River Otters at Evergreen Ponds

River otter eating a fish, within a small rock enclosure in the small pond.

Our area of Maine loves nature news. So when we heard in the news that there were visiting river otters in the ponds at Evergreen Cemetery, we joined many other Portland residents to go to the cemetery to see if we could see them. And we did! We saw this one in one of the small upper ponds, diving under the water to fish, and then emerging in this little rock cave to eat. We also saw one in the big pond, walking on the iced areas in between diving beneath the open water to fish.

River otter on the ice near a thawed opening in the water.

It has been a while since we’ve been to the cemetery. I used to walk over to these ponds frequently, but haven’t had the energy for an hour-long walk lately, so we drove over this time. Sometimes it is wonderful to be alone in the natural world, to see the secrets of plants and animals revealed to a quiet human visitor. But sometimes it is just as wonderful to be with other humans who love these secrets, and can’t resist our animal relatives. There is a sense of kinship with each other, we chat about the sightings, we notice how skilled the otters are at catching fish, we share our tales with new arrivals. There are children and elders, and every age in between. Outside with each other.

Finally, when the otters had hidden behind the back of a little island, I took a walk around the big pond, carefully making my way over tree roots. I couldn’t resist also taking photos of this lovely blue heron–much easier to catch than otters, since it likes nothing better than standing still on its perch on the log.

Great blue heron standing on one foot, perched on a dead log in the pond.

When we first arrived, before we saw the otters, I also happened to catch her scratching her head. Maybe wondering about the sudden abundance of humans wandering around her pond. But not letting that disturb her equanimity and perfect balance.

Blue heron scratching her head, while standing on a log in the pond.

May our animal relatives find all they need to thrive that they may live long upon the earth. May we human animals wake up to our interconnection with all beings, that we may find a way to turn from destruction to mutuality.

Marie Madeleine Napeteiashu

Innu embroidery on a leather bag from Lac St. Jean

“Even if you don’t know who your ancestors are, your ancestors know who you are.”

@drxicana Dra. Vanessa M. Bustamante

I think I am coming to the end of my intensive search for the family of my Innu third-great-grandmother Marie Madeleine. I have found the most likely Marie Madeleine of the many that I researched, though I cannot have conclusive proof of any connection. Here is what I found.

Marie Madeleine Napeteiashu was baptized June 6, 1803 at Îlets-Jérémie. She was at that time about 7 years old, “or even more,” so her birth would have been 1796 or perhaps a bit earlier. 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 personal Innu name listed. Certainly, she would have had an Innu name that she used for the first seven years of her life and beyond. 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, elders in the community who were also parents or godparents to other Marie-Madeleines I researched. Both brother and sister were named for their godparents.

I was able to find an older brother as well, Jacques Nahabanueskum (later also called Jacques Napeteiashu), who was baptized 6/19/1786, at 2 years old, at Îlets-Jérémie, his parents listed, with a slight variation as Nepiteiashu and Catherine Matshiskueu. I think the name Napeteiashu might mean “male fox” if you stretch the spelling a bit—napeiatsheshu. Mitiskue seems a combination of bead/mitish, and woman/skue, so “bead woman.” Matshiskueu means “ugly woman.” I’m not sure about Nahabanueskum. Sometimes the Innu names changed over time.

Sadly, I did not see any further clearly identifiable records for Marie-Madeleine’s parents. Today I spent hours looking at earlier records to see if I could find Catherine. I found many Catherines, but none with her Innu name or a clear link to identify. Unlike for some of the other families I researched, there weren’t multiple prior generations in the baptism accounts; I could open the mystery no further. Perhaps this family’s connection to the priests at the trading posts was more tenuous, at least prior to Jacques, with the father Napeteiashu unbaptized, and the children not baptized until they were 2, 4, or 7 years old. I would have thought there might have been more children between Jacques 1784 and Marie Madeleine 1796, but I could find no record of them. Perhaps might this family have been more tied to their own Innu culture in the forest, and warier of the trading posts?

However, I did find many other records for Marie Madeleine’s brother, Jacques Nahabanueskum. In May 14, 1804, he was married to Monique Peshabanukueu at Îlets-Jérémie, (with his parents identified as Napeteiashu and Catherine Mitiskue.) They had several children baptized through the following years, with their father’s Innu name listed as their surname: Agnes, 1809, Rose, 1810, Marie, 1812, Charles, 1814, all at Îlets-Jérémie, then Jacques 1818 at Riviere Godbout, and an unnamed child who died 1821, then Monique, 1822, at Îlets-Jérémie. Jacques died before 1824, when his widow remarried to Jacques Tshiuteshish, widower of Marie des Anges Tshimatshueu. The children of that Jacques and Marie des Anges would also have been part of an extended family: Simon, Beatrix, Christine, Hélène, and possibly more.

I also found a possible later link for Marie Madeleine’s brother Simon, as Simon Napitaietshun with Marie Catherine Tshiatshe, parents of a daughter Marie, baptized in 1819, and a son Simon, baptized in 1821, both in Mingan.

One clue that led me to identify this woman as the most likely choice is in the record for the baptism of my own Marie Madeleine’s son Simon, in 1833, at Îlets-Jérémie, where she is identified as “sauvage du dit poste,” which means, translating the racist imagery, “Indian of said post.” And so it seemed to me it might be identifying her place of origin. Of the women on my list of possibilities, within the right time frame, she was the only one who was baptized at Îlets-Jérémie. Now, on the other side, I know that her husband Peter McLeod was a clerk of that post in 1833. But she, along with two other Indian couples baptizing their children were all identified as Indians of that post.

Another reason I find her a compelling possibility is her age. Born about 1796, that would make her about 50 years old at the birth of Marie Madeleine’s last child of record, Marie Sylvie, born in 1846. Late age, but possible. It also means that she would be 53 at the time of her death in 1849, where she was identified as “about 60 years old.” Close enough. I also thought about the fact of her father being unbaptized—and whether that might make it more likely that she would partner with a Protestant man, quite a divide in those days between Catholic and Protestant, but perhaps not unlike the divide between Catholics and the non-baptized. Until the year of her death, when it was conducted in a Catholic ceremony, her marriage to Peter McLeod was not considered a “legitimate” marriage.

A more ambiguous reason I am drawn to her has to do with the network of relationships she seems to be embedded in. My Marie Madeleine named one of her sons, Simon, at Îlets-Jérémie. This would have been the name of her brother, but also another Simon. When her daughter Angèle was baptized in 1836, her godparents were listed as Simon and Angèle, who possibly match a couple named Simon Utshinitsiu and Angèle Neukapne. (No godparents were listed for Simon’s baptism.) This couple appears often in the records, and this Simon is the son of Jacques Tshiuteshish, (whom Monique married after the death of Marie Madeleine’s brother Jacques).

There were several instances of people being in the same place for ceremonies at the same time. Here is just one example. In 1812, on the day after the baptism of Jacques and Monique’s child Marie at Îlets-Jérémie, Simon and Angele’s child Charlotte Utshinitsiu is being baptized there.  It is hard to articulate those connections, but to see the names again and again, led to a feeling of interconnection between the families, that might have followed through into the baptisms of my Marie Madeleine’s children Simon and Angele.

The unfortunate thing about this Marie Madeleine is that there is little information about further ancestors. But with her there is a definite link to a place and a community. Might I be related to the place called Îlets-Jérémie/Jeremy Islets? In Innu, it is called Ishkuamishkᵘ, which one source said means “where you can find polar bears” but is also similar to the word for a female beaver ishkuemishkᵘ. Now, to further clarify, generally speaking the Innu went into the woods in fall, winter, and spring to hunt, and came to the posts only in summer, to trade and to connect with the priests who did the baptisms, marriages, burials, and such. And they didn’t necessarily just go to one post, while avoiding others, but they usually were found at ones that were close to each other. So there definitely seemed a connection to Îlets-Jérémie, over many years.

I feel a strange sort of sadness as I let go of further hunting. The records are so sparse, so much is unknown. And yet I have learned so much, I have a sense of the community that I had no awareness of before this search. All I had was her baptismal name, really, and the place where she lived the last few years of her life. And now I have this sense of visiting her world of 200 years ago, learning the places of the trading posts, which were first of all gathering places for Innu people before colonization. I glimpsed the multiple inter-relationships, I scanned hundreds of Innu names, I observed the seasons of gathering and then going into the forest, the births and the deaths. I could see that she was born into a world of mostly Innu people, and by the end of her life in 1849, the increasing number of settlers outnumbered the Innu. But in that world, one joy was she was able to bear many children, and to live to be in her 50s, which was old for that time. My imagination is now richly populated with all of these people I have glimpsed through the strange window of the scratchy French handwriting of the missionary priests.

I come back to the message I received in the middle of this journey. It was like all these women whispered in my ear, “We are all your relatives! As you search for us, and find our stories, we are pleased, and take you under our wings. We are all your relatives.” So I welcome them all now. And remember, “Even if you don’t know who your ancestors are, your ancestors know who you are.”

Hidden Moon

Photo of the full moon, taken before the cloud cover and the eclipse

I’m starting to write this early in the morning. The clouds are covering the sky, and the eclipse of the full moon is happening now, invisible, but I can feel it in how dark the outside has become. A funny thing about aging—I saw the most amazing full eclipse of the moon when we lived on Cape Cod—October 28, 2004, the night the Red Sox won the world series after an 86 year “curse of the Bambino.” We were watching the game, and intermittently going to the front door of our house, to watch the passage of the eclipse right there. As it was covered by the earth’s shadow, the moon got full deep red. Then the Red Sox won. What a magical night! So back to the funny thing about aging—after that experience, and with an older tired body, I don’t have the same urge to watch eclipses of the moon—especially if it involves getting up in the middle of the night. Tired body, cloud cover, greater memories. Yet here I am awake.

And somehow, it does seem a fitting time to write about another of the Marie Madeleines I have been researching. I’ll start by saying I don’t think she is my actual ancestor, though there is no conclusive proof to rule her out. At first, she was just another name, Marie Madeleine Utsinitsiu, baptized in Chicoutimi July 16, 1805, at about 4 years old, “fille naturelle” of Alphonse Utsinitsiu and Marie Kukuminash. “Fille naturelle” means she is the daughter of parents who are not married, at least by the church. At first when I began to research her, nothing seemed to fit together. But now I think I do have a picture, and I am not sure what to feel about it.

Her father Alphonse, in other records also called Alphonse Ukuinigsiu, was born in 1745 in Chicoutimi, so he was about 54 when she was born. I was able to find six of his other children, with 3 different mothers, only one of whom he was married to. Then he had one more marriage to Marie Louise Utshisk, in 1797, the record indicating it was “rehabilitated” which implies that there was something irregular about their union, and the marriage made it right.

But then it got weird to me. Because Marie Louise Utshisk is the mother of Marie Kukuminash. This means that Alphonse had a child, four actually, with the daughter of his last wife!  I will come back to that. Marie Louise Utshisk has her own interesting series of marriages and children. Born in 1746, she was married to Jean Tshinupesuan, and with him had five children, four before Marie was born around 1781. In 1784, she also had a child with Bernard Pilote, who was French, a trading post clerk.  She was 51 when she married Alphonse in 1797.

Her daughter Marie Kukuminash was herself married in 1793, at the age of 12, to Andre Tshinusheu, who was then 40 (and a widower with a child, Margaret Kukuminash, five years younger than Marie). Marie had a child with him, Marie Josephe Enukesh, in 1795, at 14, and then Andre died in 1796. The following year, her mother married Alphonse Ukuinigsiu. Then, about 1801, Marie Madeleine was born, the daughter of Marie Kukuminash at age 20 and Alphonse Utsinitsiu at age 56. Ironically, Kukuminash means “old woman” in the Innu language.  Later they had three more children, Protais, Pierre, and Agathe, still unmarried, all these children baptized in 1811, but ages not given. I found a record of the death of Agathe in 1816, where she is listed as 10 years old, and the daughter of Alfonse and Marie Louise. But perhaps this was a cover-up of her actual mother.

This family is kind of the opposite of some of the others I researched, who seemed upstanding members of the Innu Catholic communities of the trading posts. Part of me wants to set aside my judgements and see them as people living in extended family community, freer about sexual relationships than the priests would like, having children, and finding partners in arrangements that enabled the group to function for hunting and trapping and gathering. People couldn’t be “single”—everyone needed a group to belong to, and when a partner died, it was necessary to find a new one, or your family couldn’t survive. And marrying young was not unusual either at that time.

But, I also feel creeped out about Alphonse having those four children with the 20-year-old daughter of his 54-year-old wife. Is it just an example of male creepiness, familiar to us in our own time? Or is there something that is hidden by the passage of time and the inadequacy of any records? The death of Alphonse “Ukunikushu” was May 12, 1813, 68 years old, recorded July 15, 1816 at the ceremony of his burial. (Note: these ceremonies did not happen usually at actual burials, but were a religious ceremony to account for the death.)

But, you see, I don’t really know what happened to most of these women and children. Not all deaths were recorded, and scrolling through the records year after year, I eventually notice that people don’t appear again. I didn’t see any further records for Marie Kukuminash. Into the later 1800s, the priests often recorded only first names of people, and it gets harder and harder to identify them. It is still possible that this Marie Madeleine could be my ancestor. A chaotic family life with many marriages and liaisons would certainly fit with her getting together with Peter McLeod, a Protestant clerk of the posts, without benefit of marriage. And Peter and Marie Madeleine later lived in the Chicoutimi area after 1844.

However, more likely, I think I might have found this Marie Madeleine, in the marriage record of Marie Madeleine Kukuminu to Joseph Akamkash, 06/25/1821 in Chicoutimi, with no other details given. Marie Madeleine “Utsinutsiu” would be about 20, and perhaps she adopted the name of her mother? Also it is in Chicoutimi, the same community. There weren’t other Marie Madeleines that I found in that community. These are the only real clues I have about this. This Marie Madeleine and Joseph appear clearly two more times, with the baptism of their children, also named Marie Madeleine and Joseph, and then appear with just their Christian names with possibly 5 other children, some being baptized, some being buried, and Joseph being married in 1839. All these records are in Chicoutimi or Tadoussac, nearby. So, I think it might be the same person, which is why she couldn’t be my own ancestor Marie Madeleine.

I learned a lot by hunting for this family, sparse though the details were. It raised so many questions for me too, all the important information that was never recorded. Surely some of the Innu people and their relationships were broken by the impact of colonization. I wonder about alcohol, I wonder about disease. I wonder about sexual predation by the clerks or priests. And yet, also, I feel heartened by the possibility of Marie Madeleine Kukuminau and Joseph Akamkash making family once again, and caring for children through many years in the place they called home.

Another realization…

The pond with falling leaves in autumn.

After being away for a day, I have a new realization to share in my hunt for Marie Madeleine. Because, after 1802 or so, priests started recording names using the father’s Innu name like a surname, it occurred to me to look for Marie Madeleine Katshisheskueit as Marie Madeleine Tshinushiu, using her father Antoine Tshinushiu’s name.

Then I noticed that I had already made note of a marriage of a Marie Madeleine Tshinushiu on the 26th of July, 1815, father listed as Antoine Tshinushiu. However, the mother was not listed as Anne Kukuminau, her actual mother, but rather Genevieve Matshiskueu. Coming back to that, I realized that Marie Madeleine might be living with her aunt Genevieve, and that could be a reason for her name mistakenly appearing, albeit with a different Innu name, as her mother. In fact, it made sense that this was her: right name, right father. Also, it took place in Ilêts Jérémie, where so many other events have taken place.

She was married to Protais Atikurnu, widower of Catherine Kaskamisku. The day before, there was a marriage for Christophe Atikurnu, Protais and Catherine’s son, with Elizabeth Prituttekan. I also found listings on the same page of the deaths of two children of Protais and Catherine, at Tadoussac, Martin age 8 and Angelique age 5. Many losses that year, but life goes on.

So then I started searching for records after that time for any of those names. In 1817, there was a child Dominique, age 10 months, son of Protais Atikuriniu and Marie Madeleine Uashbanukueu. I had read that sometimes Innu people changed their Innu names, and though I hadn’t seen many examples of that, I think it is reasonable to conclude that this was the same Marie Madeleine, since her husband was the same. In 1818, Protais Atikuiniu & Marie Madeleine Pashabanukueu are listed as godparents for a child’s baptism in Portneuf. Again, that is a very slight difference in the name, that might even be a misspelling. In 1820, there was a child Prisque, age 9 months, son of Protais Attikurnu and Marie Madeleine (no Innu name given), and that same day, a child of Christophe and Elizabeth was also baptized at Portneuf. That might indicate that they were all living together as an extended family group. Continuing through the records through 1833, I didn’t happen to see any further mention.

Since she has this husband and these children, I think what it means is that I need to let go of Marie Madeleine Katshisheskueit/ Tshinushiu/Pashabanukueu in my hunt for my own great-great-great-grandmother. The process of elimination is the path forward, so this is a big step. Still, it is a bit hard to let go, after spending so much time and energy learning about her and her family. She has a big family! I guess that is why I wanted to blog about her today, to share this path of clues, to feel gratitude for the life she lived, and all of her relatives. And to remember the message I felt a while back, that all of these ancestors are my ancestors in some way.

And thank you to all of you who read these musings–these last several posts have been so personal to my own life, to my search for my own matrilineal ancestors. I don’t know for sure why I feel so pulled to do all of this searching, but I am trying to follow the path that my heart leads me, to trust the intuition that guides me through these days of our COVID solitude. I am remembering a line from one of my favorite authors, Linda Hogan, from her book, Dwellings, [p. 40], “The ceremony is a point of return. It takes us toward the place of balance, our place in the community of all things.” Finding my ancestors helps me to understand my place in the community of all things.

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.

Secrets Revealed

Someone said that the New Moon in Scorpio has an energy for revealing secrets. During yesterday’s New Moon, a secret emerged in my search for my ancestor Marie Madeleine. I found a marriage record for Anastasie Matshiskueuit, with parents listed as Jean Pierre Utshinitsiu and the deceased Veronique Kaskaneshtshish. These last two were listed as Marie Madeleine Katshisheiskueit’s parents on her baptism record, so at first I thought I had discovered a sister to Marie Madeleine.

Image of original record of Anastasie’s marriage, handwritten in French. [Image from Genealogie Quebec, c. The Drouin Institute]

But as much as I searched, I couldn’t find a baptism record for this Anastasie. Except. Right after Marie Madeleine Katshisheiskueit’s baptism record was the record for Anastasie Kamatshiskueuit, with parents listed as Antoine Tshinusheu and Anne Kukuminau.

Image of baptism records of Marie Madeleine and Anastasie, handwritten in French. [Drouin Institute]

This morning, a realization dawned. The most likely scenario is that the priest who originally recorded the baptisms had made a mistake. He had assigned the wrong child’s name to each set of parents. They were baptized together on the same day. And in fact, in the record, you can almost see that he started to write “Anastasie” where he later wrote “Marie.” It is the marriage record that is more likely to be correct—only Anastasie’s father, Jean Pierre Utshinitsiu, and the parents of the groom—who were her godparents, Simon Tshinapesuan & Marie Madeleine Iskuamiskuskueu, were present for that ceremony.

So the new moon in Scorpio revealed a probable mistake in the original baptism record, and shifted my search back again to Antoine Tshinusheu and Anne Kukuminau as Marie Madeleine Katshisheiskueit’s parents. Ironically, I had started there, because Jean Joseph Roy, or the person following him, had recorded her parents as Antoine and Anne in his Catalogus. Maybe his account had not been an error, but a correction, because he knew the people involved. Or maybe what is revealed is a whole series of mistakes. But the hunt continues, with correction.

Screen shot of the page in the Catalogus generalis totius Montanensium Gentis, with Marie Madeleine and Anastasie [names are in Latin]

Each time something changes in this search, I feel a bit of grief—for the people I thought I had discovered, possible relatives that turn out not to be related to me at all.

But the other night, even before this latest revelation, a small intuition crept into my consciousness about all these Marie Madeleines I am searching. It was like they whispered in my ear, “We are all your relatives! As you search for us, and find our stories, we are pleased, and take you under our wings. We are all your relatives.” That is what I hold onto now, in this search. “We are all your relatives.” And that it pleases them when I search out their stories.

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.

A Kettle of Hawks

Over 20 hawks high in a cloudy sky.

I was outside lying in the hammock two days ago, when I saw a hawk flying overhead, and then more and more hawks, higher and higher. I understand that a group of hawks is called a kettle of hawks, and only occurs during migration. It was amazing to see! A reminder that the seasons are changing. I am writing this outside today on a sunny day, but wearing my winter jacket.

I think I may have found an important clue in my search for the roots of my third great-grandmother Marie Madeleine. In the record for the baptism of her son Simon, in 1833, in Jeremy Islets, she is identified as “sauvage du dit poste,” which means, translating the racist imagery, “Indian of said post.” And just above that record, Jeremy Islets is the post in question. I just want to say that it took a lot of close handwriting inspection to pull out those four words, but I am fairly confident in them now. And so it seemed to me it might be identifying her place of origin. (Now, on the other side, I know that her husband Peter McLeod was a clerk of that post in 1833. But she, along with two other Indian couples baptizing their children were all identified as Indians of that post.)

To further clarify, generally speaking the Innu went into the woods in fall, winter, and spring to hunt, and came to the posts to trade and to connect with the priests who did the baptisms, marriages, burials, and such. And they didn’t just go to one post, while necessarily avoiding others. But following the clue, of the several Marie Madeleines in my list of possibilities, one was connected to Jeremy Islets, in the right time frame. She was identified in her baptismal record as Marie Madeleine Napeteiashu, baptised June 26, 1803, when she was about 7 years old, they said, which would put her birth about 1796. Napeteiashu was actually said to be her father’s name, with no Christian name attached, and her mother was identified as Catherine Mitisku.

After searching through hundreds of other records, I found a Catherine Mistiku, born in 1773, and baptized in 1786 in Jeremy Islets. She was married to Stanislaus Mishtanapeu, baptized in 1778 in Jeremy Islets. In other records, they are identified as Catherine Mistigu or Mitigu, or Stanislas Tshiuapan (actually the name of his son Paul). I think this is likely the same couple, though in this process, one can’t be positive. I found baptism and marriage records for sons Simon (b 1794, bap 1796) and Paul (b 1798), but no other links for Marie-Madeleine. (And why would Paul be baptized in 1798, but not Marie Madeleine until 1803?) In the marriage record for Paul, in 1817, Catherine is said to be deceased.

Along with the genealogy hunt, I have also been exploring the possible meanings of their Innu names. Mistiku (likely now spelled Mishtiku) can mean, a tree (animate), or a log (inanimate), or possibly a French Canadian or white person-(though Catherine would not be French, but someone might be called this perhaps because she was hanging around the French?) (I think the French were called this because of wearing wooden clogs.) Mishtanapeu means a remarkable man. Napeteiashu was harder to decipher–“nape” refers to a male, and if I stretch the spelling, it could mean a male fox–napeiatsheshu. Spelling was not a hard science in those days. I couldn’t find any other references to Napeteiashu. The one possibility was a marriage with no details attached of Catharina Matshiskueu to Nipituashu. No dates/places/or parents. Matshiskueu means “she is an ugly woman”. So you see, it’s all very mysterious and uncertain.

By the way, several of the names I was researching seemed to have “negative” connotations. I wondered if it was some kind of internalized oppression, or if maybe there was a function of the name to protect the child by acting as if it were not valuable in some way. There was a lot of oppression by the priests. For example, when an “illegitimate” child was baptized, often they did not even name either of the parents at all in the record. Some priests took more care than others. I think the earlier Jesuits learned the Innu language and taught people to read and write in their language. Later priests did not know the language at all.

But as for me, I was so excited to find this possibility. Maybe it was really her, with a place and parents! Then today, I was slowing down to remember that this process of search will continue, and I have to pace myself, to live with each possibility as it emerges. There are hundreds of pages of records, much of it not indexed, so I go through page by page looking for names–and with new names, that means all new searches. Still, I am amazed that these ancestors feel closer to me now, even if they are still like the hawks flying in the sky so far above me that I can’t see the individuals very well. Am I related to a tree, a fox, an ugly woman, a very remarkable man? Am I related to the place called Jeremy Islets? In Innu, Ishkuamishkᵘ, which is similar to the word for a female beaver ishkuemishkᵘ. And how does this all relate to my life as a white woman in Maine, in Wabanaki territory? Still, it does feel like one part of my own journey of finding our way home into the earth community.

A fox near the Capisic brook, surround by trees and other greenery. (This photo was taken in 2018)

Magic Happens!

Yesterday, I wrote, concerning my search for my matrilineal ancestor Marie-Madeleine:

“Why do I write about it here? I’m putting some magic out into the universe, hoping that some kind of thunder might open the cloudy skies between me and the past, between me and the place my ancestors are from. … It has been my experience that when I reach out to my ancestors, they reach back—more so when I have actually traveled to Quebec, but since that is not possible, I hope they will reach across the border.”

And then some magic did happen!

After being stuck not finding people on the GénéalogieQuebec website, I meandered around some more, and some records of the Postes du Roi index of people, not related to my ancestors, linked to images from the actual Postes du Roi records. If I went to those images, I could move back and forth from page to page in the images of actual records. And by doing that, I found the baptism records of six of the Marie Madeleines or Madeleines, from the list I had, from 1800 to 1805, even though they were not “indexed.” Also, I was able to download all the images as I accessed them, to be able to look back as I needed. So now I am able to keep researching, a way opened up.

Some magic happened!

Sometimes it is easy to forget—in my intellectual research mode, in our rather secular world—that magic is alive, that ancestors reach out to us. Even though I have experienced it in the past, and believe in its power. So easy to forget.

And the intellectual research is part of the magic, not separate from it. It is a lot of work to attempt to decipher 200-year-old writing in funny penmanship, in French. But I am so thankful to be able to attempt it. And to learn as much as I can about the lives of all of these women. I also learned that for some of them, the Innu name is that of their father—at some point (1803?), the Innu names switched from being a descriptive personal name to function more like a surname. (Those are in parentheses)

Marie Madeleine Katshisheiskueit, b. 1795 in the woods, baptized 1796 Portneuf

Marie Madeleine (Napeteiashu), b. 1796, baptized in 1803 Îlets-Jérémie

Madeleine Peshmekueu, b. 1799 Sept-Iles, baptized 1800 Sept-Iles

Madeleine Pishikuskueue, b. 1801 Pointe-des-Monts, baptized Godbout

Marie Madeleine (Utsinitsiu), b. 1801, baptized 1805 Chicoutimi

Madeleine Moistashinagusiu, b. 1802 Rivière Godbout, baptized Godbout

Marie Madeleine (Arishinapeu), b. 1805, baptized Tadoussac

Magic happens! May I keep being open to the magic, and may you feel it opening where you need it too.

Close up of hazelnut leaves in full color.

Thunder Magic

Trees at the back of our yard in fall colors

I woke to a crash of thunder about 7 a.m. this morning, with a driving rain pounding against the wall and window near the head of my bed. What a beautiful sound to start the day! The rain only lasted about an hour, and then the skies were gray, but the air was lit by leaves of gold and orange encircling our back yard. We’ve had no frost yet, and the October transformations are unfolding with beauty and grace.  

I’ve been surprised by how low in the sky the sun travels at this time of year—even at noon it is lurking behind the tree canopy shading the back half of the yard. You’d think after all these years I would be used to it by now. I’ve also been surprised by new raspberries ripening fat and delicious. Usually our “everbearing” raspberries don’t ripen in the fall—there is not enough sun and warmth in their spot to bring them to completion—but perhaps taking out the (invasive) Norway maples near the fence helped them to get more morning light. They taste better than any of the summer raspberries.

October is also a month for ancestors, leading up to Samhain on the 31st. I have continued to search for more information about Marie-Madeleine, my Innu great-great-great grandmother. I’ve been lucky that I emailed two people who seemed to have some resources, and they both replied and sent information. Magic! One told me that, from looking at his records, Marie Madeleine Manitukueu could not be my ancestor, because she married someone else in 1815, and then that person remarried in 1825 after her death. So that was incredibly helpful. Most of the work will be eliminating the women who cannot be my ancestor.

Then he also sent me a list of 17 “Marie Madeleines” or “Madeleines” recorded births from 1790 to 1818 at the Postes du Roi, from the databases he had access to, and agreed with me that it seemed most likely that she would be born closer to 1800, rather than 1789, since her last child (Marie Sylvie) was born in 1846. (The 1789 date is based on her death record stating that she was about 60 years of age at her death in 1849.)

I believe that going by child-bearing years is the best guide. A late baby in her 40s is more possible than in her 50s. The child before the one in 1846 was born several years earlier in 1839 (Sophie)—so it seems also more likely that 1846 was a late baby. Her prior children were about 3 years apart. Her first documented child was born around 1828, but it is possible that she was the mother of earlier-born children of her spouse Peter McLeod.  (Most sources say that he had an earlier Montagnais woman spouse, but there is less agreement about which children had which mother.) To go by a childbearing age of about 16 to 50, it seems like her own birth would be between 1796 and 1812.

This leaves 11 women on the chart—stretching slightly to include Marie Madeleine Katshisheiskuet (born 11/11/1795). So, the next thing I did was explore GénéalogieQuebec.com, to see if I could do research on each of the women. But I ran into a problem immediately. The records of the Postes du roi included on that site seem to be missing many of these vital years, not yet indexed, and none were available in direct images. I could not seem to find access to the databases to which my email correspondent had access. To complicate things a bit more, the parents listed for Marie Madeleine Katshisheiskuet in GénéologieQuebec are different from my earlier resource, and I think the only way to clear that up would be to look at an original record.

So, I feel stuck again—there is such a distance between Quebec and the United States—so much knowledge does not cross the border. I would like nothing better than to pore over these old records looking for the lives of these 11 women, seeing if I could find other marriage and death records that would steer me away from some, and toward my own ancestors. I don’t know why I think I can succeed where prior genealogists have not found a link. But maybe they didn’t have the same motivation. I’ve sent an email to the GénéologieQuebec site asking about the Postes du roi records. I also think I found some at the Catholic Archdiocese of Quebec, but not published or indexed.

It’s like the detective stories I’ve been reading—so many mysteries, so many clues. Why do I write about it here? I’m putting some magic out into the universe, hoping that some kind of thunder might open the cloudy skies between me and the past, between me and the place my ancestors are from. I’ve learned a lot in the process. It has been my experience that when I reach out to my ancestors, they reach back—more so when I have actually traveled to Quebec, but since that is not possible, I hope they will reach across the border.