Lost Names, Part 27: Gilbar, Gilbert, Bushee, and Cornstock


Several years ago, Roberta (Wright) Mills of Florence asked me to explore the genealogy of her great-great-grandfather Eli Gilbar to see if we could find any evidence of Native American ancestry. While no traces of Native American forebears have yet surfaced in this family, Eli nonetheless emerged as opportunity to investigate another lost French-Canadian surname. Eli’s parents Joseph Jalbert and Marie-Rose Delima Constant were married on August 20, 1832 in St. Pie, Québec, about forty miles due north of Enosburg. Joseph’s first ancestor in Québec from France was Mathurin Gerbert dit Lafountain, who married Isabelle Targé in Québec in 1669. Even then, spelling variations abounded.

WALKER WRIGHT, RAISED by his grandparents, Eli and Mattie Gilbar.

“Pie,” French for Pius, after lots of popes, was rendered as “St. Pee” in the Vermont death certificate of Eli’s brother John, with the name of the mother written as Rose Cornstock. Joseph and Rose’s first six children were baptized at St. Pie, the last one Ambroise [later Albert], born in 1841. Soon after his birth, the family crossed the border to Enosburg and, in the process, did not reconnect to a Catholic church. A long-vanished grave marker in Mississiquoi Cemetery attests that Joseph “Gelbar” died on November 25, 1854, age 34. Joseph’s early death made a hard life even more difficult for his young family.

Eli Gilbar, living in Enosburg, Vermont, in 1861 claimed he was 18 years old when he enlisted in Company A of the 7th Vermont Infantry.  With no record of his birth or baptism, the best evidence of Eli’s true age comes from the 1860 Enosburg census wherein Albert Jalbert, [last name spelled correctly in this instance], age 20, headed a household that included their widowed mother “Mary” [Rose] and among other siblings, Eli, age 13. Thus, Eli was only about 14 when he joined the army. Comparing his enlistment paper with other personal descriptions in army records, he grew about five inches in the course of his service! Moreover, as documented in his re-enlistment certificate, wherein he signed an X next to his name, years later he learned to write his name.  Eli’s brothers Albert and William joined the same regiment. Their descendants and other members of the family later adopted Gilbert as their preferred surname.


ELI’S SIGNATURE, WHICH evolved from a simple X as he learned to read and write.
ROBERT E WRIGHT and sister Edna, ca. 1911. Charming outfits!

Returning from the Civil War, Eli Gilbar relocated 120 miles away from his family in Enosburg to Manchester, Vermont, where he married fourteen-year-old Mary-Matilda Bushee on  November 19, 1866, their union officiated by a Protestant clergyman. The Bushees shared a similar migration path with the Gilbars. Mattie’s parents, Medard Boucher dit Tremblé and Eleanore Brière were married at St. Jacques de l’Achigan, Québec, on June 10, 1834, with their children baptized variously with the Boucher and Tremblé surname. Medard’s first ancestor in Québec was Jean Galleran Boucher, who married Marie Leclerc at Chateau Richer on October 10, 1661. In the early 1850s, the Boucher/Bushees moved to Manchester County, Vermont, also leaving behind ties to the Catholic Church. It took some sleuthing to locate them in Pawlet’s 1860 census. Their surname had indexed as Burhoe! Medard was now Joseph and Eleanore went by Ellen. With twins in both the Jalbert and Boucher families, it came as no surprise that Eli and Mattie had twin daughters, Emma, and Matilda. In all these instances, one twin died young.

In their almost sixty years of marriage, Eli and Mattie experienced a hardscrabble life moving from Vermont to Greenwich, New York, and then back to Vermont in the mid-1890s. According to the 1900 census, Mattie had eight children, five of whom were dead. Their eldest daughter, Emma Gilbar married at 15 and died at age 23. Emma’s husband John Wright died at 21, leaving three children, Walker, and twins John and Cora Wright. Eli and Mattie raised these orphaned children along with their lastborn child, Alvin, born in 1890, younger than his niece and nephew.

ELI AND MATTIE Gilbar around 1920. Eli is wearing his GAR medal.

The sole-surviving photograph of Eli Gilbar and his wife Mary aka Mattie shows him wearing his Grand Army of the Republic medal.  Eli’s Civil War pension file weighs in at 213 pages and chronicles his struggles to support himself and his family amid increasing disabilities including “dumb ague,” a type of malaria. Pensioned at $4 a month in the early 1880s, further depositions and medical examinations chronicle Eli’s diminishing ability to perform manual labor and the government’s reluctance to increase his pension. At his death on July 21, 1925, Eli had been receiving $30 a month. His death notice made scant mention of his Civil War service.

Mattie died in 1930. Her obituary stated that she was survived by two children, Alvin Gilbar of Sunderland and Libby Green of Corinth, New York. Rev. Mabel Winch, ordained at the Congregational Church of East Arlington in 1914 and officiated at the burial service. Little could Mattie and Eli Gilbar have foreseen that the grandson they raised, Walker Wright (1885–1948), would ultimately have scores of descendants.  Walker’s first wife, Alice Mattison, died tragically from complications of a third pregnancy, leaving two children, Cora and Robert Eli Wright.  A decorated World War II veteran and the recipient of a Purple Heart, Robert Wright settled in Pittsford, where, in 1934, he married Marjorie Hendee Smith.  At the time of Robert’s death in 1986, 25 grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren survived him. When his widow, Marjorie, died in 2007, that number of great-grandchildren had increased to 51, along with two great-great-grandchildren. Of course, the count continues upward! One of my former students, part of this family network, present at Pittsford’s Memorial Day Parade, gave birth to a son several days later. That leaves the possibility of yet another descendant of Eli Gilbar and Mattie Bushee to learn their ancestors’ story of courage and survival.

MARJORIE AND ROBERT E. Wright. Robert is in his World War II uniform.


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