Category Archives: Maternal

James Cronin of Kilmallock, Co. Limerick, Ireland

This is a photo of James “Jamie” Cronin. He may have been one of the youngest of about eight children born to Ellen Roche and her husband, Michael Cronin of Glenanare (or Glenanaire), Kilmallock, Co. Limerick, Ireland. He emigrated to America with his siblings.

James Cronin of Kilmallock, Co. Limerick, IrelandJamie had been everyone’s favorite in the Cronin household. I think he worked at a hospital, but I’m not sure.

According to stories, Jamie was engaged and soon to be married. Then, he contracted spinal meningitis and died suddenly. His death was a terrible loss, especially since it was so sudden. Everyone thought he’d be one of the most successful of the Cronin children.

In one version of the story — which was not true — he and my great-grandmother had a huge fight and weren’t speaking, and then he died before they could reconcile. In that tale, my great-grandmother committed suicide.

The fact is, Margaret Cronin Tormey (my great-grandmother) contracted tuberculosis and died several years later, in a hospital in the northern part of Massachusetts. (I can’t recall the location at the moment, but I’ll update this when I think of it.) So, the suicide story is very odd and I haven’t found anyone else in the family who’d killed themselves.

Jamie’s good looks continued in the family, and a later descendant of the Cronins — Robert “Bob” Holden — had a strong resemblance to this photo, in his youth.

Tormey Mystery Child

This is a photo my grandmother (Margaret Ann Tormey Bernier) described as a family photo, showing her with her siblings. The problem is… there are four children and we only know about three of them.

Tormey family children - around 1899

When I asked my grandmother about the fourth child, she seemed puzzled. Then said it must have been her cousin, Margaret Cronin Holden. Or, maybe it was her cousin Helen Cronin Kirk, who later lived in Belmont, MA.

I suppose either is possible, but it seems unlikely. Why would they add an extra child in what’s clearly a photo of siblings? (Also, my grandmother sometimes revised history. For example, she insisted that her father died when she was a toddler. He actually survived until after my grandmother had married and my mother — Muriel Bernier [Morey] — was a child.)

My grandmother insisted that she was the youngest child in the photo. I suppose that’s possible, but since she was only two years younger than her sister, Mary Ellen Tormey Sullivan, I’m more inclined to think my grandmother was the toddler standing up.

So, I haven’t a clue who the fourth child really was.

James Earnest Tormey never married and died without issue.

Mary Ellen Tormey Sullivan (Mrs. Charles Sullivan) had children Isabel Sullivan Beagan (spelling?) and Leo Sullivan. Isabel married Jack Beagan (?) and had at least two children. Leo was a fireman (in Belmont, MA) and never married, as far as I know, but he had at least one child. I think the baby’s mother’s name was Gloria, but I never met her, though I recall it as a long-time romance for Leo.

Napoleon Mark Bernier – Obit and Notes

As I’m going through papers in my files, I’m scanning a few that may interest Papa’s descendants.  The first of these are kind of morbid, since they’re from when he died, but those are the papers that include references to some of his accomplishments.

He was Napoleon Mark Bernier and he died at age 65 after many heart attacks. (He documented each of them in his journal. If there was a Guinness Book record, he might have qualified.)

Here’s his obituary from the Boston Herald (newspaper), 23 Nov 1959.

wNMB-obit1Things to note about him, as described in the obituary:

  • … he holds numerous patents on building materials and equipment.
  • He was noted for the development of the first successful acoustical plaster and also of the first latex paints produced in New England.
  • He had also received a patent on a resilient asphalt used for playgrounds. [My note: I think this was the same surface used on tennis courts, worldwide, including all U.S. embassy tennis courts.]
  • Structures on which some of his new materials are in use include the John Hancock Life Insurance Co. building here and Riverside Church in New York.
  • He founded California Products Corp. (as California Stucco Products) in 1926.
  • He was a vice-president and director of the Vermiculite Association, Inc., of New York.

Remember, he didn’t finish sixth grade. He was a self-educated man.

Here’s a letter sent to my grandmother after Papa’s death. (Almost everyone called him “Leo,” but my grandmother and family members usually called him “Nap.”)


And, here’s a letter from Papa’s business partner, Bob Caldwell, on California Products letterhead. (Weirdly, months after my grandfather’s death, Bob still used the title of Executive Vice President.) The letter mentions Papa’s patents.


That letter was sent to my grandmother at 39 Dean Street in Belmont. That’s where my family lived.  She moved in with us after selling her house (99 Louise Road, Belmont), and then bought her own home near us on Chilton Street.  That didn’t work out. I think living alone kind of worried her. (It didn’t help that people — probably kids — kept stealing her underwear off the clothesline in her back yard. Just the underwear, nothing else.) She sold that house and moved into a two-family home at 6 Payson Road, near Cushing Square, Belmont.

A couple of memorial cards from Papa’s death:

The memorial card from his funeral mass.









Detail from that memorial card (yes, they spelled his name wrong):





And, typical of that era, a Jesuit Seminary Guild memorial card. It’s the kind of thing that gave families comfort.


Next: I have Papa’s personal journal, or one of his journals, anyway.  A lot of his notes were about cooking, travel, and health.

He took a lot of pride in creating his own recipes, and grew most of his own ingredients in his backyard, in his greenhouse (attached to the dining room), or in his basement under special lights.  If he hadn’t been an inventor and artist, I think he might have been a chef.


Here are some notes from his second trip to the Caribbean, in 1950. On that journey, he went to Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, Haiti, Jamaica, and Cuba before returning to Miami and then flying back to Boston.


Margaret Cronin Holden – Graduation Photo


Margaret Cronin Holden (???? – 1999)

Margaret Cronin Holden and her sister, Mary Cronin Kelly, were first cousins of my grandmother (Margaret Tormey Bernier).  Their father and my grandmother’s mother were brother and sister from Kilmallock, Co. Limerick, Ireland.

Margaret married Richard Holden and moved to Rhode Island, where they had two children.

I’m not sure why I have this graduation photo of Margaret, but if any of her descendants would like it, please contact me.

Napoleon Mark Bernier – Some Photos



Napoleon Mark Bernier (1894 – 1959)

NapoleonMBernier-stylishwebMy grandfather, Napoleon Mark Bernier, was known for being very stylish.  That’s him as a young man, in the photo on the left.

His mother (Margaret Elizabeth DeCoste Bernier) and his sister, Oldna, made their own clothes and many of his, as well. During the Depression, Napoleon’s family was known for remaining fashionable. That’s because they’d take apart their older clothes and rework them — with some new materials — into styles that looked like fashion plates.

In later years, all of my grandfather’s shirts were custom made, and the rest of his wardrobe probably was, as well. He was finicky about his clothes.

(I remember the shirts — always pale yellow — were made from some fabric that was difficult to get.  They may have been a very light silk.  I recall that he needed “breathable” clothing for his annual vacations in the islands, usually Jamaica.)

The portrait with the dark background, above, was probably taken when he was in his 40s.  He was a little older when my mother, Muriel Bernier, painted his portrait, shown below on the right. (The canvas reflected the flash when I took this photo. In the painted portrait, his suit is a very even shade of brown.)

He almost always wore browns and yellows, because they accented his coloring so well.  He also favored two aftershaves, Royall Bay Rhum and Florida water.  Even today, when I catch a whiff of one of them, I remember great adventures with my grandfather.

Napoleon Mark Bernier was born 22 Oct 1894 in Somerville, Middlesex Co., MA, to Francois Napoleon Bernier and Margaret Elizabeth DeCoste Bernier.

He was left-handed but the nuns at his school forced him to write with his right hand.  As a result, he became a rebellious student and dropped out of school around sixth grade.  He was self-taught after that, and I recall him practically devouring chemistry books as well as science fiction magazines.

Of course, he grew tired of working for his dad’s plaster-and-stucco contracting business.  He started inventing his own kinds of specialized stuccos, and later became a noted inventor with several patents.

He started the California Stucco Corporation, then California Paints, and then combined them into California Products.  The company still thrives, and its headquarters are in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

My grandfather was one of those larger-than-life people, and his friends were equally colorful, including General George S. Patton and Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius.

(I can recall playing at Gropius’ house in Lincoln when I was little.  Napoleon-portraitMy grandfather had been involved in the building of it.  My favorite parts included a banister that was great for sliding on, plus a wall of glass bricks that made the outside world look weird.  My grandfather put similar glass bricks into the cottage he built for us in North Hampton, NH.)

My grandfather was tremendously successful in business and involved in building the original John Hancock Insurance building in Boston, MA, plus many other Back Bay structures.  His work can still be seen throughout MIT, as well, especially in the lobby at the formal entrance (the one that faces the Charles River) where my grandfather’s invention — acoustical plaster and tiles — line the walls & ceiling and muffle loud noises.

Napoleon M. Bernier — often called “Nap” by his friends — died of a heart attack on 22 Nov 1959, at Mt. Auburn Hospital, Cambridge, MA.  He and I were kind of “partners in crime,” and I still miss him.

Napoleon Mark

B: 22 Oct 1894
D: 22 Nov 1959

Francois Napoleon

B: 08 Nov 1861
D: 23 Sep 1918

Margaret Elizabeth

B: Oct 1870
D: 20 Aug 1937





Margaret Bernier and Muriel – 1919


Margaret Tormey Bernier and her daughter, Muriel, in 1919

This photo shows my grandmother, Margaret Ann Tormey Bernier (1898 – 1972) and her baby daughter, Muriel (1919 – 2010).  The photo was probably taken on the front porch of their home in Cambridge… or Somerville, MA. (I need to research that and find out just where their street was actually located.  Most records say Somerville, but my mother said it was actually Cambridge, and — for part of her high school years — she went to school in Cambridge.)

My mother was born at home, and — completely unprepared — my grandfather (Napoleon Mark Bernier) was present during labor and delivery.  He was so shocked by the process, he swore there would be no more children in his household.   And so, my mother was an only child.  (From my grandmother’s description, it wasn’t an easy delivery.)

However, my grandmother’s pregnancy was stressful.  She was one of the only members of her extended family who didn’t come down with the flu, so — despite being “in the family way” — she was the one who took care of those confined to their beds.  And, her father-in-law (Francois Napoleon Bernier) died while my grandmother was pregnant.

As an only child, my mother said she was pampered and given the best of everything.  Since her parents were so young when she was born, it was more as if they were friends than parents.  So, my mother described her childhood as a happy one.

Her mother swore that my mother never did anything wrong, ever.  She never misbehaved, and never had to be punished for anything.

I’m not so sure about that.  Mum talked about running around the neighborhood with a bow & arrows, and… well, not quite terrorizing the kids, but I got the idea that Mum was more of a loner than a joiner.

I’m intrigued by the lace-up boots my grandmother wore in this photo.   I had a pair custom-made when I was in my 20s, not realizing they were similar to my grandmother’s.

And, if I recall the stories correctly, this photo shows my grandmother with her real nose.  The surgery was later, since my mother recalled seeing her mom in bandages, afterward.