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


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.

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.

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."

Captives from Deerfield, MA in the Province of Quebec

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Maison Allyn à Deerfield

Captives, you said?

When starting our family tree, we are light years away from knowing where our quest will take us. It is therefore important to think outside the box since quite a few surprises might await us.

Let me give you an example to prove my point. I was going through the church register of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue looking for the marriage record of Albert Lalonde. In the record dated February 7, 1746, he is mentioned as being the son of Guillaume Lalonde and Marie Magdeleine Helene. Still a rookie at the time, I thought nothing of it. My next thought was that the priest simply omitted to mention the maiden name of the groom's mother. One can never be too careful though. I then assumed that "Helene" might be her surname, she could have been born from unknown parents, for all I know, hence explaining the use of all these first names. Well, was I wrong!

The marriage record for Guillaume Lalonde and Marie Magdeleine Helene, dated April 27, 1710, in the parish of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, indicates that the bride's parents are English and residing in the village of "Tierfille". The marginal annotation brings out another clue: this village is in Massachusetts and is actually "Deerfield".

Marie Magdeleine Helene is 19 years old at the time of her marriage and was 13 when she was baptized at Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue Catholic Church in 1705. According to the priest, her name is then Marie Magdeleine Sire Helene. In fact, her English name is Sarah Allen or Allyn.

On February 29, 1704, a number of inhabitants from Deerfield, including Sarah, were made prisoners during a French and Indian raid. Some of these New England's captives were taken to New France and were "adopted" by a French Canadian or Indian family. Sarah was one of them, living with Sir Quenet. While a majority of them chose to return to New England once liberated, some married in Quebec and have numerous descendants. They were named Carter (now Chartier), Dicker, Farnsworth (now Phaneuf), French, Hurst, Price, Rice, Rising (now Raizenne), and Stebbins (now Stebenne).


Additional Reading

Haefeli, Evan and Kevin Sweeney. Captors and Captives, The 1704 French and Indian Raid on Deerfield, University of Massachusetts Press, 2005, 376 pages

GenSpotters' article on Quebec's civil copy of Parish Registers

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.

The Elusive Lady


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?


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!