It’s very easy to drown in the sea of archaic documents found on Ancestry.ca. One thing leads to the next and before you know it, you’re so deep lost in the labyrinth of old records that you just about save a baby from David Bowie. I digress.
Recent tales about the prospective riches-to-rags history associated with my maternal grandmother’s past relatives sparked in me an interest to dig deeper into her history. I wanted to separate fact from fiction. People in my family love to talk, but they’re not very open about discussing the past. So I think many details about the story are pure conjecture. I signed up to Ancestry.ca and started a family tree for my mom’s side. But the trail got cold after only a couple generations, which leads me to believe that there may be a few holes in the story.
Interestingly enough, my dad’s side of the family unexpectedly kept unfolding before my eyes. I spent all of last evening following the path, hoping it would lead me to France at some point. My entire family is from Quebec. That’s where I was born and spent the first thirteen years of my life. When I’m asked about my background I always say French and Irish. Who knew, though, just how farback I would have to go to find my French ancestors.
Way, way back in 1659, my 9th great-grandfather, Jean Ouimet, was one of the first settlers of Quebec to come over from France on the ship Le Sacrifice d’Abraham. So yes, my background is French. But boy, do my roots run deep in Quebec! It’s both exciting and discomforting news. On the one hand, there is a smidgen of pride associated with being linked to the history of establishing a nation. On the other hand, at whose expense was that nation founded? There’s a very troubled history of genocide, displacement, and marginalization associated with the agricultural prosperity of my family.
Agricultural, they were. Every census dating from the 1600s to the early 1900s has the head of the household listed as “Cultivateur.” Farmers. The lot of them. I have yet to find any kind of documents relating to the military, incarceration, advanced education, or anything fascinating like that. (It’s not that they don’t exist, I simply haven’t found them yet) And I’m not disappointed. I’m a huge sucker for the pastoral mythos; and I’ve always held farming dear in my heart. Although I don’t truly believe that hard work is something that can run “in your blood,” I feel a true connection to my lineage through my involvement in a manual labour job like arboriculture.
Above all, I can’t help but think of the women in my family. Farmer’s wives. How difficult life must have been for them! And how many fleeces they would have processed. How many yards of wool would have passed through their hands. How many knitted socks, sweaters, hats and mittens would have flown off the needles and been worn day-in, day-out, until they were full of holes, then mended and worn again until disintegrating. That’s where I feel the real connection. Knitting is my past, and my present. It’s so much of who I am. There remains many more family members to investigate. Who knows what I’ll find down those lines.