Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Perplexing Problem of the Duplicate Désirés

My great-grandfather Joseph Chosa, who spent his adult life in Baraga County, Michigan, was born and baptized on 8 August 1833 at Ste-Élisabeth, Joliette, Quebec. He was the first child of Joseph Han-dit-Chaussé and his wife Catherine Lavoie, and I’m ashamed to admit that after I finally identified him, I didn’t spend a lot of time researching his immediate family. I found the baptism records of his brothers and sisters and documented what I could at Ste-Élisabeth, then turned to tracing the lines father back. But the time came when I wanted to know more about his brothers and sisters. Had any of them come to the USA? Had they kept in touch with Great-Grandfather Joseph (who I knew was able to read and write)? Did I have Chaussé cousins on this side of the border?

As it turned out, it was a fairly straightforward if slow matter to track down the fates of Joseph’s brothers and sisters. Since Ancestry.com now had the Drouin Collection of Quebec parish records online and searchable, I was able to follow the family as it grew and moved around. Two siblings died in childhood and a third was baptized and subsequently abducted by aliens, but I found marriage records for 6 of Joseph’s other siblings and the baptism records for many of his nieces and nephews. After the deaths of Joseph’s parents (Joseph père in 1874 and mother Catherine in 1877, both at L’Avenir in Drummond County, Quebec) I found records for most of the survivors in the US censuses for New England, with their families.

Missing in all these records was any mention of Great-Grandfather Joseph (as I expected, since I knew he had settled in Michigan and married there in 1855). However, there was also no further mention of second son Désiré or of fourth son François-Xavier. Had they, like last-born Marie, been abducted by aliens? Or had they also crossed the border to the USA but lived out their lives somewhere other than in New England or Michigan?

My grandfather’s brother Frank (baptized, of course, as Francis Xavier) had once given an interview to his local newspaper in which, among other things, he stated that his father Joseph had served his country in the military. This had led me to look for Joseph Chosa/Chausse/et al in the Civil War Pension records. I didn’t find Joseph; in fact, all the evidence pointed to Great-Grandfather having stayed at home in Michigan, running his farm and fathering children, 3 of whom were born or conceived during the Civil War. However, I did find records of a Desire F. Chausse and a Francis X. Chausse who did serve: the same names as the “vanished” brothers of Joseph, except for the addition of the middle initial F. for Désiré, which is not in the baptism record. However, it’s possible that the curé at Ste-Élisabeth failed to record the middle name or that the family decided to add it later; there’s another possibility, too, which I’ll get to later. The absence of a middle name beginning with “F” in Désiré’s baptism record does not rule him out as the Civil War veteran.

From a posting on a rootsweb mailing list I now made contact with a 3rd cousin who was a descendant of the Civil War Francis X. Chausse, and he told me not only that the Francis and Desire F. who had served in the Union Army were brothers born at Ste-Élisabeth, but that they had a brother Joseph who had settled in rural Michigan. (It was nice to get that last tidbit, although I was already sure of Great-Grandfather Joseph’s place of birth and parentage.) I was able to find numerous records confirming and adding to what my cousin related about Francis/François.

With Désiré, however, there was a problem.

Now, “Désiré Chaussé”, with or without the accents, is a pretty uncommon male name in Quebec even today, and it was very uncommon in 1835, when my GG uncle was born, so I should have had no real difficulty locating and tracing him in the USA, right?

Wrong! There are clearly two Desire Chausses (no accents over the “e”s, of course) in the American records: both were born in Quebec, Canada, and both appear to have been born in the same time frame. How in the world could I determine which one was my GG uncle?

The answer, as always, was to start collecting as many records as possible and mining them for clues. I looked at state and federal censuses, Civil War records, and everything else I could think of. I wanted and needed as much information as I could find to determine which, if either, of these men, was my GG uncle. Several more-or-less distant cousins had some information about one or both of these men.

Francis X. Chausse had enlisted in the Union army at Wingville, Wisconsin, on 13 August 1862. Desire F. Chausse had enlisted in the Union Army at Boscobel, Wisconsin on 15 February 1865, only a couple of months before the war ended. Wingville and Boscobel are both in Grant County and are in fact only about 12 miles apart. This suggested but did not prove that Francis and his brother Désiré remained in contact with one another after they crossed the border. I needed more facts.

American census records for one of the Desires showed that by 1860 he was living in Dubuque, Iowa, age 27 (i.e. born about 1833) with a wife named Philomene; both were born in Canada and the couple have 3 children, Mary, Desire, and “Havier” (surely, Xavier), all born in Iowa. Now, Dubuque, Iowa is adjacent to Grant County, Wisconsin, so this Desire could certainly have enlisted in Boscobel.

In the 1870 census, this family is in Jefferson, Dakota Territory; Desire is now age 39 (i.e. born about 1831), and there are now 8 children, the 4 oldest born in Iowa and the younger ones born in Dakota. A Desire Chausse is listed among the members of the Territorial Legislature for the December 1874-January 1875 session. The 1880 census puts the family in Big Sioux Township, Union County, Dakota Territory (later South Dakota). Desire’s age is now 46 (i.e. born ca 1834); the 2 oldest sons are living in another household, and there are 9 children living at home ages 4-21.

My GG Uncle Désiré was born in February 1835, but despite the fact that the implied birth dates in the censuses were a bit off, I could not rule out Philomene’s husband as my GG uncle. That’s because there was no way to know who had provided the information: the wife? one of the children? a neighbor? the census taker himself, taking a guess based on appearance? It was extremely probable that, like many other people in this time frame, this Desire did not keep track of his exact age, although he, like Joseph, probably knew his exact birthdate. I needed more information.

I learned from a fellow Chaussé researcher in an online post on the Chausse message board on rootsweb.com that the Civil-War soldier Desire married twice. Some of the details regarding Désiré’s pedigree are inaccurate: a generation was omitted in the post and the exact date of Désiré’s baptism is wrong, but this researcher has made an exhaustive study of the Chaussé name in Quebec and is pretty reliable in general. I learned from him—and verified by available records—that this Désiré’s first wife was Missouri-born Eliza Hamilton, and I found the couple in the 1860 census in Maple Grove, Hennepin County, Minnesota. Desire is cleverly hiding under the alias of Francis Chausset, a farmer age 25, i.e. born about 1835. (My Désiré was in fact born in February 1835.) With him were his wife Eliza, born in Missouri, and two children, Walter age 2, born in Wisconsin, and William, age 2 months, born in Minnesota.

So how do I know this man is really a Désiré? For one thing, I already knew that Désiré had acquired a middle name beginning with "F", and "Francis/François" is the most likely name. I also know that all of the information about the other family members and about him matches that of the information given on the message board—and in later records—about him and his family. “Francis” is shown as age 25, therefore born about 1835. My Désiré was born in February 1835. I suspect Désiré added the middle name of Francis himself after he crossed the border and people started making snide jokes about his name. How would you like to be called “Desire” (rhyming with “fire”) and having people laughing at you? In fact, I rather suspect that Désiré enlisted in the Union army in early 1865 primarily to stop people from making fun of him. Defenders of the Union would get respect, no matter what their names were.

If that was his reasoning, he was correct: in the 1870 census, the family is living in Belmont, Lafayette County, Wisconsin. Desire is now called Desire again, and he and Eliza have 5 children plus a servant girl in the household. The names, ages, and birthplaces of the wife and two oldest children match the information in the 1860 census. Desire now states his occupation as “carpenter” rather than farmer.

The information from the fellow Chausse researcher was that Eliza died in 1871 in Harlan, Shelby County, Iowa, and that Desire then married Mercy Blake in Iowa on 22 June 1872. I have no independent confirmation of those exact dates, but the information does fit with the census records.

The 1880 census finds “Desiron Chausse” and wife Mercy living in Harlan, Shelby County, Iowa. There are only 4 children in the household: Walter, born in Wisconsin and now age 21, and 3 young children born in Iowa ages 6, 4, and 1. What happened to the others I do not know. I do know that sometime between the 1880 Federal census and the 1885 Iowa State census, Desire died, since Mercy is listed as a widow in the state census. It seemed to me probable that he had died in Iowa, but a North Dakoa death index shows that one Desire Chausse died in Carrington, Foster County, North Dakota in 1883. It appears that at least one of this Desire’s children was living in that area at the time, so it is not unreasonable to assume he was visiting family when he died there. In the 1885 Iowa State Census, “Mercy Chausse”, widow, is living with her son William and her other children in Harlan County.

After her husband’s death, Mercy married again, to widower Jasper Elery. Someone apparently thought her name of “Mercy” was too hifalutin’, because she usually is called “Mertie” from that point on. Jasper and Mercy had several children, and two of the children from her first marriage were still living in the household in the 1900 census in Cass, Cass County, Iowa. By 1910 Jasper and “Myrtle” are living in Rutland, Lake County, South Dakota, but they soon moved on to Montana.

The couple separated, probably divorced, about 1916, and Mercy moved in with two of her sons before the 1920 census for Montana, which states that she is a widow, although Jasper Elery did not die until 1924. By 1930 she is living with a daughter. “Mercy B. Elery” finally died on 16 July 1953 in Yellowstone County, Montana, age about 99. Why am I discussing the later life of the widow in so much detail? Because “Mertie Elery” in Montana applied for a Civil War pension as the widow of Desire F. Chausse in 1916. This is proof positive that her Desire was the Civil War veteran, but not whether the veteran was the brother of my great-grandfather.

So there I was stuck. The names of the children were not much help: the Desiré who married Philomene gave his children mostly French names; the Désiré who married Eliza and Mercy gave his children good, solid “American” names. That proves nothing whatsoever. Immigrants could (and still do) choose names for their children on either basis. There appeared to be no way to determine positively which Desire Chausse was my great-grandfather’s brother from the records I had found.

So what’s the solution to this kind of situation? More records, of course!

Both of these men were in the right age bracket and born in Canada. Both were in the USA before 1860, and both were farmers according to the census. And even in the 1850s, you couldn’t just start plowing anywhere you felt like it without someone getting very, very annoyed. This meant I should see if there were land records.

An index to Iowa land records at Ancestry.com turned up the purchase of a tract of land in Jefferson, Dubuque County, Iowa by one Desire Chaussee on 8 September 1849. The Desire who married Philomene and eventually lived in the Dakotas was living in that community in 1860. He is not apparently there in the 1850 Census, but there is a family of Canadian-born Chaussees who are likely to be his relatives (but not his parents; the parents are too young).

Further evidence: the 1851 census of Canada (also online at Ancestry.com) shows that as of the census date, both Great-Grandfather Joseph and his brother François-Xavier were still living with their parents in Ste-Élisabeth, while Désiré Chaussé was working at a nearby farm. If he had somehow gotten to Iowa on his own and somehow acquired the money to buy land in Iowa in 1849—when he was only 14 years old—why would he be back in Ste-Élisabeth in 1851?

Problem solved. My GG uncle had to be the Desire who married twice, not the husband of Philomene.

I’d still like to find the origins of the other Désiré, though. He may have been a relative, after all. (There are three lines of Chaussés in Quebec: the Han-dit-Chaussés, the Chaussé-dit-Lemeines, and the plain no-dit-name Chaussés.)

But that will have to be a later quest. I have too many loose ends to tie up here and there, for me to go off on the trail of a man who could be no relative at all. For now, I’m just glad that I’ve documented this chunk of my own extended family history.

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