Tracing family roots may mean digging
deep into parish records.
By Claudine Verdon Martin
BURLINGTON "Mommy, where did I come from?" It's the question every parent anticipates, even plans for. And boy, do you have all the answers.
But here's one that is not so easily answered: "Where did you come from?" Not the biology of who you are, but your genealogy. Where did you get those blue eyes, those curly locks and perhaps even your name? More and more people are in search of the details of their family histories, finding the experience extraordinary.
Steve Bean of Georgia is a relative beginner in the field of genealogy, at the "data mining" level of research.
"I've been researching for two years and I've got many more to go," he told The Vermont Catholic Tribune a recent evening while conducting research at the Vermont French-Canadian Genealogical Society library in Colchester. Thus far he has traced his family name in some locations under the French spelling of Lefebvre back to 1550, "I'm at the stage where I am just collecting names," Bean added. "If I find some tidbits along the way, I file them for later" Starting out the task of digging out your family roots can appear to be overwhelming This is not a hobby for those who are short of patience.
Pauline Benoit and her husband, Wayne, of St George have been coming almost weekly for the better part of five years to the Tuesday evening VFCGS library sessions. Mrs. Benoit said that she's currently concentrating on establishing her full family line -- so far she has accumulated a 260 page notebook of genealogical information.
Starting Points may be nearer than you think. Search through the family Bible, where many people continue to record wedding dates, births and deaths. Locate various legal documents including birth and death certificates. Once you have gathered some of these basics you are ready to move onto the big league.
Diocesan Archivist David Blow told the VCT that “until 1876 there was no law in Vermont requiring record keeping." Yet, before municipalities were formally organized, the Catholic Church had been keeping a record of baptisms and marriages. Prior to the establishment of the Diocese of Burlington in 1853, Blow noted that Father Jeremiah O'Callaghan traveled the state on horseback and by stage coach to administer sacraments. The records of those sacraments - in his own hand - have since been bound and are located in the Diocesan Archives.
"What I have here," Blow said, gesturing to the two books, "doesn't exist anywhere else." The marriage register - also indexed by groom's name - spans 1830-1870 and the book of baptisms is July 1830 until October 1858. These registers, he explained, predominantly catalogue the records of Irish immigrants to Vermont because “by the time the French-Canadians started coming here in the 1840s they had their own French national parish in St. Joseph's." Now Co-Cathedral, the parish was founded in 1850.
Blow recommends that researchers consult parishes where their ancestors lived as each parish has records dating from its foundation. In addition, he accepts queries from persons who seek information regarding marriage or baptismal records from the mid-19th century.
According to Blow, the advantage of Catholic Church records over civil records are that church records contain more information useful to genealogical researchers like dates of sacraments and names of family members or other witnesses present.
"Church records are crucial," Robert Quintin said. "French-Canadians are so lucky because all the resources they need were published in Church records." Quintin who was a featured speaker at the Vermont French-Canadian Genealogical Society's Spring Workshop April 20 at St. Michael's College, gave a presentation on reading French-Canadian parish registers. He founded the Pawtucket, R.I. based Quintin Publications, which publishes French-Canadian genealogical resources. His advice to novice genealogy buffs is to join their local genealogical society, like the VT-FCGS. "Societies like this one give you the best advice so you can avoid wasting your time," Quintin said.
Founded six years ago in a classroom at St. Joseph School, Burlington, with a single filing cabinet, the society has grown into 230 members. The society's research library, located at Fort Ethan Allen, has three rooms of resource material and a volunteer staff available to lend a hand.
Paul Landry, VT-FCGS president, commented that among its diverse resources the society has approximately 19,000 marriage records from Catholic churches in Canada, in addition to baptismal and burial records. He encouraged people to "verify, verify, verify" when it comes to conducting all research, especially with online information. "It is very rewarding," he said of his involvement with the society. "We are a witness to people finding their ancestral line and learning more and more about their families."
For additional Information on becoming a member of the VT-FCGS or how they may help you in your genealogical quest log onto: http://www.vt-fcgs.org . Queries for Diocesan Archivist David Blow may be directed to P.O. Box 489, Burlington, Vt. 05402-0489.
Finally, Archivist Blow advises those interested in genealogy: "Talk to the living for goodness sake! Start with what you know and talk to the oldest person in your family. Then you can begin doing your detective work. The records will always be there, your family won’t.”