1861: The widow Elise (Charbonneau) Bouchard

First in a series about the younger sister of my French-Canadian ancestor Laurent Charbonneau, who emigrated from Québec to New York State around 1852.

Stained glass fleur de lis bordered in black. The year 1860 was a traumatic one for Elise (Charbonneau) Bouchard, younger sister of my ancestor Laurent Charbonneau, because she was mourning the deaths of her husband and two children in St. Eustache, Deux Montagnes, Quebec. By: local louisville

Elise Charboneau, my great, great grandfather Laurent’s younger sister, is not a direct ancestor of mine. But I feel tremendous compassion for her because of the family tragedies she experienced as a young wife and mother.

According to the 1861 Recencement Personnel [Personal Census] of Canada, she appears to have lost not only her husband but also two babies during the previous year — the sad story revealed in the census-taker’s log.

A tale of heartbreaking loss

During the census year, Elise was a widow living with her parents, her younger brother and a servant at her father Louis’s inn, located  in St. Eustache, Deux Montagnes, Québec — which I wrote about  in 1861: Charbonneau parents and siblings.

Two little girls (Elise Bouchard, 2, and Marie Bouchard, 1) –presumably her daughters — were also listed with her. Although this part of her family remained intact, the widow Elise was doubtless still in mourning after the untimely events of 1860.

 1861 Recensement Personnel [Personal Census] of Canada – District 1 of St. Eustache village Deux Montagnes (county) – from Library and Archives of Canada http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng
Person No. Name Age (next birthday) Born in 1860 Died in 1860 Age/Cause
 7 Elise Charbonneau 23 2 Male


3 Male 7 mos. debility

9 mos. debility

30 yrs. accident

 8 Elise Bouchard 2
 9 Marie Bouchard 1  1 Female

What happened to the Elise’s family?

From her census return, translated and abstracted above, Elise Charbonneau appears to have given birth to triplets — two boys and a girl — in 1860.

Multiple pregnancies are still considered high risk — even with today’s skilled maternity teams and modern neonatal units. So the difficulties would have been much greater in the mid-1800s for a midwife-assisted home birth of triplets.

Alas, Elise’s two tiny sons — apparently too frail to survive — succumbed at ages 7 months and 9 months from débilité [debility]. The surviving triplet is most likely her daughter Marie Bouchard — who according to this census was born in 1860 and would turn one year old on her next birthday.

As if the loss of two children was not enough, Elise appears to have also lost her husband the same year. This census shows that a 30-year-old male associated with Elise’s enumeration died in an accident in 1860.

What a devastating year that must have been for my great, great grandfather’s younger sister — and her entire extended family!

In search of answers

When I began researching my ancestor Laurent Charbonneau’s early life in Québec, I never expected to find such a gripping saga affecting one of his siblings. But having discovered Elise’s story, I felt compelled to pursue it further — guided by many questions.

What was her husband’s full name? What type of work did he do? What kind of fatal accident did he have? And what else could I discover about Elise’s young family and the circumstances of her husband’s premature demise? More on what I found in the next post.

To be continued.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1861: Charbonneau parents and siblings

Fifth in a series about my French-Canadian ancestor Laurent Charbonneau, who emigrated from Québec to New York State around 1852.

In the last few posts, I outlined how my great, great grandfather Laurent Charbonneau (born in Montréal in 1832) settled in St. Eustache, Deux Montagnes, Québec, around 1842 with his family of origin  — and continued to live there until 1852.

St. Eustache: The Bellefeuille bridge and road. (circa 1915). My ancestors Louis Charbonneau and Suzanne Marcille continued operating their inn in St. Eustache, Deux Montagnes, Quebec, after their sons Laurent and Desire moved south into New York State. Image: L. Gobielle

My U.S. research indicates that some time after 1852, Laurent, 20, and his older brother Désiré, 21, struck out on their own and moved south into New York State’s Adirondack region.

But what became of their parents (my great, great, great grandparents) and their siblings after they left Québec? That question led me to the 1861 Canadian census — in which the Louis Charbonneau family appears ten years after the two brothers departed.

1861 Recensement Personnel [Personal Census] of Canada – Districe 1 of St. Eustache village Deux Montagnes (county) – from Library and Archives of Canada http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng

Pers. No.  Name Occupation Age (next birthday) Sex
4 Louis Charbonneau Aubergiste [Innkeeper] 58 M
5 Suzanne Marcille 56 F
6 Louis [Léon]  Charbonneau 11 M
7 Elise Charbonneau 23 F
8 Elise Bouchard 2 F
9 Marie Bouchard 1 M
10 Pierre Martel Serviteur [Servant] 17 M

The 1861 Recensement Personnel [Personal Census] of St. Eustache, Deus Montagnes, Québec, Canada, abstracted and translated above, reveals a mature Charbonneau family group. Laurent and his older brother are absent, but a new generation has been added — along with a live-in servant.

The innkeeper hires help

My great, great, great grandfather Louis Charbonneau, was still working as an innkeeper — just as he was around the time Laurent and his brother left home.

The inn is described as de bois [of wood] in the census — likely the same frame building as in 1851/52 — and my ggg grandmother Suzanne Marcille was enumerated, as were their two younger children.

Laurent’s younger son Louis [Léon]  Charbonneau, 11, was what today we would call a tween. Although this census indicates he was still in school, he was likely old enough to help his parents out here and there — though not sufficiently to make up for his older brothers’ absence.

An extra set of strong hands seems to have been needed, because my ggg grandfather apparently hired Pierre Martel, 17 — who is listed as a non-family member and a servant in this census.

New Charbonneau grand-daughters

The 1861 Canadian census does not identify relationships of individuals to the head of household. Nevertheless, the happy news in this enumeration is the apparent arrival of two grand-daughters at the inn.

The two little girls (Elise Bouchard, 2, and Marie Bouchard, 1) are listed below the name of Elise Charbonneau (Laurent’s younger sister) — implying that they could be her daughters. And Louis, as head of household, reports two families living at the inn.

A young widowed mother

However, this census also reveals that sadness touched the extended Charbonneau family. Elise Charbonneau, 23, is listed in this census as a veuve [widow], who was parenting alone with no father in the household for the young girls.

When was she married? When was she widowed? And what were the circumstances of her husband’s death?

A new series about Elise Charbonneau begins with the next post.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1842: Resurrecting war-torn St. Eustache

Fourth in a series about my French-Canadian ancestor Laurent Charbonneau, who emigrated from Québec to New York State around 1852.

The family of my great, great grandfather Laurent Charbonneau may have arrived in St. Eustache, Deux-Montagnes, Québec not long after a major battle took place there during the Patriots’ War — an uprising of French-speakers and working class English-speakers against British colonial rule in Canada, which I wrote about  in 1852: The Charbonneau family of St. Eustache.

The Battle of St. Eustache (14 Dec. 1837). During the Patriots’ War, British forces burned the town, including the now land-marked Catholic Church of St. Eustache (at center above), to suppress the uprising against colonial rule. My Charbonneau ancestors were likely among the French-speakers who helped resurrect the war-torn village. By: Lord Charles Beauclerk (1813—1842)

The Battle of St. Eustache unfolded on 14 Dec. 1837 and ended in defeat of the Patriots — who were vastly outnumbered by British military forces and who suffered significant casualties in the struggle.

To suppress the insurrection, the victors terrorized Deux-Montagnes county and burned and looted the village — partially destroying the now land-marked Catholic Church of St. Eustache, where the Patriots sought refuge.

Yet despite the damage, St. Eustache rose from the ashes and endured — and my French-speaking Charbonneau ancestors appear to have been among those who helped resurrect the war-torn village.

Judging by the entry abstracted  below, my ggg grandfather Louis was enumerated in St. Eustache village, with a family of five, in the 1842 Recensement du Bas-Canada [Lower Canada Census] — just five years after the smoke of battle had cleared. My great, great grandfather Laurent, his second son, would have been ten years old at the time.

1842 Recensement du Bas-Canada [Lower Canada Census] – Deux-Montagnes (county) – St. Eustache Village – p. 1103 – from Library and Archives of Canada http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng
Person No. Head of Household Occupation No. of family members
13 Louis Charbonneau Groceur 5

Although the 1842 census only names the head of household, the return provides some details that point to this being my ancestor, specifically:

  • Family size. The number of people in the family is correct when compared to the 1851/52 census return for my ggg grandfather Louis Charbonneau. (He and his wife Suzanne Marcille would have had three children in 1842 for a family total of five.)
  • Neighborhood. Some of their neighbors’ names are the same as those in the 1851/52 census — putting this Louis Charbonneau family in the same neighborhood ten years earlier.
  • Occupation type.  One could easily see Louis, a blacksmith in 1832, becoming a grocer in 1842 then morphing into an innkeeper by 1851/52 — all of these occupations being sole proprietorships of one sort or another.

Eliminating unlikely possibilities

The two other possible matches in the 1842 census seemed unlikely to be my ancestor because of:

  • Family size and occupation. The other Louis Charbonneau living in St. Eustache in 1842 had a family of 11 and was working as a bouche [a hawker or trader]. Neither his family size nor his occupation appear to be a good fit.
  • Location and occupation. The other Louis Charbonneau in Québec with a family of five lived in St. Jérôme, Terrebonne (county), with none of the same neighbors, and worked as a journalier [day laborer] — an unlikely transitional job from skilled blacksmith in 1832 to innkeeper in 1851/52.

What more can we learn about this intrepid family? More in the next post.

To be continued.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1852: The Charbonneau family of St. Eustache

Third in a series about my French-Canadian ancestor Laurent Charbonneau, who emigrated from Québec to New York State around 1852.

Just before he moved south to New York State, my great, great grandfather Laurent Charbonneau lived with his parents and siblings in the village of St. Eustache — located in the Québec county of Deux Montagnes west of Montréal .

That’s where he was enumerated in the 1851 Census of Canada East (Québec). (Due to delays, this census was actually enumerated during the following year — so it is interchangeably referred to as the “1852 Census.”)

The following brief summary of the Charbonneau family’s census entry — which spans page 7 and page 8 of the census taker’s log — provides a snapshop of my French-Canadian ancestors shortly before Laurent left the household.

1851 Census of Canada East (Québec) – Dist. 33 Deux Montagnes (county)  Subdistrict 524  – St. Eustache village (pages 7 and 8) – from AutomatedGenealogy.com/census52/

Pers. No. Name Occupation Age at next birthday Sex
13 Louis Charbonneau Aubergiste [Innkeeper] 50 M
14 Suzanne Marcille 47 F
15 Désiré Charbonneau Journalier [Day Laborer] 21 M
16 Laurent Charbonneau  Journalier [Day Laborer] 20 M
17 Elize Charbonneau 15 F
18 Léon Charbonneau 3 M





From blacksmith to innkeeper

The census lists the entire family as French-Canadian and Catholic. They lived in a one-story maison à charpente [frame house] — which was classified as an auberge [inn] on the second page of their census enumeration. Quite a change in two decades!

On Laurent’s 1832 baptismal record, his father Louis gave forgeron [blacksmith] as his trade. But by 1852, Louis was employed as an innkeeper — and most likely the owner (or at least sole proprietor) of the establishment, since only the Charbonneau family was living there when the census was taken.

The young Charbonneau brothers

Today St. Eustache is a suburb of Montréal — but when my Charbonneau ancestors lived there, it was a separate village.  The location seems to have brought success to my ggg grandfather Louis — but it may have offered limited job prospects for the upcoming generation.

At the time of the 1851 census, my great, great grandfather Laurent, 20, and his older brother Désiré, 21, were both working as journaliers [day laborers] — so they were not permanently employed.

They had also not yet started families of their own, which also suggests limited means. And there may have been other socio-economic factors affecting their generation as well.

A thwarted rebellion

Fifteen years before this census was taken — in December 1837 — St. Eustache was the scene of a significant battle in the Patriots’ Uprising against British colonial rule in Canada.

The rebellion of 1837-38 united the French-speaking population and English-speaking workers in a push-back against their common political and economic oppression — an uprising inspired in part by the American Revolution.

But unlike in the U.S., the rebellion was thwarted — a defeat that may have set the stage for an exodus to the south by large numbers of French-Canadians seeking equal opportunity in the U.S. border states.

Were these among the motivating factors in my great, great grandfather Laurent Charbonneau’s move to New York State? More in the next post.

To be continued.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Breakthrough baptismal certificate

Second in a series about my French-Canadian ancestor Laurent Charbonneau, who emigrated from Québec to New York State around 1852.

Starting at the beginning of an ancestor’s life is always a good idea, especially when a birth or baptismal record exists — as it does for my French-Canadian great, great grandfather Laurent Charbonneau.

Finding this landmark record in a Montréal archive launched my heritage quest, as described in Charbonneau breakthrough: Hooked on family history. However, words cannot fully capture how difficult it was to read this pivotal document — which was handwritten in French in quill pen in 1832. You just have to see it for yourself!

My certified copy of Laurent Charbonneau’s 1832 baptismal record, which I found in the Drouin Collection on microfilm in a Montréal archive. The collection has since been digitized. Photo by Molly Charboneau

A rough translation

I asked the Montréal archivist to read out the document to me so I could legibly transcribe the French. When I returned home, I made the following rough translation and shared it with my parents and siblings:

The eleventh of October, eighteen hundred and thirty two, our undersigned priest, curate of St. Geneviéve parish, has baptized Laurent born today of the legitimate marriage of Louis Charbonneau, blacksmith, and Suzanne Marcille of this parish. Godfather François Barbeau, merchant, and godmother Lady Eléonore Rapin were present and undersigned with us along with the father.”

New to genealogy research then and excited by my find, I filed the document away and took off at a mad dash to look for other ancestors — not taking the time I should have to carefully examine the document and write an appropriate citation. (Haven’t we all done this at some point in our research?)

But now that I am beginning to tell Laurent Charbonneau’s story, the time has come to take a closer look at what this document tells us.

A record reveals its secrets

The baptismal record shows that Laurent was baptized the same day he was born — on 11 October 1832 — and his was the 83rd baptism in the parish that year. His parents were Louis and Suzanne (Marcille) Charbonneau, they were united in a “legitimate marriage,” and they worshiped at the Roman Catholic St. Geneviéve parish in Montréal.

My great, great, great grandfather Louis Charbonneau was working as a blacksmith at the time of Laurent’s birth/baptism — and he signed the document, so I have a copy of his signature!

I assume my great, great, great grandmother Suzanne was at home — having just given birth that day — as she is not listed as present in the record, nor is she among the signers.

The archivist advised me to pay careful attention to all the names that appear on Québec records because they might include family members. So Laurent’s godfather François Barbeau, a merchant, and godmother Lady Eléonore Rapin could be related — though further research would be needed to confirm this.

Contrasting Laurent’s baptismal record with others on the same page, I take some pride in the size of the priest’s signature on my ancestor’s record — much larger than on all of the others. And the fact that Laurent’s father and godparents’ also signed the document — rather than just being named, as is the case with adjacet records — implies their ability to read and write French as well as speak it.

Thus was my great, great grandfather Laurent Charbonneau ushered into the world — to the welcoming arms of his parents and godparents. What more can we learn about his background and early life?

To be continued.

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Growing family trees one leaf (and road trip) at a time