Genealogy society helps families
trace, preserve roots
By Cori Fugere Urban - Staff Reporter - COLCHESTER
Janet Allard can trace her husband's family history back to France in about 1640. But that took some work, considering an Irish priest and an Irish census taker once misheard the family name simply as "Lard," and translated it from French to English: "Pork." It wasn't until she realized the missing link in the family tree was the family of Peter Pork that she connected the Allard family back to its mid-17th century members. Eventually family members resumed the Allard name, but hers is just one of many stories of conundrums encountered when studying family genealogy. "It's like a puzzle. You want to find the piece that's missing," said Allard, a parishioner of Holy Family Church in Essex Junction and vice president of the Vermont French-Canadian Genealogical Society.
The society, headquartered at Dupont Hall at Fort Ethan in Colchester, is home to numerous resources for those seeking information about family history. Using microfilm, microfiche, computers and printed resources, the society offers information on baptisms and weddings, history and notary contracts. Church sacramental records have been particularly helpful in building resources, and marriage records spanning several decades for some Vermont churches have been published in volumes. Helpful resources include marriage repertoires - some dating back to the early 1700s. The biggest collection of these lists of brides, grooms, some parents, witnesses and marriage dates are from Quebec, but there are some from Ontario and other Canadian provinces, New England states and a few others; the Acadian collection is growing.
Some people come to the society with a letter or tidbit of information; others come with reams and reams of information they use to piece together their family history, explained Lynn Gauthier, a VFCGS board member and publication committee member. "They're looking to see how far back they can go" in tracing their roots, she said. "There's curiosity." Churches in Quebec have been helpful to those tracing their genealogy through Quebec because they kept good records of births, marriages and deaths. Vermont state statutes only required vital records be kept beginning in about 1857, so searches further back especially benefit from the church records. Take, for example, the family of Onesime Beaumier of St. Gabriel Parish in Stratford, Quebec Descendants knew he had married Celina St. Cyr on March 8, 1862. There the family tree ended. But further investigation on microfiche at the genealogical society revealed that Onesime's father, Alexis Beaumier, had married Josephette Dubois on July 26, 1830, in Becancour, Quebec J.B. and Anathalie (Reau), parents of Alexis, were married in the same place on May 19, 1794. All that after only a few minutes at the microfiche reader with Gauthier's expertise. "I'm sure we could find it if we kept digging," she said of the marriage record of J.B.'s parents, Charles Beaumier and Angelique Ducharme. Gauthier, a registered nurse at the Fletcher Allen Health Care Fanny Allen Campus inpatient rehabilitation unit in Colchester, got involved with the genealogical society in 1997 after a genealogy conference in Burlington and a visit to Montreal to research her husband's roots. "We came back with more information, and that spurred me on," she said. She has since traced some of her family's roots, even to Australia.
The Vermont French-Canadian Genealogical Society began in 1996 in a room at St. Joseph School in Burlington with two cabinets and a few books. Its current location is its fourth: three rooms leased in a building owned by St. Michael's College. On a recent Saturday morning, four persons looked for information in the resources at the society's headquarters; there are a dozen seats in its "book room," which is filled with research materials. "Genealogy is something you can leave your kids," said Beverly Parsons of South Burlington, one of the recent researchers. "They can lose their money. They can lose their health, but there's no way anybody can take their heritage away from them."She is family historian for several branches of her family, and in about 50 years of genealogy work has collected more than 70,000 names in her family database. Parsons said she was two when her mother died, so studying her family history is a way of getting to know her mother. "It's who you are. All those people back then made you who you are today," she commented.
The society is supported by the $25 annual membership fees its members pay, by financial and in-kind donations and by the sale of publications like the marriage record volumes from churches such as Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Swanton 1854-1930, St. Augustine in Montpelier 1855-1930, St. Peter in Vergennes 1856-1947, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Middlebury 1845-1930, and Holy Family in Essex Junction 1893-1998. In July the Vermont French-Canadian Genealogical Society received a Preservation Award in the special recognition category from the Chittenden County Historical Society "for their monumental two-volume publication preserving and translating baptismal data from St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Burlington from 1834 to 1963 and their continuing preservation of parish records in other Chittenden County towns."
Society members hope someday to
publish marriage records of all Vermont Catholic churches. "Churches keep
excellent records," Gauthier said, though "some priests' handwriting
was better than others" in making their handwritten recordings in
sacramental books. "Sometimes it's easy to misinterpret (what was
written), or you plain can't read it."Gauthier, a member of the Westford
Historical Society, couldn't estimate the number of persons assisted with
genealogy research each year through the society, but she said since the move
to larger, more accessible headquarters, there have been more visitors.
The Internet, she added, has fostered more interest in genealogical research because of the accessibility of some information on the World Wide Web. "There is genuine interest in knowing your roots," she commented. Although Gauthier has no children and no siblings, she does genealogy research out of her own personal interest. She is the fifth generation of her family (Jackson) in Westford, the sixth in Vermont. Her dream is to someday go to Australia to research her great-great-grandfather's brother, who was an adventurer there. "It's exciting to find out what they used to do and how they used to live," she said.
Allard, the society's vice president who is a substitute librarian at Albert D. Lawton School in Essex Junction, often helps visitors trace their family histories. "I find it exciting to help people find their roots," she said, noting the challenges that include persons who use a name other than their baptismal name as their first name and families that have two or more members with the same first name. "Maybe they liked that name," she said. Or maybe the parish priest baptized all the boys Joseph and all the girls Marie. Allard can trace her family to Henry Sampson, who arrived in North America on the Mayflower. She can actually trace it back more than 47 generations to before the emperor Charlemagne, who reigned from 768-814, she said.
Persons who would like to find out more about their family history can begin - or continue - their research at the Vermont French-Canadian Genealogical Society. After Labor Day, the VFCGS library will return to its regular schedule and be open on Saturdays from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and on Tuesdays from 7-9:30 p.m., with the exception of holidays.