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British Home Children: The Story of an Investigation (episode 1)

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The Quest of Therese

Therese was born in Montreal, not long after World War I. She was already 90 years old when she asked for my help concerning the mystery of her mother's English origin.

As far as Therese knew, her mom was born in Bristol, in southwestern England, daughter of Walter R. and Mary Jane W. Our English girl's father would have died shortly after her birth. She immigrated to Canada at age 10, without any siblings, with her mother and stepfather—Therese didn't know his name—, and they settled on a farm in Prescott, Ontario. The mother and her husband then had to go back to England having some business to attend to, leaving the child under the care of the village Catholic convent. The couple never returned. After years at the convent, our English girl moved to Montreal alone where she lived off several odd jobs until her marriage. No family, no pictures, no objects would tell the story of her youth besides some fading memories of the farm and of a cruel and mean stepfather.

Therese's dad coming from Rimouski, they would both go over there during the summer. She then gathered with aunts, uncles, cousins; visited houses; looked at photos—in a nutshell, she now had a family. Her father was wounded during World War I, directly exposed to mustard gas. He returned as a broken and handicapped man. He later met our English girl in Montreal and married her. He was 44 years old, she was 38. Therese lost her father at a very young age.

As an only child, Therese lived alone with her mother. If her father had left her a brief family history, her mother would remain silent on the subject. Invariably, all her questions would be answered by a laconic, "What's the point of you knowing all this?" Young Therese grew up with her questions still unanswered. "Is it possible that adults would abandon a child?" "Did the ship they embarked on sank like the Titanic?" "Have they died in England from the Spanish flu?"

It's in the eyes of this 90-year-old woman that I understood the importance of a genealogical investigation, the vital need we have to learn about our own family's history.

"We might not be able to find what we are looking for. So much was lost during the bombing of England."

Let's proceed step by step. Before trying to explore the unknown, the genealogist must rely on known facts. The new information must match the proven facts.

"Let's start with this—your birth, your parents' marriage."

"I have no idea of when and where my parents got married. And at no time I happened to see their wedding pictures. When they met, they were no youngsters. Maybe they just lived together and didn't marry after all."

I am pleased to see that Therese is open-minded about all this. We never know what secret our investigation might reveal.

"When my mother died, I found this document in her personal papers."

I look at it—the paper is worn out but it is still legible. It is the Birth Certificate of Lilly R., delivered by the General Register Office, Somerset House, London, England, referring to the volume from which it was extracted. A sure lead!

"Parents' names are not indicated, but there is a date and a place of birth. That is a good start. I'll get back to you next Saturday."

Semaine nationale de la généalogie: An Annual Genealogy Event in Quebec

Did you know that today marks the start of National Genealogy Week [Semaine nationale de la généalogie] in Quebec? From November 18 to November 25 inclusively, newbies and buffs will, according to this year's theme, show their passion for their favourite pastime.

Created in 2012, the purpose of this event is the following: promote the practice of genealogy; introduce people to the various genealogical societies, their resources and their achievements; and building excitement about family research and history among Quebecers, most particularly children and teenagers.

Archives, historical societies, genealogical societies, and libraries have joined forces to set up activities so their passion for genealogy may be shared with you. And luckily enough these are not limited to major cities—there is something for you wherever you live throughout Quebec!

Here are a few examples: events are scheduled at the Société de généalogie des Cantons-de-l'Est, in Sherbrooke, as well as in Mont-Laurier, and most of BAnQ Archives Centres in Drummondville, Gatineau, Montréal, Trois-Rivières, Saguenay, Rimouski, Sept-Îles, Québec City, Rouyn-Noranda, and Sherbrooke. For those looking ahead, DNA will be featured in a conference in Asbestos.

Newbies will especially appreciate Open House Day offered by various genealogical societies such as SGCF, in Montréal; the Société de généalogie du Grand Trois-Rivières; or the Centre d'histoire de Saint-Hyacinthe.

Should you be seeking for your French Canadian ancestors and wish to attend some of these events, GenSpotters invites you to consult the complete agenda here.

Show your passion!

Quebec’s Civil Copy of Parish Registers

In Quebec, from the time the first act was recorded in a Parish Register in 1621 until the reform of the code of civil procedures in 1994, civil registration through baptismal, marriage and burial records was the Church's responsibility. Mainly following what was done in France at the time, the registers recording events were thus kept in duplicate, the first one, known as the "minute", would be kept at the parish while the second one, called the "grosse" (i.e., the engrossed one), would be filed at the court serving the territory. Therefore, there is very few missing information for that period and these books were generally well preserved.

Record keeping has not always been mandatory. In fact, the Edict of Villers-Cotterets, signed by King François I of France in 1539, stipulated that a baptismal register must be kept and that the French language be used in all official records. The recording of marriages and burials became mandatory in 1579 under the Edict of Blois, only about 40 years before the first act was recorded in Quebec.

In 1667, the Edict of Saint-Germain-en-Laye or "Code Louis" made it mandatory that registers be henceforward kept in duplicate in order to avoid any irretrievable destruction or loss of information caused by wars, fires, or even rodents. This rule will rapidly be complied with in Quebec as opposed to France where it was only after the Declaration of April 9, 1736, reminding and complementing the Edict of 1667, that the keeping of duplicate will be widespread.

While doing research on your French Canadian ancestors, should you be asked to indicate whether you have used your ancestor's marriage record issued from the "minute" or from the engrossed one, would you be able to? In a future post, we will look at how we can identify one from the other.

Quebec's Church records on FamilySearch

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

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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.

“Dit” Names: And What If Your Surname Was Not the Original One?

Your surname is Languedoc, Sanschagrin, Laframboise or Saint-Jean? There is a good chance your ancestor's name was completely different.

In Québec, a lot of people do not share their surname with their ancestor. They are rather known by their ancestor's or one of his descendants' "dit" name. Some pioneers' surnames are actually not used anymore, having been replaced by the "dit" name associated therewith.

Much of these "dit" names were borne by militaries which then represent the third most important group of immigrants after the "engagés" and the King's Daughters (or Filles du roi). In the army, each recruit was given a nickname by an officer. The soldiers who settled in Canada, a colony of New France at the time, were mostly from the Carignan-Salières Regiment which came in 1665, from the Compagnies franches de la Marine which were responsible for the colony's protection as early as 1683, as well as infantry's regiments who came to fight the British during the Seven Years' War (1756-1763).

For other families, "dit" names appeared later on in order to distinguish the different branches. Hence, descendants of the Lefebvre family of Baie-du-Febvre also bear the name Descôteaux, Labbé or Laciseraie. As for Paul Hus' descendants, they had for a surname Beauchemin, Capistran, Cournoyer, Latraverse, Lemoine, Millet, Paul, Paulet, or even Paulhus. Be careful though, those with the "dit" name Lemoine are not all descendants of Paul Hus and those named Laframboise do not have all the same ancestor.

It is not easy to explain why a specific surname was given to an ancestor. In a few cases, the "dit" name comes from the pioneers' wife maiden name, such as Bélisle dit Levasseur, Lemire dit Marsolet and Morand dit Grimard. In other cases, it is a contraction of the first name and of the surname: Castonguay (Gaston Guay), Louiseize (Louis Seize) or Paulhus (Paul Hus). For seigniorial families, the "dit" name represents the fief or the seigniory's name: Boucher of Montbrun or Noël of Tilly.

The most common "dit" names often simply derive from the ancestor's first name: Germain Gauthier dit St-Germain. The "dit" name may also reveal more or less precisely the origin of an ancestor like L'allemand (translation: from Germany), Langevin (from Anjou), Lyonnais (from Lyon) or Montauban. The "dit" name could tell you about your ancestor's occupation like Lalancette, for a surgeon, or Lalime, for a founder or a locksmith. Wondering what your ancestor looked or was like? Legros (large), Latendresse (gentleness), Sansregret (no regret), Lespérance (hope). In the army, "dit" names were often a flower or plant name such as Latulipe (tulip), Larose (rose), Lafleur (flower), and so on.

To conclude, what about some funny nicknames from our military ancestors? Baisela (sorry, this one will be translated as "xxx"), Vivelamour (viva love), Prêtàboire (ready to drink), Vadeboncoeur (goes with a happy heart), Tranchemontagne (mountain splitter), Passepartout (goes anywhere or master key) or Laterreur (terror).

Sources:
Jetté, René et Micheline Lécuyer. Répertoire des noms de famille du Québec des origines à 1825, éd. SGCF, Montréal, 201 p.

Jetté, René. Traité de généalogie, Les Presses de l'Université de Montréal, Montréal, 1991. 716 p. (out-of-print)

French Canadian Surname Mutations in the United States

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If you are from the United States and are looking for French Canadian ancestors, you know for sure how difficult it can be to find them.

You probably heard about "dit" names—my colleague Suzanne will discuss these in a future post—but besides that, something else can be fairly challenging, and that is the mutation of French Canadian surnames in the United States.

I have encountered many cases where people had no clue that a French Canadian was actually in their tree. Often barely two or three generations back, and they had no idea that this Jane Wood was in fact Geneviève Dubois. Or they were stunned to learn that Nelson Little went by the name of Narcisse Petit north of the border.

I am doing quite extensive research in Vermont records and I have come across some interesting surnames' variations! If the literal translation from the French might appear easy to figure out—I cannot help thinking of Shortsleeve, for Courtemanche—some others are not that obvious. Just think of German: might be either for Lallemand or Saint-Germain.

Sometimes, I just need to say it out loud to tell what the French Canadian name might be. I am thinking of Browshaw, for Branchaud; Gorrow, for Gareau; Sears, for Cyr; or Tromblei, for Tremblay. In these cases, the surnames were not translated but rather anglicized. But when I read Fosha, I quickly thought of Foucher while it was for Forcier (which I ended up with after intensive work). And what about the Blanchettes who decided to use Blanchard instead?

Others may seem straightforward like Rock. Oh, yes, it must be for Laroche or Larocque! No, Desrochers or Durocher… wait, what about Lapierre? The same pattern occurs for the name Stone. You are typically up for many hours of research.

Some surname variations simply cannot be explained. How did Arpajou became Parish? And what about Daniels used for Beauchemin? Without the parish repertoires from Vermont, I would be at a loss!

Finally, my favourites are, and by far, John "French" and Martin "Frenchman". Great idea, guys! Thanks for the help!

Are you sure, you do not have French Canadian ancestors? If you have hit a brick wall in the Northeastern States, or even in Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin or Michigan, there is a real possibility. As you can see, you need to think outside the box if you hope to find that needle in the haystack.

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.

From the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick: New Marriage Records on Website

Any ancestors in New Brunswick? The Provincial Archives of New Brunswick’s Website just added a surrogate for pre-Vital Statistics marriages (1798-1887) for the county of Sunbury. Here is the link to the database:

County Council Marriage Records

Good luck!

Strolling Through Quebec’s Cemeteries

I love cemeteries. Is there a genealogist out there who doesn't?

I remember, ages ago, long before I was doing genealogy, whenever we passed a cemetery while driving around, my brother-in-law would tease me and say: Oh! look, a cemetery for Diane!

So it will not come as a surprise to you if I tell here that I most appreciate websites dedicated to cemeteries for genealogists. There is one though, in my opinion, that really stands out as it has much more to offer than burial listings and rather contains many details about the cemetery itself.

I find it very moving to walk through a cemetery, but before I shed a tear, I want to make sure I am in the right place.

For cemeteries located in the province of Quebec, the Website of the Fédération Écomusée de l'Au-Delà (available in English), created by Daniel Labelle, provides information such as the address or location; the foundation and closing date (if any); the parish foundation date; the latitude and longitude (Google Map is shown); its chronology (first, second, third cemetery, etc.); and sources.

Let me give you an example: Lachenaie, where many of my ancestors originate from. When I type the name of the town, I get three results: the old cemetery, the current one and the church crypt.

First, let's take a look at the results obtained for the old cemetery. I am learning that: it was the parish's first cemetery; it was located on the seignorial domain; it was founded in 1679 (1683 for the parish); and it was closed around 1730. Moreover, the notes mention that it was near a chapel. When I click on the Google Map and choose the Satellite view, I can see precisely where it was situated.

Now, let's turn to the results pertaining to the second cemetery (actually still there today) which dates back to about 1730. They provide, besides the above-mentioned information, its position versus the church, the spatial arrangement, the type of cross, the perimeter and other various data.

So, thanks to this unique tool, whenever I visit Lachenaie cemetery, I know for a fact that I am standing exactly where were buried my ancestors who died after 1730, even though there are no remains of ancient headstones.

If you are planning to come to Quebec to walk in your ancestors' footsteps, do not forget to check out this website before you start your journey.

Living the Life of Your Ancestor in his Native Region—A Unique Experience

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I traveled quite a lot in my life. However, I must confess that the most memorable trips are the ones that included stopovers to places where some of my ancestors came from. Obviously, these visits comprised the local church and cemetery, but they were not my sojourn's most touching moments.

When I stopped by my Tuscan ancestors' village of origin, rather than checking into a hotel, I chose to rent an apartment. One of the best times I had was chit-chatting with the owner who not only told me so much about the village's history but also didn't forget to let me know where I could have a taste of the finest gelato in town—a shop ran by one of her friends, of course!

Another travel experience that left a vivid impression on me was my trip to Lot-et-Garonne department in France, where I met a volunteer from the local genealogical society with whom I had been corresponding. As he was the owner of an orchard, I learned everything there was to know in respect of prune production. Residing in a castle, he shared with me the whole story of the premises as well. It was just fascinating. As for dinner, I was treated with a homemade aperitif wine, a delicious meal—that could have qualified for a banquet!—and a prune with Armagnac for dessert. Absolutely exquisite!

That's what genealogical travels are all about. And this kind of trip is not to be found in a brochure. It is a mix of meeting people, culinary delights, and unique cultural experiences.