Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Seeing the Sights: Family History Tour

One of the first reasons I ever looked into visiting Quebec (and by "looked into", I mean researched online what the area looked like) is because my mother's father's family came from Quebec.  Heck, her maiden name, St. Laurent, shares a name with the river.  I feel so lucky to have a husband who humors me in my family history pursuits, and was willing to trek to these places with me, and had just as much fun as I did.  It was relaxing, it was beautiful, and it was probably one of our favorite days on our trip.  

Note:  this trip involved even MORE church visits.  There is no way of knowing where exactly my ancestors lived, and their homes probably wouldn't be there anymore anyway.  We only had one success in finding a direct ancestor at a cemetery, and many of the cemeteries we visited (if we could find it) didn't have existing stones old enough to be my ancestors.  Some places we went to had been destroyed by fire (whether it was the church itself, or the community or the cemetery - we encountered all of that) But the one thing we could tie my ancestors to was the churches.  Baptisms, marriages and death records were recorded at these places, and so that's where we went.

The scenery looked like a mix between the Midwest farmland that I grew up with and New England (and we were probably just an hour and a half away from the Maine border).  

Our first stop was St-Jean-Port-Joli.   

We were told that it actually doesn't snow much in the Bas-Saint-Laurent region (the southern shore region of the St. Lawrence River), but it is very windy and bitterly cold in the winter.  The homes and even the church here have a distinct slope to the roof to withstand the wind.

This area is known for wood carving, and that was certainly evident in the church.  

In Montreal, people at ticket counters, restaurants, etc. would greet us with a "bonjour", and we would respond with a "hello" to let them know that we were English speakers.  They would easily switch over to speaking English.  In Quebec City, we would go through the same spiel, and though folks would speak English, it was often a little slower, more heavily accented.  On this day, however, many people we came across, regardless of age, didn't speak any English, and those that did spoke very little.  Everyone was very gracious and kind about it, and even apologetic that their English was so poor (even though we came to French Canada speaking no French).   When we walked through the church at St-Jean-Port-Joli, we asked some older ladies at the back of the church if they could point us in the direction of the cemetery, but of course this was difficult because they spoke no English, and we didn't know any French (though Adam did make an attempt by saying cemetery in Spanish in hopes that it would be close enough....no go.).  One of the ladies pointed us in the direction in what felt to me was a frustrated manner.  

After combing through the cemetery and seeing last names that were familiar to me from my family history research (Robichaud, Caron, Belanger), but not finding any direct ancestors, Adam came across this one: 

This was the name we were looking for!  It traces my Chouinard line all the way back to France.  Some of the names are not direct-line ancestors.  But the ones beginning with Julien Chouinard and Josephte Robichaud and going back are.  There are even some names (the oldest two) that I didn't know about.  It was so cool to find this!  Jacques Chouinard was the first to come to New France, and he was married to Louise Jean in the Notre Dame Basilica in Quebec City in 1692 (though not the church building that currently stands on that site).

This grave site memorial is quite literally on the banks of the St. Lawrence River.  The Chouinard family is one of the first to live in this area.  It was quite the peaceful place.  The cemetery smelled of roses and peonies, which were growing everywhere.

I wondered why the old ladies at the church were a little short with us (apart from us not knowing French).  I can only imagine what it's like to have people walk into your church, camera in hand, wanting to know where the cemetery is, like it's an attraction.  I wanted them to know that this meant more to me than that.  So Adam typed in "I found my ancestors" on his phone and had it translated to French.  We went back to the church, found the ladies, and showed them the translated message.  Their faces softened when they read the message and I was able to tell them thank you for helping us to find the cemetery.  

Back into the car it was for us as we headed farther northeast along the St. Lawrence River.

Here are more of those sloping roof lines.  We loved these country houses.

Chouinard Bison farm!

We drove through the communities La-Pocatiere and Kamouraska (where the Lemieux family was from), but were not able to find churches or cemeteries that fit my family's historical timeline.

Then we came to Notre-Dame-du-Portage.

This is the church where my great-grandmother, Dorilda Chouinard, was baptized.  She came to the United States as a young teenager.

We met a delightful man here who did maintenance for the church and spoke very good English (he goes to Florida in the winter, so he has a lot of practice).  When he found out I was looking for my ancestors, he took down names so he could check the records and see if there were any burials in the cemetery.  No luck, but he was fun to talk to about the area.

We were on our way again.  Every time we came to a new community, the church was always the most prominent building.  That made it nice for us, being unfamiliar with the areas.  We would just look for a steeple!

The farms went all the way to the banks of the river.  They were so beautiful.

Our final stop was Rimouski (about 3 hours from Quebec City).  The St. Laurent family was one of the first to settle this area.  

We were able to find the church pretty quickly but discovered that it was undergoing renovation, so we were unable to go inside.  We went to the tourism office down the street, and were told that due to a fire in the 50's, the cemetery was mostly destroyed.  Any remaining graves were moved, and we were directed to that cemetery.  We didn't have any luck finding direct ancestors (though there were many St. Laurents buried there), but at least we tried!

After dinner, we walked to the scenic overlook of the river.


One last nighttime view of the cathedral.

Last view of Rimouski in the last bits of daylight.

I can't say that any major discoveries were made, but it was fun to see where my ancestors came from.  I wish we could've spent a little more time there to enjoy the natural beauty of it all.  I hadn't anticipated that it would take us all day just to get to Rimouski, and it felt like we were just hopping from one town to another without taking the time to explore the shore line or what the towns had to offer.  I guess that just means we'll have to go back!

1 comment:

Erin said...

I love Dorilda's church! I'm glad you took time to have this day. While it would have looked entirely different in Ramouski especially, it's neat to get a sense of what our people would have looked at every morning.

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