52 Ancestors – Week 5 – Napoleon Pelletier

EDIT: Please visit this blog post for new research. Portions of the following blog entry on Napoleon Pelletier are now out-of-date based on research done on Treaty annuity records.

I want to keep the information in this post unchanged beyond this addendum about the identity of his mother. I was previously under the impression that Marie Adele Lerat (1888-) had been his mother, but in fact, she was his step-mother.

You can read more about this discovery here.

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.

pelletier, nap 1916 census

c. 1916

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.)

c. 1941

c. 1941

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.

52 Ancestors – Week 4 – Joseph Pelletier (the Carnegie Hero)

This week in Amy Johnson Crow’s genealogist challenge: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, I am going to write about my mother’s side of the family. Being the ‘baby’ of the family I have missed meeting many of my older relatives simply because I am the age of many of my nephews and nieces, as a consequence, many events that my siblings have been privy to have happened long before I was born.

Today, I am going to write about one of my uncles, Joseph Pelletier (1947-1973). Joey was born the second last of my mother’s siblings, eleven children in total. My mother and her siblings, including Joey, grew up on a Blackfoot reserve in southern Alberta.

Being Aboriginal children in the 1930s-1960s they would have been required to have attended Indian Residential School. I do not know much about their lives during their childhood and youth as there are only three of the eleven siblings alive today, including my mother, and I believe this reflects on the harsh lives they lived. I can only speculate, based on my studies and work with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, on the treatment of my mother’s siblings in the residential school system. My mother is lucky, she can remember mostly good memories of her time at Crowfoot IRS either because her experience was better than most or because she has blocked any painful memories out for good reason. Anyway I am getting off topic- more on Indian Residential Schools in a future post.

On the morning of 29 Jul 1973, while swimming in the Bow River, 10-year-old Thelma A. Wells, became caught in the revolving current over a hole in the river bottom and called for help. Joey, my uncle, having heard her cries, entered the water fully clothed and swam to her. A struggle ensued; and both were submerged briefly several times. Joey called for assistance. His younger brother, Robert, entered the water and swam to them. While Robert was able to take Thelma safely to the bank, Joey floundered in the spinning current over the hole and drowned before help reached him.

The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission awarded Joey the bronze Carnegie Medal in recognition of his outstanding act of heroism. The purpose of the Carnegie Hero Fund is to award individuals in the United States and Canada who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree saving or attempting to save the lives of others.

pelletier joey newspaper

c.1973 (Calgary)

Above is a clipping from a newspaper, most likely from Calgary, that was with the Carnegie award certificate in our basement. I do not know what has happened to the bronze metal itself because we do not have it. I can only hope one of my aunts have it in their possession otherwise it has been lost, most likely when the government seized my grandmother’s property when she passed away in 1990. I am tempted to contact the Carnegie Hero Fund to see whether a replacement medal can be given to the family again. Couldn’t hurt to ask anyway.

c. 1962

c. 1962

While I do not know much of my uncle Joey this act of bravery makes me wish I could have known him during his brief life. One of the rare photos I have in my possession shows a smiling young man full of life– even a bit of a comedian, but who isn’t at 15? I wish I had more photos of him as well as other members of my family whose faces are now lost to memory and time. This is why I treasure the photos, documents, and artifacts I am able to get my hands on. It is important to me to discover and uncover as much information as I can about my family- the more I get to know them the more I get to know myself.

52 Ancestors – Week 3 – Ruth Sarah Goodson (the girl who married a dustman)

For this week in Amy Johnson Crow’s genealogist challenge: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, I am going to write about my paternal 2nd great-great grandmother, Ruth Sarah Goodson (1848-1925). She was born in London to parents Joseph Goodson (1796-1865) and Ruth Blanchard (1812) in Apr 1848 and was later baptized at St. John at Hackney Church.

An interesting piece of writing that I have is a copy of a letter sent to Ruth Goodson, by her teacher, Emma Johnson. Ruth would have gone to a school in the Hackney area but I have yet to determine what school she would have attended. While I wouldn’t be surprised that Ruth and her sister would have had a governess in the home I’m not completely sure whether this would have been feasible but I will continue this thought further below.

2 Tyssen Terrace
London, England
December 27, 1863

Dear Ruth,
I was sorry I was not at home when you brought me that very beautiful present.
I shall always think of your kind heart when I use the Bible, but indeed you should not have allowed yourself to purchase such an expensive present.
It makes me feel quite grieved when I look at it, and were it not that I know you feel such pleasure in giving it, I should hardly like you accept so very handsome a book.
I thank you very much indeed from the very kind and grateful feeling which prompted the gift.
Such feelings are all very delightful to a teacher, coming from those whom she has loved and tried to train in the path of duty.
With kind regards to your excellent mother, and with best wishes that your care towards her may bring stronger health, and with best homes of a Happy New Year for you, death Ruth, believe me.

Your affectionate friend,
EMMA JOHNSON

I wonder what kind of relationship Ruth had with her teacher to give such a nice present. Ruth would have been fifteen in 1863 and it would be my guess that she would have been learning proper Victorian etiquette and how to run a home. It would have been nice to have the original letter but I don’t have it and don’t know where it would have been kept. I’m not sure where my great aunt Ruth’s personal papers were taken after her death; whether they were destroyed or if someone took them. It would be nice to find out where many of her original papers were taken.

Ruth married John Basham on 7 Feb 1869. My great aunt Ruth wrote of her grandmother in her essay entitled “The Bashams of Mowat.”

John had been born on a farm in Essex, England, later coming to London, with some of his brothers, to set up a small business as garbage men. It was while making his rounds, that he often met, at the back gate, the genteel and educated Ruth Goodson. In spite of her father’s warnings and threats, Ruth was captivated by the charms of the handsome John, and later they married and became the parents of eight children, all of whom came to Canada, at different times, except Jessie, who became Mrs. Owen Gower, and Amy, who married a London bus driver, named Joe Charles.

What kind of ‘threats’ did Ruth and John suffer at the hands of her father? Was she cut off from the rest of her family or did she lose any dowry or inheritance? Based on where they lived in the Hackney area, which was destroyed in the blitz of WWII, and what Ruth’s father did as an occupation I do not know that they were so well off as described. Joseph Goodson was born in Bethnal Green and worked as a ‘dust collector’ and ‘labourer’ and so I don’t know why he would have looked down on John Basham so harshly. Joseph, himself, would have come from an impoverished background and might understand the struggles of finding a wife. It’s possible he hoped his daughter would have made a better prospect for someone of higher class.

Ruth had three sons and five daughters:

John Fredrick (Did not marry)
Ruth Edith Married Fredrick Alfred Storrar
Jessica Grace Married Owen Levenson Gower (Stayed in England)
Amy Florence Married Joseph Charles (Stayed in England)
George Edward (Did not marry)
Sophia Harriett Married Thomas White
Married James Johnston
Ernest Henry Married Jane Murray-Ross Taylor
Ada Louisa Married Alexander Munro

Ruth immigrated to Canada along with her husband, John, in 1903 and settled in the Mossey River area. They left Liverpool in Jun 1903 and traveled on the S.S. Tunisian with their son George Edward and their daughter Ada Louisa. A large two-story log house was built on the south side of the Fishing River, a half-mile from where the Mowat School was built. Mr. and Mrs. Basham lived there the remainder of their lives, their home a welcome stopping-place for travelers and for preachers who came in the summertime to hold church services at the school. John passed away in 1915 and Ruth passed away on 9 Jun 1925 of a massive heart attack, both are buried in the Fork River Cemetery along with their eldest son John Fredrick.

(Jul. 2012)

52 Ancestors – Week 1 & 2

To help me in regulating my blogging activity, outside of the Dauphin Herald, I’ve decided to participate in Amy Johnson Crow’s genealogist challenge:  52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. Each week I will be writing about an ancestor of my choosing and will describe a little about their life or the challenges I’ve come across while researching them.

This week I will be writing about two ancestors for the 1st and 2nd week of the challenge, they are a husband and wife pair who came to Canada in the early 1900s.

Thomas White (1880-1909) was the first husband to Sophia Harriett Basham (1880-1959), my paternal great grandmother. He was born abt 1880 in Hackney, London, and resided in the Hackney area for the majority of his youth where he worked as a cabinet worker. Before 2012 I had very little information on Thomas other than what was written about him by his only child, my great-aunt Ruth, who I have written about in a previous post. I had no information on his parents or if he had any siblings and so it was a mystery for some time but I will continue on this thought a little further below.

Sophia Harriett Basham was born on 1 Jun 1880 in Homerton, Hackney, London, to parents John Basham (1837-1915) and Ruth Sarah Goodson (1848-1925). She was baptized at St. Barnabas Church in Aug 1880 along wit her brother George Edward and sister Amy Florence; she resided with her parents and siblings in the Hackney area for much of her youth. They can be found in the England Census in 1881, 1891, and 1901.

Thomas can be found in the 1901 England Census residing, as a border, at 23 Ballance Road with Joseph Charles and his wife Amy Basham. Based on this information I concluded that this is how Thomas might have become acquainted with Amy’s sister, Sophia, who would later become his wife. He married Sophia Basham in Apr 1904 in West Ham, Essex; I believe they married at St. Michael and All Angels Church in Walthamstow and that their marriage record is located at the Waltham Forest Archives. This information is based on the fact that Sophia’s sister, Jessica Grace Basham, married her husband Owen Leveson Gower at St Michael & All Angels Church on 2 Sep 1900 and lived in the same area; it wouldn’t be far fetched to think that Tom and Sophie could have married at this church as I’ve been unable to locate a record at any Hackney churches. When I was passing through London in August 2012 I was unable to make it to the Waltham Archives and can’t confirm whether their record is there.

The young couple traveled to Canada on the S.S. Canada in May of 1904 and arrived at the port of Montréal, Québec, on 15 May 1904. They moved to the Mossey River Municipality of Manitoba possibly for the fact that Sophia’s older brothers John Fredrick and George Edward immigrated in 1896 and 1903 to the area as well as her parents in 1903. A CPR land sale record indicates that Thomas bought 160 arces of land on the NE-1-29-19-W1. There he erected a small farmhouse on the north bank of the Fishing River and the couple can be found on in the 1906 Canadian Census. On 23 Jan 1908, a daughter, Ruth Elizabeth White, was born.

On 22 Oct 1909, Thomas died of typhoid fever. He is buried at the Riverside Cemetery in Dauphin, Manitoba. While visiting the cemetery I was able to locate the approximate location of his burial plot but I was unable to locate his gravestone. All markers in this area of the cemetery have been damaged or destroyed and so it’s not possible to identify whose stone belongs to whom with any real certainty. Based on his date of death I was able to order his death certificate from Manitoba Vital Statistics in the summer of 2012 and low and behold there was information that indicated that Thomas had a brother who lived in Dauphin, named George William White, at the time of his death. From this information I was able to locate George White and his family in the Canadian Census records of 1911 and 1916 as well as their records in Canadian passenger lists and furthermore in the English Census records where I was able to make an educated guess as to their parents and siblings.

On 26 Mar 1912 Sophia married James Washington Johnston (1876-1967) and would have three sons: James Henderson Johnston (1913-1981), Ernest John Johnston (1915-2001), and William George Washington Johnston (1917-1944). Ruth wrote of her mother’s hardships in her 1983 essay entitled “The James Washington Johnston Place.”

Sophie remained ambitious for the welfare of Riverside Farm as she and James worked hard throughout the pioneer years. She has no running water or electrical power to help her. She often needed medical attention which she could not readily get. Much of her brave spirit faded through the years, but her sense of humour never wavered. Her hearty laugh is something Ruth tenderly remembers. As Ruth grew older, she realized that some of her mother had truly gone with her father, when he was laid to rest in Riverside Cemetery, Dauphin, Manitoba. But Sophie was always loyal to James, and appreciated his outstanding good qualities of good nature and kindness, and his very clever hands, which could build almost anything and “fix” everything.

After the second world war, Riverside Farm was passed down to the eldest Johnston son, James Henderson, while Sophia and her husband, James Washington, retired to Dauphin. Sophia passed away on 21 Apr 1959 while her husband James passed away eight years later in 1967.