I’d Like to Meet

“Washer Woman” by Martin Driscoll @ driscollfineart.com/  with the gracious permission of Judith Driscoll Ruth, with assistance by Ralph Ruth.

Mary. Mary holds the answers. Mary is also the one whom I’d most want to visit and encourage if I could. Although I sense that somehow she already figured out how to endure and make her way through her 69 years of life.

As I have tried to approach the subject of Mary Rogers Vizard, I have swung between the straight narrative timeline, or coming to her through a study of her work as a laundress. (“The Worst Chore in the World” by Gregory LeFever, covers the subject wonderfully.)

It was in trying to study washing clothes as a job in the 1800’s that I searched for a picture in the common domain to represent a Mary the washerwoman.

As I searched for a suitable picture, I saw caricature after caricature of the old sort of adorable but crude “Irish Washerwoman” or of big brutish women in cartoons and other undignified images. I found some strong images, but they were clearly French, Russian, Italian, Civil War, or African American. For the Irish American, nothing but comedy.

Until I found the picture at top of this essay.

This work, by Martin Driscoll, whose other works can be found officially at Driscoll Fine Art hit me with such force that I said, “There she is.”

It is all there in this lovely, lovely portrait of an Irish washerwoman: what I feel about Mary after seeking and studying her for the last 8 years:


in the turned away face. Who is she, really? Did she laugh easily? Or was she serious? Did she understand her son Victor Vizard? Could she tell me if he is really her son William born in New Brunswick? And if so, why might he have changed his name? And if not, where and when was he really born? Why did he get put with relatives, which relatives? Was she in touch with her father Meredith Rogers when he moved to Maine… did she know he went to the insane asylum? Did it break her heart? Did she ever get to visit her many siblings and nieces and nephews? How did she meet her soldier husband Michael Vizard, and marry him in Montreal in 1865 when she was only 18? Is that how she became a laundress? Working for the British Army stationed there? Is that how she met him?

Strength… Endurance

But more than those questions, how oh how did she bear these years….

William born 1868, followed by little Henry (1871 in Quebec) and Walter (1874 in St. Catharines, Ontario), followed by:

The horrible summer of 1876, which took little Henry and Walter (5 and 2 years old) in under one week, July 22 and July 26, from cholera and scarlet fever, leaving only William.

In just over a year from that dreadful week, she had her first little girl, Louisa Harriet in September 1877, only to lose Harriet just 3 months later to “teething” in December…

Her son Victor always gave his birthday as September 17, 1877, but there is no record of a twin at the time. (Strangely enough, Victor was father to two twins Victor and Victoria who died in 1904.) Maybe he was given right away to a relative, but it seems unlikely, unless Mary and Michael didn’t have the strength to care for the second. But there is no Victor in any records nearby or even for the time. I have been going with the hypothesis that he is really William b. 1868.

I have taken to imagining that maybe Victor took this birth date because when he lost his little sister, there was some kind of rupture in their world. And her birthday was some kind of starting point for him. I don’t know.

Louis Joseph Vizard, born on March 21, 1880 was the one she really got to keep. Louis is the son who gave her a burial place and a fine funeral. I’m glad she had Louis.

And what of her husband Michael Vizard? A soldier for the first nine years of their marriage, after that he held a series of jobs: bartender (1877), coachman (1881), grocer (between 1881 and 1884, when his store was closed by the Sheriff), and finally, tanner (1891, such onerous work!)

So many job changes signal to me a great adaptability and a willingness to learn on his part, but also points to struggle and instability for their financial life.

She first appears as a widow in 1891 in the City of Hamilton near St. Catharines and still on the Niagara Peninsula , with little 11 year old Louis only. There, she is listed as a lodger in the James Austin household, with her job listed as “Laundress.” She is marked as employed, with an “Eg” for the employer. I have not been able to determine what Eg means.

(With the loss of the 1890 US census, I’ve never been able to locate Victor in Canada nor the US until he pops up for the first time in 1900 in Boston, Massachusetts.)

She appears again in 1891 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada as a boarder, listed as a domestic.

She appears to have emigrated to the U.S. in 1905 at age 58, as that is the year provided in the 1910 U.S. Census, where she appears in the employ of the Wolff family on 6217 Fifth Avenue in Pittsburgh as a “Servant, Private Family”. Their home (gone now) appears to have been in the historic Shadyside neighborhood possibly on “Millionaire’s Row”.

One interesting datum on the 1910 Census is that her age is given as 51 instead of 63 — her real age. This tells me a couple of things. That she may have been reducing her age mindfully, for her survival and the ability to retain employment. Also, that she must have aged well to be able to pass for 11 years younger.

The Need for Rest

Finally, in the painting, I am drawn to her hands, strong, and supporting her as she takes a moment to rest. Just a moment.

How many moments in her life did she wish for more?

She passed away on 13 April, 1916, while still in the employ of this household, of a cerebral hemorrhage, at the “Homeopathic Hospital”, which is today’s Shadyside Hospital.

This Death Certificate frustrated me so very much for the years before I found her true birth parents, as her parents listed here are actually herself and husband Michael. I surmise that Louis acting as Informant was communicating over telegraph instead of phone, as the first transcontinental phone call was only the year before (1915). He might have been asked a cryptic “Parents?” to which he replied with his own.

Also, interestingly, she carries the younger age here, as well. I do not know if Louis provided that, or if the attending physician did. I suspect the physician arrived at that, with the assistance of the Wolffs, as it is a reasonable advancement from her given age of 51 in 1910.

Her son Louis, the only one of 5 who got to grow up with her, brought her out to be buried in his family plot, with a lovely send-off:


Please leave a flower for the enduring and courageous Mary at the Memorial I have sponsored at Find-A-Grave.

Woman in garden of Gladioli. Gladioli symbolize strength.

“Gladioli” by Claude Monet, c. 1876. Gladiolus symbolizes strength.

Meredith Rogers: From Armagh to Augusta

It is hard to know where to start with wonderful Meredith.

His life consisted of wide-ranging experiences, and he touched classic North American history here and there in his approximately 64 years of life. Perhaps I just need to start with where I first find him.

I found him marrying Eliza Donnelly in the Armagh parish in County Armagh on 26 November 1838. Their first baby, Arthur, was born there just about 10 months later on 6 October 1839.

After these two events in Ireland, the next place they pop up is in Quebec, British North America, in October 1841, for the baptism of their eldest daughter Jane.

Quebec 1840-1865 (assumed)

This means that in 2 years and two days, they traveled from Northeastern Ireland to Quebec with a baby or toddler in tow, and with Eliza pregnant most of the second year of their transition.  Imagine how much they believed that they needed to leave Ireland; what they were willing to endure on a transatlantic journey…

One thing to appreciate: when I found Meredith in any record, he was usually found with a mangled given name, and the mangling is nearly always unique!  I have had to do much browsing through records with very loose searches excluding his first name. Also the records are nearly all in French, which does help explain the Quebecois priests’ struggles with his unusual name.

A graphic of the multitudinous ways to mangle

The multitudinous ways to mangle “Meredith”

Meredith worked as a day laborer (“journalier”) through the 1840’s until he was able to lease land and become a farmer in the 1850’s through the 1860’s.

During this time, he and Eliza had 8 more children:

  • Jane b. Oct 1841
  • Elizabeth Anne b. May 1843 (died Sep 1856)
  • Catherine Rogers b. Apr 1845 (died Oct 1846)
  • Mary (my GG Grandmother) b. Jun 1847 (died Apr 1916)
  • John b. about 1850 — no parish record found yet, but is in 1861 census as 11 years old. Still looking for John.
  • Helen b. July 1851 (she liked to be called “Ellen”, died in Maine in Jan 1909)
  • Harriet b. May 1853 (died 11 Jan 1890 in Boston, Massachusetts)
  • James b. June 1855

Meredith’s Emigration to the U.S. to Make Steel (1866-1870)


One of these men is quite likely Meredith! (Photo circa 1870)

The Portland Rolling Mills in South Portland, Maine was built from 1865 to 1866.  They attracted 65 families (mostly Welsh and Irish) to work at the Mills by building essentially a “company town” with 47 houses for the workers and their families.

An article about “Ligonia” mentions some of the families–including Meredith Rogers Family!  I commented while logged into the site (not visible publicly):

I was delighted to read this as I am descended from the Irish Rogers family listed in this article. It painted such a warm and interesting picture of their life there at that time. Meredith Rogers and Eliza (Donnelly) and their 13-year-old son were there in the 1870 census, and I imagined James in the school… and the Nation’s rails having been forged with the help of my 3x Great Grandfather. It also answered a question I had for my research about how it was that my 3xG Grandmother Eliza was listed as having lived in the “Campgrounds” on her death certificate. It made me sad to think of her living in… a tent? But now I’m happier to know it was better than that. Lovely article. Thank you for putting it out here. – Joy

The Rolling Mills produced a great deal of steel rail for the U.S. railroad system, and the work was hot, dangerous, and heavy.

  The Successful Business Houses of Portland from 1875 gives a fascinating description of the entire process at the rolling mills, describing the jobs and how a railroad rail is made — great reading.  I wonder if Meredith was a Puddler?

“When the pieces have attained a bright red heat the puddler proceeds to work them into a ball by means of an iron bar thrust through a hole in the door of the furnace. It is hot, heavy work, and the puddlers are the best paid and most independent workmen connected with the trade.”

The book describes the home of Meredith and the other people of Ligonia in the language of the era:

“Here the operatives of the mills dwell in comfortable detached cottages, afforded them by the company at a moderate rent. There has also been erected a school-house on the grounds…”

Life had a promise of sweetness in the late 1860’s through 1870, but then it got hard for Meredith…

Death of Eliza

Eliza died the 30th of January, 1871 of a “Liver Complaint” (possibly cirrhosis of the liver) with her address given as “Camp Grounds”.

This left Meredith with 13 year old James.  The other older children had either married back in Quebec and started their adult lives, or were living nearby.  Ellen and Hattie are found in Portland in 1870 as “Domestic Servants”.  My GG grandmother Mary married Michael Vizard in 1865 in Montreal, and likely had my great grandfather Victor in 1868.

The Docks of Portland (c. 1880-1884)

1883-84 saw Meredith listed as a Laborer at home at 2 Freeman Lane in east Portland near the docks and today’s Eastern Promenade. This lane no longer exists, but a satellite view below shows the approximate location, covered over with apartments/condos.

Daughter Ellen already lived nearby on India Street with her husband Bernard Burns, and two grandchildren for Meredith: Elizabeth 7, and Ellen 4. Younger brother James lived with Ellen and Bernard in 1880, but seems to have moved on. Bernard was a stevedore on the docks, and possibly Meredith worked the docks, as well, being so close.

1884_map_meredith_rogers_on_2_freeman_portland_me 2017_google_map_meredith_rogers_on_2_freeman_portland_me_approx

Somewhere between 1884 and 1888, Meredith suffered a dreadful turn in his mental health and was committed to the “Maine Insane Hospital“.  This haunting video gives the feeling of the place….

THE ASYLUM // The story being Maine’s haunted Insane Asylum from YESAH DIGITAL on Vimeo.

Meredith’s Death

Meredith died on November 15, 1888 of… “Insanity”.


I was troubled by this diagnosis and in my research on the institution I learned that at former patient Karen Evans led an effort to commemorate the 11,647 patients who died there.

Reasons for being admitted to the hospital included ““erroneous views on religion”, Alzheimer’s, even epilepsy.   Patients “passed in the night”.  Suicidal patients were not protected from themselves, it seems, and went that way.

I do wonder just how 65-year-old Meredith’s “insanity” really took him.

Commemoration of 11,647 Patients

Karen Evans was successful in her efforts, and the 11,647 names of patients who died at the hospital–including Meredith’s–were read out loud in September 2015 in a public ceremony.  I am still hoping to find video of the event.  There is a stone marker shown in this link that I plan to visit one day in Augusta, Maine.

Meredith is NOT one of the unfortunates buried in an unmarked grave.  He was returned to Portland to be buried in Calvary Cemetery which is situated right next to his first home in the area, the now ghost-town of Ligonia.

I have sponsored Meredith’s Find-A-Grave Memorial which will do until I can go visit him and Eliza and the Burnses.

Please leave a flower for Meredith at: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/146928480/meredith-rogers


Quebec, c1840 – NAC C-002671

Victor Vizard: A Self-Made Man


I laughed out loud at a stop light when I read Victor’s death certificate.

I’d just gathered the envelope from the mailbox on my way out of the house, and could not wait to see what Victor had left me to know about his ancestors.

The fine document from Stoningham, Massachusetts with an embossed golden seal lending it authenticity bore the two lies that had already set me on a futile quest to find my Cajun and Colonial Puritan ancestors in the preceding 4 years.

I laughed because I knew, just knew, that this lie was probably on its way to me riding in an official government vehicle.  But now I had it, with a personal flair dreamed up by a man gone since 1930, and it was almost wonderful:

“Lucien Vizard”

My own father Mark, Victor’s grandson, had written on a hand drawn family tree that our great grandfather Victor Vizard’s Cajun father came up on foot from Louisiana to New England.   I learned from Dad about the sad history of our Acadian diaspora family forcibly removed to ships by the British from Acadian Canada.  I had walked the streets of New Orleans one year telling friends that my ancestors might well have walked and worked in this very place.  I wondered if my ancestors had ever said, “Beignet.

“Victor’s mother was given as a “Pierce” from the clan of President Franklin Pierce fame in my dad’s tree. (Why that president, of all of them? For his relative insignificance, perhaps? Who would ever bother to question it and thereby discover the fib?) In this document, she was given as having been born in “Deering, Maine”, which lent a bit more American origin than Quebec, where I was destined to learn later was her birthplace, to Irish immigrants. In any case, my immediate family enjoyed looking at a picture of Franklin Pierce and seeing if we could find a resemblance (the curls, the deep-set eyes?)

Victor’s death certificate reflected what he’d told his Irish-born wife.  That his father was the majestically French-sounding…Lucien Vizard.  The only person really bearing this name in North America was a young man who died in Ohio some years before Victor claimed to have been born. No such person existed anywhere near Buffalo, New York, where Victor claimed birth. Nor in Louisiana. Nor in New Brunswick where I suspect Victor was really born, as William, the only other son alive in 1881 with his brother Louis. A William who disappears completely after that 1881 Canada census. At this point, I’ve plenty of other evidence to tie Victor simply to brother Lou and mother Mary Rogers.  (“She was a RAW-juhs, not a Pierce” explained my dad’s brother. Pierce was guessed to be farther back though not known.)

And also to tie them to their actual father, Michael Vizard from County Mayo, Ireland.

Paper and DNA tests tie us directly to multiple 3rd cousins all sharing the same County Armagh Rogers couple in St-Roch parish in Quebec City. I thought for a moment in a bid to make “Lucien” make sense, “Maybe Michael the Irishman had a fancy French brother Lucien who randomly visited Mary on the sly one day around Christmas in 1876 during their 26 year marriage?”   But of course, the Vizard surname is known to be English and Irish nowadays even if originally Norman, and DNA shows no Cajun or Canadian French heritage whatsoever.

Why the lie? The erasure of the father? Was it about Victor himself? Was it truly about his father Michael and shame about who Michael was? If Michael was so bad, why did Louis not also change the identity of his dad, or the birthplace of his mother?

The boys grew up under different conditions, this much I do know:

I’d had a great deal of frustration trying to find Victor with the family as he never shows up in censuses under the name Victor as brother Lou does.  When I asked my aunt, she lit up and said, “THAT’S right. Victor was put to live with another family.  A rich aunt and uncle.  He grew up in the lap of luxury, but learned no useful skills. They died when he was a young adult, and left him nothing in their will because he was not their own child. He was left to fend for himself with no skills, but still having his fancy tastes.

“Louis, on the other hand, had remained with his family. After their father Michael  Vizard disappeared around 1891, Mary lived with one wealthy family or another as a laundress, along with little Louis. Mary Rogers performed this arduous work her entire adult life until her death in 1916 at the age of  69 while in the employ of the Wolff family at 6217 5th Avenue (“Millionaire’s Row”) in Pittsburgh, far from her birth in Quebec City, Canada to two immigrants from County Armagh, Ireland in 1847. Hard, honorable work.  (And yes, not related to the president nor the Mayflower passengers.)

Louis J. Vizard grew up in St. Catharines, Ontario, and after a time as a hotel clerk in Buffalo, he moved on to the stage, acting in both silent films and Broadway, mostly traveling with shows.  He settled in St. Louis and was married and widowed twice, with no children. He had a successful cigar store and enjoyed active participation in local magic scene with his second wife Marie Summa Vizard, even serving as president of the IBM Ring One (magic society) in St. Louis

Louis and wife Marie performing magic for charity in 1941
(St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri)21 Dec 1941, SunPage 81)
Something made Victor rewrite his family story. 

And something let Louis be at peace about it.

Maybe Louis got to see and perform hard work and struggle up close early on and through his adolescence until he could strike out on his own. Any advancement in life was a credit to him, so he owned it and his parents with pride. When his hard-working mother died, he brought her out to St. Louis, to be buried in his lovely family plot with a fine funeral procession with carriages provided for mourners.


Maybe Victor viewed his own, more plush childhood with confusion.  A mixture of growing entitlement and shame about his actual origin. Without skills or an inheritance and a failure to match this experience, a new identity simply felt better. Whatever Victor’s failings, my uncle suggested thoughtfully, “He did manage to provide well for two daughters, even so.”


What of Michael, though?  Who was this not-Lucien-the-Cajun?  This I know about Michael:

  • Fled the Famine in Ireland as a 10 year old with his mother and father from the hard hit Kiltimagh parish in County Mayo, landing in Macclesfield — the silk center of England.
  • Worked as a child laborer in the silk mills until his mother died of consumption around his 19th birthday in 1856.
  • Joined the British Army right after his mother died, and just before his father Patrick remarried.
  • Traveled to Gibraltar, Malta, and ultimately what became Canada in the service of Queen Victoria in the early 1860’s. It seems likely this Irish-born soldier was sent there to help put down Fenian raids, to suppress the pro-Irish movement in British North America.
  • Met and married Mary Rogers, a local girl, in Quebec in 1865 in the Anglican Garrison. 
  • Discharged from the army in 1874 so he could move his family to the Niagara peninsula.  His officers rated Private Vizard a “generally good” soldier with two good conduct medals.  (He had earned 4, but lost 2 due to drunkenness, including losing a promotion once for the same cause.)
  • They had 3 boys by 1876, but lost two of them in one brutal summer to cholera and scarlet fever.  Only William born 1868 was left.
  • Gained and lost a little girl Louisa in 3 short months at the end of 1877 — the same time Victor claimed he was born.  He is nowhere in the Parish registry with Louisa.  He does not look to have been her twin. He is not in the 1881 census — unless Victor is really William… which seems most likely as of now.
  • Louis is born in 1880 and turns up with brother William in the 1881 census.
  • Civilian life meant one sort of job after another.  In every city directory and census he has a different job from the previous…
    • bartender,
    • coachman,
    • grocer (“Sold out by Sheriff” in 1884),
    • tanner in 1891….And the trail ends there, with Mary claiming to be a widow and living with just 10 year old Louis in another family’s home in 1891.

Victor/William may have been there for all the death and sadness in the 1870’s, and somewhere in the 1880’s missed the job-hopping and struggles. I do not know.

His daughter had described him as a ne’er do well who never held the same job for too long. She described never getting to see their uncle Lou except one time up on a silent movie screen. I know that Lou sent Victor at least one picture, which I hope to see one day.

As I reflect on Victor’s choice to change his history, I know that I absorbed his revisions and that it captured my imagination. This is the story that pulled me into genealogy to begin with.   We “felt” like just an Irish American family to me, and I was amazed to think that we had hidden Cajun flavor, and deep Colonial Founding Family roots.  It didn’t feel real, but I felt proud of it as a young person and hoped to confirm it with research.

What’s funny is that I did not experience any disappointment to find that, instead, Victor’s parents were just two more poor Irish immigrants out of nothing but Irish immigrants in our line. That they were just what we seem to be all along.