Researching ancestors is an ongoing process. There are always records that elude discovery; people for whom you can never answer the question “what happened to them?” Today I am sharing the story and excitement of finally finding a missing child.
The story began when I first started researching the family of Jean Baptiste Bernardin and his wife Marie Charlotte Taillefer. I wrote about them here. A distant relative had shared with me one of the books written by Professor Charles Bernardin, who had done extensive research many years ago.
One thing about the Professor’s research intrigued me. According to the Professor, Jean Baptiste Bernardin and his wife Marie Charlotte Taillefer had 12 children, yet my research had uncovered 13 children. The Professor’s list of children had a 4 year gap in birth dates between 1820 and 1824, which was unusual in French Canada.
I had found baptismal certificates for two sons named Charles. Charles Michel born in 1823 and Charles Jules born in 1837.
For some reason, the Professor’s research had not uncovered the baptismal record of Charles Michel. Therefore, he believed that his direct ancestor was Charles Jules who had married Victoire Peloquin in 1854. I questioned that since Charles Jules would have been only 17 years old at the time. I believed that it was Charles Michel, born in 1823, who married Victoire.
In addition, the Professor had overlooked the fact that his ancestor’s gravestone gave his initial as M. and his birth date as 1823.
So what ever happened to Charles Jules, the “missing” child? Other than his baptismal record, I had found no trace of him. Then recently the Professor’s son found my blog and shared some background documents of his Father’s with me. One of these was an overview of the Bernardin family written in 1936 by Yvonne Bernardin (Sister St. Lucille), a great-granddaughter of Jean Baptiste Bernardin and Marie Taillefer. In it she writes of a son called “Gilles” who:
“secretly answered the call for volunteers of the Army of the United States, possibly recruiting for the 1848 War with Mexico. Only after he had crossed the frontier was his father notified of his intention to join the American Army and nevermore was any news heard of the fugitive. Conjecture after conjecture as to Gilles’ whereabouts and doings would burn the anguished minds of the afflicted parents whose grief lasted as long as their life. Many a time the aged sire, ready to partake of his meal, burst into tears at the thought of his prodigal son and turned away without eating a morsel.”
Another document was a memoir by Marie-Louise Hamel (Mrs. Therrien), granddaughter of Jean Baptiste Bernardin and Marie Taillefer . It includes this:
“Everything was going well when suddenly Gilles, who had military blood in his veins, decided to go off to war in the United States, and unfortunately, never came back, nor was ever heard from again. This was an enormous grief for his dear parents. It aged his father and weighed heavily on the soul of his mother, who often used to say to us: “Dear God, if my Gilles is alive, push him toward us. If he is dead, let his spirit appear before me and tell me where he is.” It was really very sad for everyone.”
My first thought on reading these documents was that Gilles must be the missing Charles Jules! The names “Gilles” and “Jules” could easily be confused in an oral interview!
The Professor knew of these stories and investigated whether or not a Gilles Bernardin had become a soldier in the United States. He concluded that these were just family legends and that no such person existed. Of course, there is much more information available now than when the Professor was doing his research. Plus, he did not know that he was missing a child!
Searching through Civil War records online (Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System) I discovered that a “Julius Bernarden” was a Private in the Ohio Volunteer Infantry, 47th Regiment. Using the “United States General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934” at FamilySearch, I also found out that he had applied for an Invalid Pension. With this information I was able to request his pension records, from NARA (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration).
It was months before I received all the files….Eureka! It’s him! “Julius” Bernardin was born in Nicolet, Lower Canada. He enlisted in the Union Army on June 15, 1861, serving as a Private in the Ohio Volunteer Infantry, 47th Regiment. He was discharged February 16, 1863 at Point Pleasant, Virginia, his discharge certificate being signed by the surgeon in charge of the General Hospital.
Although all the official government documents list him as “Julius”, he signed his name as “Jueles”.
On April 1, 1863, he applied for an Invalid Pension. In this application he states:
“that at or near a place called Sewell Mountain [West Virginia] in the month of January 1862, he caught a succession of colds, which resulted from exposure while standing on guard duty; which resulted in lung disease. That he is by occupation a farmer & unable to perform manual labor, which resulted from this lung disease.”
He was granted a pension of $6 per month. On December 15, 1863 he applied for an increase in his pension, stating that:
“ his disability stated in his former declaration has increased so that he has lost his speech & is so disabled by consumption as not to be able to work.”
On April 8, 1864 he was granted an increased pension of $8 per month. His address is given as 57 East Third St., Cincinnati, Ohio, which turns out to have been a boarding house.
And there the records stop.
I was so hoping that the NARA pension records would record a death date, or at least indicate when pension payments stopped, but alas they don’t. I have not been able, so far, to find a death date, a burial record or a grave. Given the state of his health, I expect he died in 1864/65.
I don’t know exactly when he left home. His father, Jean Baptiste, died in 1857, so he had obviously left by then.
Why did he never contact his family back in Quebec? A question that will never be answered.
Of all the interesting stories I’ve discovered, I must admit I never expected to find a Civil War soldier in our family’s past.
Here’s a chart showing Mémère’s relationship to Charles Jules Bernardin.