My Grandma and the Cyr Readers

One of the ways I find to connect to my ancestors is by having items they may have used in their daily lives. These could range from an old typewriter or camera to kitchen items or tools. Some of these I’ve been lucky to have had handed down to me, while others I’ve acquired by antiquing or from sites like eBay or Amazon.

My grandmother, Dorothy (Harris) Weller, was a primary school teacher in Appleton and Clintonville, WI before she married my grandfather. I have many pictures she took when she was a young adult. A couple of them were taken of her classrooms. One, from the mid-1920s, shows the children reading from the Cyr Readers by Grades reading primers.


Ellen M. Cyr (1860 to 1920) was an educator and author and was born in Montreal, Canada. She published her first reader in 1896.

According to The History of Reading News: “Like teachers throughout time, 18-year-old Ellen Cyr saw a problem in her primary classroom: “The stilted, uninteresting style of text books which she was obliged to use in drilling her young charges was not the very best kind for her purpose.” Also, like teachers throughout time, Ellen found a solution: “She set about writing a primer according to her own ideas.” (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1911, p.4). What was unique about Cyr, however, was that she was among the first women in American history to have a widely sold reading series marketed under her own name. Additionally, she was the first author, male or female to have a reading series that contained eight books; previous ones consisted of only five or six readers.

Ellen Cyr wrote her first book in 1886, a combination primer and first reader, while a teacher at the Holmes Primary School in Cambridge, MA. A comparison between her primer and the others used in Cambridge schools at the time makes clear the instructional components she found lacking: (a) word recognition and (b) comprehension activities. Cyr provided opportunities for significant practice with new words before adding more words. Her books also contained many pictures and were quite different from the more popular McGuffy Reader. An excellent biography of Ellen Cyr can be found at this link.

I could see in the picture that my grandma was teaching using the Book Three reader, published in 1901.


I decided to see if I could find one. They proved to be fairly common and I was able to find a Book Three reader on Amazon and it is in great shape!



My grandma passed away when I was only 11, so I was too young to have talked with her about her childhood and early adult life. It would be fascinating to listen to a conversation between my grandmother and my daughters, who are also teachers, about how teaching reading has change over the last almost 100 years!

Having items like this book help me to both feel closer to her and understand the life she lived.


Backgrounds of My Families

This is some background information for the eight families (mine and my wife’s) of my grandparents’ generation.


Our Harris family is of English decent. Their ancestry can be traced back to the earliest days of our country. John Earl Harris was born in Greenfield, Saratoga Co., NY in 1798. He married Nancy Ormsbee in 1820. The Ormsbee family originally came to America in the 1630′s, settling in Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Nancy’s father Joshua fought in the Revolutionary War and travelled to Greenfield with his family around 1796. John Earl, Nancy and their descendents moved on to Pierpont Ohio, Town of Morgan Indiana, and eventually Cato, Manitowoc Co., WI. There, they engaged in the mill business. Related families include Seybold, Protz, Cleveland, Ormsbee, Benjamin, Newcomb and Bradford.


George Harvey and his wife Elizabeth (Louden) were married in England in 1859. Soon after, they came to America and settled in Leoni Twp., Jackson Co., Michigan. Their son and grandson farmed on Harvey Road in Waterloo Twp., Jackson Co., MI. Related families include Musbach, Louden, Notten and Kruse.


Came to America from Prussia in the early 1860′s. According to family stories, Wilhelm Hau was a land owner in Prussia. He settled in Russel Twp., Sheboygan Co., Wisconsin. He married Kathrine Tuepper in January of 1869. Her family was also from Prussia and settled in Marshfield Twp., Fond du Lac Co., WI, where they farmed. Wilhelm and Kathrine’s descendants remained in the county, with our family owning a restaurant in Fond du Lac. Related families include Fuhrmann, Tuepper and Michels.


Our Heim family came to America in the 1840′s. Damian Heim was born in Steinbach Germany in 1815. His wife, Regina, was from the same area. They settled in Sylvan Twp., Washtenaw Co., Michigan. Related families include Gage, Hoppe, Parker, Knight and Lombard.


Laurentius Hela, his wife Elizabeth (Fleming), and their five children arrived in America from Prussia/Poland in May of 1866. They settled in Princeton, Green Lake Co., Wisconsin. Their grandson, Francis (Frank) married Catherine Jackowski in 1905. Her family was also from Prussia/Poland. Frank worked in the granite quarry in Montello, WI. Related families include Jackowski, Soda and Swiderski.


The LeVan family was among the German-speaking French Huguenot refugees who fled from France to Holland, probably after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Family tradition says they were manufacturers of brocade and taffetas in their native country, and that they were of considerable wealth.

Jacob LeVan was born about 1702 in Amsterdam. Records indicate he came to America around 1717. Jacob married Mary about 1725 in Maxatawny Twp., Berks Co., Pennsylvania. The family lived for many generations in Berks Co. They moved to Logan Co., Ohio and eventually to Waterloo Twp., Jackson Co., Michigan. Related families include Robison, Winner, Leymaster and Leidigh.


Our McConnell family can only be traced back to the early 1800′s. Charles Russell McConnell was born in New York in 1828. He married Sophia Laib in Kent Co., Michigan in 1859. She was born in Ohio in 1837. They farmed in Carmel Twp., Eaton Co., MI. Related families include Bradley, Laib, Blackmer, Kimball and Lankton.


Originated from the town of Essert in the Territory of Belfort, France. Charles Xavier (Jean Baptiste) Voiland, his wife Adelaide (Perrin) and their children arrived at Castle Garden in New York City in December of 1857. His son Joseph Voiland and wife Felicitée Marie (Sadie) Romond arrived in New York City in May of 1857. Sadie’s family was from the town of Urcerey, also in the Territory of Belfort. Joseph and Sadie traveled to Buffalo, NY, and then settled in Little Wolf Twp., Waupaca County, Wisconsin.

The family name was changed to “Weller” when their children started school in Wisconsin. Their German school teacher couldn’t pronounce the French name “Voiland” and so it was changed to reflect the German pronunciation “Weller”. Their descendants remained in Waupaca County, with our family living in Clintonville and owning a hardware store. Related families include Heinke, Romond and Eglin.

There was also a Voiland family that came from Cravanche, another small village in the Territory of Belfort, France, in the 1850’s. Thibeau (Tebo) Voiland, his wife Marie (Frossard), and their eight children arrived in America on October 15, 1852, and settled in Macomb Co., Michigan, just north of Detroit. The homestead was located a short distance west of Gratiot Avenue between what is now Fourteen Mile Road and Masonic Boulevard.

We are unable to connect the Michigan Voilands to our Wisconsin Voilands. Since both families came from the same region in France during the same time period, we are hoping to find a connection!