tell you some of the things I found out about them. Their lives were much harder than mine, poor things, and a good half of them were barking mad. Bordens. Yes. I am a blood relative of Lizzie.

Kate Gallison


  1. You are one fascinating Gallison (or whoever you are), Kate. Look forward to the next chapter as I did at the Saturday afternoon movies when they showed the Adventures of Nyoka, Queen of the Jungle.

  2. What fun! I too wait with anticipation for you next installment. We all have insanity in our families, but your ancestors are very fortunate in you! You make even their madness sound charming.

  3. Fascinating! Do we hear the trumpet call for a NYT bestseller in the next installment of your family tree??? I often hear them talk about on the radio program Coast to Coast - they really do give people openings to relatives they never even heard of? Thelma Straw in Manhattan, where the neighbors are not nearly as exciting as your relatives like Lizzie!

  4. Yes, Thelma, with a discerning eye you can trace your forebears back to people you never heard of, all the more likely if they're people the rest of the family would sooner forget about. Thomas Cornell and his mother, for example. I found evidence that some genealogists had bent over backwards to obscure the connection of some families to Thomas Cornell and his mother, faking his daughter's name so that her children's children weren't obviously connected to him. RIP, Thomas, you dirty dog.