Discovering Death by Cholera

It is important to pay attention to records as you collect them, or you might miss intriguing leads.  When I first dove into the Druoin collection in my efforts to claim colonial ancestors, I nearly missed a big story in my family’s history because I didn’t actually read what I found.

When I discovered my mistake, I was in a rush.  I was covering old ground, going back to archive the evidence that had helped me triangulate relatives.  I should have done this the first time through, but I was too eager.  Instead, weeks later, I was printing out documents for six generations of family, highlighting the relevant names, and slipping them into sheet protectors when I got peeved because the computer didn’t seem to have printed what I asked for: Antoine Boisvert’s burial record.

I distinctly remembered it at the center of the right side page — which is where I found a listing for Joseph Boisvert.  And although I had seen Antoine listed as Joseph Antoine in his baptism record, he had dropped the Joseph by time he died.  This record was not what I wanted.

Source: Ancestry.com. Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008.Original data: Gabriel Drouin, comp. Drouin Collection. Montreal, Quebec, Canada: Institut Généalogique Drouin.

Source: Ancestry.com. Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008.
Original data: Gabriel Drouin, comp. Drouin Collection. Montreal, Quebec, Canada: Institut Généalogique Drouin.

My brain was fogged from tangling with the computer and the printer for hours.  My primary emotion was resentment.  But I took a closer look at Joseph’s burial record — and  Antoine was listed in this record as Joseph’s father.

But why would I care enough about Joseph’s death to have printed out this record?!  He wasn’t part of my direct line.  He wouldn’t prove that I had colonial ancestors.  Why would I have wanted this record at all?  So I took a second to reassess the entire page, rescanning the left column where the individual names are printed (not the right column where the paragraph on the business at hand lives) – and there, above Joseph, was the listing for Antoine.  Two family members dead on the same page.

This piqued my interest.  This time I wanted more from a record than the three names it might provide to tie one generation to another.  Would the record actually tell me something about how they died?  I didn’t know.  I hadn’t looked that closely at any of the Drouin records yet because this is not easy for me.  The handwriting can be small and blurry but the bigger problem is that the records are written in French – and while I took French in high school, and Italian in college – my ability to read is real rusty.  I can travel slowly through the numbers, the names are clear, but everything else is a bit of a blur.

But for this story, I slowed down and I tried.  The document seemed to say that Antoine had died about age 53 of cholera and that Joseph had died a day later at age 11 of the same disease.

So I did a quick Google search and sure enough, there was a cholera outbreak in 1834 Quebec that started in July and raged until September.  I also found out that cholera is not necessarily a painful way to go, though it is certainly unpleasant.  Mostly you get the runs and die of dehydration.  Your skin might turn blue in the process.

When I went back to the burial records and kept reading, I discovered that Antoine’s 12 year-old son Julien also died in the outbreak.  He was listed on the next page.  Three of my ancestors were caught in the second global pandemic of cholera.  And I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t been tricked into actually reading what was before me.

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