Message in a web bottle

You may approach genealogical research like you would fishing — and just to bring it back to French-Canadians — ICE-fishing (OK I wrote the ICE word, but it’s going to warm up today!).  Instead of fishing with one rod, you set up as many lines as you can. The limit is how many you can check at a time… and how many holes you can dig before you are so hot you strip down to your t-shirt.

This is just what  a cousin did:

2001, Welland, Ontario: she sends on RootsWeb * a querry about my great-aunt Simone Viau-McDuff.  And waits.

2011, Laval, Québec: I’m poking around the web, put in Simone’s name into Google and find her message. Wow! For sure it’s the same person, but… the message is 10 years old!  No one keeps their e-mail address for that long. Too bad!

Still, I send my line to the water and reply. Next day, I get a reply.

Geraldine, daughter of my grandfather’s cousin, was jumping up and down in her living room when she got my message (just like I was when I got hers).

Like many Quebecers during the 20th century, her grandfather Philias Viau , had moved from Lachine to work in the Niagara region around 1904. He was my great-grandfather J. Francis Viau’s brother. They lost their French, but there are still some Wellanders that don’t speak English. The Welland canal was of great importance as a link between Lakes  Erie and Ontario. Many industries flourished along the canal, like The Electro Metallurgical Company unit of Union Carbide where Philias worked.

I went to visit Geraldine by train, learned about the region, met some great people. Among them, Renée Tetrault, a founding member of the Welland Branch of the Franco Ontarien Society of History and Genealogy now known as the Réseau du patrimoine franco-ontarien. Renée has served for more than thirty years as the expert who assists researchers at their Centre for Research in the Welland Public Library. She will describe the extensive holdings of their library in and offer suggestions for researching in Quebec.

Which leads me to introduce this French-Canadian resource: there are six regional centers in Ontario.  Three times a year they publish Le Chainon (paper or digital).  They have quite a few online resources (Ontario and other provinces including Quebec, and even American parishes) available to members, among which transcribed notarial records, BMS, cemetaries, family histories, cities and towns, census, archive guides, and a lot more.

Two things to remember:

When part of a family moves away, news and pictures are exchanged to keep in touch. Geraldine had pictures of my Montreal family that I had never seen and letters writen by my direct ancestors. The jewel: a cash book kept when Philias’ father Onesime Viau died in Lachine, where all spendings (lots of prayers in church) and income (rents) were described along with after-death inventory  and each child’s share of inheritance. The two of us were able to piece together family stories that individually we couldn’t figure out and dentify people on each other’s pictures.  Finding cousins will help you go up your tree in surprising ways.

Viau p

Onésime Viau and Antoinette Dorais with their children, Lachine, Québec

The other, send a lot of lines out, keep a log, follow up, but be patient. Be courteous, some will never bite, some are not interested. But dream big, don’t be stopped by logic and expect anything…fish come in many shapes and sizes, and even as messages in bottles.

* Rootsweb was one of the first online free cooperative genealogical resources. Ancestry has picked it up, but we can still go into archives or free.

Posted on March 7, 2014, in Canadian Province, Genealogy, Genealogy societies, Research tips, Resources Outside of Montreal and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Genevieve Rosseel

    Fishing is known as a relaxing sport. I just hadn’t moved to surfing like you do!

  2. What a great story, Genevieve. I have run across people on rootsweb and Ancestry looking for my ancestors from time to time, but it has never had such a great outcome. One reason I started my own blog is because someone told me blogs are good cousin-catchers, but I’m going to a lot more trouble than just putting a line in the water. Oh well, I’m having fun doing it. I’m basically starting to write my book, one small article at a time.

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