Log Cabin Chronicles

Genealogy on the Quebec/Vermont border

David Lepitre
Stanstead, Quebec

Editor's Note:David Lepitre is a printer in Stanstead, Quebec, and an avid practitioner of genealogical research. He writes the Your Ancestry column for the Log Cabin Chronicles and the weekly Stanstead Journal and can be reached by e-mail at dlepitre@abacom.com

FOR THE genealogical researcher, this region has its own special problems. Finding your ancestors in Stanstead County, Quebec, and Orleans County, Vermont, is made difficult as a result of generations of folks living on or very near the international boundary.

You may find your roots in both Quebec and Vermont. You may be able to follow them for several generations and suddenly they vanish. If this has happened to you, you may be suffering from what we can euphemistically call a case of the S.O.B.S. or the Stanstead-Orleans Border Syndrome.

There are a number of reasons for the sudden disappearance of folks from the records on both sides of the border. I am not suggesting that all the following problems are unique to our region but the combination of them seems to be.

The first S.O.B.S. is the inconsistent spelling of ancestral names. Many names from early Quebec and the British Isles have undergone countless changes because record keepers have written down these names as they heard them pronounced. Many of these missing folks can be found by using your imagination.

he most fanciful spellings will appear in these records. All of the spelling variations that you find should be duly recorded for future reference. All subsequent searches should include these new spellings. Many of the records already searched should be redone if you feel that you may have dismissed or overlooked some of these new names in your previous search. The Soundex System is a useful tool to help you work through this perplexing problem.

The recording of French names by English-speaking scribes using the phonetic spellings of these names, and the intentional translation of a French surname to its English equivalent is the hardest S.O.B.S. to get one's head around.

The mental task involved in actually forcing yourself to search for a completely different name than you had been looking for is difficult. In many cases it is a name that you are not familiar with and may never have heard before.

This phenomenon occurred as families came from France and Quebec to the United States and from the French-speaking areas of Canada to the country's English settlements. Many early settlers from both cultures were unable to read and write well enough to correct the erroneous entries made on their behalf.

Some French language settlers in Stanstead County chose to anglicize or translate their names after a few generations of intermingling with the British and American inhabitants. The following description from The History of Irasburg, Vermont will serve to illustrate this assertion.

One of the positive elements among the turn-of-the-century changes was the influx of new settlers from outside the U.S. By far the greatest number came from French Canada, sturdy farmers like the people of the 1800s, Cotes, Dions, Freeharts, Mason, Revoirs, Sanvilles, Sylvesters, and others.

The spelling of these French names, as with new arrivals from the "old countries," was often confusing because of the language barrier. Freeharts were originally the Généreux family. Basil Lajeunesse,whose children were listed in the village school census for 1848 became Bozille Laguness (or perhaps it was his son Basil working at his father's trade of blacksmithing and carriage building) in Child's Gazetter of 1883; in Walton's he was Bozille LaJenness.

Moses Lanou, ancestor of the family well known in Irasburq for at least five generations, appeared in Hemenway's as Leano, in Child's as LaNou. The French migration southward that had begun before the Civil War continued for some decades; it probably reached its peak in the early 1900s.

More of the now familiar names appeared: Beaudry, Brasseur, Brodeur, Campbell, Coderre, Faust, Fortin, Girouard, Guyette, Houle, Lafleur, LaMarche, Lebeau, LeBlanc, Macie, Menard, Messier, Perrault, Poirier, Poutre, Royer, St-Amand and some with anglicized spellings like Besaw, Blodgett, LaBounty, Sheltra, and Simino.

I might suggest that Freeharts were the Francoeurs instead of the Généreux but the point is made. Here are a few examples of French names written as they sounded taken from local church records; Chagnon changed to Shonyo, Turcotte to Turcot, Labbé to Labay and Libby, Beaudin to Bowdin, Dupuis to Dupuys, Vallée to Valley, Tétreault to Tatro, Ploufe to Ploof and Houle to Hool, Hébert to Abare and Abair, Bédard became Bedor.

Some names that were translated are; Côté and Déscoteau(x) to Hill, Lemieux - Betters, Comptois - Counter, Boisvert - Greenwood, and Poulin to Colt. These examples are common to the Stanstead - Orleans area.

The "missing records" cases found in the border area are harder to solve than the spelling and translation problems. If you have not found your ancestor's records where you think they should be, you may be searching for the border-hoppers in your ancestry. An error we often make as researchers is to think of "home" as the place where a family was physically living. For example, let's look at the search for a branch of the Pitre family.

A young, French-speaking blacksmith named Anthime T. Pitre came from French Quebec to the predominately English-speaking Stanstead County. As a businessman he plied his trade at various times in Rock Island, Stanstead, and Heathton. To his mainly English clientele he became Tim for short.

As the lumber mills at Holland, Vermont, drew Quebecers over the border to work, Tim and his wife followed them. Their family grew as births took place in the USA. As time went by, their descendants became scattered through the United States, Quebec, and Ontario.

In the 1990s the g-g-grandchildren of Tim and his wife become interested in family history and finding their "roots." Family searchers looking for the records of Tim's children in Vermont, where most were born, found none. They were stumped. No town records, no state records.

They had uncovered the fact that Anthime T. Pitre, forgeron, had become Ety Petry, blacksmith. (Ety being the written form of the spoken A.T. Petry) but where were the records?

It appeared as if his children did not exist. No births, no marriages, and no deaths were recorded. The proverbial brick wall.

The Petrys were Roman Catholics. Because there was no church to serve them in the Holland area they came "home" to Stanstead for their religious needs. In this case the records created for births that took place in the State of Vermont are to be found in another country, in another language, and sometimes filed under another name. If you are not familiar with the area this would be a difficult mystery to unravel.

Civil registration is a very recent development In Quebec. The clergy have been responsible for vital record keeping for 350 years.

Of course the Petrys are not an exception. Early R.C. records at Stanstead show many births, marriages, and deaths of Vermonters entered there. Your Vermont-based surname does not have to be French to be found in the records of the Parish of Sacré-Coeur, Stanstead. The earliest members of this church were Irish and English Catholics. The same situation affects their family researchers as well.

The Roman Catholic families stopped "coming home" to Quebec and Stanstead County when their ranks swelled to a level where they could support a church of their own in their new location. Both cemeteries of the Parish of Sacré-Coeur (Sacred Heart) contain many of the dead of the early Catholic families of Holland, Derby, lrasburg, Newport, Barton, Brownington, Salem, Coventry, Orleans, Troy, etc.

Stanstead Parish is the oldest parish south of Sherbrooke. From 1832 until the opening of the first chapel, the early priests were missionaries. The records of the services conducted by these men went with them back to their home base. The first R.C. church was opened in 1840 by L'abbé J. Dallaire and it was located near the Red Brick School House on Route 143 north of Stanstead (village). With the installment of the first permanent resident priest, Rev. J.B. Champeaux, in 1848, the records stayed in Stanstead and he was responsible for the church being built on its present site on Stanstead Plain.

A list of early priests and the dates of their terms can be found on page 102 of Forests and Clearings, The History of Stanstead County. Sherbrooke and Stanstead had the only Catholic Churches in the area for several years. The Roman Catholic Churches in Orleans County were formed quite recently, compared to those in Sherbrooke and Stanstead.

Vital records from other parishes in the county can be found at Sacré-Coeur. As new churches were completed we think that families went to the one closest to them for their needs. If you cannot find the records that you are searching for in the Vermont or Quebec parish they should be in, try Stanstead early on, or use the following list to figure out which church your ancestors may have used instead of making the trip to Stanstead.

Ayer's Cliff
Fitch Bay
North Hatley
Rock Island
St-Jean Bosco
Notre Dame de la Merci
Date Opened

Some of the earliest Roman Catholic Churches in Orleans County were the ones at Lowell (1868), Albany (1874), Newport (1875), Barton (1876). Most of these parishes were organized by missionary priests prior to the building of their churches. 7

The Roman Catholics were not alone. The urge to go home or to be with one's own kin caused many new Canadian Protestant settlers to cross the border into the States to be married and to baptize their children.

Also New England clergymen came to Stanstead and the other counties along the border to perform religious services. This practice has been called "Marriage Smuggling." Some American clergy came as missionaries and some performed services while visiting their own families already in Quebec.

Men of the cloth were scarce in the early settlement. Because American clergymen could not legally register the marriages, baptisms and burials they performed in Quebec, these important bits of information do not appear in Canadian records. Neither do the marriages and baptisms of Canadians who went south for these services. These indiscretions are responsible for major gaps in our Quebec records.

How can you circumvent the problems caused by S.O.B.S.? When doing border area research be as flexible as possible in your acceptance of various spellings for your search names. Sound them out and try as many combinations of letters that will give you the right sound.

Remember too, French, Irish, German, English and other immigrants had what we consider an accent when they spoke. These should be taken into account when sounding out a name that would have been spoken to a records keeper. Remember to translate French and English names. Especially those that seem to disappear from all records when you have other evidence that your ancestors just had to have lived here.

When it comes to "hometowns" or home parishes, consider the uniqueness of this area. When doing border area research, the records you are searching for could be as close as next door or just down the street yet they may be written in another language, and kept in a different country. The challenge to find these hidden genealogical treasures is great but the rewards are even greater.

Good luck in your search.

Dave Lepitre

2. History of Irasburg, Vermont. Marjorie Orcutt and Edward S. Alexander, 1989

3. From Church Records, Paroisse de Sacre-Coeur, Stanstead

4. Aux Sources de Notre Histoire Religieuse des les Cantons de L'Est, Abbé Albert Gravel 1952

5. Les Cantons de L Est, Albert Gravel 1939

6. Repertoire des Mariages du Comté de Stanstead, Dominique Campagna, Le Centre de Généalogie S.C.

7. Gazetteer and Business Directory of Lamoille and Orleans Counties, VT, Hamilton Child 1883-4.

8. The Stanstead Journal, The Marriage Law, March 9,1899

9. Competing for Souls, Missionary Activity and Settlement in the Eastern Townships 1748-1851, Françoise Noël, 1988

This information is free of any charge and may be copied if needed as long as proper credit is given. Its sole purpose is to aid researchers stuck in the Stanstead County (QC) - Orleans County (VT) records by suggesting alternative courses of action. Knowing these few facts about our area will not guarantee success. Some events in the early days of this settlement never were officially recorded.

Free Genealogical Query Placement:Your Ancestry Column, The Stanstead Journal

Write, Fax, or E-mail the Journal or contact:

David Lepitre, PO Box 484, Derby Line, VT 05830
David Lepitre, PO Box 81, Stanstead, QC J0B 3E0
For a written response please send a S.A.S.E.

Sources of helpful information:

The Stanstead Historical Society Archives
P.O. Box 268 Stanstead, QC J0B 3E0
PO Box 228, Derby Line, VT 05830-0228

The Eastern Townships Genealogical Society
La Société de Généalogie des Cantons de L'Est Inc.
275, rue Dufferin
Sherbrooke, QC J1H 4M5

David Lepitre P.O. Box 484, Derby Line, Vermont 05830-0484 or 10 St-Joseph, Stanstead, Quebec JOB 3EO
Tel. 819-876-5755 Fax 819-876-5755 or dlepitre@abacom.com

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