Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Marguerite Lamirault


Borrowing an idea from a friend, I am writing vignettes of some of my ancestors. Topics we study in history books affected our ancestors in ways we may never realize. For most of my ancestors, I know little about them, but they are my history.

Marguerite Lamirault, My 8th Great-Grandmother

c 1645  •  Saint-Germain L'Auxerrois, Paris, Île-de-France, France

17 Oct 1706  •  Quebec City, Quebec, Canada

            King Louis XIV of France desired that his land in the new world, called New France, be populated. Soldiers who stayed behind after fighting the Indians that threatened the settlements needed wives, or they would return to France. The king offered a dowry of fifty pounds if a woman married a solider or common settler, and 100 pounds if she married an officer. In addition, she was given a small hope chest which contained the following:

One head dress                                     One taffeta handkerchief

One pair of shoe ribbons                     100 sewing needles

One comb                                               One spool of white thread

One pair of stockings                           One pair of gloves

One pair of scissors                               Two knives

1,000 pins                                                One bonnet

Four lace braids                                    Ten pounds in silver money

 These marriageable young women were called Filles du Roi, daughters of the king. They are considered the mothers of Canada. At least eight of my ancestors are numbered among them.

One of the women who traveled to New France at the king’s expense was Marguerite Lamirault. Since she had a dowry of 300 pounds at the marriage and since her parents were still living, poverty did not prompt her to undertake the journey to a strange, dangerous land.

More likely, she already knew one of the soldiers. The Lamiraults lived withing five blocks of Honoré Martel in Paris. His father and Marguerite’s father were undoubtedly in contact. Honoré’s father was a horse merchant and Marguerite’s father was a coachman for the queen. Despite a 13-year age difference, Marguerite and Honoré may have been sweethearts, or their fathers arranged their marriage. Taking the king’s offer was an opportunity to increase her dowry and receive free passage to Canada.

The Lamiraults lived on rue des Poulies, the street that runs between Le Louvre, where the royal family lived, and the Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois church where Marguerite was baptized. Moving from Paris to the wilderness of Quebec must have been quite a shock for her.

She and Honoré were married on the morning of 17 November 1668 in Quebec. Marguerite was declared not able to sign the marriage contract, but Honoré could. They settled into a country life, beginning in the town of Sillery. Being from a city family, however, Honoré was not suited to the life of a farmer. After farming for twenty years without much success, he went into the lumber trade. He leased a house in the Upper-Town of Quebec that contained a cellar, two rooms on one floor, one of which was furnished as a foyer, and an attic.

Marguerite gave birth to fourteen children between 1669 and 1691. Four died in infancy. Her sixth child, Paul, was my seventh great-grandfather. She died on 17 Oct 1706.


Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Honoré Martell

 Borrowing an idea from a friend, I am writing vignettes of some of my ancestors. Topics we study in history books affected our ancestors in ways we may never realize. For most of my ancestors, I know little about them, but they are my history.


Honoré Martell, My 8th Great-Grandfather

 c 1632   Saint-Eustache, Paris, France

 1712-1714    Quebec City, Quebec, Canada


In 1663, New France, the present Quebec, was home to 2,500 French people. They were under threat from the Iroquois and the English colonies further south on the Atlantic coast. On 30 June 1665, the Carignan Regiment arrived. One of four companies was quartered at Quebec. One of the soldiers was Honoré Martell.

When the company returned to France in October of 1667, Honoré elected to remain. The following year, he signed a commitment to work for a resident of Gaudarville, seeding an arpent of land and clearing felled trees from two other arpents. (Arpents were long narrow parcels of land of about .845 acres, usually along navigable streams.)

On 26 Nov 1668, he married Marguerite Lamirault in the Church of Notre Dame in Quebec. Marguerite was from Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois, a parish very near Saint-Eustache.  If they hadn’t known each other in Paris, and she was thirteen years younger, they were familiar with the same neighborhoods.

She had arrived in Quebec that year as a Fille du Roi, daughter of the king. Louis XIV, the Sun King, sponsored the emigration of marriageable girls to Quebec to keep young men from leaving.

Honoré did not make a good farmer. He had to appear before the provost numerous times. Problems included the death of a rented ox, boundary lines, quarrels with neighbors, neglecting to pay debts.

After twenty years, he finally began a new career as a longsawyer in 1688, providing planking and satisfactorily fulfilling contracts.

Marguerite died on 17 Oct 1706 at the age of 62. She’d borne fourteen children, nine of them still living and five not yet married. A year later, Honoré married Marie Marchand, but he had health problems. Four times he was hospitalized. He died between June 1712, when he attended his son Jean’s marriage, and September 1714, when his youngest, Marie-Thérèse married with both parents deceased.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Joseph Wangard

     Borrowing an idea from a friend, I am writing vignettes of some of my ancestors. Topics we study in history books affected our ancestors in ways we may never realize. For most of my ancestors, I know little about them, but they are my history.

 Joseph Wangard, My Great-Great-Grandfather 
 7 May 1846 • Bickenbach, Sankt Goar, Rheinland, Germany 
 25 Aug 1925 • Milwaukee, Wisconsin 

Joseph & Barbara sit in the front. Their son John is behind Joseph.

        The second of seven children, Joseph married his wife, Barbara Liesenfeld, on 16 Feb 1874. Seven months later, he departed from Hamburg on 30 Sep 1874 aboard the Cimbria. He was listed as a shoemaker.
       He and Barbara first settled in Cedar Creek, Washington County, Wisconsin. From the birthplaces of their eight children, they moved around Washington County frequently until finally staying in Milwaukee. Their eldest, John, was my great-grandfather. 
        Three of Joseph’s brothers also emigrated to the U.S. Another brother stayed in Germany. His children, Hans, Josefine, and Benno, inspired my debut novel, Friends & Enemies.  
        According to family lore, Joseph wore a full beard to hide a saber scar he received while fighting in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. 
       At the age of 82, he was struck and killed by an automobile while walking to a neighborhood drug store for ice cream. He had waited for an eastbound vehicle to pass, then walked directly into the path of a westbound car. 

        In an interesting aside, the Cimbria sank in 1883, the biggest civilian maritime tragedy in German waters. The 16-year-old steamship operated by the Hamburg-Amerika Line sailed from Hamburg on 18 Jan 1883 with 302 passengers and 102 crewmembers. In a heavy fog that morning off the North Sea island of Borkum, a smaller steamer crashed into Cimbria’s portside. Seven lifeboats were inflated, but they weren’t filled to capacity. Three disappeared in the fog. Hypothermia and drowning claimed 357 lives. The disaster made headlines around the world. I wonder if Joseph, busy raising a young family, heard the news.

Heidi became a widow when her husband’s U-boat sank in the Atlantic. She wonders how her American school chum Rachel is faring. Her husband Paul must be at war too. One day a strange man approaches her. But no, he’s not a stranger. Paul, now a widower, has been shot down over Germany. With German ancestry, he’s fluent in their language. She takes him home to pose as a German soldier. They’re betrayed and the Gestapo comes calling. They flee across Germany in a desperate journey for Allied lines.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Release Day!

A Heart For the Sailor is now available! This ebook novella features Evelyn, a builder of submarines in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, during World War II. While she’s busy welding, her boyfriend Jerry is aboard the USS Tabberer in the South Pacific. A storm is brewing and they’re sailing into harm’s way. This expanded story was previously published as a short story called “The Christmas Typhoon” in a collection of historical Christmas short stories. It now takes a closer look at the women called Winnie the Welders.
Here’s a photo of Jerry. He’s actually a cousin of my mom’s who was a sailor.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Aircraft Carriers of Lake Michigan

 Early in 1942, Navy Commander Richard Whitehead endorsed a proposal to train naval aviators in the Great Lakes. The idea made sense. The nation’s few carriers were occupied with front line duties, and training on the oceans required destroyer protection from hostile submarines. The proposal found little interest until the attack on Pearl Harbor. Then it was fast tracked.

The Seeandbee, which became the Wolverine.

Starting from scratch would use resources needed for combat ships, and ocean-going vessels were too wide to fit through canals to reach the Great Lakes. Therefore, two luxurious passenger excursion ships that had fallen on hard times during the Depression were acquired. These lake steamers were coal-fed side wheelers. Their finery was stripped, and flight decks added.

The Wolverine is fitted with a flight deck. US Naval History and Heritage Command photo

The SS Seeandbee had provided luxury overnight service between Cleveland and Buffalo, New York. It featured 510 rooms that accommodated 6,000 passengers. Sixty-two rooms had private toilets and twenty-four were suites. Its accouterments included a book shop, flower booths, men’s and women’s writing rooms, balconies, and an orchestra that could be heard throughout the parlors, salons, and atrium. The Seeandbee became the USS Wolverine.

The SS Greater Buffalo had been a palatial steamer providing overnight service between Buffalo and Detroit for 1,500 passengers. In 1936, it had been docked in Cleveland as a floating hotel for the Republican Convention. It became the USS Sable.

USS Sable

After flight training, pilots came to Glenview Naval Air Station west of Chicago for carrier qualifications. Day one took place in a classroom. Day two saw them practicing on “bounce fields” where they had to land in small, designated areas. On day three, they had to land and take off on one of the “postage stamp sized” carriers. After eight landings and take offs, they became carrier qualified.

The carriers were dangerous. Not only were the pilots trainees, but also the deck crews, sailors provided by the Great Lakes Naval Training Center north of Chicago. Arresting wires snapped, planes crashed and burned, deck crewmen would be hit by spinning props, even snow squalls in winter.

Even calm days presented problems. If the carriers couldn’t generate sufficient “wind over deck,” certain types of aircraft couldn’t take off. Instead of using the aircraft they would fly in combat, pilots had to use lightweight training aircraft.

These lake carriers were not true aircraft carriers. They lacked elevators, hanger decks, and armaments. If too many damaged aircraft cluttered the flight deck, flight operations had to be curtailed. Because the carriers were coal-fired, dense smoke might hang over the deck.

The decks of the lake carriers were 550 feet long. Combat carriers had 800’ decks. The navy reasoned that pilots who managed with shorter decks that were also lower to the water would have no trouble with the combat fleet.

A Wildcat mishap on the Wolverine.

The Wolverine began its navy career in January of 1943. The Sable joined it at the Navy Pier in May. Over 15,000 carrier pilots trained on the two ships. There were between 130 and 150 crashes, with eight pilots killed and more than one hundred planes sunk.

With the end of the war, both lake carriers were decommissioned in November of 1945. Both were sold for scrap.

See last week's post on Submarines in Lake Michigan. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Submarines in Lake Michigan


During World War II, submarines were built in Wisconsin. The Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company built twenty-eight submarines for the Navy, the only ones built at a freshwater port.

The shipyard president proposed building destroyers in 1939. The ships would be transported through the Chicago River, the Illinois River, and the Mississippi River in a floating drydock. The Navy suggested submarines instead. Knowing nothing about underway boats, a team traveled to New London, Connecticut, to learn from the Electric Boat Company.

The bridge of a sub is covered with ice during trials in March, 1944.

Sea trials of finished subs were conducted in Lake Michigan. Peto, the yard’s first submarine, got underway on November 6, 1942. As it headed down river and under bridges to the lake, workmen and townspeople crowded the streets, shores, and office windows to cheer its progress. As it approached the outer harbor, a car ferry rendered three long and two short blasts on its whistle. Captain Foster, who had come out from New London to conduct the first trials, asked his pilot, a local seaman, what the signal meant. No such signal existed in the International or Inland Water Rules. The pilot informed him it was simply the Great Lakes salute from one vessel to another, signifying good luck and pleasant voyage.

A submarine is launched at the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company.

Over five days of trials, the crew tested pumps, valves, hydraulic systems, steering gear, and plane operating mechanism. The first dive was made from a stationary position, bleeding in compressed air. With pressure holding, the sub slowly submerged, maintaining a perfect trim while a steady stream of reports came to the conning tower. Everything went well, with machinery functioning as expected and no leaks. Running dives followed.

The crucial test was diving to 300 feet. Peto headed to the middle of Lake Michigan opposite Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Here it dove in incremental depth increases, leveling off at each fifty feet for readings on the deflection of the hull and alignment of machinery. Everything was within allowable limits. Upon surfacing, more readings showed the hull had returned to its original shape within allowable tolerance.

Actor Spencer Tracy descends into the hatch of the submarine Icefish during a visit to the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company in May, 1944.

A Trial Board of ten Navy personnel came from Washington for inspection. After two days of tests, Peto returned to port with a broom lashed to the periscope. It had made a clean sweep of all its test.

Twenty-eight submarines went through these tests in Lake Michigan. Of those, three did not see action before the war ended, and four are on Eternal Patrol, lost at sea.

              Evelyn van der Heiden is a Winnie the Welder. She builds submarines in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Jerry Collier is a sailor aboard the USS Tabberer, a destroyer escort in the Pacific Fleet.

Evelyn is ready to marry, but Jerry is leery of taking a matrimonial step. It will take a tragedy to change his thinking.

This e-novella may now be preordered at

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Something Old, Something New

In three weeks, my new/old novella will release! Half of A Heart For the Sailor was previously published as a short story “Christmas Typhoon,” that was part of a collection of historical Christmas short stories. Jerry was a sailor on the destroyer escort Tabberer in the Pacific. As the ship careened through Typhoon Cobra, he read letters from his girl, Evelyn. 
   The new, expanded version features Evelyn and her work at the Manitowoc Shipyard, building submarines. Rather than being a Rosie the Riveter, she was a Winnie the Welder. She wants to plan a future with Jerry, but isn’t sure of his commitment. 
   Release day of this e-novella is October 12, and it is now available for pre-order. You can find it at I’m undecided whether there will be a print version. Do you prefer having a physical book? 
   Next week I’ll share a little more about the unlikely warships to be found in Lake Michigan during World War II.