In Search of Velma Brown [Moore]: Another Assumption, Another Rethink

Velma Moore is third from the left.

Among my grandmother’s photographs in The Family Archives is this one taken with a group of girls from Dalhousie University in front of the Provincial Normal College (PNC) in Truro, Nova Scotia in 1918. Based this photograph and the fact that my mother’s history of the Moores indicated that Velma attended high school in Truro, I assumed that Velma attended the Provincial Normal College prior to matriculating at Dalhousie.

Thus, on my recent trip to Nova Scotia, one of my stops was at the Little White Schoolhouse Museum in Truro, which has an affiliation with the Normal College.

Little White Schoolhouse Museum, Truro, Nova Scotia, July 2017

Site of Provincial Normal College (now Colchester-East Hants Public Library), Truro, Nova Scotia, July 2017

When the museum attendant remarked on all of the pictures I was taking, my husband explained my interest, and the attendant invited us downstairs into the archive room–my first foray into a physical archives room with living, breathing archivists. I knew for certain that Velma had been attending school in Truro in 1915, but the archivist was unable to find a record of her attendance at the Normal College in class photographs for the approximate years or in the actual enrollment or graduation records. (The enrollment records consisted of 3 X 5 index cards, one for each pupil, filed in a wooden card catalog with brass fittings. Quaint, eh?)

After leaving the archivist with my e-mail address, I went back to the group photograph that had sent me to Truro and discovered that I must have made an unwarranted assumption in thinking that the girls had all attended the Normal College.

Girls from Dalhousie, Acadia + Mt. Allison at Normal College – Truro

If the normal college model in Canada at that time was the same as it was in the U.S., it wouldn’t have made sense for someone to go into a two-year post-secondary program right out of grammar school. The kicker is that I was already familiar with the normal college model, but I made the assumption and moved forward with it anyway!

Needless to say, I did some additional research on secondary education in Colchester County in the first quarter of the twentieth century. It appears most likely that Velma graduated from  Colchester County Academy. I’m not finding a source of digitized Nova school records that isn’t behind a paywall, so my next stop will be my local public library.

In Search of Velma Brown [Moore]’s Childhood: Economy, Nova Scotia, 2017

I’ve just returned from a week in Economy, Nova Scotia, continuing my search for the childhood of my maternal grandmother, VELMA BROWN [MOORE]. What I remember from the 2007 trip to Economy Point with my mother is that much of the landscape gave the sense of being largely unchanged since Velma was a child at the turn of the 20th century. Ten years later, this impression is unchanged. Economy Point Road, where the Moore homestead was located (2nd driveway on the left) is still unpaved. The marshland is still marsh, the meadows are still meadows, and Cove Road, the site of many Moore picnics and clamming expeditions, is still a vast wasteland of mud at low tide.

Yet Velma’s childhood was still nowhere to be found.

I’d brought my mother’s history of Velma’s life with me on the trip, and as I reread it in the evenings, still searching for clues, I began to realize that Velma’s story does not reside in her childhood in Economy Point. Velma’s story, where I will find what made her the woman she was, lies in her education. That being the case, I’m going to let my mother tell the story of Velma’s childhood, and I will develop a research plan to discover as much about Velma’s education as I can:

Velma Jane, the second child of GEORGE BAXTER and MARTHA [FAULKNER] MOORE, was born on 16 April 1897 at Economy Point, Colchester County, Province of Nova Scotia, Canada. She was named “Velma” after the heroine of a book that a neighbor was reading. Both parents are descended from some of the early settlers in Economy.

I am piecing together this narrative from Velma’s genealogy notes, Moore family trees copied from the genealogy of Eric Moore, a very distant cousin, History of Economy, N.S. by the Economy Historical Society, and other information I could find.

. . . .

Velma was the fifth Moore generation in Canada and was born in the Moore homestead. . . . [She] didn’t talk much about her childhood, but lessons learned in growing up on a farm stayed with her. She learned how to mend clothes and sheets to extend their lives and to recycle clothing by making new clothes from an old garment. She learned to work hard and preserve food for the winter.

Velma grew up surrounded by a large extended family. There were lots of aunts and uncles from Baxter’s five siblings and Martha’s eight. Velma mentioned Uncle Dan, who was DANIEL MOORE, Baxter’s uncle and son of ROBERT NOBLE MOORE. Uncle Dan made furniture, including my bed stand/sewing cabinet . . . .

. . . .

Velma grew up near the water in Minas Basin and Cobequid Bay. She liked marsh greens and always had some when we spent summers in Economy. The greens turned her teeth green. She helped [my sister] and me acquire a taste for dulse (seaweed),1 which is now too salty for me. The Point road goes out to the Cove where the family went clamming and had picnics. . . .

Velma started her schooling in the one-room school house in the Point Section of Economy. At that time, there were five schools, one in each section of Economy. I don’t know the age for starting school or the number of grades offered. Education was very important to the family. They observed what happened to girls who didn’t get additional education. They married young, had lots of babies and and lost their teeth and figures. Thus, Velma continued her schooling in Truro, which is about 34 miles from Economy. I don’t know when she went there or or how many grades she attended. I know she was there in October 1915 when her brother, Fred, wrote her from England where he was stationed in World War I. She lived with Aunt Addie during the school year and went back to Economy for the summer.2

1My mother carried on the dulse tradition when we spent vacations at my grandparents’ summer cottage in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

2Katharine Brown Gauffreau, The Ancestry and Life of Velma Jane Moore Brown (unpublished manuscript, 2013), 3.

The Genealogist’s Impulse?

In my last post, I posed the question of the genealogist’s impulse, which was prompted by my memory of meeting a very distant cousin when my mother and I picked up a Moore genealogy packet from him during our 2007 trip to Economy. I was confounded by the thought of being connected to so many people through a common bloodline, but never knowing them, never even knowing of their existence. (The feeling was similar to thinking about death: the thought of ceasing to be and the thought of living forever are terrifying in equal measure.)

Could it be that the impulse to spend countless hours trawling census records, birth records, death records, marriage records, immigration records and every other conceivable record (cf. Cyndi’sList!) is a way of searching among the billions of tile pieces that make up humanity past and present to find the scattered pieces of our own bloodlines, carefully cleaning the accumulated dirt and grime from each piece and holding it up to the light to see its true color and if any of the original detail remains?  Does the impulse then take us one step further to form these tiles into a mosaic of found pieces and missing pieces, knowing all the while that the picture will never be completed?

I subscribe to several genealogy/family history blogs, and the common impulse I’m seeing is a desire to honor the life of each person who makes up the fragmented mosaic that is family: Here is a woman who once lived in this world, and her life mattered. Here is a child who didn’t survive his infancy, and his life mattered, too. Here is a troubled man who took his secrets to the grave: we won’t forget him, but we’ll let him keep his secrets.

For me, writing about my family in personal essay and poetry has always been a way to feel closer to them. (The impetus for fiction is different. It starts with an attempt to understand a family member and ends with a fictional character who is someone else altogether.)

I believe that the act of writing keeps the spirit of another alive in the writer. Publishing the writing in a blog, with its immediacy and potential for interactivity, seems to be the next natural link in the chain as  the act of reading keeps that same spirit alive in the reader.

If I’ve floated too far into the ether with this post, I promise I’ll come back down to earth next week.

In Search of Economy, Nova Scotia: 2007

Economy Point, Nova Scotia

Economy River, Nova Scotia, 1916

Economy, Nova Scotia Farmland

Photo Back (Handwriting appears to be that of Martha Moore, Velma’s mother) “our house + Melissa’s, rail by the bridge; Tide is above bridge”



In my previous post, “In Search of VELMA BROWN [MOORE] (1897-1975),” I introduced my maternal grandmother and expressed my desire to learn more about her childhood in Economy, Nova Scotia. When I became keeper of The Family Archives in 2014, I discovered a number of photographs of both Economy and Velma’s family.  Looking back to the day I asked her about her childhood, I find it odd that she didn’t just take out the photographs and show them to me.

The photographs of Economy posted above are circa 1910-1920, with the last one dated 1935. They do nothing to dispel my sense that Economy at that time was a pretty grim place.

On the other hand, my impression of Velma and her family from other photographs is that they spent most of their time sitting on the porch, going for picnics, and digging for clams–all sepia-toned, wistful, and redolent of a bygone era.

A Meal on the Porch, Economy, Nova Scotia, 1912

Picnic, Economy, Nova Scotia, c. 1912 (Velma Moore; unidentified woman; Etta Moore, Velma’s aunt; Martha Moore, Velma’s mother; George Baxter Moore, Velma’s father; kneeling woman unidentified)

Picnic at Cove, Economy, Nova Scotia, 1908 (Velma standing in front)

Setting Off for a Picnic, Economy, Nova Scotia (Etta Moore standing third from left, Martha Moore sitting in left chair)

Clamming, Economy, Nova Scotia

Wading in the Bay of Fundy, Economy, Nova Scotia (Velma Moore, age 2; Fred Moore, age 5; Mary Ellis, age 5)

In 2007, I drove my mother to Economy from Presque Isle, Maine so that she could show me where Velma had been born and grown up. Here are some pictures taken from that trip. As you can see, not particularly grim:

The other reason for the trip was so that we could pick up a packet of Moore genealogy from Eric Moore, a very distant cousin. When we met Eric, the family tree showed that we shared a common set of grandparents:

WILLIAM JAMES MOORE, Born 1741 in Colraine, Ireland, Died 1820 in Economy, Nova Scotia

REBECCA NICKOLSON, Born 1753 in Ireland, Died 1829 in Economy, Nova Scotia.

I didn’t know what to think. It was just confounding to me that here was this person to whom I was related, and not only did I not know him, I hadn’t previously known he even existed. How could this be? How could I share bloodlines with all these people in the world whose existence I’m completely oblivious to and always will be?

Is this the genealogist’s impulse, I wonder?

In Search of Velma Brown [Moore] (1897-1975)

Ronald & Velma Brown, Hannaford Cove, Cape Elizabeth, Maine

VELMA JANE MOORE joined the Brown family when she married RONALD DALRYMPLE BROWN on June 30, 1926 in Economy, Nova Scotia. Ronald was the last male descendant of JOHN BROWN (~1595-1686) through his son BENJAMIN BROWN (1647-1736).

Ronald and Velma were my maternal grandparents, and although we had family visits on a regular basis, I never really knew either one of them. Unlike my parents, whom I knew had once been children, college students, and newlyweds, Ronald and Velma had never been anything other than grandparents, more specifically, my grandparents.

 When I was twelve, Velma took me into her bedroom and gave me an amethyst ring she had received as a gift on her twelfth birthday. She made a point of telling me  that she had waited to give it to me until I was the same age she was when the ring was given to her.

What makes the memory of that day so clear is that not only did she give me something that had been hers from that far-away time in Nova Scotia, it was the first and only time I had been allowed to cross the threshold of my grandparents’ bedroom at 27 Edgewood Road while they were alive.

From that time forward, I have been searching for Velma Brown.

The bare facts are that she was born in Economy Point, Nova Scotia in 1897, and she grew up on a farm. She then attended Dalhousie University in Halifax so that she wouldn’t have to remain in Economy, Nova Scotia and live on a farm. In her family history of the Moores, my mother writes of Economy:

I think Economy was at its peak at the time Velma was born and during her growing up years. The census of 1901 shows 805 people in 175 households. There were five schools at the time. Those who weren’t farming found work in saw mills and the woods, in shipbuilding yards with other men being in the crews for the ships, and fishing. . . . Many men fished for shad, which was very plentiful at that time but is no longer. (I remember Ronald going to Parrsboro for shad right off the boat for our dinner. Shad is the boniest fish I have ever eaten.)1

Not long after Velma gave me the amethyst ring, I mustered the courage to ask her what her childhood had been like. What I remember of her response was that life on the farm lacked modern conveniences, they churned their own butter, and, unlike the children of today (which would have been 1968 or thereabouts), she had only one doll, which had a painted porcelain head.

There was something about Economy, Nova Scotia, then.

When I was growing up, my notion of Economy was formed by a single photograph, which hung in one of the bedrooms of Velma and Ronald’s summer cottage in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. There was something about this picture–the small, white house with its four blank windows, the narrow dirt road–that just seemed so desolate, almost as if it were a road to nowhere. Years later, when the picture resurfaced in The Family Archives, it conveyed such a sense of sadness.


1Katharine Brown Gauffreau, The Ancestry and Life of Velma Jane Moore Brown (unpublished manuscript, 2013), 3.