The first ancestor I chose to research in detail lived in Quebec City two centuries ago. Her birth took place during a war. She married a carpenter at 18, bore 10 children, grieved the death of four children, and died at 38 years old.
Other than feeling grateful for an easier and longer life than hers, what did I gain by learning her story?
More importantly, why should you, my reader, care about her?
There are lots of answers to this, depending on who you are, what you’re doing and what you need. For me, all these reasons can be described in a single word: hope.
As I write about the lives of women who lived in Canada so long again, it’s impossible not to compare their lives to mine. They made fewer choices, bore more children and faced more illness, war, and turmoil than I have so far.
Yet the lives of my ancestors in a long-ago Canada match those of many women in countries around the world now. I can’t help but hope that we can share good food, technology, and resources to improve their lives too. Everyone should have infinitely easier, varied and more diverse lives than that of our ancestors.
I also write to learn about myself. If you’re one of my relatives, perhaps you read my stories hoping to learn something about yourself too. We both want to know how the lives of our ancestors affected those of our grandparents and parents. At the very least, their choices affected where we grew up, our mentors as children and the culture we were borne into.
Our ancestors choices, their children’s survival, and their genetic health risks continue through us and our children.
Their stories, if we can discover them, might illuminate some of the personality quirks in our family. I suspect our long line of strong independent women began with the woman featured in my first story.
The more I research my ancestors, the more links I find to cousins and other people connected to my family either through blood, historic friendship or past quarrels. Anyone in the world might be related somehow.
Judy Russell wrote about discovering some of these lost family members via genealogical research and new DNA tools a few years ago in “Oh Charlie” at http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog/2014/02/02/oh-charlie/. Her article makes me consider genetic testing.
Researching our ancestors and sharing about the experience enables all of us to contribute to a wider understanding about who we are, what we’ve been and where we live in a bigger context too.
Even if we aren’t related in any way, the stories genealogists tell have lessons for anyone interested in righting past wrongs, illuminating communities or exploring a particular place. Janice Hamilton’s research on one of her ancestors, for example, has provided helpful background to a group of locals who provide tours of the Mile End neighbourhood of Montreal. You can read her stories about the Baggs and the community they helped found at http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/.
So often, the stories we hear about the past are myths made up of half-truths. Looking into the details of an actual person’s life reveals a series of events that are complicated, nuanced and full of foibles. Circumstances often carry people in different directions than what might have otherwise been expected.
By figuring out what actually happened to whom and sharing any surprises we discover widely, we all get closer to the truth. Getting closer to truth creates possibilities for beauty, understanding and diversity.
Then again, maybe you’re different? Why do you research your family history?
Fourteen days after Canada declared War on Italy and the same day France signed an armistice with the country, my grandfather Richard Charles Himphen left his job as a baker’s helper to enlist in The Irish Regiment of Canada.
He said a declaration out loud, in front of someone whose name looks like Mr. Armstrong Cafo, although it might also be Captain M. Armstrong.
…I hereby engage to serve in the Canadian Active Service Force so long as an emergency, ie, war, invasion, riot or insurrection, real or apprehended, exists, and for the period of demobilization after said emergency ceases to exist, and in any event for a period of not less than one year, provided His Majesty should so require my services.”
Then he said:
I Richard Charles Himphen do solemnly promise and swear (or solemnly declare) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty.”
I know he said those words because they’re on his attestation papers. Although since no one crossed out one or the other I don’t know whether he “solemnly promised and swore” or “solemnly declared.” I suspect he did both because he was reading from the paper and it says both, but I don’t know.
Unless you have an ancestor who participated in a court case or worked as an actor, singer or writer, it can be difficult to obtain quotes from his or her life.
Military recruits, however, usually had to say declarations and oaths out loud in front of a witness and both had to sign to make enlistment legal. If that happened, the declarations and oaths will be on their attestation papers.
You also have the name of the witness if you can read his or her signature.
Most attestation papers include declarations and/or oaths, but not all. The attestation paper of Harry Denis Davy who enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force on February 14, 1919 doesn’t include either an attestation or an oath. Then again, it’s possible that there was a third page missing from his service record.
James Fredrick Devitt served with the same unit and his attestation papers included a declaration and oath.
I James Patrick Devitt do solemnly declare that the foregoing particulars are true, and I hereby engage to serve on active service anywhere in Canada, and also beyond Canada and overseas, in the Royal Canadian Air Force for the duration of the present war, and for the period of demobilization thereafter, and in any event for a period of not less than one year, provided His Majesty should so long require my services.”
Soldiers in other wars said different things.
During WWI, on October 29, 1915, bank clerk John Glass said:
I hereby engage and agree to serve in the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force, and to be attached to any arm of the service therein, for the term of one year, or during the war now existing between Great Britain and Germany should that war last longer than one year, and for six months after the termination of that war provided His Majesty should so long require my services, or until legally discharged.”
Boilermaker Arthur Luker said the exact same thing on June 24, 1916.
Steamfitter William Wright said the same thing on September 21, 1914.
Henry Hadley Jr.’s file doesn’t include an oath or declaration. He signed a Officers’ Declaration Paper on December 9, 1915 instead.
South African war recruits swore at least two declarations and two oaths. Farmer Henry Smith Munro, for example, swore on October 6, 1899 that he would:
…well and truly serve our Sovereign Lady The Queen in the Canadian Contingent for Active Service, until lawfully discharged, and that I will resist Her Majesty’s enemies, and cause Her Majesty’s peace to be kept on land and at sea, and that I will in all matters appertaining to my service faithfully discharge my duty, according to law. So help me God.
Then, on December 24, 1901, he said:
I Henry Smith Munro, do sincerely promise and swear (or solemnly declare) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty, King Edward VII, His Heirs and Successors and that I will faithfully defend Him and them in Person, Crown and Dignity, against all enemies and will obey all orders of the Officers set over me.
As you go through the form, you definitely want to refer to a Canadian Archives’ abbreviations page to understand everything on the form.
Pay careful attention to marital status. Often, wives or husbands had to send letters to the recruiting office giving permission for someone to enlist. These letters are wonderful sources of direct information about your ancestor.
Also, look carefully for typical fields that remain blank. This might indicate that your ancestor intentionally left the field blank to make sure they would not be rejected. Eliza Richardson describes why nurses left several blanks on their attestation forms during World War I.
The Nursing Sisters who did not fit the camc requirements of age, education, and marital status bypassed regulations by deliberately abstaining from marking down pertinent information on their attestation forms. It is only through pairing Toman’s statistics with the personal accounts of Nursing Sisters in the form of letters, memoirs and photographs that these inconsistencies become clear and a more accurate picture of the composition of the Nursing Sisters becomes possible.”
After collecting information from the attestation papers of your relatives, you may want to do a search of academic papers on Google scholar to figure out how the information you learn fits within common assumptions about historical trends.
Now that attestation papers have been more widely digitized, historians have been examining them for health and sociological information. New interesting papers are constantly appearing.
A simple search informed me about a decades-long discussion questioning why statistics show soldiers at the beginning of World War I being shorter than those who served in the Anglo-Boer War even though there were only 14 years between the beginning of one war and the end of the second.
Last February, Martine Mariotti, Johan Fourie and Kris Inwood from the Australian National University and the universities of Stellenbosch and Guelph came up with a theory to explain the discrepancy in their article Military Technology and Sample Selection Bias.
We posit that new technologies, and the changes in military strategy entailed by those technologies, explain the difference. The Anglo-Boer War, also termed ‘the last gentleman’s war’, was the last war to use cavalry lancers, a military strategy where height is a particular advantage. In contrast, the mechanization of weapons during WWI meant that soldiers’ heights were no longer so important. In this case, improvements to military technology help to explain the apparent decline in stature between the two wars.
If you have an ancestor who served as a soldier in WWI or the Anglo-Boer War, you might want to mark down his height and compare it to the average height of soldiers at that time. Then you can comment on whether he fits the general trend or not. You might also try to figure out whether his task was height-dependent.
If you want help writing stories about your ancestors using attestation papers, I’m offering a course that begins at the end of the month. You can find more information on my Teachable page. There’s also a free course about my four-step system for writing profiles on that same page.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you discover about Canadian military attestation papers in the comments.
 Himphen, Richard Charles; Library and Archives Canada, R112, volume 30826.
 Davy, Harry; Library and Archives Canada, RG-24, volume 25178.
 Devitt, James Frederick; Library and Archives Canada, RG-24, volume 25203.
 Munro, Henry Smith; Department of Veterans Affairs fonds, RG38, volume 11170, T-2079, p1.
 Munro, Henry Smith; Department of Veterans Affairs fonds, RG38, volume 11170, T-2079, p10.
 Richardson, Eliza. “Sister Soldiers of the Great War: The Nurses of the Canadian Army Medical Corps (Book Review)” by Cynthia Toman,” Canadian Military History: Vol. 27 : Iss. 1, Article 9. Available at: http://scholars.wlu.ca/cmh/vol27/iss1/9, accessed January 5, 2019.
 Fourie, Johan, Martine Mariotti and Kris Inwood. “Military Technology and Sample Selection Bias,” Stellenbosch Working Paper Series No. WP03/2018, February 2018, https://www.ekon.sun.ac.za/wpapers/2018/wp032018
As she boarded the great ship Phoénix de Flessingue in May 1663, Catherine Barré knew she would never return to her hometown of La Rochelle, France.
Did she worry about the ship sinking? Would pirates attack during the six-week journey overseas? What kind of life did she imagine might be waiting for her in New France? How could she agree to marry a man, Maurice Rivet, sight unseen? Did she wonder what their life raising a family together might be like?
I am among Catherine’s 12th generation descendants from my father’s side. Thinking about her courage and resiliency gives me strength, even as I notice myself sharing her impulsive faith-led need to act, sometimes with less information than is desirable.
Despite that flaw, Catherine’s life seems to have worked out, with a few major hiccups.
Her first hiccup made her choose to be a pawn in King Louis X1V’s scheme to populate New France. In exchange for her agreement to marry and raise a family, she received 10 pounds for her own use, 30 pounds for clothing and grooming paraphernalia and free passage overseas at a cost of 60 pounds.
Today, she’s known as a “King’s Daughter.” More than 800 women travelled to New France during the decade beginning in 1663.
Catherine was among the first women who chose to travel to New France under the sponsorship of her king, but 262 other women made similar choices in the previous three decades. The private “Company of 100 Associates” sponsored them.
Why did these women choose to leave everything they knew in France? We don’t know.
In Catherine’s case, however, it seems likely that she faced persecution due to her religion. Abjuration records place her among thirteen Protestants sent to New France from La Rochelle.
During this period, the practice of Protestantism by people called the Huguenots was discouraged in France, although not yet illegal. The peace set up by King Henry IV’s Edict of Nantes became eroded over time until his grandson King Louis XIV revoked it in 1685, removing religious freedom entirely. Bishops in New France begged French Finance Minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert to expel the Protestants from the colony as well, but he wouldn’t do it. Many Huguenots were literate craftsmen and business owners who were needed in New France. Also, sending Huguenots overseas eliminated their influence in France. There were no regulations against Huguenot worship in New France until 1676.
Whatever the reason for her departure from France, the daughter of Jean Barré and Marie Epy arrived in Quebec City on June 30, 1663, aboard the Phoénix.
She may have had to take a boat ride down the St. Lawrence, stopping from town to town to meet eligible bachelors, although since she was already betrothed, that may not have been necessary. It sounds like a bizarre 15th-century version of speed-dating.
In addition to eventually renouncing her religion, Catherine also renounced the initial man she chose to wed. Or perhaps he renounced her, although that is less likely. Whichever the case, Duquet annulled the contract between Catherine and Maurice Rivet on November 17, 1664.
Vachon wrote a contract between Catherine and Mathurin Chaillé on December 30, 1664.
During this period, all couples signed marriage contracts prior to their church weddings, as Suzanne Boivin Sommerville pointed out in her comment about this story here. She wrote:
“A marriage contract is a legal _promise_ to marry as soon as possible in the Holy, Roman, and Apostolic Catholic Church. It was not the sacrament and legal act of marriage. It could be, and often was, annulled before any religious rite took place. Some women annulled more than one contract before settling on a husband…prospective spouses were the ones to cancel the contract, even at the advice of witnesses or family, not the Church.”
Catherin married Mathurin Chaillé on January 11, 1665 “as soon as could be allowed after the Seasons of Advent and Christmas” wrote Boivin Sommerville.
Boivin Sommerville has prepared a wonderful PowerPoint presentation and several blog posts about the culture and norms in early New France on the French Canadian Heritage Society of Michigan website. Her work is well-worth-reading.
Catherine and Mathurin had their first child, a son nine months after their wedding.
My direct relative was their fourth child, Jean Barré Chaillé. He came along nine years later in 1674. By then the family lived in Sillery after being evicted from their farm on the seigneurie of Beauport.
The couple had six children in total. One son died at 10 years old, but the rest married and had families of their own.
Three of the families lived in Portneuf near their parents, but my ancestor Jean and his brother Henri moved to Montreal. I like to imagine Catherine and her husband Mathurin visiting them on occasion, but haven’t yet found evidence of that.
Both Catherine and her husband Mathurin died within a week of each other in the summer of 1707. She was 63 years old. There were record-breaking heatwaves in England and France in July, when the couple died, so I wonder if something similar happened in Quebec to cause their deaths?
*I have updated this story based on comments by Suzanne Boivin Sommerville, who has prepared a wonderful PowerPoint presentation and several blog posts about the culture and norms in early New France on the French Canadian Heritage Society of Michigan website. Boivin Sommerville made several points about my errors in her wonderfully-detailed comment about my story here. Yes, Suzanne, you’re right, the initial version of this story didn’t make the difference between a marriage contract and a legal marriage clear, even though I do understand that there was a difference and that women had the right to cancel contracts they made prior to meeting their intended betrothed. Also, there is no indication of why she chose not to marry Rivet. I apologize that it’s taken me so long to update the piece as you so rightly suggested.
 Gousse, S., & Wien, T. (n.d.). Filles du Roi. Retrieved from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/filles-du-roi/ on July 18, 2018.
 Dawson, Nelson-M. “The “Filles Du Roy” Sent to New France: Protestant, Prostitute or Both?” Historical Reflections / Réflexions Historiques 16, no. 1 (1989): 55-77. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41298906, p64.
 Most French Canadians are descended from these 800 women | CBC Canada 2017. (2017, March 30). Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/2017/canadathestoryofus/most-french-canadians-are-descended-from-these-800-women-1.4029699 on July 18, 2018.
 Inventaire des contrats de mariage du Régime français conservés aux Archives judiciaires de Québec, Volume 1, Roy, Pierre-Georges, 1870-1953 Québec, 1937-1938, p85.
Dee, E. (n.d.). The Families of Beauport – The Chailles. Retrieved from http://www.oocities.org/weallcamefromsomewhere/Beauport/chaille_family.html on July 18, 2018.
 Boivin Sommerville, Suzanne, comments about this story here. Boivin Sommerville has prepared a wonderful PowerPoint presentation and several blog posts about the culture and norms in early New France on the French Canadian Heritage Society of Michigan website.
 Dee, ibid.
 Maruske, James. A Chronological Listing of Early Weather Events retrieved from https://wattsupwiththat.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/weather1.pdf, on 2018.
During World War I, 4,000 people, many of them women, assembled eight million fuses in a building locally known as “La Poudrière.” Given that the job required mounting a detonator cap over a gunpowder relay charge and attaching a safety pin (read more about WWI fuses here), the job was risky and monotonous at the same time.
Who were these people? How can we honour their work?
Recently, while looking through the records of World War I soldiers, I realized that their records may offer us ways to discover our homefront heroines. Several women moved to Verdun and lived within walking distance of the armament plant while their husbands or brothers served overseas.
When Ethel Henrietta Murray’s husband Patrick volunteered for the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force on Wednesday, April 12, 1916, the couple lived at 80 Anderson Street, in downtown Montreal.
According to his military records, he died on October 29, 1917, driving with the 4th Brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery. She went by the first name Henrietta. Initially, she had moved to 1251 Wellington Street. Later, she lived at 956 Ethel Street.
None of her addresses exist anymore, nor have I yet found any evidence explaining why she moved to Verdun. Based on her address and circumstances, however, I suspect that she—and three other women who lived nearby—worked at “la poudrière.”
Locals call a building that currently houses 64 units for senior citizens “La Poudrière,” which means powder keg. The Canadien Slavowic Association (l’Association canadienne slave de Montréal) operates the space.
I haven’t yet looked into the records of the company to find out if there is a list of employees so that I can see if Ethel or Henrietta Murray appears on their rolls.
Other women I’d like to verify include Marjorie Victoria Stroude Luker, Ellen or Helen Elizabeth Winsper, and Mrs. John Sullivan. These three women also lived within walking distance of la poudrière between 1916 and 1919.
Military records include the addresses of these women because all of them received telegrams about loved ones being wounded or killed overseas.
Marjorie’s husband Arthur was wounded in Italy on August 20, 1917, and then died of the flu in Belgium on December 2018. Although the couple lived in Point St. Charles when he signed up, her benefits were sent to her at 714 Ethel Street by the time he died.
Ellen or Helen Elizabeth Winsper, the wife of George Winsper who died on November 7, 1917, had moved from Rosemont to 196 St. Charles Street in Pointe St. Charles by the time he died.
Two records mention the grief of Mrs. John Sullivan when Private William Wright, a steamfitter from Scotland, died in action at St. Julien on April 24, 1915. Neither have her first name. One document describes William, who was 21 when he died as the adopted child of Mr. and Mrs. John Sullivan. The one I think is correct mentions that she is his sister. Her address at the beginning of the war was 9 Farm Street, Point St. Charles, the same as his when he enlisted. His medals were sent to her at 431A Wellington St., Point St. Charles.
If these women worked together, as is possible, they too risked their lives.
Employees with the British Munition Supply Company–which was created by The British Government under the auspices of The Imperial Munitions Board–faced the possibility of accidental explosions. Britain paid $175,000 in 1916 to construct a building that could contain shockwaves. It also included a saw-tooth roof to prevent sunlight from entering.
The IMB had inherited from Sir Samuel Hughes’s Shell Committee orders for artillery shells worth more than $282 million, contracts with over 400 different factories, and supervision of the manufacture of tens of millions of shells and ancillary parts. Its most serious problem was acquiring time and graze, or percussion, fuses for the shells produced by its factories. There was no capacity to create and assemble these precision parts in Canada, and contracts with American companies had proved dismal failures.
The problem was given to Gordon to solve. He recommended that fuse manufacturing be done in Canada. The IMB set up its own factory in Verdun (Montreal) to make the delicate time fuses. Skilled workmen and supervisors were quickly brought over from Britain to train Canadian workers. British Munitions Limited, the IMB’s first “national factory,” was open for business by the spring of 1916. The last order from Britain, for 3,000,000 fuses, came in 1917 and the last fuses were shipped in May 1918. British Munitions was then converted by the IMB into a shell-manufacturing facility.
Another source I read said that Dominion Textile Company purchased the site for its textile operations when the war ended in 1919. Two decades later, Defence Industries Limited revived the site for a shell factory during World War II, between 1940 and 1945. David Fennario’s book “Motherhouse” offers a good look at the women’s lives during this second wartime era.
 Attestation Paper, Library and Archives Canada, RG 150, #347740, Patrick Murray, a derivative copy of the original signed by Patrick.
 Address card, ibid.
 Attestation Paper and address card, Library and Archives Canada, RG 150, #1054006, Arthur Luker.
 Attestation Paper and address card, Library and Archives Canada, RG 150, #920146, George Winsper.
 Library and Archives Canada, RG 150, #26024, William Wright.
 “Usine à munitions pour retraités slaves” by Raphaël Dallaire Ferland, ttps://www.ledevoir.com/societe/354100/usine-a-munitions-pour-retraites-slaves, accessed September 22, 2018.
 Biography – GORDON, SIR CHARLES BLAIR – Volume XVI (1931-1940) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gordon_charles_blair_16F.html, accessed September 22, 2018.
Who were Marie Sophie Henault-Canada’s parents?
It’s clear that my four-times great grandmother Marie Sophie (or Séraphie) Henault-Canada was born in the Red River Settlement on April 6, 1818, to parents Marie and Charles Henault-Canada. But who was her father and where did he come from? And who was her mother?
According to notes left to me by my grandmother, Sophie was born to Marie Gris, who was born in an unidentified location on October 30, 1802, and Charles Henault-Canada, who was born in 1793 in Berthier, Quebec. I haven’t been able to find records of his birth in Quebec, so I’m not sure whether that information is accurate.
In fact, it’s hard to confirm any of the information because the documents I’ve found so far seem to conflict and some information can’t be confirmed.
The 1870 Manitoba Census shows a Manitoba-based location in which Sophie was born that looks a bit like “territorial something,” that could refer to the Red River Settlement. In that document, Marie is listed as “Marie Henault” and she appears next to her husband, Charles Henault. Marie, Charles and Sophie are all described as French-speaking Catholic Métis.
Marie and Charles both have 1810 listed as their birthdates in the 1870 Manitoba Census, a rather extraordinary coincidence I think. Marie Hénault is listed in the 1870 Manitoba Census as 60 years old, however, so the birthdate for her might be correct. If it is, a different Marie may have been Sophie’s mother.
A Hudson Bay Company Census conducted the same year doesn’t list a Marie Henault, but it does show Marie Gris living on a farm on lot 8 in Pointe-des-Chênes with her daughter, granddaughter and another woman and her child. A second house on the same lot is home to Sophie’s aunt Catherine and her husband Francois Ducharme.
Her older daughter Sophie was married to Dominique Ducharme-Charron by then. The couple was living on lot 27 with four of their children Johnny 19, Roger 17, Joseph 13 and Marie, 12.
The Hudson Bay Census also lists Sophie’s father, Charles Henault/ Heneault/ Haineault/ Henault dit Canada/ Enaud dit Canada/ Enaud/ Enault “Métis, born 1810; farmer in his life time” as dead, although the document doesn’t say when exactly he died. My grandmother doesn’t show a date for that either. Perhaps he died that very year, 1870?
The date 1810 next to Charles’ name might refer to the date he arrived in the Red River Settlement rather than his birthdate. He may have come from elsewhere to Manitoba to work for the North West Company Fort Gibraltar trading post, which was set up in 1809. Or maybe it’s correct because my grandmother also shows his father, Pierre Énault-Canada as born in Berthier on August 9, 1730, which would be possible if his son were born in 1810. She shows his father as another Pierre Énault-Canada and his mother as Marguerite Piette-Tremp, whose parents and grandparents are all identified, though with no dates.
Hall’s appendix gives me access to two other potential ancestors beyond my grandmother’s notes. Her father was a Cree man named Thomas Gris and her mother was Marie Nepissing. Then again, if this Marie is not Sophie’s mother, they are not my ancestors.
Guess I have a bit of work to do.
 Canada, L. A. (2016, June 23). 1870 Census of Manitoba. Retrieved January 23, 2018, from http://data2.collectionscanada.gc.ca/1870/pdf/e010985547.pdf.
 Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, E.6/1-16. Land records of the Red River Settlement sent to the Governor and Committee, 1811–1871.
 The 1870 Manitoba Census identifies Catherine and Francois living in St. Anne as Métis, French-speaking and Catholic. It also shows Catherine’s father as Charles Henault, lines 126, 127, p231,5. The information was collected on October 27, 1870, and residence was established as of July 16, 1870.