Navigating the 1926 Census of the Prairie Provinces

Yesterday Gail Dever announced on her wonderful blog Genealogy à la carte that the 1926 Census of the Prairie Provinces was now available on FamilySearch for browsing. Canadian genealogists have been waiting anxiously for this census to be publicly released.  Many of us were involved in indexing this project on FamilySearch, so that the census can be made searchable. That is supposed to be happening in March.

However, the document on FamilySearch is NOT searchable yet.  It is only a series of digitized microfilms, divided by province.  I was too excited to wait to find Mémère and Pépère in La Salle, Manitoba.

There is no listing for the census districts and sub-districts of the 1926 Census yet, at least not one that I could find.  These titles and numbers can change as boundaries are redrawn, but I checked the 1921 census to make note of the fact that they were enumerated in Manitoba, Provencher, District 34, Sub-district 26, Municipality of Macdonald, La Salle Village. Then I checked the 1916 census which told me they were living in Township 8, Range 2, East of the meridian. That’s important to know and you’ll see why.

Back to the FamilySearch record which, as I mentioned, is a series of digitized films. I jumped around, clicking on the camera icon, to understand how the information was presented.

1926 list

Excerpt of FamilySearch catalogue record for Canada, Prairie Provinces Census, 1926

At the start of each film there is an index card, in beautiful, clear writing, that says which districts and townships were being enumerated on the next pages.

Index card

I discovered you could toggle between a specific page and the whole film by clicking on the icon on the left that looks like a grid. In this manner I was able to scan through the film, checking each index card along the way. I did some quick browsing and found the listings for Provencher but couldn’t find La Salle.

I remembered that even though the whole census isn’t released until 92 years after the fact!!!!!!! the statistical analysis of the population is released much sooner. I found the link to a pdf of The Census of Prairie Provinces, 1926 : population and agriculture, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta published by what we now call Stats Canada. I noticed on page 9 (image 209) that the Manitoba Electoral Districts were listed in a particular order, and had both a Provencher District and a Macdonald District.

Electoral districts

Page 4, image 209 from The Census of Prairie Provinces, 1926 : population and agriculture, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta

Aha! Back to the FamilySearch digitized microfilm, I chose the 4th film from the top, assuming the census may have been filmed in the same order as the statistics tables (which appears to be true). I was looking for the District of Macdonald this time. Still nothing, and everything was West of the meridian. So I moved up to the 3rd film and continued the process.

Voila! There they are, still Township 8, Range 2 E in the Village of La Salle, only now it’s called Macdonald District 4, sub-district 1.

It was almost a whole day of work, but such fun! Think I’ll wait for the search function next month before I look for anyone else.

FYI, if anyone is looking to do the same for Saskatchewan and Alberta, you can check  The Census of Prairie Provinces, 1926 : population and agriculture, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta for the list of districts. Saskatchewan is on page 217, image 419 and Alberta is on page 519, image 723.

Happy searching!

From Massachusetts to Manitoba

So, how and why did Mémère (Emma Girardin) move from Massachusetts to Manitoba? The answer to that question centers around the political and social situation that followed the Red River Resistance of 1870 and the creation of the Province of Manitoba.

John Welsted tells us in his book The Geography of Manitoba: Its Land and Its People:

“By 1870, the year of the first Manitoba census, over 80 percent of the population of over 12,000 was of mixed Native and European ancestry. The French-speaking mixed-bloods, most of whom were Roman Catholic, numbered 5,754 (48.1 percent). The mostly Protestant English-speaking mixed-blood numbered 4,083 (40.8 percent).”

These numbers would quickly change. The federal government  wanted to encourage the settlement of western Canada. To this end it passed the Dominion Lands Act in 1872, which gave a free quarter section (160 acres) of free land to people who settled in western Canada. A settler needed to pay a $10 registration fee, and, of course, have money for equipment and seed.

In 1877, according to this article in the Manitoba Free Press, 6511 people immigrated to Manitoba, over half of them from Ontario.

Manitoba Free Press March 2, 1878

Manitoba Free Press March 2, 1878

Although Manitoba was created as a bilingual province with protections for the French language and Catholic schools, it attracted many English-speaking Protestant settlers from Ontario. This was a worrisome trend, especially to the Roman Catholic clergy in Manitoba, most notably Archbishop Tache.

The Archbishop encouraged the creation of La Société de Colonisation du Manitoba in 1874. Its aim was to persuade French-speaking Catholics in Quebec and New England to come to Manitoba. They placed ads in newspapers, and hired immigration agents to encourage French-speaking settlers to take up the offer of free land.

Here’s an example of the type of advertising used in the United States.

Were Paul Girardin and Louise Bernardin tired of city life in Worcester, Massachusetts?  Perhaps they longed for the rural life they had known in Quebec. Whatever the reason, the year 1878 found Paul and Louise with four of their sons, Edouard, Olivier, Simeon and Jean Baptiste, as well as Louise’s brother, Joseph Bernardin, his wife Marie Peloquin and 7 of their children come to Manitoba.

Paul and Louise were leaving behind their daughter Caroline, married to Pierre Hamel; daughter Rosilda, who would later marry Louis Arthur Gourdeau; their unmarried son Charles; son Napoleon and daughter-in-law Onesime Allard.

The trip would have been by train to Minnesota, and then by boat on the Red River. I don’t know exactly what date they arrived, but perhaps they were part of this group described in a newspaper article.

Manitoba Free Press Apr 27, 1878 from Manitobia

Manitoba Free Press Apr 27, 1878 from Manitobia

By July 12, 1878, both families had obtained homesteads in the St.Daniel, Ilets-de-Bois area (near present-day Carmen, Manitoba).

There is a puzzling question about Paul Girardin. He died September 29, 1878. I can’t make out the cause of death on his registration, although I can see that he was sick for a week before he died.

Paul Girardin death registration

Paul Girardin death registration

The death wasn’t registered until June 24, 1884.  The informant was Father Kavanagh, who presumably would have presided over the burial (a location I have yet to find). The puzzle is that Louise is the one whose name is on the homestead, and not Paul’s. Regulations stated that only women who were the head of a family could apply for a homestead.

Eventually Louise, her sons Edouard, Oliver and Simeon all had homesteads adjacent to those of Louise’s brother Joseph Bernardin and his sons, Louis, Dosithee and Edouard.

In 1879 a nephew of Louise’s, called Charles Bernardin, came for the first of two short visits to Manitoba, but eventually settled back in Massachusetts.

In 1880 Louise’s son Napoleon with wife Onesime Allard and daughter Emma (Mémère) arrived in Manitoba. Mémère was 2 years old and Onesime was very pregnant. She gave birth to  a son, Arthur, August 2nd in Winnipeg and shortly afterwards they went to live with Louise.

Sometime in 1882, Louise’s daughter Caroline left her husband in Massachusetts and came to Manitoba with her four daughters, Marie, Emma, Lea and Louise. She then gave birth to a son, Edouard,  on September 29th.

In 1884, Louise’s son Charles must have come for a visit, as his son, Charles Wilfred, was born here. By 1886 Charles, his wife Stephanie Rondeau, and family were back in Massachusetts. Do you think it was the weather than dissuaded them from settling here?

In the long run, the effort to attract French-speaking Catholics to Manitoba met with little success. From the website Manitobia we learn:

By 1891 French-speakers accounted for only 7.3 per cent of the population.

Oh my! From 48.1 % of the population in 1870 to just 7.3 % 21 years later.

Meanwhile the Girardin and Bernardin families, showing what appears to be a very strong sense of optimism, made yet another move in 1885!

The 1921 Census of Canada

There is a lot of excitement in the Canadian genealogy community right now, as Ancestry is about to release an index to the 1921 Census of Canada.  The digitized images have been available since summer, but you had to:

a)     have some idea of where your ancestors were living in 1921

b)     find out what district, sub-district that place was in at that time

c)     browse through the images, page by page, and decipher (sometimes illegible) handwriting to find the people you are looking for.

If you’re an addict, the above process is actually considered fun!

Luckily I knew that the Hogues and Girardins were still living in La Salle, Manitoba in 1921, so the process was not too time-consuming.

Hogue Thomas 1921 Census

The above snip (click to enlarge) shows Thomas Hogue and Emma (Girardin) Hogue with sons Joseph, Thomas (my Dad), Raymond, Aime, daughter Irene, son John, and daughter Louise.

Hogue Thomas Sr. 1921 Census

Next I found my great grandparents Thomas Hogue (way too many Thomases in my family!) and Philomene (McMillan) Hogue.  They were living outside La Salle with their son Louis and his family. Now, here’s an instance that shows census records can be wrong. Thomas claims his father was born in Quebec which is true, and his mother was born in Quebec, which is not.  His mother was Margaret Taylor and she was born in Manitoba at York Factory. Margaret was the first of my Métis ancestors that I discovered, and she will feature in many more posts.

Philomene claims her father was born in Scotland.  He wasn’t, he was born near Edmonton, but one of her grandfathers was born in Scotland. Philomene also claims her mother was born in France.  She wasn’t.  Her mother was also Métis, and born either in Rainy Lake near present day Fort Frances, Ontario or in Fort Alexander, Manitoba.

Why the discrepancies?  We can’t know for sure.  Perhaps it was a case of miscommunication between the enumerator and whoever in the household provided the information.  Perhaps whoever gave those answers really didn’t know the truth. It is also possible that at that particular time one didn’t proclaim Métis roots.

Girardin Napoleon 1921 Census

Now this last snip of a census record is very puzzling.  It shows a Napoleon Girardin (my great-grandfather), who is a 68 year-old widower and “chef” or head of the household, living in La Salle. Then it shows two of his sons, Telesphore and Florent.  Finally it shows a Girardin (father) as a 62 year-old widower who is the father of the head of the household!  Okay, we know for certain that can’t be right.  My best guess is that there were only 3 men in that household. Napoleon’s father died in 1878.  Napoleon had a son called Napoleon but he was married by then, and found elsewhere in the census.

As researchers learn, census records don’t always tell the truth!

UPDATE!

Well, first thing this morning I was checking out the just-released index on ancestry.ca and solved the problem of  the two Girardins.  I mentioned before that the census images can be hard to decipher.  That image was a great example.  Ancestry indexers interpret the last line as Girardin, Edward and have him as a “frère” or brother of Napoleon Girardin  That would work with the other information I have.  Napoleon did have a brother, Joseph Edouard, born 17 Jul 1858 in Quebec, who was separated from his wife at this time and could have been living in this household.

And as researchers learn, our information is always subject to further analysis!