A. B. Charbonneau
Families, like individuals, have their history generally fused in that of the nation. Yet, long before Herod thought of grouping the words and actions of people of his time into one register, the Patriarchs had already erected monuments here and there which spoke about the remarkable deeds concerning their descendants. A few stones were sufficient to perpetuate unforgettable memories of the past. In their crudeness these stones have kept the tradition intact and whole, and when small children would ask their elders the meaning of their existence, they would relate the events that led to the erection of these monuments.
Later, these monuments of stone were perfected by man’s genius. The stylus enabled man to carve emblematic figures, certain hieroglyphic characters; from this time on, there was only a gap between carving and writing of history, which was soon filled in by the invention of papyrus rolls. Whatever was narrated on these scrolls was not the intent of the writer to destroy the monuments. From time on, these monuments were erected close to one another; imperishable, faithful stones, complementing one another by their inscriptions, striking the imagination of thousands of people as they relived in their hearts the culture of the past.
Today, with the invention of the printing press, the book is being multiplied, thus grouping the principal facts of a nation’s history along with the smallest details about family life or about individuals; there are many memories, the biographies are numerous and in this way the past is reborn in the future.
Yet, in this publicized work, in the millions of books spread throughout the four corners of the earth, you will find two distinct categories; one category deals with patience, documents and deeds; the other category deals with joy lightheartedness and fiction; one deals with time, the other with eternity. This present volume deals with the latter category, and is somewhat comparable to monuments of antiquity. Just like Pharaoh’s slaves who were building the pyramids, the author has taken one by one the stones from the family monument, not like the stones taken from a quarry called Thelaid, but spread out here and there, not only in the registers of his country, but in those of the Mother Country. During seven years, all the freedom of his medicinal career was consecrated to this work that he undertook and that he wished to be as complete as possible. Gleaning through hundreds of pages of birth records, marriages and deaths, the reader does not know just what to admire; …. Should it be the amount of research necessary to retrace the dispersed branches, more and more numerous on the Genealogical Tree; or should it be the ingenious plan that allows one to follow or find in a few seconds of one of the million individuals that composes this great family?
When we reflect on the millions of registers that had to be consulted, the numerous trips that had to be made . . . painful trips, also the midnight work and the fatigue resulting from this work; while on the other hand if we consider the amount claimed for such work, we cannot in truth praise the author too highly for his lack of interest at times. Then we ask ourselves what gave him such courage, such patience and tenacity … and we finally discover the real motives for this remarkable task.
Like in all things, the conclusion we have in view becomes a forceful matter due to the fact that the object in view is noble and elevated. The works of Dr. J. C. Poissant had triple characteristics: They were patriotic, family minded and utilitarian.
Patriotic: To offer to his native country a complete list of all the descendants of one son that left the shores of Seudre in France, to come and establish his home on the shores of the Saint Laurent River; to follow these people where ever they went throughout the continent, to show the prodigious expansion of this family origin, its vitality, its gains and its losses; in a word its destination, and to say with pride: “see what has happened to this poor Huguenot, who saddened by the errors of his parents, returns to the Catholic faith and begins a new life on Canadian Soil by giving honorable sons to the Church and to his newly adopted country. Can something more praiseworthy be conceived??”
Beside these bonds of intimacy that are held so close to the heart of man and besides the bond of patriotism that is nonetheless as great and as forceful, the family bond as we understand is the motive for the undertaking of this task. Time and distance are the two great hindrances to family life. Forgetfulness creeps suddenly into families, especially when its members are dispersed. Like offshoots transplanted into foreign and unfit soil, they quickly lose their particular characteristics. Within a few years, the family bonds are lost, annihilated; their somewhat distant cousins become strangers and their name . . . the family name, this countersign so strong and forceful becomes meaningless when replaced by a namesake.
You bear my name??? Are we related ??? Who are your ancestors??? They know nothing about them, yet, the same blood circulates through their veins!! Today, transportation has facilitated our means of travel, so that if we travel to the opposite ends of the earth, just as they traveled in the last century from one parish to another, the danger of being further apart becomes greater and greater. Hence, it is easy to verify the results. Brothers and Sisters often become unknown and when by chance they meet one another they seem indifferent. This is one of the sad consequences of our actual society, which often results in the dissolving of family life; slowly breaking up the former family customs, isolating from family relatives, where selfishness has supplanted all sentiments and has caused contradictions in the teaching of Saint Paul: love one another. How this state of affairs makes us regret “the good old times,” a period in our way of living, where the farmer never left his parish and where his children would establish themselves around the paternal home, so that nicknames were necessary to avoid confusion with Baptiste the son of Peter and Baptiste the son of John.
What rejoicing with friends could be witnessed in the Paternal Home during the “Celebration of Christmas and New Years day”. Facing the large chimney made of rock, where traditional logs for Christmas were burning, a custom preserved from the Mother Land, the children and grand children with their fathers would gather around their grandfather, the oldest member of the family. Most of the time not one member of the family was missing due to the fact that they lived close to one another or in the next parish. Today, it is with regret that only two or three members of a family can unite on New Years Day. The greetings that we offer one another is done by letters and then silence brings on forgetfulness. The first years this happens, a feeling of sadness grips the heart and we ask ourselves: where is she?? Where is he?? Absence works it way into our hearts and we do not worry anymore,
Dr. Poissant’s Book is a reminder to those of his family who are still worrying and want information. He wants to tell them what has happened to his sisters and brothers who are far away, his nephews and uncles unknown to them, his cousins who are often ignored --- he wants to make known his ancestors, the family’s primitive source, the giant family tree with its many branches and innumerable ramifications.
During the two centuries, when this book was written, many families and individuals have changed their names. As we skim through the book, we find Poissants with the name like Claude or Glaude, and Fisher, a common name in the United States. We equally find Boileau without knowing the origin and reason for this name. We also find lessons of great morality, lessons of patriotism and social economy. The most numerous ramifications have been the most prosperous!!! The ones that have died out were the less fortunate here on earth. On the contrary, good fortune and happiness were found by the brave parents of families of twelve, thirteen and eighteen children. We see these numerous families multiply according to the predictions of the patriarchs of the Old Testament, and draw upon themselves graces from Heaven as the branches develop. However, we should not reject the branches that were more or less sterile; the secrets of Divine Providence are impenetrable, but the facts presented should be an encouragement to those who would be tempted to complain about the heavy burden of a numerous family.
Lastly, we find in this book, besides the patriotic and filial sentiments it presents, a practical and material aspect, a place of honesty in dealing with monetary interests. Do we not owe our wealth to natural and legal heirs? How much of this wealth is given to lawyers in trying to prove filial relationship. Often news reporters inquire about certain deceased members, about certain families . . . without getting satisfactory information. It is only through a task like this that we can establish in a peremptory way the undeniable rights of every generation. Because of this book, the author is assured that one branch from his family tree can establish absolute rights to a heritage often withheld by the Canadian Government because of unknown heirs. This is one example in a hundred, that proves quite eloquently the indisputable usefulness of this research. Hopefully, may his work find imitators, and may Canada be endowed (in imitation of an Iceland) with a great number of family genealogies.
Father Tanguay, in his large Genealogical Canadian Dictionary, has certainly opened up avenues for research, but aside from his genealogy how many more need to be ploughed into. Also, many things are lacking, with is inevitable, in such a gigantic task! To be convinced of this it is sufficient to compare the development of the Poissant Families in both works; we find complete branches from the family tree omitted or ignored; others are so incomplete that traces of family origins become impossible. It is true that Dr. Poissant’s work is not perfect. Some of the information from these last years are incomplete, because of the impossibility of finding the necessary documents which is due in particular to the dispersion of each family. However, these gaps will complete themselves. The members of interested families will add on their own children that are missing, bringing this work to perfection and completion.
Finally, according to historical and documentary facts, of what use can such a work as this one be to historians or simply people that are searching? How many manuscripts, available today and will not be in the future, through sheer negligence and carelessness of librarians!! How many civil registers and buildings have been abandoned and are rotting away! How many others have been crushed by daily accidents! The author already knows that he cannot begin this work anew because important facts have already disappeared since a few years. What will it be in one or two centuries and what will happen to our origins??? Isn’t this what we demand in a loud voice from our civil authorities who have severe control over everything??
One or more reasons why we should congratulate Dr. Poissant is for having given us, by this long and accurate compilation, the history of his family. Without a doubt, all persons interested will be forever grateful to the one who was willing to impose upon himself this beautiful but arduous task and that they will compensate him in many ways beside complimenting him for his work.
A. B. Charbonneau
Montreal, April 1909