For this week in Amy Johnson Crow’s genealogist challenge: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, I am going to write about my maternal grandfather, Napoleon Pelletier (1905-1985). He was born on the Cowessess First Nation to parents Joseph Pelletier (1876-) and Marie Adele Lerat (1878-) in 1905. He had six other siblings that I am aware of although it is highly possible he may have had more.
Napoleon attended the Cowessess Indian Residential School and he can be found in the 1916 census. Cowessess Indian Residential School opened in 1898 and was later renamed Marieval. Residential schools that ran during this era typically used the half-day system where students would attend classes for half the day and work the other half. Napoleon would have most likely worked in the fields to provide food for the rest of the students or done other chores to keep the costs of the school low. My grandmother- his wife, Marie Cecilla Allary, also went to Cowesses. Her memories of the school during this era were not very pleasant, she remembers that the uniforms were rough, almost like potato sacks, and that she worked mostly in the kitchen to provide food for others students rarely ever spending time in a classroom.
One of the issues I have with researching my Aboriginal ancestors are the records. First, there is nothing much in regards to census records before Saskatchewan became a province in 1905. The area where my family would have lived was known as The Territories, more specifically Assiniboia, but what complicates the search for them in official records is the fact that they traveled between the Canadian and United States border.
Another issue in regards to researching Aboriginal ancestors are the names. Names that I am related to are Agecoutay, Allary, Lerat, and Lavallee – this is not an exhaustive list. When looking at the census records between 1901-1921 there are many families on the reserve and just outside of it with these names and it’s hard to determine who is the right Napoleon Pelletier. Furthermore, the spelling of these names are varied and it is difficult to look for family when Pelletier has been recorded as Pelter, Peliter, or even Pelger! What worries me further is whether family members also went by traditional names which I would have no know of thereby missing individuals entirely.
Napoleon married my grandmother sometime in the late 1920s or very early 1930s; he and his family moved to southern Alberta where they lived on the Blackfoot (Siksika) reserve and where Napoleon worked as a miner. I have located two photos of my grandfather from the Glenbow Archives during this time. My grandfather is in the second row, second on the left.
Napoleon fought in Italy during the second world war. I have yet to get a copy of his military records although I’m very interested in taking a look at them. Apparently, Amsterdam was one of his favourite cities and when my mother came to visit me this past summer she lit a candle in one of the churches in his memory. My mother says he never spoke about his time in the army but that when he returned his once black hair had turned white and said it was because of what he had seen. (I have gotten the photo below restored and gave it to my mother as a Christmas present in 2012.)
Napoleon passed away just before Christmas in 1985. He is buried alongside his wife in Marieval, Saskatchewan, at the Sacred Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church. There is still much that I want to know about my grandfather and the fact of the matter is that I just haven’t asked enough questions. This is the year that I am going to sit down with my mother and contact my other relatives in order to get as much as I can.