Sarah Ann Hawkins LaClair – Desperately Seeking Sarah

In doing genealogy research, I sometime run across a bulletin board entry where someone is “desperately” seeking  an ancestor.  Really?  Desperate?  This is not a life and death situation, it’s a hobby.  A few months ago, had some technical problems, and searching was not fully functional.  I read the blogs there, and some people were very upset about the quality of service.  Others were a little more realistic – it isn’t life or death – there are other places to research besides Ancestry, like RootsWeb and FamilySearch.   And so I did.  But first, a recap of her early history.

Sarah Ann Hawkins, wife of Barnabas LaClair, and mother of Lizzie LaClair Labor has been somewhat of an elusive person.   The first paper record of her appears to be in the 1850 census, age 19, in her father’s household with parents Cornelius and Sally Hawkins, and her brother Andrew.  They lived in Conway NH. Next we see her in 1860, in Conway, with parents, brother, and husband.  The name on the census record is Mclary not LaClair, but perhaps at that place and time it was better to be Irish than from Quebec.  They have a two-year-old son John listed, but the child should really be Josephine.  Having read stories about census takers and their sobriety and literacy, these mistakes are understandable. 

By the time of the 1871 Canada census, Sarah is living in Compton, Quebec, with Barney Leclere.  Although some who saw the record interpreted it as American Indian (giving rise to the rumor that she was Native American), it is really American unknown.   

In 1874, Sarah divorced Barnabas LaClair, because he had “treated her with intolerable severity.”  The divorce papers indicate that the marriage was March 5, 1852, although the marriage record has yet to be found.  Sarah went back to her maiden name, at least part of the time.

The 1880 census shows Sarah A Hawkins was working as a servant in Brownington, VT.  Lizzie was working as a servant in another household nearby.  Sarah’s other daughters were already married, and son Philip’s location is unknown.

1880 was the last record we had of her.  On various trips, we had looked for records of Sarah at town halls, in cemeteries, and always searching new records as they became available on line.  Fast forward to this summer when Ancestry had crashed, and I revisited the pilot FamilySearch site.  Sarah’s Hawkins grandparents are unknown, so I regularly search on the name Cornelius Hawkins, looking for his parents.  This time I got a hit in the recently released New Hampshire vital records.  Imagine my surprise when I found him listed as a parent in the death record of Sarah A McClary!  She died 19 June 1895, in Portsmouth, NH.  Why am I sure it is the right person?  The name matches the name she used when she previously lived in NH (McLary/McClare).   The place and date of birth are consistent with what we had believed we knew about Sarah.  Cornelius was also listed as the parent of Eliza Fuller.  Eliza’s age matches the age of one of the older daughters in the 1840 census, which listed only gender and age of children.  One of Sarah’s descendants had mentioned an Uncle Fuller who used to come to visit.  Cemetery records sent to me by the Portsmouth librarian list Eliza and family as buried in the same plot as Cornelius and his wife.  Sarah Hawkins’ burial location is not listed.  The death record is an index card with information taken from the original record, so if that can be found, the cemetery might be listed. 

Ironically, I found the death record just a few weeks after returning home from a visit in NH, where I was actually through Portsmouth twice.  I sent the information to Alfred in Maine, and Jean in Vermont.  They ended up visiting the library and the cemetery on the same day, unbeknownst to each other.  They sent me photos, which are now on Find-A-Grave.  Sarah’s parents and brother-in-law Joseph Fuller pre-deceased her, and are buried in the same plot as her sister Eliza, who was apparently the last of the immediate family members to die.  Fuller worked at the cemetery.  There’s no reason to believe that Sarah Ann Hawkins was buried anywhere else.  But still wish I had that on paper. 

So are all the mysteries solved?  Of course not – every “find” brings up another question.  We thought we knew that Cornelius’s wife was Sally Brown, daughter of Silas Brown and Mary.  We have that both in an original record, and on a later-created index card (although the year is wrong.)  But both Eliza’s and Sarah’s death records list their mother as Sarah Winkley.  Sarah and Sally are sometimes interchangeable.  But Winkley and Brown?  Is Hawkins a second marriage for her? 

And the techno-mystery:  I saved a copy of Sarah’s death record to my computer.  It is a simple jpg file.  But I have found that even when I haven’t looked at the image in days or weeks, I will close other documents on my screen and find Sarah’s death record open behind it.  I looked at the photos of her parents’ headstone, and when I closed the photo, the death record was open behind it.  There is probably a technological reason for this, but I don’t know it.  I’ve looked at every word on the record.  Maybe she’s happy to be found.  Maybe she’s reminding me there’s more to be found.



  1. Roger Laber said,

    November 10, 2010 at 21:47

    Is it possible that Sarah Hawkins was adopted by Cornelius Hawkins?

  2. sooze471 said,

    November 11, 2010 at 09:14

    It is possible that she is adopted. However, I have not seen any official document that would indicate that. I know that the 1871 Canada census has been interpreted to say American Indian Descent, but it is really American Unknown Descent. Perhaps DNA could answer that question?

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