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  • Mj Pettengill

Florence and the Lost Sisters


Three Joyful Sisters, Kate Greenaway
Three Joyful Sisters, Kate Greenaway

Marya's Mother

Florence Ellen, a beautiful woman, was married to Ramsey Wood Pettengill. She was the mother of five daughters and one son.


Sadly, her son, Stephen, never came home after his birth. There was confusion at the hospital—first, they told Florence and Ramsey that their baby boy was dead, and then they told her the next day that there had been a mistake and that he was alive. On her way down to see him, Florence's son did indeed die.


Stephen was the second child born to the Pettengills. Florence and Ramsey had a one-year-old daughter, Judith Ellen, waiting at home. How hard it must have been to return as a whole, complete mother or father, after such a crucial loss. But they did. It was time to carry on as if nothing had happened, the way of previous generations. No selfies or social media posts were available for drumming up prayers or GoFundMe platforms to offer financial support. During that time, people shoved their pain deep down inside, sucked it up, and made their way through the maze of life. If there was comfort and sharing, it was on a more personal and intimate level. One had to be careful and not display weakness. Their infant son is buried at the Blair Cemetery, near his grandparents and our beloved Nellie in Campton, NH. Regrettably, Florence and Ramsey are interred in another town.


In addition to Judith, the Pettengill's went on to have four more daughters: Susan, Maryjane, Joanie, and Jan. During that era, psychotherapy was not typical. People often silently suffered from their emotional devastation. Many turned to drink or other substances and addictions to numb their pain. The blueprint for helping one another or even acknowledging mental anguish was either lost in a natural disaster or had not yet emerged. Florence and Ramsey grieved in their own way for the loss of their only son.


Florence was primarily a stay-at-home mom, which was more common than working mothers then.


During her teenage years, Florence left Massachusetts with her family. Her parents found employment at a large working farm in Holderness, NH. Burleigh Farm, owned by an affluent family, still has a strong presence in the area.


Florence's mother, Mary Jane, ran the boarding house; her father, Earle, was the head herdsman for a large number of dairy cows. Mary Jane's father, William Cress, came down from Nova Scotia and worked on the farm for some time. After his death, he was returned to Nova Scotia for burial. (Mary Jane and Earle Hubley initially moved from Nova Scotia to Massachusetts.)


Florence was a strong woman who, like many even in today's world, suffered greatly from ancestral trauma linked to poverty, social programming, and lack of oversight in many systems. Her (twin) sisters were skillfully taken from their parents when Florence was hospitalized in Boston during her infancy with a rare blood disorder. Mary Jane and Earle were not financially or socially equipped to fight for or get their daughters back from the well-to-do doctor who took them in the name of "helping with medical bills." A devastated Mary Jane Hubley cried often, and her peace was that she "never signed the adoption papers."


Florence attended some of her early school years with the twins, and although her other siblings were resistant throughout most of their lives, Florence and the twins kept in touch. It was not uncommon for people to take others' children from them without going through the proper channels. It was a social dilemma that crushed many on a variety of levels.


Florence and her sisters remained close. Florence's other siblings did not share a deep connection to the twins during the prime of their lives if it happened at all. This information came directly from Florence to me, Maryjane, her third daughter, during many talks related to healing old, long-buried wounds.


Those who have read my series may know/recognize that my mother and her twin sisters inspired me. To avoid a spoiler, I'll leave it there.


I wrote this offering because a genealogy site asked me if I knew Florence (my mother). Their records indicated that she only had a son. I'm very thorough and have many documents on all of my family lines. And, yeah... do I know a story about Florence? You bet.