Saturday, June 6, 2015

The "Death" Family

When looking at family trees that go back several generations, one of the things you expect to encounter is a higher frequency of deaths of children, especially at, or shortly after, birth. The absence of natal care and medical care in general, particularly with difficult pregnancies, birth complications, and any number of abnormal conditions all contribute to a higher mortality rate. I do think that people over-estimate the frequency, but given the large size of families, especially in rural communities (it's not uncommon to see over 10 children, in particular when there's several marriages), finding one or two in a family doesn't surprise me. I've even found cases where MOST of the children died young - I can only imagine the tragic sadness and stress that those families must have experienced.

But then there's THIS family. I noticed early on reviewing the Tanguay record that there were an awful LOT of deaths.  I wondered at first if the family was poor and things like nutrition might be a factor, (but as it turns out, this was NOT a poor rural family).   Then, the more I dug into it, the more things started to look like a twisted 18th century episode of "Criminal Minds".

My 7th great-grand uncle, Antoine Aide dit Créquy (1716-1779) was a "Maître Maçon" (master macon) in Québec, the youngest of 10 chidren (all of whom lived to adulthood). I don't know what his father (Jean, 1646-1667) did - but he probably was also a tradesman, and likely a mason as well (Antoine's older brother Louis (1695-1755 was also a master mason), who died when Antoine was 10. Almost all of his siblings married and had children, and nothing in any of their families stood out as odd. So, as far as I can tell, they had a relatively normal life.  Given their status as master tradesmen, I suspect they were somewhat well-off.  Most the family lived in Pointe-aux-Trembles (now part of the city of Neuville), then a village about 5 miles west of Québec.  It appears they also lived in Québec.  Antoine's siblings get married and settle in either Québec or Pointe-aux-Trembles[1].

Antoine marries Catherine-Angélique Carpentier (1726-1782, a 3rd cousin 9x removed) in 1745 in Pointe-aux-Trembles. She also comes from a large family with 6 siblings (all who live to adulthood) and 6 half-siblings (3 who live to adulthood). Her father, Antoine (1680-1736) was an architect (in Québec), so I also conclude that they were also well-off.   Neither family fits the stereotype of "poor rural farmers living off of the land".  Antoine and Catherine had 16 children - a large family, but not record-breaking - over 22 years (which means that Catherine spent about 50-60% of that time pregnant).

So I started compiling the birth and marriage information for the children.   My process has been:
  1. Look up marriage record in Tanguay and seed the list of children from that.  (Tanguay has lots of errors which I fix as I go along.);
  2. Look up the set of records in LaFrance (Drouin) for the couple going out about 40-50 years to catch all the childrens' baptism and marriage records.   This isn't 100% accurate because sometimes the parents names aren't IN the records, or the various spellings and combinations of double (sometimes triple) given names, "dit" names and so on causes gaps.   Doing Tanguay first helps identify those situations (but not always)[2];

When a child dies before marriage age, I also put in the burial information (I don't for the adults because eventually I'll get back to them when I do THEIR families - adding in the deaths is my final "check" on the to-do list).  What typically is the case is that I'll spend MOST of my time in one set of Drouin records;  they're organized by parish and then year.  Occasionally I'll have to pop over to another parish, usually for a marriage record where the couple's families live in different towns.  Sometimes a family moves over the span of years.   In this case, almost all of the 20+ records I was looking up were in Québec, but with a few exceptions to different parishes.

So here's a table of the children with the vital information:

NameBirthDeathAge at DeathLocation
Marie-Madeleine 6 Aug 174710 Aug 17474dQuébec
Antoine (1)17 Sep 174823 Sep 17486dQuébec
Antoine-André4 Apr 175019 Feb 17587y 10mQuébec
Maurice6 Feb 1752
Louise-Catherine6 Aug 175317 Aug 175311dCharlesbourg
Louis (1)28 Oct 175416 Oct 17561y 11mQuébec
Jean-François31 Oct 175514 Nov 175514dBeaumont
François-Elie26 Jul 175729 Aug 175734dLorette
Joseph26 Jul 175722 Aug 175727dLorette
Louis-Antoine15 Sep 17582 Oct 175817dSaint-Augustin
Charles12 Nov 175920 Dec 175938dLes Écureuils
Marie-Thérèse5 Dec 176021 Sep 184079y 10mQuébec
Marie-Louise25 Aug 176231 Jan 17652y 5mQuébec
Antoine (2)5 Oct 17642 Jul 183267y 9mQuébec
Louis (2)3 May 176725 May 176722dBeauport
Catherine3 Jun 176815 Jul 176913m Québec

LaFrance didn't provide all of this on the first pass.  Specifically, it missed Joseph entirely.   I "found" him looking for François-Elie's baptism (since they were twins the records were back-to-back).   After two hours of work, I finished with Catherine, and this is when I start "pass two" for any gaps (e.g., where Tanguay had a listing, but it didn't show up in LaFrance).  

And that's when something struck me.   First, it was ONLY burials I was looking for, and in this case Tanguay didn't mention them either.   So I was working "blind" without any specific year or location, but sometimes things do turn up.   I found François-Elie's burial record - discovering that he, too died shortly after birth, and finding the page in the Lorette record, saw that Joseph's burial record was on the same page.   Neither had the parents listed - which was odd, as well the case they were in Lorette and not Québec.   Since both extended families are in either Québec or Point-aux-Trembles, what were they doing in Lorette?  (OK - sometimes when there was need of a priest, the local one wasn't always available and people would go to a church the next town over.  But this typically happens in RURAL communities, NOT Québec City where almost all of the parish needs were done at Notre-Dame Cathedral - hardly a place where there wouldn't be ANY priest available!)

Then I noticed that NEARLY ALL of the children who died shortly after birth (and BTW MOST of the deaths-soon-after-birth situations happen ON the day of birth, or 1-2 days after, had burials outside of Québec, and not in Pointe-aux-Trembles.  In fact, the only ones that died IN Québec where the first two children, and the last child.   So, this pattern occurs between 1753 and 1767. [3]   ONLY the children who live past one year die in Québec, and ONLY two children live to adulthood!

Does this sound suspicious to anyone else?   Like - multiple infanticides?

Needless to say, I was curious, so - borrowing from the techniques of multiple modern-day crime dramas - I looked for a pattern in the location of these burial places:

Burial location of the seven children who died outside of Québec and within their first year.

Wow.   It DOES fit a pattern.  OK - you'd expect things to be along the river because that's were all the towns were.   But there's clearly a disturbing trend:
  1. The first two children (Marie-Marguerite and Antoine (1)) die in Québec in 1747 and 1748, respectively, but that's not out of the ordinary... at first;
  2. We don't know about Maurice (1752);
  3. Then we go over to Charlesbourg to dispose of Louise-Catherine (1753).  If this was a suspicious death, leaving Québec and away from the family makes sense;
  4. Go in a completely opposite direction - and across the river - with Jean-François (1755);
  5. Louis (1) dies in 1756, but he's over a year old.  Stay in Québec;
  6. The twins (Joseph and François-Elie) die about a week apart, but in Lorette (1757);
  7. Now we've run out of nearby places (Lévis isn't remote enough) to bury Louis-Antoine, so upriver to Saint-Augustin (1758);
  8. Repeat, going all the way to Les Écrueuils[4] to bury Charles (1759), PASSING BY Neuville, where most of Igance's family lives;
  9. Now there's a several year "gap".  Thérése is spared,  Marie-Louise makes it to the age of two (so is buried in Québec), and Antoine (2) is spared.
  10. But, Louis (2) resumes the pattern, and he is buried in Beaumont (1767).
  11. Finally, Catherine makes it past the one-year mark and is buried in Québec.

Suspicious, yes?   I mean - you hear people talk about where they want to be buried, and I suppose someone even back then might've decided on a resting place that wasn't in their town, or even for a loved one, but why ONLY the children who died in their first year, and why NOT the children who lived to be a year?  And then why put each one in a different community?  If some were in Québec, and some in Pointe-aux-Trembles it would make sense (since that's where Antoine's family is).

I mean - if you were TRYING to discreetly dispose of bodies over time, and didn't want to arouse suspicion, this is what you'd do - right?   Granted the radius is only a few miles, but it's mid-18th century Québec, so a few miles would definitely get you away from anyone who knew you, if you chose your destination carefully.  Then you'd want to avoid the places where people might know you.

By the time the only two siblings who survive these weird fates marry (Thérèse in 1784, Antoine in 1805), both of their parents are dead.   I can only imagine what each of them had to say when they get to that point in a relationship where you disclose (at least some) of the skeletons in the family closet ("well, I have 15 brothers and sisters but 14 are dead, and they're buried ALL over Québec!").

From the point-of-view of the Québec parish, they only see six burials and sixteen baptisms over the 20+ years, so I suppose that nothing came up as suspicious.   Maybe it's all just a truly bizarre and tragic coincidence.

But you have to wonder.  


[1] One appears to move to Lotbinière in the 1740s, but it looks like EVERYONE else is either in Québec or Pointe-aux-Trembles, and not in ANY of the non-Québec places that Antoine buried children.

[2] Despite this minor criticism, LaFrance is AWESOME and completely worth the $13US/month I pay for the service.

[3] I couldn't find anything on Maurice other than a baptism record.   I presume he also died young, but it's weird that he doesn't show up anywhere.   Morbidly, I have to wonder if he ended up in an unmarked grave or something...    Probably in Lévis or Saint-Nicolas.

[4] This is my FAVORITE placename in Québec.   THE SQUIRRELS!

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