Saturday, August 13, 2011
Pierre Forcier: Secrets of the Status Animarum
According to the Federal censuses, my great-great grandfather Pierre Forcier was, or became, a cooper (barrel-maker) by profession. This made sense to me because his first American record is that of his marriage at La Pointe, which by the 1830s was essentially an outpost of the American Fur Company. The over-harvesting of beavers (for nearly 2 centuries coveted for their use in making the fashionable beaver-felt hats) inevitably created a shortage which, combined with the increasing availability of silk from the exotic Orient, led to a change in fashion. Soon everyone who wanted to be fashionable wanted silk hats instead of beaver, so naturally, fur companies in North America were compelled to look for other sources of income.
In 1835 the American Fur Company chose to branch out into commercial fishing on Lake Superior. Whitefish would be caught, salted and dried, and then packed in barrels to be shipped to the hungry hordes in the big cities. La Pointe, long a center for the fur trade, became the first center of that fishing enterprise, meaning that barrel-makers like Pierre were badly needed there—and were likely to marry there also, as Pierre did.
Barrel-making may sound like a reasonably simple profession, but when Pierre was at La Pointe, he couldn’t just trot over to the nearest lumberyard and hardware store for supplies. Such places did not yet exist. If you wanted wood, someone had to go and cut down a suitable tree whose wood was sturdy yet capable of being bent a bit, then you had to cut the wood into planks and shape them. If you wanted nails, you had to get a blacksmith to make them, one by one—not a cheap procedure, which is why impoverished Quebec habitants generally had to build their homes without them. (The La Pointe missionary Frederic Baraga wrote to a colleague how horrified he was to discover that my 3G Grandfather Joseph Dufaut and his crew built the mission church and rectory without using any nails at all.) Barrels nowadays are held together with metal bands. Frankly, I have no idea what Pierre used to hold his barrels together—perhaps spruce fiber, readily available, which was used to hold birch-bark canoes together. Clearly, Pierre was in a line of work where resources were limited and ingenuity was a necessity.
All this suggested to me that he may have come from a family of woodworkers of some sort. I would find out whether this notion was correct when I figured out who he was before he crossed the border. Meanwhile, I still needed more information about Pierre’s life in the USA and in particular, information about his children. Assuming that he followed Quebec naming customs, knowing their names and birth order would probably help me determine which Quebec-born Pierre Forcier was my 2G grandfather.
Pierre and Marguerite’s first child was born at La Pointe in 1839, but the American Fur Company did not prosper and ended the commercial fishing operation in 1841, going bankrupt not long afterwards. That explains why the couple’s second child, my great-grandmother Henriette, born in 1843, was born at the Iron River on the border between Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The family settled in the area of Assinins, Michigan, where Father Baraga established a mission in 1843.
The logical starting place to look for records of the couple’s other children, therefore, would be that mission’s registers of births, marriages, and burials. Unfortunately, the original baptism records for Assinins and its successor, St. Ann’s, were lost to fire in 1916; in the 1990s another devastating fire destroyed the later baptism register and the complete marriage and burial registers to that date. The Diocese does have a microfilm of the early registers, but that too is inaccessible without travel to Michigan. Fortunately, there was one other source of information available to me without expensive travel.
Several years ago, two members of the NISHNAWBE mailing list published on their own website the Status Animarum for the Most Holy Name of Jesus mission at Assinins, MI. A Status Animarum is a sort of ongoing census of Catholics for a given parish. (Nowadays a Status Animarum is done by computer and updated every year.) The one for the Indian mission at Assinins is entirely in Latin, by the way, so that you have to translate the names into their secular equivalents. When I returned to the hunt for Pierre, the original website had disappeared, and so had my printout of that copy of the Status Animarum; however, another copy is (underline next) now online again and can be downloaded, one page at a time.
The Status Animarum for Assinins is a rather confusing document to work with, because it is not like a regular census which includes the entire living population as of a specific date. Rather, it was a work in continual but sporadic progress at any given time. Rather than creating an entirely new Status Animarum on a regular basis or making a complete annual update, at this mission notations were added at random intervals (apparently when someone happened to think of it) to some (but not all) families that a child has been born or married so-and-so, or that one of the family members has died.
As children grew up and married, they were tacked onto the later pages of the Status Animarum as separate family groups, so some people occur on the list twice, once as children and later as adults. Families change over time: that’s how life works. Children are born; people get married; people die. But in this particular document, many of those changes are not recorded. Fortunately, from my own already-documented history of the Chaussé/Chosa family I can pretty well pinpoint the time this version was compiled, by analyzing who is listed and who is not.
The very first version of the Status Animarum seems to date to about 1856, possibly earlier (people are listed for whom a death year of 1857 has been added). The version now online must have been updated between February 1866 and August 1868: I know this because my grandfather, born February 1866, is shown as the youngest child of the family; the next child was born in August 1868 and is not listed. The basis of this version of the Status Animarum therefore dates to that interval, although for some families there are later updates.
The most recent notation records a birth in 1879. I assume the parish started from scratch and brought the whole thing up to date after that time. However, the old version survived and was typed up sometime after IBM came out with the first Selectric (1961), using the cursive font ball; that’s the version online now (and unfortunately, it’s full of typos).
Here is Pierre’s family as listed in the Status Animarum:
But going through the entire Status Animarum, line by line, I found that the parish was full of Pierre’s children by the time the copy I have was last updated. The children just weren’t living with him. Instead, they are shown in the family groups of other couples as “adopted”. (Nowadays, we would call them “fostered” since their surnames are still Forcier.) These children are (in birth order):
Simon Forcier, born 1839, and his wife Carolina (Charlotte) are Family # 57. I have his baptism record from La Pointe, so I knew as soon as I saw that entry that he was Pierre’s son. In the 1860 Census, Simon (recorded as Solomon), a cooper like his father, is living with his wife Charlotte next door to my great-grandparents Joseph Chousay (Chaussé/Chosa) and his wife “Harriet” (Henriette Forcier, Simon’s sister).
Henrica (Henriette aka “Harriet”), born 1841, married to Joseph “Chusse” [Chosa] (my great-grandparents) (Family # 35). I knew that they had married in June 1855, and they, with their first two children, are on the 1860 census.
Gabriel Forcier, born 1844, “adopted” by his sister Henriette and her husband, (shown in that same Family # 35). Gabriel is not found in the 1860 census (he may have been somewhere the census takers omitted), but he was still very much alive: he served in the Civil War, then came back to Assinins, married, had a large family, and lived until 1934. He and his family appear separately as Family # 87 on the next-to-last page of the Status Animarum; by that time (1874 or a bit later, the birth year for Gabriel’s youngest child listed), the names are being given in English rather than in Latin.
Petrus Forcier (Peter), born 1847, “adopted” by Franciscus Xav. Le Clair and his wife Maria Cloutier (Family # 32).
Jacobus (Jim) Forcier (recorded exactly that way), born 1849, “adopted” by Edwardus Mangosid and his wife (Family # 10).
Jacobus Forcier, (who actually used the name “Jacob”) born 1851, “adopted” by Edwardus Assinins and his wife (Family # 1). Note that there are two sons with the same Latin name, but who are clearly separate individuals.
Pierre and Marguerite may have had an additional child: the 1869 annuity roll for this band of Chippewa shows a woman named Margaret Forshy, age not stated, claiming only for herself. All of Pierre’s children had mixed-blood or full-blood mothers; it is possible that this woman was Pierre’s daughter, named according to Quebec custom for her mother, as was Pierre’s son Peter. But at this point the identification is tenuous at best and I can’t find any other trace of her; she may have been raised in another parish and thereby was not included in the Status Animarum, or perhaps her foster parents were not Catholics.
Putting it all together, I think the sequence of events is fairly clear. Pierre married Marguerite Raimond/Raymond at La Pointe in 1838, where Simon and my great-grandmother Henriette were baptized in 1839 and 1841. There were at least four more known children born to the couple: Gabriel in 1844; Peter in 1847; James in 1849; Jacob in 1851.
Since Marguerite seems to have had her children at about 2 to 3 year intervals, I believe she died early in 1853, very possibly in giving birth to a child who did not survive or was fostered out, possibly to a non-Catholic family, immediately after Marguerite’s death. (This possible child may have been the Marguerite who appears on the annuity roll.) In 1853, Simon was 14 or 15 and therefore was possibly able to cope on his own, especially since he had likely learned enough of his father’s trade to be a cooper himself by 1860, as recorded in that census; on the other hand, in those difficult times after Marguerite’s death, he may have helped feed the family with hunting and fishing. Henriette was 12 in 1853 and probably ran the household until she married Joseph Chosa in 1855, but I’m sure Joseph had no objections to taking in a brother-in-law, especially since Gabriel, age 11 in 1855, was old enough to be a real help on the farm.
This still left Pierre with at least 3 children (possibly 4) under the age of 7, and a man who makes his living as a cooper is going to have a very hard time keeping a proper eye on the littlest ones. There was only one prudent thing to do, and he did it: he had his younger children fostered by other local families. There is no indication as to how close he was to those children, but the fact that they retained the surname (and at least two of them gave his name to sons of their own) suggests that he maintained frequent contact with them.
According to my cousin (who had seen the original marriage record before the fire destroyed it), on 30 July 1853, Pierre married Josette Cloutier, then about 26 years old. Josette was born at Ontonagon on 19 November 1827, the daughter of Benjamin Cloutier and an Indian wife named Ikwe-so-nad-ish. (Being a Cloutier means that Benjamin and his children were also distant cousins of mine.) Josette had a sister named Marie, born in 1829 at Mackinac. I know all this because both the Cloutier girls were baptized at La Pointe on 17 September 1843. Why Josette was not able to care for her stepchildren is unclear, but the fact that in 1854 she gave birth to a son, Thomas, not fathered by Pierre, may have had a role: she must have been pregnant with Thomas at the time of the marriage. She also had Louis, a 4-year-old son of her own to cope with, and it may have been a very difficult pregnancy.
Pierre and Josette had two known daughters together, Angelica (Eveline in the 1860 census), born in 1855 and Rosalia (Lucinde in the 1860 census), born in 1859. Angelica Forcier died in July 1871, age 20 (i.e. born ca 1851) and single, her parents’ names being given as Peter Forcier and Josephine Forcier. Sadly, it was a short marriage: Josette died in 1860 sometime after the Federal census in early June. Daughter Angelica Forcier was then “adopted” by Family # 32, Franciscus Xav. Le Clair and his wife Maria Cloutier—the same couple who fostered Peter. Note that Pierre may in fact have married Josette because her sister took in his youngest son.
The Status Animarum has no information on the fate of Rosalie; she must have died not long after the census, possibly from whatever ailment claimed her mother Josette’s life the same year, but certainly before 1867 (when Michigan began receiving county death records).
After Josette’s death, there is no evidence of any marriage or extra-marital affair for Pierre until 1867. In August 1867, the Houghton County birth records show that Peter Forcier fathered a girl, Mary Forcier, by a woman listed as Annie Mash-kah-wash. Mary is stated to be illegitimate. There is also a Baraga County death record dated 10 September 1886 for Lottie Forcier, age 12 (therefore born ca 1874) whose parents were Peter and Annie Forcier. In the 1880 census Lottie is shown as Charlotte Forcier, age 5, living in the convent boarding school at Assinins. Where Peter and Annie were in 1880 I don’t know.
In January of 1868—just 5 months after Mary Forcier was born to Annie—the same Houghton County birth records show the birth of a girl named Mary jane Forcier to Peter Forcier and Louisa Forcier. Louisa (usually recorded as Sophia) and Mary Jane appear in the 1870 and 1880 censuses. Was Pierre—listed in the Status Animarum as a communicant, meaning that he took his religion seriously—at heart an old rip who was fooling around with two women at the same time?
Well, no. There were two Peter Forciers involved, clearly. The father of Mary (and therefore of Charlotte) is stated to have been born in L’Anse and is a fisherman. The father of Mary Jane is stated to be a Canadian-born cooper. The Peter who took up with Annie Mash-kah-wash must be Pierre’s son Peter, born in 1847, who would have been about 20 years old when little Mary was born. Meanwhile, about the same time as Peter Jr. took up with Annie, Pierre married Sophia. All the evidence suggests that Pierre was a serial monogamist and bon catholique.
I have no information on what happened to Mary Jane, Pierre’s last known child. She may have been sent to boarding school and wound up living elsewhere; she may have died young.
Naturally I investigated Sophia, Pierre’s last wife. The 1870 census gives Sophia’s age as 25, implying a birth about 1845. Pierre died in December 1879, but in the 1880 census, his widow Sophie, age 38 (therefore born about 1842) and his 11-year-old daughter Mary J. are living at the Assinins mission. Sophia’s May 1881 Baraga County death record gives her age as 30 (therefore born about 1851) and states that she is a widow (cause of death was “typhoid pneumonia”). As a general rule, the age stated in the earliest record is likely to be closest to the correct age, especially in an era where few people kept track of their own age. (The census ages are almost certainly guesses, possibly made by the census taker.) Without a baptism record, I can’t settle the approximate year of Sophia’s birth or her actual age at death. However, Sophia’s death record does state that her parents were Abram Migizance and Margaret Migizance.
Here’s where things get unnecessarily complicated. In most records for Indian families, the Indian name of the father is put down as a surname and (the government hoped) kept as such by later generations (preferably translated, if hard to pronounce). First names as stated in white-made records are notoriously inaccurate (Indians were commonly considered in the same category as wildlife, so obviously it doesn’t matter whether you get the personal names right or not).
The Status Animarum does not show any Abram Migizance, but it does show that Amabilis Migisens (=Migizance) and his wife Margarita Gendron (Family # 8) had a daughter named Sophia, born in 1849. It also states that Sophia “nupsit” (married) Kwekegijig.
Family # 54 on the Status Animarum is that of Isidarus Gwekigijig (= Kwekigijig) and Theresia Kakabishe, his wife; both are noted as deceased, but among their children is Sophia (birth year not stated) “nupsit Petrus Forcier”: the woman who is shown as Pierre’s wife in the 1870 census. Now, no priest would state that an observant Catholic like Pierre was married unless he and Sophia had been properly married in church, so although I don’t have the church record, I’m sure that there was one—but before 1868, when the counties of Michigan began reporting marriages to the State.
The Status Animarum also states that Sophia’s brother, Isadarus Kwekigijig Jr. married Sophia Migisins in 1863: presumably this is the same Sophia born 1849 who was the daughter of Amabilis Migisens and Margarita Gendron, stated on that family’s entry as having married Kwekegijig.
Isidarus Jr. (son of Kwekigijig and Theresia) married Sophia, daughter of Amabilis Migisins and Margarita Gendron; the young man’s sister Sophia married Pierre Forcier. The two Sophias were sisters-in-law who were apparently fairly close in age. The logical conclusion is that whoever reported the death of Pierre’s wife got the two Sophias confused and recorded the wrong set of parents for her.
At this point, I had gathered all the records available to me on this side of the border. Now it was time to cross the border to look for Pierre in Quebec.