August 7, 2015 – An interesting relative

My grandaunt Madeline, who we always called Aunt Madeline, was a character. I was thinking today about what relative on this side that I actually met and had interaction with was a real “character”.  Madeline would be that person I believe.

Madeline was my grandfathers sister. She was born 12 years after him and she was a twin. The twin brother died at birth- probably due to RH incompatibility. My Gr Grandmother Emily had lost quite a few children two of whom we have found graves for but knowing about families in those days if you were married and could have children and were in a loving relationship you probably had quite a few pregnancies. Anyway, that is just conjecture on my part although I am sure considering the number of RHneg folks on that line it might not be far off.

Anyway, Madeline grew up well protected and loved. She adored her older brother totally and her parents doted on her. She was considered frail and at some point it was decided that the “spells” she had as she grew older were heart related so for most of her life she took Cumadin.  When I read descriptions of these ‘Heart” spells I realized that today one would probably diagnose her with panic disorder. Full blown panic attacks.  One was described that occurred the day of her taking the high school entrance exam which would have meant her going to live with other family members while she attended high school.  She sweated, felt faint and finally did faint.  Just sitting at the desk waiting for the exam to begin.  Poor little thing probably was scared out of her mind.

Anyway, Madeline lived with her parents in Kingston as they grew older.  She inherited their home after they died but then lost it by not paying all the bills and ignoring the problem. Probably thought others would bail her out but guess she was wrong.  She took in boarders and some of them stayed for a long time and others were Queens University students. As she got older and the family had more care of her she moved to a smaller house and she and her cats remained there until she was in her 90’s and went to end her life at Providence Manor.

My memories are of this very tiny woman who always wore a really crappy wig.  Story went that her gas stove had blown up one day and after that she lost her hair.. I wonder if she actually had alopecia???  She had a bunch of cats and asthma. The connection – well the house smelled totally of Cats which as a child at times was hard to take.  You could only visit her after lunch.  She took the morning to get herself together.  She never seemed like she had asthma and one wonders if it wasn’t just an allergy to cats.   She would offer us a glass of ginger ale which we politely accepted. Everything had cat hair on or around it.  But she was sweet and would be very nice and ask us questions about our life when we visited her.

I think she had a good life and she did something all the members of our family should be grateful for. She never threw away a letter from a relative and she made scrapbooks and she wrote stories and kept letters from her aunts.

Aside from all the information we have gathered from her we have been given other items which are wonderful.  She had a letter wrapped in a tea towel which I found.  The letter was written in 1833 from our Gr Gr grandfathers brother who had come by ship to Canada and ended up in Nova Scotia  = not Ontario like he wanted to. The letter was a bit angry and he just wanted to go back to Ireland and get out of the mines and back to a normal life.  It was in 9 pieces so I took it to Queens University Archives and they hooked me up with one of their people who fixed it back into one document and then I had it framed by someone I trusted.   It is a lovely piece of history we would not have or know that this uncle had come to Canada. I have not figured out yet where he ended up but hope to when I go to Salt Lake City to do a course on research in the fall.

She also at some point had asked her aunts about what it was like as a pioneer family in the woods of Ontario. Those letters are only partially there but even at that there is insight into the life they lead.

Madelines’ stories were published under her name and her alternate name of Joan Talbot.  She wrote newspaper articles and had stories published in magazines of the times. It would be fun to see what is out there that we don’t know about.

That is my story about Madeline.  She was a sweet old thing the entire time I knew her. Probably not as old as I thought she was but old none the less. As with all my older relatives I wish I had known then that I would have all the questions I have for them.  IF you are young, make a list of things you would want to know from your grandparents and old aunts and uncles and go and ask them.  Our family is lucky since they interviewed my grandfather when he was in his 80’s and made copies of the tapes for all the grandchildren.  My brother did the same with my mother so we have learned a lot about her youth and years growing up. My Uncle Ferg wrote a book with his daughter Mary called “Because you asked for it” that tells his life story and includes the ancestry.  We are so lucky. Most families have nothing when they start trying to find their past.

As I always say – “I love my family” and I am so glad they love me and my husband and my kids. The bond of all of us from growing up as a close knit group – my siblings and I, and my cousins as a more loose knit group but friends none the less. My dear sweet husband had only some of that growing up and I think he truly appreciates what we have. I know my kids do, well at least three of them.

Madeline_O_Connor Madeline_O_Connor__with_father_Charles


One thought on “August 7, 2015 – An interesting relative”

  1. Regarding Aunt Madeline, I had forgotten the ginger ale. But I do remember the cats. I usually came with my parents to visit Madeline and probably didn’t say more than two words.
    Our family (Laughlands) was always close because every 6-7 years we moved far away and the only consistent factor in my life was the family. And visiting Kingston was the only home base we really had. Spending summers in the early 1960s with Chip and Allen at the cottages were very special times for me.


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