Ancestry.Com takes Betty Bolevic for a ride
By Sharon Lakey
As a child, Betty Beattie listened raptly to her favorite song on the radio, “Far Away Places with Strange Sounding Names,” and dreamed of becoming a world traveler. “I just didn’t know how it could be done.” Sometimes dreams do come true, though.
Betty was the first child of Harold and Phyllis Beattie of Lyndonville, VT. When the couple divorced, Harold kept custody of their four children before marrying Catherine Beattie of Danville, to whom the couple would add ten more children. Those in Danville associate Harold and Kate with the McDonald farm, Kate’s family home, in Danville near Dole Hill where the couple moved in 1947. But Betty’s memories span both towns, including her first home on Red Village Road in Lyndonville.
She graduated from Danville High School, and then attended Lyndon Teachers College where she earned an elementary education degree. That degree became her golden ticket to those faraway places. She joined forces with teachers who taught overseas in support of American children at military bases. These teachers entered with the pay of a lieutenant with the rights and privileges associated with an officer’s rank.
“The pay wasn’t that great,” said Betty, “but our living expenses were near to nothing, and we had weekends and vacations to travel and sightsee.” Her first overseas duty was at St. John’s, Newfoundland. Her next was in Japan, then to England at Fairford (North of London) where she and her friends could bike to Stonehenge. “I have such wonderful memories from there, like attending Shakespeare’s plays at Stratford on Avon.” She spent her last year abroad in Bitburg, Germany, where she had an opportunity to take a bus tour into East Germany before the wall came down.
When she returned stateside, she was hired in Fairfield, Connecticut. It was in Fairfield that she met William Bolevic, her husband to be. They raised their family of five children in Ansonia, CT, with Betty was able to take time off to enjoy the job of mother after each child was born. All their children have stayed in New England, located in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. In 1999, she and Bill purchased a home near the farm in Danville in 2002.
“The farm was always a draw for us,” she said, “and we often visited here during summer vacations.” It was during the summer of 1997 that Betty became hooked on another form of her “faraway places” dream. This time the dream was triggered by Aunt Elnora (Beattie) Morse, Harold’s sister.
“She was quite a character,” said Betty. “Elnora was a short woman with a powerful personality,” she explained. “She was the town clerk of Jay, VT, and lived in Richford on a farm. When she retired and came to visit Kate and Harold, she would peruse the Danville Town Report, looking for errors, finding both clerical and mathematical ones, which she would announce aloud to all who were gathered there. One of the favorite family stories of Elnora is how she pronounced the family name– “Bee-tee, not Be-at-tee. One time she answered the phone at the farm and when the party on the other end asked for Occie Be-at-tee she said, ‘There is no one here by that name,’ and hung up.”
This same Elnora, while seated around Kate’s table conversing with those gathered there that summer morning in 1997 said she would like to go to Canada to visit some cemeteries near Lennoxville, Quebec. The lure of travel called to Betty, who spoke up. “I’ll take you.” Before going, though, Betty took her aunt to the Middlesex library where Elnora was introduced to microfiche. “She loved it,” said Betty. “Finding lots of family names was like discovering a mystery for us. She was so excited, and I got caught up in it, too.”
Armed with new information about her father’s mother and father, Tom Beattie and Betty took Elnora across the border. “We ended the day at St. James church cemetery in Leeds,” said Betty. “It was dusk when we found them—two old stones, barely readable: Mary Livingston and Robert Beattie.” The two Irish immigrants, the object of Elnora’s search, lay before them.
But Elnora’s reaction to the discovery astounded both brother and sister. “If I knew which vein in my body ran the blood that came from Ireland, I would cut it out!” she exclaimed, in an emotional outburst. Tom and Betty were taken aback. “It was such an odd exclamation coming from a woman whose normal behavior was that of an open-minded woman, never speaking in a prejudiced way,” said Betty.
On the way home, Elnora explained that her father was an Orangeman and hated the Irish. It was a deep-seated prejudice. Elnora remembered bringing home a shamrock as a child and having her father order its removal from the house immediately. “Who knows what stories lay behind such strong emotions?” said Betty, who began who own research into the Orangemen and the Irish.
“I was intrigued by the family stories,” said Betty, “and Elnora was eager to tell them. There were lots of relatives still living in the area, and I began visiting them, asking them to tell me the stories. I encourage others to do the same with their family, because these family members have since passed. Do it now, before they are gone,” she said seriously.
Sensing Betty’s excitement, her husband Bill did a surprising thing. He came home with a gift for her, an Ancestry.com CD entitled Family Tree Maker . She was two years from retiring, so she tucked it away on a shelf, but when she retired in 1999, she rediscovered it. The CD opens with a simple window . “It’s amazing,” she said, dismissing the countless hours and corridors it has led her down with a gesture, “how quickly I was off and running.”
Of the many hours of research, she said, “It’s like you are a detective solving a mystery puzzle. Sometimes, you run up against a brick wall but months later you will find a clue and you’re off again. Many of the connections come from unexpected sources. Canadian family members, also working on Ancestry. Com, have helped her solve many of them.
“One of the serious roadblocks I’ve experienced,” said Betty, is in Ireland itself. “In the wars between the English and the Irish, the records were burned. I can get no further back than Mary Livingston and Robert Beattie, the same two who started my search.” One can’t help but think the inhabitants of the quiet graves in St. James cemetery must be pleased that they started an avalanche of paper that traces their subsequent family in America. Betty has been working at her family tree now for 11 years. “I’ve gotten just about all that I can,” she said.
The outcome of all those years of gathering is about to take flight. With instructions from a companion book, Family Tree Maker, Betty is about to embark on making a book. Along with the facts about the family, she has gathered photos, stories and anecdotes that will add human interest to the book. It’s a giant step forward from that little Ancestry. Com box on the computer screen in which Betty was first asked to place her name.
An invitation: if you are interested in getting started on your own family tree, Betty would be willing to lend a hand, encouraging you and steering you in possible directions when you run into a roadblock. Call the Danville Historical Society (802.684.2055) to set up an appointment with her.
To view the photo album associated with this article, click here.
This article first appeared in the June issue of The North Star Monthly.