Above, left: Eugénie Vallée. Above, right: Marie Trottier.
This blog post, a sequel to “The widow of St. Casimir,” contrasts the lives of two women, Eugénie Vallée (1880–1973) and Marie Trottier (1855–1928), first cousins born in St. Casimir, Québec a generation apart. (Eugénie’s mother, Lumina de Varennes [1844–1922], was the younger sister of Marie’s mother, Léocadie de Varennes [1828–1897].) Marie came to my attention through an online family tree with an elegant photo of her circa 1875. Eugénie’s grandchildren were immediately struck by the strong resemblance between their grandmother at the same age and Marie. Did these look-alike cousins, who likely never met, have similar experiences in their migration path to the Unites States, where they lived the majority of their lives?
In 1896, following the fatal industrial accident of Hermidas Vallée, Eugénie’s father, the mill owner Michel-Adolphe Grandbois paid for sixteen-year-old Eugénie’s tuition at Laval College to earn a teaching certificate as a means of supporting her widowed mother. In the 1901 St. Casimir Québec census, Eugénie is listed as an institutrice [teacher], but she found that she earned more money as a tailor. Her destiny, like that of Marie Trottier, would take her across the border.
Eugénie’s elder half-sister Claudia had already moved to Winooski, Vermont, where she worked in the woolen mills. Claudia soon married Gustave Lavallée, a blacksmith, born in the neighboring Québec town of Cap Santé. Claudia died giving birth to a third stillborn child. Gustave parceled out their surviving two sons to relatives. Gustave evidently made return trips to St. Casimir.
Eugénie’s children … supported their mother for the rest of her long widowhood.
At 25, Eugénie, likely at her mother’s behest, married her brother-in-law Gustave in the parish church, and the couple immediately moved to Vermont. Eugénie bore seven children over the next fourteen years. Gustave struggled to earn a living as horses gave way to cars. He died of cancer, age 56. Eugénie’s children, all of whom left school in their youth to work, supported their mother for the rest of her long widowhood. Eugénie never learned English. Her world revolved around her family and St. Francis-Xavier Catholic Church, which kept its French Mass through the Vatican II era.
According to the 1900 Woonsocket, Rhode Island, census, Marie Trottier claimed to have been in the United States since 1866, but her family’s migration was more complicated than Eugénie’s one train-ride move. Marie’s parents, Joseph Trottier and Léocadie de Varennes, lived in several places in Québec, as reflected in the baptismal records of their children. They lived in Rhode Island during the Civil War, but Léocadie, widowed by 1874, returned to St. Casimir. She moved next to Moorehead, Minnesota, where she appeared in the 1880 census – then back to St. Casimir by the 1881 census.
Her children scattered in pursuit of jobs. Léocadie’s nineteen-year old daughter Marie Trottier lived in Woonsocket when she married Jean Baptiste “John” Lagacé on 22 November 1875 at Precious Blood Church, a Catholic parish established for Québec immigrants. They remained in Woonsocket. Marie bore fourteen children, of whom eight died in infancy or childhood. Marie’s husband John, a mason, eventually prospered and bought a home on Rathbun Street. They lived long enough to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary.
They lived long enough to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary.
Marie and Eugénie, chronologically more akin to mother and daughter because of the difference in their ages and when they emigrated, nonetheless had some experiences in common. Though husbands became American citizens, the St. Casimir cousins lived in French-speaking enclaves which resisted the pressure of assimilation. Staunch Catholics, they expected their children to marry “within their own kind,” and all of them did. They would have shared the belief that adherence to their native language was essential to maintaining their faith. Living sixty years in the United States would not have changed their perception of church and family. As fitting testament to these women remembering their birthplace and heritage, their cemetery stones, within their beloved French parish cemeteries, inscribe their life dates and the word épouse [wife].
3 thoughts on “Cousins of St. Casimir”
Two beautiful lives well lived. One can only respect such earnest living and devotion to tradition. Thanks for sharing this Michael!
Marie Trottier, the subject of the “elegant photo” above is my great grandmother. I have a copy of that very tintype, as well as a photo of her 50th anniversary celebration in 1925 with Jean-Baptiste Lagace. I have always heard him referred to as “Jean Baptiste,” not John. His proper name, according to the marriage records at Precious Blood Church in Woonsocket was “Pierre.” Three daughters, one of whom is my grandmother, Valeda Lagace Tessier,(1887-1971) survived to old age, as did two of her sons. One son, Edmond, died mysteriously in 1924, I believe in his early 40’s. This may explain the sorrowful expression on Marie Trottier’s face in 1925 at the 50th Anniversary celebration. He is buried in Cimitiere du Precieux Sang in Woonsocket with his parents, however I can find no record of his death in Woonsocket’s vital records. I have suspicions that there was a rift with his father, who was, by all accounts from my uncles, who were his grandsons, that he was a cold hearted man.
Edmond was married on the 1910 census, and divorced on the 1920 census, a very rare event at that time. I strongly suspect that he was gay, something that his father would never have been able to abide. The manner of his death remains a mystery.
In any event, I have 29 first cousins who share Valeda Lagace Tessier and Frederick Tessier as their grandparents. I have always been fascinated by geneology
I also have a tintype photo of Leocadie de Varennes and Joseph Trottier. I did not know that she returned to St Casimir after living for a while in Moorehead, MN…never knew that part of family history.
Thanks for such a great article!
Paulette V Tessier
St Petersburg, FL
I lived in Woonsocket, RI from 1971 through 1997 after graduating from Rivier College, in NH.
I checked my research records. Leocadie De Varennes died in Woonsocket, RI, 02 Mai 1897. She may have been living with her daughter, Marie Trottier Lagace on Rathbun St in Woonsocket. The home at 227 Rathbun St stayed in the Lagace-Tessier family until the 1990s. My Uncle Frederick Edmond Tessier, raised 8 children there until he moved to Las Vegas where he died in 1995.