January 29- February 4
I have long wanted to both know and to write more about my French-Canadian ancestors. However, it seemed just too daunting with the sheer immensity of information available and the perceived language barrier. ( I do not speak French, having dropped out of my high school French class after only one week.)
I mean, where to even begin??? It felt as overwhelming as eating an elephant. Which apparently can be done.
One bite at a time.
And, so we begin.
In a land, so far, far away…
My ninth great-grandparents, through my father’s French-Canadian family, were Pierre Gagnon and his wife, Renee Roger. They farmed in a little village between the towns of Tourouvres and Ventrouze in the former province of Perche in France. Pierre’s father, Barnabe’ Gagnon, and his wife, Françoise Creste, my 10x great-grandparents, had purchased the property in 1565 from Gervais and Marion Roger.
Perche was just south of Normandy, a hilly and forested area in the 1600s.
Barnabe’ and Françoise had at least two sons, Olivier and Pierre.
About 1597, Pierre married Renee Roger, the daughter of the former owners of the family farm. Pierre and Renee had at least seven children.
Pierre was a plowman, in addition to owning an inn on his father’s property, the White Horse Inn. The inn was a well-known stopping place to sign contracts and make final arrangements before leaving for New France.
Sometime before 1635, Pierre passed away, leaving Renee a widow. That is the year that three Gagnon brothers, son Pierre, 23, Jean, 25, and Mathurin, 29, immigrated to the New World, . In addition to these three sons, a daughter, Marguerite, and her husband also left France for the New World sometime before 1640. It is also thought that their mother, Renee, immigrated at this time as well.
So, we have three generations at this point in the narrative:
- 10x great-grandparents, Barnabe’ Gagnon and Françoise Crest (parents of Pierre)
- 10x great-grandparents, Gervais Roger and Marion Roger (parents of Renee)
- 9x great-grandparents, Pierre Gagnon and Renee Roger
- 8x great-grandparents???
So, if you’ve followed the story so far, which one of the children of Pierre and Renee who came to the New World are my 8x great-grandparents? Marguerite, Jean, Mathurin, or Pierre?
Well, there isn’t just one, dear reader. Nor two. I descend from three of their children: Marguerite, Jean, and Mathurin. And, to make things even more confusing, I descend from not one but two of Marguerite’s children!
Welcome to the tangled shrub that is a French-Canadian family tree!
But, I digress…
In summary, nearly an entire family uprooted themselves from where they had lived and farmed for generations. They ventured across a very wide ocean in rickety little wooden ship, using only the stars to navigate, trusting their very lives to their Creator and the captain’s wisdom and experience. I don’t know if I have that kind of courage.
In 1635, New France was a very desolate, empty, and cold place. Only a few French families had established themselves by this time, including the families of Abraham Martin and Louis Hébert, also ancestors.
Once in Québec, the Gagnon brothers built a house in the Lower Town, on land granted them from the governor. By 1651, they had established a store in partnership with their sister Marguerite’s husband, Eloi Tavernier, in the Rue Saint-Pierre, also in the Lower Town. They sold this business in 1668.
The brothers were not only successful businessmen, they were also farmers in the New World as they had been in the Old. They had bought land on the north bank of the St. Lawrence known as the Beaupré Shore. This area later became known as Château-Richer.
In Nouvelle-France, all the brothers eventually married. First, Jean married Marguerite Cochon in 1640. Then, Pierre married Marguerite Desvarieux September 14, 1642. And lastly, Mathurin married Françoise Boudeau in 1647. He was forty-one, and she was a young girl of thirteen, which I find rather disquieting, even though I understand it wasn’t that unusual for the time. Nevertheless…
Mathurin was perhaps the best known of the brothers. In addition to the store and his farm, he was also one of the first elected church wardens of the parish of Château-Richer. He and Françoise also had a full household, with an estimated fifteen children born to them, the last when he was seventy-one. In contrast, his brother, Pierre, had ten, while Jean lagged behind with only eight. Sadly of course, not all the children survived to adulthood, but the vast majority did, leaving a vast legacy of Gagnons in a new land, far, far away.
“Til next time.