Tag Archives: Crepeau

When History and Genealogy Come Together

Genealogy is usually of little interest to children probably because their parents already seem from the Dark Ages and their grandparents from the times when Tyrannosaurus Rex tramped the planet.

It was the same thing for me way back in the 1960’s – except for the one day when I was about twelve years old. My mother came home all excited with some important news passed on to her by a cousin who had researched the Crepeau family tree.

My mom’s father, Jules Crepeau of Montreal, was descended from one Abraham Martin dit L’Ecossais, a pioneering (boat) pilot and land-owner in New France. My French Canadian mom found this fact highly entertaining. “I am descended from a Scotsman,” she told me, laughing. “What a joke.”

I remember this episode only because of another part of the story. Apparently, this Abraham Martin fellow owned the Plains of Abraham. THOSE Plains of Abraham. Now that I could sink my tweenage incisors into.

You see, I was learning about Canadian history in school. Our text was Canada Then and Now, a bright green text with a very iconographic cover pic.

From this textbook, I was learning for the first time how the French and British were always at war with each other, way back then, in Europe and in North America. In North America, the fought over control of the lucrative fur trade and, apparently, it all came to a head one morning on the 1th of September, 1759 when a British general named Samuel Wolfe, after being rebuffed a few times by the superior French forces, led a cagey attack on the French General named Louis Joseph Marquis de Montcalm on the cliffs of Quebec City, cutting off his supplies and defeating his superior forces. This was all part of something called The Seven Years War.

All night long kept quietly landing the men on Wolfe’s cove. By morning, 5000 British soldiers were drawn up ready on the Plains of Abraham. The French had avoided battle, believing they were safe because they had more men than the British and plenty of supplies. They knew the British wold have to withdraw before freeze up. But now tht the British had landed above the town and cut off supplies from Quebec. The time had come for battle.

The textbook instructed us Canadian children, in subtle terms, to take no especial pride in this seminal event:

Wolfe and Montcalm were great generals and gallant men. Today, on the Plains outside of Quebec, a monument stands to honor them both. Wolfe’s name is on one side, Montcalm’s on the other. There is a Latin inscription that says, “Valour gave them a common death. History a common fame and posterity a common memorial.”

Illustration from Canada Then and Now. Storming the Plains of Abraham

Today, I am much older and predictably I am into genealogy. I have written many many family stories from both sides of my tree.

My mother’s French Canadian side was easy-peasy to patch together thanks to all those fabulous Catholic church records on Drouin available. And yes, if the Mons Origins website information is correct, my mom was indeed descended from this Abraham Martin.

Should I write about this pioneer ancestor? I have long wondered.

Truth be told, I would very much like to puzzle out the story of my earlier French Canadian ancestors, as Tracey Arial and Claire Lindle have done so brilliantly on this blog. I’d like to discover exciting new tidbits of information about my ancestors to add to the historical record (perhaps using some of the stellar resources catalogued on Genealogy Ensemble by Jacques Gagne) but it all seems so difficult, so labour intensive and so hard on the eyes.

In the past, I have explored the lives of Les Filles de Roi – because I am particularly interested in the lives of women ancestors – only to find there doesn’t exist much detailed information about these pioneering females from Normandy and Ile de Paris. It seems no one bothered to document the day-to-day lives or unique personal stories of these ‘mothers of millions’ back then– either in Europe or New France.

When it comes to this Abraham Martin dit L’Ecossais character, it would be a real waste of time to try to find a new angle or to write something fresh about him. There are already reams and reams (or pixels and pixels) of information written about him. It appears that Abraham Martin dit L’Ecossais is one of the most famous French Canadian pioneers and a father to millions of North Americans, including Madonna and Justin Bieber – and, ah, little ole me.

Long story short: He married Marguerite Langlois. Had 14 children. I am descended through Vitaline Forget-Despatie, my mother’s father’s mother.

The kicker to this non-story of mine: Abraham wasn’t necessarily Scottish. He could have invented the epithet to avoid criminal prosecution or he was a war deserter. His name might have generated from the fact that he had visited Scotland many times in his youth.*1

Now, lately I have dug out one very interesting fact about my mom’s French Canadian ancestors on her dad’s side, one she didn’t know about. My mother always told me that the name Crepeau meant “curly haired one.” She had very very curly hair herself, as did her father. I have no idea how long she had known this fact or who originally informed her.

If that same cousin, back in 1967, had provided her with a paper genealogy, my mother would have noticed that the original Crepeaus, going back six to eight generations, were Crespeaus, from Poitou Charent. I have recently learned that the name Crespeau almost certainly came from Crespo, a very Spanish name – and not only that a Sephardic Jewish name.

I found this tidbit on sephardim.com:

“The name Crespo has been identified by the Holy Office of the Church of Spain as a Sephardic Jewish surname.”

How fascinating.

So, it seems, even genealogically-timid I can dig out an interesting fact or two about a distant French Canadian ancestor. Maybe I should keep trying.

1. Even if Abraham Martin wasn’t born to the Tartan, he likely had English, Scottish and even Viking dna. Normandy, Normans, North men, Norsemen. Ancestry gives most of my many many French Canadian cousins a little bit of Norwegian ethnicity. I have a very vague 0-8 percent.

Wouldn’t it be funny if my mom were related to Eric the Red, chronicled in the second chapter of Canadian Then and Now, after the first chapter on “Indians” and “Eskimos.”

If you believe mytrueancestry.com, my husband, whose Mom comes from Isle of Lewis Scots, apparently is connected genetically to Eric’s clan. How very romantic! If I didn’t love him before, I’d have to love him now!

2. I checked the Y dna lists online at Family Tree and someone is trying to see if French Canadians have Semitic genes. There are very few members. On a regular French from France Y dna site I can see that some French Canadians have J M172, an Anatolian line, often thought of as the Greek Diaspora. Cote and Leger are the names that crop up. There are no Crespos, Crespeau’s or Crepeaus.