France, french-canadian, New France, Quebec

The Merchants and Fur Traders of New France, part 2, H to Z

In the days of New France and Acadia, a merchant, fur trader, private banker or ship owner was sometimes called a négociant, or dealer. Some négociants were based in Canada, but most had their headquarters in France, especially in La Rochelle, Bordeaux, Rouen and Caen. Other French port cities with connections to the new world included Brest, Calais, Cherbourg, Dieppe, Dunkerque, Fécamp, Le Havre, Lorient, Rochefort, Royan, Saint-Malo and Vannes, while a few ships sailed from Marseille in southern France.

Rich merchants from La Rochelle, Bordeaux, Caen and Rouen often sent young family members to the French colonies of New France, Acadia and Louisiana to manage their North American investments.

Most such dealers, especially those who settled in New France and Acadia, were Catholics. Some were Protestants (Huguenots or Calvinists) and a few from the city of Bordeaux were Jewish. Following the 1759 British conquest of New France, the number of Huguenot merchants increased slightly, at least in Montreal and Quebec City.

These négociants were the people who opened communications between Europe and ports located in the American colonies. Many of the French traders also dealt with associates in South America, Africa, the Middle East and the Far East.

Hundreds of dealers were in business over the approximately 250 years that New France existed. In the compilation attached below, I have only selected a fraction of them, addressing primarily the French traders who dealt directly with family members or associates in New France, Acadia or Louisiana. In regard to the fur traders, I have tried to identify those who had a place of business in Montreal, Trois-Rivières, Quebec City or Louisbourg. I have also included a few well-known explorers who were associated with merchants in these four towns.

Many of the French traders who were associated with Quebec, Louisiana or the Great Lakes regions are profiled in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. If your ancestor was a fur trader, banker or ship owner, you may find a great deal about his life in this publication, available online or in many libraries. See http://www.biographi.ca/en/index.php or http://www.biographi.ca/fr/index.php for the French-language edition.

This post is the second in a series of compilations focused on these négociants during the period of colonial New France in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. The series will include brief biographies of these merchants, background on the French port cities where they were based, information about the trading companies they were associated with, the names of historians and other researchers who have written about this people, and a list of archives where you can obtain further information.

To see last week’s post introducing the merchants, fur traders, private bankers and ship owners of New France with last names beginning A to G, go to https://genealogyensemble.com/2019/05/05/the-merchants-ship-owners-and-fur-traders-of-new-france-part-1-a-g/

To read this week’s compilation on the merchants, fur traders, private bankers and ship owners of New France and Acadia with last names beginning H to Z, click on this link: Merchants, Fur Traders and Ship Owners of New France, H-Z Merchants, Fur Traders and Ship Owners of New France, H-Z

France, Genealogy, New France, Quebec

The Merchants, Ship Owners and Fur Traders of New France, Part 1, A – G

There are a couple of versions of this story: in 1539, someone told the King of France that explorer Jacques Cartier had found gold and silver along the shores of the Saguenay River. Another source says that Cartier had only suggested there might be gold and silver in the Saguenay region. (It turned out to be fool’s gold.)

According to both sources, however, Cartier suggested that trading beaver pelts and other wild animal furs could become a great source of income for the king. Needless to say, the fur trade turned out to be a lucrative business that lasted for almost 250 years.

Eventually, many types of traders established operations at the ports of Quebec City, Montreal, Trois-Rivières, and Louisbourg. All these merchants were associated with fellow merchants at various port cities of France, including La Rochelle, Bordeaux, Rouen and Caen. And in the days of Louis de Buade, Count of Frontenac and Governor of New France between 1672-1682 and 1689-1698, merchants in New France and its territories held a special place among the elite of the French colony.

Some of these traders married in North America, or brought their wives and children with them. They became the ancestors of many French Canadian or Acadian families, but, as of today, few family history researchers have searched for these early merchants, traders, private bankers, ship owners or tannery operators.

If you think you might have merchant ancestors, and you enjoy research online in France and Canada, try searching for the following term: Name of Ancestor (family name only, négociant du 17ème et 18ème siècles en France et Nouvelle-France. You can also try replacing Nouvelle-France with Acadie. This may bring you surprising search results.

First, however, you must determine on the spelling of the family name in France in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. For example, my Gagné brothers who settled Château-Richer near Quebec City in the 17th century were Gasnier in France – same pronunciation, different spelling.

This is the first in a series of weekly posts about these merchants, fur traders and ship owners during the period of Colonial New France (until around 1760.) It will include:

two compilations including very brief biographies of these merchants and usually including their wives’ names;

links to information about the port cities in France with which they traded;

links to information about the trading companies they were associated with;

a list of authors, historians and academic researchers who have studied this period, with links to some of their publications;

a list of the archives and other repositories where you can learn more about this subject.

Click on the link to read Merchants, Ship Owners and Fur Traders A-G

 

France, Genealogy, Research tips

The National Archives of France

The National Archives of France is not the most advanced institution in terms of its digitized holdings, however, if you are researching French culture and history, you should be aware of it, and it may be helpful if your French ancestors were among the upper classes.

The Archives nationales (France) is making efforts to facilitate its online research process. You can find an introduction to the catalogue online in French, English and Spanish, and access it from there. For English, see http://www.archives-nationales.culture.gouv.fr/en/web/guest/salle-des-inventaires-virtuelle. Also go to http://www.archives-nationales.culture.gouv.fr/en_GB/web/guest/faire-une-recherche

Examples of the archives’ holdings include maps, photographs, documentation from the two world wars, and the records of Paris notaries. In addition, the archives has research centres focusing on topics such as place names and heraldry.

For many years, people with French Canadian or Acadian family lineages who wanted to know more about the research process in France have asked me whether the Archives nationales (France) in Paris was the place to conduct a family search. I have always replied that, if your ancestors in France were considered as nobility (familles nobles), yes, the Archives nationales de France is an online address you should consider. To check out the archives’ holdings on the ”bourgeois families” of France prior to the French Revolution, see https://www.siv.archives-nationales.culture.gouv.fr/siv/rechercheconsultation/consultation/pog/consultationPog.action?pogId=FRAN_POG_05&existpog=true&preview=false

However, if your ancestor was from the working class, you should conduct your online searches in the 95 Archives départementales de France. See my article https://genealogyensemble.com/2018/09/23/finding-ancestors-in-french-municipal-archives/

At the bottom of the following Archives nationales page, you will find links to a number of sites related to genealogy in France: http://www.archives-nationales.culture.gouv.fr/web/guest/signets-sciences

For many years the navigation process on the Archives nationales site was burdensome, and results posted from an online search would only indicate the dossier numbers (“fonds”) and a brief description of the fonds, followed by the ”série” (category of fonds) and the ”cote” (shelf  number). If you one wanted additional information on the content of a dossier, you had to send an email to Paris.

As of September, 2018, even if you find your family name, in order to access the biographical material of that family, you must visit the Archives nationales (France) in Paris. To further complicate matters, the Archives nationales has more than one repository in Paris, and you must first determine in which repository the records you want to see are kept. You also need to determine the spelling of the family name in France at the time. For example, my name, Gagné, was spelled Gasnier.

France, Genealogy

BnF Gallica

As one of Europe’s most important countries, it is not surprising that France has a wonderful national library, and that this institution has a growing online presence. The website of the Bibliothèque nationale de France found at www.bnf.fr (or www.bnf.fr/en for the English version) leads you to the catalogue and tells you how to access the library’s many collections, including antiquities and works published in Paris in the 16th century.

Gallica https://gallica.bnf.fr is the BNF’s vast digital library, free to all through the Internet. Intended for use by all readers, including the casually curious, students and academics, this site includes medieval manuscripts, illustrations from the natural sciences, maps and photographs.

It might not seem obvious how Gallica could assist with your family history research, but you just need to stretch your imagination. The Patrimoine équestre collection, for example, focuses on horses, which were part of our ancestors’ everyday lives. (See https://gallica.bnf.fr/html/und/sciences/patrimoine-equestre)  And as France was once a colonial power with a presence from the Caribbean to Polynesia and Africa, the maps on this site could prove helpful if your ancestors were sailors or merchants. (See https://gallica.bnf.fr/html/und/cartes/les-ameriques-en-cartes)

Another aspect of Gallica is a bilingual site called la France en Amerique, or France in America, created in collaboration with the Library of Congress. (See https://gallica.bnf.fr/dossiers/html/dossiers/FranceAmerique/fr/default.htm) In addition, if you are looking for a biography of a French ancestor dating back to the 12th century, BNF Gallica is the place to go. I discovered this by chance.

I was searching online for Jean Allaire, a Quebec City merchant who arrived in New France in 1658. He was associated with François Perron (Péron), a leading merchant in La Rochelle and Québec City. Google took me to the Dictionnaire Allard, also known as the Dictionnaire de Dauphiné, on BnF Gallica. (See https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k39393d/f12.item.zoom)

A dictionnaire in France can be a source of biographies, at least in the more expensive versions. For most of the 44 ancient provinces of France prior to 1789-1799, Bnf Gallica has posted dictionaries of important residents.

This particular dictionary addresses the ancient province of the Dauphiné. At the time of the French Revolution, Dauphiné was divided into three modern-day Départements: Drôme, Hautes-Alpes and Isère. According to Fichier Origine (/www.fichierorigine.com), 26 pioneers from Drôme, 27 settlers from the Hautes-Alpes  and 70 pioneers from the Isère settled in Nouvelle-France.

Similar regional dictionaries covering other parts of France can be found on Gallica, and in them you may find information about your very distant French ancestors in France. For example, I discovered that my family name, which was Gagné in New France, was Gasnier in France in the 16th and 17th centuries, and it appears to have been Garnier in the 14th and 15th centuries. This is information I obtained through BnF Gallica and other free online research tools.

France, Genealogy, New France, Quebec, Research tips, Resources Outside of Montreal, United States

Research Help for French Louisiana Sources

There were strong ties between Quebec and Louisiana in the 18th century. Louisiana was then part of New France, having been established by the French to block the British from expanding their influence westward in North America.

Many settlers who went to the southern part of the United States originated from the same regions in France as the French Canadians and the Acadians. But few Quebec historians or genealogists have focused on the links between the families of New France and those who settled in Louisiana.

An example of someone with personal links to both places was Pierre de Rigaud de Vaudreuil de Cavagnial, Marquis de Vaudreuil (1698-1778). His father was of noble descent, from the Languedoc region of France, and Pierre was born at Quebec, where his father served as governor-general of New France. Pierre served as governor of Louisiana from 1742 to 1753, and he was the last governor-general of New France, between 1755 and 1760.

Historian Mélanie Lamotte wrote an article about primary sources in North America and France for the early modern history of Louisiana when she was studying at the Cambridge University in the U.K. She currently teaches at Stanford University, and her  Stanford website describes this article, “A Guide to Early Modern French Louisiana Sources” as providing “much-needed guidance on identifying and using French Louisiana sources. It lists the sources available and investigates their nature, details of access, state of preservation, as well as their state of digitization. It also suggests potential uses and interpretations that might be gleaned from such source material.”

You can download Lamotte’s 26-page guide from either of these two sites:

http://stanford.academia.edu/M%C3%A9lanieLamotte

https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/bitstream/handle/1810/260104/Lamotte-2016-Collections_A_Journal_for_Museum_and_Archives_Professionals-VoR.pdf?sequence=1

France, Genealogy, Research tips, Resources Outside of Montreal

Finding Ancestors in French Municipal Archives

The attached 43-page PDF addresses the Archives communales de France, also known as the Archives municipales de France. This is the second most important group of archives in France for tracing the families of New France and Acadia. The 95 Archives départementales de France are the number one source of information addressing French Canadians, Acadians, Franco Americans, Franco Ontarians and others. (See also, Researching Your French Ancestors Online, posted May 13, 2018, https://genealogyensemble.com/2018/05/13/researching-your-french-ancestors-online/)

There are some 400 municipal archives. I have selected the 124 largest, including archives that offer online access to some files, or at least an online description of the contents.

In 1792, the Assemblée législative de France (The Legislative Assembly of France) took away the responsibility for issuing birth, marriage and death registers from the curés (priests) and gave these duties to local mairies (city halls). At about the same time, a new civil register of France was created addressing acts of birth, marriage, divorce and death. This register was named the Registre de l’état-civil, and the documents were issued by the city halls.

Subsequently, when many cities and towns created their own archives communales (municipal archives), these local municipal archives were assigned responsibility to safeguard the civil registers.

After the creation of the 95 Archives départementales de France, a great number of the local archives communales (municipal archives) turned over their actes de l’état-civil, or copies of these records, to the regional archives départementales. Other municipal archives did not do so. As a result, some of the files found in municipal archives of France can also be found in the regional archives départementales, while other dossiers cannot be found anywhere else.

The majority of genealogy societies in France work closely with their local archives communales. Many of these genealogy societies share the same building or adjacent building to the archives communales of their region.

Here is the link to the PDF: Archives communales de France – 2018-09-04 Rev

France, Genealogy, Huguenot, Quebec, Research tips

Huguenot Family Lineage Searches

This week’s compilation, “France Huguenot Family Lineage Searches,” is designed to help you find your Protestant ancestors in 16th to 18th century France. It includes links to books and societies that can help you find your ancestral name in France prior to the French Revolution, and it focuses on Protestant aristocratic families. Click on the link to read the pdf document:

France Huguenots Family Lineage Searches

This guide complements the compilation published May 20, 2018 on Genealogy Ensemble on finding Huguenot families in France, “How to Search for Huguenot Ancestors in France”  https://genealogyensemble.com/2018/05/20/how-to-search-for-huguenot-ancestors-in-france/

In the past, a great deal of research was done on the Huguenots who came to Canada, however, many of the researchers who contributed to this field are now retired or have died. For example, Huguenot Trails (a periodical published by the Huguenot Society of Canada) addressed the Huguenot families who settled in Canada. This periodical stopped publishing in 2002, and the society closed its doors in 2006. The lead authors were Ken Annett and René Péron.  See my post, “Huguenots – Index of Names,” March 6, 2015  https://genealogyensemble.com/2015/03/06/848/  This article consists of a list of family names that appeared in “Huguenot Trails.”

Another fine piece of research is Fichiers Huguenots en Nouvelle France, by Michel Barbeau (http://pages.infinit.net/barbeaum/fichier/index.htm). This database includes only the Huguenot families who settled in New France prior to 1759.  See also, Huguenot Family Names in Nouvelle France, Québec under British rule, Lower Canada, Québec under Confederation – Various Authors. This and other reference works can be found at the Grande Bibliothèque de Montréal or at the Collection nationale (same building, different collections.)

Here are some other compilations I have prepared in the past on the Huguenots:

“British, Irish, Scottish, Loyalist, American, German, Scandinavian, Dutch, Huguenot Families in Lower Canada and Quebec 1760,” April 8, 2015

https://genealogyensemble.com/2015/04/08/british-irish-scottish-loyalist-american-german-scandinavian-dutch-huguenot-families-in-lower-canada-and-quebec-1760/

This compilation is a list of villages, towns and townships in Quebec where various groups of people settled. Many of these places have changed names or disappeared over the years.

 

French Protestant Churches in Quebec,” Nov. 22, 2015

https://genealogyensemble.com/2015/11/22/french-protestant-churches-in-quebec/

This compilation includes an article by Huguenot researcher René Péron, the names of Protestant ministers who served these French-speaking congregations and a bibliography for further reading. It includes brief histories of 187 churches, including Anglican, Baptist and other denominations, in which Protestant Quebecers have worshipped between 1600 and today. Finally, this extensive compilation tells you where to find the parish records of these churches.

 

The Trail of the Huguenots in Europe, the USA and Canada,” April 4, 2014

https://genealogyensemble.com/2014/04/04/the-trail-of-the-huguenots-in-europe-the-u-s-a-and-canada/

This short post is a quote from a book in the library of the Quebec Family History Society in Montreal, The Trail of the Huguenots in Europe, the USA and Canada, by G. Elmore Reaman, that points to the important role the Huguenots played in New France. According to worldcat.org, this book is available in more than 1000 libraries around the world. It is also available online, https://archive.org/details/trailofhuguenots00ream

 

Huguenot Refugees,” April 2, 2014

https://genealogyensemble.com/2014/04/02/huguenot-refugees/

This post links to several databases and websites.

 

Register of Abjurations,” Feb 3, 2014

https://genealogyensemble.com/2015/02/03/register-of-abjurations/

This post covers records of renouncements of faith by Huguenots in New France.

 

France, Genealogy, Huguenot, Research tips

How to Search for Huguenot Ancestors in France

Many people know that the Huguenots were French Protestants who suffered persecution and left France around the 1600s to live in other countries where they felt more welcome. But not many genealogists know that it may be possible to trace their Huguenot ancestors in France. Doing this search online is possible but difficult, so the PDF document below is designed to help.

The Huguenots were members of the Église réformée de France (Reformed Church of France).  Some historians estimate that Protestants accounted for 10% of the population of France in the 16th century. That changed following the 1572 St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in Paris. Over the next 200 years, the Huguenots left France for England, Sweden, Switzerland, Prussia, Ireland, South Africa, Dutch East Indies, and other countries. A few families settled in New France (Quebec) and Russia. Today, the descendants of these Protestant families can be found around the world.

This research guide has been created in two sections:

1600-1685 – Protestant families in France: where they lived. This section is a general overview of the regions of France under the Old Regime, prior to the French Revolution of 1789-1799. It is only a reference tool since family lineage searches in France are not conducted by regions or provinces under the Old Regime, but under modern-day Départements

The 93 départements of France in which Protestant families resided during the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries (1565-1721) A département is like a state. Since the end of the French Revolution (1789-1799), France has been divided into 95 such states, and each département keeps its records in its own regional archives. There are no archives for Bretagne, Normandie, Aquitaine, Aunis or Bourgogne, nor for any of the more than 40 ancient provinces of France that existed prior to the French Revolution.

Before you search for your ancestor, you need to know where the family originated in France. All online family lineage searches in the 95 archives départementales of France (Regional Archives) are done by communes, meaning villages, towns, townships or cities.

From 92 of the 95 archives départementales of France (regional archives), you can look for your ancestor’s commune and then search church registers (registres des paroisses) from 1535 to 1789 or thereabout, civil registers after 1789, tables décennales (civil registers from 1789 onward by 10-year periods), notarial records. Notarial records are some of the oldest online documents you can access online.

Other online databases on the archives départementales de France will probably not help you in determining the places of origin of your Huguenot ancestors, because these date from after the French Revolution.

I have prepared a research guide to the archives départementales of France (See Jacques Gagne, “Researching French Ancestors Online,” Genealogy Ensemble, May 13, 2018, https://genealogyensemble.com/2018/05/13/researching-your-french-ancestors-online/) In that PDF, I have described the documents which can be viewed online for free. If you are looking for Huguenots, concentrate on the Parish Registers (Church Registers, Registres paroissiaux or Registres de paroisses) from as early as 1535, and Notarial Acts (Actes des notaires.) A few of the notarial acts are from the 15th century, but most from the 16th or 17th centuries.

A third option deals with Protestant Church Registers (Registres protestants or Registre pastoral or Registres des Pasteurs), These are the few Protestant church registers that have survived.

Another option for searching the Archives départementales de France is, once you have determined the name of the ”commune” your ancestor resided in, go through the index of family names within the ”commune” section of the search engine and see if your family names are listed, even if the church registers are Catholic.

If you don’t know where your ancestors resided, for each of the 95 archives départementales of France, I have included websites indicating where certain families lived.

Don’t forget that not all members of a particular family became a Protestant. Some family members may have stayed with the Catholic Church.

Finally, just to add one more complication, your family name in France would have had a different spelling than the modern one. My family name in America is Gagné, but the same family in France is Gasnier or Gagnier: same pronunciation, different spelling. When I research online in France, I enter Gasnier or Gagnier as the family name, never Gagné.

Huguenot Families in France 1565-1721

A note about sources:

Much of the information I have compiled about the Huguenots of 16th, 17th and 18th-century France comes from old books that have been digitized. Over a 12-year period, whenever I came across a book dealing with the Huguenots of France, I would extract the names of the communes in which these families resided and add the names of those communes to my database.

I also discovered a database with the names of the Archives des consistoires de France, in which the communes are listed, as well as the Protestant Seigneurs, the Protestant pastors and the names of some of the Protestant families affected by court decisions.

In addition, to these books, I looked at Michelin maps and Larousse dictionaries. They helped me find out, for example, that the town of Bergerac is part of modern Dordogne, a département within the south-west region of France. This region was home to many Protestant families in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

You will find about 15 to 20 regional online databases of Protestant communes in 16th to 18th century France, but only for certain regions. A national listing of the modern départements of France in regard to the Huguenots of past centuries does not exist online.

France, Genealogy

Researching Your French Ancestors Online

The oldest family lineage documents in France were written and recorded by notaries in the 13th and 14th centuries. Marriage contracts, purchases and sales of properties, wills (testaments in France), after-death inventories, estate dossiers and other notarial records were stored in safe repositories in the communes (villages, towns, townships and cities) in they had been written and recorded.

In 1535, acts of baptisms were recorded in Catholic parishes for the first time, while acts of marriages began to be recorded ten years later. These church registers were also stored in safe repositories in which they had been written.

Many years later after the French Revolution (1789-1799), the ancient provinces of France during the Old Regime (the Kings of France) were abolished and replaced by new regional governments called Départements. In 2018, there are 95 such regional Départements in continental France.

Meanwhile, notarial acts and acts of births, marriages and deaths after the French Revolution continued to be recorded and stored for safe keeping in the communes where they had been written and recorded.

Many years later, when the Archives départementales were created in France, Parish Registers and Civil Registers in addition to Notarial Records were also grouped by communes. When these documents were digitized and made available online, the same system of organizing documents and archives was maintained.

Today, you can research your ancestors in France by first selecting the places where they lived. Some 92 of the 95 Archives départementales can be searched online this way. For 92 of the 95 Archives départementales of France, all online genealogical searches are free.

All communes are listed within a particular Département in alphabetical order. For each commune selected, you will find the oldest Parish Registers (1535 onward) and, under the heading of Notaires, you will find the records of the notaries who practiced in each community.

If your ancestors immigrated to Nouvelle France (New France) you can discover your ancestor’s home in France fairly easily on the website Fichier Origine, www.fichierorigine.com, a Quebec-based free search engine that describes the origins of hundreds of settlers in New France.

Whether you are a Franco-American or Franco-Ontarian, if your ancestor first came to New France, you should visit Fichier Origine. If your ancestors from France immigrated directly to the United States, Ontario or Western Canada, I have, for each département of France, listed within the attached research guide, tips on how to locate a family name in each and all Départements of France.

The research guide in the PDF below mostly addresses Catholic families of France. I have compiled a separate research guide addressing the Huguenots in France of the 16th, 17th, 18th centuries.

One great advantage of researching by commune in France within your ancestor’s time period is that you can see who their neighbours were of your ancestors and what other family members lived within a particular community.

I prepared a similar guide to the Archives départementales several years ago, and it was also posted on Genealogy Ensemble. Here are the main differences between the old version and this new one:

  • Content of online offerings
  • Notaries, every year most of these archives are digitizing notarial acts, some dating back to the 15th century and adding them to the online content
  • Free online searches to all, including family lineage researchers in America.
  • Newly found Parish Registers (Church Registers – Catholic) – Church Registers added online which five years back were not available
  • Protestant Church Registers – Les registres protestants – Practically not available a few years back
  • Private fonds – some families are turning over their private letters, family histories to archives
  • Land documents – Cadastre napoléonien 1807-1850 Practically all of the 95 archives of France today offer detailed description of lands online.

Archives départementales de France – Revision – 2018-04-16

 

 

 

 

France, Genealogy, Germany, Quebec

My Uncle Frank: German or French?

supr8

1958 St-Eustache, Quebec. Super 8 film ‘capture.’

I never thought I would write about my Uncle Frank Walter, my Aunt Flo’s husband and my mother’s brother-in law.  He is, perhaps, the least controversial figure in our family. One might even call him boring. I never heard a word uttered for or against him – and, believe me, that’s saying a lot .

Frank married Flo her late in life, in 1955, when she was 50 and he was 63. He was a tile painter by trade. He was French from France, my mother told me, but in Quebec that’s hardly exotic.  My mother also told me his last name “Walter” was really pronounced “Valter,” but that didn’t seem important.

Frank and Flo, the giddy ‘newlyweds’ would visit us occasionally, in St. Eustache, north of Montreal, where we lived in the mid 1950’s. They had a big black Buick and they took it everywhere on day trips. They also had a Super 8 movie camera and I have a few seconds of faded film of Aunt Flo and me by the swing set. On another visit, they brought me a giant stuffed panda bear. I was enraptured. My brothers later beat the stuffing out of it, out of jealously, I imagine.

My family visited them at Christmas at their apartment in the city on West Hill Avenue in 1964.  I have a colour photo with my Dad and us kids sitting on their fancy pink French Provincial style couch that I would inherit much later in the 1980’s and put in our basement.

Frank was very old (in my eyes). He was the closest I came to having a grandfather around.  He had grey hair on the thin side and sported a debonair pencil moustach. He was always smoking a pipe.  I could sense, even as a child, that he was a bit on the vain side.  He had a twinkle in his eye and he still flirted with my Aunt Flo who happily flirted back. They made quite a pair.

Frank died in 1977 and I clearly recall the scene at the grave on a hill with trees in Notre Dame des Neiges Cemetery on the mountain, as Aunt Flo wept uncontrollably and the tears rolled down my cheeks in empathy. She was crushed at the loss of her “Ptoutsi.”

I thought of Uncle Frank again, in 1990, when Aunt Flo went into a retirement home.  Helping her clear out her apartment, I found a photo album from his WWII service. The album contained many pictures of younger female servicewoman. His girlfriends?  He was a ladies man, after all!  The album creeped me out, so I tossed it in the garbage.

At the same time, my aunt gave us her ‘junk’ to sell in a garage sale in our suburban garden. One piece was Frank’s foot locker from WWI. (Yes, he participated in two world wars.) A collector came around before the start of the sale, gave the tables in the yard a quick scan and immediately pointed to the foot locker.

“I guess French Infantry foot lockers from WWI are worth something,” I said to my husband, suddenly wishing I’d held on to it.

 

uncleffrank2 unlcef1

Intimate ‘captures’ of Frank and Flo from a Super 8 film taken in the mid to late 1950’s in their home.

flo1 flo3

Left: Domestic life on West Hill, in NDG. Right: A visit to a war memorial in Montreal.

 

Aunt Flo died in 1999.

The other day, checking up on Aunt Flo in Notre Dame des Neiges cemetery1 where she was laid to rest, I realized she wasn’t in the family plot but buried with Frank and his family.

So, I took a closer look.  To my surprise, I saw that Uncle Frank’s full name, at least as listed at the cemetery, was Ferdinand Francois Walter and that he was named after his father, who was buried beside him.

Frank’s Mom, Octavie Turgeon, was there, too. A Quebecois name, that’s for sure. So Frank had a German-sounding father and a French Canadian mother.  He wasn’t even from France. He was Canadian-born.

I checked on Drouin and sure enough, Frank’s father, Ferdinand married his mother Octavie in Quebec, in 1890.2  Ferdinand, an engineer, was from Willers, Alsace Lorraine, the son of Francois, and Octavie was from Levis, Quebec.

(Willers, by the way, is one of those achingly picturesque towns in the Haut Rhine.) Ferdinand’s mother was a Berkertz, also German sounding.

Ferdinand’s signature on the marriage document was remarkable in that it was executed in a meticulous ornamental font. I can see where Uncle Frank got his artistic talent. Octavie’s brother signed for her indicating she was illiterate.

The couple sounds like a mismatch. Maybe she was beautiful or rich.

Other Drouin records reveal that Ferdinand Francois, my Uncle Frank, was born in Montreal in 1893.3  WWI military records at LAC reveal Frank enlisted in the Canadian Army in 1916.

“Frank Fern” is how he is registered. So, that prized foot-locker was Canadian Army issue. Fern? Is that a typo, or, back in 1916, did Ferdinand sound too German?

Was Uncle Frank, French or German?  Actually, he was something in-between.

I checked the 1891 census to see that Frank’s father, Ferdinand Walter, emigrated to Canada in 1878, a few years after the Franco Prussian war, when Alsace was turned over to the Germans in the Treaty of Frankfurt, 1871. He is listed as “French” and “Catholic.”

I further learned that in 1872 residents of Alsace who wanted to remain French citizens had to make French Citizenship Declarations or automatically become German citizens. These declarations have been digitized and are available on Ancestry with an explanation. Apparently, there were 124 Walters from Alsace who were determined to keep their French citizenship. Five are listed under Francois.

I wonder if most in the Walter clan wanted to remain French.  That would take a lot more research.

In the end, I picked up some interesting European history while I learned a rather boring truth about my still very uncontroversial “French” Uncle Frank Walter – the “W” pronounced like a V.

Sorry if I led you to believe otherwise.

Still, I wonder how my young uncle felt in 1916 going  back ‘home’ to shoot at his cousins. Perhaps it was just business-as-usual. Alsace-Lorraine was been the site of a vicious tug-of-war between Germany and France for generations.

Ferdinand

Ferdinand’s pretty signature on his wedding certificate.

  1. Notre Dame des Neiges Cemetery: Locate a deceased person. https://www.cimetierenotredamedesneiges.ca/en/recherche-defunt
  2. Ancestry.ca. Quebec, Canada, Vital and Church Records, (Drouin Collection) 1621-1968. Marriage and death.
  3. Ancestry.ca. Quebec, Canada, Vital and Church Records, (Drouin Collection) 1621-1968. Marriage and death.
  4. Ancestry. ca. Quebec, Canada, Vital and Church Records, (Drouin Collection) 1621-1968. Marriage and death.