World War I Private Éloi Morin

Éloi Morin was born 10 September 1887 in the small town of Saint Calixte de Kilkenny, Quebec, about 35 miles north of Montreal. He was the fifth son of Onésime Morin and his second wife Céline Pelletier. Onésime and Céline had eleven children between 1876 and 1894. The family included two older sons of Onésime with his first wife.

Onésime was a farmer. In the 1890s he and Céline decided to move their family to the United States. His two eldest sons remained behind when they moved with five sons and six daughters to North Grosvenordale, a mill village in the town of Thompson, Connecticut. The family faced adversity almost immediately. Their six-year-old daughter Malvina died 27 October 1895, not long after their arrival. Eighteen-year-old Louis died a year later, on 20 November 1896, followed by five-year-old Aurore on 9 July 1897. Céline died the 26 March 1902, and her husband Onésime followed her a few months later, on 18 August.

In the following years, Éloi’s siblings married and started families of their own. Another brother, Mathias, died of influenza 16 October 1911. When his brother Anselme’s son was born in 1915, Éloi stood up as godfather for little Theodore “Eddy” Morin.

As the war started in Europe, Éloi and his two remaining brothers registered for the draft, even though none was yet a citizen. He entered the service in May 1918, as a private in Company F of the 116th Infantry of the U.S. National Guard. He did his basic training at Fort Slocum, New York. In June he and the other members of his unit boarded the U.S.S. Finland, a transport ship bound for France.

After their arrival they started more training before being sent to division headquarters at Praughoy, Haute-Marne on 2 July. Three weeks later they were detached to serve with the French 53rd Division in the Rougemont Sector. In October they were detached to service with the French 18th Division in the Meuse-Argonne. Throughout August and September they participated in numerous operations.

Starting on 8 October his unit participated in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. On the night of October 10th, almost the entire company was gassed. The remainder of the company was on the front line and supporting efforts until the night of the 18th, when they went into reserve. They remained there until the morning of the 23rd when they went back into action. That morning, Éloi was killed in action with two other soldiers.

In the tradition at the time, Éloi was buried were he fell. After the war, the U.S. Army went back to retrieve the remains of fallen soldiers. Family members were given the choice of having their loved ones interred in cemeteries overseas or  returned home for internment at Arlington National Cemetery or another cemetery. Éloi’s siblings requested that he be interned at Arlington National Cemetery. The request was approved, but somehow never carried out. Éloi is buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France.

Because he was unmarried, a death benefit was initially paid to his surviving siblings. The army then discovered that he had actually directed his death benefit to go to his godson Eddy, who was only three years old when his uncle died. Sadly, Eddy’s father Anselme himself died only eighteen months later. A guardian was appointed for him to manage the funds. The family was very poor, and often had little to eat. Anselme’s widow Marie Louise, brought her youngest children to Central Falls, Rhode Island, to work in the mills there. She often petitioned for small distributions to help feed Eddy (and his siblings, although it wasn’t explicitly stated).

When Eddy was eighteen years old he met and fell in love with Yvette Ruel. They married at Central Falls 10 August 1933. When Eddy came of age in March 1936, he received the principal that had been managed so carefully for him in North Grosvenordale. Eddy and Yvette were able to use that money to buy a small house in a rural section of Valley Falls, in the town of Cumberland, Rhode Island. They went on to raise their children in that home, including their daughter Aline, my mother. My grandfather died in 1969 and my grandmother in 1982, but the home remained in the family until the turn of the century.

The living room of the home had an arched entrance. On either side of the arch were framed portraits. On the left were my grandfather Eddy and his brother Emile, who served in the Merchant Marine during World War II. On the right was a portrait of a young man in the uniform of an earlier time. In gratitude for his service, and for what he had done for the family, that portrait hung there for almost a half a century, until the day she died.

On Veteran’s Day we honor all our veterans who served. But this year, on the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, and just a few days past the centennial anniversary of his death, I especially remember Mononcle Éloi, his sacrifice, and the tremendous difference he made in the life of my family.

Our Living Memorial to 9/11

Genealogists spend a tremendous amount of time in the past, seeking out our family members. We work hard to not only identify them, but to go past the bare bones of “born, married, died” to get a glimpse into who they were as individuals. How did they fit into their communities, both locally and on a greater scale? How did historical events, such as World War I, impact them individually? Unfortunately, we spend so much time in the deeper past that we often forget to write about our own lives.

Today marks the seventeenth anniversary of one of the most significant days in world history. Every one of us who was a teenager or older remembers where we were when the planes came down, and over the next few days. Have you taken the time to write down your memories of that time? What did you feel? How did it impact you, not only at the time, but afterwards? Here is a brief story of my experience and memories of that fateful day and its aftermath.

The morning of September 11, 2001, was bright and clear in Boston. My taxi pulled up in front of Terminal A at Logan Airport, dropping me off for my flight to the Quad Cities where I would be speaking at the FGS conference. As I walked in, an unprecedented sight hit me. The airport was closing down around us. Passengers were being herded from the gate areas. Check-in desks were closed. The monitors with flight information were blank. Attendants were as clueless as we were. I decided to back to NEHGS, wondering what was going on. In the taxi, we heard over the radio that reports were coming in of a plane hitting the north tower.

In my office at work, the horror unfolded over my computer terminal. Every plane in America was grounded. We all thought the flights would be going again the next day. On Wednesday morning, my friend Lynn Betlock and I decided we were going to take a bus from Boston to Quad Cities. It was important to us to be at the FGS conference (since it was in the Midwest, many people drove and had already arrived there). As we left Worcester, my mobile rang. Our friend Laura Prescott called to tell us she had obtained a rental car and would meet us in Albany to pick us up and finish the trip.

We drove through the night, arriving at the hotel just 20 minutes before I was to make my first presentation. A quick costume change and I made it to my room exactly on time. I, along with others, covered for those speakers who couldn’t make it that week. We delivered numerous extra presentations to ensure that those present would have as good an experience as possible. The flag flew in the central entryway, next to televisions tuned to the news all day. During those long few days we hugged and cried. We learned how to make origami creatures (how nice!) and supported each other in a myriad ways.
Returning home was difficult. Two of the planes had departed from Logan International Airport. Several of my friends were flight attendants for American and United, and it took days to find out that they were safe. Nobody I knew was more than two degrees separated from someone who died, either in the planes or in the towers. The manager of a store across the street from NEHGS was on Flight 11. Several of my friends knew Mark Bingham, a gay rugby player who was one of the heroes of Flight 93. We have a memorial to the New England victims here in the Public Garden in Boston.

I’ve been to the memorial for the victims in Manhattan, but have not yet been able to bring myself to go into the museum.
The best memorials to those who died that day, however, fall to each of us. To remember them and their stories. To fight terrorism everywhere. To fight the racism and xenophobia that tries to take control, understanding that diversity is America’s greatest strength. To live our best lives, and not let these forces of adversity win.

Know Your History

Sometimes we think we have the knowledge we need to research in a location. But beware the hidden surprises lurking in history that can cause problems in your research. One example of this is the history of Norfolk County, Massachusetts.

Those researching their Massachusetts ancestors know that Norfolk County was created in 1793 from Suffolk County. So what happens when you find a reference to your ancestor living in Norfolk County . . . in 1670?

In 1643, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was split into four shires:1

  • Suffolk: Boston, Braintree, Dedham, Dorchester, Hingham, Nantasket, Roxbury, and Weymouth
  • Middlesex: Cambridge, Charlestown, Concord, Lynn Village (today Reading), Medford, Sudbury, Watertown, and Woburn
  • Norfolk: Dover, Exeter, Haverill, Hampton, Salisbury, and Strawberry Bank (today Portsmouth, N.H.)
  • Essex: Cochichawick (today Andover), Enon (today Wenham), Glocester, Ipswich, Lynn, Newbury, Rowley, and Salem

This county was in existence for more than 35 years. It gained an additional town in in 1668 when the town of Amesbury was formed from Salisbury.

On 22 January 1679/80 New Hampshire became a royal province. The four northern settlements, Dover, Exeter, Hampton, and Strawberry Bank, became part of that colony.2 This left only three towns in Norfolk County, all north of the Merrimack River. In the session of 4 February 1679/80, the General Court (the Massachusetts legislature) passed the following act:

This Court, being sencible of the great inconvenienc & charge that it will be to Salisbury, Hauerill, & Amesbury to continue their County Court, now some of the tounes of Norfolke are taken of, and consideringthat those tounes did formerly belong to Essex county, and attended at Essex Courts, doe order, tht those tounes that are left to be againe joyned to Essex, and attend publick buriness at Essex Courts, there to implead and be impleaded as occasion shallbe; their records of lands being still to be kept in some one of their oune tounes on the north of Merrimack; and all persons, according to course of law, are to attend in Essex county.3

For an excellent review of the county’s records, see David Curtis Dearborn “The Old Norfolk County Records” The Essex Genealogist 3 (1983): 194–96.

From this point on, Norfolk County effectively ceased to exist. The name, however, was resurrected more than a century later. In January 1792, the General Court ceded all towns in Suffolk County outside of Boston and Chelsea to the new county of Norfolk, with Dedham as the shire town “till otherwise ordered by the General Court.” 236 years later, Dedham is still the shire town.

 

  1. Nathaniel B. Shurtleff, Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England (Boston: Press of William White, 1853) 2:38.
  2. “Old Norfolk County Records” The Essex Antiquarian 1 (1897):20.
  3. Nathaniel B. Shurtleff, Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England (Boston: Press of William White, 1854) 5:264.

NBC’s Timeless Ignores History

.I understand that television requires a certain amount of suspension of disbelief when it comes to facts and the real world. But when a show revolves around history, it should take extra precautions to be accurate with the historical facts, even if the drama around them might be a bit loose. While I enjoy the NBC television show Timeless, the historical inaccuracies that creep in  are disappointing and problematic. Last week’s episode revolving around the Salem Witch Trials and Abiah (Folger) Franklin, for example, was full of problems, some of which could have been avoided with a simple search on Google.

 

As the heroic trio arrives at Salem on 22 September 1692, they bump into a young woman and ask who she is. She responds “Abby here. Who asks?” As a genealogist well-versed in colonial New England, I can say that Abby is a fairly common nickname. In those times it was used as a familiar form of Abigail, and occasionally Tabitha. It is not, however, a nickname for Abiah. I have spent many years researching Benjamin Franklin’s family, and I have never seen a document that refers to her as anything but Abiah. Modern families may use it as such, but this was not the case in 1692.

The response to “Abby’s” inquiry is “My name is Lucy and this is Rufus. We’re in from Boston.” Followed by “. . . my husband and I are from the Old South Church in Boston. Reverend Willard Sent us.” Reverend Samuel Willard served as pastor of the congregation from 1678 to his death in 1707. But in 1692, the congregation was the Third Church of Boston, and occasionally the South Church (because it was in the south end of the town), which gathered at the Cedar Meeting House. It did not become known as the Old South Church until 25 years after the witch trials, when the descriptor was added to differentiate it from the New South Church which had just started.

Even more egregious, however, is this simple fact: Josiah Franklin had been a part of the Third Church since arriving in Boston about 1684. Five of his children were baptized there. And when he married Abiah Folger on 25 November 1689, the Rev. Samuel Willard was the minister who married them. Curious then, that it does not even brook a notice of concern from “Abby” that she has never seen these people who claim to be from her congregation.

The subplot around Samuel Sewall is also a bit strange. There is no mention of the fact that Samuel, another congregant of the Third Church, was good friends with Josiah Franklin. One of the judges stands by and says nothing at all while his friend’s wife is accused of witchcraft? This does not seem likely. It is also odd that there is no discussion of the impact that the death of Samuel Sewall would have on history. He was the only one of the Salem judges that later publicly repented and apologized for his participation. He wrote an early treatise against slavery, and served as chief justice of the highest court of the commonwealth for many years, ruling in countless cases. Yet when he dies in the episode, it is all about Rufus.

When visiting “Abby’s” sister Bathsheba, her husband says to them: “Boston’s fifteen miles away. It must have taken you two all day.”  The first error is minor, but still irritating especially for those of us who live in Massachusetts. It is true that the modern city of Salem is 15 miles from the city of Boston. However, the events of 1692 did not take place in that location. They took place in Salem Village, which today is the city of Danvers, Massachusetts. Salem Village was 20 miles away from Boston, not 15 — a 33% error in the distance travelled.

Another error is in the second part of the sentence: “It must have taken you two all day.” Had the company been journeying overland, this might be the case. But in 17th-century Massachusetts Bay, they would never have travelled that distance overland. They would have taken a boat. Right out of Boston Harbor, up the coast to Cape Ann and into Salem Harbor. A much shorter journey than overland.

Perhaps the most egregious error, however, is this: Abiah would never have gone to Salem in late September 1692. Indeed, she would never even have left Boston. In September 1692 she was raising five stepchildren ranging in age from six to fifteen, as well as her own baby son John, only twenty months old. It is hardly likely she would leave these children alone. But there is an even bigger reason she would not have left Boston in late September: because at that time she was seven months pregnant. She gave birth to her second child, Peter Franklin, on 22 November 1692. The show portrays her as thin, hardly the look of a woman in her final trimester. And with a sister and good friend there, nothing is said about her pregnancy while she is being manhandled and thrown in prison?

I understand the need to create drama for good television. But there are ways to do it without blatantly trampling all over the very premise that the show is founded on. Historians and genealogists could easily advise the writers on how to avoid major pitfalls like the ones above, yet still maintain the integrity of the storyline. In this episode, for example, the major issue of Abiah’s pregnancy could be avoided by moving it earlier in the year. And the director and producers could have been informed of the importance of not leaving the impact of Sewall’s death on the cutting room floor. And other issues, like the travel, are throwaway lines that could easily be rewritten. If Timeless is renewed for a third season (and I certainly hope it is), I hope the producers take head of these issues and bring on some consultants to ensure the integrity of  all episodes.

Euphemie Jalbert’s Life of Strength and Perseverance

Today is International Women’s Day. Genealogists know how important it is to tell the stories of the women in our family just as much as the men. Today I would like to share the story of my ancestor, Marie Euphemie Jalbert.

Euphemie was born at Cap St. Ignace in Montmagny, Quebec, 3 January 1806, eldest child of Abraham Noël Jalbert and Marie Élizabeth Bernier. Abraham was a fifth-generation Quebec farmer. Cap St. Ignace is on the southern shore of the St. Lawrence River, about 70 kilometers northeast of Québec City. Élizabeth’s mother’s family had resided there for generations. Her great-grandfather was a New England captive carried to Canada during Queen Anne’s War in 1704.

Euphemie’s baptismal record in the church of St. Ignace de Loyola at Cap St. Ignace.

Euphemie was born just over a year after her parents married. Two years later, on 4 April 1808, her sister Marie Orante was born. There is no further record of A year later they were joined by a brother on 12 June 1809. Unfortunately their baby brother lived for only two weeks, dying on the 28th of June. Euphemie had just turned eleven years old when her mother died at the age of 31 on 22 February 1817.

Her father married there second 24 October 1820 Geneviève Guimond, daughter of François Guimond and Marie Catherine Labrise dit Kirouac. Lydie Suzanne Jalbert was born to them 29 January 1822. Just a few months later, on the first of August, Abraham died. Her stepmother died 30 January 1825, and her half-sister Lidie joined her parents later that year on the 28th of September. Imagine how Euphemie must have felt as a 19-year-old girl who had seen her family die around her.

On 7 November 1826, Euphemie married farmer Jean-Baptiste Tondreault at L’Islet, just twelve kilometers northeast of Cap St. Ignace. She must have felt great joy when their first child, Marie Julienne, was born 2 October 1828. Unfortunately, the joy was short-lived. Little Julienne died the following March. I cannot imagine the heartbreak of losing your firstborn child, especially so soon after her birth. But the heartbreak did not stop the couple from trying again, and their next daughter, Geneviève, was born the first of February the following year. Sadly, Geneviève did not live to see Christmas, dying on 9 December.

Over the next 16 years, Jean-Baptiste and Euphemie would have nine more children. Three more of these babies would die before they reached the age of 2 years old. Certainly her six surviving children, Emérance, Césari, Jean-Baptiste, Charles, Zoé, and Damase, must have brought happiness to her. Unfortunately, she would not live to see them all grow up.

The parish church of Notre Dame de Bonsecours at L’Islet.

On 10 May 1851, Euphemie Jalbert passed away at L’Islet. She was 45 years old. Her funeral was held there two days later in the parish of Notre Dame de Bonsecours. This was the same church where she had married almost 25 years earlier. The same church where her children were baptised. She was laid to rest in the parish cemetery where her five children lay.

Her surviving children lived longer than she did. Although most died between the ages of 52 and 61, her daughter Zoé beat all the odds. Born 16 April 1842, she was eight years old when her mother died. She was 30 when she married her first husband, Damase Fortin, and 66 when she married second husband Onésime Garceau. Zoé died at Trois Rivières 17 January 1946, just weeks shy of her 104th birthday.

Life was certainly not easy for Euphemie. Her childhood was filled with loss. Despite this, she married and built her own family during the second half of her life. Continuing on despite the losses, she left behind a legacy of strength and perseverance through adversity. Euphemie’s son Jean-Baptiste Tondreault was my grandmother’s grandfather. And I could certainly see that legacy of strength in her.

Quebec’s Notarial Records

Our French-Canadian ancestors left us a rich resource in the Catholic parish registers. While these provide us with a great skeleton of vital information (showing us when and where our ancestors were born, married and died), there is much more to learning about our ancestors’ lives than that.

Quebec’s legal system is much more complicated than those elsewhere. It is a compromise born out of the dual histories of France and Britain in North America. While the criminal law follows British law, the civil code is founded in the French tradition, the “coutume de Paris.”

The notarial system handles all aspects of contract law; any agreements between people. Notaries would also prepare testimony and other documents that might be used in the court system. Among the types of records you might find with the notaries are:

  • Marriage contracts (prenuptial agreements that might include dower, disposition of the estate, etc.)
  • Purchases and Sales of both real and personal property.
  • Wills
  • Estate Inventories
  • Division of estates
  • “Gifts of the Living” donating property to friend and relatives
  • Guardianships
  • Depositions
  • Employment contracts

There is no provincial-wide index to these records at the moment. Ancestry is working on one, but it is a long way from complete. Eventually the database will include records as well as indexes. At the moment, however, it includes only some indexes to some of the notaries. It is, however, a prime resource and should be consulted.

The Parchemin Index provides abstracts of all notarial records through 1799. While an excellent resource, it is not available online to anyone; one must go to a library in person to access it. Select libraries in Canada offer access. To the best of my knowledge, the New England Historic Genealogical Society is the only library in the US that provides access. If you can’t visit in person, you can always hire a researcher to go there to search the index for you, or hire NEHGS’ research services to do so.

In addition to the records available on Ancestry, you can find limited collections elsewhere. Perhaps the largest is on FamilySearch, which has some nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century records available for browsing. Genealogy Quebec has some notarial records from the Drouin Collection. And the Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales de Québec (BANQ) also has some records available online through the Pistard portal.

Many indexes have been published in book form as well, such as the Inventaire des contrats de mariage du régime français conserveś aux Archives judiciaires de Québec and Inventaire des testaments, donations et inventaires du régime français conservés aux Archives judiciaires de Québec, both by Pierre-Georges Roy.

If you do find records in any of the indexes and they are not available online, you can order a copy directly from BANQ. Send them a request that includes the name of the notary, date of the record, record number, and the party or parties involved in the record.

These records have been woefully underused because they have been difficult to access and understand. But they contain a wealth of information about your ancestors. Imagine this: Shortly after a couple marries (marriage contract) they hire people to build their house (employment contracts). When the they die, their will or wills tell you how the property will be distributed (testaments) and how the house is furnished (inventaires). How much more vivid is the picture you have of your ancestor’s live now?

If you are interested in learning more about how to use notarial records, check out our upcoming Genealogy Masterclasses on notarial records that deal with vital events and property and business records.

Genealogy Professional Podcast

I listen to many podcasts. They cover a wide variety of subjects, including genealogy, history, education, business, music, film, politics, current events, and comedy. One of my favorites genealogy podcasters has always been my friend Marian Pierre-Louis.

Among her many activities is the Genealogy Professional Podcast. It targets professional genealogists as well as those transitioning from hobbyist to professional. She interviews professionals who make their living as genealogists in a variety of ways. She has covered a wide variety of professionals from around the world in almost 50 interviews. Among them are:

  • Blaine Bettinger
  • Audrey Collins
  • Lisa Louise Cooke
  • Cyndi Ingle
  • Thomas MacEntee
  • Megan Smolenyak
  • Mary Tedesco

You can see a complete list of her guests with links to the individual podcast on her Episodes page.

I had the pleasure of appearing on her most recent episode, discussing my wide and varied career as a professional genealogist. My path has certainly been very different from most. From working at a large non-profit to a small startup; researching, writing, editing, teaching, speaking, and more, for more than twenty years I’ve had the pleasure of doing work that I love and helping people reconnect to their families. You can find out more about my interview on the page for episode 49. Thank you to Marian for having me as a guest.

If you are thinking about becoming a professional genealogist, you should definitely take a listen to this podcast. And thank you to Marian for having me as a guest.

Marriage Dispensations in the Catholic Church

When working with French-Canadian Catholic church records, it is very common to come across ancestors who needed a dispensation. This was an approval granted by the bishop or cardinal to suspend the usual rules for Catholics that would prevent the marriage from occurring. Dispensations come in two types: dispensation of banns or dispensation for consanguinity. These dispensations provide great clues to genealogists for further research.

 

Banns

In order to be married in the Catholic church, couples were required to have their intention to marry announced at the parish mass three times prior to the marriage. If the bride and groom were from different parishes, the announcement needed to be made in both parishes. This was a safety precaution so that if one member of the couple was already married, or too young, or any other reason why the marriage would not be valid in the eyes of the church, the couples’ neighbors, family, or friends could bring the issue to the priest ahead of time. The banns are still part of the church today, although they are often printed in the bulletin in addition to or instead of being announced during the mass.

Dispensations on the banns could be made for a number of reasons. Usually. these were granted because there was a need or desire for the marriage to take place quickly. It is very common for those who are about to emigrate to have the banns dispensed with. This is especially common when one of the parties (usually the husband) has already emigrated and returned for the sole purpose of getting married. Such individuals may not be able to remain in Quebec for long. Another reason, of course, is that the first child is already on the way. If you see a dispensation for banns, be certain to look for a child born fewer than nine months later.

Dispensations were given for one or two of the banns, but never for all three. This is because the third bann is part of the marriage ceremony. Perhaps you may be familiar with the words “If anyone can show just cause why these two should not be married, let them speak now or forever hold their peace.” (or words to that effect).

 

Consanguinity

Dispensations for consanguinity were made for a different reason; one that is far more valuable to genealogists. These dispensations were made because the bride and groom were related by blood. The degree of consanguinity is measured by the difference to the common ancestor.

 

Degree Relationship Common Ancestors
First Siblings Parents
Second First Cousins Grandparents
Third Second Cousins Great-Grandparents
Fourth Third Cousins Great-Great-Grandparents

 

Dispensations are never give for the first degree of consanguinity. They are not required for the fourth degree or higher. The only time a dispensation is required is for the second or third degree. There may be records where the fourth degree of consanguinity is stated, but a dispensation was not required by the church.

These dispensations are frequently found in smaller parishes. After a generation or two, it is not surprising to find intermarriage of relatives. My maternal ancestry leads back to the parish of Gentilly in Nicolet. I have both Rivard and Poisson ancestry whose lines are constantly intermarrying. This record from the parish of St. Edouard shows the marriage of my fourth-great grandparents, Alexis Rivard dit Lavigne and Julie Poisson, on 9 October 1821. After the naming of the bride and groom and their parents, the record goes on to say that no impediment to the marriage was found, other than the third degree of consanguinity, and a dispensation was issued by the vicar general on the 21st of September. The vicar general is the highest official in the diocese after the bishop. He is usually responsible for executing administrative authority in the diocese. Alexis and Julie were both great-grandchildren of François Rivard dit Lanouette dit Lavigne; Alexis from the first wife and Julie from the second.

5 In the News

The following stories captured my interest this week. African-American neighborhoods in Maryland, the history of zero, hobos in the Great Depression, the history of tea in Britain, and mirror balls.

Amid Festival Fun, a Serious Pasion for African-American History in Baltimore County
The Baltimore Sun reported on the Baltimore County African American Cultural Festival, which had some different groups this year.

“They told the stories of Marylanders who played on Negro Leagues baseball teams, of men who served their country as Buffalo Soldiers, and of Henrietta Lacks, whose cells sparked medical discoveries that her family never knew about for years. And they shared the stories of Baltimore County’s 40 recognized historically African-American neighborhoods, which few residents know about.”

Carbon Dating Reveals the History of Zero is Older than Previously Thought
For numbers people, the history of math can be as interesting as family history. The first known text describing zero as a number was written in India in 628 C.E. New carbon dating, however, has shown that date to be off . . . by hundreds of years.

Residents Embrace Rail History at Hobo Fest
The Port Huron and Detroit Historical Society recently held its 13th Hobo Fest. The festival remembers and tells the stories of those who rode the rails in the 1930s and 1940s to find work during those dark economic times.

The True Story Behind England’s Tea Obsession
Tea is universally thought of as a very British thing. But history shows us that it was actually a Portuguese woman who introduced the drink to the English. Catherine of Braganza, who married King Charles II after the restoration of the monarchy, brought the drink with her and introduced it to a nation.

 

Last of the Disco Ball Makers Still Hustles
 Yolanda Baker has been making mirrored balls for half a century. The Kentucky woman is still going strong, working at the last American manufacturer of the items, keeping Madonna, Kid Rock, and Beyonce (among others) in mirror balls.

Dit Names and Databases

This post was inspired by a message my friend Marian Pierre-Louis posted on Facebook. She is experiencing French-Canadian for the first time in helping a friend with her research. the question posed was “How do I handle dit names in genealogy programs or online trees?!!”

 

Dit names are sobriquets; nicknames to differentiate individuals who bear the same surname. (The word dit literally translates to called in English.) This practice was carried over from France to the New World, and was especially important in New France. The number of immigrants was quite small, and in a very short time it was necessary to tell the difference between all these people bearing the same or similar names. Dit names came about in a variety of different ways: personality (Jolicoeur), hair color (Leblanc or Leblonde), where the individual lived (Lamontagne or Larivière), or many other ways.

 

This multiple surname scenario causes issues with genealogy database programs and online trees. As a rule, they force you to choose a single surname as the standard surname, allowing you to attach other surnames for an individual. This is not the way these surnames were used. They were alternative but equivalent surnames, and used interchangeably. Sometimes they use dthe wor dit to connect them, sometimes it was a hyphen, sometimes nothing at all to link them. Individuals might use the original name in one record, the dit name only in another record, go back to the original surname, then use both in the next. In some families, the original name was eventually dropped in favor of the dit name as the surname. This is what happened in my family, as the name Houde went through multiple transitions to become Leclerc.

 

My seventh-great grandfather, Gabriel Houde, married Jeanne Petitclerc at Ste. Foye on 21 November 1713. They went on to have six children over the next decade, one of whom died in infancy. Of the five who lived to adulthood, three were boys and two were girls. Gabriel and the children sometimes used the dit name Houle. The two daughters continued to use the surnames Houde and Houle. The eldest son, Augustin, used Houde dit Clair. The next son, Claude (my sixth-great grandfather) and the youngest, Alexis, used Houde, Houle, Clair, and Clair Houde.

Burial Record of Antoine Claire Houle in the parish at La Baie du Febvre.

As they got older, they and their children would often appear in records as simply Clair Houde. Claude’s son Antoine used Houde, Houle, Clair, Claire, Clair Houde, Claire Houde, Clair Houle, and Claire Houle. Antoine’s great-grandson, Abraham, was born in 1862 as Abraham Clair Houde. He was my great-great grandfather, and brought his young family to Rhode Island in the 1890s. From that point forward, the family name was Leclerc.

 

This is one of the many reasons why I only use genealogy database programs for data management. For genealogical purposes, information is written up in word documents. That way, each record statement contains the version of the surname that was used in that record, something the database programs do not currently allow. The best of all worlds, however, would allow us to print all the names our ancestor used on consecutive lines in the same box.

 

The use of dit names was ubiquitous for more than two centuries. Despite the Quebec Act’s protections of French-Canadian culture, by the 1870s Anglo officials pressured them to “pick a surname and stick with it.” The practice of dit names dropped precipitously in Quebec, and those who migrated to the U.S. were also forced to pick a single name.