Domitilde Vilandré (1821-1911) – (How I Began Research on My French Canadian Ancestors)

Domitilde Vilandre

Welcome back to Tenacious Genealogy! Today’s post is another ancestor biography. This time, I’m focusing on a woman by the name of Domitilde Vilandré. Another one of my 3x great grandmothers. This time from my mother’s side of the family. The last ancestor biography I posted delved into the life of Jane Benson – one of my 3x great grandmothers on my father’s side. Now it’s time to explore the life of one of her counterparts, both chronological (they were born within a few years of each other) and lineage-wise.

Ode to an Ancestor

Domitilde Vilandré… The perfect example of ‘Tenacious Genealogy’ at work and that every ancestor has a story to tell, no matter how unassuming they may seem at first glance. I’ve learned quite a bit about her (and myself) all because she may or may not have wanted my mother-in-law to do her temple work last year.

That is where this story starts. Last year (2016), I asked my dear mother-in-law to help me with some of the temple work I had yet to do. (For those who are unfamiliar with the temple work that Mormons (LDS) do for their ancestors – stay tuned for a forthcoming blog post briefly explaining why Mormons do temple work for our ancestors and why most of us are so gung-ho about genealogy.)

So I gave my mother-in-law a handful of papers with names for her and my father-in-law to do (the names being for both my male and female ancestors). Most of them were able to be done without a hitch.

Except for Domitilde.

One day, I get a text from my mother-in-law telling me that she has a hilarious story. Apparently, the piece of paper with Domitilde’s name on it slipped out of my mother-in-law’s hand and into a ventilation grate – never to be seen again. She joked that Domitilde must not have wanted her work to be done that day or by my mother-in-law. We chuckled over the story and I told her I would print out another slip of paper with Domitilde’s information and either get it to her ASAP or do it myself.

And thus began my journey to find out more about Domitilde.

 Misinformation and Puzzle pieces

First thing I found upon going to FamilySearch.org, was that Domitilde’s name had been horribly misspelled (a spelling based on the marriage record for her son Gaspard), information that had been verified by family members (and later sources) as correct was changed, and a couple of Domitilde’s children were not connected to her. After fixing the information I had sources for and citing those sources, I found a couple more oddities and went down the rabbit hole of research…

Domitilde’s Birth Date

While her death date and most her life after marrying Henri Michaud are fairly well documented (thanks to the Drouin collection and census records in Quebec from the time), most of the information prior to her wedding is speculative at best.

To make things more interesting, her recorded age (and estimated birth year) fluctuated between the various Canadian censuses:
  • 1861 census – 39 (birth-year 1822)
  • 1871 census – 47 (birth-year 1824),
  • 1881 census – 58 (birth-year 1823),
  • 1891 census – 68 (birth-year 1823),
  • 1901 census – 76 (birth-year 1825) (the 1901 census asked for a month and day as well – March 18 for Domitilde)
  • 1911 census –  90 (birth-year 1821) (the 1911 census asked for only a month – April was noted this time)
 In the end, I estimated March/April of 1821 as to when Domitilde was born for two reasons:
1) her death record in July of 1911 also notes that she was 90 years old when she died

2) her marriage record in 1847 refers to her as the ‘fille majeur’ of her parents – a phrase meaning she had reached the age of majority in the eyes of the (French Canadian) Catholic church, which at the time, was 25 for women. (So she had to have been born in either 1821 or 1822.)

Domitilde’s Name

Another thing I noticed was that even in verified records, her name had been misspelled or indexed incorrectly. This can be attributed to a variety of reasons: Indexing error (which is why looking at the original record is so important), illiteracy on the part of many Quebecois at the time, lack of spelling standardization, and phonetic writing – this last reason is especially important, given that Domitilde and her family were native French speakers and the recorders, in some cases, were English speakers. So I have a feeling the recorders (like census takers) may have been doing something like this.

Some variations of her name that I have seen are:
  • Damitir Nelandee – Marriage entry for her son Joseph
  • Dometite Velander – Marriage entry for her son Gaspard (This may have been an indexing error – when looking at the actual record, it looks more like ‘Vilandee’.)
  • Mathilde Vilandre  – 1881 Canadian Census
  • Domitite (Michaud) – 1871 Canadian Census
  • Ethella Michael – 1901 Canadian Census
  • Methele Vilandre – 1911 Canadian Census

 ‘Frère del’epouse’

That said, in searching for more verifiable information on her, I found a piece of information that helped bring much of the brick wall tumbling down (for me at least).

I noticed that one of the witnesses at her wedding (if you look at the bottom of the page) was a man by the name of Fabien Vilandre.

Who was Fabien though?

Looking at the 1871 and 1881 censuses, I realized that a ‘Fabien Vilandre‘ and his family lived either right next to Domitilde and Henri, or close by. And that he was roughly her age. The 1871 census estimates his birth year at 1819 and the 1881 census, at 1813 – putting him in the right age range to be an older brother. Not only that but in searching the Drouin collection on Ancestry.com, I found a marriage notice for him in the same parish as Domitilde’s, showing her as a witness at his wedding in 1846.

Upon returning to Domitilde’s marriage record, I saw a notation after Fabien’s name – frère de l’epouse – or ‘brother of the wife’, which confirmed my hunch (and made me realize I should have stuck with French in high school…)

The Life and Times of Domitilde Vilandré

As far as can be ascertained at the current time, Domitilde Vilandré was born in the spring of 1821 in the village of Maskinongé, Quebec or the surrounding farming areas. (At the very least her parents were living there at some point prior to their deaths.) Given that Maskinongé had a population of about 2300 in 2016, I imagine it was a tiny farming village in the early 1800s. Maskinongé is also close (22 miles/36 km) to the village of Ste-Elisabeth, Quebec where Henri Michaud (Domitilde’s husband) was born in 1828.

By 1845 (at the very least), Domitilde & Fabien were living in or near St. Ambroise-de-Kildare – another small farming town about 12.5 miles (20 km) west of Ste. Elisabeth. Most likely, they traveled there either with (or because) of the Marois family – Domitilde’s brother Fabien married Marie Olive Marois in 1846 and there are records of the Marois family living in Maskinongé and then later in St. Ambroise-de-Kildare. It seems the families may have been close (certainly close enough to warrant further research) and perhaps that is what led Domitilde and Fabien to the town where they each got married.

With almost complete certainty, I would say Domitilde and Henri met in St. Ambroise-de-Kildare. Whether through friends, family, or church, that is the town where their lives intersect. While Ste-Melanie (where the Michaud family lived at the time) had its own parish church, it seems St. Ambroise-de-Kildare was the larger town (and church) and may have had more work/social opportunities than Ste-Melanie. Adding to this, I found an interesting record showing that Domitilde and Henri’s interactions may not have been all church and work.

On June 29, 1847, there was a baptism for a baby girl named Elizabeth. The record refers to her as ‘Elizabeth Illegitime’ and while her parents are not noted in the record, Fabien Vilandré and Olive Marois are named as her godparents. To put this into context, in later censuses, Domitilde and Henri are noted as have a daughter named Elizabeth born roughly around 1847. A daughter whose baptismal record was suspiciously hard to find…

Either way, the next record for Domitilde is her marriage record. On November 22, 1847, Domitilde Vilandré and Henri Michaud were married in the Eglise de Saint-Ambroise-de-Kildare, the small Catholic church in town.

Thank goodness for Google Maps!
Eglise de St Ambroise de Kildare – the church where Domitilde Vilandre and Henri Michaud were married on November 22, 1847

Interestingly enough, Domitilde was about seven (7) years older than Henri. While I have yet to find a birth or baptism record for Domitilde, there is a baptismal record for Henri, verifying that he was born in Ste-Elisabeth in 1828. That means that he was 19 when they got married and Domitilde was about 26. This age gap is confirmed by the fact that the Catholic church (prior to the 20th century) considered the ‘age of majority‘ to be 25 for women and 30 for men. Domitilde, in the marriage record, is noted as being a ‘fille majeur‘ of her parents, while Henri was a ‘fils mineur‘ of his.

Another interesting piece of the puzzle – Domitilde and Henri had a dispensation for one of the Banns that had to be performed before they could be married. In researching this, (because sometimes dispensations meant the couple were blood relatives) I found that a common reason for a couple getting a dispensation for the Banns was because they were already living together and the church wedding was to legitimize their union and any children. Given that Henri and Domitilde already had a daughter at the time of their marriage, one of my theories about them is that they were living together before they were officially married. 🙂

Life in Ste-Melanie

The ‘area’ of Ste-Melanie outlined in yellow and the village of Ste-Melanie circled in orange.

As soon as Domitilde and Henri were married, it seems that they moved to (or officially lived in) Ste-Melanie, where most of Henri’s family still lived, but not too far from St-Ambroise-de-Kildare (about 6 miles or 10 km southwest) where Fabien and his wife Olive still lived. The few records that we do have of the Michauds and Vilandres seem to note that they were close, even when not living in the same area. While in Ste-Melanie, Domitilde and Henri settled into the life that they would live for the rest of their lives. In all of the records (church and civil) I have seen for Henri and Domitilde, their parents and their children, the word ‘cultivateur‘ pops up. That is… they were all farmers. During their time in Ste-Melanie, I would guess that they worked alongside Henri’s parents and siblings, perhaps on a piece of land adjacent to the rest of the Michauds or on the family farm itself.

While living in Ste-Melanie, Domitilde and Henri would go on to have five (5) more children: Anselme, Joseph Charles Homere (who died a few weeks after birth), Henriette, Joseph Homere, and Marie Victoria. The last record we have of them in Ste-Melanie thus far is Marie Victoria’s birth in August of 1855.

Life in St-Gabriel

The ‘area’ of Saint-Gabriel outlined in yellow with Lake Maskinonge and farmland surrounding it.

The next record we have of Domitilde and Henri have them showing up in St-Gabriel, Quebec – a small farming village about 15 miles (24 km) northeast of Ste-Melanie and on the shore of Lake Maskinongé. At some point between Marie Victoria’s birth in 1855 and her death in St-Gabriel nine months later, the family (Henri, Domitilde, and their children) made the trek and settled here. While the exact reason is unknown, at least one plausible reason appears.  By 1852, Fabien and his family had settled in St-Gabriel.

Perhaps with five young children, space was getting tight with the Michauds in Ste-Melanie? Or the land was better in St-Gabriel and harvests more abundant? Maybe Domitilde and Henri really enjoyed Fabien and Olive’s company and missed them terribly after they left St-Ambroise-de-Kildare? Either way, by 1856, they were settled in St-Gabriel. It was here that they welcomed another six (6) children into the family: Marie Victoria (the second), Charles Gaspard Noel (my 2x great grandfather), George Napoleon, Marie Sophie, Marie Louise, and Henri. They stayed here for about thirteen (13) years before heading to their last and final home (for Domitilde at least).

 Life in St-Damien-de-Brandon

The tiny hamlet of St-Damien circled in orange, not far from Lake Maskinonge or St-Gabriel.

By 1869, Henri, Domitilde and their children moved once more – this time to St-Damien-de-Brandon, Quebec, another farming village about 7 miles (11 km) north of St-Gabriel. This was the village where they end up staying for the rest of their lives (Domitilde, at least). The reason for them coming to St-Damien-de-Brandon is still a bit of a mystery. While Fabien and family did end up living in St-Damien, they arrived after Henri, Domitilde and their children. One theory I have (based on research published about agriculture in Quebec in the 19th century) is that Henri, Domitilde and their family moved around because of declining harvests. The Michauds, their families, and neighbors were all farmers and one of the reasons for many Quebecois to leave their homeland at this time was because the soil had worn out after centuries of use.  While Domitilde (and Henri for all we know) stayed in Quebec until their deaths, this is a plausible reason for why they moved several times in their lives.

As it is, after their arrival in St-Damien-de-Brandon, life seems to have settled down for their family. Domitilde and Henri welcomed their last two children: Joseph Simeon and Thomas Desire while there. They also began to see their children, nieces, and nephews marry and have children.

However, the 1880s proved to be a difficult decade for Domitilde. In July of 1881, her older brother, Fabien passed away and it was noted that one of those present when he passed, was Henri Michaud. While this would have been a sad occasion for the families, it also indicates how tight-knit they were. There are several more records of children marrying and grandchildren being born during the next few years, but in January of 1888, another record of note pops up for Domitilde – the death/burial notice for her youngest son, Thomas Desire. It is interesting because Henri Michaud is noted as being deceased at the time of Thomas’s death. While a death/burial notice for Henri Michaud has yet to be found, this at least gives an idea of what Domitilde is dealing with at this time.

‘The Future Has Arrived’ – Domitilde’s life at the turn of the century

By 1891, Domitilde is shown to be living with her daughter Marie Victoria and son in law Joseph Eduardo Turenne. She continued to live with them until her death in 1911. While she had lost many loved ones over the years, it seems that she was not left alone during the last twenty years of her life. Living with her daughter, she also had a few other children and grandchildren still living in St-Damien during this time. While this is only speculation, I can imagine that she had plenty of friends and family to care for her. By 1911, she even had great-grandchildren living in St-Damien.

In the end, Domitilde’s life was a fascinating one. As of the posting of this, I still haven’t finished researching her life or the lives of her family members. But that is the way of genealogy. You can have a good grasp on someone’s life based on the records they leave behind, but until time-travel happens, there will always be more to learn. 😉

If there is anything to be learned from Domitilde’s story, it is this: Even the most unassuming relatives can have a fascinating story if you are tenacious enough.

Questions? Comments?

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14 thoughts on “Domitilde Vilandré (1821-1911) – (How I Began Research on My French Canadian Ancestors)

  1. Linda Stufflebean says:

    Kudos to you for making your way through some of the Quebecois church records. I did a bit of work for a friend with French Canadian roots while I was in Salt Lake and the wonderful missionary who helped me, a native born French woman, had a very difficult time reading many of the entries. Very interesting story.

  2. Liz Gauffreau says:

    Interesting research! My Gauffreau ancestors are very much a mystery, but I expect to find that they emigrated to the US from Quebec. Unfortunately, my high school French is long-gone.

  3. David W says:

    Nice that you have been able to fill in the detail about this woman’s life and dealt with the period from her perspective rather than from the man’s. I do not have any Quebec ancestry so it was interesting to read about it.

  4. Anne Danen says:

    I see this story is from several years ago, so I don’t know if you are still checking the comments. But, I was doing some research on ancestry.com today and discovered my great great grandmother was Louise Vilandre who married Antoine Delorme. Have you run across Louise in your research? I do not know anything more about her family as of yet. I did see the name Olive Marois while reading one census (I couldn’t quite make out the letter M.) I thought it was interesting that prior to my discovery today clues from ancestry kept indicating Antoine had married someone named Olive. I don’t know if there’s any connection or not. Maybe Olive is a more common name than I would have thought. Anyway, thank you for the interesting story about the Vilandre family.

    • Laura Nelson says:

      I do still check comments even though I haven’t posted in a few months. (2020 has been a roller coaster year for most people I think, myself included) There is a ‘Marie Louise Vilandré’ in my family record. She was Domitilde’s niece (daughter of Fabien Vilandré and his wife Marie Olive Marois) and baptized in Feb of 1861 (so likely born not too long after that). I have record of her in the 1871 census, but haven’t found much past that. Given that a lot of women shared the name ‘Marie’, it’s likely that Fabien’s daughter went by just Louise. So there’s a chance that we may be talking about the same person. I’d love to hear if they are the same individual.

      • Laura Nelson says:

        Edit: Marie-Louise Vilandré was baptized in February of 1861, so it is likely she was born not too long BEFORE that. (Yay for weird autocorrects…)

  5. Jill A Pate says:

    Thank you for all this interesting and valuable information – just love it!
    Domithilde and Henri are my 2nd great grandparents – their son, Charles Gaspard Noel is my great grandfather.

    Do you have any information on Domithilde’s ancestors? I Have her parents as Joseph Vilandre and Louise Carufel, but that is it.

    Any help is greatly appreciated

    • Laura Nelson says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed it. I actually don’t have too much information on them. While I have a few leads, they are very much a brick wall for me. The earliest verifiable records I have on them are Domitilde and her brother Fabien’s marriage record. The few leads that I have are related to possible baptismal records for Fabien (I haven’t found anything for Domitilde yet), but those records are difficult to read due to age and the priest/writer’s handwriting.

  6. Jill Pate says:

    OMG, I remember Ray, Barbara and family fondly. Ray is my sister’s godfather.
    I think my mom was your mom’s godmother.
    My grandfather is Edward, who married Marie Schulte.
    We need to email and talk sometime.

  7. Amber Rivera says:

    Hey! We are related! I’m the Great great great great granddaughter of Henri and Domitilde, through Joseph Simeon’s son, Thomas… Thomas’s daughter Dawn, Dawn’s daughter Valerie.

    I just found a whole bunch of records and I’m sure you’re possibly to thank for a lot of them. This is really cool to read and see all the comments.

    I had some visits up to Iron Mountain, MI when I was younger to see my great grandparents and great uncles. I haven’t had a ton of interaction with this side of the family, but they sure do have the best records of genealogy out of all sides of my family. I find it really interesting.

  8. Valerie Matkaitis says:

    My daughter and I have just started down this rabbit hole of my genealogy. She found your article and shared with me. I am the granddaughter of Thomas Michaud, son of. Joseph Simeon. Thank you for your research, and would love any other information if you have it.

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