Thursday, August 26, 2010

Trip to Haverhill and Kingston (July 2010) Part 1

Haverhill, MA 
Because I can travel for free whenever I like, I'm fortunate that I get to go to New England at least once or twice a year, though  I've never had the opportunity to do so exclusively for the purpose of working on my genealogy.  All my previous trips were tied to some other worthy purpose (funerals, visiting relatives, getting married...)   Generally, when I'm there I just do whatever I can whenever a kindly driver and a spare hour or two presents itself.   I always try to be mindful of the time I'm spending, though I confess my father has fallen asleep in the Freeport Maine town clerk's parking lot while waiting for me to pull records and make copies.  And I have dragged my brother Steve along for some cemetery traipsing a couple times.  I was only slightly annoyed when he found our great-great grandmother's grave before I did.

My husband and I were planning to attend my stepchildren's play in Hingham, MA and to pick them up to take them to California on Saturday, July 31th.   My days off are Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday...hmmmmm.  It took about a nanosecond for me to realize I could tag a brief genealollapalooza onto the trip.  The thought of a trip, no matter how short, strictly for the the purpose of digging around the family tree sounded like sheer bliss - even if it was for a mere 48 hours.  I would plan a guerrilla-style, genealogical assault - Bing! Bang! boom!    I wouldn't be a bother to anyone in asking them to cart me around and listen to me blather on about dead relatives they couldn't possibly triangulate in their heads.  It'd be a win-win for everyone.  So off I went.

Despite having the nifty GPS app on my iphone, I wisely chose to get a real GPS with the rental car.  An excellent move on my part since I'm utterly void of any sense of direction and would probably be in Canada now without it.   Did you know if you fail to follow the GPS lady's chipper little instructions she suddenly takes on a decidedly bitchy tone with you?  Oh, she's all sunshine and flowers when cheerfully instructing you to, "Please fasten your seatbelt!" but the exasperation is palatable in her tone when you've blown (yet another) instruction and she's "Recalculating."   Trust me,  she recalculated my happy ass all over New Hampshire and Massachusetts.  I was on back roads, going around lakes and ponds, taking twisty two-lane roads though the woods; I even drove past The American Stonehenge - whatever (wherever) that is.  I never saw a single highway from Manchester to Haverhill.  I did see a number of roundabouts ("Oh hell, no!" ( exit stage right), "Recalculating") and 3-way stops ("What the...?").   I began to suspect that GPS lady was trying to kill me what with all those left turns into heavy traffic she was suggesting,  but I made it to Haverhill in once piece; even if it did take an hour to drive a scant 30-odd miles.  

I spent most of the first day tooling around Haverhill taking photographs.  I had a list of my grandparents former residences though almost all of the actual houses are now gone.  The property where their houses once stood are now parking lots, other people's backyards, or driveways which was a little depressing.  Not really planning on a map the most efficient way to go, I was driving hither and yon and back around again ("Recalculating").  At one point, I stopped at a McDonald's for a salad and later discovered that the parking lot was on the former property of my grandparent's home.   I can now say that I "ate lunch at over at Fred and Rose's place" - albeit inadvertently.   I found my other Civil War grandfather, Luther Kellogg's house.  It looked like the neighborhood was quite tony back in the day though it's readily apparent the years have not been kind.  There were people standing in front of the house that took note of my car immediately.  They didn't look like they wanted their picture taken so I moved along.  I'll have drive-by another day; hopefully not while someone else's drive-by is already in progress.

Headstone of Fred W Pratt and Rose (Towle) Pratt
Haverhill, MA
I found the cemetery where my great (x2) grandparents, Fred and Rose (Towle) Pratt are buried and paid my respects.  It's a lovely old cemetery, very well maintained and worthy a traipse even if you don't know anyone buried there.  The caretaker told me that the section my grandparents are in is rather old and laid out with horses and carriages rather than cars in mind - interesting.  It was nice to see day-lilies growing around my grandparent's headstone.  The caretaker said that they were planted decades ago and still come up strong every spring - lovely.  I wrapped up my driving around to meet up with one of my Internet friends, Kim, and her daughter, Abby.  We had dinner together downtown which was terrific.  Great food, great company, great atmosphere.

The Merrimack River in Haverhill
The following day, I woke up early and headed out to walk Haverhill's Historic District.  It looks like they're trying to restore the downtown area to it's former glory and for the most part, it looks to be a success.  I enjoyed seeing little bits of the past peeking out from the newly refurbished store fronts and former mills.  Original brickwork is plentiful and in some cases, crumbling, and being replaced.  Walking down the street, I debated whether or not to help myself to what appeared to be original loose cobblestone, though in the end I decided not to perform an "I Love Lucy" maneuver so far from anyone that would post bail.  I walked across the Merrimack and thought of my great uncle Gerry and the sculling trophy he won in Haverhill back in 1890 that sits on my cousin Mike's fireplace mantle.  And I thought of my friend Jo who was amazed we could cross the Merrimack about 99 times while driving south from Manchester to New York last fall.

Haverhill City Hall
My next stop, the Haverhill City Hall is an impressive, beautiful building,  Pratt family legend has it that when my father was born, my great-grandfather, Walter Pratt offered to take my father's birth certificate application over to the Haverhill City Hall and drop it off with the clerk.  Unbeknownst to anyone, he drew a line through the original name my father was given by his parents, "Paul Arthur Pratt," and renamed him Fred Paul Pratt - after his own father, Fred Wallace Pratt; a brief piece of editing that wouldn't be uncovered for several years.   Walking down the hallways I thought of Walter and wondered how he could keep a fabulous secret like that to himself.   Did he chuckle to himself when he heard everyone calling my father, "Paul" when that isn't his first name?
Inside Haverhill City Hall

The clerk that pulls records was out that day so I had to fill out request forms and leave them.  Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my little notebook so I had to improvise...what records did I want again?  I feverishly just scribbled out whatever I could think of on the spot.  Sitting here, some three weeks later awaiting the arrival of the records (ahem), I can't remember exactly what I asked for.  I guess when they finally do arrive I'll get to be surprised - sort of like getting Christmas in August.  Or maybe September.

(t0 be continued)


  1. If you passed America's Stonehenge then you were very close to me! Its a pre-1492 stone structure and lunar calendar, with questionable origins. Not Native American, not exactly Celtic or Viking. P.S. I also dislike the GPS lady's voice (she can be so snippy sometimes) so when my husband isn't looking I change it over to the male Australian voice. He sounds hot!

  2. I got a grin reading this. My sister and I
    annoyed the heck out of "GPS Lady" on our trip to Ohio two years back. WE were certain we detected a note of disgust along with annoyance in that
    "recalculating" by the end of the trip.

    I look forward to hearing about the rest of
    your visit,

  3. @ Heather, Okay, now I want to check out America's Stonehenge. I hope I can find (stumble across) it again. Thanks for the hottie voice tip for the GPS! @ Bill, I knew the peevishness from GPS lady wasn't just in my imagination. Nice to know she's like that with everyone. :)