The Elusive Lady

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While I was looking for one of my ancestors on the Web, I was in for a total surprise. I did manage to find the man but certainly not where I thought I would. I stumbled upon this history thesis about domestic violence in Montreal during the first half of the nineteenth century1.

Jean Detouin’s name was mentioned therein but not for the reason you are thinking: he was not a violent man but rather a victim as someone attempted to kill him and burn his house. He had resigned himself to make a complaint against… his own wife!

Marie Archange dite Julie Daigneau was born in Boucherville in 1797. On June 20, 1821, she married Jean Detouin, a carpenter who just immigrated from Belgium. At that time, Marie Archange was living in Montreal while her parents were living in Boucherville. Her older sister, Marie Josephe, also married in Montreal in 1818 with François George Lepailleur, a notary. It is a possibility that Archange was living with her sister at the time of her marriage, although it would have been for a short period since the Lepailleurs left for Châteauguay in 1820.

Seven months after her marriage, Archange gave birth to a girl, Marie Elmire. It was not unusual for the first child to be “premature”—Archange is certainly not the first woman to get married while being pregnant. Three other daughters were born two years apart from each other: Marie Archange dite Angèle, Henriette, and Caroline. The last one was born in June 1828, seven years after her parents’ marriage but passed away five days after the birth. Then, the next to youngest child dies in December 1829. Finally, Jean Detouin died in turn a victim of the cholera epidemic in 1832. The two eldest daughters are therefore left fatherless and went on to live with their uncle. And what about the mother?

Jean Detouin’s statement against his wife, dated May 5, 1831, is quite informative about the family’s life conditions as well as those of Montreal’s families from the same era:

“… about three years ago, Julie Daigneau, his wife, has left their bed and house and abandoned her children and started drinking. She’s a vagrant and a prostitute. She was out of jail last Tuesday and since then, has come several times to the deponent’s house, especially today, has disturbed the peace, assaulted him and threatened to hit him and has uttered multiple threats, including wanting to burn his house…” [translation from French]

Well, well, Archange, now a vagrant and known as Julie, is out of prison and left her house about three years before. I turned to the Montreal Prison registers and started looking as of the date of her last childbirth and there it was! Julie was first jailed in November 1828 for shoplifting. She faces the same charges in March 1829. The next occurrences will be about vagrancy or for disturbing the peace.

With more sleuthing, it is no surprise that Archange was in this situation. Angélique Catafard, her youngest’s godmother, was in prison too. She was arrested at the Champ-de-Mars, with other prostitutes. The policeman described them as vagrants and women of bad repute.

Archange dite Julie Daigneau will be serving no less than 28 prison terms where she will actually die on February 3, 1837. She left abundant traces of her existence in court records. On the one hand, if I had solely relied on civil records, I would have never found a death record for her. On the other hand, I would have never known about this family’s misery. Finally, in light of this portrait, it is legitimate to wonder if Jean Detouin is the father of Archange’s four daughters.

1 Pilarczyk, Ian C. Justice in the Premises: Family Violence and the Law in Montreal, 1825-1850.

Any Black Sheep in Your Family?

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We all expect our ancestors to be nothing but virtuous: war heroes, doctors, notables—the usual—but what if there was a black sheep in your family? One must cope with reality—but what at first seems to be a disgrace may actually prove rewarding: convicts left paper trails!

I came across this essay thanks to the Internet—History of the Montreal Prison from A. D. 1784 to A. D. 1886, written by Rev’d J. Douglas Borthwick. When published in 1886, the prison—known then as Pied-du-Courant, now the SAQ (liquor commission) head office on De Lorimier Avenue—had been opened for 50 years. Great work as a whole, but foremost, what I found particularly interesting is featured on pages 257-268 where the author lists the names of the prison’s inmates from 1812 to 1885. The years 1812 to 1825 are precious: the prison registry available at the Archives starts in 1826. Of course, this listing is far from comprehensive, but nonetheless valuable.

This book is what we call a secondary source, it thus has to be used with circumspection. Do your homework—if a name looks familiar, make sure such person is the one you believe he (or she) is. Visit the BAnQ Archives on Viger Street and unearth everything there is to know about that black sheep you are going after.

You think I am being beyond cautious?

Here is a case study: I was all excited when I noticed a certain Jean-Baptiste Tourville, who was sentenced to death in 1836. My mind was racing so fast. I know my people—who could he be? Well, he might have been from the Dutau-Tourville line after all—which is not related to the Hubou-Tourville’s (my own). He might have lived in Terrebonne or Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu as, in these early years, people were transferred to be imprisoned in Montréal should the crime have been committed in a small village outside of the city.

I decided to go to the Archives to check this story out. I perused the prison registry and the trial papers, and finally realized that the name was misspelled in the book: it was a poor guy named Jean-Baptiste Fournelle who was hanged, not Tourville. Obviously, the family honour was restored, but I was a bit disappointed—that Mr. Fournelle did leave quite an impressive paper trail!

The bottom line is that one must not jump to any conclusions following the sole review of this listing (or for any other secondary source for that matter). You need to validate the facts.

Happy hunting!