Monday, February 18, 2013

From Maximin to Maxine

My Dad - Willis Henry Maxine.
One of the most difficult branches of my family tree to research has been the one bearing my own name - the Maxine family. I knew that Maxine had been spelled Maxime at some earlier point, and when I was growing up my dad said we were French. He told me his grandfather had married a woman named Harriet Dejardin who was from Green Bay, Wisconsin, and they'd moved to Jamestown, North Dakota, where my grandfather and dad had been raised. That was about it.

My dad's family never seemed particularly close. I only met my grandfather four or five times. I only met my Uncle Chuck once! I did get to know my Uncle Eddie a little bit. When I was a kid I loved to brag about Uncle Eddie because he owned an airplane. Of my dad's siblings, I knew my Aunt Margaret best. We sometimes stayed with her on family visits to Minneapolis. My family moved to Minneapolis in 1980, which gave me more contact with her and her family, too.

Now, my dad did get into genealogy very briefly in the late 1970s - probably because of Roots - and he wrote down all he remembered, his grandparents, some stray surnames, a bit of information about his mom's family, and a list of some cousins he remembered from childhood. He also paid a visit to his sister and brought back a small stash of photos. In the early 1980s my dad decided to write a sort of memoir - all in all only about a dozen pages - little fragments, memories, mostly rather melancholy.

When one examines one's life to see if it has a special meaning it makes one wonder and reflect and not be too sure of where to look. Like a skein of tangled yarn, one pulls on certain threads and finds the skein tightening up, another releases, and so on and on . . . My father's father was French, and in Paris he carried coal up six flights of stairs. This must have been a miserable back-breaking job carrying the black stuff from under to six floors up where it provided light and heat and in some way he sought a promise and came to America. He found other French in Green Bay, Wisconsin and found himself surplus and moved to Jamestown, North Dakota where he must have disappeared into the Puree of this great melting pot. I marvel at how little I know of my past, My father I remember as a great story-teller like so many yet it all was within the American tradition of anecdotes to tell stories to give themselves a sense of place, jokes of those less fortunate or stupid, and a secret envy for the rich or successful.

I only found this folder of my dad's writings after he died in 1993. It's the only story I ever got of where we Maxines came from, of who we were. In the last few years I have finally been able to track down the Maxine family and I deeply regret I can't share the information with my dad. Some of what my dad knew turned out to be incorrect. We Maxines are in fact Belgian - not French. And our Maxine ancestors came to America a generation earlier than he believed. Still, I think his version rings true in spirit. Here's what I now know about my Maxine ancestors.

At this point I have traced the Maxine family back to my great-great-grandfather, François Maximin (1807-1894), from Namur, Belgium. He married Marie J. Bouchat (1818-1895) from Saint-Denis, Belgium, in 1840, according to The History of Door County (1881). I do not know what François did in Belgium. Clearly family legend suggests that he delivered coal. But in any case he decided to try his luck in the United States. Francois and Marie departed Antwerp on April 5, 1856, aboard the ship "Atlas." According to the ship's Passenger List (I have not examined the original) they had six children:

Marie-Therese Maximin (about 1838- ?) Is this a child from an earlier marriage?
Jean Joseph Maximin (about 1845-?) My great-grandfather
Victor Joseph Maximin (about 1848-?)
Charles Joseph Maximin (about 1850-?)
Therese Françoise Maximin (about 1852-?)
Ferdinante Maximin (about 1855-?)

They arrived in New York on May 22, 1856. These dates show a voyage length of forty-seven days - thus certainly a sailing ship - and with four of the six children under ten years old it must have been one great voyage! My great-grandfather, Jean Joseph, would have been eleven or twelve.

On arrival in New York, François and Marie Maximin became Frank and Mary Maxime. The 1860 census shows they settled in the richly Belgian community of Ahnapee Township in Kewaunee County, Wisconsin. However, that census record lists the children as: Joe age fifteen, Frank age thirteen, Chas. age eleven, and Ferdinand age nine. A few mysteries ensue: Is Victor now called Frank? The census seems to have garbled the two young daughters together and made them into a son called Ferdinand, nine years old.

1860 Census - Ahnapee Township, Kewaunee County, Wisconsin - P. 376, Dwelling 481.

The 1870 census shows that the family has relocated to Union Township in Door County, Wisconsin.  The aforementioned History of Door County (1881) says that in 1875 daughter Therese married a man named Joseph Hote. And that in same year Ferdinante married a man named Jole (aka Jules) Marchant. Ferdinante and Jole moved to Marinette and had two children. Further research shows that the above mentioned Therese is the Marie-Therese born in 1838.

The rest of the Maximes are still in Union Township in 1880, and my great-grandfather is listed as a laborer working on the farm of Anton Poirier in Brussels Township - yet still living with his parents in Union.

Marie-Therese Henriette "Harriet" Dejardin.
At some point in the late 1880s Jean Joseph married Marie-Therese Henriette Dejardin (1847-1900), called Harriet. She had been married twice previously and already had seven children. There is some reason to believe that Jean Joseph may have had an earlier marriage, too,  that produced at least one child named Mary (1883 - 1889).

Around 1888 Jean Joseph and one of his brothers, with their families and parents, took off for Jamestown, North Dakota. A year or two later a second brother followed. Evidence suggests that the Maxime sons all began working for the railroad. At the time of the move patriarch Frank Maxime was over eighty. He died in Jamestown in 1894 at the age of 87.

Jean Joseph (Joe) and his wife Harriet had two sons: Victor Maxime (1888-1957) and my grandfather Charles Joseph Maxime (1891-1972). Harriet died of influenza in February of 1900. There is a possibility that Jean Joseph had a previous marriage - but this is speculation based on the grave of a Maxime child named Mary (1883-1889) next to Harriet's grave at the Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Jamestown. Harriet is unlikely to be the mother, as in 1883 she was still married to one of her earlier husbands when little Mary was born. According to reports from his step-children Jean Joseph was something of a tight-wad - so much so that when Harriet died he would not pay for her funeral - the specifics are unknown. Jean Joseph continued to raise his two children by Harriet as well as looking after at least a couple of his step-children from Harriet's previous marriages.

His son (my grandfather) Charles Joseph Maxime married Fern Naomi Miller circa 1912. They continued to spell their last name Maxime until shortly after my father was born. (Various records and papers from my dad's earliest years list him as Willis Henry Maxime.) But by the time my dad was about two years old the family name was spelled Maxine. My dad hinted that the spelling change may have come about because of a rift or resentment between my my grandfather and great-grandfather - perhaps related to Harriet's early death and Jean Joseph's refusal to pay for her funeral?

Fern Naomi Miller and Charles Joseph "Buck" Maxine - my grandparents.

My Maxine grandparents had four children: Edward Joseph Maxine (1913-1996), Charles David Maxine (1915-2000),  Willis Henry Maxine (1919-1993), and Margaret Ann Maxine Schon (1922-2007) - all of whom retained the Maxine spelling of their last name.

I never knew my Maxine grandmother, Fern - she died in 1945. My grandfather remarried a few years later. He was hospitalized after an accident while working on the railroad, and he married his nurse, Ina J. Western, whom we all called "Westie."

I don't have many Maxine relatives anymore. I have lost track of most of my Maxine first cousins - indeed I never knew any of my Uncle David's kids. But in recent years I've been in much closer contact with my Uncle Eddie's family. On this coming Thursday, February 21st, it will be exactly twenty years since my dad died. It's rather a shocking realization. It makes me glad I still have a few Maxine cousins. If any long-lost Maxine cousins happen to find this blog, I'd love to hear from you!

Uncle Eddie and my Dad in the late 1970s.

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