Finding the Family Treasure at Distant Cousins’

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Cleophas Galaise

Ever since I was little, I loved looking at old photographs. Every now and then my father would take out his mother's photo albums. Remember these with sturdy and thick cardboard-like black pages with black photo corners? On other occasions, he would show me his father's pictures—there weren't that many—, some in sepia colour. On one of them was my great-grandfather sitting on a toy horse, surrounded by his parents, a brother, and a sister.

Much later on, when I wanted to write a book on my father's family history, I immediately had the idea of including photos in it. Unfortunately, my own collection was quite lacking. With that project headed another one, obvious: meeting up with my distant cousins to document the life of their family members.

The First Steps

Jeannette Galaise et Jacques Cormier

Jeannette Galaise et Jacques Cormier

I started my journey with the youngest sister of my great-grandfather whom I have never known. When I went to meet her, Jeannette was at a very old age and her memory had faded. She nonetheless did recall pretty well her older brother, and she went on telling me countless stories about him. Jeannette didn't have any family photos with her, having transmitted them to one of her sons, Jacques, whom I reached afterwards. In his collection, I spotted a few pictures of Jeannette's father, my great-great-grandfather, as well as numerous snapshots of Jeannette's siblings at various stages of their lives.

Next, while I was doing research on my family, I contacted a distant cousin—she was barely older than me. She is a descendant of Antoine, my great-great-grandfather's brother, who in time settled in Vermont. One of Antoine's son, my distant cousin's direct ancestor, came back to Quebec. When I visited her, she showed me around her house and ended the tour with her office where pictures of my great-great-grandfather's father, mother, and most of his siblings hanged on the walls. I must admit I was almost in shock!

Three Generations of Galaises

In a matter of weeks, I came up with pictures of three generations of Galaises. I was then able to document the book on the family I was working on. However, I was only eager to carry on with this journey. And to do so, I would have to travel to New York State—to Plattsburgh and Albany actually—to try to find the descendants of my great-grandfather's great-grandfather, who settled there in the mid-19th century, and to gather some material on their respective lineage. But at that moment, I was light years away from realizing what I was about to discover.

To be continued …