Its a new year. That time when much of the world seems to want to try something new or to do something “better” or with more confidence. So here I am, joining the many, and hoping to (finally) finish a goal, create a new habit, and to become more confident in my blogging, researching, and storytelling.
I am determined to continue this goal of blogging about my kids’ ancestors, with much of the inspiration coming from Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks blog prompts. So here is my contribution to “First.”
I think I’ve always had an interest in my unknown family. My parents divorced when I was three and my brother was two. Aside from that natural rift in that whole “nuclear family” deal, it wasn’t any better outside of that circle. But that’s a story for another day.
My first step into digging up roots was in high school. My mom and I grasping for any hope of scholarships as college loomed ahead of me.
You know where this is heading, right? I’m cringing already.
The Cherokee Princess.
There. I said it. It’s out there. Of course I know now, and have for many years, that that is one of the most ridiculous things in the realm of American family history, right up there with “the family name was changed at Ellis Island.”
Regardless, that’s where it all started for me. It was my maternal grandmother who mentioned it. Literally, just a “well, there was supposedly a Cherokee Princess way back in the family.” So, that’s all that we had to go on: someone in my maternal grandmother’s lineage. My mom showed me how to work a microfilm reader at the Lucas County Public Library in downtown Toledo, Ohio. We weren’t very successful, and not just because of the lack of finding a certain princess. We only made it back to my Second Great Grandfather, Howard Cook DeWitt, 1881-1957. It was the late 1990s and while the internet certainly existed, I had not yet discovered the genealogical corner, so to speak.
It wasn’t a pretty start, but it sparked the interest that really took off about a decade later. Now, here I am, another decade later, and I found her.
She’s not Cherokee. She’s most definitely not a princess. She isn’t named, and sadly I may never know that name, but I have a nearly 214-year-old hint that she is there, just beyond. She would be my Sixth Great Grandmother.
The hint was thrown into a baptismal record of a couple’s sixth known child. That couple was my fifth great-grandparents: Joseph Chamberland and Josephine/Josette Secnix/LaRose. Josephine, as I’ll call her, is a bit of a mystery herself, but that’s a blog post of its own. Was there something going on in the area at the time of that child’s birth, April 1805, that would prompt the priest to note that the mother, Josephine (though unnamed in the entry), was a “fille d’une Sauvagesse” or “daughter of a wild woman/Native American?”
Above is a screenshot of the baptismal record of Joseph Chamberland, born 1 April 1805 to Joseph Chamberland and the (unnamed?) “et de ?? fille d’une Sauvagesse.” He was baptized on 3 April 1805 at Ste. Anne de Detroit by Father Gabriel Richard. Robert Navarre and Therese Bondy stood as godparents. The same priest baptized the couple’s fifth known child in 1803, a year after he took on the role at Ste Anne’s, but while the mother is named, Josette S(t?), there is no hint to her possible lineage. The couple had at least three more children that were found in the baptismal records, according to other researchers, and that tantalizing hint is never mentioned again.
I’ll likely never know if this unnamed woman is the person my grandmother may have somehow heard about in her lineage, or where the rumor came from for her family. But as with many tales of family lore, there is often a hint of truth in every story. The task then becomes finding out how much truth can be found.
What do you think? With this small amount of information, do you think I’m heading in the right direction? That Josephine/Josette, wife of Joseph Chamberland, was at least part Native American? What steps should I consider in fleshing out this hint on what was my first genealogical search?
NOTE: I do not speak French, but with thanks to Google Translate and a very helpful podcast and accompanying blog, this is my translation. Any errors are my own, and I would greatly appreciate the help if I got it wrong! Be sure to check out Maple Stars and Stripes if you have French Canadian roots! You’ll hear about the history, culture, language, and so much more from some truly fantastic stories and interviews!