Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Investigating Mr. LeBeau

I’ve learned a lot of things from working with my dad on our family genealogy. I’ve learned a lot about parts of American history that aren’t covered in American History classes, or are covered only perfunctorily. I’ve learned a lot of facts. But the most important thing I’ve learned is to approach the whole endeavor with an open mind. I’ve learned to ask myself if what I believe to be true really is true or whether it is something I simply assume to be true.

In the comments to my post about Jean Baptiste LeBeau I listed some of the sources I and my dad used to try to track him down. But I want to tell the story of how we discovered he existed at all. It is a story of mistaken assumptions. Finding the existence of Jean Baptiste LeBeau, voyageur, made me realize how important it is to regularly question my assumptions.

About ten years ago my dad got a call from a man on the west coast who thought we might be distantly related. The man’s family had originally come from St. Louis and the man had hired a professional genealogist in St. Louis do some research for him. The man had taken the ancestral names he was provided with and had done a little work to discover if any descendents might still be living in or around St. Louis. He discovered my uncle who put him in touch with my dad - “he’s the one you should talk to; he’s the one that knows the family histories.” The man and my dad figured out that, yes, they were probably related. The connection appeared to be the family of my great-great grandfather – a man named Charles Dumont. And the only thing my family had ever known about Charles Dumont’s heritage was that he was supposedly born in St. Charles, Missouri and his father had come from Canada.

MISTAKEN ASSUMPTION NUMBER ONE: Neither my dad nor I had, at that time, bothered to research the Charles Dumont line because the word “Canada” stopped us. I think we assumed that it would be difficult to do any type of genealogical research on Canadians. Would it involve a trip to Canada? If so, we had no idea what part of Canada the father of Charles Dumont came from. I think we assumed that researching this branch would be harder than other branches and so we put it off for the future. We ended up being wrong about this. Researching your French Canadian ancestors turned out to be incredibly easy compared to researching other nationalities. There are compilations of records that give good starting places. And the French Canadians seemed to document everything with contracts and those contracts give you lots of clues in your research.

During the conversations between my dad and this distant relative, the man very generously offered to share with my dad the research that he had compiled with the help of the professional genealogist. He asked my dad to use the information freely but to share with him any additional information my dad came upon that would correct or complete the information on that branch of the family. My dad said he would be glad to look at it. I remember that he was excited to get it but didn’t seem too sure that he could add anything. At that time my dad was still a novice researcher. That was about to change.

MISTAKEN ASSUMPTION NUMBER TWO: In looking at the research sent by our west coast distant relative, we saw that he had taken the family back pretty far through the female lines. We hadn’t thought about starting with the mother of Charles Dumont. We tended to assume that researching female lines is harder than researching male lines. This is a reasonable assumption. In order to research a female line you must know the wife’s maiden name. We had been spending time researching English, Irish and Scottish lines and under British law a woman pretty much lost her identity when she got married. My dad had gotten (and still is) pretty frustrated with the Irish branches of the family. Even if you can figure out that Mary Murphy the wife of John Murphy (and do you KNOW how many John and Mary Murphys there are?) was originally, say, “Mary Ryan ” – how on earth were you going to figure out her father or mother when there were also thousands of Mary Ryans in the world. It isn’t impossible, but it is hard.

So we, I think, assumed that if the Canadian father of Charles Dumont was going to be hard to find, his mother would be even harder to find. There may have been other assumptions in here too. Maybe we assumed that she came from Canada too. And maybe we assumed that tracing the father’s line would lead to more interesting stories because men had always led more adventurous lives and certainly it would have been the man who made the decision to make that long journey overland from Canada to St. Charles, Missouri. (And why St. Charles? That had always bothered me. If you were going to come all the way to St. Charles, why not come a few miles further to St. Louis? Maybe because they were farmers and there was better land up near St. Charles? But if they were farmers why would they have lived in town?)

So my dad started looking at what he had been sent. According to the professional genealogist, Charles Dumont’s father “a Canadian, brought his family to Missouri about 1835 and settled in St. Charles. His wife was, apparently, deceased, and, within a few years, he married Marie Louisa Lebeau” and they had one son, Charles. “Brought his family” sounded so American. The great American migration – in covered wagons of course. At least that’s what I assumed when I read that. Based on census data, the genealogist stated that Dumont had five children who had come to St. Charles with him, so Charles Dumont would have had five half-siblings. The genealogist even gave the names of two of them based on 1850 census data: Florence and Anuranth Dumont.

My dad went out to the St. Louis County Library and talked to the research librarians and learned a lot about researching your Canadian ancestors. As I said, it turned out to be a lot easier than we thought and we wondered why we hadn’t started sooner. It all was made easier by the fine resources here for researching the French who came to Missouri from Canada. There are lots of St. Louis records of those people. The most important thing my dad discovered was that French women don’t lose their maiden names when they marry, they are still referred to by their maiden names in official records and even though the United States had taken over French territory the French custom of listing the mother’s maiden name had stuck among the French settlers. So tracing the female line was not going to be any harder than tracing the male line.

MISTAKEN ASSUMPTION NUMBER THREE: It is easy to assume that the name that is recorded on any official record is the right spelling or even the right name. Don’t assume that! Record keepers are human. They make mistakes. They hear things wrong. They sometimes have bad handwriting. They make assumptions that turn out false. They spell things the way THEY usually spell them. One of the biggest issues in St. Louis genealogical research is that the French who came to St. Louis were living under a Spanish regime and then an American regime. The Spanish tended to spell things in the Spanish way. “Jean Baptiste” might be recorded as “Juan Bautista”. Americans were even worse when it came to French spellings. And the priest at St. Charles Borromeo church in St. Charles originally came from Belgium and spelled things his own way. So you MUST be flexible in your thinking and search under what would ordinarily be “wrong” spellings.

Since the mother of Charles Dumont was a local St. Charles woman my dad started by looking for information about her. He found some deeds that she and her husband executed that named her as “Luisa”. Sometimes she is referred to as “Mary Louise” or just “Mary” or just “Louise”. But he did find her marriage records and her baptismal records and her gravesite. Her real name was Marie Louise LeBeau.

Eventually we discovered that her marriage to Charles Dumont’s father was, in fact, a second marriage. She had been widowed in her 20’s with two children – Florence and Amaranthe. It appears that the census taker in 1850 assumed that all the children were Dumonts because the French speaking mother was named Dumont when, in fact, only Charles was the Dumont. In fact, we’ve never found any indication that Charles Dumont’s father brought any children with him. We’re not even sure it is a good assumption that he was previously married. Note that the census taker had spelled Amaranthe incorrectly. And the records for Marie Louise’s first marriage had transcribed her first name incorrectly as Larisse instead of Louise (handwritten records are hard to read). But once we put two and two together, it all became clear.

Oh, and our assumption about the overland route with the wagons? Turns out nobody travelled by wagons in those days if they could help it. The roads, if they existed at all, were terrible. They travelled by river. Why would we, living here in this city at the confluence of two great rivers, have forgotten about river travel? Because nobody travels by river anymore except people moving grain and coal. And our history lessons told us that people came through St. Louis to travel west in wagons. Yes, they did – at a later date. It is a lesson to not just assume you know how people moved around. Think about it. Research it.

And Charles Dumont’s father, Thomas Dumont? His marriage record lists his parents’ name and the place they were from in Canada (although the spelling is so mangled it is hard to interpret their French names), so, yes, family lore was right. He was Canadian. But the more we look into him the more we think he did not come to St. Louis directly from his original home in Canada. We think he may have headed first to the Saskatchewan region, working the fur trade for a while. Then we think he came down through the Dakotas to Missouri, on the Missouri River. He may have been doing work for the American Fur Company which was based here and that’s how he ended up here. But that’s still a working hypothesis since the records are few.

When my dad found Marie Louise LeBeau’s baptismal record he confirmed her correct name and that she was born June 13, 1811, baptized at St. Charles Borromeo Church in St. Charles on July 31, 1811. And the baptismal record listed not only the name of her father, Baptiste Lebeau, but also the maiden name of her mother, Marguerite Barada, who turned out to have an interesting family history which I won’t go into here. We ended up going all the way back to the early 1600s on her line.

But what about Marie Louise’s father? What about his family?

MISTAKEN ASSUMPTION NUMBER FOUR: We bought into the narrative created by the professional genealogist. We thought it was based on facts or if it was based on assumptions they were reasonable.

Never assume that a narrative is completely true. It is always dangerous to create a narrative based on only a few facts. If you create a narrative make sure your facts are correct and if you are making assumptions you should state them.

In the genealogical summary sent to my dad, it stated that Baptiste Lebeau was Jean Baptiste LeBeau, the son of Jacques LeBeau and Marie Louise Jourdain from the Diocese of Quebec, and he “was an infant in 1780 when his family moved from Canada to Spanish Upper Louisiana. He grew up in St. Louis and subsequently settled in St. Charles where he married.” Later the narrative states that Jean Baptiste Lebeau was born about 1779 and still “not baptized, he was a babe in arms of his pregnant mother in late spring or early summer of 1780 when the family arrived in St. Louis. After Madame LeBeau gave birth to a baby girl, Marguerite, on June 19, 1780, both the newborn infant and Jean Baptiste were baptized by Father Bernard de Limpach, a Capuchin Friar, who was a parish priest of St. Louis, King of France, Catholic Church.”

Again, my dad and I had only our school histories to guide us and we had visions of wagons heading southwest from Canada carrying the LeBeau family to their new life in St. Louis. Why? Well because that’s what people did in those days, wasn’t it? They went west, always west. And in wagons. We still hadn’t figured out the whole river thing. And we certainly hadn’t yet figured out that fur traders, sometimes with their families, moved over vast distances on those rivers as on a regular basis. Voyageurs didn’t travel to a new town to settle in it. They travelled to trade. And often they went back and forth to towns over the course of many years. But of course we hadn’t yet figured out that we had Voyageurs in our family. We just assumed that, like the Americans who came later, the French Canadians were moving west to settle the land. We assumed, in fact, that the genealogist was correct that the LeBeau family had “moved” to St. Louis.

The narrative also went back to Jean Baptiste’s parents, which was where we got stuck. The father, Jacques LeBeau, was named, but not his parents. But the summary said that the mother, Marie Louise Jourdain, was the daughter of Francois Jourdain and Celeste Roussel. The marriage took place sometime about 1769 in the Diocese of Quebec. It said that Jacques was “born about 1740” and married “about 1769”. And it said: “Because there is no record of LeBeau’s death or burial in St. Louis’s Catholic Church records (nor any civil or military record), it must be presumed that Jacques died in Canada or on the long journey south.” The baptismal date of Jean Baptiste LeBeau is only three weeks after a British led Indian attack on St. Louis and if they were here before that date Jacques LeBeau surely would have been pressed into duty and there were no records of that. So, according to the genealogists narrative, the widow LeBeau arrived in St. Louis with her children, settled down and then, in 1790, married again to Michael Quesnel. Her children then moved to St. Charles when it was founded.

All of that sounded so exciting, if somewhat vague. Picture it. The LeBeau family making their way with pregnant Marie Louise holding little Jean Baptiste in the wagon, making their way toward St. Louis. Jacques dying along the way (how sad! and maybe it was death by Indians!) and the widow finding her way into St. Louis only to find the town in turmoil after the Indian attack. How frightening it must have been for her! And then after long years of widowhood she marries again.

It was a good narrative. But this was where things got interesting for my dad and me. Up until now the actual factual data we were sent had been correct and confirmable in the public records. There was a baptismal record for Jean Baptiste LeBeau and it did state that his parents were Jacques Lebeau and Marie Louis Jourdain. And it was the right date. But neither he nor I could find anything at all about Jacques Lebeau except references that had to do with his children. And neither he nor I could find confirmation that Marie Louise Jourdain was the child of Francois Jourdain and Celeste Roussel. There were Jourdains in St. Louis at the time by that name and we eventually concluded that the genealogist must have concluded that it was a good assumption that Marie-Louise Jourdain was related to the other Jourdains in the St. Louis area. But he didn’t state it as an assumption, he stated it as a fact.

Turns out that although it fit a narrative, it was a bad assumption. And the truth turned out to be far more interesting. My dad found the marriage contract of Marie Louise Jourdain and her second husband Michael Quesnel. (St. Louis was a big enough town that it had a notary to make actual contracts. If you are doing research you have to love the French and their contracts.) This contract lists the names of the bride’s parents as Jean Baptiste Jourdain and Marie Josephe Reaume. So the facts we were given were wrong. And the new facts we discovered changed the entire narrative.

The new information sent my dad and me off on a search for the Jourdains. We discovered that Jean Baptiste Jourdain had been born in Montreal, the son of a stone mason, but had moved to the area now known as Green Bay Wisconsin, where he became a trader and married Marie Josephe Reaume. He never went back to Montreal and he is listed among the first families to settle Green Bay. His wife was born somewhere in the Lake Michigan area and was the daughter of Jean Baptiste Reaume, the official French interpreter (and trader) at the post of Green Bay, and Symphorose Ouaouagoukoue, a Native American woman, who were legally married in the eyes of the church.

Well, that was interesting! And it made me rethink the whole theory of Marie Louise cowering in fear of Indians.

But although Marie Louise’s marriage contract lists her parents (and we assume it is correct because… why would she lie?) there was no record that those two persons had a daughter named Marie Louise. That was a bit of a mystery.

We discovered that Jean Baptiste Jourdain and Marie Josephe Reaume did have two daughters who were (confusingly) both named Marie Josephe after their mother but were known as Josette and Lysette. There was another daughter Madeleine. And there were references to a younger daughter named Angelique (who showed up later in St. Louis with her husband Augustin Roc). And references to a son named Jean Baptiste. But there was no Marie Louise.

Interestingly, however, in 1764 both Josette and Lysette Jourdain were married at Michilimackinac. Josette married a voyageur named Francois LeBlanc and Lisette married a voyageur named … Jean Baptiste LeBeau.

Now what are the odds, we thought? What are the odds that Jean Baptiste Jourdain and Marie Josephe Reaume had a daughter Lysette who married Jean Baptiste LeBeau, a voyageur, and also a daughter Marie Louise who married a Jacques LeBeau? Probably not good but also not impossible. Could they be the same person? Or is it just that her baptismal record is missing?

We’ve never resolved the question of whether Marie Louise is Lysette but that isn’t a road block. We know that, whether they are the same person or not, she is the daughter of Jean Baptiste Jourdain and Marie Josephe Reaume. So, from a genealogical perspective we could continue researching back from there, and we did. My dad and I took her family back two or three more generations to the point where her ancestors immigrated to Canada in the 1600’s. Unfortunately we were not able to find anything at all about her Indian grandmother, not even what tribe she belonged to. She remains a mystery to be solved.

And that leaves us with Jacques/Jean Baptiste LeBeau. We have no narrative for him, but we are continuing to work off the theory that they are the same person. While it is important not to create a narrative out of false assumptions, it is also important to have a working theory that states your assumptions and then to try to prove your assumptions true or false.

How did we decide this was a viable theory? First, by looking at the genealogist’s assumptions about Jacques LeBeau to see if we could challenge them. We were told he was “born about 1740”. We have no idea where that assumption came from. It probably seemed a logical age. It would have made Jacques about 40 years old when his children were being baptized. But what if he wasn’t born then? Could he have been older? At first I didn’t consider that, but then one day I asked myself why not? Why couldn’t he have been significantly older than Lysette? Maybe my mistake was to consider Lysette, who was three quarters French and one quarter Indian, to be a typical Frenchwoman. Maybe she was more like the Indian women of her grandmother’s people than Frenchwomen. Voyageurs were known to take young wives from among the Indians. They formed a working partnerships with these women who could do the hard work of preparing the skins for transport. Lysette would have been brought up in the fur trade, her father was a trader, her grandmother was an Indian. The Indians in Green Bay were a part of everyday life. They outnumbered the French. The entire settlement was built around the fur trade. Lysette had the opportunity to learn all the traditional skills. She would have been a good wife to a voyageur, no matter his age. This idea came to me when I ran across a reference to Francois LeBlanc with his “Indian” wife and I thought “well, either he had another wife or that was Josette.” And it occurred to me that there was no reason it couldn’t have been Josette.

Second, the genealogist states that Jacques was married “about 1769”. This was probably based on the age of his known children. Again, once I challenged that date (which had no documentation behind it) I realized there was no reason he couldn’t have been married earlier. Maybe their earliest children didn’t survive. Maybe they were baptized elsewhere or were never baptized. Maybe they didn’t have any children for a few years. The only children listed for them are Toussaint Jacques LeBeau (who is listed as 21 years old in 1792), Jean Baptiste LeBeau and Marguerite LeBeau. The genealogist assumed that their oldest child would have been born immediately after their wedding and that Toussaint was the first child they had. There is no reason either of those assumptions have to be true.

Third, we knew through documentary evidence that Marie-Louise didn’t marry Michael Quesnel until 1790 and we also know that, at that point, she and Michael Quesnel already had children. This was something the genealogist didn’t mention but it is a pretty important fact, Maybe he thought it would be embarrassing to document illegitimate children? But they are right there in the baptismal records. It was a fact in those days that children were often born out of marriage. For one thing, there weren’t always priests around when you needed them. You had to go into a town to find a priest.

Marie-Louise and Michael Quesnel were married in 1790, the same year that three of their children were baptized. That leads us to believe that she left St. Louis sometime after the baptisms in 1780 and she would have, of course, taken her LeBeau children with her. So maybe the genealogist was wrong and Jacques Lebeau wasn’t dead when his children were baptized. Maybe they had lived out among the Indians prior to that. Then, perhaps the turmoil of all the Indians being on the move for the Indian attack on St. Louis caused them to come into St. Louis after the attack. Heck, maybe they were with the Indians who were moving down to attack. Maybe they were a part of the attack? And then they decided that as long as they were there they would stop in at the church and have their children baptized and then move on again. All great narratives with no documentary evidence. But in any event Jacques LeBeau could have died before Louise showed up in St. Louis or after Louise showed up in St. Louis for the baptisms. There is no proof either way. The mere fact that there isn’t a death record for Jacques Lebeau in St. Louis doesn’t mean he didn’t die after that date. Especially not if they left St. Louis again.

And here is where modern assumptions got in the way for the genealogist. If a family came to St. Louis in 1780 then they must have come to settle there. That’s what we think. The idea that they might just come for a while and leave seems foreign to us. It doesn’t fit the narrative we learned in school. But the fact is that they could have left and gone out among the Indians again. People did that in those days.

We can assume that Jacques was dead before 1790 when Marie-Louise remarried. And we can assume he died a few years before that, the three Quesnel children baptized in 1790 point to that fact. But should we assume that he was dead in 1780? I’d say no. It doesn’t make sense that Marie Louise would have stayed “single” for almost 10 years after Jacques died. Or even for five years. That’s a modern concept, not how life was in those days. Almost all women remarried fairly quickly in those days. The marriage registers provide proof of this. So if Marie Louise was acting as most women of that time and place acted, there shouldn’t have been too long between the death of Jacques LeBeau and the appearance of Michael Quesnel in her life.

So, if our narrative is true, the genealogist was wrong and they did not “move” to St. Louis and their son Jean Baptiste LeBeau did not “grow up” in St. Louis. He grew up wherever his parents were and then wherever his mother and step-father were. Where were they? We don’t know. And trust me we’ve looked. We’ve looked for Lebeaus and for Quesnels.

And where, oh where, were Marie Louise Jourdain and Jacques Lebeau in the years between their possible marriage at Michilimackinac in 1764 and 1780 when their children were baptized in St. Louis? Again, we’ve looked. We found her brother in law, Augustin Roc, in Peoria during that time (presumably his wife Angelique Jourdain was with him) and there is even a reference to a Jean Baptiste Jourdain in Peoria in the early 1780s. That could be her father or her brother. But there is no evidence of the Lebeaus in Peoria.

So our current working theory consists of the bare minimum of this: Jacques and Marie Louise are the same people as the Jean Baptiste and Lysette who were married in 1764. We have no idea where they went after their marriage, where they lived or where he died, but we know they made a stop in St. Louis in 1780 to have two children baptized. And then later she came back to St. Louis with Michael Quesnel to have their children baptized and to get married. And the Quesnels either settled here or used it as a base to come and go.

That’s the theory. If anyone can prove or disprove any part of it or fill in the gaping holes in it, or come up with a better theory, let me know.

[Update: My dad reminds me that the census taker in 1850 not only spelled Amaranthe's name wrong but got the gender wrong too. Also, today I ran across a reference to a smallpox epidemic that raged up the Missouri River in 1781-82. I wonder if that is what might have killed Jacques LeBeau. The timing might work out with the births of the Quesnel children. ]