Two Marie Madeleines

Cedar bundles from our cedar tree.

In the search for my matrilineal ancestor Marie Madeleine, I am feeling the need to summarize where I’ve come to so far. If you’ve been following along, you know that I’ve been searching through hundreds of images of records from the Postes du Roi on the north coast of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec. With all of those names and dates, I believe now that there are two women who are the most likely to be my own Marie Madeleine. The first characteristic that I am counting on is the year of her birth, and her age at the birth of her last child. In her death record of 1849 she was described as about 60 years of age, but those estimates are notorious for being inaccurate. (Her last child was born in 1846, which would give her the impossible age of 57.) Assuming that her child-bearing years could not realistically go much past 50, that would put the earliest year of her birth at about 1796. But also assuming that she would likely not be younger than 50 at her death, the latest year of her birth would be about 1799.

One of my frustrations these last several days has been how as the years moved along, the priests who were keeping the records were writing less and less, until in the 1820s and 30s, for example, they would often record marriages with first Christian names only, no parents listed, and baptisms with first names only. For example, in 1820 at Rivière Godbout, there was a death listed as “Marie-Madeleine” with no further information. The racism seemed to increase as the years went by. Instead of an Innu name, they started attaching the word “sauvage” to the names, “savage.” So it has become increasingly difficult to hunt for clues. At least the earlier priests took the care to spell out both Christian and Innu names, and parents full names.

But with all of that, these are two women who have emerged as the most likely to be my ancestor.

1. Marie Madeleine Katshisheskueit was born in the forest either Nov 11, 1795 or April 18, 1796. (Today could be her birthday!) In Feb 1846, she would have been either 50 or close to it. At her baptism on 6/28/1796 at PortNeuf, her records were mixed up with Anastasie Kamatshiskueuit. Because of later records for Anastasie, I determined that Marie Madeleine’s parents could only be Antoine Tshinusheu, born 11/20/1778, baptized in Chicoutimi 7/4/1779, and Anne Kukuminau, born and baptized in 1779 in Manicouagan. (They were listed as Anastasie’s parents but see my last post for untangling all that.)

I can’t determine for sure which parts of the baptism record went to which child, so her godparents were most likely Simon Tshinapesuan & Marie Madeleine Iskuamiskuskueu, or possibly Jean Baptiste Assini (sibling to Anastasie’s mother Veronique) & Marguerite Tematseu. Both families have interrelationships through the years.

She had two younger brothers I could find:  Ambroise Kanatsheshiu, baptized Jul 2, 1801 in Chicoutimi, born in the forest around 3 years prior, 1798. And Thomas Mishtapeu, baptized Jul 2, 1801, born in the forest around April 1801, who died and had a burial ceremony at PortNeuf, 23 July 1803, age 2 year, 3 months and 27 days. Both Ambroise and Thomas’s Christian names were after their godfathers, so it is possible that Marie Madeleine’s was after her godmother, another reason to point to those godparents.

There are records going back to her great-great grandparents in certain lines, meaning that her relatives had become Christian and were regular frequenters of the trading posts, in Chicoutimi, Manicouagan, and Îlets-Jérémie for many years previously. Her grandparents were Ignace Pikuruish & M. Jeanne Menastatshiku on her father’s side, and Pierre Rene Mishtapeu & Anne Mok on her mother’s side.

In the summer of 1805, sadly, her parents had burial ceremonies in PortNeuf, having died in August and October of 1804, when she was 8 or almost 9, and Ambroise was 4 or 5. After her parents’ deaths, all her grandparents had already died, but each came from large families, as did her parents.  I looked for aunts and uncles she and her brother might have lived with. The one I found listed the most was Antoine’s sister Genevieve Ushitasku who was married to Francis Xavier Uabushuian. They are in the records for the births/baptisms of six children. It is likely that Marie Madeleine and Ambroise would have lived with their relatives, though I can’t determine who that would have been, but maybe it was these two.

2. Marie Madeleine Napeteiashu was baptized June 6, 1803 at Îlets-Jérémie. By that time, the priests started recording the father’s Innu name as a surname for the children, so she does not have her own Innu name listed. She was at that time about 7 years old, “or even more,” so her birth would have been 1796 or perhaps a bit earlier. Her brother Simon Napeteiashu was also baptized at the same time, and said to be about 4 ½ years old, so born in late 1798 or early 1799. Their parents were Napeteiashu, who did not have a Christian name, and Catherine Mitiskue. Their godparents were Simon Tshinapesuan & Marie Madeleine Iskuamiskuskueu, (the same as for the other Marie-Madeleine!) and both brother and sister were named for their godparents.

(Note: for a while I thought these parents might be the same as Stanislas Mishtanapeu and Catherine Mistiku, but further records made that not possible.)

I was able to find an older brother as well–Jacques Nahabanueskum (later also called Jacques Napeteiashu with several spellings), who was baptized 6/19/1786, at 2 years old, at Îlets-Jérémie. In May 14, 1804 he was married to Monique Peshabanukueu at Îlets-Jérémie. They had several children baptized through the following years from 1809 to 1822, most at Îlets-Jérémie and two at Riviere Godbout. Jacques died before 1824, when his widow remarried. I did not see any further identifiable records for Marie-Madeleine’s parents or brother Simon.

This family’s connection to the trading posts was more tenuous prior to Jacques, with the father Napeteiashu unbaptized, and the children not baptized until they were 2, 4, or 7 years old. There weren’t records of their prior generations in the baptism accounts. There might have been more children between Jacques 1784 and Marie Madeleine 1796, but I could find no record of them. Perhaps this family might have been more tied to their own Innu culture in the forest, and more recently come to the trading posts.

So here I am with these two. It was a major breakthrough for me to search for family members along with the Marie Madeleines. No one was isolated outside of community. I have discovered parents and siblings, aunts and uncles. I have also been drawn to the godparents Simon Tshinapesuan and Marie Madeleine Iskuamiskuskueu. Their names reappear again and again like wise elders to their community, along with the records of many of their own children. I am not finished going through records, but I have reached 1833, in which the birth of my own Marie-Madeleine’s son Simon is recorded at Îlets-Jérémie, with her spouse Peter McLeod.

Today I feel the need to reach out in a spiritual way once again, not that I will find THE ANSWER, but that I find a way forward in this search. I feel the grief of the racism that hides their names and details from those of us who search for them. I have grown to love all of these people whose names I have learned. I made some more bannock, and burned cedar. As I reach out to them I listen for them reaching out to me.

All Hallow’s Eve/Samhain

Fresh cedar sprigs under a pair of cardinals welcome sign on our white front door.

Today we welcome the ancestors with special foods, with herbal incense, and with a fire in our fire circle! For herbal incense I use cedar–I’ll use a dried bundle I made before, and burn it in our fire circle. Cedar was widely used by my Innu ancestors, and so I think their spirits will especially appreciate it. We also have a cedar tree right on the edge of our own yard, so I ask the cedar tree for permission to cut some sprigs to make more cedar bundles, and also to put cedar on our front and back doors for protection from harm, and welcome to benevolent spirits.

The special food I made is bannock, a traditional Innu bread, called ińnu-pakueshikan, which they adapted from the Scottish. Since I can’t eat wheat bread, I used 1/2 oatmeal flour (which is actually what the Scottish used) and 1/2 almond flour. Here is my recipe, adapted from several I found online. It is a very simple bread with many variations. Mix all ingredients together.

  • 1 1/2 cup oat flour (made in a blender from GF rolled oats)
  • 1 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • 1 1/3 cup water (this might have been more than I needed)
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries.

I put it in a greased skillet, and let it bake in a 375 degree oven for 55 minutes. After about 40 minutes, I cut it in four, and turned the sections over in the pan. A small dish is all set to go outside for the spirits, for when we have our fire. It is crusty on the outside, and a bit mushy on the inside. Tasty with butter.

Blueberry bannock in cast iron pan, cut.

I have been continuing my search for my Innu ancestor Marie Madeleine’s family. Lately this has been by hunting for as many details as I can about Marie Madeleine Katshisheskueit, which means “hard-working-woman”, who was born 11/11/1795, and baptised in Portneuf 6/28/1796. I was finally able to see an actual image of her baptism record, and discovered her actual parents, Jean-Pierre Utshinitsiu (Utshinishkushu=whirlpool?) and Veronique Kaskanieshtshist. (Kashkanatshish=rock ptarmigan) (The earlier source had directed me to another set of parents entirely.) So I began hunting for the rest of their family and found a few more generations, and many cousins.

This was a relief to me because I also discovered that Marie Madeleine Katshisheskueit’s mother died in 1797, when she was only two years old. I was filled with grief for this toddler, and wondered how she would be able to survive such a loss. Then I remembered that my Passamaquoddy teacher Roger Paul said that the whole community always cared for all the children. They didn’t divide into small nuclear families, but rather in extended families. I saw that her godmother, Marie Madeleine Iskuamiskuskueu, was the cousin of her father (and also the mother of another Marie Madeleine that is not my ancestor). So she was likely taken care of and loved by all these relatives.

I haven’t been able to find other records of her life after 1800, so far, which means there is nothing to rule her out. It might mean that she disappeared somewhere, or it might possibly mean that she is my own ancestor, showing up in 1830 without any surname or Innu name that would clarify her identity to me. The hunt continues, only now I am looking at her family members, to get a picture of their relatedness.

Finally, another update: I had been wondering what to do about the frogs in the pond, as winter approaches. Well, it turns out they are doing it for themselves. The last time we saw frogs in the pond was a week ago, and just two small ones remaining. We don’t know where they went, but they must know how to take care of themselves, perhaps find some mud to bury in, or someplace protected for the winter. Our pond is probably too shallow, with too little mud for that purpose, I assume. So the pond is getting colder, and the frogs are gone. Hopefully, we’ll see them again in the spring.

May the blessings of this season be with you, may your ancestors bring you blessings when you open your heart to them, and may we survive the coming cold with grace and peace! Blessed Samhain! Now I’m going outside to the fire circle.

Two small frogs on a rock near iris stalks, with fallen leaves in the water.

Raised Garden Bed, Part 1

I have to laugh at myself. After hardly having enough energy to keep up with the garden all summer, I took on the idea of creating a new raised bed. It was a 3′ by 6′ by 11″ kit with eight planks of cedar and 4 metal poles to insert in holes at the corners, but I bravely decided to add hardware cloth underneath to protect against little tunneling creatures. (And on that note, I managed to catch a glimpse of a tunneler in the act–turns out to be a tiny star-nosed mole. It seems to especially like to burrow under our wood chip paths. But apparently they are not huge hazards to the garden, so that is good to know. They eat grubs and other insects, not roots.)

So everything arrived–kit, hardware cloth, staple gun, staples–and I started to figure out how to be able to assemble the 4 foot wide hardware cloth to the boards so it would go 5 or 6 inches into the ground to make room for deeper roots. After a lot of math, several scratches on my hands, and many staples, step one complete:

Hardware cloth stapled to cedar planks.

Margy helped me move the whole thing over to the 3 by 6 hole that I had dug earlier.

Hole dug in ground with dirt in two wheelbarrow on either end.
Hardware cloth and planks over hole.

I assembled the bed by bending in the corners of the hardware cloth so that the ends of the planks met, and then I secured the planks with the metal poles. But it didn’t fit into the hole I had dug–the hole was too shallow. So I tilted the whole assembly over to stand on its side, while I did more digging, piling the extra dirt on a piece of cardboard on the side.

Cedar planks and hardware cloth assembled and on its side next to hole

I repeated this step several times until finally everything fit. Hurray! I added the dirt from the cardboard into the cedar bed, and called it enough for one day. I still have to add the second tier of cedar planks, and all the contents–but that can be a new post.

Cedar bed in/on the ground

Meanwhile, somewhere in the middle of it all, I was happy to take time to collapse in the hammock with Margy. I am sore and exhausted, but it was a good day.

Two pairs of feet side by side in the hammock.

Boundaries

Boundary

[The side boundary two weeks ago.]

Boundaries in land are something of a legal fiction.  The land can’t really be owned by anyone.  But they do matter, because we can only protect the land that is within the boundaries identified as “ours” by pieces of paper.

The other day, a neighbor who lives to the side of the back of our yard mentioned that they might want to put in a fence.  We were alarmed that they might cut some trees, but then they said they were not planning to do that.  But they got a little riled by our asking about the trees.

The thing is, we didn’t get a chance to say this, but we had thought that the trees between our properties were on water district land, because our deed identifies our boundary as bordering on water district land.  [You can see the line of trees and bushes behind our compost bins in this photo from two weeks ago.]  But today I did some research and discovered that their deed in fact includes at least some of the water district land, and perhaps might come right up to ours.

It is all both explicit and very vague on our deed, especially in reference to the back half–because it refers to the old Portland Gardens plan.  For example, where that part of our land begins is stated to be about 99 feet across, while the back line of our property is stated to be 161 feet across.  But it is unclear exactly how and where it is anchored or where it expands–it doesn’t correspond to what was mowed as lawn.  (And it would cost thousands to get a survey, we were told.)  And if you look on the current tax map, the water district land seems to be 53 feet across between the properties.  But I don’t see how there are that many feet between us, even if all the “hedge row” is included.

However, the deed for the neighbor’s yard cites an iron pipe at the corner boundary next to their road, and then “83.31 feet to an iron pipe and land now or formerly of the Portland Water District.”  The wording is odd–but I found an earlier deed that ceded some 56 feet of PWD land (on that side) to that parcel–and it makes sense, they couldn’t have built a house on the land without it.  Then it angles back to a narrow point further back.  Sometimes I wonder if it is all something of a fiction–maybe the plan for Portland Gardens didn’t really match the actual land, and nobody actually has the number of feet listed.

But all day today I have been worried about the trees.  The black cherry and the cedar.  The ones I haven’t learned the names of yet.  We love the trees for themselves, and also for the privacy they create in this place during the summer.  Margy has spent a lot of time cutting down bittersweet from these trees.  And I’ve been wondering where the boundary really is.  There is too much snow right now to hunt for that iron pipe.  But I surely will as soon as enough has melted.  It all feels so vulnerable.

Cedar

cedar leavesI seem to have unleashed a thirst for learning the names of all the trees who live with us on this land to which Margy and I belong. Today, I am exploring the cedar tree in our southeastern boundary area. I had always wondered about the difference between cedars and arborvitaes, and now I know that they are the same, really, here where we live.  There are a lot of names for this species which is native to southeastern Canada and northeastern United States–Eastern White Cedar, Northern White Cedar, White Cedar, False Cedar (because it is not related to European cedars).  Its Latin name is Thuja occidentalis.  

Cedar trunkIt was first called Arborvitae by French explorers when Indigenous people gave them tea  made of its leaves as a treatment for scurvy.  Arborvitae means “tree of life.”  Now, arborvitae is the name used by horticulturists, and there are many cultivars of the tree that are sold for landscaping.  The Anishinaabe people called the tree Nookomis Giizhik or Grandmother Cedar, because of its importance as a sacred and medicinal tree, associated with one of the four directions.

This has been a special tree to me personally in most of the places I have lived–Michigan, Chicago, northern New York state, Massachusetts, and Maine, and I appreciate that my matrilineal ancestors also knew this tree in Quebec/Nitassinan.  The Innu word for this tree is Massishk.  The tea from its leaves contains an abundance of Vitamin C, and can be used as a medicine.  (Note–being cautious, it is recommended that pregnant women should not use cedar tea because the compound thujone within it.)

From Sean Sherman (The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen):

The tea of simmered branches is used to treat fevers and rheumatic complaints, chest colds, and flu. This brew is delicious warm or cold and is simple to make. Just simmer 2 cups of fresh cedar in 4 cups of boiling water for about 10 minutes until the water becomes a golden color. Strain off the cedar and sweeten with maple syrup, to taste.