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Genealogy Ensemble

A rare in-person meeting of our group in the spring of 2021 – by the water in Pointe-Claire.

Well, Hello (Again)

It has been a long time – two years – since the nine women at Genealogy Ensemble have published a newsletter, but that does not mean we haven’t been busy imagining, researching and writing up our family stories – and publishing them on our website www.genealogyensemble.com.

Yes, our monthly meetings have been confined to ZOOM, certainly not as cozy as in-person gatherings, but these, too, have been useful and productive. Since the pandemic began we have published a slew of fascinating stories combining family history with local and even world history.

Jacques Gagne, our resident master-genealogist has been busier than ever publishing his much consulted research papers on a wide array of topics of interest to new and seasoned researchers with ancestors in Quebec.

Scroll down this newsletter for an overview of the many stories and research topics we have covered in the past two Coronavirus years.

French Canadians in New England

Blow, Tibo, Benoit pronounced BENOYT and even ‘Wood’ for Dubois. If you are from the US your surname is perhaps the reason you visit our website.

You are not alone: According to a recent census, approximately 5% of Americans have French Canadian roots that they acknowledge, and judging from the enormous French Canadian Community on Ancestry many more Americans have at least one French Canadian in their family tree.

As it happens, our Mary Sutherland recently has published a long overdue story concerning French Canadians in New England.

Dolphis Bruneau: Life in North Adams chronicles ‘the quiet life’ of a French Canadian in Massachusetts post Civil War. Unlike most French Canadian emigrants, Dophis did not work in a mill but as a carpenter.


Adolphis Bruno

According to a 1898 article , The French Canadians in New England by William McDonald, “The great movement of French Canadians to New England started after the Civil War.” Short of workers,even non-skilled workers, the manufacturers actually solicited French Canadians.

Many of these factories made shoes and socks. These places sprung up during that war to protect the beleaguered feet of the infantrymen.

The wages at these factories seemed amazing to these poor subsistence farmers – who usually had large families. Everyone in the family, even children, even girls, could work at these factories allowing these families to pool their income.

It wasn’t all roses, though. Not by a long-shot. These mills and factories were usually noisy, dirty and dangerous to work in and they often employed children as young as 12. 

The largest and saddest mill was the Amoseag Mill at Manchester, New Hampshire. At its peak, the place had 17,000 workers!

Lewis Wickes Hine took pictures of many under-age children working there. Their names were telling: Proulx, Hamel, Auclaire.

The Morrisettes, a family from Becancour, Quebec with many daughters and a sickly son  moved to Franklin, New Hampshire in 1903 to work in a sock factory. Franklin was a smaller, kinder New Hampshire mill town. Dorothy Nixon will be posting their story on GE soon.

Scroll down the page for some statistics.

The Problem With Female Ancestors. 

As any genealogist knows, finding information about female ancestors can be a frustrating task. There’s just not that much historical information out there about the lives of girls and women.

It seems that women’s lives were taken for granted by early historians – or their contribution not considered important enough. Some women were not mentioned by name in their obituaries. Even as late as the 1960’s, married women were documented as “Mrs. John Smith” etc. in newspaper articles even if these women were being acknowledged for a fine accomplishment!

Women of leisure sometimes left behind letters or diaries – and some of our GE stories focus on these items -­ but since these women didn’t do the chores they usually didn’t write about the day-to-day details of their home or work lives.

The simple fact is, most women in the distant past were far too busy to chronicle their lives: too busy cooking, cleaning, sewing clothes and, very often, working their own small businesses on the side, like brewing beer.

It seems so sad, doesn’t it?

So, how do we ‘connect’ with our female ancestors? Janice Hamilton has some suggestions:

Researching Female Ancestors

By Janice Hamilton

I was recently researching Robert Mitcheson (?-1784), my five-times great-grandfather in County Durham, England. I could not find a record of his marriage and, although the couple had seven children, the mother’s first name – Mary — was only mentioned in the parish records of the births once! I still do not know her maiden name.

This is typical of the kind of problem genealogists run into researching female ancestors, especially before civil registration of births and marriages, and before the census was introduced in the mid-1800s. There are strategies to get around this, depending on the types of documents that are available in different parts of the world. Here are a few of the tricks I have tried, with varying success:

1. Look up the Family Search Wiki page for the place your female ancestor lived, and it will tell you what genealogical records are available and where to access them.

2. Death and burial records. In Ontario, for example, detailed death certificates are available as of 1869. They indicate the cause of death, occupation of the deceased, and the name of the informant. This not only tells you a bit about the life of the deceased, it can also give a clue as to the maiden name of married woman. If a widow died, for example, the informant might have been her brother, sister or nephew. This is where it helps to build up complete family trees.

3. Monumental inscriptions (gravestones). Many of my immigrant ancestors were buried in St. Andrews Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Scarborough, Ontario, and I spent a lot of time researching the connections between them. Findagrave.com is also very helpful – it often points to the graves of other people with the same family name, or in the same plot.

4. When checking census records, look at all the people in the household, and their relationships to the head of household. Also look at neighbours. The wife’s relatives might have lived on the farm next door, or perhaps the household servant was a niece.

5. Newspapers can be a very helpful. Births, marriages, death notices and obituaries are obvious places to look, but also the social pages. Newspapers may have records of your female ancestors’ social activities, community organizations and school and career achievements. Military records, trade publications and other sources may also mention your ancestor.

6. Think about naming patterns as clues to relationships. For example, you find the birth record of a child named Emily Scott to the mother Mary Scott, but the mother’s maiden name is not mentioned. You find there was a Mary Hamilton at the right time and place whose mother’s name was Emily, and she had a sister named Emily. This is not proof, but you can make a good guess that Hamilton was the mother’s maiden name.

7. Look at a variety of legal documents such as land deeds, taxation records and probate records. In Quebec, check notarial records on the website of the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (https://numerique.banq.qc.ca/ressources/details/notaires). Use Google Translate or DeepL Translate for translation help. To learn more about using notarial records, such as marriage contracts and leases, see:

Jacques Gagne, BANQ Advitam, Genealogy Ensemble, April 19, 2020, https://genealogyensemble.com/2020/04/19/banq-advitam/

Jacque Gagne, Notaries of Lower Canada, 1760-1848, April 29, 2018, https://genealogyensemble.com/2018/04/29/notaries-of-lower-canada-1760-1848/

See also:

Janice Hamilton, “Can Two Wrongs Make a Right?” Writing Up the Ancestors, May 5, 2022, www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2022/05/can-two-wrongs-make-a-right.html

Janice Hamilton, Robert Mitcheson’s Last Will and Testament, Writing Up the Ancestors March 1, 2022, www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2022/03/robert-mitchesons-last-will-and-testament.html

A Savoury Solution to the Problem of Female Ancestors 🙂

Yorkshire woman preparing oatcakes

Food. It’s a subject most of us can dig into. For genealogists the subject can be especially useful for researching the problem of female ancestors. Some family recipes have been handed down the generations in written or oral form. If no family recipes exist, a genealogist can research the food culture of a place and time to better understand the busy lives of the women who came before.

Our group of nine women has written a great many food stories over the years. Naturally, some of these stories focus on “Mom” – but not all.

Here’s a list:

Sandra McHugh: Petimezi

Marian Bulford: Star Gazey Pie

Dorothy Nixon: Mother, Love and the A and P

Claire Lindell: What Could it Possibly Be?

Mary Sutherland: Sugar Plum Tree

Barb Angus: Petunias and Brown Betty

Tracey Ariel: Cabbage Days

(Scroll down the newsletter for more about Food and Female Ancestors.)

Jacques Gagné’s posts

Jacques Gagné has been busy over the months cataloguing BANQ’s enormous collection of genealogical material. Articles posted include: the Eastern Europeans; the Ukrainians in Montreal ; English Language Catholiques; Germanic Europeans; Italians, Scandinavians and the British American Land Company. He has also touched on the topic of Refugees in Quebec as well as the Atikamekw Nations of Manawan (Malouane) of Quebec. His latest post is Notaries of Montreal 1760-1791  His very popular, far-ranging posts are too numerous to list within this newsletter, but, let me assure you, there is something for everything within his compilations.

Some of our latest stories:

Sandra McHugh uses her ancestors to research key topics in immigrant history: 19th Tenements at Dundee is not a pretty story – but one that must be told. It is also, in a general sense, a topic of considerable relevance to many genealogists. They Came By Boat explores life in steerage for people immigrating to North America on the cheap on ocean liners. Sandra’s succinct stories are always chock-full of interesting information. Don’t miss out.

In Black Market Babies, Janice Hamilton describes her adoptee husband’s efforts to discover his roots. In 1950’s Montreal, babies of Catholic mothers were secretly sold off to childless Jewish couples by an elicit ring. This came about because Jews were not allowed to adopt Catholic babies.

In a very different post, Frances McGregor’s Notebook, Janice ponders whether a fanciful notebook she found online filled with poetry and botanical drawings really did belong to her 3 times great grandmother.

Mary Sutherland continues her exploration of her French Canadian side with Emilien Frechette: What a guy. This is a story of a man who kept his three marriages ‘all in the family.’

Claire Lindell writes about her 7th times great-grandmother, Elizabeth Radisson, in A Very Young Marriageable Girl  Elizabeth was a Fille du Roi. She also tells us about Claude Jutras dit Lavallee, ‘farmer, soldier and bourgeois.’

Barb Angus uses Hudson Bay Company records to uncover institutionalized racism in Little Bits of Brown while trying to learn more about the Metis family her 4 times great-grandfather, George Roberts, abandoned. In Insurrection Revisited Barb compares the January 2021 Washington Capitol uprising with a memorable event she witnessed in East Pakistan as a teenager.

Tracey Arial adroitly blends a breezy travelogue with genealogy and history in Walking in the Footsteps of Quebec City Ancestors. She also examines the important role genealogists play in adding to the historical record in How Genealogy Improves Historical Study.

Dorothy Nixon asks Can We Ever Really Know Our Ancestors?” while taking a look at the lives of North Yorkshire farmers on her father’s side. She also revisits the ‘best year of my young life’ with the Goddesses of Expo67.

Lucy Anglin takes a very creative turn, merging key events in her own life with a concurrent story of Canada in “My Census Life.” In the Mothering Bureau  Lucy tells the story of how her Great Aunt Marguerite in WWI England volunteered for an agency started up by Julia Parker Drummond, the famed Montreal socialite and social reformer.

And Marian Bulford’s 2-parter Granny’s Ornament explores the short life of her uncle whom she knows through a very pretty art-deco dancing figurine he bought for his mother with his first pay-cheque. 

To Be or Not To Be
by Lucy Anglin

My mother’s recipe box and my grandmother’s recipe scrapbook contain many of the same recipes.

My grandmother’s scrapbook is an untidy collection of newspaper clippings, bits of paper with handwritten scrawls by various relatives and even some random scratches of her own that I have come to recognize.
 However, the recipe card for Hamlets in my mother’s box was drawn up neatly in her clear handwriting, with “Mummy” written in brackets at the top.

Hamlets has made it to my own collection of recipes that I painstakingly printed out in my best youthful handwriting.

Decades ago, I had whipped up a batch when my boyfriend informed me that he wanted to drop by for a ‘chat.’ I served him a whole batch of Hamlets as he broke up with me. Ironically, as he fumbled over the wording about whether we were ‘to be or not to be’ between mouthfuls of these delicious cookies, he looked almost as if he was doubting his decision. He loved those cookies! I wanted the relationship to end as well, so with no hard feelings, I packed him up a goody bag and sent him on his way.

I felt quite sure my grandmother and mother were applauding my performance while I sat down to enjoy a Hamlet…alone.

World Wars and Food Struggles

War changes things, especially the way people manage their food budget.

Tracey Arial’s post, Kitty Freeman: WWI Heroine and Food Research Pioneer  describes the achievements of a Prescott, Ontario dietitian who volunteered on the battlefields of Belgium‘feeding wounded soldiers with limited supplies.’

“Freeman frequently donated to McGill during her lifetime. She also left Macdonald College a million dollar endowment after her death on March 13, 2009. Today, a well-equipped 12-person food laboratory commemorates her contributions. Another $25,000 went to the Canadian Foundation for Dietetic Research.”

In Heatwaves and Victory Gardens’ Dorothy Nixon uses family letters to show how most everyone in Westmount Quebec in 1917 was making their own Victory Garden.

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.” So, writes Marian Nicholson, who lives on York Avenue, to her Mom in Richmond, Quebec. Victory Gardens were encouraged more to improve citizen moral than to provide fresh food, but no doubt something nutritious came out of it.

The cost of living soared during the WWI years, 1914-1917, staples like milk and butter especially and was especially hard on poorer city rural or city families.

People had to adapt. No surprise, Crisco shortening sent direct mail advertisements out to housewives starting in 1916.

Here is a WWI recipe for Canadian War Cake, from Tracey’s compilation: WWI Recipes.

Canadian War Cake

2 cups brown sugar

2 cups hot water

2 tablespoons lard

1 lb raisins

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon cloves

Boil these ingredients for five minutes after they begin to bubble. When cold, add one teaspoon soda dissolved in 1 teaspoon hot water. Add three cups flour. Bake in 2 loaves, for 45 minutes.

A 1950’s Christmas

Marian Bulford, born in Plymouth, Devon at the end of WWII, has first-person recollections of the post war period England. In her story “Memories of a 1950’s Christmas” she describes what it was like to celebrate the holidays under austerity. Apparently, reindeer meat was not under ration. Seems appropriate somehow. Poor Rudolph!

Marian’s mother was not a collector of recipes but Marian herself has a vast collection. Her first ever cookbook, a Good Housekeeping Cookery Compendium, was given to her in the WRAF by her roommate, Maura, who didn’t need it after she discovered her fiance was already married!


Prisoner of War Cookbook

An Ottawa scholar Suzanne Evans has recently published “The Taste of Longing,” a prize-winning biography of Red Cross worker Ethel Mulvany, a Canadian imprisoned in Singapore during WWII. The book chronicles Mulvany’s efforts at Changi Civilian Internment Camp to ease the pain of slow starvation for the female inmates with a ‘fantasy cookbook’ full of imaginary – and comforting – recipes.

There is a strong Genealogy Ensemble connection. Dr. Evans consulted GE writer Dorothy Nixon for her book. Dorothy’s grandmother, Dorothy Forster Nixon (born 1895) was also an internee at Changi and was a friend of Mulvany’s.

Dorothy Nixon’s 1900 French Canadian Diaspora on Ancestry.

French Canadians in New England
By the Numbers

900,000 emigrated to the US between 1840 and 1930

72 percent were entire families.

In the US there are 15 million descendants of French Canadians

They moved to Maine, Rhode Island, Vermont. Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut, families often moving on a rumour. Wealthier families moved to Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan.

From Video: Rhode Island Genealogy Society. YouTube. (some ads)

Working together to help genealogists discover their ancestors

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