Every Sperm is Sacred…

I’ve been doing geneological research, spurred by the fact that a friend of mine has genetic roots in the same small burg of Vankleek Hill, ON – and abetted by the fact that my Mom-in-Law, Wendy, has access to Ancestry.ca.

My American family, on my Dad’s side, is a well documented Mennonite family: I’ve been well aware of the history of my family on that side, back many generations, and if y’all are a Mennonite from Iowa, then we’re probably cousins in some form or another.  Some of my family is Amish, and the Amish care about family.

My mom’s side, however, was less well documented. We’ve had stories. My mom looks Irish – red hair, freckles, hazel eyes. Her mom’s family was Catholic. She was baptised & confirmed Catholic. All the immediate family wore French last names, although were varying as to whether or not they were Francophone.

Well, I’ve been digging back, and in doing so, I’m learning Canada in a whole new way. Like The Quiet Revolution. I understand the weight of this cultural shift, now, because I’m sifting through Parish records.

I’m reading three hundred years worth of my family history, all in the scrawl of priests. Records of people baptized, marrying, burying infants, burying spouses, witnessing their kids marry, and then being interred, all under the watch and documentation of parish priests. Their whole lives documented by the same church. (Although priests changed around pretty often, it seems. You also get a sense of the priests. My favorites? The ones with a heavy hand taking lots of space. Legible on a scan after a couple hundred years.)

In the detail of these records I’ve been able to see how families of 20 kids aren’t sustainable on the farm – of the shift to the towns, and how that agricultural, Catholic upbringing fell out from under French Canada. One branch of my family moved from success as a politically active farming family to day labouring in town – a younger son striking off with political and technical knowhow, no doubt, from his family’s position, but no obvious trade or education. Land does not divide indefinitely, and Roman Catholics had a lot of kids. Then, in town, there are the census records - showing less income and more babies for the French Roman Catholics than Anglican or Presbyterian neighbours a street or two away.

But there’s a cultural record there, a strong cultural tradition, and a sense of community that is there in both the census and parish records as you look at them over and over – last names you see twinned many times. Families living close, for generations – the same last names standing up as godparents, as witnesses to weddings, various kids from the families marrying each other… It’s community I recognize from my Mennonite side, too, where the Yoders or Ebys are considered “practically family”. 

So I think I can better understand the rise of Quebec nationalism after the quiet revolution took hold – in the disbanding of such an entrenched cultural system, of course members of that culture are still connected to each other and to their roots, both locally and as a society. Or at least, I can see how I might feel that way quite strongly, quite protectively.

Without any organization spearheading that connection, of course you’ll lose people – like my mom, who has married twice, not within a parish,  and neither time to French or Irish Roman Catholics. I mean, it’s breathtaking. All my mom’s siblings with recorded baptisms - but not my sister, or me, or my cousins. My mom’s generation simply walked away! That’s huge, after so many generations.

So saying, hey, we have a cultural commonality that is no longer in the hands of the church – well, it makes a lot of sense to me.

It is equally amazing to me to consider that my friend whose family came from the same burg as me – well, four generations ago, our families were not friends. I look around at my friends – not to mention my husband - and it’s nope, nope, nope. Not coming from the same tradition. We hung out with other Roman Catholics, that much is clear.

And I am relearning Canadian multiculturalism, from a slightly different perspective. Assimilated, I suppose.

I’ve learned I have long lived family members, too. A few farming accidents taking men in their early years. Lots of babies that didn’t make it, and some childbirth related deaths. But also lots of 70 to 90 year old relatives, even as far back as the 1700s. For some reason, this astounded me. Didn’t everyone die of consumption at 50? I guess not. Of course, being farmers and labourers had a lot to do with it. On both sides of my family, my ancestors worked physically, all day every day.

I’ve gone back 8 generations on one line!  Anyone sporting the name  Canac dit Marquis, Canac Marquis, or perhaps those who, like my family, mistakenly thought we came from the Marquis de Carnac in France – well, we’re at least 8th cousins. All the Canac Marquis come from the same ancestor, a Marc Antoine Canac, who came from the south west of France in the 1680s. He got the honorific “Marquis” because he was a big man about the parish of Ste-Famille on the Ile D’Orleans, in Quebec: and so everyone who came after, the Canac dit Marquis, were from that common ancestor. 

My ancestors stuck around in that parish for quite some time. There’s a Canac Marquis house I’d like to see, sometime.

Not to mention a church, and a graveyard.



  1. Also – really, it seems to me that at least from a Canadian perspective, the Catholic church really messed up their game…

  2. This fascinates me–I come from a family that is so poorly documented on both sides, with barely any stories about grandparents! Let alone back 8 generations. I’m trying to imagine what it would be like to have so many stories/names/places to ponder.

  3. Hey, we’re probably cousins, too. Well, probably not actually cousins, but similar stock. I’m also from a long line of Catholic Quebecois–Menards in my case, on my paternal grandmother’s side–who moved to Iowa and intermarried with the Quaker and Methodist farmers there.

  4. Who’d ‘a thunk it – French Canadian Catholics marrying Quakers. – huh.

  5. S. – although I haven’t found any Menard names in the tree, yet, I’ve definitely seen Menards in the parish records!
    … And it’s French-Canuck Catholics marrying Iowan farmers, too!

    Recaptcha has gone French. On multiple refreshes, I’m getting words with accents.

Trackbacks / Pings

  1. Trackback URl →

Leave a Reply