Posted by: downtothesea | March 6, 2010

My Great-Grandmother’s Rosary

One of my most beloved possessions is my great-grandmother Nellie (Gavin) Miller’s rosary.

It has lovely purple glass beads that are worn smooth from years of prayer and a crucifix equally worn by her loving hands.  It has been mended in the past, as the first decade of beads has only 8 beads and the final decade has 12!  I find it hard to believe that such a devout Irish Catholic woman could have made such a mistake while fixing her rosary, and so I wonder if her husband, my great-grandfather William Miller mended it for her–he was of solid Scottish Presbyterian stock until he met Nell and converted to Catholicism to wed her in 1902.  They had such a tender relationship I doubt she would have pointed out the mistake to him.

Here are my great-grandparents Will and Nellie Miller, with their son William Timothy (Billy) in Niagara Falls, New York, in 1911:

I adore this photo of the family.  It is one of only two photographs I have of them together.  Will and Nell were 35 and 34 years old at this point, and beyond themselves with happiness over the birth of their long-awaited first child.  My grandmother, Jean Marie, wouldn’t be born for 11 more years, in 1922, when her parents were 46 and 45.

My grandmother Jean adored her older brother Billy and he doted on her.  Tragically, Billy’s life was cut short just offshore of Lake Ontario at Port Dalhousie during a church picnic in late June, 1926.  Unable to swim, he drowned when the row boat he was in with several other young people flipped, spilling all of them into the lake.  He was the only casualty of the group.  Here is an early postcard showing the boats for hire on the beach near where great-uncle Billy drowned at the age of only 15 years:

Despite the terrible loss of her only son and firstborn, Nellie’s faith never waivered.  She remained devout and trusting in the goodness of God, and passed that deep spirituality on to my grandmother.  I remember seeing Nell’s rosary in my grandmother’s room when I was young, and I knew that it was my grandmother’s favorite of the many rosaries she had.  It was only when the rosary came into my possession after my grandmother’s death in 2008 that I realized how very special it was.  The reverse of the crucifix reads:

Whenever I pray with this lovely old rosary, I feel so connected to my dear departed grandmother and to the great-grandmother I never knew.  All three sets of our fingers counted off these beads, all three pairs of our hands closed gently around this delicate crucifix.  All three of us prayed the same prayers.  It is my tangible connection to the sweet woman in the photo above, whom I never met, but who gazes directly back at me, smiling, with my own blue-grey eyes.



  1. Really neat. Thanks for sharing.

    Bill 😉
    Author of “13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories”

  2. A beautiful story – I especially love that your great-grandfather converted in order to marry your great-grandmother. That’s true love!

  3. Hi Amy, this story touched me on so many different levels and after reading it I checked your surname list. I am from the Niagara area and saw something of interest there. Could you possibly send me an email so we can talk. Thks, Sharon

  4. Precious and touching. Thank you for writing this important post about family, faith, and tradition.

  5. I loved reading this story about your family’s legacy of faith. I, too, have a similar story – regarding my great-grandmother’s hand-knotted rosaries. Thanks for sharing this beautiful story and pictures. I’m so glad that your family’s Catholic faith is alive and well in your hands!

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