I spent the past two months working on the history of my summer community in Maine. It is not exactly family history, although my family has been vacationing in this place by the ocean for almost 100 years, so bear with me while I tell you what I learned about writing local history.
Local history is essential to understanding our ancestors. The towns, cities and rural neighbourhoods where they lived were the places where they went to work, to shop, to worship, to play. By researching their communities, we can get hints about their daily activities, their values, their friends and acquaintances and the educational opportunities open to them.
Biddeford Pool, the community where I spend my summers, is on a tiny peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, flanked on one side by a sandy beach and on the other by the rocky shore of Saco Bay. Originally known as Winter Harbor, the peninsula was once home to a thriving fishing village with a herring fleet and shipbuilding industry. In the mid-1800s, several enterprising local residents decided to build hotels and rent out rooms to boarders for the summer.
Families from big cities such as Cincinnati, St. Louis, Memphis and Montreal have been going there for generations. Eventually, some summer visitors decided to build their own cottages, and they encouraged friends and family members to join them on the coast. Today, many of their descendants are still vacationing at Biddeford Pool, still sailing the same waters, swimming at the same beach and playing on the same golf course that their grandparents and great-grandparents enjoyed.
Many of these families are interrelated, although no one has ever done a big family tree of the summer resident families.
Inspired by my experiences with Genealogy Ensemble, several of us started a blog a few years ago and encouraged people to write their own stories. We invited them to find out how their families first came to Maine, and we asked for childhood memories and other stories. Most people were polite, smiled and nodded, but did not write a word. I can’t say I was totally surprised. People are on holiday there, busy with friends and family, and once they get home, they get into their regular routines. Privacy may have been a concern for some. Also, writing is not easy for everyone.
Even more disappointing was that many people never looked at the blog. Maybe they are just not comfortable with digital media, and perhaps we were too successful in trying to keep it low-key. But it seemed the entire effort was a failure.
This spring I took a fresh look at the two dozen stories that were posted on the blog and enjoyed them. And at a time when most of my parents’ generation have already died or are now well into their 90s, the articles preserve memories of the way things used to be in the community – the bad and the good. So now, a group of about half a dozen of us are again copying what the members of Genealogy Ensemble did: we putting together a collection of short articles in a self-published book. At the very least, it will be on the shelves of the community’s little library, and filed beside the hundreds of old photographs that the Biddeford Pool Historical Society has collected and digitized. Hopefully, future researchers and family members will read it.
Some of us went to the county registry of deeds office to research the histories of our century-old cottages, and we used genealogy sources such as Familysearch.org to find marriage records, census records and city directories, as well as old newspaper databases. Others wrote personal anecdotes.
This project is a bit haphazard. It depends on who volunteered to participate and what he or she chose to write about. It is far from a one-place study or a carefully structured oral history project. And we left out most of the local residents who once lived there year-round, such as the lobster fishermen. That is unfortunate, however, narrowing the focus of the book has made it possible to get the project finished in one season, plus we know clearly who the target audience of the book will be.
We all know time flies but have you ever thought of your life in chunks of five or ten years at a time?
Census records are a vital resource for family historians researching their ancestors. They provide a snapshot of each household on a particular day over the years. Here is the snapshot of my life on census years.
POP: 18,238,247-Prime Minister: John Diefenbaker(Conservative)
In the News: CUSO was formed and the CFCF (Canada’s First Canada’s Finest) Television Network began broadcasting.
Favourite song : Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me”.
Travels included the family summer cottage in Knowlton (Eastern Townships).
My mother died of cancer leaving my father with four children under the age of 12. I was only four years old. We all lived in the house my father built ten years earlier in Montreal (Quebec). My father ran his own engineering company.
POP: 21,568,311-Prime Minister: Pierre Trudeau (Liberal)
In the News: FLQ terrorized Montreal. Pierre Laporte and James Cross are kidnapped. Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act. Frankie Vallie and the Four Seasons are a hit.
Favourite song: Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”.
Travels included winning a trip for two to Paris accompanied by my father and meeting up with my older sister living in England at the time and the Knowlton summer cottage.
I still lived in the same house…blessed with a stepmother (1964) and three more sisters. My youngest half- sister was born in June which gave me a focus to my 14 year-old angst-filled life. As a high school student in 1971, classes were regularly interrupted by bomb scares and evacuations to a shelter across the street. I regularly ran by mailboxes on my way to school “just in case”. I played badminton in the winter and, in the summer, tennis as well as horseback riding just like my older sister… never admitting that the beasts actually terrified me!
(Note: After 1971, the Canadian Census was taken every five years instead of ten.)
POP: 22,922,604 – Prime Minister: Pierre Trudeau (Liberal)
In the News: The Parti Quebecois won a provincial majority and Bill 101 (the french language law) was being finalized. Montreal hosted the Summer Olympics.
Favourite song: ABBA’s “Dancing Queen”.
Travels included a family trip to Kennebunk (Maine) beach and the Knowlton summer cottage.
All grown up at 19 years old, I worked at my first real job as a bank teller and moved out of the family home into my first apartment. By the end of the year, I had changed my mind and quit my job, moved back to the family home (with a cat) and signed up for courses at CEGEP (a Quebec college). Maybe I wasn’t quite finished growing up after all!
POP: 24,343,181 -Prime Minister: Pierre Trudeau (Liberal)
In the News: All-time high prime interest rate of 22.75% and Rene Levesque’s Parti-Quebecois was re-elected after the failed Referendum.
Favourite song: The Pointer Sisters’ “Slow Hand”.
Travels included Barbados and weekends of golf in Magog (Eastern Townships).
My fourth attempt of moving out of my father’s house finally succeeded. As an adult of 24 years, my legal secretarial training in Ottawa landed me a job in NDG (west end of Montreal) near my new apartment. However, my interest in investments prompted me to take the Canadian Securities Course where I met a boy and, by the end of the year, I was engaged to be married.
POP: 25,309,331 – Prime Minister: Brian Mulroney (Conservative)
In the News: The Canadian dollar hit an all-time low of USD70.2 and Jean Drapeau (responsible for the Metro, Expo 67 and Place des Arts) resigned as Mayor of Montreal.
Favourite song: Chris deBurgh’s “Lady in Red”.
Travels included Vancouver (British Columbia) and weekends in Magog (Eastern Townships).
My husband, our one-year daughter and I moved back to Quebec from Morrisburg (Ontario), where we operated a ten unit motel for a year until we quickly realized we were losing money. Real estate prices had increased so much in the one year since we left Dorval that we had to buy in a suburb further west of Montreal (Ile Perrot). Moving “home” was no longer an option once married and 29 years old!
POP: 27,296,859 – Prime Minister: Brian Mulroney (Conservative)
In the News: The GST tax came into effect and Canadian forces participated in the Persian Gulf War.
Favourite song: Cher’s “It’s in his kiss”.
Travels included Vancouver and Victoria (British Columbia).
Now divorced and living with my six-year daughter in Magog (Eastern Townships) after closing our used bookstore since we were losing money…again. True to my flip-flop nature, I enrolled to study business at Bishop’s University as a 34-year old mature student. My daughter and I attended our respective schools and enjoyed a less expensive country life filled with seasonal sports and blessed with a group of supportive friends.
POP: 28,846,761 – Prime Minister: Jean Chretien (Liberal)
In the News: Mr. Dressup’s last children’s show. Lucien Bouchard replaced Jacques Parizeau after the second lost Quebec referendum. Severe flooding of the Saguenay River (east of Montreal).
Favourite song: Sarah McLachlan’s “I will remember you”.
Travels included Glacier Park (Montana), San Francisco and Carmel (California), Los Cabos (Mexico) as well as cottage time at the lake.
My father died (1995). After five years of study, I graduated from university at 39 years old. My daughter and I moved back to Montreal (Quebec) to start my new career but mostly to crowd into an apartment with my boyfriend of three years and his two teenage children. We married two years later.
POP: 30,007,094 – Prime Minister: Jean Chretien (Liberal)
In the News: 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US and Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield’s space walk.
Favourite song: Westlife’s “Uptown Girl”.
Travels included Porto (Portugal) and an Alaskan cruise as well as cottage time at the lake.
My business degree enabled me to work full time while juggling my busy new family life but we still found time to travel. The events of 9/11 shook up the world, affecting the travel industry especially, so my husband took the early retirement package “offered” by Air Canada. So at the age of 44, I found myself with my new husband retired, my daughter finishing high school and a roomier apartment as the other two children were away at school in the United States.
POP: 31,612,897-Prime Minister: Stephen Harper (Conservative)
In the News: Dawson College shooting, the fatal collapse of a Laval overpass (a suburb north of Montreal), the Québécois ethnic group officially recognized as a nation within Canada.
Favourite song: John Mayer’s “Waiting on the world to change”.
Travels included Lisbon (Portugal) and a Hawaiian cruise as well as cottage time at the lake.
The only one left in our “nest” was my daughter who attended McGill locally. We continued to enjoy travelling (on Air Canada passes) while I was still working at age 49 and my husband enjoyed his early retirement.
POP: 33,476,688-Prime Minister: Stephen Harper (Conservative)
In the News: Extreme weather conditions with a winter storm in the Maritimes, a cold snap in Quebec, the Richelieu River overflowing its banks and Wild Fires in the West.
Favourite song: Adele’s “Someone like you”.
Travels included a Hawaiian cruise, England to meet our second grandchild, Halifax (Nova Scotia), Los Angeles (California) and Seattle (Washington) as well as cottage time at the lake.
My husband and I are very comfortable in our new house (2007) that we bought after all the children left home! The unfinished basement made a fabulous art studio that I enjoyed now that I was semi-retired. As a 54- year old grandmother of two, I had the time, love and energy to share with them…but sadly they lived in England.
POP: 35,151,728 – Prime Minister: Justin Trudeau (Liberal)
In the News: Final concert of Canadian band Tragically Hip, Wild Fires evacuate Fort McMurray (Alberta).
Favourite song: Ed Sheeran’s “Photograph”.
Travels included a Carribean cruise, a visit with the grandkids in England, a trip down my husband’s memory lane in Winnipeg (Manitoba) and cottage time at the lake.
My daughter married and lives only ten minutes away. Fully retired from office life at the age of 59, I enjoyed an active membership in two art associations. And, as one of nine writers in my genealogy group, my monthly creative writings were due regularly. I volunteered any spare time with the “stitch and bitch” group at my church.
POP: 38,246,108 – Prime Minister: Justin Trudeau (Liberal)
In the News: Covid, Vaccinations, Closed Canada-US border and Canadian Indian residential schools gravesites.
Favourite song: All the Golden Oldies!
Travels were restricted to cottage time at the lake… which helped keep me sane.
The strange year flew by with very little in the way of normalcy. We kept safe in our house, wore masks in public, washed our hands frequently, only shopped when necessary and maintained our distance from others. At 64 years, staying fit and healthy had never been more important. The deck at the back of our house provided numerous opportunities for outdoor entertaining of family, friends and neighbours between May and September.
I wonder what my life will look like for the 2026 Census?
Perhaps someday my “great-greats” will find this story helpful and some of their research on my life will already be done!
Early on a mid-December morning, back when gatherings indoors happened frequently, I drove to a church in the West Island of Montreal to join descendants of United Empire Loyalists, Orangemen, Irish army regulars and pro-Fenians.
Together, we listened in awe as Dr. Jane G. V. McGaughey, a professor from the Irish studies department at Concordia University talked about a battle that took place in November 1838 on the shores of the St. Lawrence River.1
Traditional historians usually ignore genealogists, but McGaughey, who integrated genealogy into her first book “Ulster’s Men,” treated us like the respected colleagues we are.
Her practice should be more widespread. Genealogists can be some of the most fervent history buffs out there, and historians can build strong platforms if they succeed in getting our attention.
We also help democratize history so that it includes everyday people instead of focussing primarily on elites. Most of my stories feature farmers, store-keepers, carpenters and other working class people.
Because family historians in Canada research specific individuals, we also get interested in the most minute details about small communities. We expose secrets within families. We bust long-held myths, reveal unusual settlement patterns and emphasize the roles of otherwise ignored individuals in societies. We help Canadians discover who they are.
Sometimes, we discover reasons for tourists and visitors to stop by tiny hamlets that used to be important gathering centres. A story about my four-times great grandmother on my father’s side had me investigating a small community on the shores of the Seine River between Winnipeg, Manitoba and Grand Forks, North Dakota, for instance. Today, not many people notice the tiny place next to the Trans Canada and #12 highways, but it played many important roles in previous eras, as an Aboriginal village, a Catholic Mission and as a stopover on the Dawson Trail during the Red River Rebellion. The community was called Oak Point when Marie Sophie (Séraphie) Henault-Canada was born there in 1818. It became St. Anne by the time she died in the same town 74 years later. (Read my stories about Oak Point here and here.)
Researching the minute history of communities across the country can attract diverse audiences. Sharing such research at presentations and get-togethers can create entirely new memories and evolve our culture.
Researcher Monisha Pasupathi described the process in which adults develop individually and together to create a common culture for a paper in the Psychological Bulletin journal.
“…I have argued that talking about past experiences is a process by which our autobiographical memories are socially constructed. I proposed that talk about the past in conversation is coconstructed, and that subsequent memories for events talked about in conversation are likely to be consistent with that socially constructed version. Thus, the content of autobiographical memory is a result of both experiences and social reconstructions of those experiences. Later I suggested that conversing about past experiences both influences and can be influenced by adult development. Socially constructing the past may promote either continuity or change in identity across adulthood.”2
Academics frequently underestimate family historians. Archivist, researcher, and information science professor from the University of Michigan interviewed 29 specific genealogists in detail to discover what kinds of problems they try to solve. Her analysis determined that we are much more detail-oriented and meaning-seeking than she anticipated.
Genealogy and family history are examples of everyday life information seeking and provide a unique example of intensive and extensive use of libraries and archives over time. In spite of the ongoing nature of this activity, genealogists and family historians have rarely been the subject of study in the information seeking literature and therefore the nature of their information problems have not been explored. This article discusses findings from a qualitative study based on twenty-nine in-depth, semi-structured interviews with genealogists and family historians and observations of their personal information management practices. Results indicated that the search for factual information often led to one for orienting information. Finding ancestors in the past was also a means of finding one’s own identity in the present. Family history is also an activity without a clear end goal; after the ancestry chart is filled in the search continues for more information about the lives of one’s forebears. Thus, family history should be viewed as an ongoing process of seeking meaning. The ultimate need is not a fact or date, but to create a larger narrative, connect with others in the past and in the present, and to find coherence in one’s own life.3
Genealogists often work from home, which is why we pay to access historical data.
Some academics worry that the partnership between genealogists and corporations like Family Search and Ancestry emphasize religious or corporate goals over historical accuracy, but those issues stem from consumer-oriented cultures, not from the practice of genealogy itself. Public institutions in France and Quebec have created impressive databanks without the help of religious or private organizations. As public education cuts funding to historical research centres, genealogists have enabled archives, foundations and libraries to collect and protect documents that would otherwise be destroyed.
The people in the room listening to McGaughey were typical of every genealogical presentation I’ve attended. We all represented different sides of a feud going back generations and emotions ran high. Not because we were angry at the others or sought to heal an ancient misjustice. A genealogy presentation is the one place where diversity isn’t just tolerated, it’s sought out. With diverse researchers, the chance of learning about new sources, techniques and ideas grows exponentially. Our excitement came from the possibility that someone might share an important detail that would help us better document an ancestor’s life.
That’s the key difference between family historians and most of our academic cousins. We concentrate on the lives of specific people rather than significant issues or eras. Social historians and those who focus on biography are not so different from genealogists. We too are learning to source digital, secondary and derivative records properly, seek accreditation for the quality of our analyses, and write narrative nonfiction in compelling ways.
Our work certainly reaches a lot of people in word-of-mouth ways. A few years ago, I prepared a mini genealogical report as a gift for my great-aunt’s 96th birthday. The report garnered more attention from the teens and young adults in the family who had never heard of genealogy. They had lots of questions about the small Ontario town in which she was born, the Edmonton home she lived in during her teens and the kind of work she did during World War II. I knew the conversation connected them to their ancestors, when one of the young people told me that “these sound like real people.”
Feminist researchers might consider collaborating with genealogists. In my experience, most genealogists are women, and we have a lot of trouble finding good sources of information to find our female ancestors. Perhaps by linking family historians with academic historians, we could reduce the level of gender bias in historical narrative over time.
So often, the stories we hear about the past are myths made up of half-truths. Academic and family historians can partner to co-create new stories to captivate all Canadians.
1McGaughey Dr. Jane G. V., Family Ghosts: When Personal History and Professional Research Collide, presentation for the Quebec Family History Society, Briarwood Presbyterian Church Hall, Saturday, December 14, 2013, 10h30.
2 Pasupathi, Monisha. The social construction of the personal past and its implication for adult development. Psychological bulletin 127, 2001, p 664.
3 Yakel, Elizabeth, Seeking Information, Seeking Connections, Seeking Meaning: Genealogists and Family Historians, Information Research: An International Electronic Journal, v10 n1 Oct 2004.
It was a joy to speak with journalist and genealogist Janice Hamilton about her ancestors, her recent book « Reinventing Themselves, » and surprises she’s discovered while researching and writing her family history.
Listen to the episode on Mixcloud, SounderFM or any other podcast player you use.
I published my interview with Marian this week on my Unapologetically Canadian podcast. Marian describes what it’s like to discover family secrets as she researches and writes stories about her ancestors.
If you want to join Marian in indexing records from around the world, you can do so at the Indexing Page on the Family History website. You can also choose a Canadian project if you prefer.
Some of Marian’s stories that we discuss included:
After Stanley Clark Bagg (1820-1873) and his family returned home to Montreal from a year-long trip through Europe in 1868-1869, he wrote a small book about some of the places they had visited. Published in 1870, he called it Continental Notes for Private Circulation.1 The irony is that, 150 years after this book appeared, it is far from private: it can be found in university libraries, and it is also available on the Internet.
Continental Notes highlights 20 of the places the Bagg family visited, including Paris, Venice, Strasbourg, the Rhine River, Waterloo, the ruins of Pompeii and the French Riviera.
I was excited to find a copy of this little book on an open circulation shelf at McGill University a few years ago. I had read a lot about my great-great-grandfather, but I hoped to get to know him a little better by reading his own words.
At first glance, the book seemed dry and impersonal. This was disappointing, considering that SCB and his wife, Catharine, had made the trip with his sister-in-law and five children, ranging in age from seven to 20. The trip was no doubt considered an essential part of the children’s education. Surely there must have been some surprises or amusing incidents along the way that he could have described. But SCB explained in the introduction that the book was based on his personal notes, some of which were written before they even left Montreal. And this was a man of the Victorian era who had a reputation for being conservative, at least in politics. As a member of Montreal’s elite, his writing style was no doubt appropriately reserved.2
On closer reading, however, it became clear that Continental Notes reflected his personal interests, which included history (especially the Roman Empire and the early history of Christianity) and archaeology.
The Musée de Cluny, also known as the Musée national du Moyen Âge, is in the Latin quarter of Paris. JH photo
In the two pages he wrote about Paris, he gave more space to the Hôtel de Cluny, which he called “one of the finest remains of the ancient mansions of Paris of the 16th Century” than he did to the Louvre. He added that the Palais des Thermes, once the residence of the Roman Governor of Gaul, was connected to Hôtel de Cluny and housed a collection of antiquities that was open to the public. That museum of medieval art is still there, so when my husband and I visited Paris in 2010, we visited it. One of the treasures it houses today is a famous series of tapestries, The Lady and the Unicorn.
One of the other spots SCB visited was Hyères, a town located near the Mediterranean coast of France, between Nice and Marseilles. He mentioned its warm winter climate, which may have been one of its attractions, and went on to write, “The environs of Hyères abound in vineyards and olive gardens.… This reminds me of the good Samaritan who poured oil and wine into the wounds of the man that fell among thieves. Who can walk through these pleasant vineyards without thinking of our blessed Lord when he said, ’I am the true vine, and my Father the husbandman.’”
Forty years ago, long before I knew anything about Stanley Clark Bagg, I spent a month in Hyères, taking classes at a French language school there. Hyères was not the area’s most attractive town and I wondered what my great-great-grandfather would have found of interest there. Then it occurred to me that, besides the weather, he was probably attracted by the ruined medieval castle. SCB noted, “The ruined walls and towers of the Castle of Hyères stand on a hill above the town. It is probable that this Roman fortress dates as far back as the sixth century.” I walked up to the ruins one afternoon, but was not as excited about the castle as he was.
Many years later, I came across some notes that probably referred to that European adventure. Someone had put them in the Bagg family Bible, perhaps so they wouldn’t get lost.3 The notes reveal that the family not only visited France, Belgium, Prussia, Switzerland, Italy and the Papal States, but also Ireland, Scotland, England.
These little reminders probably reveal as much of SCB’s attitude on the road as his book does, and most of them remain good advice 150 years later:
Do not fill trunks, nor take too many. Look after luggage.
Read up references, prepare routine, currency, etc.
SCB’s most personal writing is probably his poetry. The title, Leisure Moments, seems something of a misnomer, however, given that this small collection of poems he had printed in 1871 features melancholic themes such as grief for deceased loved ones and assurances of a beautiful afterlife. Leisure moments [electronic resource] : a few poems, by Stella [i.e. Stanley Clark Bagg], Bagg, S. Clark. Montreal, 1871 https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/100248153 (accessed Jan. 5, 2020.)
I found these notes in the family Bible at the McCord Museum, Montreal, and copied them then, but when I looked again a few years later, they were no longer there.
Filles du Roi: Mothers of Millions. According to a map on my Ancestry DNA page, these orange dots are where French Settlers of the St. Lawrence ended up by 1900. 1
“Women’s work consists of household work and feeding and caring for the cattle; for there are few female servants; so that wives are obliged to do their own housework; nevertheless, those who have the means employ valets who do the work of maidservants.”
So, begins and ends the one paragraph devoted to women’s work in Pierre Boucher’s seminal book Canada in the 17th Century. 2 In fact, Boucher spends more time in his book describing native women and their unusual ways than he does describing these pioneering French women. He either thought women’s work too obvious to detail or he didn’t actually know much about it.
This is a problem for writers like me who desire to write a story about their filles du roi ancestors. There’s little information out there about them that is not statistical, transactional, or speculative.3 In my case, I wanted to write about Francoise Boivin, whom I have at least twice in my mother’s tree. According to Nos Origines, Francoise, who gave birth to eight children, has around 700,000 to one million descendants.
Boivin is especially interesting because there appears to be some question as to whether she was, indeed, a genuine fille du roi; whether she married her husband Louis Lamoureux twice, once in France and once in Quebec, and whether she was an orphan, like so many of these women, or she came to New France with both her parents.
So, fun stuff.
Suzanne Desrochers, a York University scholar, used her 2007 Master’s thesis to explore the challenges involved in researching background about the filles du roi. Desrochers, too, wanted to write an historical fiction piece about such an ancestor, but was stymied by the lack of evidence.
“In Quebec,” she writes, “ the 17th century belongs to religious figures or saintly women such as Marie de l’Incarnation, Marguerite Bourgeoys and Jeanne Mance while virtually no biographies of lay women exist.”4
Also, no records were kept in France side with regard to filles du roi emigrations, and the story of women in France in that era is undocumented, too.
Historian James B. Collins*5 investigated this issue in an article he wrote in 1989. By digging through wills and notarial records he uncovered a paradox of sorts: French women had fewer public rights in the 17th century compared to before and afterwards but some of them had economic clout in the private sphere.
This is because wives’ sidelines were often what kept a poorer family afloat. These sidelines often involved the producing of alcoholic beverages like cider and wine, activities Boucher doesn’t describe in his book. One wonders, did some of these women transfer these lucrative skills to New France?
In her thesis, Desrochers suggests that women in New France, by virtue of their rarity, probably enjoyed higher status than their equivalents back home where women outnumbered men, but nothing can be proved. It would be nice to think it was so, wouldn’t it? This would be a perk, perhaps, to make up for the fact that Canadian women back then gave birth on the cold floor, even in the dead of the winter, so as not to soil the family bed.
Whatever the humble origins of most filles du roi in France, 6 these female pioneers produced more progeny and were longer lived than their sisters back in Normandy and the Ile de Paris.This fact alone suggests that life in the New World was better than in France. Or at least the food was better.7
And, it is unlikely that these filles du roi had been prostitutes prior to emigration, despite all the longstanding rumours to the effect. Prostitutes were afflicted with venereal disease that leads to infertility – and these filles du roi, mothers of millions of North Americans, were anything but infertile.8
Notes and Resources
(Thanks to Claire Lindell for lending me her books on Les Filles du Roi)
1. According to Peter J. Gagné in King’s Daughters and Founding Mothers, a true fille du roi is one of the ‘girls, women, or widows who went to Canada at the expense of the King in convoys recruited and conducted by French authorities, who were established in Canada by the Intendant and who received at marriage a King’s gift of 50 livres for commoners and 100 livres for demoiselles and sometimes, (but rarely) even more.’ P. 42. Gagné’s meaty two volume set contains extensive bios about each fille du roi, and a lengthy introduction revealing, for instance, the clothing in the ‘trousseau’ given each King’s Daughter and the conditions of the ocean voyage they had to endure. (All information is gleaned from bits and pieces of evidence out of New France.) It is said that while waiting for husbands in New France, these fille du roi were taught cooking, needlework, knitting and how to make home remedies. Still, there is only speculation as to the truth of these women’s lives: their particular origins, circumstances, hopes, fears and motivations. These females are spoken of, for the most part, as commodities. An example: the introduction contains an anecdote claiming that the future husbands preferred, for practical reason, fatter girls over the thin pretty ones, rural girls over city girls. At the same time, it is assumed any fille du roi was in the driver’s seat with respect to courtship, because, by contract, she could turn down any marriage proposal. One line in Gagné’s book is especially irksome. An observer who has met two young filles du roi claims that their personal stories are such, they would fill novels, but he gives no further details. What a missed opportunity! This is exactly what everyone today is looking for!
2. Boucher, Pierre, Canada in the 17th Century. Translated by Edward Louis Montizambert. Archive.org.
3. Nos Origines at nosorigines.qc.ca has Francoise (born 1646) marrying Louis Lamoureux, Quebec born, in New France, although it is indicated that no record of their marriage can be found. Other sources claim that the couple married in France. Could the Boivins have been Protestants from Rouen? Protestants hid among the emigrants to New France and converted to Catholicism upon arrival. (Leslie Choquette)
4. Desrochers, Suzanne. Women of their Time: Writing Historical Fiction on the Filles du Roi of 17th Century New France. York University, 2007. Electronic thesis available at the Theses Portal, Library and Archives Canada.
5. Collins, James, B. The Economic Role of Women in 17th Century France. French Historical Studies. Volume 16. No. 2 Autumn. 1989.
6. According to Desrochers, it is estimated that 1/3 of the filles du roi came from La Salpêtrière, a Jesuit-run Paris hospital/workhouse for orphans and widows and other unfortunates including young and older women ‘of good moral character’ who were trained in the household arts and likely forced to emigrate to New France and other French colonies like Martinique. Desrochers wonders whether the fille du roi immigration was voluntary. Records indicate that many French men of similar backgrounds who emigrated to New France in the 1600s did not stay, but the filles du roi mostly stayed. Gagné claims that around 50 filles du roi returned to France.
7. Choquette, Leslie. Frenchman into Peasants: Modernity and Tradition in the Peopling of French North America. (Copyright American Antiquarian Society) includes a 1684 quote from army officer La Hontan. “The peasants here are very comfortable and I would wish such a good cuisine on the whole petty nobility of France…They hunt and fish freely. In a word, they are rich.”
8. Landry, Yves. Les Filles du roi au XVIIe siècle. Bibliotheque Quebecois. This is a topic of great debate among historians, whether these ladies were filles du roi or filles de joie. Desrochers says there is no way to tell. The VD theory is postulated by Yves Landry in his book, where he cites statistics about fille du roi fertility and longevity. It is important to note that families in New France were offered financial bonuses for having a slew of children.
“Someday I’m going to write a book!” How often have you said that, or heard a friend or relative make a similar statement? You probably didn’t hold your breath until it appeared.
So it comes as a surprise to the nine members of Genealogy Ensemble, the family history writing group of which I am a member, that we are actually doing it. In November, we will launch Beads in a Necklace,a book of collected short stories based on our family research.
These real-life stories include a young Scot who immigrated to Canada and became a famous gospel singer, memories of queueing up for food rations in post-war England, and a young girl who was kidnapped from her home in southern Maine by the Abenaki Indians in 1692 and spent the rest of her life in Quebec.
Now that it’s about to be published, I thought it would be worthwhile to look back at some of the lessons we learned that might help potential authors.
The genesis of Beads in a Necklace goes back to 2012 or so when we decided to write about our families and share our stories. Since then, we have met once a month to critique each other’s work, improve our story-telling skills and gain confidence.
After a while, our stories were so good, we wanted to share them more widely. We began taking turns posting them on our blog, Genealogy Ensemble. The book authors among us kept talking about the possibility of publishing something, but the idea always seemed far away.
Last year, we got serious about the idea. With 2017 being the 375th anniversary of the City of Montreal, where we all live, and Canada’s 150th birthday, we decided it was time to publish a collection our stories: a 250-page book, with a proper binding and a beautiful cover, that we will be able to give to friends and relatives for Christmas.
Start with Structure
We started discussing the project last September. The first step was to each choose our five favourite stories. Each article had to be about 500 words long and include endnotes citing the sources of our facts. Apart from that, there were no rules.
After considerable debate, we agreed on the title Beads in a Necklace, and we came up with a logical way of organizing the stories into sections.
We all pitched in to help at various stages of the process, depending on our areas of expertise. I did most of the editing, with help from Tracey. I had worked as a journalist, and Tracey and Dorothy are also professional writers. That helped a lot: we know how to tighten a longwinded sentence, spot a good first paragraph and structure a story so it flows smoothly. Several members of our group have natural writing talent that they never knew they had, but they are still learning the skills that come from writing on a daily basis. And sometimes writers have to let go of their egos and allow changes. Of course, everyone could say yes or no to editing suggestions, and we always managed to find compromise solutions.
Sandra, who has experience preparing annual reports in the corporate world, did most of the layout, with Claire’s assistance. Claire also knows her way around digital photography and she cleaned up the often scratched or faded photos we wanted to use.
Ask for Help
We even got friends involved: one friend who is a proof reader is making sure there are no typos or missing punctuation marks, while another friend who is a graphic designer has agreed to do the cover.
There have been many details to consider. The people responsible for the layout had to decide on the size of the book and the fonts to use and get quotes from a local printer. Someone has to look after making a digital version available, and we have to crank up our marketing strategy. Last but not least, we had to find a place that is big enough but not too expensive for our celebratory book launch. We found a church hall that is perfect!
Persevere through glitches
Most of the glitches we have encountered have been computer-related. For example, we tried both Google Drive and Dropbox so we could upload files that everyone could edit. Both did the job, but we found Google Drive to be a bit unstable, while for a reason I still don’t understand, I can’t see many of the changes that Sandra and Claire have made to the layout in Dropbox.
This has been a long process. We were editing in January and the book will be launched in November. But we are all thrilled about it. Furthermore, I hope to apply the lessons I have learned from this experience when I write a book about my own family’s history. Just don’t hold your breath until it appears.
This article is also posted on writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca
On Sunday, October 1, 2017, some members of Genealogy Ensemble will be participating in the Culture Days event at the Verdun Farmer’s Market, in promotion of Beads in a Necklace, our book of family stories to be published in November. My talk will focus on WWI Victory Gardens and the rising cost of living during that period.
The newspaper clipping, above, is from the social notes column of the Richmond-Times Guardian, (Richmond, Quebec) circa 1905. The very silly item about a big potato is probably my husband’s great-grandfather’s way of poking fun at small town pretensions. Or is it?
The Nicholson family’s vast vegetable garden behind their charming red-brick house in the Eastern Townships of Quebec was no joke to them, not even in an era when pre-prepared foods like Heinz Beans, Jello, and Quaker Oats, were fast becoming house-hold names.*(1)
In 1911, with their four children were grown up, the large backyard garden that produced corn, beets, sweet peas, etc., was critical to the diet of this frugal Scottish Canadian family.
The potato patch was a particular concern:
“I put the Paris Green on the potatoes twice. Mrs. Montgomery came over to tell me that the bugs were eating up my potatoes. I was waiting to get someone to do it for me, as that was one thing I never attempted.
“But when she interfered thought we would try it. So one dark night, Flora (daughter) got the lantern and we went out when the bugs were asleep and gave them their dose. We dressed ourselves in the shed. You ought to have seen us. When we got through left our clothes there. Went to bed and dreamed all night that the bugs were crawling over us.”
So writes Margaret Mcleod Nicholson, in a July, 9, 1911 to husband Norman, who was away in Northern Ontario working as a railway inspector.
You have to admire Margaret’s style. Although her letters were often penned in haste and full of household concerns, ‘the local news’ as in gossip, and much high anxiety over finances, she certainly could paint a word picture when she wanted to.*(2)
In the spring of 1911, it was 57 year old Margaret’s job to care for the garden because her two older girls, Edith and Marion, were away teaching in Montreal, and her youngest, Flora, was very busy studying for final exams. Margaret and Flora were living alone for most of the year.
Although her daughters returned to Richmond for the summer, they came and went as they pleased, often in motorcars owned by wealthier neighbours. *(3)
Norman, in his letters home, warned his wife not to work too hard out in the backyard, especially in hot weather, and the summer of 1911, as it happens, was very, very hot.*(4)
An ‘old-fashioned’ carriage in front of Tighsolas, the Nicholson home, circa 1910. A hire. The Nicholsons couldn’t afford to keep a carriage, let alone buy an automobile, like so many of their neighbours.
The same letter continues:
“We have had dreadful hot weather. Just fancy, one night we slept out on the veranda. Took our mattresses down. The Skinners (other neighbours) were sleeping in theirs so that we were not afraid and we had Flossie (the dalmatian) with us but yesterday afternoon it rained so last night was cool.
We all had a good sleep and today is fine. We feel like working. I hope you did not have this extreme heat. We had quite a cold wave about the 24th but no frost.”
This sounds like typical Quebec weather, doesn’t it? So up and down. It’s not easy cultivating a garden in this province. It takes perseverance.
Six years later, in the spring of 1917, most everyone in the west end of the city of Montreal was out on the street digging their wartime Victory Gardens.*(5)
Marion Nicholson, now a mother and homemaker living on York Street in lower Westmount, describes the scene in a letter home to Mom:
“Every vacant lot around the city has been utilized for gardens and I think it is more common to see people out digging and planting in these gardens than in a small town like Richmond. Some I think are making their first attempt.”
Her small family is no exception. “Hugh (husband) and Willie (cousin) are making a garden. What success they will have I do not know. One thing for sure, the beds are straight (her underline) and square. I myself would prefer more in them.”
Marion (who is six months pregnant) then describes how she has hardly slept all week while tending her very sick toddler. She begs her mom to send as many crates of eggs as she can on the next train.
It certainly was an era of high-anxiety about food, nutrition – and so many other things.
Margaret’s 1917 butter bill. Inflation. The price of butter goes up from 30 to 40 cents from September to October.* (6)
Still, Marion closes her letter to her Mom by praising her comfort food: “So, now to get a taste of your home-made bread. When I eat it, I close my eyes and I feel as if I were home. Thank you for all the good things you sent.”
Edith, young Margaret, and Marion, far right, in summer of 1918 in an orchard in Richmond, possibly behind the Nicholson home as they had apple trees. (The newborn is in other pics.) This was the year of the Spanish Flu. It was safer in the countryside. Marion stayed an entire month in Richmond, until her husband, Hugh, begged her to come home in a letter. “The ice in the icebox has melted all over the floor, there’s no food in the house, the windows are kept open and it’s hot as Hades in here. Please come home and take care of me!” He was in the care of his sisters-in-law, who had better things to do in wartime Montreal than to baby their brother-in-law. Edith, a Sun Life employee, volunteered in Soldiers’ Aid for the YMCA and for the Navy League.
1. Most of the famous food brands of the 20th century got their start in 1900-1910 by advertising in magazines like the Ladies’ Home Journal with happy-family lifestyle ads with bigger graphics and fewer printed promises. “Pure” was the adjective of the day.
It was understood, even back then, that the home was evolving from a center of production to a center of consumption. Margaret, born in 1853, made everything from scratch, on a woodstove, with recipes she kept firmly locked in her head; Marion Nicholson, born 1886, would cook on a gas stove relying on her Fanny Farmer Cookbook; her daughter, also Marion, born 1917, living in middle class comfort in 1950’s suburbia, would feed her brood nothing but canned vegetables, even canned potatoes, which she warmed on an electric stove.
2. Norman was tickled by an anecdote from a November, 1909 letter, where Margaret vividly describes a back-and-forth argument she has had with a male relation over woman suffrage. The relation invokes St. Paul as was the custom. She replies “St. Paul has been dead for a long time. I don’t live in those days, milking cows and making fires.” Norman, who is active in local politics, replies in support of his wife: “Too absurd to think that a woman cannot exercise her franchise with as much intelligence as some of the male sex. And when you have to drag some of these supposedly intelligent men to the polls as you would cattle.”
3. Margaret disliked motor cars. From 1909. “Mr. Montgomery is selling his horse and buying a car. Don’t you think he is foolish?” But, she was happy to go on drives when invited.
5. http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/victory-gardens. Apparently, Victory Gardens weren’t only a way to add to the food supply; they were about improving morale on the home-front by making people feel useful.
6. A Chicago Agency sent a very fancy direct mail advertisement out to Richmond homemakers in 1916 on behalf of a new product called Crisco Shortening asking, “Do you like the taste of fresh buns in the morning? Try Crisco.” A coupon was attached.