Saturday, June 26, 2010

Meanwhile, Back In The Fur Trade . . .

All the while I was trying to backtrack Great-Grandfather Joseph Chosa to his birthplace in Quebec, I was also working on the family of my other maternal great-grandfather, Vincent Dufauld. Vincent was Anishinaabe, a member of what is now called the Bois Forte Band of Minnesota Chippewa. He lived on the reservation at Nett Lake, but there was never any doubt that he had French-Canadian ancestry since his surname was of French-Canadian origin. But who were his parents?

Remember what my Great-Grandfather Joseph said when someone in Michigan asked how his surname was spelled? The family story is that he answered, “You spell it like it sounds.” The trouble was that there are many, many ways to spell a surname like Chaussé. Well, the same is true for the surname Dufauld, in spades.

Great-Grandfather Vincent’s surname was “usually” spelled Dufauld or DeFoe in the records for him and his immediate family. For his kinfolk, the surname was most commonly spelled Dufault in American records, but it also turns up as Default, Dufeu, Dufau, Dufeaux, Dufaut, Dufaux, Defoe, Dafoe, and probably a few other variations. (I eventually learned that Dufaut and Dufaux were the most common spellings in Quebec.) The worst American spelling is Default: you can’t run an effective Google search on Default because it’s a term which shows up in computer technology all the time, so you get thousands of hits, and you can go through 100 or more screens without turning up a single person surnamed Default. But that’s how the surname is sometimes spelled in Amercian vital records.

I found Vincent in the US censuses only because I already knew where he had lived much of his adult life, namely on the Bois Forte Reservation in northern Minnesota. I did, however, have one advantage with him: his first name of Vincent was relatively uncommon (compared to, say, Joseph). In the 1900 and 1910 federal censuses (his surname was spelled Default on both) he was on the Indian Schedules at Bois Forte with his wife and two of his daughters. Those censuses said he was born in Minnesota. However, the census taker recorded that ALL the Indians he enumerated were born in Minnesota, of Minnesota-born parents. (This just goes to show you can’t put blind faith in the censuses.)

When I first set out to trace my mother’s ancestry, I had assumed that Great-Grandfather Joseph had come to the US as a voyageur; that was because I knew very little about the actual patterns of French-Canadian immigration.

However, a little poking around taught me that a very large number of French-Canadian immigrants were farmers like Joseph or skilled workmen (blacksmiths, carpenters etc.). Many without such trades crossed the border, especially from about 1870 onwards, to find work in the industrial mills of New England. Great-Grandfather Joseph had, according to the censuses, supported himself at first by fishing, but as soon as he could, he acquired farmland and from then on was always described as a farmer: clearly it was most likely that he had crossed the border not as a voyageur but to find some good farmland. This in turn suggested that Joseph came from a family of habitants, peasant farmers.

Great-Grandfather Vincent, however, was definitely not a farmer (although he may have had a garden). Like most Bois Forte men at the turn of the century, he made his living by fur trapping, hunting, guiding, and fishing, and he and his family surely harvested and processed wild rice. Nett Lake wild rice is the best in the world (the stuff grown in paddies doesn’t even come close in terms of flavor and nutritional value) and you can buy it online (and no, I won’t personally make a cent off of anyone else’s purchase).

Since Great-Grandfather Vincent lived as he did, he was most likely descended from voyageurs. Knowing this, I joined the NISHNAWBE Mailing List at Rootsweb early on. This was, and still is, a very active list for “anyone researching Native Americans in Michigan and Wisconsin, and the fur traders connected with them.”

This was one of the best decisions I ever made: I learned where fur-trade records were to be found, I learned about numerous valuable sources of information for fur-trade ancestors, and even connected with several other people who had fur-trade ancestors surnamed some variation of Dufault or, in the female lines, Roy and Cadot/Cadotte.

Early on in my research I had made a habit of checking the message boards, mailing lists, and family trees online for names of my known ancestors, hoping to connect with relatives who knew more than I did. And this was one time that habit led to a huge payoff: a cousin of mine (whom I had never met), posted his family tree online. He didn’t know any more about the Chosa-Forcier side of the family than I did, but he had a great deal of information about the Dufaulds passed down to him from his grandmother Annie Dufauld (Vincent’s daughter, and the full sister of my grandmother Clara Dufauld). I never knew Grandmother Clara; she had died long before I was born.

My cousin knew the names of Vincent’s parents (Michel Dufauld and Josette Roy) and of several of his siblings and where they had lived. He even knew the names of Michel’s father (Joseph Dufauld) and Josette’s parents (Vincent and Lizzie). We began a lively correspondence and a good friendship, although we never met in person until last year.

Meanwhile, I was still working with others on the NISHNAWBE list and learned that GGG Grandfather Joseph Dufauld/Dufaut's wife was Julie Cadotte, daughter of the famous Michel Cadotte and his Anishinaabe wife Marie-Madeleine (Equaysayway), and that Michel was the son of the equally famous Jean-Baptiste Cadot and his redoubtable wife Marie-Athanasie (Equawaice).

With this much information as my starting point, I began to collect census and other records on Vincent and his known ancestors. I needed to confirm and document the relationship—not that I didn’t believe my cousin or the people on the NISHNAWBE list, mind you, but careful examination of the documentary evidence could turn up further clues so that I could prove the connections and take the lines back into Quebec.’s search engine, although it has its faults, was able to find Vincent in the 1880 census for Bayfield, Wisconsin, living with his parents (names given as Michel and Julia) and six siblings: Julia age 24, John age 20, Louis age 10, Michel age 8, Peter age 4, and a male age 6 whose name looks like “Vassau” or “Vassim” (neither name seems likely, and it doesn’t look like “Vincent” either). All were—as I expected—stated to be indians. The children had all been born in Wisconsin. Mother “Julia” (an obvious mistake for “Josette”), age 44, had been born in Canada of Canadian-born parents; father Michel, age 54, had been born in Wisconsin, like his mother, and his father had been born in Canada. Michel was a carpenter by profession.

I already knew from family information that Great-Grandfather Vincent had a brother named Peter who was about the same age. Vincent was age 22 in the 1880 census—18 years older than the Peter in the household. However, I had early on realized that census takers did not always list the relationship to the head of the household (as they were directed); in households with 3 or more generations, grandchildren were often listed as “son” or “daughter” when a parent’s name appeared above theirs. In other words, little Peter was “probably” a grandson of Michel and Josette, and his mother was most likely the eldest daughter Julia, age 24. But where was the Peter who was Vincent’s brother and near to him in age?

I found him in Superior, Wisconsin, for the same 1880 census, born in Wisconsin like both parents, age 18. Peter was in the household of Vincent Roy, age 55, a merchant from Canada. Vincent Roy had a wife, Lizzie, age 50, born in Minnesota of Canadian-born parents, and several children (including a Vincent). All were listed as white. However, since my cousin’s information was that Vincent Roy and his wife Lizzie were Vincent’s maternal grandparents, I was reasonably sure that this Peter was Vincent’s brother and that the household members were listed as white because they were living in a town in essentially the same manner as their white neighbors.

So I searched for the Vincent Roy and Michel Dufauld families farther back in the censuses: the trail for both led, as expected, to La Pointe, on Madeline Island, in what is now Bayfield County, Wisconsin, as far back as the 1850 census.

And that’s when some of my fur-trade and Anishinaabe ancestors decided to help me out.

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