In the spring of 2001—about half a year after I began my research—my mother and I learned of an upcoming powwow sponsored by the Bois Forte Band (where we are enrolled) and the Grand Portage Band, both of Minnesota, and by the Lac La Croix First Nation in Canada. Now, powwows occur several times a year on most reservations, but since we now lived in California, it had never occurred to us to try to attend one in Minnesota. But the minute I read about it, the thought popped into my head that Mom and I should attend and also visit the graves of her mother and grandmother. (Mom had been to the funerals but not to the interments and knew that the graves were not in one of the “official” cemeteries.)
In fact, I felt very strongly that this announcement was an invitation aimed personally at my mother and me. I felt an urgent need for both of us to make this trip, and when I brought it up, my wonderful husband agreed instantly to pay for it. I didn’t know exactly why we were going, but I rather thought I’d find out eventually.
What I didn’t expect was that we would make personal contact with ancestors who had long since walked on.
I know this sounds weird, but bear with me and judge for yourself.
The opening day of the powwow found a lot of people huddling together in the chairs encircling the drum canopy and dance area, waiting for the opening ceremony and wishing they had brought winter coats and umbrellas. The sky was dark gray and threatening to unload a real gullywasher on us, and there was a ferocious icy wind blowing off the lake. The folks in charge were looking extremely anxious: theoretically they could move the powwow indoors into the Day Care Center, but there wouldn’t be room indoors for everyone. In fact, everyone looked nervous if not downright gloomy.
Oddly, (and it seemed odd to me at the time), I wasn’t worried at all. I told the others, “Don’t worry, it’ll be all right. We weren’t told to come here all the way from California just to get pneumonia. We could have gotten it there quite nicely.” I felt very, very confident of what I said. Everyone else appeared to think I was a lunatic.
Finally, just as the drummers were settling into place and the dancers were lining up for the opening ceremony, the clouds dispersed, the sun came out, and the icy wind turned into a gentle breeze, just right to keep everyone from getting too hot during what was very suddenly a beautiful warm June day.
This happened in about two minutes, tops. Normally, as I’m sure you know, it usually takes a lot longer to turn foul weather into perfect weather.
And then, just as the drums were about to begin, an eagle appeared in the sky, circling above the hill on the other side of the road from the powwow grounds. Everybody gasped and smiled: for Anishinaabe, an eagle is a messenger from the spirit world, and the sighting of an eagle is always considered to be a blessing, an omen of hope.
And I had the sudden, strong feeling that the eagle was my great-grandmother, Saag-i-ji-way-ga-bo-wiik, who was (I knew) a full-blood Anishinaabe from Lac La Croix famous for her great spiritual powers, and I knew, absolutely knew that she was the one who had summoned us here.
It was a very strange and wonderful weekend. Cousins we hadn’t seen in many years showed up at the powwow, including several who decided to attend only at the very last minute. One of those was my mother’s double cousin, then living in a nursing home and suffering from Alzheimer’s. But she insisted, over strenuous objections from her caregivers, on coming to the powwow. She had no trouble recognizing my mother or anyone else in the extended family, and had perfectly reasonable conversations with everyone. (She died on September 17 of that year, and we couldn’t attend the funeral because the airlines were still grounded after the September 11 attacks. But we will always cherish that one good day we had with her.)
On the last day of the powwow, one of my cousins remembered the exact place where my grandmother Clara and great-grandmother Saag-i-ji-way-ga-bo-wiik were buried and took us there.
The place was the hilltop overlooking the powwow grounds; the eagle had circled directly over this very spot.
I had planned to tell these women (who had walked on long before I was born) that I was researching our ancestry; I found I didn’t have to. They already knew. They were there, invisible to the eye but overwhelming to the mind and heart. I have never in my life felt so filled with a palpable sense of being loved. My mother felt the same thing. Until that moment, she had never been able to talk about her mother without crying; this was the day the crying ended. She has been at peace about it ever since.
Imagination? I don’t think so. I felt their presence, and so did my mother and the others who were there. You can believe what you wish.
The next day, we faced another rainy morning. Our plan to meet with the historian for the Bois Forte Band that day fell through (although we re-scheduled and met with her the following day). This left us with no concrete plans for this day, and we were just beginning to discuss options when I heard a voice in my head saying, as clearly as if the person was standing next to me, “Come to La Pointe”. Not “go”, mind you, but “come”.
I didn’t think that it was feasible, but that voice was very insistent, so we dug out the maps and found that Bayfield (which runs daily ferries to and from Madeline Island, where La Pointe is located) was actually a little less than 200 miles, perhaps 4 hours each way. We could get there, visit the island for a few hours, and still get back to our hotel in Ely that night, and so we set out. It was cloudy, wet and a bit windy almost the entire way, and we could see heavy rainfall off to the sides, ahead of us, and behind us, but we didn’t drive through any of it; the heavy rain ahead always turned to drizzle wherever we happened to be driving. (We later learned that a tornado had touched down not far off our route.)
When we began the final downhill approach to Bayfield, quite suddenly the drizzle stopped, the sky cleared, the blustery wind turned to a gentle breeze, and we had yet another miraculously warm and beautiful day.
We boarded the ferry and visited the island’s museum. The staff (who were of course familiar with the history of the area) were excited to have visitors who were descendants not only of Michel Cadotte and Equaysayway, but also of Joseph Dufault and Julie Cadotte. Most of the rooms in the museum had originally been separate buildings—and we were told that Joseph Dufault had built one of them. It was a remarkable feeling to walk in rooms that had been walked by our direct ancestors nearly two centuries ago.
We felt as if we had come home—and in a very real sense, we had.
After leaving the museum, we visited the old mission cemetery where Michel Cadotte was buried and paid our respects to him, and then we caught the last ferry off the island. As soon as we were back on the highway, it began to rain again, but lightly, and we had no trouble on the road. Once we were back in Ely (around 10 p.m.) and after I had gotten my mother safely inside the hotel and dashed across the street to get some sandwiches for our dinner, then and only then did the really heavy rain hit where we actually were.
Just coincidence that the rain held off just when we needed it to do so? I don’t think so. Personally, I believe we were summoned to La Pointe by old Michel Cadotte so that he could get a look at his descendants, and Big Mike not only made sure the weather was good during our visit but looked out for our safety on the road both ways, until we got back to our hotel.
Before we returned to California, I managed to spend a few hours at the Minnesota Historical Society Library in St. Paul. Here I found, among other treasures, the obituary for Great-Grandfather Vincent’s father Michel Dufault, son of master carpenter Joseph Dufault and Julie Cadotte, who had died “age 90” on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota in 1916. I also found mentions of at least 3 Louis Dufauts/Dufaults in the fur trade, and—the real pearl in the oyster—a photocopy of the photostat of the original baptism register for the La Pointe Mission from its beginning in 1835 up to early 1854.
That register contain not only considerable documentation on the Dufauts, Cadottes, and Roys but also (to my considerable surprise) the 1839 baptism of Simon Forcier and the 1841 baptism of his sister: my great-grandmother Henriette Forcier (wife of Joseph Chosa). Not only that, but their mother, Marguerite “Rémont” was also in the baptism register (age 15) in January 1836 (five months after the mission opened), along with her half-brother Antoine (age 11). Marguerite was stated to have been born at La Pointe, the daughter of an Anishinaabe woman, Julie Ikwesenchich, and of someone—surely a voyageur or fur trader—recorded by Father Baraga as”NN: Rémont” (most likely Raimond, a fairly common surname among voyageurs, with “NN” standing for “Nomen” i.e. “personal name unknown”).
By 1841, when Henriette was born, the fur trade was collapsing due to changes in fashion in Europe, and the American Fur Company had branched out into a profitable commercial fishing operation centered at Madeline Island. The fish (usually whitefish) would be cleaned, salted down, packed in barrels, and shipped east. Henriette’s father Pierre Forcier was, according to the censuses, a cooper (barrel-maker) by trade. That’s how he wound up at La Pointe where his first two children were baptized.
Madeline Island is not a large island. Unquestionably, Joseph Dufault and his son Michel—both carpenters and longtime residents of the island—knew both of Henriette’s parents.
Henriette’s family eventually relocated to Michigan’s Keweenaw Bay area, where Father Baraga had established another mission at Assinins. Baraga later presided at her marriage to Great-Grandfather Joseph Chosa at Assinins. And two of her sons eventually wound up in Minnesota, where they married daughters of Great-Grandfather Vincent Dufauld.
In my search for Mom’s maternal grandfather Vincent Dufauld and his ancestry, I had unexpectedly found her paternal grandmother Henriette and her parents as well. Or rather, I had been led to them.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
When—thanks to my cousin’s information—I found my great-grandfather Vincent Dufauld with his parents in the 1880 census at Bayfield, Wisconsin, and in the 1860 census at La Pointe on Madeline Island (about 2 miles offshore of Bayfield), I had no idea of the depths that I was wading into now. What I quickly learned was that in a very real sense, Madeline Island is “home” to the Anishinaabe people and played a vital role in the fur trade.
Ancient Anishinaabe oral tradition tells us that our people lived originally on the east coast, near the mouth of the St. Laurence River, but before the arrival of the first Europeans, we were led by our spiritual leaders and by visions to seek our predestined home to the west. Over the course of centuries, we migrated westward until we reached the place where food grows on the water. The food was wild rice, and we first encountered it here, in Chaquamegon Bay and its tributaries, as well as in the nearby ponds and lakes.
Early French explorers established a fort in 1693 at what became Madeline Island, but the fort fell out of use and disappeared. However, for fur traders heading to the far end of Lake Superior and points farther west, Madeline Island’s location still made it an ideal stopping place to get fresh supplies, rest, and interact with one another. By the time of the American Revolution, a Quebec trader named Jean-Baptiste Cadot had set up a trading post on the island with the help of his Anishinaabe wife Equawaice (baptized Marie Athanasie) and her powerful clan. Jean-Baptiste and Equawaice were my 5G Grandparents.
Their son Michel married Equaysayway (Traveling Woman), a daughter of the head of the White Crane clan of Anishinaabe on the Island. Michel and Equaysayway, my 4G Grandparents, after years traveling in the active fur trade, settled at La Pointe during the early 1800s. La Pointe, which was still a major rendezvous point for the fur trade, soon became a company town for the American Fur Company, which relied on Michel’s good will and influence in order to stay in business there.
Like an Anishinaabe high chief (although he never had the formal title of one), Michel had enormous influence with his Anishinaabe relatives and neighbors. Like every good Anishinaabe chief, he was noted for his generosity: he gave away much of what he acquired to others who were in need, and died virtually broke. Among the Anishinaabe he was known far and wide as Kitcheemichene or Gitcheemichene; the “michene” part was the Anishinaabe version of “Michel” (the Anishinaabe language does not have the sound of “L”), while those of you who have read Longfellow’s “The Song of Hiawatha” may recognize “kitchee” or “gitchee” from the poet’s name for Lake Superior: “Gitchi-gummi”, “Big-sea-water”.
Modern folks usually translate “Kitcheemichene” as “Great Michael”, as in “Michel the Great”, suggesting the title given to some European monarchs and Popes. I think the appellation has a more literal meaning: Michel had a first cousin who was also named Michael and who from an early age was also active in the fur trade. The cousin was much smaller in size compared to Michel “Le Grand” of La Pointe and was therefore known as “Le Petit”. To the Anishinaabe—and to other fur traders—Michel was simply “Big Michel” as opposed to “Little Michel”. Being his descendant, I tend to think of him less formally, with affection, as “Big Mike”, and so far he hasn’t objected.
In 1830, when Michel was 67 and Equaysayway was about 60, they and all their children traveled all the way to Mackinac Island for the church wedding they had never been able to have. Now, this was a very long journey to make, although I expect the family hitched a ride with an American Fur Company ship as far as Sault Ste Marie instead of paddling canoes all the way. Today you can drive the distance (about 375 miles in a fairly straight line) to St. Ignace and take the ferry to Mackinac, all in about 8 hours. But in those days, you had to go by boat the whole way, and if you followed the coast, the distance at least 500 miles and the travel time very much longer than it is now.
Why did the old couple make such a long and doubtless strenuous trip? To prove their devotion was genuine and not just a relationship to foster fur trade profits? While I like to think so—and it certainly sounds extremely romantic—I’m sure there was a legal consideration involved as well: under the laws of that time, if a couple did not have a legal marriage ceremony (Indian marriages, with or without ceremony, didn’t count) their children could not inherit their property and everything would be distributed to collateral relatives with impeccable marriage credentials. The marriage record specifically states that the marriage act legitimized all of their children, all of whom were present. Before the ceremony, Equaysayway was necessarily baptized a Catholic, taking the name of Madeleine, and the island where they lived was named in her honor.
After the wedding the entire party returned home to La Pointe, and Michel, along with other Catholic inhabitants of the area, began lobbying for a Catholic mission to be established there. (A Protestant mission was established In 1831, but most voyageurs—the men who did the hard work—were French-speaking Catholics.) In 1835, the Catholics succeeded: a Slovenian missionary named Frederic Baraga, who had already established a mission at St Ignace, agreed to establish one at La Pointe. This was extremely good news for the people living or working in that area; it was also good news for their genealogy-minded descendants, since the mission records survived to provide the documentation we would need to connect those ancestors to their families in Quebec.
The lead carpenter on the island was Joseph Dufaut, who had built the Protestant mission as well as the American Fur Company’s expanding headquarters on the island. Joseph, a good Catholic, readily agreed to build the Catholic church and a house for the priest as well. (In 1842-43 he built a larger church to replace the first one, needed because the congregation had outgrown the first mission.)
The St. Joseph Mission opened on 2 August 1835 and was immediately swamped with Catholics of all ages seeking baptisms and proper marriage ceremonies. The second marriage performed by Baraga that day was between my 3G grandparents: the carpenter Joseph Dufaut and Julie Cadotte, daughter of Michel and Equaysayway. And as I later learned, the 6th baptism on that day was for Joseph and Julie’s son Michel, who was about 5 years old at the time and named, obviously, for his grandfather. The same day, Joseph himself was baptized, age 45. (He had surely been baptized at birth, but not by a priest, and therefore there was no official baptism record for him. A conditional baptism was therefore needed before he could be married to Julie in a Catholic church. A distinguished historian and scholar cousin, Theresa Schenck, states that Joseph and Julie had a legal marriage at Sault Ste Marie but for some reason did not get Joseph baptized and have a Catholic marriage ceremony there.)
Michel Dufaut/DeFoe/Dufauld, the only child of Joseph and Julie, became a carpenter like his father, and in due course married Josette Roy, daughter of a prominent fur trader named Vincent Roy (fils). Michel and Josette, my Great-Great-Grandparents, produced at least 8 children, of whom the eldest son was my Great-Grandfather Vincent Dufauld.
None of this information was hard to find; the Cadottes (Cadots on the Quebec side of the border) are not only rather famous but exceptionally well documented. Michel Dufauld’s first cousin, William Whipple Warren (1825-1853), author of History of the Ojibway People, got most of his information directly from his grandmother Equaysayway and from tribal elders. A new edition of this book was published in 2009 by the Minnesota HIstorical Society Press, edited by cousin Theresa Schenck. I recommend it very highly.
Many vital records for Lake Superior voyageurs (including Dufauts and Cadottes) are in the parish registers for St. Ann on Mackinac Island. I purchased a digital copy of the original registers on CD-ROM from the church’s gift shop. (The CD-ROM is still available from that gift shop, although the price has naturally gone up since I bought my copy.) The original St. Joseph Mission registers are no longer accessible to the public, but the marriage and burial registers were transcribed and published by Linda Bristol some years ago and I was able to obtain photocopies of those transcriptions.
Although I still wanted to examine the original records if possible, the entire web of connections was not seriously in question. I had the bare bones of these generations of my Dufauld ancestry fairly firmly established within a few months of beginning my research, and I was feeling rather proud of myself.
I had no idea of the perils that lay ahead.
Remember what my Great-Grandfather Joseph said when someone in Michigan asked how his surname was spelled? The family story is that he answered, “You spell it like it sounds.” The trouble was that there are many, many ways to spell a surname like Chaussé. Well, the same is true for the surname Dufauld, in spades.
Great-Grandfather Vincent’s surname was “usually” spelled Dufauld or DeFoe in the records for him and his immediate family. For his kinfolk, the surname was most commonly spelled Dufault in American records, but it also turns up as Default, Dufeu, Dufau, Dufeaux, Dufaut, Dufaux, Defoe, Dafoe, and probably a few other variations. (I eventually learned that Dufaut and Dufaux were the most common spellings in Quebec.) The worst American spelling is Default: you can’t run an effective Google search on Default because it’s a term which shows up in computer technology all the time, so you get thousands of hits, and you can go through 100 or more screens without turning up a single person surnamed Default. But that’s how the surname is sometimes spelled in Amercian vital records.
I found Vincent in the US censuses only because I already knew where he had lived much of his adult life, namely on the Bois Forte Reservation in northern Minnesota. I did, however, have one advantage with him: his first name of Vincent was relatively uncommon (compared to, say, Joseph). In the 1900 and 1910 federal censuses (his surname was spelled Default on both) he was on the Indian Schedules at Bois Forte with his wife and two of his daughters. Those censuses said he was born in Minnesota. However, the census taker recorded that ALL the Indians he enumerated were born in Minnesota, of Minnesota-born parents. (This just goes to show you can’t put blind faith in the censuses.)
When I first set out to trace my mother’s ancestry, I had assumed that Great-Grandfather Joseph had come to the US as a voyageur; that was because I knew very little about the actual patterns of French-Canadian immigration.
However, a little poking around taught me that a very large number of French-Canadian immigrants were farmers like Joseph or skilled workmen (blacksmiths, carpenters etc.). Many without such trades crossed the border, especially from about 1870 onwards, to find work in the industrial mills of New England. Great-Grandfather Joseph had, according to the censuses, supported himself at first by fishing, but as soon as he could, he acquired farmland and from then on was always described as a farmer: clearly it was most likely that he had crossed the border not as a voyageur but to find some good farmland. This in turn suggested that Joseph came from a family of habitants, peasant farmers.
Great-Grandfather Vincent, however, was definitely not a farmer (although he may have had a garden). Like most Bois Forte men at the turn of the century, he made his living by fur trapping, hunting, guiding, and fishing, and he and his family surely harvested and processed wild rice. Nett Lake wild rice is the best in the world (the stuff grown in paddies doesn’t even come close in terms of flavor and nutritional value) and you can buy it online (and no, I won’t personally make a cent off of anyone else’s purchase).
Since Great-Grandfather Vincent lived as he did, he was most likely descended from voyageurs. Knowing this, I joined the NISHNAWBE Mailing List at Rootsweb early on. This was, and still is, a very active list for “anyone researching Native Americans in Michigan and Wisconsin, and the fur traders connected with them.”
This was one of the best decisions I ever made: I learned where fur-trade records were to be found, I learned about numerous valuable sources of information for fur-trade ancestors, and even connected with several other people who had fur-trade ancestors surnamed some variation of Dufault or, in the female lines, Roy and Cadot/Cadotte.
Early on in my research I had made a habit of checking the message boards, mailing lists, and family trees online for names of my known ancestors, hoping to connect with relatives who knew more than I did. And this was one time that habit led to a huge payoff: a cousin of mine (whom I had never met), posted his family tree online. He didn’t know any more about the Chosa-Forcier side of the family than I did, but he had a great deal of information about the Dufaulds passed down to him from his grandmother Annie Dufauld (Vincent’s daughter, and the full sister of my grandmother Clara Dufauld). I never knew Grandmother Clara; she had died long before I was born.
My cousin knew the names of Vincent’s parents (Michel Dufauld and Josette Roy) and of several of his siblings and where they had lived. He even knew the names of Michel’s father (Joseph Dufauld) and Josette’s parents (Vincent and Lizzie). We began a lively correspondence and a good friendship, although we never met in person until last year.
Meanwhile, I was still working with others on the NISHNAWBE list and learned that GGG Grandfather Joseph Dufauld/Dufaut’s wife was Julie Cadotte, daughter of the famous Michel Cadotte and his Anishinaabe wife Marie-Madeleine (Equaysayway), and that Michel was the son of the equally famous Jean-Baptiste Cadot and his redoubtable wife Marie-Athanasie (Equawaice).
With this much information as my starting point, I began to collect census and other records on Vincent and his known ancestors. I needed to confirm and document the relationship—not that I didn’t believe my cousin or the people on the NISHNAWBE list, mind you, but careful examination of the documentary evidence could turn up further clues so that I could prove the connections and take the lines back into Quebec.
Ancestry.com’s search engine, although it has its faults, was able to find Vincent in the 1880 census for Bayfield, Wisconsin, living with his parents (names given as Michel and Julia) and six siblings: Julia age 24, John age 20, Louis age 10, Michel age 8, Peter age 4, and a male age 6 whose name looks like “Vassau” or “Vassim” (neither name seems likely, and it doesn’t look like “Vincent” either). All were—as I expected—stated to be indians. The children had all been born in Wisconsin. Mother “Julia” (an obvious mistake for “Josette”), age 44, had been born in Canada of Canadian-born parents; father Michel, age 54, had been born in Wisconsin, like his mother, and his father had been born in Canada. Michel was a carpenter by profession.
I already knew from family information that Great-Grandfather Vincent had a brother named Peter who was about the same age. Vincent was age 22 in the 1880 census—18 years older than the Peter in the household. However, I had early on realized that census takers did not always list the relationship to the head of the household (as they were directed); in households with 3 or more generations, grandchildren were often listed as “son” or “daughter” when a parent’s name appeared above theirs. In other words, little Peter was “probably” a grandson of Michel and Josette, and his mother was most likely the eldest daughter Julia, age 24. But where was the Peter who was Vincent’s brother and near to him in age?
I found him in Superior, Wisconsin, for the same 1880 census, born in Wisconsin like both parents, age 18. Peter was in the household of Vincent Roy, age 55, a merchant from Canada. Vincent Roy had a wife, Lizzie, age 50, born in Minnesota of Canadian-born parents, and several children (including a Vincent). All were listed as white. However, since my cousin’s information was that Vincent Roy and his wife Lizzie were Vincent’s maternal grandparents, I was reasonably sure that this Peter was Vincent’s brother and that the household members were listed as white because they were living in a town in essentially the same manner as their white neighbors.
So I searched for the Vincent Roy and Michel Dufauld families farther back in the censuses: the trail for both led, as expected, to La Pointe, on Madeline Island, in what is now Bayfield County, Wisconsin, as far back as the 1850 census.
And that’s when some of my fur-trade and Anishinaabe ancestors decided to help me out.
In genealogy as well as real estate, what matters most is location, location, and location.
The province of Quebec is a big place. Good French-speaking Catholic families in Quebec had large families, so in every generation there are many people with the same name, many about the same age. How do you even know where to start looking? That was the problem I faced when I started looking for my great-grandfather Joseph Chosa’s baptism record in Quebec. And that’s when I discovered the value of marriage indexes.
As I mentioned previously, large numbers of the present-day inhabitants of Quebec are passionately involved in genealogical research. I did (and still do) a lot of reading about the history of Quebec and discovered that this is not new behavior.
During the French and Indian War (the North American phase of the Seven Years’ War in Europe), the city of Québec fell to the British in September 1760, and the French Regime effectively ended. The 1763 Treaty of Paris was the legal end of the war, and its terms required France to cede most of her possessions in North America, including Quebec which was taken over by Great Britain. British merchants, British fur traders, and British farmers poured into Quebec and settled there, bringing with them all of their own value systems, including a passionate hatred of the Catholic Church and a passionate belief that everyone who was not English was by definition inferior.
The Brits were not, however, stupid. They had just finished a long and costly major war, and the English colonies to the south of Quebec were clearly growing restive. They realized that the French-speaking inhabitants of Quebec quite naturally felt threatened by the British conquest, so they wisely decided to permit their new French-speaking subjects to continue with most of their accustomed ways, including the conditions of land possession, the French language, and the Quebec legal system.
Naturally, those French-speaking subjects still felt threatened, especially since the British colonists made every effort to get the still-lucrative fur trade and the best lands for agriculture into British hands. There was a major rebellion of the peasants (“habitants”) in 1837-38, which was put down, and the British tried new approaches to persuade these rebellious French-speaking subjects to assimilate or emigrate. They were not exactly successful: many emigrated, but many stubbornly remained, and to this day, there is strong sentiment in Quebec for administrative separation from the rest of Canada or, better, complete independence as a sovereign nation.
One of the way those French-speaking subjects of Great Britain resisted assimilation was to trace the heroic heritage of their ancestors. They, of course, faced the same problem we do: how to pick out which of the dozens of Antoines and Marie-Annes and Jean-Baptistes and Genevièves were their great-grandparents?
The answer: marriage records.
Most marriages nowadays take place where the bride lives; the same was true in Quebec (and France, and Denmark, and probably just about everywhere else), as far back as the records go. Unlike American marriage records, Quebec Catholic marriage records are chock-full of useful genealogical information, including the maiden names of all the women involved.
Before fill-in-the-blank printed forms were available, every priest made his own boiler-plate form for recording marriages; that form consisted of several very long sentences that generally included the following:
First, the date of the marriage, the name of the officiating priest and his authority (i.e. the name of his religious order and/or his status as curé or missionary) that gave him the right to preside at this marriage. Next, a statement that the proper banns had been posted, that no bar to this marriage had been found, and that the priest had duly given the nuptial blessing.
Next comes the real meat of the record: the name of the new husband and his parish of residence; the name of his previous wife if he was a widower and/or the names of both his parents and their parish of residence, along with whether either parent was deceased; then comes the same information about the bride and her prior husband and/or parents.
Next comes the names of witnesses to the marriage (at least two males, one witnessing for the groom and the other for the bride). Often the names of other witnesses of both genders are also listed. Often the relationship of each witness to either the bride or the groom is also given. Last comes the signature of the priest and those of all participants who were able to sign, with a statement as to who declared his or her inability to sign the register.
Occasionally you find marriage records which do not give all the above information, particularly if the families involved are at the lower end of the social and economic scale, but the bare minimum is always the date, authority of the officiant, the names of the groom and bride and the names of their parents or deceased prior spouse, and the two witnesses. Wealthy or otherwise “important” people often got their marriage recorded in larger-than-usual handwriting along with rather more flowery wording.
With all that genealogical information packed into one marriage record, it was only natural that someone would decide to compile it all on a large scale. The first such attempt was Tanguay’s, which I discussed briefly in an earlier post. There are two problems with Tanguay’s work. First, he only goes up to about 1765, the end of the French Regime in Canada. Consequently, he’s not much help if you’re looking for the parents of someone born about 1830. Second, because his work was all done by hand, there are a lot of errors and omissions. Some of these were corrected by Joseph-Arthur Leboeuf’s Complément au Dictionnaire Généalogique Tanguay, published in 1957.
However, Tanguay has one really terrific feature that none of the other marriage indexes has: he lists all of the children—male and female—of this couple for whom he found records. He gives the exact or estimated baptism date for each child, burial date if the child died young, and for the survivors who married, the name of each child’s spouse(s) and the date(s) of the marriage(s). Once you get back into the era of the French Regime, then, Tanguay enables you to look up the marriages of the couple’s known children and connect your ancestor to his or her whole family group.
There are many other marriage indexes, most building on Tanguay and therefore having many of his inevitable errors and omissions. Almost all of these are also limited to the time frame of the French Regime. Jetté’s excellent work ends at 1730; the Institut Drouin has two inventories, one going up to about 1760 and available on CD-ROM; the other, all 113 volumes of it, goes from 1760 to 1935, but frankly, I have no idea where to access it other than buying a subscription at vast expense.
Another, extremely valuable modern research tool for the French Regime period is the PRDH (Programme de Recherche en Demographic Historique) developed at the University of Montréal. The PRDH went back to the original parish records, transcribed them, and created a computerized index of every person mentioned in any record up to 1765, eventually adding not only parish records but censuses, confirmations, recantations (of Protestants, who under the French Regime had to abjure their faith and embrace Catholicism to stay in the colony), ship’s lists, hospital sick lists, and marriage contracts.
The PRDH is accessible online, but not for free; you subscribe and then pay by the hit. Since in any given generation there are likely to be dozens of people with the same name (or variation thereof), you could easily have many hits and still not have your ancestor if the record you’re looking for was in a section of the register which decayed or was lost over the years. On the other hand, the PRDH can locate and identify records which are otherwise very hard to find.
Many people have collected and published, with varying degrees of accuracy, repertoires (catalogs) of all of a particular parish’s records of a specified type (most commonly marriages, but some parishes have baptism and/or death repertoires as well). Generally, these go up to the date of publication, and therefore have relatively recent information, but they still won’t do you much good if you don’t know which parish to investigate. Many of these inventories are out of print; some of them are available for purchase on CD-ROM; others are only accessible at libraries which are all-too-often inconveniently located a thousand miles or more from where you live.
There are, however, two marriage indexes which go well up into the first part of the 20th century: the Rivest marriage indexes (organized by the name of the bride), and the Loiselle card index, organized alphabetically by both bride and by groom. Rivest is quite expensive and, unless you’re rich enough to buy it, available for use only at the Family HIstory Library in Salt Lake City, Utah and at certain other major research libraries. The enormous reorganized and updated Loiselle index is on microfiche and, like the Rivest, can only be used in Salt Lake City or other major research center. However, the original Loiselle card index and its supplement are readily available on microfilms which you can rent for use at your local Family History Center.
I rented the two films (regular and supplemental) which covered the surname Chausse, then renewed the rental twice to keep them indefinitely in my local Family History Center, and it has been worth every penny. I did not learn from them where my great-grandfather Joseph was born. I did, however, learn where Chaussés, especially Chaussé women, were getting married during the period from about 1800 to about 1860. Loiselle told me where Chaussé families (including Joseph’s parents and siblings) were living in that time frame, which in turn enabled me to narrow my search for his family to particular areas.
Now that the Drouin Collection of parish registers are online at Ancestry.com, I would have found Joseph much sooner than I did. A search now at Ancestry.com for Joseph Chaussé born about 1831, give or take 2 years, turns up about half a dozen possibles, one of whom is in fact my great-grandfather. But I had to do it the hard way. (You may have to do it that way too; a search engine is made by human beings, who often have difficulty with the old records. Ancestry’s index is by no means infallible; I have recently found several Quebec baptism records where the index brings up not the name of the baby but that of a godparent. These records are in fact quite legible, so clearly somebody goofed.)
Eight years ago, however, none of this was online, so I had to wait several weeks for every microfilm I ordered to be delivered. Since I wasn’t getting any younger, I took a trip to Salt Lake City for a week, poring through Quebec parish registers at the Family History Library and collecting information on every Chaussé I found (including several Josephs). I had no idea whether any of the Josephs was my great-grandfather, though, because I didn’t have a firm grip on when he was born and had no way of recognizing Joseph when I found him; therefore I took notes but did not invest in printouts (at ten cents a pop, that could quickly add up to a significant amount of money as well as an overweight-luggage fee when I returned home).
The trip was not wasted, however, since I collected many other useful records, including Michigan land records, Indian Census records, and voyageur contracts for my mother’s maternal ancestors, as well as records involving my Danish ancestors and my husband’s family.
I also came home with copies of the birth, death, and marriage records reported to the state of Michigan by Houghton County up to 1875, and by Baraga County beginning in 1875 (when Baraga County was formed out of what had been part of Houghton County). Many of these register pages were black with age, and the page recording Joseph’s death was particularly so: I could tell he had died in October 1919, but could not make out the exact day or the stated age at death. However, I did acquire names and birth/death dates for several of his children who were born and died between censuses. This, although I didn’t know it then, would be crucial in breaking the logjam.
When I got home, I worked on my husband’s family lines for a while, then on my fur-trade ancestors, and after that I went back to my Danes. I wasn’t giving up; I was just taking a vacation from my search for Joseph in hopes that when I came back to him, I would have a fresh perspective and be able to see things I hadn’t seen before.
Everybody needs a vacation once in a while.
Great-Grandfather Joseph’s wife was the daughter of an Anishinaabe (=Ojibwe or Chippewa) woman and a French-Canadian voyageur named Pierre Forcier. Great-Grandfather Vincent was also of mixed-blood ancestry, and the mothers of his three children (all daughters) were full-blood Anishinaabe. How I would research that, I had no idea then. But, being a member of the Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe myself, I certainly wanted to know about that side of my maternal heritage.
Traditional genealogical practice, as I discussed in a previous post, is to research just one family line at a time, which all-too-easily turns into researching only the males.
Well, I was already a grandmother, and I realized that if I didn’t get a start on all the family lines (female as well as male) in my children’s ancestry, I might die of old age without making reasonable progress on any of them. So I coolly decided to ignore the “one family at a time” mantra and to get a start on all of the family lines at once, including those of my husband (to his delight and the delight of his relatives).
At first, this seemed to be a straightforward, if complex, process. It soon became overwhelming.
You see, I had been given a lot of information about the most recent generations, but I was determined to confirm and document what I’d been told before trying to go farther back in time. I had been trained in research techniques for both literature and history, and I could not ignore that training. Besides, what’s the point of passing on to future generations the story of their family if you’ve researched the wrong family?
Almost every family has legends about earlier generations; I wanted facts. Documents usually gave me facts—although I had been trained to be skeptical about their accuracy. People enjoy exciting family stories about their family and like to think they’re related to famous people with the same surname, but that’s not proof, even if Grandma believed it. In some cases, what I had been told about my grandparents and great-grandparents eventually turned out to be entirely correct. In others, it was wildly off base.
I did follow the standard genealogical practice: before moving backwards to previous generations, I searched for all of the families involved—French-Canadians, Anishinaabe, mixed-bloods, Danes, and Russian and Polish Jews—in every type of American record available: vital records, census records, immigration and naturalization records for all of them, property records, military records, everything I could think of.
My father was born in Denmark, which meant I only had to follow his trail in the USA before looking in Danish records. I had visited Denmark three times and met my grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins; I knew their names and where they lived, so I knew where in Denmark to start looking for records and made very good progress with my Danish research. My in-laws cooperated splendidly, so I made good progress with documenting my husband’s family in this country. I also made reasonable progress with my mother’s immediate family and those of her double cousins, and with many younger-generation cousins, who were all quite eager to share what they knew about the Chosa-Dufauld extended clan and to learn more.
I kept a list of all the surnames I was searching and systematically collected huge masses of printouts (later on, digital copies) of all family records I found. I made daily Google searches of the Internet. There were a lot of names, a lot of microfilms, a lot of online searches. I had papers piled all over the place, and every so often I would bung some of them into a filing cabinet.
I was beginning to feel like Lord Ronald in Stephen Leacock’s tale of Gertrude the Governess, who “flung himself from the room, flung himself on his horse, and rode madly off in all directions.”
No, I still did not fall back on the old “follow one family line at a time as far as you can get” rule. There were too many lines and too many crossovers, and I might not get to all of them in my lifetime, especially since I was still determined to document my female ancestors equally with the males.
Besides, I had the very strong sense that my bedroom was becoming very crowded at night, filled with ancestors urging, even begging me to find them and tell their story. You’d think that someone who has been dead for a couple of centuries would be more patient, but no.
Put yourself in your remote ancestor’s place: if no one has spoken your name with affection and a sense of kinship for many generations, it’s only natural to want to be found, to be remembered and cherished again. So when a descendant of yours starts to research her or his ancestry, you pay that descendant a visit during sleep, and point that descendant in the right direction.
I know this sounds weird. Skeptics will say that when I would suddenly wake up knowing—absolutely, positively knowing what I should do to find the records that would solve a particular problem, it was just the product of my subconscious mind which had continued to gnaw away at that problem while I was doing other things. And sometimes, I know that is the case. In fact, I will often deliberately set a problem aside to let my subconscious clarify the issue.
However, I truly believe that in my perception of nightly visitations, there is more at work than an overactive imagination. I believe that we are more than physical entities; we are more than the sum of our physical parts. And, particularly on my mother’s side of the family, the ability to make or keep a connection with one another—living or dead—without physical means is particularly strong. Sounds crazy, yes?
Not in my family. I’m not talking about ouija boards or seances or anything like that. I’m talking about direct communication between living family members at considerable distances, even if they’ve got the whole planet separating them, without using any physical technology. This happened many times between my mother and me (and between her and her siblings) over the years. So one day, when I urgently needed to talk to my adult daughter (who was in the military and stationed in Europe at the time, and who was unreachable by phone because she was on duty), I concentrated on sending a mental message to her to call home.
Half an hour later she went on break and called home. “I just had a feeling that I should call home now,” she told me. Sheer coincidence? I don’t think so, and neither does my daughter.
I’m not going to give you a long recital of other personal examples at this time. I’ll just say that I have witnessed or experienced so many of them at first hand that I have no doubt that the connections are real, both with the living and the dead.
If you believe in any kind of afterlife, it should not be unreasonable to accept the idea that the dead can and do talk to us, if we take the trouble to listen. It is not unreasonable to believe that those who have walked on before us retain their concern for their family, including their descendants. Most of us would like to be remembered, to have the stories of our lives passed down to future generations. I believe that many of the dead have the same desire, because once I began researching my family’s history, quite a number of my deceased kinfolk told me so.
They came to me mostly at night, in my sleep, when the bustle of daytime life was over and I could hear them—lots of them, talking to me not in Danish or French or Ojibwe or Yiddish but in the universal language of the human spirit, and I could understand what they said.
I still get these visitations. Some just come to say hello. Some just want to tell me they approve of what I’m doing or to thank me for what I’ve done. And there are still a fair number, as yet unidentified, who come to urge me to get on with finding them.
It was all rather overwhelming at first, but I certainly wasn’t about to tell my nightly visitors to go away. For one thing, I didn’t want anyone to get annoyed with me for my neglect. For another, I realized that some of them were trying to help me out.
Still, I knew that I couldn’t possibly satisfy all of them at once. I needed to prioritize—somehow.
So I decided that I would work with one extended family for a while—a few days, a week, a month—until I needed to regroup and decide which source to pursue next, or until I hit a brick wall, or until one of my other ancestors woke me up and give me a gentle nudge in the night to point me to where I might find more information about that branch of the family.
Once I made that decision, I started making better progress, and got more frequent nudges. But Great-Grandfather Joseph? Not a word from him—yet.
I still get those nudges, because genealogy is not a closed-end pursuit. You may run out of records, but you never run out of ancestors; everyone has millions of them.
So I hope you’ll believe me when I say that I still hear the voices of various long-dead relatives in my sleep, telling me where to look next to find their records—or giving me a gentle reminder that there is still work to be done on their branch of the family tree.
Not so long ago, sexism was rampant, and genealogical research was done almost entirely by men working from paper documents. It took a lot of time (and money) to travel to the places where those paper documents were kept. Dogma therefore held that it is most “efficient” to concentrate on tracing back just one family line at a time.
In practice, this meant that if John’s parents were George Beasley and Anne Stone, John traced only the male lines of Beasley and Stone. John would note the maiden names of the wives if he stumbled across them, but that was it, unless he had reason to suspect a woman was related to somebody famous. In the “finished” pedigree John would list most of the wives by first names only, as if they were merely adjuncts of their husbands—if he gave their names at all. If he didn’t, his pedigree would read like one of those Biblical “begats”.
To be fair, this wasn’t altogether John’s own fault, since even today there are far too many people who somehow feel that women exist chiefly to satisfy the male sex drive and to be breeders for continuation of the male line. I am happy to say that most researchers today realize that half of their ancestors are female, and that some of their most interesting or notorious ancestors will be in the female lines.
John also had the excuse that it’s often quite difficult to trace the lines of a female ancestor in the USA, especially if she had a fairly common name. Censuses here record only the first names of wives and widows. The farther back in time John went, the less documentation would be available and readily accessible to him. Even a marriage record might give him no information about who his great-grandmother’s parents might have been. In such a case John had to rely on tracing all the people who turn up in other family records in hopes that some of them mention her relatives—if he was willing to make any serious effort at all.
Now that so much genealogical information is available on the Internet, John would have a much better chance of tracking down his great-grandmother’s family. You and I have this same advantage.
Moreover, once we get to the immigrant generation, tracing female ancestors is often much simpler, because in many countries, including Quebec, women retain the surnames they were born with throughout their lives.
My Danish grandmother was called “Fru Jensen” by the neighbors, but in all her records, including the Danish census records, she is listed under her original name of Mette Marie Andersen. Her 5th-great grandfather was a French Count who happened to be a Huguenot, but I’d never have known there was a wee bit of French nobility on my Danish side if I hadn’t made the effort to research her ancestry.
In the same way, the wife of Antoine Lepine of Quebec may be called Madame Lepine in social situations, but all of her records identify her by her maiden name of Marie-Louise Poitvin. If you make the effort to trace Marie-Louise’s ancestry, it would not be unusual if you found that Antoine’s brother François married Marie-Louise’s sister Marie-Thérèse—and that finding their records enables you to get past a brick wall in your direct line. You may also find that Marie-Louise’s branch of the family tree includes celebrities who are therefore your distant cousins.
The fact that women in Quebec are always recorded with their maiden names means that it’s much easier to trace female Quebec ancestors than it is to trace John Babcock’s wife Mary in 1860 Iowa, where the US census that year shows her only as Mary Babcock, born about 1841 in New York. If you can’t find John and Mary’s marriage record, you may never know that her maiden name was Fogarty, therefore you won’t recognize her in the 1850 New Jersey federal census record with her parents Henry and Sarah Fogerty.
Nowadays it has become fairly common for American women to retain their maiden name after marriage (as Hilary Rodham Clinton did), usually for professional reasons. So when Brenda Hazelton, MD, marries Jared Vanderventer, she decides that her legal name will still be Brenda Hazelton. This is certainly a practical thing to do, especially if she is already well established in her medical career. Her descendants who want to research their ancestry will bless her for retaining her maiden name.
But as a genealogist, I find myself asking this: what if Brenda wants to keep her original surname simply because she is an ardent feminist who believes it’s demeaning for a woman to give up her own identity to become an appendage of her husband, and her enlightened groom Jared is equally opposed to sexism? The modern way for such a couple to resolve that issue is simple: combine their premarital surnames, and Brenda and Jared both become Vanderventer-Hazelton (or Hazelton-Vandeventer). Their children are recorded under the double surname.
Meanwhile, across town, Jennifer Morrison marries Michael Mackenzie and become Michael and Jennifer Morrison-Mackenzie. Their children also use the double surname.
I’m waiting to see what happens when Jared and Brenda’s daughter Alicia Vanderventer-Hazelton marries Jacob Morrison-Mackenzie and the happy couple want to do what their parents did. Do the newlyweds become Jacob and Alicia Vanderventer-Hazelton-Morrison-Mackenzie? Or do they discard one or more of those four surnames and thereby alienate the parents whose surnames are eliminated?
If Jacob and Alicia choose to keep all four surnames, what happens when one of their children marries a grandchild of a another double-combined-surname couple?
How will all these people fill out official forms which have, say, sixteen boxes for the letters of the surname? How will they introduce themselves to other people? If all their descendants keep to the practice of Brenda and Jared and Jennifer and Michael, in just another few generations one family’s combined multiple surnames could take up a whole page. Children would have to be drilled long and hard on the exact spelling and sequence of their surnames.
True, future genealogists might have a far easier time tracing their ancestry back to the first double-surname couple, although they might find it difficult to determine in each generation which surname set belongs to which partner, since this is not yet a standard practice. But would it be worth the daily hassle resulting from numerous long amalgamated surnames?
Meanwhile, I observe that no feminist seems to have noticed that her maiden name is either the surname of her father (biological or adopted) or the surname of her grandfather (if the mother did not supply the father’s name for whatever reason). Personally, I don’t see much difference whether a woman keeps her maiden surname or takes the surname of a spouse. Either way, her surname is derived from her relationship to a male, either as his daughter, his granddaughter, or his spouse.
The only non-sexist way to get around that would be for every woman and/or every man (or couple) to create a new surname to use for their family, and genealogical research would become impossible for their descendants.
Perhaps a smidgen of sexism isn’t such a bad thing.