FRENCH-CANADIAN SETTLEMENT IN PEPIN CO., WIS.

TO 1880: DEMOGRAPHIC INTERPRETATION

OF THE DATA

 

 

The foundations for this interpretation lie in the following genealogical study, undertaken in an attempt to trace the migratory pattern which resulted in the French-Canadian settlement of Pepin Co., Wis., prior to the year 1880. During the period from the late 1850s through the 1870s, a group of surname-families, the emigrant ancestors of which have been identified, settled in and around the area called Forest Vale in Waterville Township, in the village of Arkansaw, on Dead Lake Prairie, and in the town of Durand in Pepin Co., Wis. By the 1880s, they had spilled over into the area of Maxville Prairie in Buffalo Co., Wis., and by 1900 were living also in the areas of Weston and Eau Galle in Dunn Co., Wis. The pattern of settlement can be most graphically seen by using the plat books published periodically for the county.

The expansion outside of Pepin County did not represent moves over a significant geographical distance, but gradual expansion of a nuclear settlement across some oddly drawn county lines. The settlement continued to receive additional members at least up to 1900. However, not all later arrivals have been traced back to their Canadian origins. Of the families present by 1880, not all original emigrants could be identified. These families are also omitted from the study.

Of the surnames studied, a total number of 28 adult (18 or over) males who emigranted from Quebec have been traced. In at least one case, four adult brothers appear to have emigrated together, bringing their widowed mother. In another, an older married couple, whose younger children were still at home, appear to have come at the same time as the families of the older married sons. In this latter case, several brothers of the older man seem to have emigrated to the U.S. as well, but they did not make the subsequent move to Pepin Co., Wis. Via the maiden names of the identified wives of the emigrants, it would seem that many of the families were kin already before the emigration from Quebec. That is, it does not seem that the acquaintance of and intermarriage among the various families began only after their arrival across the U.S. border.

The parochial origins of almost all of these families in Quebec have been determined, in spite of the difficulties presented by deformation of family and place names (see discussion in the Introduction). All families of the original settlement came to Wisconsin via Vermont or New York. In the 1840s and 1850s, many had come south from the Richelieu River valley and were living on the islands (and in the townships) of Isle la Motte and North Hero, located in lake Champlain, in Grand Isle Co., Vt. During the same period of the 1840s and 1850s, most of the remainder were in Chazy and Champlain Townships, Clinton Co., N.Y., and in Dickinson Township, Franklin Co., N.Y. A few seem to have scattered somewhat from these basic locales, as, for example, across the county line from Dickinson Township into St. Lawrence Co., N.Y., but not far. All places were within a day's walk of one another. This clearly distinguishes the families of the pre-1880 settlement from those which arrived later, coming mainly from the Deux Montagnes area of western Quebec via LaCrosse, Wisconsin.

One very clear distinction between the above geographical paths of migration is that, whereas the Grand Isle and Clinton Co. families by and large remained Roman Catholic, almost all families of the Franklin Co. group were Methodist Episcopal by the time of their arrival in Wisconsin. (This was not to prevent extensive intermarriage among them.) There was a French Protestant church in Dickinson Township. It cannot presently be determined if they settled there because they were Protestant, or if they were converted to Protestantism because of the presence, in the area where they lived, of Methodist missionary activity directed at families of French-Canadian origin.

As the families came west, they fanned out. In Wisconsin, the group is known to have had connections with French-Canadian families located at Fond du Lac, LaCrosse, Rice Lake, and Marinette. Relatives are also known to have lived in Toledo, Ohio; in Iowa, and in Illinois in the northern tier of counties along the Wisconsin border. Pepin County was by no means the terminus of the migration. After 1880, further movement of family members of the younger generations westward into Minnesota, the Dakotas, Oregon and Washington States, and even California and Saskatchewan, continued steadily down to 1900.

In spite of the continued out-migration, there was a steady increase in numbers. By 1880, in Pepin Co., Wis., there were 53 families headed by members of the traced emigrant families: by 1900, there were 65 families so headed. Even with the families who had settled permanently on their farms in Wisconsin, however, there was a strong seasonal pattern by which the men would earn cash incomes by going west with the harvest in the summer and north to the logging camps in the winters. Where unknown factors exist as a result of these circumstances, they are noted in the statistics.

The major motivation for the move to Wisconsin seems to have been the purchase of land. Some of the families were prosperous enough at the time of emigration from Quebec that they were able to purchase land in New York or Vermont. Most, however, for the duration of their residence in the east, were laborers, either on the farms of others or in their trades. (Most of these adult emigrant males were trained as masons, carpenters, or members of other craft trades, and continued to exercise these occupations as well as to farm after moving to Wisconsin. Undoubtedly an important factor in their employment was the existence in the village of Arkansaw of a furniture factory which at times had up to 200 workers.). Many younger men worked on the Chippewa River steamboats.

In many cases, the land in Wisconsin was paid for by the bounty money which a man received for service as a soldier in the Union Army during the U.S. Civil War. However, the migration had begun already before 1860, with the arrival of the first French-Canadian family in Pepin Co. to be dated about 1858.

The first general questions considered to be of basic importance were those relating to the circumstances under which migration from Quebec into the U.S. took place. As can be seen from Table I, of the 28 traced emigrants, the birthdates fell heavily into the two time-periods of 1785-1804 and 1815-1834.

 

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TABLE I

 

BIRTHDATES OF 28 ADULT MALES WHO EMIGRANTED FROM QUEBEC

 

Cohorts in the following table were chosen to go from mid-decade to mid-decade because many birthdates were given rather vaguely (e.g. "around 1820") or varied from census to census. They tended to cluster around even numbers.

 

Decade Number of Men

1765-1774 . . . . . . . . . . 2*

1775-1784 . . . . . . . . . . 1

1785-1794 . . . . . . . . . . 7**

1795-1804 . . . . . . . . . . 6

1805-1814 . . . . . . . . . . 2

1815-1824 . . . . . . . . . . 4

1825-1834 . . . . . . . . . . 6

 

* One of these men was an elderly father who migrated

with the family of a middle-aged son. The other

could, in a sense, be counted as younger than his

age cohort, as he had a wife 30 years his junior and

children born in the period 1820-1840. Both died

before the move to Wisconsin.

 

** Two of the men in this cohort were married to women

22 and 30 years their junior respectively. One of

these men was born in Ireland and merely passed

through Quebec Province, acquiring a French-Canadian

wife and being absorbed into the group on the way.

 

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Census and naturalization data, direct statements in obituaries, and deduction from the birthdates and birthplaces of children made possible the determination of the approximate date of emigration for most of the men. All of the "unknown" category in Table II fall in the period after 1835, but cannot be fixed more precisely than that.

 

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TABLE II

 

DATES OF EMIGRATION OF 28 ADULT MALES FROM QUEBEC

 

Decade Number Percentage

1815-1824 . . . 1 . . . . . . . 3.5%

1825-1834 . . . 2 . . . . . . . 7 %

1835-1844 . . . 11 . . . . . . 39.5%

1845-1854 . . . 7 . . . . . . 25 %

Unknown . . . . 7 . . . . . . 25 %

 

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It was also an important question whether or not most of the emigrants came as young bachelors looking for work, or as heads of families. As it turned out, almost 60% were married at the time of leaving Quebec.

 

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TABLE III

 

NUMBERS OF 28 ADULT MALE EMIGRANTS WHO MARRIED

IN CANADA AND THE U.S. RESPECTIVELY*

 

Location Number Percentage

Canada . . . . . 18 . . . . . . . 57 %

U.S. . . . . . . 14 . . . . . . . 50 %

Unknown . . . . . 1 . . . . . . . 3.5%

 

* For the 28 men, there are 33 recorded marriages, which

produces percentage figures of over 100%. In the five

remarriages, the husband was first married in Canada

before his emigration, was widowed in the U.S., and

remarried there.

 

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However, even though a majority of the men were married at the time of their emigration, most left Canada as the fathers of relatively young families. Only about 60% of the children of those men who were married at the time of emigration were born in Canada.

 

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TABLE IV

 

NUMBER OF CHILDREN BORN IN CANADA AND THE U.S.

RESPECTIVELY OF EMIGRANT FATHERS WHOSE FIRST MARRIAGES

TOOK PLACE IN QUEBEC*

 

Location Number Percentage

Canada . . . . 82 . . . . . . 58.3%

U.S. . . . . . . 56 . . . . . . 39.4%

Unknown** . . . . 4 . . . . . . 2.8%

 

* There was one case where the father married in the

U.S., had three children born in Vermont, then two children

born in Canada during the U.S. Civil War, and four

children born in Wisconsin. This family is not included

on the above table because of the anomalies.

 

** "Unknown" means cases where there is contradictory

documentary evidence, as, for instance, where a census

record says an individual was born in Vt., whereas the

marriage record for the same person says born in Canada.

 

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In general, the families were large. The average number of children of the families of emigrant fathers on known data is 8.1 per family. The real average would be higher (cf. the notes to Table V. By adding only one child to the 4-child family and assigning the "unknown" families the average of the remainder, one would get an average family size of 8.9 per fertile marriage. There was only one case in this group of emigrants in which the husband's second marriage produced offspring. The earliest age at which any of the men was widowed was c. 45, and all but one remarried to widows or spinsters in their own age cohort.

 

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TABLE V

 

NUMBER OF CHILDREN PER COMPLETE FAMILY OF 28 EMIGRANT FATHERS

 

Number of Children Number of Occurring Families

4 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3*

5 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

6 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

7 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4**

8 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2***

9 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2

10 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

11 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4

12 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2

13 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2

14 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

Unknown . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2****

 

* There were, in one of these families, more children

who died young--at least two, and possibly three.

 

** One of these families had more children, here

untraced: the family reports 10 children by an

unknown first wife, none of whom came to Pepin Co.

 

*** One of these families was artificially halted by a

Civil War wound which deprived the father of the

power of procreation.

 

**** Data known on only one child of a possibly sizeable

family.

 

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The emigrant generation proved to be not only highly fertile, but also generally hardy, as indicated by the age distribution at death given in Table VI. In all "unknown" cases, what is missing is the date of birth, from which age at death could be computed.

 

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TABLE VI

 

LIFE EXPECTANCY OF THE EMIGRANT GENERATION

(28 MEN AND THEIR 33 WIVES)

 

Age at Death Number of Men Number of Women

31-40 . . . . . . . . . 0 . . . . . . . . . 3

41-50 . . . . . . . . . 0 . . . . . . . . . 2

51-60 . . . . . . . . . 2 . . . . . . . . . 3

61-70 . . . . . . . . . 1 . . . . . . . . . 2

71-80 . . . . . . . . . 8 . . . . . . . . . 4

81-90 . . . . . . . . . 4 . . . . . . . . . 5

91-100* . . . . . . . . 4 . . . . . . . . . 1

Unknown** . . . . . . . 9 . . . . . . . . . 13

 

* Two men claimed to be over 100 at time of death, as did

one woman. However, Canadian baptismal records

indicated that these claims were exaggerated. There is

only one documented French-Centenarian among the

migrants to Pepin Co., Wis., and she came from the group

which settled there during the 1890's.

 

** From census data, it was possible to establish a floor

under the "unknown" dates of death. As all persons in

the "unknown" category for males were born by 1834, and

all but two of the older ones were still alive in 1880,

it can be said that none died under the age of 45 years.

 

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Of all 28 emigrant fathers, there are 236 known children. When attention was turned to this second generation, the question of greatest interest was the extent to which they maintained their ethnic identity by marriage within the French-Canadian group as compared to marriage outside it. Table VII provides this data.

Nuptiality was very high. Of the 236 known children, only 15 definitely died unmarried. Of these, eleven died before reaching marriageable age, and one more boy died at age 19. One was killed in the U.S. Civil War in his early 20s, and one became an invalid as the result of service in the same war. The final unmarried person was feeble-minded. In other words, if the members of this group of second-generation children were potentially marriageable, they seem to have married.

 

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TABLE VII

 

MARRIAGES OF SECOND-GENERATION FRENCH-CANADIAN CHILDREN

WITHIN AND OUTSIDE THE FRENCH-CANADIAN CULTURAL GROUP

 

Type of Marriage Number in Category*

Within . . . . . . . . . . 75**

Outside . . . . . . . . . 34

Wife's Maiden Name . . . . 14

Unknown

Died Unmarried . . . . . . 15

 

* Marriages have not been traced for the remainder of the

236 children. The absence of data may be attributed to:

(1) marriage in Vt. or N.Y. of a child who did not come

to Wisconsin; (2) marriage taking place outside the

counties whose vital records were utilized; (3) marriage

after emigration west from Wisconsin.

 

** This includes every marriage entered into by an individual

dual. Therefore, statistically, when two members of the

group married one another, the match is recorded twice.

 

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Marriages taking place outside the group indicated no particular preference for any given nationality. Spouses included persons of German, Austrian, Swedish, Danish, Swiss, Irish, and generally Anglo-Saxon Protestant background. Out-marriage is even more interesting as a phenomenon when broken down according to age and sex. Surprisingly, almost as many females as males married outside the group, in spite of the likelihood that the men would have had more mobility in their jobs, and a chance to make a wider circle of acquaintances. Men seem to have been more likely to marry outside the group if they were marrying at an older-than-average age. Not enough data was available on the women to make an age determination.

 

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TABLE VIII

 

THIRTY-FOUR SECOND GENERATION MARRIAGE OUTSIDE THE

GROUP ANALYZED BY AGE AND GENDER

 

Age at Marriage Number of Men Number of Women

16-20 . . . . . . . 1 . . . . . . . . 3

21-25 . . . . . . . 4 . . . . . . . . 2

26-30 . . . . . . . 5 . . . . . . . . 1

31-35 . . . . . . . 1 . . . . . . . . 0

36-40 . . . . . . . 2 . . . . . . . . 0

41-45 . . . . . . . 1 . . . . . . . . 0

46-50 . . . . . . . 0 . . . . . . . . 0

51-55 . . . . . . . 1 . . . . . . . . 0

56-60 . . . . . . . 1 . . . . . . . . 0

61-65 . . . . . . . 2 . . . . . . . . 0

Unknown . . . . . . 2 . . . . . . . . 10*

 

* Many of the women who married out of the group were

identified only by mention in their parents'

obituaries, which is why the age at marriage is

unknown for so many.

 

N.B. Several men whose first wives had been French-

Canadian married out of the group as widowers.

Only one of the female out-marriages was that of

a widow whose first husband had been French-

Canadian.

 

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One clear phenomenon is that the second generation married very young, particularly in comparison to European marriage patterns at the time. Of the 36 women whose age at first marriage is known, or can be approximated from the date of birth of the first child, 75% were married before age 21. Two of these brides were as young as 15, but most married at 18 or 19. By age 26,m 94.4% of these women were married. Of the 62 men whose age at first marriage is known or can be approximated, 61% were married before age 26, and 90.3% before age 31.

 

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TABLE IX

 

AGE AT FIRST MARRIAGE OF SECOND-GENERATION CHILDREN*

 

Age at First Marriage Number of Men Number of Women

16-20 . . . . . . . . . 10 . . . . . . 27

21-25 . . . . . . . . . 28 . . . . . . 7

26-30 . . . . . . . . . 18 . . . . . . 1

31-35 . . . . . . . . . 4 . . . . . . 1

36-40 . . . . . . . . . 2 . . . . . . 0

Unknown . . . . . . . . 12 . . . . . . 17

 

* The disparity in number of total male and female cases

stems from the fact that, overall, there were more

girls than boys in the category of children whose

marriages could not be traced at all.

 

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Of the second-generation marriages, it was possible to trace all the children of 57 unions. Data on these families is considered below. By no means were all the descendents of all second-generation known marriages located, much less the descendents of those whose marriage records could not be found.

The 57 unions which are analyzed here produced a total of 331 children. There was also one case of an illegitimate birth. The child was incorporated into a family when his mother subsequently (six years later) made an out-group marriage. For the purpose of figuring percentages, this child is carried here with his mother's marital family. Of the marriages where both the date of marriage and that of the birth of the eldest child could be determined from the vital records, there were no premarital pregnancies evident. The first child was almost always born within 18 months of the marriage, and frequently within one year of it.

There was an appreciable reduction in fertility in this generation, to an average of 5.8 children per father. Of the second-generation marriages, two are known to have been sterile, though both couples compensated by adopting orphaned children. Of the 57 fertile marriages considered here, three produced only one child, while the largest family contained 13 children. There were quite a few families of 9 to 12 children. Therefore, the reduction in average fertility was not achieved by having a majority of couples complete their family after the birth of four to six children. Rather, it was achieved by several couples continuing the pattern of large families that had prevailed in the past, some having middle-sized families of 4 to 6, and others sharply reducing their families to a total of one to three children.

 

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TABLE X

 

FAMILY SIZE PRODUCED BY 59 COMPLETED SECOND-

GENERATION UNIONS

 

Number of Children Number of Families in Category

0 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2

1 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7

3 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8

4 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

5 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9

6 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6

7 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6

8 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7

9 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

10 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0

11 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4

12 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2

13 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

 

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Because of the division of the group into Catholic and Methodist sections, it was thought desirable to see if religious affiliation had an impact on family size in this generation. It seems to have had some influence, based on the data in Table XI, but was not solely determinative.

 

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TABLE XI

 

FAMILY SIZE PRODUCED BY 59 COMPLETED SECOND-GENERATION

UNIONS ANALYZED BY RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION*

 

Number in Family Catholic Methodist Unknown

0 . . . . . . . . 1 . . . . . . 1 . . . . . . 0

1 . . . . . . . . 0 . . . . . . 2 . . . . . . 1

2 . . . . . . . . 0 . . . . . . 0 . . . . . . 7

3 . . . . . . . . 1 . . . . . . 1 . . . . . . 6

4 . . . . . . . . 0 . . . . . . 1 . . . . . . 0

5 . . . . . . . . 6 . . . . . . 3 . . . . . . 0

6 . . . . . . . . 1 . . . . . . 2 . . . . . . 3

7 . . . . . . . . 2 . . . . . . 2 . . . . . . 3

8 . . . . . . . . 2 . . . . . . 1 . . . . . . 4

9 . . . . . . . . 2 . . . . . . 1 . . . . . . 0

10 . . . . . . . . 0 . . . . . . 0 . . . . . . 0

11 . . . . . . . . 1 . . . . . . 1 . . . . . . 2

12 . . . . . . . . 2 . . . . . . 0 . . . . . . 2

13 . . . . . . . . 1 . . . . . . 0 . . . . . . 0

 

* Data on religious affiliation came primarily from obituaries and from burial in a Catholic cemetery. In other cases, the performance of the marriage ceremony by a Catholic priest was taken as indicative. Probably most of the "unknowns" should fall in a non-Catholic classification. In these cases, there was no obituary information and the marriage ceremony was performed by a Justice of the Peace.

 

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More important than religion, apparently, in determination of family size in second generation marriages, was the cultural influence of marriage within the group as compared to marriage outside the group.

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TABLE XII

 

FAMILY SIZE PRODUCED BY 59 COMPLETED SECOND-GENERATION

UNIONS ANALYZED ON THE BASIS OF MARRIAGE WITHIN

THE GROUP AS COMPARED TO OUT-MARRIAGE

 

Number in Family Marriage within Group Out-Marriage

0 . . . . . . . . . . 2 . . . . . . . . . . 0

1 . . . . . . . . . . 0 . . . . . . . . . . 3

2 . . . . . . . . . . 6* . . . . . . . . . 1

3 . . . . . . . . . . 6 . . . . . . . . . . 2

4 . . . . . . . . . . 0 . . . . . . . . . . 1

5 . . . . . . . . . . 8 . . . . . . . . . . 0

6 . . . . . . . . . . 4 . . . . . . . . . . 2

7 . . . . . . . . . . 4 . . . . . . . . . . 2

8 . . . . . . . . . . 6 . . . . . . . . . . 1

9 . . . . . . . . . . 3 . . . . . . . . . . 0

10 . . . . . . . . . . 0 . . . . . . . . . . 0

11 . . . . . . . . . . 4 . . . . . . . . . . 0

12 . . . . . . . . . . 2 . . . . . . . . . . 0

13 . . . . . . . . . . 1 . . . . . . . . . . 0

 

* One family among this six was artificially halted by

the separation of the couple.

 

N.B. The reason that Table VII accounts for only 75

second-generation persons who married within the group,

whereas the above in-group marriages involve 90 persons,

is that by this time there was chronological confusion

among the generations. Some of the spouses involved in

the marriages of Table XII were of the third generation.

 

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However one wishes to account for the phenomena in Tables XI and XII, it is clear that there must have been deliberate limitation of births among a significant proportion of the families. All births involved took place before 1900, and it would be interesting to know what means were employed by the couples to achieve their end.

Insofar as can be gathered from the "local news" columns of the Pepin County newspapers, the golden age of the French-Canadian settlement seems to have been between about 1900 and 1920. The families were well-established, the worst hardships of the pioneering period were over, and life was pleasant. Today, however, the French-Canadian settlement of Waterville Township no longer exists as a geographical grouping, although descendents of many of the families still reside in the county.

The break-up seems to have taken place mainly during the 1920's and 1930's. One contributing factor was the mechanization of agriculture. The original farms settled by the families had been small--usually 40 acre units. They were no longer efficient economically, and as ambitious members of the community combined them into larger enterprises, the displaced families had to look elsewhere for land or work. Another significant factor was the Depression of the 1930's, in which several of the farms were lost by their owners. Finally, there was constant pressure by another land-hungry ethnic farming settlement moving down from the Big Arkansaw Valley, the members of which were willing to pay a higher price than anyone else for nearby land that came on the market.

 


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