Appreciating My French Canadian Ancestors
I recently visited the exhibit about Canadians in the Upper Peninsula at the Beaumier Heritage Center in the Cohodas Building at Northern Michigan University. It’s well worth a visit to come to a better understanding of our Canadian neighbors, and it is clear many of us have roots in Canada, either reaching far back, or just an ancestor who travelled through Canada before coming to Europe. I have numerous ancestors on both sides of my family who came through Canada, including Irish, Scottish, Swiss, and French Canadian ancestors, and even some who were from New England, moved to Nova Scotia, then later came to Michigan.
Here is the section from My Marquette about my father’s side of the family, which includes my French Canadian ancestry and how that influenced the creation of some characters in The Marquette Trilogy:
One other family is mentioned in Iron Pioneers, the French-Canadian Varin family. The influence of French-Canadians in Upper Michigan could not be overlooked, and while my father’s family is not from Marquette, they are French-Canadian long-term residents of Upper Michigan. In Iron Pioneers, the first fictional character to appear is Pierre Varin, a voyageur traveling with Father Marquette. He is later the ancestor of Jean Varin, husband of Suzanne Varin, who comes to Marquette in the 1850s.
My paternal grandmother was Harriet Bertrand, and her French-Canadian ancestors had been in Montreal since the 1600s and in Menominee, Michigan since the 1880s. In fact, the name Varin is among my ancestral surnames, but a few generations earlier than my grandmother. While my mother’s family has the long history with Marquette, my father’s family has a far longer history in the Great Lakes region. My most notable paternal ancestor was the famous explorer and Governor of the Wisconsin Territories, Nicolas Perrot. Consequently, I created an early voyageur character in Pierre Varin, and then reintroduced the Varin family to Marquette. I chose to have Jean Varin die in the Civil War so Suzanne could marry Lucius Brookfield, as my ancestor Basil Bishop had remarried a younger woman after his wife’s death, although Basil’s second wife was in her early sixties at the time, not a young twenty-something. Suzanne’s family moves away from Marquette to Wisconsin, but over time her descendants move back to Michigan, and one descendant, Marie Varin, marries a Dutch immigrant named Vandelaare. My Grandpa Tichelaar was a Dutch immigrant, and so consequently, I connected a fictional version of my father’s family into The Marquette Trilogy when Tom Vandelaare, son of Marie Varin and her Dutch husband, marries Ellen Whitman, daughter of Henry and Beth Whitman.
Needless to say, French Canadians had a huge influence on the building of America. Nicholas Perrot, my most noteworthy French Canadian ancestor had countless descendants, and if you are one of his relatives, you may be interested in the society for his descendants: http://nicolasperrot.org/
French Canadians descendants have spread across the world. Another fascinating example is my ancestor Jean Guyon (1592-1663), one of the first settlers in Quebec. Not only is Jean Guyon my ancestor, but he is also the ancestor to Hilary Clinton, Alanis Morrisette, Celine Dion, Angelina Jolie, and Camilla Parker-Bowles the Duchess of Cornwall. Here is one story about their relationships: http://www.suite101.com/content/common-ancestry-of-hillary-madonna-and-camilla-a80094
Our Canadian neighbors have given us much to be grateful for in the building of the United States. In future posts, I’ll mention some of my other Canadian roots.
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