A Spanish connection

A catchy title, right?  It’s not that we have any Spanish ancestry, but, having returned from a holiday in beautiful Spain, I did come back with a picture to share.

General Castanos

General Francisco Javier Castaños

One of the many museums we enjoyed on our trip was the Museo Historico Militar in Seville.  I admit my husband was a bit more interested than I was.  However, remembering that my great-great-great-grandfather, Jean Baptiste Bernardin, a Napoleonic soldier, had been captured in Spain, I kept my eyes peeled for any mention of that specific French-Spanish conflict.

I was not disappointed.  The picture above shows a bust of General Francisco Javier Castaños, who was the head of the Andalusian Army that was victorious at the Battle of Bailen on July 19th, 1808.  That’s the battle in which Jean Baptiste Bernardin was captured.  You can read my post with his story here.

Happy New Year Canada!

2017 is a special year for Canadian history buffs, as it marks 150 years since Confederation.  All sorts of special celebrations are planned throughout the coming year.

You can read about some of the official planned festivities here.

Check here for a database of community and volunteer projects.

Library and Archives Canada will be informing us of a daily “today-in-history vignette highlighting a significant event that shaped our society” at http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/onthisday/Pages/introduction.aspx

As the title of blog suggests, and my posts confirm, I am fascinated with the historical and social events that surrounded the lives of our ancestors.  Whether blogging about the first Girardin ancestor, Olivier Le Tardif who was in New France by 1621 (read about him here), our Hogue ancestor James McMillan, Chief Factor with HBC, who traveled with the explorer David Thompson (read his story here), our Napoleonic soldier Jean Baptiste Bernardin, who arrived on our shores via the War of 1812 (his story is here), or the fascinating story of our Metis ancestor, Margaret/Marguerite Taylor, country wife of Sir George Simpson, and the person whose story ignited my passion for genealogy, I remain in awe of the fortitude and courage shown by our ancestors, as they built their lives in this country we call home.

As the festivities of Canada 150 unfold, I hope to share more stories that make up our history.

Happy New Year everyone!



A Napoleonic Soldier

My next posts will be about my Girardin ancestors. I’m starting with the fascinating story of Jean Baptiste Bernardin. He was born to Francois Bernardin and Anne Marguerite d’Autel on January 23, 1784, in the village of Ruaux, in the department of Vosges, in the region of Lorraine, which is in the northeast part of France.

Here’s his baptism record, as shown on the Fichier Origine website.

Baptism of Jean Baptiste Bernardin

Baptism of Jean Baptiste Bernardin

One of his descendants, Professor Charles W. Bernardin of Pennsylvania has written several books about him:

Jean-Baptist and his Hundred Acres, Malvern,
Pennsylvania, 1995, 262 pages, ill.

The Military Career of Jean-Baptist Bernardin,
Malvern, Pennsylvania, 1995, 201 pages, XII pages, ill.

The Vôge: Homeland of Jean-Baptist Bernardin,
Malvern, Pennsylvania, 1995, 236 pages, ill.

I have not been able to track down copies of these books, but only summaries of them. According to the professor’s research, by 1806 Jean Baptiste was a soldier in the 9th Regiment Light Infantry of Napoleon Bonaparte’s army. You’ve heard of Napoleon (if not, read about him here ). And for an entertaining look at the Napoleonic wars, track down the old Sharpe TV series starring Sean Bean!.

Jean Baptiste would probably have been conscripted into the French army, as that was the norm at the time. In 1808 he was transferred to the 33rd Light Infantry Regiment. This regiment fought in Spain and lost at the Battle of Bailen, in July 1808. Almost 18,000 soldiers were taken prisoner, Jean Baptiste among them. Although the Spanish had promised to repatriate them to France, they did not keep their word. Instead, the prisoners were held in “prison hulks”, decommissioned ships anchored in the harbour at Cadiz. According to a notation in the book The Laws of War: Constraints on Warfare in the Western World by Michael Howard et al, only one in ten of the prisoners survived!

After 9 months as a prisoner, Jean Baptiste was offered the opportunity to join the Swiss Regiment de Meuron. This Regiment was originally created to serve under the Dutch in India. They were later transferred to the service of the British (something to do with the Dutch not being able to pay them). The Meurons were fighting for the British in the Peninsular War in Spain. It was not uncommon for prisoners to be recruited for another country’s army. I’m certain that decision was easily made, considering the appalling conditions of the prisoners! Thus, despite the “Swiss” moniker, the Regiment de Meuron was a multi-national unit and included Germans, Italians and many other nationalities.

As a soldier in the Meuron Regiment, Jean Baptiste was sent first to Sicily, and then to Canada to fight for the British against the Americans in the War of 1812 – 1814, arriving in Canada in June of 1814. Interestingly, he fought in the Battle of Plattsburg, where my great-great grandfather Amable Hogue also saw action and was wounded.

Jean Baptiste survived, and must have found Lower Canada, as Quebec was known, amenable, because on February 12, 1816, he married Marie Charlotte Taillefer. Here’s his signature on their marriage record.

signature of Jean Baptiste Bernardin

signature of Jean Baptiste Bernardin


When reviewing the marriage, which took place in Montreal at Notre Dame, I realized that two other soldiers from the Meuron Regiment were married that same day, in the same church. They were Francois Sabolle and Pierre Carre, both originally from France. Perhaps they had also been prisoners in Spain.

After the war, the soldiers were given 100 acre land grants if they opted to become citizens. Jean Baptiste settled at Grantham in Quebec. Settlers were required to clear their land, build a cabin and live there for 3 years before they could apply for a patent. Besides farming his land Jean Baptiste was also a tailor. Thus, in 1819 he moved to Nicolet intending to make money as a tailor before returning to Grantham. Unfortunately, by 1822 he was to discover that the British officers in charge of the settlement had decided he had abandoned his property and gave it to someone else! Jean Baptiste petitioned for redress, but it took until 1844 before he was awarded a small amount of money as compensation.

Meanwhile, harsh economic conditions led to the family moving to William-Henry (now known as Sorel) in 1841, and finally settling in Saint-Felix de Kingsey in 1844. Here’s a Google map that shows the places mentioned above. The red blob is Kingsey.

Google map

Google map


Marie Charlotte and Jean Baptiste had 13 children, at least three of whom died young.
Jean Baptiste died 16 April 1857 in Kingsey, Quebec. Here’s his burial record.

Burial of Jean Baptiste Bernardin 17 Apr 1857, St-Félix-de-Valois, Kingsey, Lower Canada

Burial of Jean Baptiste Bernardin 17 Apr 1857, St-Félix-de-Valois, Kingsey, Lower Canada

In the 1861 and 1871 censuses, the widowed Marie is living with her daughter Elyse and son-in-law Joseph Hamel. She died May 8, 1872 in Warwick, Quebec. Here’s her burial record.

Burial of Marie Charlotte Taillefer, 8 May 1872, St-Médard, Quebec

Love the fact that French-Canadian records use women’s maiden names!
And here’s our descent from Jean Baptiste to Mémère:

1-Jean Baptiste BERNARDIN (1784-1857)
+Marie Charlotte TAILLEFER (1797-1872)
2-Marie Louise BERNARDIN (1824-1912)
+Paul GIRARDIN (1804-1878)
3-Napoleon GIRARDIN (1851-1929)
+Onesime ALLARD (1852-1896)
4-Marie Emma GIRARDIN (1878-1979)