How many times do we say “let’s get together!” or “can I see what you have?” to a cousin or other relative? Well, I’ve done it and then not followed up. But this time I DID!
AND what a find!! Thanks to two of my nearest first cousins, Gary and Karen, with time to catch up and share memories, we dug through a box of old photo albums, lose pictures, carefully wrapped snippets of hair, and incredible old and valuable Bible (with items tucked inside!), and more. The enjoyment began with Cousin Karen picking me up from my home and our hour-long drive to Cousin Gary’s – her older brother. Gary is older than me, Karen is much younger and my now-done brother Mark was between me and Karen in age. The four of us spent SO much time together as children, as our mothers – sisters Catherine and Delores – were the tightest of sisters. So I knew that what Gary inherited when his parents passed would be important to me.
Unfortunately, Gary related that there was much that had been thrown out. Aunt Catherine had died first and she was/is the beloved auntie who got this family historian started at the age of 12 with her stories, notes, pictures and more. When Uncle Eddie died years later, he had thrown out things that Aunt Catherine had kept but he had to clean out a home that he needed to move from. Gary was with him in the cleaning but it was a hard effort to get Uncle Eddie to keep some of what Gary could tell was valuable.
So when the boxes and bin of photos and albums was put on the kitchen table and we dug through, my heart was pounding. Gary and Karen had some idea that there would be items of value but they weren’t sure who the people were and we worked to identify them. Karen had spent a lot of time with her mom and dad and the relatives in these pictures, so she was the best at identifying people. I was good at identifying the homes and couches, and sometimes the beautiful doilies (Grandma and Aunt Catherine had made beautiful doilies as they did tatting; Karen and I both have some).
The picture about contains the gems that we found! A picture I had NEVER seen of my great-grandmother Louise Villeneuve Elliott from when she was older. I have a group family photo from around the 1914 timeframe with 13 of the 16 kids, showing Louise in a younger time. The photo above, in the collection, of the older woman in the chair with a patterned dress is her at an older age – she was a widow by 1919 with all of these kids (the older girls were key in this huge family!). She later suffered from a stroke that left her dependent on those daughters. She apparently lived with her daughters in sort of a rotational way – 6 months perhaps with each one, as they helped her to cope with her failing health and frailties. She died at the age of 60 so this picture may have been not too long from that time.
The other marvelous pictures found were one of my grandmother Elsie Elliott Sutinen (later Niemi), the largest colorized image seen above. She was Louise’s fourth daughter and the picture represents a timeframe for which I had no images. I have a very much younger image of her perhaps in her 20s, one from her 60s, so this one is perhaps in her 40s – an active mother with five children, my mother being the youngest daughter.
The baby picture at the top is me … awww . The “little rascals” in the middle between Grandma and Great-Grandma are Aunt Catherine and her brother Doug – and I’m wondering what they were up to when the picture was snapped (they look like they are planning some mischief). My Uncle Jerry is stretched out on the picnic table bench as a young man that is in the young adulthood of his life and feels joyful to me. He was my mom’s youngest brother. The handsome man in the black and white photo below great-grandma is my step-grandfather, William “Bill” Niemi – the grandfather I so loved and grew up knowing. A quiet Finn man, this is a picture of him probably around the time that he married my Grandma Elsie as her husband Warner (Waino) had died from tuberculosis and Grandpa Bill became a loving presence in our lives.
The piece of paper here, full of notations familiar to all family historians, were dates of faily and extended family connections and births. BUT at the top right – some rather fun notations! “Aunt Eugenie – old maid – never had a hair on head ever” and “Mary Laura died of Black Diptheria hair was so long had to pull it out of …”. And interesting family fact – most of the women in this family had dark brown or black hair, never turning gray, until they died. Karen, of my matrilineal line, has undyed brown hair in contrast to my white hair. Her mother died with nearly black hair and my grandmother also died with dark hair. My mom and I clearly have some different genetics in our hair going on as we’ve both had gray for … well, let’s just say a while. :::::::::::grin:::::::::::::
For those who are genealogists, family historians, finds like these mean more than money, fame and more. They put my family into my mind in new ways, in new timeframes that inform what I know about them and they give me a fuller sense of who they were. The conversation with Gary and Karen about them was so fun and interesting. They knew things that I didn’t know and vice versa. And our shared time of family memories will be cherished.
When Norbert Albert Villeneuve was born on March 3, 1840, in Quebec, Canada, his father, Joseph, was 31 and his mother, Julie, was 33. He married Adele Adelaide Paquet on November 7, 1865, in Maskinongé, Quebec, Canada. They had 11 children in 21 years. He died on May 13, 1914, in Ishpeming, Michigan, at the age of 74.
That doesn’t say a lot about Albert or Al as he was known. He was likely a farmer in Quebec as many in the community of Maskinongé were but we also know from family stories that he made furniture, very solid, functional furniture that was nice looking too. He became a miner in the iron ore mines in and around Ishpeming area. He was a carpenter and worked in and around the mines constructing joists and structures to hold up the rock for the miners, hoping to keep them safer. According to the 1910 census, he was still working for the mining company even at the age of 71. When he died just 4 years later, his obituary stated that he was one of the “early pioneers” and had cut trees to help construct the main road in Ishpeming. The family must have been a bit musical as family stories that I heard over the years about Albert, Adele and the kids included a great deal of music and dancing. And on his death, the inventory of his belongings included a piano that my Great Grandmother Louise Villeneuve Elliot took for her large family. My Grandmother Elsie Elliot Sutinen told me that this family, back in Quebec, were well known formal dancers – participating in waltz and ballroom dancing competitions, often winning. So maybe the family piano helped in teaching the children?!
A recent trip this summer to Ishpeming included driving around the area where the Villeneuve family lived, even finding their home address using the census records. Such a small home for a family of 11 children and 2 adults!
The Life story of Norbert Albert Amiot dit Villeneuve or Albert Villeneuve
Why would a person, born with one name, change that name or use another? Certainly, there are people who are hiding from the law and change their name. There are people who change their name because their birth name is mispronounced. A person may also change their name to avoid discrimination because their surname represents a hated minority group, like our immigrant Polish and German ancestors did in the period of the two world wars.
The Amiot dit Villeneuve family however may have changed their name for entirely other reasons. The parents and seven known children are followed to determine the correct name for one member of the family – Norbert Albert Amiot dit Villeneuve or Albert Villeneuve.
In the French-Canadian communities of North America, particularly in the province of Quebec, from the 1700s into the late 1800s, the naming practice called dit names was utilized. The word dit has come to mean alias or “so called” and is believed to derive from the French verb dire, meaning “to speak, say”. In this narrative’s example, the surname from France was Amyot. At some undetermined point, the family in question attached the “dit” name Villeneuve, so that the surname appears in records in New France or Quebec as “Amiot dit Villeneuve”. Sometimes these additional names represent a move to new land, a colonial leadership title, or a physical characteristic that distinguishes one man from another within a soldier group.
The research into the seven known children of Joseph Amiot dit Villeneuve and Julie Gregoire may help to determine whether Norbert Albert Amiot dit Villeneuve born I 1840 in Maskinonge, Quebec, Canada is the same man as Albert Villeneuve of Ishpeming, Marquette, Michigan buried in 1914.
Norbert Amiot dit Villeneuve was born on 3 March and baptized on 4 March 1840 in Maskinonge, Quebec to Joseph Amiot dit Villeneuve and Julie Gregoire. He was the fourth of seven children. His siblings were Antoine, Joseph, Adeline, Olivier, Pierre and Peter. Each were identified with variants of the Amiot dit Villeneuve name on baptismal, marriage and burial records:
Name at death
Amiot dit Villeneuve
Amiot dit Villeneuve
Amiot dit Villeneuve
Antoine and Adeline were noted in baptismal records with their father’s surname as “Amiot dit Villeneuve” while Joseph is listed with his father Joseph’s surname as “Amiot”, and all other siblings’ baptismal records noted the father’s name as “Villeneuve”. The earliest census record found with some of these siblings was the 1851 Canadian census and all are listed as “Villeneuve”. All children born to this marriage after 1851 show the name “Villeneuve” uniformly.
By contrast, Norbert Albert’s aunts and uncles, just one generation earlier, consistently included the “dit” name although with the expected spelling variations. For example, his sister Adeline’s baptism record notes her father’s name as Joseph Amiot dit Villeneuve (like Joseph’s) but Joseph’s brother Amable’s surname was given as Amiot dit Vilneuve and sister Marie Domitilde’s was noted as Amiot dit Vilnoeuve.
Norbert Villeneuve married Adele Paquette on 7 November 1865 in St. Justin de Maskinonge, Quebec, Albert Villeneuve died on 13 May 1914, listing his father as Joseph Villeneuve and mother as Sophie Carpentiere and the informant being Joseph Villeneuve, his son. While an obituary in Marquette County has not yet been found, a notice appeared in The Calumet News, noting “Mrs. Ed. Elliott of Laurium yesterday received word of the death of her father, Albert Villeneuve …”.
The census information for the 1880 and 1881 censuses have both men with a wife Adele/Adel, and children Florence/Flore, Louise/Louisa and Noah/Noe and many of the ages aren’t consistent. These two censuses are during the time that the family is known to be moving back and forth between Michigan and Canada (according to family stories), but the 1910 U.S. census indicates that Albert reported immigrating in 1878. From family stories, the family coped with the moving and a large family (there were a total of 11 children in all) by splitting up for times with the mother with some of the children and father with others.
The obituary in Marquette County for Albert Villeneuve names children Joseph, Florence (Mrs. Adelord Morin), Louise (Mrs. Ed Elliot), Clara (Mrs. Alphonse Lesage), Rose (a widow of Mr. Clement), Alphosine and Adel (Mrs. Will Kaiser), confirming those listed with him in census records. Will/Probate records name children Eva, Alphonsine, Flora, Clara, Louise, Rosana, Joseph, Noe (with the daughters named with both their maiden and married names), again confirming census records.
Records still to be found:
Naturalization records – Immigration is noted in the 1910 census as happening in 1878
Potential additional city directories for more years
Land or tax records if they name children
Military service or employment records
As the names of the children consistently match in census records, newspaper articles, as well as the will and probate records, the variations can be explained as the likely variations that are due to the multiple names (baptismal, given names, middle names) that are common in French-Canadian families.
The only time that the name “Norbert” has been used is in the baptismal record and the 1881 Canadian census; it is likely that Norbert may have been a first name with Albert as a middle name and it could have been dropped in favor of Albert especially after moving to the United States. Similarly, the change from Amiot dit Villeneuve to simply “Villeneuve” may reflect a desire for a shorter, simpler name and reflect the move also to the United States. This family still lived within a primarily French-Canadian community for some time, but the ease of pronunciation may have created the adoption of the shorter name. Thus, in the end, the use of Albert Villeneuve for the bulk of this ancestor’s life does not negate the fact that his name was likely Norbert Albert Amiot dit Villeneuve when he was born.
 The most direct explanation of this comes from Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dit_name: viewed July 19, 2018) although the author’s own French language and research knowledge is extensive in this area.
 Editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica, “New France: French Colonies North America”, Encyclopedia Britannica, HTML edition (https://www.britannica.com/place/New-France; accessed July 24, 2018). New France was used initially in the 16th century when France was establishing colonies and trade relationships in North America.
 Women in French Canada retain the use of their maiden or nee names throughout their life and are documented with these names in French Catholic church records, marriage contracts and land records.
 For this narrative, the French words that use accent marks when written in French will be omitted as they add nothing to the narrative other than in any official titles (see next note) for records.
 St. Joseph de Maskinonge (Maskinonge, Quebec, Canada), chronological records in Actes d’état civil et registres d’église du Québec 1621 à 1967 (Collection Drouin, Institut Généalogique Drouin, Montreal, Quebec, Canada); Baptismal record, Norbert Amiot dit Villeneuve, 4 March 1840; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/1091/d1p_25590543/12014791?backurl=; accessed on January 20, 2013, reviewed July 21, 2018).
 Sacramental records (baptism, marriage, burial) for St. Joseph de Maskinonge, Maskinonge, Quebec, Canada were researched for seven siblings; with death records also in Kansas for Oliver (Villeneuve) Vinlove, and Norbert and Pierre Villeneuve in Michigan. Citations for all of these records can be provided.
 Baptism for Adeline; St. Joseph de Maskinonge, Maskinonge, Quebec, Canada. Actes d’état civil et registres d’église du Québec (Collection Drouin), 1621 à 1967. Gabriel Drouin, comp. Drouin Collection. Montreal, Quebec, Canada: Institut Généalogique Drouin, digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/1091/d1p_25590436/10354364?backurl=; accessed on July 7, 2018).
 St. Justin de Maskinonge, (Maskinonge, Quebec, Canada); chronological records in Actes d’état civil et registres d’église du Québec 1621 à 1967, (Collection Drouin), May 13,1865, Norbert Villeneuve and Adele Paquette.
 Sophie Carpentiere is actually his mother-in-law, mother of his wife Adele Paquette.
 “Father Dies in Marquette”, The Calumet News (Calumet, Michigan), page 5, 15 May 1914; Mrs. Ed. Elliott is Louise Villeneuve, daughter of Albert, noted in census records cited.
 1880 U.S. census, Marquette, Michigan, population schedule, Ishpeming, p. 349D, dwelling 230, family 283, Albert Villeneuve; digital image, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 23 July 2018), citing Family History Film 1254954.
 1881 Census of Canada, Maskinonge, Quebec, for District Maskinonge, Subdistrict St. Justin, p. 13, family 64, Norbert Villeneuve; digital image, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 23 July 2018), citing Library and Archives Canada, Record Group 31 C-1, microfilm C-13162 to C-13286.
 “Death of Albert Villeneuve: Pioneer French Resident Passed Away Yesterday Afternoon”, Daily Mining Journal (Marquette, Michigan), page 6, column 3, 14 May 1914; Marquette County Historical Society, J. M. Longyear Research Library, Marquette, Michigan.
 County of Marquette, Michigan, Last Will & Testament, Albert Villeneuve, will dated 13 May 1911; probate case files beginning 20 May 1914; Probate Court Clerk’s Office, Marquette County, Michigan.
A “watershed moment” is a point in time in which you feel that something changed, that you changed, that life changed.
I had a moment/day like that recently. Actually it is more of a series of things that have happened. As a genealogist, there are moments in time that I recognize that I’m noting a date and it was a big deal for my ancestors. Someone died, someone was born, two people were married. There are so many of those moments as a genealogist that I honestly can say that they are dates in a computer sometimes to me … until my own “moment”.
You see … someone died. Actually there have been a series of deaths in the recent past (since my brother died in July 2013 actually) and this most recent death of a beloved “sister” has caused a shift. I put “sister” in quotation marks because, while she wasn’t a genetic sister, she was a sister of my heart … a teacher, friend, beloved leader and spiritual Elder. To me and many. And it was at her funeral and the four days of the wake and then burial ceremony, that I’ve been thinking about A LOT! Without going into all of that here, it DID make me think, as a genealogist of those “watershed moments” of my ancestors.
Perhaps it was in the mid-1860s when my Villeneuve (Amiot dit Villeneuve) ancestral family came from Maskinonge, Quebec to Marquette, Michigan area. My Elliot ancestors came from the same area to Ishpeming, Michigan in the 1880s. Then they all eventually ended up in the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan, in Houghton County – around Hancock and Boston Station and the mining communities. They met up there supposedly because they attended the same church. A Villeneuve girl married an Elliot boy, and an Elliot girl married a Villeneuve boy. In June, 1889 when Edward Elliot married Marie Louise Villeneuve in Ishpeming, was that a “watershed moment” for them? Did they recognize the importance of that day and the history that they would create together (they ended up having 18 kids!!!) that resulted in my grandmother? Did the day that great-grandfather Edward died in 1919, crushed by a shifting pile of coal that he was assigned to move, created that incredible “watershed moment” for great-grandmother Louise? She had a pile of children and now no husband. In the 1920 Census, she has eight children living with her. The two oldest sons are working so the family at least had an income but many of the children were very young. My grandmother, Mary Elsie Elliot had married Warner “Waino” Sutinen and was living nearby. Grandpa Warner was also a miner – I wonder if he was present when Edward was crushed … who told Great-Grandma Louise that he was severely injured (he later died of his injuries according to the newspaper account and his death certificate). Certainly, that would have been a “watershed moment” for both families.
Maybe it’s a function of the death of others that gives us “watershed moments” … it has been for me, early in this new year. Does everyone have moments like this?