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.”

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.

Ancestor Yearnings

My great grandmother Claudia Tremblay

Today, September 29, is my great grandmother Claudia’s birthday–she was born in 1865. I never got to meet her, but I was named for her (my middle name) and so I have felt a connection to her for quite a while. This week I was once again caught in the throes of this strange yearning obsession to try to understand the lives of my matrilineal forbears. I happened to be looking at a document about Claudia that I compiled a few years ago, and it mentioned a resource–the “General Catalogue of the Entire Montagnais Nation.” [Except the title was in Latin and the book was in French. Denis Brassard, Catalogus generalis totius Montanensium Gentis of Father Jean-Joseph Roy, 1785-1795 ]

It was a record of baptisms and other religious rites at the King’s Posts (Postes du Roi) in the Saguenay River area and North Shore of the St. Lawrence River of Quebec, in the 18th century. The Postes du Roi were the site of trading between the Innu/Montagnais and the French/British. They were also the site of missionary priests coming round to offer religious instruction and ceremonies to the Innu people. (The French called the Indigenous people of this region Montagnais, but since then, the people have reclaimed their own word, Innu.)

Claudia’s mother was Angele McLeod, and her mother was Marie-Madeleine, who was identified as “Montagnaise” in any records I had been able to find. But I had been unable to go any further back in her family, and only had estimates of her birth to be about 1789, perhaps linked to a Post du Roi. So I went looking for that book, which was available in a digital format for not so much expense. And it had a built-in translation function, which helped a lot since my French is shaky. The first half of the book was a description of how things were at the Postes du Roi. The Innu generally spent fall/winter/spring in the inland forests, hunting and gathering, and then came to the shores of the Saguenay or St. Lawrence in the summer, to fish and gather with each other. The Posts were built at these established summer gathering places to foster the fur trade, and the conversion of Innu people to Catholicism by the priests.

By searching record by record through the hundreds in the chart, I was able to find two Marie-Madeleines (Maria Magdalena) whose births were within 10 years of 1789: 1795, 1797. The Innu people did not use surnames, but rather single descriptive names, so each record included a Christian name (in Latin) and a personal name for the child in the Innu language. I found Marie Madeleine Katshisheiskueit (record #1065), and Marie Madeleine Manitukueu (record #1079). I don’t know that I will ever be able to establish a definite link between one of them and my Marie Madeleine, but one of them could be related to me. My Marie Madeleine eventually was married to Peter McLeod who worked for the King’s Posts in many places. And she was identified as Catholic, so it would be likely for her to be in these records.

Finding these names is touching a deep place in my spirit. I can’t even describe it. And deeper still, was searching out the meanings of the Innu names in the language. I was able to determine that Katshisheiskueit likely means “Hard-working/female” and her parents’ names were Antonius/ Tshinusheu which means “Northern Pike”, and Anna/ Kukuminau, which means “old woman” or “wife.” (Now the parents were only about 16 then, so likely it was an endearment, or Tshinusheu just said–“that’s my wife.”)

Manitukueu has something to do with Spirit–Manitu is the Innu word for Spirit. But I couldn’t find an exact reference. Manitushiu means someone who uses spiritual or mental power. “kueu” seems to be a common verb ending signifying something being or having. It is like detective work–and I wouldn’t be able to do any of it if I hadn’t been studying Passamaquoddy, which is related to the Innu language. Words are formed polysynthetically, with smaller parts joined together to create long descriptive concepts in one word. So I search the online Innu dictionary, with my framework of Passamaquoddy, and try to recreate what they might mean.

Manitukueu’s parent’s names were also challenging. Her father was Simeon Tshinapesuan, and the closest word I could find was something meaning “slips on a rock”, or “slippery.” Her mother was Marie Madeleine Tshuamiskuskueu, part of which meant “finding it by detecting it with body or feet.” But then I lucked out because her own birth record called it Iskamiskuskueu–which means “from Jeremy Islets,” and she was from Jeremy Islets. According to another source, this Innu name of that place meant “where you can see polar bears.” (Where you can find polar bears?) I guess I was rather far off.

So, it’s hard to trace “family trees” without surnames, but each child was listed with their parents, and by going through again searching for the parents’ names, I could find their parents too. And in fact, there were a few generations in each of their families to be found in the charts, with a lot of holding a magnifying glass over my computer screen so I could read the small letters in the charts. Much more still to do.

It is a whole world uncovered to me. And whether or not one of these women is my actual relation, this is the world she lived in, the world she came out from to enter a path that eventually would lead her daughters and granddaughters into other worlds. I never imagined that I might learn the Innu name of my great, great, great grandmother… and now there are all these names dancing in my mind, trying to form in my mouth, bringing much depth to my heart. I feel such gratitude and curiosity.

Yellow sunflower planted by squirrels, with a bee inside.