Saturday, August 14, 2010

And The Winner Is . . .

Now that I had a set of relatively rare first names to look for, I took up the search for Great-Grandfather Joseph Chosa with renewed vigor. There were several Quebec parish registers I had ordered which i had kept on indefinite loan at the Family HIstory Center for their information on my Dufauld, Cadotte, and Roy ancestors. Some of these covered part or all of the right period (roughly 1800-1850 for the whole family, since I didn’t know whether Great-Grandfather Joseph was the first-born, a middle child, or the baby of the family), so I started with these films. When none of these turned up a likely suspect, I began ordering the registers for parishes where I had turned up Chaussés during my earlier trip to Salt Lake City.

It didn’t take long to go through each one, even though many of the registers were in poor condition. What I really did was look in the indexes first. In the period I was researching, the curé of every Catholic church in Quebec was required not only to maintain a record of baptisms, marriages, and burials but to provide an index to those records. The format of each index was determined by the curé himself.

Some indexes were simply a chronological list of the main surname(s) of the entries, with a notation as to type of sacrament involved. Some were chronological lists giving separate lists for baptisms, marriages, and burials. Some more enterprising curés alphabetized the whole list by surname and then made notations as to which type of sacrament was involved. And some ultra-helpful curés made separate lists for each type of sacrament and then alphabetized the lists by surname. Some listed first names as well as surnames, many didn’t. In the case of marriage records, some curés made two entries, one for the groom’s surname and one for the bride’s; others simply listed both names in one entry (the husband's name first, of course).

Most indexes list a page number, or rather a leaf number: 16R for the page on the right (recto) side of the open register, 16V (verso=other side) for the other side of the leaf. So when you see an open register with both pages showing, the left page usually has no page number but the right page does (often written out, for example "quatorze" or "quatorzieme feuille" instead of 14). In this example, the left page would be 13V and the right would be 14R.

However it was done, the indexes enable you to skim through a register very quickly instead of slogging through every entry, if you're looking for a single record. However, if the records show any of the surnames (including those of in-laws or known godparents to children in a family you are researching), and/or if this parish is very near to where your ancestor lived, I strongly recommend going through the entire register page by page anyway.

Why? Because the index won’t tell you if your ancestor was a godparent to someone else’s child, or if he or she is now using a new dit name. Nor will the index tell you if your ancestor witnessed a marriage or if a previously-unknown-to-you child or spouse has died. A reference in someone else’s family record may be the only way you can document an approximate death date or marriage for your ancestor.

What I was looking for now was not only records for a Joseph Chaussé or a Joseph Han/Ham/An/Am with or without the “dit Chaussé”, or for that matter, a Joseph Lemeine or Lemain or something along that line. I was looking for Philomènes, Seraphines, Eugènes, Alexandres or Alexises, Léons, possibly even an Henri. I was also keeping an eye out for Guillaumes, Marie-Annes, Antoines, François or François-Xaviers, Jacques, Annes or Annas, and Pierres among people related to the children with the uncommon names.

When I got to the parish records beginning in 1800 for Sainte-Élisabeth, the hairs across the back of my neck began to stand up. There were a fair number of Han-dit-Chaussés here, sometimes recorded as plain Ham, Han, Am, or An. In one of those families—that of Joseph Han-dit-Chaussé and his wife Marie-Lucie Charon-dite-Ducharme—the children included an Antoine, a Marie-Henri, a Léon, and an Alexis. The eldest son was (of course) Joseph, who in November 1832 married Catherine Lavoie, the daughter of Joseph Lavoie and Marguerite Demers.

Nine months later, on August 8, 1833, Catherine gave birth to a son who was baptized on the same day and named (of course) after his father Joseph. The baptism record gives his surname as Chaussé. The godparents were Joseph Chaussé and Marguerite Demers, who were the baby’s paternal grandfather and his maternal grandmother. (This was in itself somewhat uncommon, but each of the baby’s parents was the eldest child in the family and infant Joseph was the very first grandchild for both sets of grandparents.)

I knew that my great-grandfather’s stated age at death implied a birth date of 9 August 1830, and that the 1900 census said he was born in August 1828. I already knew that the birth year of Great-Grandmother Henriette was wrong in that same census, but the month was correct. This Joseph would have been less than two months short of his 22nd birthday in mid-June 1855, and the birth year in the Status Animarum stated a birth year of 1833. (As for the birth date of 9 August implied in the death record, I think whoever calculated it forgot that any century year, including 1900, is not a leap year. That would create a one-day-too-early error in calculating age at death from the birth and death dates.)

I shrieked.

Other people who were in the Family History Center came running to help, but they quickly realized that I was shrieking with joy. I knew that I had found Great-Grandfather Joseph at last.

Further entries in the register confirmed the identification. This Joseph had a brother named François-Xavier and an uncle with the same name; another brother was actually named Henry (with a “y”!), and an aunt was named Marie-Henri; a third brother was named Eugène, as was a double first cousin. This Joseph had a sister named Marie-Séraphine. He didn’t have a sister named Philomène but he did have not one but two first cousins with that name. He had briefly had an uncle Léon (who had died, age 6, eight months after Joseph’s birth—and it was common practice to name a child after a collateral relative who had died very young, especially if no one else in the family has done so); he had uncles on both sides named Antoine and Alexis; and of course, many close relatives named Marie-(something).

I had earlier found US military records for two men surnamed Chausse—specifically, a Désiré and a Francis Xavier, both born in French Canada—who had served in the Union Army during the American Civil War. This Joseph had a brother named Désiré (born in 1835) and another named François-Xavier (born in 1838), each of whom had, like Joseph, disappeared from the Quebec records. Further investigation later showed that the ages of the two Civil War veterans squared with those birth dates.

Of course, it was possible that all this was coincidence; perhaps the eldest son of Joseph and Catherine had died in Quebec or simply stayed there. So I followed the trail of the rest of the family in Quebec, from Ste-Élisabeth to St-Guillaume d’Upton (across the St Laurence River in Yamaska County) to L’Avenir, Drummond County (southeast of St-Guillaume), where the parents died and several of their children married and produced grandchildren. I collected every record from this extended family that I found.

In none of those areas (and I checked the surrounding parishes) was there a marriage record for this Joseph or a burial record; he was never a godparent to any of the children of his brothers and sisters (who were all younger than he); when the 1851 census of Canada came online, I found him still at home as of the official census date of 11 January 1851 (although the actual census may have been taken a year later due to “technical difficulties”). His brothers Désiré and François-Xavier were also still living in Ste-Élisabeth in that census. All in all, no family sacramental or census record later than 1851 involved Joseph, Désiré or François-Xavier; clearly, none of the three had stayed in Quebec anywhere near the rest of the family. I was reasonable confident that I could prove that Désiré and François-Xavier had come to the USA in time to serve in the Civil War.

Now, at long last, I could begin tracing Joseph’s ancestry—after I figured out what happened to the rest of his family after he left home around 1851. Had any of the others also emigrated to the United States? If so, where did they settle, and who were their US-born children? I wanted to get as many records of all his siblings and their families as possible, because these were the people Joseph had grown up with, the people who mattered to him, and (since I knew he could read and write), it was likely that he had kept in touch with them after crossing the border to live in the Michigan.

And their descendants were my cousins.

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