May 10, 2006
Her name is Dorothy, the picture is dated 1959.
Dorothy went missing in March 1953.
During those 6 years I had no answers, nobody would talk about what happened or why.
Now that I am the oldest member of the family, all parents are gone, I can talk about a story that at one time could not be spoken.
That was the 1950’s and stories like mine were not talked about outside of family, or even with family.
My story begins in 1953, Waltham Massachusetts
When I was six, my sister was four. The year was 1953. Our parents were young and had separated. My grandfather ( Hiram Phillips ) had tried to take on the responsibility of raising both of us. That was hard as my grandmother had died in 1949, six month’s before Dorothy was even born . My mother was trying to live her life, my father the same, which left little room for us. I guess my grandfather decided to handle what he could. I don’t know all those things, I was too young to remember and far too young to understand.
As young as I was, I knew things were happening. I knew that things were going to change. This time it had to do with my sister. I must have had some idea of what was going on because one day she was there, then she was gone. At this time I was living with William and Gert Morrison ( my grandfathers sister and her husband) on Alder Street in Waltham, Mass. My sister Dorothy had been living next door with Edward and Gladys Bezanson, friends of Will, Gert and my grandfather.
At that time, the word adoption had no meaning to me, so the days leading up to my sister leaving was not understood by me. For years, I would ask where she was and why did she go. In those day’s nobody would talk about those things. And in my case, it only made me mad and angry. My mother remarried, and I was still living with my grandfather and the Morrison’s. I guess I became a real behavior problem because I was always in trouble at home and then outside the house as well with everyone. My grandfather and I were close but he would never discuss the topic of my sister and what had happened to her. By the time I was ten, I was a walking problem to all.
In the summer of 1959 my grandfather decided to take his last trip to Canada to visit his family . At that time he was 70, so he and I went to Margaree Valley, Nova Scotia to visit his sisters and their families. There I met his sister Jessie Morrison and his brother Jeptha Ross. Jessie is married to Irad Morrison, brother of Will Morrison. Hiram’s Phillips father had died young and his mother Annie Bell ( MacPhail )second marriage was to Carey Ross of Margaree Valley. There I read for the first time, the History of North East Margaree written by John Hart of Margaree.
I remembered that trip for many years and in the spring of 1969 went there myself. I arrived at 2 in the morning in the valley and Margaree center and the only house I could remember was Uncle Albert’s . So, I knocked on the door and after a few minutes he answered. Of course, the last time he saw me was 10 years prior so he did not have a clue who I was. His question was, “What can I do for you at this hour?”.
I explained that I wanted to rent one of his cabins . He looked at me and said “I haven’t rented those cabins for years.” I said “Well, the last time I stayed in that cabin was in 1959.”
He looked at me and said “With who?”
I said “My grandfather, Hiram Phillips.” “Come in boy, come in.”
Then he got everyone up in the house to re- introduce me to the family. We talked until 4 AM then everyone went back to bed. I slept on the couch until 8 o’clock then asked for directions to my aunt Jessie, Hiram’s sister’s house.
I told Albert I would be back before I headed back to Massachusetts. He laughed and said, we’ll see about that. I followed the paved road almost to the iron bridge, took the dirt road and followed the sign to Portree. The road had not changed, it was still a dirt road along the side of a hill. As I traveled the road, I can still remember the last time I was there in 1959 . When I turn left off the main road I remember the old house with the big porch. I arrived and knocked at the back door and this little lady opened the door and stood there a minute.
“Albert!” she said. I said I was. I told her I arrived in the middle of the night and the only thing I could remember was Albert’s house in the center. Jessie then said, “When you come to Margaree you come to my house. I am your grandfather’s sister, closer blood than Albert, he is only a second cousin of ours.”
I did learn from Jessie about family; hers, mine, my grandfather’s and a number of other families in the valley. After my first visit, I was to visit there twice a year at least and sometimes more.
The last week of October 1971 I went to Margaree on my motorcycle to drive the Cabot Trail by bike. I was at Jessie’s home in Margaree , when I got a call from Massachusetts that my grandfather was in the hospital and I should come home. I came back in time to be with him before he died. After he was buried, a few days later I was given a few pictures that were in his personal belongings; one a picture dated 1959 of my sister Dorothy.
Then, I knew that he had known all those years where she was and with who yet would never tell me. Of course I had never forgotten Dorothy so that day I went to the cemetery and told him that I remembered my sister and and would not forget her and one day I would find her and bring her there to visit his grave.
Eighteen years would pass before that would happen because I did not have a clue as to how to go about getting the information needed to search. Everyone told me that the records were closed that it was too long ago, leave it alone or too many people will get hurt. All that is true but sometimes the need to know is stronger.
As things happen, a friend was with me one day in Boston. We had a house guest and my wife was working, I volunteered a trip to Boston. Gail Hirst, a family friend, decided she would like to join us on a trip to Boston.
Gail and I had planned to visit the Massachusetts Archives as part of the day trip, in my case to look into the Civil War names I had been researching. I sat there thinking, “if I can look at over 100 years ago and come forward why couldn’t I look at the 50’s and come forward?”
I was looking at the 1949 index of births when Gail came over and said “I thought you were working on The Civil War time span.”
I gave her a 5 minute story of my missing sister. Gail is a professional Genealogist, so as I tell her the little I know. She asked when and where this took place and I told her. “There may be a part of the record that never got sealed,” Gail said. What, I thought, adoption records are sealed. She said sometimes depending on the age of the child, there is another process that is not sealed.
We then went to Middlesex Court in Cambridge mass, and looked at an index of name and year items. Found the starting point and now had the name of the family that had adopted my sister. So, after 36 years I now have a name, location and the starting point to locate my sister. Gail checked out a town near where I would be going, and she confirmed that the family was still there after all these years. The family meaning “Mrs. A…” only, the woman who adopted my sister. I had to go there to sort out the rest.
On April 19 1989, I boarded a train out of Boston, bound for Churchville, Maryland . My wife was not happy with me about opening the unknown, me I needed to know what had happened to Dorothy. The next morning, I arrived in Baltimore and drove to Belaire . There I spent the best part of the day at the local library looking at town street directories and high school year books searching for a my sister’s senior class picture. There was none.
That evening, I looked for the address that I knew would give me the answers I needed should there be no other way. I went there so that I would know exactly where my search would be bringing me in the next day or so.
On Saturday morning I got a map of the local cemeteries and began the search for a possible grave. My thought was, if I hadn’t found a picture, there was a possibility that my sister had died. years ago. At the second cemetery, I found a double grave site with a single burial of her adopted father.
At this point I went into Smith Chapel and met Mrs. Malloy, the church secretary. I told her I was doing some genealogical research and wanted to ask a few questions about graves I had found in the church yard. Mrs. Malloy told me that the minister was new there, but that she had been around here since the late 50’s, maybe she could be of help.
Looking around the church I saw a pew that had the family name “A…” on it and said that is one of the families I was working on outside.
Mrs. Malloy said “Oh, do you know my friend Vera?”
I said “No, not personally. That’s one of the research names I’ve been working on, though.” She then started talking about Mrs.”A”, that she lost her husband in the late 1950’s and raised her daughter Dorothy by herself. Mrs. Malloy then said that she had taught Dorothy how to play the piano right there at the church. “Dorothy’s daughter, Lisa was married there just last year, then she thought a minute, then she said, you know, Dorothy had a brother from Massachusetts as I remember, but know one ever knew whatever happened to him.”
Mrs. Malloy stopped short and looked at me a little strange and said “Here I am talking to you and I don’t even know who you are.”
Sometimes you have to make a decision, mine was to state “I’m the brother.” She then said “You don’t even know what they look like do you. I said no, that is why I’m here, to find out. She went and got the church book that had pictures of Mrs.” A” and my sister and her family.
At that time. I realized that I had to deal with how I was going to make the actual contact with the family, so I asked Mrs. Malloy to give me 24 hours to try resolve my problem. She said, well, it’s been thirty six years, what’s 24 hours. For that I will always be in debt to Mrs. Malloy.
I drove around town for awhile, stopped and had lunch, then called Mrs.”A”. At this point my thought was that the most important person here that could be hurt by all of this was Mrs.”A” and that was not why I was here. I called Mrs.”A” and told her that I was doing genealogical research and Mrs. Malloy had said I should talk to her. She said I’m 77 years old “I’m sorry I cannot help you. My husband died many years ago so I can’t help you with your research.”. I said “Well, now that we have that out of the way, my name is Al Phinney.” Her response, Father or son?” I said Son.” Was my answer. “Where are you now she asked?
My answer was one mile from your driveway and now that I know that my sister is alive, I would like to give you my, address and phone number and maybe someday, when you are comfortable, I would like you to arrange for me to meet my sister. A few seconds passed and she asked if I could give her a some time to deal with that. I told her I would check into a motel and let her know where I was as I could stay until Monday. if that would help.
At the motel, I sat for the afternoon with a bag of ice, bottle of Coke and a bottle of rum and waited to hear. Within 2 hours the call came that they would all like to meet me at 7 PM in the lobby of the motel.
At 7:00pm, I walked into the lobby and seeing Dorothy was like looking at my mother maybe 25 years ago. We went into the bar area, took a table and introduced ourselves . Mrs.”A” came with Dorothy and her husband, Dan. We talked for awhile then Dan took Mrs.”A” home . While they were gone, my sister wanted to put me on the spot.
“How do I know who you are who you say you are? How do I know this is all true?”
I showed her my license and she already knew the names but she wanted to push the issue. Finally, I showed her the photo that my grandfather had carried all those years. She looked at it and said simply “I have the same picture at home. Dan came back and we all went out for dinner at a local restaurant. Then we went to a gin mill that played rock and roll until 2 AM and Dorothy and I didn’t miss a dance . We closed the place at 2 and we parted at the motel with plans to meet the next day at her house.
I got up early and headed to Mrs.”A”‘s house and she sent me across the street to Dorothy’s house and family. I was there only a few minutes when her daughter Lisa came into the kitchen. She took one look at me and said, “Well, now I finally know who I look like in the family! The rest of Dorothy’s children, Autumn and Danny came in and we all talked for some time.
Later in the day we went across the street to Mrs. “A”‘s house and talked some more. That evening, all seven of us went out to dinner. Everyone wanted to go to the local TV station to tell this story of our finally meeting after thirty six years apart. I told them that was not my interest, this was personal.
The next afternoon I boarded a train back to Boston with the promise of returning in June for a visit with my wife. Once back in Marshfield, Mrs.”A” and I talked about once a week, first about growing up , then about my memories of 1953. We just plain talked. In June my wife and I went down to Churchville to visit and stayed in the area 3-4 days.
Sometime in July, my friend Rinehart and I went to Philadelphia with the wives for a Hair Stylist convention. While they were at the convention, John and I drove to Churchville to visit. When we left, I invited Dorothy to come visit us in Massachusetts sometime and we promised to keep in touch.
Over the next few months, we talked many times and by November Dorothy called and asked if she could come and visit us for her birthday. We told her to get on a train and come up. She came and stayed a week. The evening before her birthday, we talked about Waltham and I said I’d like to take her there the next day to show her places from her past.
She said, “I was so young, I wouldn’t remember any of that.”
I said, “I remember.”
The morning of her 40th birthday we were in Waltham. I drove her around the city and showed her where she had lived and where our grandfather had lived in the 40’s and early 50’s.
Then we went to the cemetery to visit. We parked at the bottom of the hill and climbed to our grandparents headstone. I explained that our grandmother had died in May of 1949 about 7 months before Dorothy was born.
I said to my grandfather’s gravestone, “Hey, I told you I’d bring Dorothy here one day. That was 18 years ago and we are here. Dorothy asked, “What did you say?”
I told her that the day after I buried my grandfather I promised him that someday you would be standing here. And you are.
Up until the actual visit was planned, I had not told my mother. She had been living in Marshfield since 1984 when Ab (my stepfather) had retired. He only lived 6-8 months after retirement, so she stayed here in Marshfield. Being the oldest, I felt that it was up to me to take care of and watch out for her. My brother Butch ( Jim Frenett) had left Waltham right out of high school and only came back to visit. This got a little tricky because my mother still liked her “tea”. This had always been a problem. She was not very happy about my searching for Dorothy because she did not want to remember giving up her little girl. I had called my father as well and I told him it would not be a good idea that she gets to meet everyone at once. He thought differently, and showed up in Marshfield the same day as Dorothy.
I told both my mother and my father that I did what I did because I needed to have answers to what had happened to Dorothy. I did not need nor did I ask their permission, I did it for me. Because everyone was going meet in Marshfield, it would be on my terms, no pointing of fingers about something that cannot be changed. My main thought was not to cause any problems while Dorothy visits or you may lose her a second time. We did get to have a few dinners together and everyone got to spend time and try to be comfortable around each other. Dorothy was not very comfortable with my father or mother as she had very hard feelings at the time.
The first few days of the visit, Dorothy had extra people to deal with, then she became quiet. My sister was not happy with me. During her visit, she looked around and felt that somehow she had been left behind. Look what I had, I was the lucky one. I knew everyone and they had kept me , they let her go away. Look how she grew up and on and on. Finally I had to sit her down and explain who I was. What I had put my grandfather, his sister and her husband, my mother, my father and stepparents through. I was one angry kid growing up because of her disappearance and they all paid dearly for it, not to mention myself. Dorothy went home hopefully with a little better understanding of me. I’m really not sure how much through. We kept in touch but not as often as Mrs. A. and I.
We have had many conversations since then about who we are. We both took the hard way of getting over life’s early bumps, but the important thing is we survived.
On my birthday in May 1990, my mother arrived at my office at noon time” in the wrapper”. She was still upset about my searching for Dorothy and now that she has been found and they had met, she was upset that I had done this.
I removed her from my office, called my wife and explained that she had better come here soon. She came and took my mother home. I told her I did not want to talk to her until the weekend and then we would resolve this matter. After forty years, I had enough. She never had another drink again.
In October 1993 one of my brothers (Steven) died. I flew out west to bring him back to be buried in Marshfield as was the family wishes.
I was out of the country when Mrs. A. died. My sister tried to reach me and couldn’t. When I returned home and returned her calls, she was not very happy that I was not here for her when she needed someone. I told her I was sorry.
In May 1995, my father died. He never got over losing my younger brother at such a young age. I called to tell Dorothy and she said she wouldn’t be coming to the service. I told her I understood. Her children thought otherwise, talked her into it and she came.
In December 1999, I went looking for my sister to wish her happy 50th. She had no address listed, no forwarding and no phone. I remembered that her daughter Autumn was going to collage in up state New York, so I tracked her down and when we spoke she invited my wife and I to her graduation. I told her she should talk to her mother about that first, if she would be there. Her comment, “I’m inviting you and I will tell her that.”
We went and it was in the same time span as Dorothy’s birthday so we combined the two and all went out to dinner.
In 2001, we had given my mother a trip to Hawaii for her 75th birthday. She had 10 great days and became a social butterfly, something that I had never seen before. We came home and the following Thursday she came to dinner for her favorite meal; corn beef and cabbage.
As she was leaving she said “See you in the morning.”
The next day she did not surface by ten so I went looking for her. She was gone. (I am a person that remembers numbers and the strange thing is my mother died thirty years to the date her father died.)
I did what I needed to do and followed her wishes to be buried with Ab. My brother Butch was not happy that she was cremated, but that was her wish and I respected that.
After I buried my mother, my wife told me a story I had never heard before. While we were on vacation my mother and Sal had plenty of time to talk. It seems that when she was a kid, she was in an accident and in a coma for a few months. She came out of it and went on sixty plus years. Now looking back at my grandfather, I guess I understand why he let her run, he was just happy to have her alive at all.
I still have the pictures of my grandfather and I, when I was very young, Today I am the grandfather with pictures of my own grandson’s. I think that is what made me start thinking more about writing this story.
I didn’t call my sister to tell her that our mother had died. I guess my reasoning is, if she had wanted contact, she would have had it long before she died. She had already lost the only mother she really knew, there was no reason to start another unhappy ending. I had tried early on to encourage communication between them but both waited for the other to take that first step. Neither did.
Dorothy and I still have contact, maybe not enough, but looking back at all those years of wondering, I know that I needed an answer to what had happened to her and once I had the answer it closed one door and opened another.
Now, when someone comes to me with that very personal search and they end their story with “I just need to know,” I tell them I understand very well, the need to know.
I am adding this note on July 4, 2012 because a few day’s ago I spoke with Will and Gert’s grandson Charles Winston Berry Jr whom I had not spoken to since 1959. Strange that he did remember me. I told him that I visit Waltham a few times a year to put flowers at my grandparents and his grandparents graves., and have been doing that since 1971. We did get to meet that summer, with flowers for those graves.
July 2014 – While doing a little research on the Mt. Feake Cemetery website in Waltham Massachusetts looking for other Cape Breton family names I found that there were two Hiram Phillips?
My grandfather Hiram J. Phillips 1889 – 1971 and another Hiram J. Phillips Jr – 1927 – 1928. I relative I never knew of and after confirming that he was my mothers younger brother, I am quite sure that she never knew of him. There grave is unmarked today although I am sure it was back the. My grandmother died in 1949 and she was buried on the hill overlooking her son Hiram’s grave. That is where my grandfather was buried in 1971.
The summer ( August ) of 2013 – My friend Ted and I took my grandson’s to Margaree fishing. We were there a week and we visited cousin Irene Shaw. ( I always called her and Walter my aunt and uncle ). I didn’t see Walter as he was now in a home. I was home a week and received a call that Walter had passed away the day after I had left there. I didn’t make it back up for the service.
In October 2014 – I decide to fly up to Cape Breton and surprise Irene for her 89th birthday. As I was planning that trip the Abigail Squires story came my way. That brought me to Mabou Cape Breton as well.
The following December I received a call that Irene had passed away. That came on a Monday and there would be a service the following Saturday. I was asked if I would be able to come. Her granddaughter asked and I told her I would try. I then had both Diane and Sal work on getting me a round trip to Sydney, Cape Breton and I flew out Friday morning. Arriving in Sydney I drove to Mabou and stayed at a small Inn there and emailed Cynthia that I was there and would be in Margaree Saturday morning for Irene’s service. I have not been back to Cape Breton since. I am planning a trip in the summer of 2019 to go there once again.
Fall of 2017 – Working on a family tree item on Ancestry up comes a Hiram J. Phillips that died in 1892 in Brookline Ma? Now, I have seen a head stone in Margaree center that has both my grandfathers fathers ( Hiram J Phillips ) name on it as well as my grandfathers grandfathers name ( Benjamin Phillips ). so I was quite surprised to find a death record of him in Massachusetts. That must have been quite a trip moving the body back to Margaree Valley. Back in that time that must have been done by train to Mulgrave Nova Scotica, then across to Cape Breton by ferry as the causeway was not built until 1955.
May 23, 2018 – I had a visit at my office at 764 Plain Street, Marshfield this guy walks in and asks if Al Phinney is around. I look at him and say, Bob King? He says do you remember me? I said how could I forget my first employer right out of high school 52 years ago. Bob is now 89 years old. He said he had come to visit friends in Marshfield and decided to ask at the 7/11 if anyone knew Al Phinney and someone just pointed to my office. I did send him a Thank You Card for remembering the kid from 52 years ago, included in the card was a picture of me in 1967 standing outside that office at 758 Plain Street.
Actually I first worked for his company as a 10 year old in Waltham, delivering the Boston Globe and Record American. I believe it was his fathers company back the. I worked for a guy named Irving who’s office was on Charles Street in Waltham.
Then in 1963 as a kid I worked for Bob King ( Pilgrim News / Suburban News ) at 758 /760 Plain Street, Marshfield. When I graduated from high school I went to work with Leo Creamer the manager at the time. The funny part here is in 1999 my office was 760 Plain Street, until I moved back about 100 feet to my current office.