Monday, August 27, 2012

Madness Monday - Those crazy Frenchmen (no, seriously)

I've been dabbling in French-Canadian genealogy, researching the Vadnais family. They married into the Harrises when William Vadnais (son of Richard Vadnais and Elinore Bissette) married Charlotte Harris (daughter of Frank Harris and Charlotte Scribner). I wanted to know more about his family, where they came from, and see if I couldn't stretch my research skills about by trying something I've never tried before - researching French-Canadians.

I've looked into this family a little bit previously. I'd found Elinore and her two kids, William and Florence, living in Montana in the 1910 census, and William and his sister in 1920 (she'd married Earl Miller by then). Then I found a marriage record for their mother Elinore to another French-Canadian named Louis Sicard, as well as her death record in 1919. I thought I'd try going into some newspapers and see what they had to say, knowing that they'd given me a lot of insight in other branches of my family. What I found literally blew me away.

I found an article from 1914 about the handling of Richard Vadnais' estate in Alberta, Canada, stating that Richard's brother Polydor Vadnais was named executor of the estate but had quit, leaving the courts to handle it. It also stated that Richard was murdered, but no particulars were known. I did a double- (and probably triple-) take at that - murdered?? Seriously? I immediately jumped into research mode and started digging for all the newspaper articles I could find, and realizing that most of them would be in Canadian newspapers (given that's where the estate and murder took place), I went to Newspaper Archive and started looking.

The longer I looked, the more I found, and the more complicated the story became. I wish I had the time to go into all the particulars, and maybe someday I will, but here's the gist of it:

Richard Vadnais and his wife Elinore (Bissette) Vadnais had some kind of falling out in 1908, which led to Elinore and her brother attacking Richard, with Richard being shot twice. He survived and recovered quickly, though his wife left him for a time. She was prosecuted for the attack but found not guilty, and the couple reunited. Several months later, while at dinner, Richard was shot by an unknown person, lived for a couple weeks, and then died. His wife was accused again, and was again found not guilty. She then moved to Montana, married a man named Louis Sicord, and died in 1919. It sounds like a crazy movie plot, doesn't it?

Some of the articles I read mentioned Elinore's brother but never by name. They also talked about how she came from a big family, and that her brother had a big family of his own, but also didn't name anyone. The only lead I had on her past was her marriage record to Louis, which listed her parents' names Moise Vadnais and Salatique Distraase. I figured the Vadnais name had to be an error, as the newspaper articles were consistent in naming her brother as Bissett or Mr. Bissett. My guess was the person taking the info down asked for her name (Elinore Vadnais) and her father's name (Moise), so the recorder assumed her father's last name was Vadnais. So I tried looking for Moise Bissett, but couldn't find anything that stood out and said "this is the right family." So I put them on hold for a while.

Then last night, while going through my Vadnais records, I tried searching for more newspaper records, playing with the keyword search. I searched for various combinations of Bissett, Vadnais, Richard, and murder, and found several more articles I had missed last time. Two of them proved key in finding Elinore's family. One actually named the brother involved in the first shooting in 1908 - Theodule Bissett. The other mentioned a brother-in-law of Elinore and Theodule's who was involved in the trial, and gave his name as Isaie Daignault, and that he and his wife had nine children. I went looking in the 1911 census and found Isaie and Alphonsine Daignault, living in Alberta with 11 children, of whom 9 were born before August 1908, when the shooting happened. So now I had three siblings to look for - Elinore, Theodule, and Alphonsine Bissett, children of Moise and Salatique.

I hurriedly went to the 1881 census, knowing that Elinore was still single, and figuring Theodule and Alphonsine would be as well. It didn't take me long to find them - Moise and Scholastique Bessette, living in Quebec where they should be. There were a lot more siblings too - Pierre, Henri, Rosanna, Jean Baptiste, and a couple that I can't read yet. I can tell you I did the genealogy happy dance when I found this census - I finally had some concrete info on Elinore's background! Elinore's name was spelled Lionore, so I never would have found her.  Now that I knew who to look for and where, and I went and got the 1871 census as well, and was surprised to find even more siblings - Edmond, Adilde, Joseph, and Delima. This was a large family! I still have to go through these censuses and pull all the details out, and I would really like to look for the 1861 as well. But right now, I'm just happy to have some additional documents on the Bissette side of the Vadnais family, especially since they aren't about a murder or attempted murder.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Wisdom Wednesday - Pay attention to your calendar

I'm finally caught up on entering all my Zitzmann family info! Hooray! Now I'm starting on the Lutheran church parish records from Poland I've found recently from the FHL microfilms I ordered back in July.

I started working on the first one that I could easily tell was connected to my family - a birth record for Michael Joseph, son of Ludwig Heinrich Joseph and Justine Witt, born in 1861 in Kepa Kikolska, Nowy Dwór parish, Warszawa district (county?), Poland. This was an interesting record for several reasons. One, I already had a Michael Joseph born to Ludwig and Justine, but in 1884 in Ulanowka, Ukraine. That Michael immigrated to Canada, where he died in 1905. This new Michael's birth predates that of Gottlieb Joseph, who I thought was Ludwig and Justine's oldest child. I don't know yet what happened to him, if he died young or what. But it seems something must have happened to him, as they reused the name 23 years later, which so far I've only seen in cases where the original name holder had died.

One thing that kind of threw me was the transcription of the birth dates (yes dates - more on that below) I received from a volunteer website was a little bit off. I don't fault them at all - the handwriting is old and hard to read, and I don't know any Polish myself, so I'm in no position to be critical of someone who volunteered time and expertise to help me understand this record. But I was able to take the volunteer's transcription and play around with Google Translate until I came up with what seemed to be the correct transcription of the birth dates, in that it both looked like what was written in the record itself, and Google Translate recognized and was able to translate the words.

The other thing that threw me was the birth record gave two separate birth dates for Michael - August 23rd and September 4th, with no explanation for the apparent discrepancy. I sat there for a while, puzzled as to why it would give two birth dates almost two weeks apart, when it suddenly dawned on me - the calendar change! I remember learning in my genealogy classes at BYU about how many European countries that had been using the Julian calendar changed their calendar system to the Gregorian calendar. The US made its change in 1752, even though the Gregorian calendar was created in the late 1500s. I also remembered hearing that different countries changed their calendars at different times. So I went online and found a calendar converter, and plugged in September 4th for Gregorian, and wouldn't you know it - it came out to be August 23rd in the Julian calendar! I haven't yet looked up which country was in charge of this area of Poland in the 1860s, or when that country changed their calendar, but I feel confident that this is the reason for the dual dates.

While I still have a long ways to go before I can claim to even begin to understand these records and the people that created them, it was a real confidence booster to decipher the dual birth date issue, and to be reasonably sure that I'm correct in my conclusion. I can't wait to see what else these records have to teach me.