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 …

19th Century Epidemics (I): 1832 Cholera Epidemic in Montréal

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If you are doing a descending genealogy, just like I do, and are gathering the baptismal records of all the couples' children, I am sure you have noticed how high was the infant mortality rate among French Canadians during the 19th century. If the poor quality of water and milk—before pasteurization—as well as bad sanitary conditions were partly responsible for it, certain epidemics, such as the cholera in 1832, didn't spare any age group.

Cholera came to the city of Québec through ships sailing from Great Britain on June 8, 1832. Two days later, the city of Montréal was its next victim. Various sources tell us that about 1,900 Montrealers died from cholera which subsided at the end of the following fall.

Meanwhile, the critical situation resulted in unexpected consequences: charlatans took advantage of the panic that ensued to propose ridiculous and useless remedies; a health bureau was hastily established, and some of its regulations were a bit surprising to say the least—like trying to fire off cannons to purify the air; and politicians and businessmen were finger-pointing at each other—some thought a quarantine was delayed to protect businesses in Montréal, others were asking why more French Canadians than British were among the victims—and so on.

It is always interesting to go beyond statistics and turn to historical newspapers to have an idea of how the epidemic was perceived and what the mindset was at the time.

Friday, June 22, 1832 edition of La Minerve newspaper invites:

"people from the country and our fellow citizens to be on guard against fear. From our daily experience, we learned that it is fear that has taken so many lives. Fear has an effect on the nerves, which when too excited, hinder remedies to work. The disease is not contagious at all, and with some caution and self-control, you have nothing to worry about." (!)

Advertising published in La Minerve of Thursday, June 28, 1832:

Anti-Cholera Plaster […]
One dollar for adults and one ecu for children.

In La Minerve of Thursday, August 9, 1832, we can read of the disease's devastation in villages near Montréal such as Saint-Paul-de-Lavaltrie, Saint-Philippe, L'Assomption and Saint-Esprit. For each village, there is a list of the deceased. Death often occurred only 8 or 10 hours after a person was infected by the disease which was particularly aggressive.

Any of your ancestors died between June and November 1832 in Montréal or nearby? Don't hesitate to take a look at your tree and review the burial record found for these people. You might find a detail that you didn't catch before. And why not consulting the newspaper archives on BAnQ?

Louis Tourville and Élisabeth Lamoureux lost two children in 1832. The first one on July 24, the second one, on September 25. The newspapers are silent on their fate. However, the first one was buried the same day he died. Who knows, this might be a clue?

British Home Children: The Story of an Investigation (episode 3)

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The Marchmount Home (Belleville, Ontario) in 1873

Who Were the British Home Children?

While waiting for the Barnardo's file, I gathered some information about the Home Children, these young British immigrants.

From 1869 to 1930, more than 100,000 children left England and immigrated to Canada where they hoped for a better future. They are said to have been orphans, however, two-thirds of them had at least one parent still alive in England, but too poor to take care of a child. During the Industrial Revolution era, England had to face severe social issues: poverty, pollution, and inequities. Hundreds of thousands of people were living in horrendous conditions. Children were particularly vulnerable. Some were being left on their own on the streets—just think about Charlie Chaplin's The Kid—others will be employed in workhouses, these awful institutions for the poor. People were working 18 hours a day in precarious conditions, worse than the most badly paid labourers, as the less eligibility principle was applied.

It is for sparing them from these miserable life conditions that thousands of children were sent to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Most of them were between the age of 6 and 15, but some could be as young as 6 months old.

Children were sent to Homes before being assigned to families who applied for a child, looking for a farm labourer or a servant. Some children found a loving family; still, lots of them were rather considered slaves and were abused. They were not provided with any education as they were replacing those who went back to school in the fall. Bullying, such as teasing and name-calling—they were known as street rats—, was their daily lot. When visitors came to the house, they had to hide, they were taught to be ashamed of being Home Children. For several of them, the feeling of disgrace was so deep that they would never talk about their origins during their lifetime.

More than ten percent of Canadians today have Home Children in their ancestry. The shame their ancestors felt would result in many of them not having a clue about their origins.

Based on this information, I am starting to understand Lilly's secret. She preferred to tell about a difficult but legitimate past rather than confess about shameful origins.

Some references available online:

On Library and Archives Canada, numerous documents may be found on British Home Children, such as passenger lists, correspondence files, immigration inspection reports, private collections, as well as indexes on a few documents that are kept in Great Britain. British Home Children in Canada, Canada’s History and British Home Child Group International websites also offers helpful information.

GenSpotters Book Review: Coquins et débauchés. Les Fils de famille déportés en Nouvelle-France au XVIIIe siècle by Josée Tétreault and Martin Tétreault.

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Page couverture de Coquins et débauchés - les Fils de famille

This book—only available in French—is about naughty single young men born to well-to-do families and who led a debauched life in France during the 18th century. Every time a book title piques my curiosity, I take a look at its back cover. In this case, I was hooked from the very first sentence which turned out to be a simple question: Who were these naughty young men who led a debauched life and who were deported to New France on the King's orders and at the request of their families? Next thing I knew, I was engrossed in the reading of this essay.

This book is made up of two parts. The first one aims at defining briefly this immigrant group with such a unique profile. The authors initially looked at how same were represented in the historiography. After having utterly outlined the subject of their study, the authors depict the social and geographic origins of these individuals. Then, they consider the numerous and various motives behind their deportation while stressing its main objective—to restore the family reputation. Next, they briefly bring out how the families used their connections to execute this "punishment". The authors also relate the travel conditions while crossing the Atlantic en route to Canada through some personal journal extracts of some of the deported. Finally, they summarize how they settled in Canada and demonstrate the correlation prevailing between the profession or occupation they held or had and their social backgrounds.

The second part consists of more than a hundred biographical notes thoroughly documented that tracks their history. Anyone who has done some genealogical research for that period will recognize the names of a few notaries from New France among the list of the naughty young men. Each biographical note is followed by the sources used by the authors.

This work is the first to address this topic in such detail, explaining the idea behind their deportation. It also sets the record straight about certain prejudices conveyed in historical essays about wealthy young men. Moreover, the precise number of these deported individuals given by the authors is a first. The biographical notes based on documented evidence and reliable sources will undoubtedly be of help to both historians and genealogists who wish to further research one of these individuals or their family.

Tétreault, Josée and Martin Tétreault. Coquins et débauchés. Les Fils de famille déportés en Nouvelle-France au XIIIe siècle, Québec, Éditions GID, 2017, 322 pages.

A Visit to Sir George-Étienne Cartier National Historic Site

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I always wanted to visit the 19th-century house of Sir George-Étienne Cartier, located at the corner of Notre-Dame and Berri streets, in Old Montréal. I thought the holidays would be a great opportunity to push ahead with this forever-postponed plan and—what is more—get to admire the decor of a typical Victorian Christmas.

Well, I should have written houses as there are actually two properties (built in 1837) sharing an adjoining coachway. The Cartier family who, at first, lived in the East House from 1848 to 1855, later moved to the West House, and would settle there from 1862 to 1871.

Some may ask: "Who is this George-Étienne Cartier?" A French Canadian born in 1814 in Saint-Antoine-sur-Richelieu, Cartier was one of the Fathers of Confederation. A lawyer, businessman, and politician, he was Premier of Canada East (more or less, today's Province of Quebec) from 1858 to 1862, and Minister of Militia and Defence from 1867 to 1873, under the government of Conservative John A. Macdonald. Cartier died in 1873 in London, England. He was buried in Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery in Montréal.

The East House has never been renovated because of multiple successive tenants, public works on Berri Street, and a fire. The main and second floors feature the temporary exhibition—on women's fashion and crinolines at the moment—and the permanent exhibition—on Cartier's accomplishments. The West House has been renovated so as to restore it to its genuine Victorian architectural form. Although the beautiful pieces of furniture are not original to the house, they do depict what the home looked like at the time.

If you were to enter the house from the original main door, you would stand in front of the staircase on the left side of the corridor that takes you to the butler's pantry at the back of the house. On the right side of the corridor are the formal living room and dining room. Looking through the window, you can figure out where the stable was because of the outside wall's brick colours. Upstairs are Lady Cartier's bedroom, her two daughters' bedroom, and a boudoir where the women would receive the immediate family or work on sewing.

I was hardly the one to have the Christmas spirit in the family. Indeed, I learned a lot during my visit. For instance, that the Christmas tree appeared in England—later in Canada—thanks to Prince Consort Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, who was German. In his native country, a Christmas tree decorated with candles and gifts was a tradition.

While in the dining room, we were told that the stove and its pipe were only used in winter for extra heating. It was removed during the summer—nowadays, in our houses, it's the air conditioner we put away! The table, nicely set and displaying the traditional turkey, served on Christmas Eve if you were French Canadian or on Christmas Day, if you were English Canadian, led our guide to point out the differences between a French and an English service.

He also showed us some images of Santa Claus through the years using a lanterna magica—an early type of projector. I was particularly interested by the one from 1875—a recession year. A surprisingly thin Santa Claus, dressed in blue, stood close to a stunted tree. The one from 1870 was definitely local: he was wearing snowshoes!

Did you know that Christmas cards were hand-painted and very expensive? A card could cost as much as 4 pounds, a servant's-month salary.

These houses are certainly worth a visit. I will return during the course of the year to see the decor in a new light. If you prefer to discover the Victorian Christmas of the Cartiers' houses, you may add that on your list for next year.

British Home Children: The Story of an Investigation (episode 2)

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Photo: Isaac Erb / Library and Archives Canada / PA-041785 / « British immigrant children from Dr. Barnardo's Homes at landing stage, Saint John, N.B. »

Lilly's Origins

The following Saturday, I had in my hands Thérèse's Montréal baptismal record that proved her parentage. I also found her parents' marriage record that mentioned parents' names of both spouses. These two records were easily located in the Drouin Collection Records. The parents' names of our English girl agreed with the information given by Thérèse—Lilly R. was the daughter of Walter R. and Mary Jane W. of Bristol. I only had to obtain Lilly's long-form birth certificate to pursue my investigation.

On the General Register Office Website, one may get in just a few days a long-form birth certificate in PDF format for a 6-pound fee. The website features births from 1837 to 1916 and deaths from 1837 to 1957 for England and Wales, as well as a search index. As the document provided by Thérèse included an extract number, my order was reliable and fast.

While waiting for the PDF's delivery by email, I turned to Ancestry Website. Alas, without any results for the couple R.-W. in England and I did not know the name of the mother's second husband. I perused the Passenger Lists, looking for a couple travelling with a ten-year-old child, as well as the Ontario Census Index. Nothing—the family was nowhere to be found. Typically, when you cannot get the answer, you are probably asking the wrong question.

"I have found your parent's marriage record. The wedding was celebrated three months before your birth, in a church outside of their neighbourhood."

"Oh, the little rascals!"

It turns out the truth was easier to swallow than the secrecy surrounding it.

"Here's more—I have received Lilly's birth certificate from London. We see that she was born from an unknown father and that she bore her mother's surname, Mary Jane R. Mary Jane was a servant in a wealthy neighbourhood of Bristol and her address is mentioned."

Lilly's secret was then in the open. She was an illegitimate child, a bastard as such children were referred to at that time. One must remember the strict Victorian morality of that era. The biggest surprise was yet to come.

As I knew our English girl's real name, I was able to resume my search in the Passenger List. Still with no success. It was time to adopt a new strategy, and I hence concentrated on the ten-year-old girl.

In the Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935, one Lilly R. popped up: female, born the same year as our English girl, arriving at the Port of Quebec from Liverpool, England. The child was part of a 40-child group, all British, travelling with one Reverend Robert Wallace to Belleville, Ontario. Children, without any parent!

As I went on with my search, I found out that Reverend Wallace and his wife ran an orphanage called Marchmont Home in Belleville, Ontario. With the help of Miss Annie MacPherson, he made multiple trips to England to bring English orphans to Canada, young immigrants known as Home Children. I will come back to this later. First, I had to come up with more information on this orphanage. I learned that it was closed in 1925 and that the files were transferred to Barnardo's Group.

As this was the only valid assumption explaining Lilly's arrival in Canada, we sent a request to Barnardo's Group in London to obtain a copy of Lilly's file as she was part of this group. It is noteworthy to point out that no one except the first direct descendant may make such a request. After gathering all the required filiation proofs and paying the 52-pound fee, we learned that the file contained a picture of Lilly ( !!! ) and that it would be mailed in the following 6 to 9-month period.

Then started a long suspense. Would the assumption be confirmed or not? The answer lay in the photo we were awaiting.

Season’s Greetings from GenSpotters!

GenSpotters is taking a Holiday break and will be back on January 6, 2018 with the next episode of Daniel’s blog on British Home Children.

Diane, Daniel and Suzanne hope you have a great time with your loved ones and wish you all the Season's Greetings!


I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.

~Wishes from Neil GAIMAN, Journal, My New Year Wish, December 31, 2011

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."

Matrilineal Line: The One That Raises the Fewest Doubts

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When new to genealogy, we usually start with our patrilineal line, climbing up our family tree through our father, then his father, his father's father and so on, until we identify the first European pioneer whose surname was transmitted throughout generations up to ours.

Once this research is achieved, how about looking up for your matrilineal line? This time, you need to find your mother's mother, her maternal grandmother, and so on, always going through the mothers. For each generation, a new surname is therefore added to your tree, each woman's maiden name that is. Your mother's maiden name is unlikely to be the same as her mother's, still who knows? Everything is possible.

Some may ask, what is the point of searching for one's matrilineal line? For the fun of it, of course. And I am sorry, gentlemen, but this line is most certainly the one which raises the fewest doubts in your tree. If a man recognizes a child as his own at the time of the birth, it is more difficult for a woman to hide her pregnancy, even if exceptions do exist. Sometimes a grandmother declares being the mother of a child to save the family's reputation as well as her daughter's.

This research will be rewarding as you will identify the European pioneer, possibly a "Fille à marier" [single woman] or a "Fille du roi [King's Daughter]. You may even climb up one or two additional generations in France. The pioneer's mother or grandmother has passed her native language and culture to this woman who crossed the Atlantic and perpetuated the tradition in New France.

As far as I am concerned, Jacquette Grignon, Pierre Lavoix's wife, of Aytrée, in Charente-Maritime, is for now the earliest matrilineal ancestor whose lineage has been proved and documented. This woman hasn't made the trip to New France. Her husband, then a widower, came to New France with his four children, including three daughters. One of them is my ancestor: Marie de Lavoix who married Pierre Grenon in 1676, in Quebec.

Family Papers: A Genealogical Treasure in Your Own Home

Maybe you are starting your personal genealogy quest and you are out looking for all sorts of documents on the Internet, in libraries, and archives. Very wise move indeed, but you probably neglected to consider the most easily accessible place. Have you ever thought of investigating in your own home?

My mother died almost four years ago and I am in the middle of sorting documents that she had accumulated over the years. Of course, not all of them are of genealogical interest, but still, some are clearly filling blanks in the family history.

For example, my mother had kept the tax returns my father had filled in from the year of their marriage, in 1956, until his death in the mid-eighties. In the earlier years, he was required to indicate his employers' name on the first page of the form as well as the number of weeks he worked for them. I could therefore list all the workplaces where my father was employed during the time of his marriage up to his retirement. This unexpected—but nevertheless significant—inventory also comprised their baptismal records, their marriage contract—I wasn't even aware they had one!—, my mother's high school diploma, their wedding luncheon menu (!), and the songbook my grandmother offered to her then fiancé, my grandfather. I could go on and on.

Imagine, for instance, your ancestor immigrated recently: you could finally get—on the spot!—a long-sought-after proof of his ancestry from his citizenship application! One acquaintance of mine came up with one, not even knowing he had it. Nothing but my suggesting that he should do so convinced him to dig in his deceased parents' papers.

Neither my parents nor my grandparents did leave any correspondence. How about yours? These dusty old letters you kept in a shoebox don't look interesting? Think twice about it. Nothing like a rainy day or a Holiday weekend to start reading them and learn about long lost or unknown cousins.

When my uncle—my mother's brother—died some fifteen years ago, my aunt had passed on his family album and loose pictures from my mother's family to me. The best part of all this was a bunch of funeral cards—some nearly 100-year old—included in the envelope. This was a treasure all right!

Thanks to my mother's foresight, I was also provided with my grandmother's estate settlement. Hence, I discovered that I had the deeds of the two houses her family owned in Montréal since the end of the 19th century.

Who's interested in flipping old tax returns? Genealogists for sure, because experience made clear that no stone should never be left unturned and that the next clue might come from the most unusual sources.