Thursday, June 20, 2013

The last days of Eleanor Bessette - part 2

As I mentioned last time, the documents that my French-Canadian research friend sent me added a LOT to my understanding of the Vadnais and Bessette families in my family tree. But they also fundamentally changed my perspective on Eleanor Bessette in particular, showing that her life was much more complicated than I'd at first imagined. The last document that pertained to Eleanor from my friend's research proved to me that the last nine years of Eleanor's life were about as turbulent as the rest of her life had been. This was another marriage record - the fourth in Eleanor's life, also from Butte, Montana but dated 1915. It was the name of the groom that threw me - Louis Sicord.

At first I thought it was the same person, that she'd just divorced and remarried him. But then I noted some important differences between the 1910 and 1915 marriages - Eleanor was listed as 43 years old in both; the 1910 Louis was 38, while 1915 Louis was 54; and 1910 Louis gave his mother's name as Cecelia Gabous, while 1915 Louis said his mother was Lena (no maiden name given). That got me thinking - could she have married two men with the same (or similar) name? This really interested me, and I knew of a way that might help solve the riddle - city directories. has a pretty healthy stack of Butte, Montana city directories online - 1884 (the first 15 pages only), 1890, 1893 (first 15 pages again), 1896, 1898-1900, 1904-1918, 1923, and many more. I went digging into these directories, and pretty soon I had a whole stack of references to Louis, Eleanor, and other Vadnais family members. Here's what I found.

Louis Sicord first appears in the 1910 directory, rooming at 27 W Quartz in Butte. This happens to be the address where Henry Vadnais, Lewis Vadnais, and Olivian Vadnais (relatives of Eleanor's late husband Richard) were living. It almost makes me wonder if that's how he and Eleanor met. Eleanor was living at 508 E Galena. The addresses are only a few blocks apart, as seen on Google Earth.

The next year, 1911, Louis and Eleanor were living together at 502 E Galena, just a house or two away from where she lived the year before. The 1912 entry is a little confusing. There's no listing for Eleanor, and Louis' entry just says "moved to Nome Alaska". I'm not sure if Louis and Eleanor both went up, or just Louis. My instinct is that Louis went alone, but I don't know either way. The 1913 directory lists a Lewis and Lourie Sicord living at 508 W Park, which at first glance I thought might be a different family. But then I saw that Florence Vadnais, Eleanor's daughter, was also listed at the same address. That convinced me that Louis and Eleanor were back in Butte. Meanwhile, Richard's brother, Polydor Vadnais, lived near them at 201 S Washington. Polydor had been listed at that address every year since 1908. 
1914 saw only one change - Polydor moved to 243 E Park, the same address as the livery where he worked the year before. The address was also listed as Vadnais Block. I believe, given that seven other people listed this 243 E Park as their address, as well as a bookkeeper who said he lived at Vadnais Block, that Polydor was running a boarding house at this address. So for Louis, Eleanor, and their relatives, nothing too crazy had happened (with the possible exception of an excursion to Alaska in 1912).
Things changed for everyone in 1915. Florence and Eleanor moved to 1854 Harrison, quite a distance from their previous address. Louis, on the other hand, had moved to Vadnais Block, 243 E Park. And Polydor had moved northeast to 272 Pennsylvania, while Polydor's wife Rose was listed at their 201 S Washington address.
I think, given this shift in everyone's addresses, along with the second marriage record for Louis and Eleanor in September, 1915, that the cause (or at least a major cause) for all these changes was a divorce between Louis and Eleanor. Eleanor had a pretty rough marital history - a marriage to and divorce from Albert Lafond, a turbulent marriage to Richard with multiple separations, not to mention being arrested for Richard's murder. So for her and Louis to divorce and move to separate addresses fits the pattern pretty well. It's interesting the Polydor was also displaced by this, seemingly to make room for Louis. But whatever caused them to split was overcome, as they did remarry.
After that, things quieted down for Louis and Eleanor. Louis joined Eleanor at the Harrison residence in 1916, and stayed there through at least 1918 (the last year Ancestry has directories for until 1923). Sadly, Polydor died December 14, 1915, and his wife Rose stayed at the 201 S Washington address through 1918 at least. Vadnais Block was listed in 1916 and 1917, so it seems Rose continued running the boarding house at least that long. It wasn't listed in 1918, so I don't know if she kept it going after that. Eleanor died 7 August 1919, and as her name was given in the death record as Eleanor Sicord, it seems likely that she didn't divorce Louis again. I don't have a death record for Louis yet, and haven't found any further marriage records for him, so I don't know what became of him after this. I still need to see if I can find any more directories for him.
But for now, I'm satisfied that the Louis who married Eleanor in 1910 is the same one that married her in 1915, even with the age and mother's name differences. The directories show a consistent story, and marriage records have been known to be incorrect on personal details. I also now have a much more detailed picture of the life of Eleanor Bessette after Richard Vadnais' death. She led a very mobile, interesting, and in many ways tragic life. I hope she died relatively happy with how things turned out.
Update: One thing I forgot to mention - Polydor Vadnais's wife was Rose Bessette, sister of Eleanor Bessette. That may have been part of what drew her to Montana after Richard died.  

The last days of Eleanor Bessette - part 1

I've spent the last couple weeks going through some Vadnais family documents that were sent to me by a friend of mine in the Quebec research community on Facebook, who excels at French-Canadian research. If you haven't checked out the FamilySearch communities on Facebook, here's a list of them. They have over 100, and they are super helpful, and full of knowledgeable people. Anyways, I've been going through these documents - baptisms, marriages, burials, census records, and others - and putting together this family's history. Very fascinating to see how long this family has been in Quebec, and mind-boggling to think of how many people alive today are descended from these ancestors.

One of the most interesting people in these documents has been someone I've written about before - Eleanor Bessette, wife of Richard Vadnais. I thought the surname was Bissette (that's how it was written in the Alberta newspapers) but I've since found out it was actually Bessette, or sometimes Besset. Anyways, Eleanor (born Marie Eleanor) was the eighth of 15 children (!) of Moise Bessette and Scholastique Dextraze. The documents from my friend revealed she was born on 24 November 1863 in Mont Saint Gregoire, Quebec, and baptized there the next day. Ok, nothing earth-shattering there. But that's where the normalcy ends. The next record in Eleanor's life is a marriage record - but not to Richard Vadnais. Turns out she had a previous marriage to a man named Albert Aldric Lafond in 1882, when she was 18 and he was 20. (Interesting side note - Albert Lafond's mother's maiden name was Picard! How cool is that?) The crazy thing is, they got married in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, over 300 miles from the suburb of Montreal where she was born. They were both from Quebec, so I have no idea why they felt they had to travel so far to get married. I don't know Massachusetts records well, so I haven't started looking to see whether they stayed, or just stopped there to get married.

So far as I know, they didn't have any children, and they were only married for a maximum of eight years, as evidenced by the next record - Eleanor's marriage to Richard in 1890. This record was another surprise. The date was earlier than I'd suspected, since Eleanor and Richard's first child, Florence was born in 1897. But the real surprise was the location - Butte, Montana! Once again, Eleanor seems to have traveled an extensive distance for a marriage. I don't know how she and Richard met, as Richard was living in Butte at the time, and I don't know whether Eleanor stayed in Massachusetts or went back to Quebec with Albert before divorcing him. Either way, when she married Richard she said she was divorced. There's no listing for either Richard or Eleanor in the 1896 Butte directory, so I'm guessing they'd moved up to Alberta, where their two children were born in 1897 and 1902. That's a trip of over 300 miles, not a quick journey in those days.

Thanks to the fireworks between Eleanor and Richard (and the resulting newspaper articles), I think I have a pretty good idea of what happened between them until Richard's death in 1909. After he died, Eleanor moved to Butte, where various members of Richard's family (and possibly hers - there's an Alfonso Bessette listed there in 1910) were living. As I'd mentioned in a previous post, I found a marriage record for Eleanor to a Louis Sicord from October 1910, so she wasn't widowed very long before she remarried. I'd also previously found a death record on for Eleanor Sicord, giving her death date as 7 August 1919. I assumed she'd settled down with Louis, lived a quiet life with him for the last nine years of her life, and then passed away. Turns out, I was quite wrong. Stay tuned for part two!