When I was exploring my German immigrant ancestors in the context of decolonization, I was struck by the feeling that they arrived after the major struggles of colonization in their part of the country. For my dad’s family who arrived in the mid-1800s, it was a generation earlier that treaties were pressed upon the Indigenous peoples of those lands, who were forced to move further west or to Oklahoma. In another branch of my family, my mom’s father was from Austria, and immigrated even later, via Canada, to Detroit in late 1915.
I wonder if these Germanic immigrants even thought about it, or if so, maybe it was like, “We just got here, we don’t have anything to do with those struggles you all had before.” Though, of course, the German farmers benefitted from those earlier actions, because now land was available for low prices. But it can leave a feeling of distant non-involvement, a sense that colonization wasn’t very much about my family. My mom’s mother was also an immigrant to the United States, but her background is more complex, because she came from Quebec.
When I was younger, the very first ancestors I was curious about were those of my grandmother, born Yvonne Tremblay. That intensified when I became a feminist, and wanted to learn about my motherline. Plus, as I have written about elsewhere, she was “part Indian,” and I was curious about that. It turned out that Quebec province kept very good records, and I was able to learn a lot, even before the age of the internet. But I wasn’t asking questions then about colonization or decolonization. So this week, I decided to reopen that window of exploration, to see what I could find.
While the information available about my Scottish and Innu ancestors stops with Peter Macleod and Marie Madeleine Montagnaise, (my great-great-great-grandparents), the information about my French ancestors in Quebec goes back to some of the original colonizers. Yesterday, I learned that one ancestor, Jean Guyon, my 11th great-grandfather, arrived in 1634. But not to get egotistical about it, they say three out of four Quebecois descend from him. And in fact, I am descended from him via four separate lines of ancestry. I am including this monument to the first Tremblays in Quebec, Pierre Tremblay and Ozanne Achon, who arrived in 1657.
Today, in my family tree, I accidentally came upon the name Helene Desportes, my 9th great-grandmother. Her birth was listed as 1620 in Quebec, and it turns out she is said to be the first white child born in Canada, though she might have been born on the ship just before arrival. One of my methods is to do an internet search for any of these early names, and I learned there is a recent biography about her, Helene’s World: Helene Desportes of Seventeenth-Century Quebec, by Susan McNelley.
Suddenly, there is a whole new world to explore–okay that was the wrong phrase to use–in my decolonization understanding.