I write this story in tribute to my French-Canadian ancestors, their collective spirit, resilient and triumphant, that lives on. I tell a story of many twists and turns leading here now to me, claiming me as the very first Wisconsin-born direct descendant. Naming me now as the one to give voice to their journey, I attempt here to resurrect and preserve what I know of this history.
In this manner (in addition to Anna and Jules' parents mentioned above), I was able to locate both sets of Jules' grandparents, namely Jean-Baptiste Gauthier wed to Elizabeth Paquet. On his mother's side, Célina Beauchamp's parents were Joseph Beauchamp and Catherine Diotte. Through this research, I also found three of Jules' siblings, although undoubtedly there were others. I found three brothers, Hormidas (married Donalda Groulx in 1900), and two others, both named Jean-Baptiste. As an aside, I found it interesting to note that these two brothers married two sisters, Cordélia and Poméla Bigras (daughters of Cordélia Nadon and Elisée Bigras), in 1890 and 1891 respectively. [Update: Jules' obituary also mentioned a brother, Joseph, and a sister, Emma Gauthier, both residing in Montreal at the time of his death in 1943.]
On Anna's side, I found her paternal grandparents (Ovide Desjardins' parents) to be Desjardins (no first name listed) and Anne Tasse (widowed). I had most success in tracing Anna's maternal lineage. I was surprised to find her grandmother (Mathildée Charbonneau's mother) was also a Gauthier, Henriette, married to Joseph Charbonneau in 1840 at St. Jerome, Terrebonne. Joseph's parents were Joseph Charbonneau and Marie Duclos. Anna's other set of maternal great-grandparents were Jean-Baptiste Gauthier and Antionette Chartier. I was not able to locate marriage records for these sets of Anna's great-grandparents, however I estimate they would have been born between 1775 and 1800. The appearance of the Gauthier name on Anna's side raises the possibility that Anna and Jules could have been cousins, no closer than second but perhaps, or probably, more distant. Siblings of Anna found were: Adrien (married Imelda Paiement in 1900), Eloise (married Uldège Thisdell in 1899) and Anne-Marie (married Bellefleur). In any case this is the status of my present genealogical knowledge. In order to proceed further, I would need to try to locate other records such as: Parish, Birth/Death or Census. Although I was hoping to get back to France, which can't be all-too-distant now, I'm presently at an impasse.
I sense that these last years in Quebec were restless, searching times for Anna and Jules as they struggled to find new paths. It seems they were not content to farm the Terrebonne fields of their ancestors but, rather, were intent upon opening new doors of opportunity for themselves and the family they had begun. And, while they were deeply devoted to their French-Canadian heritage and homeland, I've been told by relatives that they decided to leave for political reasons, escaping the oppressive climate of the times. And in the true spirit of their ancestors, so too, Anna and Jules were pioneers in search of new lands.
Their journey led them to their new home. Crossing the Canadian border into Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Jules and Anna settled on the shores of Lake Superior, in Marquette, in 1901. Marquette was the main shipping port in the Upper Peninsula. Most likely my great-grandparents were drawn to the area because of the abundant availability of jobs relating to both the booming iron mining industry and the railroad. Undoubtedly they also had knowledge of an existing French community. I do know Marquette was then a small city of just a few thousand or so people, a substantial percentage of whom were French-speaking. This certainly must have been of great comfort to Jules and Anna who spoke only French.
The Gauthier children grew up bilingual, speaking French with their parents. It has been told to me that Jules had a strong resistance to learning English, perhaps a residual effect of the French resistance in Canada to the earlier British assimilation policies. In any event, I've been told he held great pride in being a Frenchman, deeply devoted to his native French. Anna, on the other hand, made more of an effort and apparently learned to adequately communicate with the English-speaking patrons of the little grocery store/ice-cream shop she opened in the rear of the house. Jules had little academic education but Anna was fairly literate, often reading and, I'm told, she carried on an extensive letter-writing correspondence with her sister, Anne-Marie, who lived in Ste. Agathe, Quebec. Too bad those letters were not saved.
I only began my active research for this project several months ago (September, 1997). Unfortunately, three very significant figures, who could have contributed much to this story, all died within recent years. My great-aunt, Bertha, warm-hearted and generous, died in 1994. Also I would have liked to have better known her sister, Eva, the eldest, dying in 1988. And then there was Jack, the first-born of Bertha's six children, my second-cousin, but really more like an older brother, living off and on with our family as I grew up. He was one of my favorite relatives, an interesting and creative guy who died suddenly just over a year ago at age 66. I will return to him later as he is a significant character in this Wisconsin French connection.
My mother, Betty, remembers the many summers she spent in Marquette as a child in the 1930's and 40's. She tells me that she was always happy to see her grandparents and her aunts, uncles, and cousins. When she was old enough she would ride the train alone from Milwaukee to Marquette where relatives would be waiting. Remembering Jules and Anna as always kind and welcoming to her, she shares with me a few memories of those times. She remembers them as good-natured, easy-going people, well liked by all their children and grandchildren. According to my mother, and from all other accounts, Jules and Anna set rules and limits but never used physical punishment and never abusively raised their voices. Betty remembers it to be a peaceful and warm environment where everyone seemed to get along.
My mother relates one incident she recalls with humor. Her cousin Jack and she were about the same age and best-buddies, often playing together during my mother's visits. Once, when they were about 8 or 9 years old, they found a can of red paint and decided to repaint their grandparent's house. They managed to paint a large area before they were discovered. Jack was sent home where he was put to bed. Betty remembers her grandparents being upset but cannot recall that she received any punishment other than a verbal reprimand and a lasting memory.
Anna's little store, in the rear of the house, stands out clearly in my mother's memory. She remembers that Anna was well liked in the community and she would often chat and laugh with many of her French-speaking customers. Apparently Anna's little entrepreneurial enterprise turned out to be a rather lucrative supplement to Jules' income, so much so that they even bought a neighboring house later as an income property. Through hard-work and resourceful spirit, my great-grandparents succeeded to elevate from their rather impoverished origins to a fairly upper middle-class security.
Jules was a soft-spoken and gentle man as my mother remembers her grandfather. Between his very limited English and my mother's rather weak knowledge of French, the two managed to have a special rapport. My mother tells me that relatives would often teasingly say that she was "Grandpa's girl" and that he paid her special attention. Jack, on the other hand, was called "Grandma's boy." My mother says that while her grandmother was loving towards all her grandchildren, Anna shared a special closeness with her grandson since, while growing up, Jack lived much of the time at his grandparent's home.
In fact, I do recall Jack fondly mentioning has grandparents. I know he felt especially bonded with Anna and I remember him saying he thought she was so intelligent. Perhaps too, Anna recognized, as did I, Jack's creative individuality. I know also that if anyone was likely to have asked them questions about their lives in Quebec, about their inner thoughts and feelings, it was Jack who spoke French quite well. About 1984 Jack moved from his Wisconsin residence to Mountain Home, Arkansas, with his wife, Andrea (Andee), and somehow the years flew by, with me, always believing I had lots of time to talk with him again. There is so much I would have liked to have asked him about Anna and Jules and about life growing up in Marquette. Jack was extremely proud of his French blood, and he had a very French romantic nature--a true bon vivant. His sudden death on December 9th, 1996, buried not only a good-hearted person, but forever buried with him too is the rich input he could have added to this work. I know Jack would have offered me great support as well as invaluable collaboration.
In recent conversation with Jack's widow, Andee, I made an interesting discovery. She told me that Jack had conveyed to her that his grandparents had owned a grand piano. I did know that Jack was talented at playing the piano and also developed an ability to play by ear. What I didn't know was that his grandparents encouraged his musical pursuits and possibly may even have instructed him. Since I've always felt an artistic affinity with Jack (more than with any of my other relatives), learning that my great-grandparents encouraged Jack's creativity increases my sense of connection with Anna and Jules. Andee also told me that Jack had related a story about Jules working as a musician at a dance hall in Montreal in the early 1890's. While the details are foggy in her memory, she thinks that Anna may also have been somehow musically performing and that she and Jules met in a dance hall. The accuracy of this account is unknown and rather questionable. But the piano is an interesting fact that even my mother remembers.
*Eva (1900-1988) remained in Marquette, married Jim O'Donnell, and gave birth to one daughter, Lois. This daughter is now age 72 and also the mother of one daughter, Lynn, who herself is the mother of two young sons, Shane, and Cory (representing great-great grandchildren of Anna and Jules). All are Milwaukee area residents. Since Lois did not express interest in being involved with this project, I will leave it at that, respecting her privacy.
*Irene (1903--1975) died in Bloomington, Illinois) moved as a young woman to Chicago, Illinois, where she owned and operated a restaurant for several years with her husband (Patterson). She had no children.
*Alma, born August 27, 1906, is still alive and residing in Milwaukee. She raised my mother (her niece) but had no other children. I will elaborate more on her life in the upcoming section on Wisconsin connections.
*Bertha (1909-1994) remained in Marquette, married Jesse Wright, and was the only one to have several children, giving birth to six children. Besides Jack (her already-mentioned, deceased, oldest son), the five surviving children are: Jim, married and living in Marquette. No children. Judy (married Noyes), retired elementary school teacher, now living in Florida. She has two grown children; Jesse Jr., Ph.D., is married and working in the country of Panama. No children; Carol remains in Marquette where she owns and operates a boutique. She is the mother of two grown children, Tina and John-Paul; Tom was Bertha's last-born, being born two months before me, in 1952. He operates a heating and electrical-contracting business in Marquette where he resides with his wife and his three children.
*Florence (October 19, 1912--January 31, 1998) was a long-time Milwaukee County resident. Florence passed away recently as this work was in progress. She gave birth to one daughter, my mother, Betty (the mother of four of us). This story is forthcoming.
*Albert (February 26, 1913--February, 1977) is survived by his widow, Bertha, and two daughters, Marilyn and Christine. They live in Texas and I'm not sure how many children his daughters may have had.
*Edward (October 5, 1915--July, 1977) died in Plaquemine, Louisiana. He had married a Cajun woman while in the military as a young man and stationed in the South (Louisiana?). He fathered four children: Doris-Mae (married Guillory), Edward Jr., Allen, and Roger.
*Bernadette (December 21, 1916--May 14, 1962) was the last-born. She remained in Marquette, never married and had no children.
I know very little about my biological grandfather. I'm told Floyd Larion was tall, dark, and also bilingual, being of French descent. The fact that he could speak French leads me to wonder if he was also a member of the many first-generation French-Americans born in the area at that time. I heard that he died in Detroit in the 1970's. Perhaps someday I will attempt to learn more about him. Although I don't know the circumstances, I do know that Florence and Floyd separated when my mother was just a few months old. I know also that he never again saw his daughter.
[Update: I have learned that Floyd was born in Manistique, Michigan. His father, Jean (John) Larion came to the United States as a young man. Jean Larion was born in Dundas, Ontario, in 1864, to Casimir Larion and Philomene Daneau.] Part of my motive in setting this story down on paper goes beyond mere historical preservation. If history has a tendency to repeat itself, so too must it inevitably reveal itself, its lessons--speak its truth. It is time to set the record straight. Time to tell a complex story of secrets and silences --a story silent no more, unraveled and revealed--released from repetition. It is an incredibly quick history--a story of three generations--starting with Florence's birth in 1912 and concluding with my arrival in 1952--all of this happening within 40 years. And just as Florence gave birth to my mother at a young age, so too, I was the product of a short-lived marriage, being born in my mother's 21st-year. Two generations of actions taken without sufficient maturity or reflection, finds me now, the one who reflects upon this journey through time. And if Time has come to share with me its wisdom, it is by traveling and unraveling this maze of deception, that I see all the pieces of this puzzle now falling into place within my heart.
And so is written the story of how my mother, Betty, came to be transplanted from her birthplace in Marquette to her new home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As stated the marriage of Florence and Floyd was short-lived. When my mother was about 7 months old, Florence came to Milwaukee with Baby Betty. The arrangement was made with her older sister, Alma, and her husband, Al, that Florence would stay with them, caring for her baby, as well as performing housekeeping and cooking duties, in exchange for room and board, while they were busy with their professional careers.
To come to the point quickly, this arrangement did not last long. Within a couple of months Florence met a man who would, before long, become her new husband. It is said that he refused to have her child, my mother, in the picture and consequently Florence made a decision. When my mother was barely one year old, Alma and Al became Betty's parental figures. My mother did not learn the truth of these actions until she was 18 years old. A difficult truth it was for her, not only to learn that Alma and Al were not her biological parents and that Florence was her actual mother, but also that Florence simply abandoned her, leaving only a note to say she could no longer care for Betty. Speaking of perpetuated secrets, I too grew up believing Alma and Al were my real grandparents (which in spirit they will always remain).
Although I find it hard to understand Florence's choice, I do not wish to judge her, especially in light of her recent and unexpected death on January 31, 1998, at age 85. For several years she had been afflicted with Alzheimer's Disease but had otherwise seemed in good health.
In the late 1920's Alma met and married Alexander E. Morstad, ten years her senior. With an M.A. in history, he was well established as a history teacher, and later to become a long-term Principal, at Milwaukee's South Division High School. In any event, both Alma and Al were very involved with their careers when suddenly they had my infant mother to care for. I must commend them in their efforts to provide her with a good home, raising her as their daughter. For many years they had a live-in housekeeper and care-provider for Betty, a woman named Beatrice, of whom my mother was very fond. My mother recalls Alma and Al being good parents, somewhat strict, but they never hit her or yelled. She especially recalls her father often taking the time to play and to take her on outings such as to the movies or to the zoo. All-in-all, Betty was content and well cared for as a child. My mother was an only child.
Betty has told me that, after learning this, she suddenly felt her world fall apart, feeling that she should leave her home since she wasn't their "real" daughter. She understands, in retrospect, that Alma and Al still considered her their daughter and never gave any indication that she was no longer welcome, but in my mother's young mind, she construed things this way. I have little doubt that the aftermath of this shock led to my mother's rather rash decision to marry my father, Larry, when she was barely turned 20. Between Larry's persistence and my grandparent's liking him, seeing him as a stable young man with a good trade, my mother allowed herself to be swept up into a marriage she was not ready for.
Arriving in Great Falls, Montana, my parents heard that the Alaskan Highway was not in good shape, washed out and impassable. And so it went that they decided to settle in Great Falls. My mother tells me that these eight or so months they spent there were fairly happy times. Larry was hard-working and employed in his trade as a jeweler/watch-maker (later on he worked as a firefighter for several years in Minneapolis where he still resides). They discussed having children. My mother informs me that he preferred to wait but she didn't and tells me that she secretly hoped to have a baby girl--probably some unconscious desire to rectify history--be a better mother. In any case, I was glad to learn that she was happy when she became pregnant with me. And so I spent my first five months in the womb, there in the little city of the Great Falls, before we moved back to Wisconsin.
Betty had three more children (my half siblings) during the course of her 15-year marriage to Dan. In 1955, Kim was born. Scott was born in 1962 and Rick in 1963. Kim moved to Orlando, Florida, several years back where she continues to reside with her family. Scott had been living in Florida until his recent relocation back to Milwaukee this past summer. Rick is married and lives with his wife and children in the Las Vegas area. In 1994, my mother left Milwaukee and bought a house in Florida (near Orlando). My mother and I maintain a bond, one that moves beyond some major personality differences, mainly her rather pragmatic nature versus my idealistic and adventurous inclination. In tribute to my mother's resilience, she maintains a positive outlook, remaining active and healthy at age 68.
Yes, I remember. I remember being really small. One very poignant and clear memory stands out: I see myself sitting on Anna's lap. She smiles at me quietly. I remember her eyes, intense upon mine, her presence peaceful, somehow satisfied with her life. In a language transcendent of words, Anna spoke to me in that moment, leaving a message embedded within my heart--just a feeling of faith and hope--a gift given me to carry forth.
I heard it then and I understand it now--this distant communication--this connection awakened, moving me now to rescue this story, to reach back and remember, to listen and to write it. I did not fully grasp until recently, here in this Present, the legacy of that moment--a gift that connects all the pieces, opening now into a Future that carries on the best of the Past--the best of our collective heritage. This was Anna's gift to me and now this record is my gift to her--to let her know I was listening. I am listening still.
Last updated: 12/10/98