Travel Log: Touching Ohana, Part II

Morris Island Light

(Portland, Maine; July 25, 2018) I am sitting in Maine, state #28 on Grand Tour USA. Connecticut was state #25—the halfway point. I am now over the proverbial hump. Check out the state map at the bottom of this column; New Hampshire and Vermont are next.

And then Canada!

Yes. You read that right. Grand Tour USA is going international. I had planned to visit all 50 states by November 30, 2018—one year after beginning this journey. However, a friend’s retirement in Virginia in October and some unexpected family research shift that deadline to the right. After Vermont, I’m going to head up north into Quebec and the small town of Roxton Falls.

Interesting enough it was two months ago today that I wrote a column about the experience of finally gaining a sense of touching my family roots in Hawai’i ( That was supposed to a be a one-off column, however, a serendipitous event has put me on a path to touching my ohana’s legacy leading back to the middle of the 19th century and, perhaps, to the 18th century (“ohana” is the Hawai’ian word for “family”).

My great-grandfather was named William Victor Miller. However, his original family name was Tartre; for whatever reason he changed it when he left home. “Miller” is the name on his Army discharge papers in Hawaii following World War I (where he apparently did all his service). “Miller” is the name on his Merchant Marine papers, marriage certificate, property titles, and death certificate. “Miller” is the name my grandfather, William Francis, and my dad have passed on down the line.

Tartre Grave, Precous Blood Cemetery
The graves of Victor Louis and Mathilde Dauray Tartre, my great-great grandparents in Precious Blood Cemetery.  Woonsocket, Rhode Island.  July 20, 2018.

However, William Victor grew up in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, and its “twin city,” Blackstone, Massachusetts. His parents were Victor Louis and Mathilde Dauray Tartre, and they’re buried in Precious Blood Cemetery. Precious Blood’s gate is in Woonsocket, but 2/3 of its property lies over the state line in Blackstone. On July 20 (last Friday) I was finally able to locate their graves. The stone is relatively new—that means someone is keeping the family grave up. I am in the process of contacting Precious Blood Church to see if I can begin tracking down any relatives still living in the Tartre line of the family. My grandfather might have visited the graveyard 40 or 50 years ago when he was in Massachusetts, but we don’t know. For all we know, I’m the first “Miller” to stand here since William Victor left home and changed the family name.

A bit of sleuthing also revealed to me the likely origin of our current family name, Miller. You see, Blackstone, Massachusetts, is divided into several named areas. The area of Blackstone that encompasses the entirety of the Massachusetts side of Precious Blood Cemetery is named Millerville.

I’m not kidding.

There is most likely no way to ever know why my great-grandfather changed our family name. Family lore speaks of an argument leading William Victor to leave and change his name to keep from being found. Thing is…all of his papers list his parents as the Tartres; his birthplace was listed as Woonsocket, and he chose the name “Miller” (likely from interacting during his early life with Millerville and the many Millers in the area). To my mind, it doesn’t look like he was trying to hide from the family. I wonder more if he chose the slightly Germanic-sounding Miller to better fit in to the old Midwest, which has a heavy German population. After all, “Miller” was a lot more low-key and less Catholic for a young man perhaps trying to establish himself in a country that was largely anti-Catholic than the French name “Tartre.”

All speculation, but there is a logic to it.

Castle Hill Lighthouse, Newport
Castle Hill Lighthouse was first lit in 1890 and helps mark the approach into Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay.  This is the state my great-grandfather grew up in.  July 20, 2018.

And that’s where Canada comes into my narrative. My pop and I together have been doing some digging and sharing information as I travel. We’ve located Victor Louis Tartre’s grandparents (my great-great-great grandparents), Charles and Adelaide Tartre, both buried in Roxton Falls, Quebec. I’ve actually located and contacted a distant cousin on the Tartre line up in Canada. Hopefully he can help me locate Charles and Adelaide’s graves in the cemetery. I believe I have found the cemetery itself—I have a “Google Earth” photo of Roxton Falls and pinpointed the most likely burial site.

In addition to a bit of correspondence to start trying to fill in some family gaps, the next stop for me is to go to Roxton Falls. Quebec is a French-speaking province, and I studied German and have real-world experience speaking Spanish when stationed in Spain. This will be interesting, to say the least. But one of us needs to go up there and see if we can re-connect with our family story.

I mentioned the possibility of connecting us back to the 18th century. You see, the Tartres have been in Canada since the early 18th century. So far I can trace them back to my great-great-great-great-great grandfather (yep, five “greats”). Starting with my grandfather, here’s what I’ve got so far:
William Francis Miller –born Oct. 30, 1918, in Honolulu, Hawai’i, USA

–died Nov. 12, 2006, in Honolulu, Hawai’i, USA

William Victor Miller (formerly Tartre) –born June 4, 1879, in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, USA

–died Aug. 10, 1945, in Honolulu, Hawai’i, USA

Victor Louis Tartre –born Feb. 23, 1854, Canada

–died Feb. 11, 1939, in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, USA

Charles Tartre / LeTartre –born Feb 21, 1788, in Verchères, Montérégie, Québec, Canada.

–died Oct 21, 1873, in Quebec, Canada. Buried in Roxton Falls, Quebec.

Antonie Tartre / LeTartre –born July 6, 1756, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Charles LeTartre –born Aug. 21, 1718, in Neuville,,Capitale-Nationale,Québec, Canada.
So, as you can see, Canada plays a very significant role in my family’s early history. So far, however, I have not been able to track any ancestors back past Charles LeTartre who was born in Quebec in 1718, 200 years before my grandfather, William Francis Miller, was born in Hawai’i.

Our family has certainly gotten around!

So, by early next week I’ll be in Roxton Falls, Quebec, trying to find the graves of Charles and Adelaide Tartre. There is small chance I will be able to locate a graveyard for Antonie Tartre / LeTartre (whether he had dropped the “Le” prefix on the name is up in the air), or the first Charles—Charles LeTartre. But I plan to at least go to Montreal and see the city their births were registered in.

So my journey to see the U.S. has truly yielded unexpected treasure—a chance to connect to my own family history in a deeper way than ever before, and a chance to bring that connection to my brother, my daughter, my nephews, and my parents.

For, when one touches ohana, they touch it not only for themselves, they touch ohana for everyone who has been or is part of that ohana’s story.

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Nathanael Miller’s Photojournalism Archives:

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