Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A more-likely probability about Great-great grandmother Célina Boulé (1840-1928): was she adopted?

In a previous posting, I laid out the mysterious case of my great-great grandmother, Célina Boulé.

I mentioned this on the Ancestry.com discussion boards and got some very interesting help and commentary from several users.

At the time of the previous posting, I was convinced that the problem was just an imperfect set of data: basically, she wasn't recorded with enough definition to make as "easy" of an identification as most of the other people in the tree. 

Thanks to daciodan (who also turned me on to the LaFrance site), it appears that her parents are NOT Moïse Boulé and Basilice Bernier - at least they're not her "official" (birth/legitimate) parents but there DOES appear to be some (un-ascertainable) connection.   That leaves (broadly) two options:
  1. she was illegitimate;
  2. she was adopted.
The available records don't provide any insight into this, of course (I have seen baptism entries in Drouin that do make it clear the child  is illegitimate, but I don't have one for Célina), and adoption might not have "officially" taken place.

Another mystery is that she sometimes appears under the surname "LaLiberté" which isn't a 'dit' name for Boulé, but a search of the "Lotbinière metro area" under LaLiberté doesn't provide any concrete leads, ALTHOUGH - once again - there appears to be some potential connection to a LaLiberté family who at least at one time lived near the Boulé family.   Perhaps the illicit relation was between a Boulé and a LaLiberté? 

Tanguay and Drouin - how to navigate them...

My latest project is essentially to start getting more serious about data accuracy on the family tree.

One might argue "Well!  It's a little late for that isn't it because you're 25,000+ people in, and perhaps you should've thought of this BEFORE you got started!" and, I suppose they'd be right.  I think part of the problem is in the ancestry.com advertising: they make it sound as if there's a BIG STORY behind every ancestor (and in fact there probably is, although realistically that big story is largely lost to the winds of time), and so as you get your feet wet and "discover" so many more people, etc. you get caught up in the whole thing (which of course is the ultimate goal of the marketing department!).  What newbies like me DON'T realize - at first - is that many of the "sources" or at least pointers to sources come from other newbies, and they're also not particularly adept at ensuring accuracy.

I'll admit I've found some REALLY idiotic boners, and have inadvertently created some of my own.  Seeing children to people in family trees whose birth dates are long after the one or both parents are dead[1] - or even more perplexing born before their own parents[2].

Of course with most of my efforts centered on Québec, there are two primary sources for information: the Tanguay and Drouin collections, respectively.   Both have combed through the parish records which start in the 1620s (or when the parish was established).    The ideal (and naïve) expectation is that you'll find every instance of every baptism, marriage and burial for every person who lived there; the reality is more complex, of course. 

Tanguay's work is a set of seven volumes spanning 1608 to 1800 (or shortly thereafter).  The first volume goes to 1700, the rest give updates for the 17th century data and then continue on for the 18th century; in reality it has more complete data up to 1750 or so and then things trickle off between 1750 and 1800.   Tanguay is ordered by family name of the husband, then date of (first) marriage.  From there you get the date of marriage, where it happened, then a list of children, their baptism dates, and their marriages (where known).   Each husband is tagged with a roman numeral for their generation in the family line: "I" for the first appearance (i.e., the immigrant), "II" for his sons (who marry), "III" and so on.   Both husbands and wives are linked to their father's entries (where available).  For many of the first generation, there's also information about his parents, and where they lived (typically in France, but I have come across Vienna).     So, it's a handy resource and occasionally has VERY interesting footnotes concerning their positions in society, what land they owned, how they died, and so on.

Tanguay is very convenient because it's printed, BUT it's absolutely not infallible:  I've encountered SEVERAL errors, up to and including entire entries being assigned to the wrong family (specifically, two cousins with the same name being assigned to the wrong father/uncle).   Errors in dates - especially pre-1700 - is common. 

Drouin is (for practical purposes) a microfilm collection of as many of the available parish records as possible.   It's the ultimate in "raw" data.   Ancestry.com has done a so-so job annotating things, but what you get from their "Search" function is fuzzy at best: unless the volume of the parish record is for just one year, you'll get a year range that can be next to useless (e.g., "1640-1749" for a birth year).   To get useful information, you have to actually look at the record (which I didn't realize for the longest time).  Plus the transcriptions/identifications from the ancestry.com community is - well, amateur-based.

However, the Drouin Institute has launched their own effort to making the records accessible, the "LaFrance".     It has a meager cost ($13CAD/month) but offers FAR easier access to the Drouin microfilms with a better search engine.   I've been using both services side-by-side for my new effort.  (You have a daily limit of 75 image views with the LaFrance, whereas if you can figure out which Drouin microfilm you're looking for, access to the images is covered with your ancestry.com subscription.)   The LaFrance isn't complete: marriages to 1913, but baptisms/burials only to 1849, but they're continuing to progress in their identification.   There are mistakes, but FAR fewer than you encounter in Tanguay.   One thing that is INCREDIBLY HELPFUL is that LaFrance's search engine NOT ONLY handles the myriad variations on surname (and given name), but ALSO does a very good job of sort out 'dit' names (sometimes you have to provide them to have a listing show up, but when you enter in a surname, you get a list of the potential 'dit' names that exist for it.  VERY handy.

So, my technique has altered:

  1. Look up a marriage in Drouin (through LaFrance), enter in the metadata;
  2. Look up the parents (if I don't already have them);
  3. Rinse, lather, repeat until I've determined that the spouse is/isn't a blood relative, fixing any obvious errors along the way.

[1] ... although there are several cases where children have been born shortly after their father has died.

[2] ... strangely enough I have NOT seen many cases of children born to couples who were not yet married, or were clearly born after "shotgun weddings".  There are a few who were born 7-8 months after the marriage, though.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Geeking out on the data!

After the last post, it occurred to me that the counts of direct ancestors and the numbers of (Nth great) grand aunts/uncles could be used to estimate the average number of child you could expect in each family:

Y = 2(G-G0)α

where Y is the observed number of kids for each generation and α is the average number of kids per family while the assumption that it's constant across generations. Since we're dealing with a comparatively closed population that is also overwhelmingly agrarian over 350 of the last 400 years, that's probably OK.

Here's the fun geeky part. In logarithmic space, that's:

log Y = (G-G0) log 2 + log α

So borrowing the data from the last posting for Generations 3 through 10 (so G0 = 3), we can get the average for log α (0.766) and for extra geekiness, the distribution about that mean to get the standard deviation (0.143) which corresponds to:

α = 5.8 ± 1.9

So, on average 4 to 8 children in each family!

Milestone Reached!

For the last year I've been going through the family tree, in an attempt to fix a lot of "newbie" mistakes:

  1. First, I relied FAR too much on other ancestry.com users' "family tree" data.   There are so many places where the data is simply wrong.  Sometimes the errors are obvious (children born after their parents, etc.), and while I tried to do SOME filtering, errors definitely crept in;
  2. Tanguay - while an impressive piece of work - is also fraught with errors, and blindly copying data from there into the family tree propagated those errors.
So?  How to proceed?   With over 20,000 entries on the tree, I couldn't bring myself to just start from scratch (given that ancestry.com doesn't really make it possible to copy over PARTS of trees).  Instead I decided that the best course of action was to begin with the direct ancestors on my mother's side of the tree with anyone who was born/lived/died in Québec (or Arcadia), look up their information in Drouin, make screenshots of the available data (baptisms, marriages, and burials), and from there, start going down each generation until I ran out of information.

As of tonight I've finished the first two levels:  the direct ancestors (X,0) and the (Nth grand) great aunts/uncles (X > 4,1).   Whew!

There are 582 nodes with 403 unique people (meaning that 179 people appear in more than one place among the direct ancestors).   I still have to "do" the Arcadians.   This goes back as far as 16 generations, though mostly in the first 13:

Completeness of direct ancestors from Québec

The first drop happens with my 2nd great-grandmother Célina Boulé (1840-1928) as I can't find any record of her family.  She appears to have been adopted by the Boulé family.   The next drop at generation 7 is the strange case of Pierre Gautier and Angélique Boisvert for whom I have absolutely no information whatsoever, other than knowing that they are the parents of my 4th great-grandmother, Thérèse Gautier (1790-1828).  This is probably because in the mid-18th century there are more "holes" in the Drouin records where the original manuscripts were lost early enough that Tanguay doesn't even have information or they're Acadiens and there isn't (or I haven't yet found) the "smoking gun" record.

At generation 10 two things happen:  there's a slight increase (which shouldn't happen) that occurs because some of the ancestors that appear in the tree multiple times do so over different numbers of generations.  If - for example - two children of the same 8th great-grandparents are both direct ancestors, the two branches of the tree might take 9 generations to reach me for one child but 10 generations to reach me on the other[1].   I don't record those designations separately, and only use the "shortest" distance for each ancestor[2].  The larger reason for the drop is that we're getting into the situation where people are the actual immigrants, and these stats only count the people who lived in Québec at some time.

I'm hoping I'll get the chance to do some statistics on this sample: average life span, average age of marriage, etc.

The other major task is that for these  ~400 people I also attempted to register all of the children: the (Nth great) grand uncles/aunts through their baptism (and usually) marriage records[3].   That's 1,673 people (starting with my maternal grandmother).   A new goal.  The time-consuming part will be looking up THEIR children (the first cousins N times removed) - I estimate this next phase should take about 12-18 months and involve about 9,760+ cousins!  (This based on the average number of kids per family (5.8) I calculate in the NEXT post.)

So with any luck I'll have a follow-up posting announcing reaching the next milestone in late 2016!


[1] This happens more frequently when the two "child" ancestors are widely spaced in age, e.g., one is the oldest, and the other is the youngest and they're ~20 years apart, or if on average it just happens that on one branch the successive ancestors are the older siblings, and the other is mostly younger siblings, then over time you sneak in an extra generation (sometimes two!).

[2] I tried to keep track of all the different ways someone was related to me, but it became complicated, especially as you got into the distant cousins because as they married other blood relatives (to me - they didn't have to be related to each other), the different designations kept piling on.   So, say a 10,1 marries an 11,2 - then ALL of their children are both 10,2/11,3.  If one of them marries a 11,2, then all of THEIR children are 10,3/11,3/11,4, etc.   It quickly became apparently that by the time you got even CLOSE to the present day, the trail of designations would be overwhelming, and so I just took the "shortest" path to the common ancestor.   (However, you CAN reconstruct it by looking at the set of ancestors of anyone in the tree --- that might be fun to do if only to see who is the most inter-related (to me) person on the tree!

[3] What about the burial records?   If the child died as a child and the parents were listed on the burial record, that would show up in my search and I'd record it.   For the others (and that's most of the people involved), it'll mean looking them up as individuals, which will happen with successive "phases" of the project (if I live that long!).