MSS-058-The Geographic Evolution of a Franco-American Family

Episode 058-February 1, 2017

David Vermette chose to tell his family’s story in the context of the land they occupied as a way to understand the choices that they made. He studied the systems (religion, economy, government, land ownership) that influenced and shaped their hearts.

The Geographic Evolution of a Franco-American Family

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Geographic locations of Vermette ancestors

Isle d’Orléans

Antoine Vermette dit Laforme left France to settle on the Isle d‘Orléans in the mid-1660s. A son, Robert, moved onto the mainland just across from the island. They lived in this vicinity for about a century before moving a bit inland.

The family lived under the seigneurial system of land management. This hierarchical system prevailed until about the mid-1800s. Farms were laid out in long, rectangular strips perpendicular to a river, providing each family with a means of transportation. Houses were built close to the river with the farmland behind that. A row of parallel properties was called a rang. The habitants owed rents and a certain amount of labor to the seigneur who was granted the rights to the land by the king.

Cadastral maps show the layout and ownership of the land. Cadastral maps can be found at the BAnQ as well as elsewhere. (See links to other cadastral maps below.)

Image-seigneurial system

Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia

Institutions were cooperative and interdependent. The river and seasons dominated the lives of these agricultural people. Roles were fixed.

The seigneurial system was officially abolished in 1854, but in practice, it continued into the 20th century.

Eastern townships

In about 1862, the Vermettes moved to Nelson Township in the Eastern Townships region between the older seigneuries on the southern shore of the St. Lawrence and the US border.

Land under the English system is laid out in lots that are square or rectangular in a sort of checkerboard pattern with no regard for the natural features of the landscape.

In the 1860s and 1870s, the Vermettes found themselves on the border between these two different land systems, as well as between two different religions and two different languages.

In about 1881, David’s ancestors moved to Kingsville, later Thetford Mines, and worked for an asbestos mining company. Now instead of harvesting crops above the land, they were digging a product out of the land and working for an English employer.

United States (Maine)

David’s great-grandfather, Charles Vermette, being a member of the landless working class, decided to move to America and work in the mills in Brunswick, Maine.

His great-grandmother’s family, the Ouellettes, lived in the town with other French-Canadian mill workers where they were cramped together in dirt- and germ-infested tenement houses. Diphtheria and typhoid claimed many. Seven of the Ouellette’s twelve living children worked in the mills at one time, including his 12-year-old great-grandmother. A long way from the beauty of Isle d’Orléans!

United States (Massachusetts)

Between the 1920s and 1930s, David’s family moved back and forth between the French enclave in Maine and Massachusetts, where the Vermettes were no longer living in an area populated by those of a similar heritage.

In the early 1960s, the family left the city to move to the suburbs. They were now living in an area with vitually no French-Canadian support system.


David surmises that people maintain substantial freedom of choice, but within the tolerances of the materials they were given. The tolerances detected in David’s family are:

  • Authority comes from outside, or from above rather than from within.
  • There is a general aversion to risk. Risk is seen from the standpoint of potential loss rather than potential gain.
  • One does not put oneself forward too much in a public situation.

Do you see these tolerances in your Franco family?

David’s blog

You can reach David through his blog, French North America, which is located at Here he writes about Franco-American communities in New England, the systems in which they live, and the reception of Franco-Americans in New England.

Image-David's Blog

Baraka Books in Montreal will be publishing David’s book based on his blog. His working title is A Distinct Alien Race: a Social History of Franco-Americans. There is a crowd-funding campaign for anyone who would like to contribute to the final research and writing of the book.

David was recently on a panel at the University of Maine where they discussed the fourteenth amendment and Franco-Americans.

David will also be appearing in a film about Israel Shevenell, the first Franco-American of Biddeford, Maine.

Can you trace your ancestors through the land they occupied and tell their geographic story?

Some online cadastral maps


NERGC 2017

The 2017 New England Regional Genealogical Consortium conference takes place from April 26-29 in Springfield, Massachusetts. Early bird registrations end on February 28. Information on the French-Canadian track is in show notes for episode 56. You can download the conference brochure and register for the conference at



Last call for journal articles or records you’d like to have translated by Dr. Blood’s French language translation class at Salem State University. Again, more information can be found in episode 56.


If you haven’t yet left a review of this Podcast in itunes (click on ‘View in iTunes’), please consider doing so because it moves us up in the rankings and helps other genealogists discover us more easily. Recently, lhandich left a review in iTunes that says, “This is my favorite podcast. I have all the books from the guest authors and have used all the references in my research. Great job…” Thank you, lhandich.

Listener email

Michael wrote in and asked for help reading a marriage record whose letters had bled together and were very difficult to read. Our Community Helpers, Annie Vallières and Ken Proulx, offered assistance, and Annie finally managed to translate the document.

Quick tip: The document was from the QuebecRecords database. I looked up the same record on the FamilySearch website, which is a different copy, and the record was much more readable. So be sure to try the other database if your copy is difficult to read. See episode 12, the Drouin Collection-Microfilmed and Digitized, at for more information.

New France Tour 2018

Having returned this July from a very successful Acadian Ancestral Tour where we walked in the footsteps of our Acadian ancestors, we are now in the planning stages for the Nouvelle France Tour in August of 2018. We are waiting for the exact dates of the 2018 Nouvelle France Festival so we can schedule our visit around that.

We again plan to walk in the footsteps of our ancestors, so I need your help. Part of the tour will take us to towns or villages where our 17th-century ancestors lived. I need help from those of you who either live nearby or have visited enough to make recommendations. What sites should we be sure to include? So in each of the next few episodes, I am going to ask you to make recommendations.

Let’s start with Charlesbourg and L’Ancienne-Lorette. If we visit those towns, what sites would be must-sees for genealogists? You can either answer here or on Facebook. I’m going to post the request there as well. Thanks for your help, and stay tuned for more information around late summer or early fall.


Listeners certainly came through with some great podcast recommendations from Survey 56, Which podcasts, other than those specifically about genealogy, do you listen to that other genealogists might be interested in? There were so many that I’m going to cover about three or four each episode for the next several months. Here are the four for this month, beginning with history podcasts:

Two audience members only listen to Maple Stars and Stripes. As flattering as that is (Thank you, guys!), I hope they can find a couple more when we’re through with your suggestions.

Stuff You Missed in History Class

The Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast received the most recommendations. Each episode goes into detail about some aspect of history. There is an episode on the filles du roi and Cardinal Richelieu, whose support of Samuel Champlain got us all where we are today, researching our French-Canadian roots.

Ben Franklin’s World

Liz Covart’s podcast, Ben Franklin’s World,  covers early American history. Some of the episodes that pertain to New France and our ancestors are one on Esther Wheelwright, a captive carried to Canada; one on the history of early Detroit; and one on how Canada ALMOST joined the American Revolution.


As the name suggests, in Backstory you’ll learn about what’s behind the events in history and how they affected people’s lives.


Discover Library and Archives Canada

Direct from Canada, Discover Library and Archives Canada has produced episodes on “The Métis Nation,” “Canada’s Flag: Maple Leaf Forever,” and “Digging Into the Past: Family History in Canada.”

French-Canadian News

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The French Canadian Heritage Society of Michigan

Saturday, February 11, 11 AM, at the Mount Clemens Public Library-There will be a general meeting followed by research at the library.

The Vermont French-Canadian Genealogical Society

  • Saturday, February 4-Beginning Genealogy class with Sheila Morris
  • Saturday, February 11-Your Personal Genealogy Education Plan with Catherine Desmarais
  • Saturday, February 18-If I Knew What I Know Now: DNA Testing with Patti Malone
  • Saturday, February 25-Winooski’s History and Heritage with Anastasia Pratt

Classes run from 10:30 AM until noon and are held at the Vermont Genealogy Library in Colchester, Vermont.

The French-Canadian Heritage Society of California

March 26, Spring Meeting, from 10 AM to 4 PM at the Southern California Genealogical Society and Family Research Library in Burbank, CA. In celebration of the 150th Anniversary of Confederation, there will be a presentation titled “Coming Together-the 150th Anniversary of the Canadian Confederation.” In the afternoon you can take advantage of helpful volunteers and research your family in the library.

Get Maple Stars and Stripes

How to Contact Maple Stars and Stripes






5 comments on “MSS-058-The Geographic Evolution of a Franco-American Family

  1. Francese D Wilcox

    David, great material as usual ! I always find your writing to be incisive, accurate and some time just plain eye opening , Keep up the great work

  2. Kristin Hall Sliwicki

    Great podcast!
    Jacques Bourreau shared (on French Canadian Heritage Society of Detroit’s FaceBook page on 2/3/17) Societe histoire de Quebec’s posting overlaying this carte (map) on Google Earth. See

  3. Anonymous

    I thoroughly enjoyed the interview with David Vermette. He provided a Franco-American family history as seen through a different lens! His research into his family’s land/property holdings, and later the lack of property, was a longitudinal study, if you will, of the ways the family fortunes changed over three hundred years and many generations. Causes and effects — fascinating! I agree with you, Sandy, that his story mirrors the family history of many Americans with French-Canadian roots.

    Susan McNelley

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