When doing genealogical research on the internet you have access to great resources but searching through print archives and publications located in the area that the people lived can produce some surprising results…
…IF you know the right place to look!
This is the story of some of my genealogical research done in two trips to the area of New England where I grew up and to Quebec and Nova Scotia, Canada where my older ancestors lived and died. The first chapter of this adventure took place in August of 1999. The narrative is based on a daily log that I kept on my laptop that I used to record all my genealogy research. My wife Lovina and I were on a visit to her sister in RI. Our plans for this trip would also include a day trip to attend a Pivin Family Reunion and then for me to spend a week traveling through Quebec and Nova Scotia to visit my cousins while Lovina continued her visit with her sister.
The second chapter of the adventure is about continuing my search in RI, two years later, in 2001, based on some of the significant discoveries on the first trip. This is where I attempted to solve the mystery of the identity of my great-grandfather’s parents, whom I believe lived their whole lives in Quebec, Canada.
Chapter 1 – A Taste
Friday, August 20, 1999 in Warwick, RI
I planned to pick up a rental car and drive with my wife and her sister, Jane, to Bristol, where we had all grown up. We could all have lunch with my wife’s father at the Lobster Pot. Things didn’t quite go according to plan, but it turned out to be my lucky day!
I drove toward Bristol, thinking I would visit the rectory at St. Mary’s Church in Bristol to possibly find out more about my Pivin Grandparents. Along the way, I decided to go to the a cemetery in Warren to try and find my grandfather Peter Jeffrey’s grave which I seem to remember visiting with my parents in my childhood. I had a recollection of a tall white marble tombstone and believed it was the marker for my mother’s father. I searched all over the cemetery and could not locate it.
I decided to go to St. Mary’s Rectory in Warren and ask if they had any records of the grave locations. They had none for any Jeffrey. Then the clerk suggested that I check the other two cemeteries which were next to the one I was looking at. The cemetery of the French Church, St. Jean Baptiste, was where I checked next.
This was the church my grandmother Emma Jeffrey attended, it was in the same block she lived in. I probably should have gone there first. Looking for the same marble gravestone I remembered, I didn’t find one marked Jeffrey, but there was a familiar shaped one marked Lauzon. This was my grandmother’s maiden name, but on my father’s side. I read the names: Jean B. Lauzon and Ellen Messier. Hmmm…
I didn’t know if they are related to my Pivin grandmother for sure, but then I moved around the south side of the monument and my jaw dropped. There were the names of my grandparents, Joseph Pivin and Mary (Lauzon) Pivin with their son Oscar and his wife Ida! Here were my grandparents and aunt and uncle on one side with what must be my great grandparents on the front. I would have to confirm this, but it looked promising.
We called my father-in-law to say we would be stopping to pick him up to go to lunch, but he said he didn’t want to go out to eat so we stopped at another restaurant (Quito’s) to get some clam cakes and a fish platter to-go for him. I decided to do some more research while they visited with him, so I went to the office of the Bristol Phoenix newspaper to look for the obituary of my grandmother whose gravestone I just found. I knew she had died 22nd of July, and the tombstone said 1953, I asked to see their archives for that month. On the front page of the July 24th issue was an article about a trial of a 21 year old man named John McKenna who was arraigned in the hit-and-run death of my grandmother. The article was continued on page 2, ironically right next to her obituary.
I remember the funeral very well, it was held at her house on Hope Street, with the living room set up like a funeral parlor room. I remember the smell of all the gladiolus bouquets and how she looked like she was asleep with a rosary entwined in her hands. I was only 7 years old and this was my first experience that I recall with the death of a family member.
I read through the obituary and found the confirmation that J. B. Lauzon was her father and another precious fact: She was born in St. David, Quebec. This is a small town halfway between St. Germain de Grantham and Sorel, which were homes of my ancestral Pivins. Now I have a thread to follow with this line into the excellent records of the Quebec parishes. Her mother was listed as Helen Messier. Chances are good that I can follow both of these lines in the Blue Drouin Quebec Marriage records.
I could not believe how this has turned out. Thinking I was looking for grandpa Jeffrey, it was an incorrect memory as far as the name on the tombstone, but I hit the jackpot on finding my father’s grandparents and a lead on where to look for more info on the line. One more generation back on these two people and I will have determined a full five generations back on my ancestry.
Monday, August 23, 1999 in Warwick, RI
Woke up to the sun shining in the window; I hope this lasts. I Headed for American-French Genealogy Society (AFGS) in Woonsocket, RI at 11:30. After an introduction by one of the volunteers I was underway on my research. The first thing I tried was to look for J. B. Lauzon in the Blue Drouin marriage index. No luck.
I tried an alternate method with J. B., looking for his death record, but that was also fruitless. I did, however, find the death record of grandfather Peter Jeffrey which allowed me to fill in that blank. He was 44 when he died and that was in 1906, only two years after my mother was born. That must have been very tough for my grandmother. She never re-married and she and my mother went back and forth to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia over the next few years as my grandmother tried to make ends meet.
Working on the Messier side of my grandmother’s parents had a much better results, as I was able to trace back through several generations and the marriages linked well. I also had luck in tracing the Ferron line of my great-grandmother, adding several marriages there.
Our visit came to an end and we headed back to Arizona, disappointed that I did not find great-grandfather Jean-Baptiste’s parents.
Chapter 2 – Looking in the Right Place
In July of 2001, after returning from the continuation of the search for the parents of Jean-Baptiste Lauzon in RI, I wrote the following summary of my trip and sent it to my fellow researchers with ancestors in Canada on an email list-server:
I just returned from a visit to RI, where my most recent ancestors lived and am delighted to report that after much searching I have found the identity of the parents of my great-grandfather, Jean-Baptiste Lauzon. I have been dead-ended for many years and this discovery came after many repeated efforts down many dead-end alleys.
Those of you who have been searching in the US may benefit from what I have learned about church and civil record-keeping and the people who are in charge of the archives.
This search was for the last couple to complete my 5-generation chart. I got very close to completing this when I found my great-grandfather’s tombstone on my last trip to RI two years ago. This was also when I drove through Quebec, New Brunswick, Cape Breton and Halifax, Nova Scotia, meeting many cousins and people I had met on the internet doing research.
The tombstone was etched with his death date and I though it would be a simple job to find the record of his death. I found his wife’s record, who pre-deceased him, in the town of Bristol records, but there was nothing for him. Did he die somewhere else?
Searching through the state archives yielded nothing. I was getting discouraged. I tried to contact the people at the church connected with the cemetery, but got no response.
Now, two years later on this trip, I am determined to solve this mystery. I return to St. Jean’s church in Warren where I was told to go to another church in the town where the records were kept. No death record. There had to be something more than just a record that the burial took place there. The clerk at the rectory suggested that I look for a burial permit at the town hall. This would have been required to bury Jean-Baptiste Lauzon in Warren.
At the town hall in Warren, burial permits were kept in a cardboard file box, sorted by year and wrapped in rubber bands. Flipping through them, my excitement grew as I found his permit. Wow, nothing like I expected, he was buried in Warren with his wife, but died in Bristol, the adjacent town where his children lived and where I spent the first 20 years of my life. I am hot on the trail now…
I had never thought to look there in all my previous visits. I went to the town hall in Bristol and the clerk emerged from the vault with a huge tattered volume and again my excitement grew as her finger ran down the page and yes, there he was. My eyes quickly moved across the page to the right columns where his parents were listed: Jacques Lauzon and Hermine Brouillard.
Oh boy, I was on a roll! Now to race across the state (only about 25 miles) to the AFGS library and their copy of the huge Blue Drouin marriage index.
Two years ago I had searched the marriage indices and even a collection of Lauzon marriages but to no avail. My grandparents were not in the index and there was no way to connect to a particular Lauzon couple out of the many that were there. Could this be another dead end? Would Jacques Lauzon be in the index?
The above re-creation of the Drouin Index entry for my grandfather’s parents shows what I found. The groom with his parents and the bride and her parents and the date and location of the marriage. From this entry, I could easily continue back through hundreds of years of family history since both of their parents’ marriages were listed as well.
Once you get one marriage in this huge index, you are taken on a journey way back many generations to the late 1700s and can carry each of these back further in the Red Drouin index that covers back to the pioneer days of the early 1600s in Quebec when most of the French immigration took place.
I could not contain my joy in the library atmosphere of the AFGS and let out a loud “YES!” when I found Jacques Lauzon and Hermine Brouillard. This has been my best day of researching, ever. I continued to work my way back in the index and added more than five generations to my father’s lineage as well as connecting to families before 1760 in the Red Drouin.
I learned that church records and even civil records in the US are nothing like those in Canada for completeness. I learned that childhood recollections can be faulty and assumptions about where people lived can be wrong. One bit of advice to help with research: Talk to your elder family members before they join their ancestors. You will learn many things that are not found in any church or civil records and maybe even where to look for more information.