I suppose that some future family historian looking at my life through civil records might think that it had been an unhappy one. It's hard to see the death of a child and ensuing divorce as anything but tragic, but there is, of course, another side to the story. There are other children who bring much joy; and divorce can sometimes lead to lifelong friendship and to another future marriage that brings much happiness. When I think about my life so far I always think of that lovely phrase "surprised by joy," that was used by both William Wordsworth and C.S. Lewis.
Although because of my own experience I know that civil records don't tell the whole tale, the day that I traced the life of my great uncle Randolph Giberson, I was saddened by what I found. After I entered all the records that I could find, Ancestry.com gave me a brief summary of Randolph's life:
When Randolph Giberson was born in 1874 in New Brunswick, Canada, his father, William, was 18 and his mother, Martha, was 17. He married Viola C. Lindsey on June 22, 1897, in Maine. They had one child during their marriage. Randolph died on September 14, 1898, in Easton, Maine, at the age of 24.
Through family correspondence and stories, I happen to know a few more things about Randolph. Sometime around 1881-1883, when Randolph was 6, his brother Hanford was 3, sister Edith (my maternal grandmother) was 2, and the baby Stanley was just a year old, their father William left the family and was never heard from again. Their mother Martha was only 23 or 24 years old; left on her own with four small children. In those days of big families--Martha was one of 12 children herself--I hope that there was plenty of family nearby to help out.
A search of the New Brunswick Newspaper Vital Statistics Index for William turns up a William Giberson who felled a tree that landed on his father and killed him; another William Giberson who was "instantly killed by a brow of timber;"and a third William Giberson who "was run over by the train on the Branch Railroad near the Meadows Station on Thursday afternoon." None of these was our William as the dates were wrong, but it looks as though the outlook for any William Giberson in that part of New Brunswick in those years was particularly grim.
We don't know exactly what happened to Martha either, but the family stories tell that she had some sort of breakdown and died some time before 1890, when her daughter Edith was around 8 years old.
The dates and ages are hard to pin down as people seemed to give varying birth dates to the census takers--for example, Edith's date of birth was given as 1880, 1881, and 1882, so I am giving my best estimates.
After Martha's death, the four children were sent out to different families as servants, which I'm guessing was a sort of unofficial foster care system at best, and a sad life for a child at worst. I found Randolph's brother, Hanford, in the Beveridge household in the 1901 Canada Census--age 24, single, and still a servant. I never have found where any of the other siblings lived during that time, although another family letter indicates that the youngest brother, Stanley, was drowned at an early age, and one of my aunts told me that her mother Edith "kept house" in various places until she married my grandfather when she was 18 or 19.
|This 1940s photo shows one use for child labor on a potato farm. |
School didn't open in Aroostook County, Maine, until the potato harvest was in.
(image from Wikimedia Commons).
Things took a cheerier turn for Randolph in 1897. He married young Viola Lindsey, the daughter of a farmer from Easton, in Aroostook County, Maine. Randolph was 23 and Viola is just 16. Within a year, they welcomed a son, Merle, into their family.
Randolph's sister, Edith, had been living in Maine since 1895 (per the 1900 U.S. Census). She married later in Easton, so I am hoping that she was nearby when Randolph and Viola were starting their family. Viola's parents were also living in Easton during this time. I like to think of the young couple with lots of supportive family living in the neighborhood.
|This map shows the location of Easton, Maine and its proximity to parts of New Brunswick.|
The Gibersons came from Lower Perth in Victoria County.
Just as things seemed to be going so well, tragedy struck again. Randolph was only 24, presumably working as a farm laborer as he had done all his life, when he died suddenly due to "heart disease." His death left another young Giberson widow on her own with a four month old baby, a sad echo of Randolph's early life.
Viola's story has a happier-sounding outcome. Within a few years, after living back at home with her parents, she married Ari Thompson, who worked as a chef in a sanitarium. Together they had two boys and two girls, Ari raised Randolph and Viola's boy Merle, as his own, and they eventually provided a home for Viola's aging and widowed father as well.
In spite of the overall sad tone to Randolph's life, as gleaned from official records, I hope that he, too, had moments when he was "surprised by joy."