Your European Ancestor: A Visit to Halifax’s Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21


One might find my family tree somewhat boring. My ancestors were French Canadians with early immigrants being all of France, except for two who were from the 17th century's England. Well, that didn't prevent me from appreciating my visit to the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax!

The museum is relevantly located in the original Pier 21 building wherein one in five Canadians who immigrated to the country from 1928 to 1971 was required to visit in the process. The Pier 21 Story permanent exhibition illustrates the trip that your ancestor embarked on, from the replica of a ship cabin to the Customs hall—where people were anxiously waiting for their name to be called—, to the one of a train car leaving for Quebec, Ontario, and Western Canada.

If for some of them, entering the country was merely a formality—their papers were in order and they had a medical certificate from their country of origin—for others, the medical exam was mandatory and, eventually, a quarantine was next. For candidates with tuberculosis, it meant a return trip to their home country.

The guided tour is quite informative. As our group was composed of European tourists or people of early French Canadian ancestry like me, we were told moving stories—some rather funny—previously shared by immigrant visitors with our guide. Did you know that Italian immigrants nickname us Mangia-cake because Canadian bread was far too sweet for their taste?

Going through customs was similar to today's routine. All these wonderful sausages ended up in the premises garbage can and so was wine exceeding the quantity limit permitted. There was hope though, immigrants could buy some food before taking the train. A replica of a small counter with food for sale included cans from Chef Boyardee's Beefaroni and Franco-American's Spaghetti. What a cultural shock it must have been for them!

And what about your ancestors? Have they gone through Pier 21? They may include Canadian soldiers' wives, known as the "war brides", who arrived between 1941 and 1947, displaced people uprooted by the war, and political refugees escaping Eastern Europe's oppressive regimes, who came to Canada between 1947 and 1954.

Behind the museum showcases were numerous suitcases and trunks, revealing thereby where people came from during these major immigration waves. These artifacts, donated by those who passed through Pier 21, tell the story of what they had to leave behind and start their life all over again.

The most touching thing I saw that day was not from the exhibition itself but actually when I noticed a young family exiting the Scotiabank Family History Centre from Library and Archives Canada at the entrance of the museum—where you may get a copy of your pre-1935 ancestor's immigration record. They were looking at a piece of paper, maybe from their grandparents'. They were clearly—speaking from my own genealogist's experience here—learning some exciting new family facts there!

Fichier Origine — An Overlooked Database


Fichier Origine is a database—only available in French—containing mentions of records from pioneers born outside the St. Lawrence Valley who settled in the territory known today as the province of Québec from the origins up to 1865. Included therein are, of course, immigrants who came from Europe but also those who were born elsewhere on the North American continent.

To find your ancestor in the Fichier Origine, his baptismal act or birth certificate—or even his parents’ marriage act—must have been found and validated. Although a team of dedicated researchers is busy working on tracing your ancestors in the archives, it is possible to collaborate by providing the acts you have found yourself.

You can search this database by entering the proper information in one of the four fields, i.e. Nom de famille (Surname), Département, État ou pays (Department, State, or Country), Localité ou paroisse d’origine (Town or parish of origin), and Lieu du marriage (Marriage Place). You can search the Surname field by entering the "dit" name, the latter having in most cases taken over the original surname.

Furthermore, this database singles out immigrants who shared a common socio-historical background. It is possible to identify all those who were part of the Carignan-Salières Regiment, women known as Filles du Roy [King’s Daughters], or even the Montcalm Soldiers for whom the origin has been found. Should you wish to make a more targeted enquiry, you may then restrict your search exclusively to immigrants for whom a baptismal act or birth certificate has been scanned and can be downloaded.

This database is of great use, but there is still room for improvement. It would be convenient to be able to limit the search by setting up a date range field (between … and …). Finally, place standardization would be desirable for any country other than France. As an example, for Italy, entering the word Toscane (for Tuscany) in the Department, State or country field shows no matches, even though immigrants originated therefrom. Using a province’s name would even be more accurate and would be far more comparable to French departments, the former being the archives’ depository.

Fiche Origine remains the sole genealogy database to properly establish a link between an immigrant who came to Québec and its actual place of origin. This database is generally regarded as reliable.

GenSpotters’ Blog: David Allen Lambert’s Genealogical Spotlight This Week on Extreme Genes

Our blog post "Dit" Names: And What if Your Surname Was Not the Original One? caught the attention of Boston's New England Historic Genealogical Society's Chief Genealogist David Allen Lambert. It was his genealogical spotlight this week on Extreme Genes Podcast, America's Family History Show, hosted by Scott Fisher. According to Lambert, GenSpotters " … is a wonderful blog and one of the things I like about it is it touches on French Canadian genealogy […].
You may listen to the podcast here, GenSpottters' segment starting at 5:20.

On the Trail of Your Acadian Ancestors: A Visit to Grand-Pré National Historic Site


Already, when I planned on going to Grand-Pré National Historic Site in Nova Scotia, I could bet my visit would prove quite significant. I must admit I never expected that I would be moved the way I was though.

My paternal great-grandmother Philomène Leblanc was of Acadian ancestry. The whole time I was there, I couldn't help thinking of her great-grandfather Joseph Leblanc deported from Acadia when he was barely 15 years old. I suddenly realized my family had more than fun facts to disclose: it also made history.

In Grand-Pré, you are at the centre of the Acadian Settlement of the area of Les Mines on the Mines Basin. It is besides wherefrom approximately six thousand Acadians were deported and deprived of their land in 1755.

When you enter the Interpretation Centre, you can watch a 20-minute film on the deportation as well as attend an exhibition on the history of Acadians. Despite that all along the deportation, the British had burned the church and the houses, numerous artifacts were retrieved (such as a 1720 pair of shoes, tools and dishes) and are on display, telling about the daily lives of Acadians. Two iron pots were discovered inserted into one another, stuffed with bark and moss to protect the glass bottles with their expensive French tin-glazed earthenware holders. It is heartbreaking to see that some owners were hiding their valuables, actually hoping to return.

Exiting the main building at the rear end, you then walk towards the statue of Evangeline and the commemorative church (more or less on the site of former Catholic Church Saint-Charles-les-Mines), the former parish cemetery, and the wonderful landscape of the grand pré or large meadow. As mentioned on an informative panel,"it was one of the largest reclamation enterprises of its type. Recent research suggests that the Acadians dyked hundreds of hectares there before their deportation in 1755".

Grand-Pré—no wonder—is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The vast panorama before your eyes from the View Park, on Old Post Road, lets your imagination run wild and go back in time.

Clearly, my visit paid off owing to Joseph and his family's destiny as they will be the topic of a new chapter in the family history. Indeed, I had only one thought in mind: set myself to work on my tree and document the lives of my Acadian ancestors. If these five families were all living in Saint-Jacques-de-l'Achigan (Quebec) around 1768, they went through different experiences. Following the deportation, the first one was sent to England and to Saint-Servan in France later on; the second and the third were deported to Massachusetts; the fourth, to Connecticut; and finally the fifth was in Acadia and then in Saint-Jacques-de-l'Achigan, but where they were in-between, I still have to find out.

Shortly after my return, I was able to establish that Joseph Leblanc, his siblings and parents were in Nova Scotia's Isle Royale (Cap Breton Island) in 1752. I guess I will have to pack my suitcase once again—genealogy makes you travel, that's for sure!

GenSpotters’ Book Review: Beyond Brutal Passions. Prostitution in Early Nineteenth-Century Montreal by Mary Anne Poutanen

, ,

At the outset of the nineteenth century in Montreal, the elites were wondering about the objectives of sending prostitutes to prison. Was it about dissuasion or rehabilitation? According to the prisoners themselves, jail fulfilled a need. First of all, it provided social welfare to destitute and homeless people which, most of the time, were elderly, mothers and their children, as well as prostitutes. For women of this era, running a brothel or living off the avails of prostitution were means to have access to the basics: food, clothing, and a roof. Several historians have studied prostitution—either for Québec or for the rest of Canada—but few actually covered the first half of the nineteenth century.

Poutanen's essay is divided in two parts. The first one discusses women accused of prostitution, the second one emphasizes on the judicial system's procedures related to the lodging of a complaint against the presumed prostitutes.

The first three chapters are about the places where women lived and worked. The author addresses prostitution's social geography, prostitution at home and in brothels, and street prostitution.

As for chapters four to seven, they focus on the relation between the plaintiff, the accused and several authorities from the justice system. Poutanen outlines the administrative complexity related to the filing of a complaint against a presumed prostitute or a brothel keeper. She studies the complicated relationships between policemen, watchmen, and prostitutes, concentrating on court cases. Finally, the author explains punishments and the way they evolved during this period.

This essay sheds light on the complex relationships between the women accused of prostitution and the society in which they were living and working. Beyond Brutal Passions portrays the unknown social environment, yet very real, that was prostitution in Montreal in the early nineteenth century. A relevant essay that is now essential on the subject.

Poutanen, Mary Anne. Beyond Brutal Passions. Prostitution in Early Nineteenth Century Montreal, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 409 pages.