Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Many-Cadotte Problem, Part 2: Solving the First Puzzle

With so much material available, sorting out the voyageur Cadottes on this side of the border is not necessarily a huge problem when you’re working in the first third of the 1800s and earlier—especially if you can noodle the information with others working on the same problem, as I did.

No one can deny that the Cadottes are easy to find in the records. In fact, there is an embarrassment of riches: they turn up all over the place. The problem is that there are so many of them with the same personal names active in the fur trade in the same general time frame that you have to figure out which of the four or five Jean-Baptiste possibles is being mentioned or discussed in each record.

I once had gainful employment for several years as a spreadsheet maven, so when I was trying to sort out all the Cadottes who showed up in the mission records at La Pointe I instinctively organized into a great big spreadsheet all the information I and others of the NISHNAWBE list “Cadotte team” had found.

The available information included American census records, sacramental records of the mission churches at Mackinac and La Pointe, the mixed-blood documentation generated by the various treaties, plus bits and pieces gathered from other fur traders (notably Alexander Henry), travelers, and various government records.

I matched lists of children in the treaty rolls against the church records so that I could sort out the family groups. I also had a photo I’d taken at the Madeline Island museum of a list of all the children—with birth dates) born to my direct ancestors Michel Cadotte and his wife Equay-say-way (Madeleine). The original list was in the family account book. (Michel had been educated in Montréal and therefore kept good business records; being a devout Catholic, he also kept good records of family affairs.) Having accurate birth dates was a big help.

Gathering all the information in one place and putting it all into a spreadsheet let me compare family groups from the assorted treaty Field Notes side by side along with the other records. It was then fairly simple to match up which records belonged to which family. Even better, I quickly realized that, statistically, it was extremely unlikely in the 1839 Field Notes (vetting information of Mixed-Bloods) for the 1837 Treaty of St. Peters that there would be three or more men of the same age with the same name who had children with the same names in the same order and of the same ages, the only difference between family groups being the names of the wives/mothers.

I could also see that the wives, although called by different names by different consultants, had to be the same persons (same age, same place of birth); I finally realized that the confusion came from the fact that, like most Anishinaabe, they had several Anishinaabe names as well as one or two Christian names. Marie Catherine, for example, might be called by one consultant Marie and “Catherine” by another, while a third might use one of her Anishinaabe names and someone else might refer to her as Josette. Clearly, the various men who were consulted knew the husbands well enough but didn’t always use the same names for the wives.

I submit that far too many people feel that wives are not all that important, that only the male line “counts”. Translation: it’s easier to trace males because the surname is always recorded in American records, while women generally take their husband’s surname. This is simply not true if your ancestry is Franch-Canadian: the wife keeps her maiden name all her life, so there’s no excuse for not tracing her ancestry.

Being female myself, I naturally noticed that half of everyone’s ancestors are women. Some of your most interesting ancestors will be in the female line. If one of your female ancestors—or her father or brother or uncle—was famous, noble, or important, wouldn’t you want to know about her and her family? Still, sexism was alive and flourishing in the USA back in the early 1800s (and still is!) and we have to deal with it the best we can. In this case, I realized that the “multiple” wives of each Cadotte, Roy, and Dufaut—no matter how someone remembered their names—were clearly the same woman in every case.

Once I figured that out, the pieces of the Cadotte puzzle came together. Putting all the available information in the same place and matching duplicates did the trick. The only reasonable conclusion was that these “different” family groups in the Field Notes were actually one family group as vetted by several different persons. And in fact, the final rolls always showed only one or two adult men with the same name and I sorted out the family groups accordingly; the rolls would record two men with the same name as being father and son or as number 1 and 2 if they were not so related.

Note that if you’re not comfortable with spreadsheets, you can have your genealogy software create and print out Family Group Sheets for each “possible”, or you can write each source’s information on plain index cards or sheets of paper and lay them out on a table (assuming your table is big enough). Any method that lets you compare all the “possibles” side by side should work, provided you remain logical and notice that people rarely marry before they’re out of diapers or after they have perished.

Frankly, once I figured out this approach, it wasn’t particularly difficult to solve the Many-Cadotte Problem in regard to most of the Cadottes who were close relatives of my direct Cadotte ancestors (and therefore of my Dufauts and Roys) and who show up in the La Pointe registers. When I found a Cadotte serving as godparent to the child of a Roy or a Dufaut, I could now say with considerable assurance what the relationship was between them. This in turn helped me sort out the Roys and Dufauts.

It’s the other Cadottes/Cadots who confuse unwary researchers. Chief confusers: the various other Jean-Baptistes, of whom several were active in the fur trade at the same time. And perhaps the most confusing is the marital history of the Jean-Baptiste who was the brother of my 4G Grandfather Michel (“Big Michel”). I’m sure it was no mystery for him, of course, nor for any of his family; but for those of us living some 200 years later who have to rely on not-very-detailed documents, it’s a not-quite-resolved hassle.

Unfortunately, plenty of confused researchers out there were (or are) clearly unaware that there was more than one Jean-Baptiste and more than one Michel in each generation. Worse, there are still too many online family trees which assume that every fur-trade Cadotte was a direct descendant of the famous Jean-Baptiste Cadot (my 5G Grandfather) born in 1723, who entered the fur trade about 1742, married an Anishinaabe woman named Marie-Athanasie at Mackinac in 1756, and was survived by his 2 famous sons, Jean-Baptiste fils and Michel.

Now, I’m not opposed to simple solutions as such, only incorrect ones. A little poking around in the Quebec registers quickly turned up information that my Jean-Baptiste père had several brothers and a slew of male first cousins, many of whom made at least one voyage in the fur trade. This is not surprising since the first Cadot (Mathurin) to come to New France was probably a coureur-du-bois (unlicensed dealer in furs) from 1670 onward before becoming a contracted voyageur in the 1680s. Then he married, started having children, and became a licensed fur trader, continuing to travel into Ottawa territory at least until 1690, when he retired at last and became a farmer. It would be surprising if his four sons had not also gotten their economic start in the fur trade and passed that tradition on to their sons and grandsons.

Naturally, I wanted to determine which Jean-Baptiste Cadot/Cadotte in the numerous contemporary records for men of that name was Michel’s brother and what happened to him after 1803. Undoubtedly, his brother’s fate was important to Michel and his family (including his daughter Julie, also my direct ancestor), and I felt I owed it to my Cadot ancestors to have a go at sorting out that puzzle.

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