Friday, 27 July 2012

Was Joseph dit Letard dit St.Onge the legitimate father of
Magdeleine dit Letard St. Onge dit McTavish? And who was Magdeleine's birthmother?

It is difficult to locate details regarding Magdeleine dit Letart St. Onge dit McTavish. This posting will reveal the data available and it will also discuss some of the stumbling blocks to her true identity.

Magdeleine was described as a native woman with red highlights in her hair. She spoke Cree, Michif (a language based on Cree and French), English and French [I am searching for the source of this description]. Based on the information that I have collected, Magdeleine was "M√©tis," meaning that she descended from a mixed heritage First Nations and European. Before we review her ancestry, let's look at her marriages.

Magdeleine's first husband was Charles Lacombe and he is listed as a voyageur in the Notary Book of Samuel Adams employed by the company W.H. Putuff of Mackinac on June 28, 1816. Although I have yet to confirm the following data from primary sources (such as birth and marital certificates), I would like to share this plausible story that describes what may have happened to Magdeleine's first spouse and first child:
Madeleine married Charles Lacombe about 1820 on Drummond Island, MI. Their daughter, Madeleine, was born about 1823 on Drummond Island, MI. Charles Lacombe, who was a voyageur, died about 1825. Their daughter Madeleine Lacombe later married Louis Langlade on 10 May 1842 at Penetanguishene, ON and they would have 11 children.
Her second husband was Antoine Lafreniere whom she married on August 17, 1826 at Drummond Island, MI.  Although we have many details regarding her children with Antoine, it is very difficult to determine exact Magdeleine's heritage and date of birth.
(Some of the data below was revealed in the last posting dated July 13, 2012, so please be patient as I attempt to add some insight and new sources.)

It is believed that Magdeleine's "parents" were:
  • Katrine-Genevieve Vasseur (born about 2 July 1792 St. Ignace, Mackinac County, Michigan). Her birth record states:
  • Sex:    F
    Birth:   ABT. 2 JUL 1792 in St. Ignace, Mackinac Co.
    NATI:  Metis
               Godparents were Antoine Adhemar St. Martin and Genevieve Blondeau. August 15, 1799, by us the undersigned priest, the ceremonies of Baptism were supplied to Genevieve, privately baptized by Laurent Bertrand, born July 2, 1792, of jacques Vasseur and of Madeleine, an Outawa, his lawful wife. The father was present and signed with us. The godfather was Antoine Adhemar St. Martin; and the godmother Genevieve Blondeau, his wife, who signed with us.
  • Joseph dit Letard St. Onge birth certificate is recorded by the PRDH at the University of Montreal as:


    # 314014



    Birth: 1781-08-29

    Baptism: 1781-08-30  Boucherville, QC

Joseph's parents were married 24 November 1766 (their marriage is registered in the Quebec Vital and Church Records Drouin Collection 1744-1772, image 222) and Joseph had 10 other siblings.

Katrine-Genevieve and Joseph probably wed in Michilimackinac, MI. Their marital certificate, according to St. Anne's parish in Detroit Michigan, states:
Joseph Letard dit St. Onge dit Latour, son of Joseph Letard dit St. Onge and Veronique Bissonet, married Katrine Genevieve Vasseur, daughter of Jacques Vasseur & Madeleine Ouiouiskoin about 1810.
Gabriel Richard, priest.
jac Vasseur; Bd. adhemar; adhemar St martin
[The "dit Latour" added to Joseph's name on his marriage certificate may indicate that he was an illegitimate child, but I have yet to confirm this.]
When Katrine-Genevieve married Joseph dit Letard St. Onge about 1810, three of their children were also present:
  • Amble dit Letard St. Onge
  • Genevieve dit Letard St. Onge
  • Joseph (Jr) dit Letard St. Onge

All family members were baptized at this time. Soon thereafter, four more children were attributed to this marriage:
  • Magdeleine dit Letard St.Onge born 1801-11 Mackinac Island, MI.; married Antoine Lafreniere and died 6 December 1883 at St. Leon, MB.
  • Toussaint dit Letard St. Onge born about 1815, and died 1881.
  • Marie Louisa dit Letard St. Onge born 1822 and died 23 April 1908 at Britt, Parry Sound, ON.
  • Marie Veronique Marguerite dit Letard St. Onge born 25 July 1825 at Drummond Island, MI.
Although Katrine-Genevieve Vasseur has been linked to Magdeleine dit Letard dit St. Onge dit McTavish as her biological birthmother, it is difficult to prove as factual for several reasons:
  1. There are no official birth records available for Magdeleine.

  2. It is stated on several unofficial records that Magdeleine may have been born as early as 1801, but Katrine-Genevieve would have been only nine years old and unable to physically conceive children. And if Magdeleine was born even five years later, why wasn't she present at the marriage of her parents and baptized with the other family members?

  3. There is a theory that suggests that Magdeleine's birthparents and two siblings died in a boating accident.  According to some Internet geneaologists, Magdeleine's family drowned in 1814 in a boating accident with Donald McTavish, first cousin of Simon McTavish and in charge of the Fort Astor (today known as Astoria, Oregon) NWC post at this time. Although he was involved in many NWC trading posts across Canada, I believe this story is ficititous as Donald drowned while trying to cross open waters with an open boat to reach the Isaac Todd, a British ship, anchored near Fort Astor.  However, it is possible that Magdeleine's true birth family died or became unable to care for her and Katrine-Genevieve adopted Magdeleine.

  4. There is another story that claims Simon McTavish, the principal director of the Northwest Trading Company, must have been Magdeleine's father.  While he  operated the Michilimackinac post prior to the 1790's and he was known for keeping "country women", he was a well-established businessman more than 500 miles away in Montreal by 1793. He owned a store, flour mill, saw mill and bakery and he also possessed large parcels of land, including a home in which he raised four children with his 18-year old wife until his death in 1804 according to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online created by the University of Toronto. It is extremely unlikely that Simon was her father.  "McTavish" was a common name for many voyageurs and thus, it is impossible to determine Magdeleine's birthfather.

  5. Is it possible that Katrine adopted Magdeleine because Katrine's sister Marie Louise (born 1787, married in 1804 and date of death unknown) had died? Or did Katrine adopt a friend's daughter?

  6. Why does Magdeleine add "McTavish" as her surname in the 1860's when she signed her son's marital record? Is it possible that Magdeleine's birthmother had an illegitimate child with a furtrader/voyageur and Magdelaine only learned about it later in her life? Did she start using it because she reunited with her true father or did the  stigma of her illegitimacy evaporate? Perhaps, she may have even been proud of her McTavish heritage....
Here is a document that will answer at least one of the questions:  I recently discovered the following death certificate for Magdeleine taken from the parish records at St.Leon, Manitoba:
This record declares that she died on December 8th, 1883 at the age of 82 and thus, this primary source officially extinguishes the theory that Katrine-Genevieve Vasseur was her birth mother. (The notation located in the lower left hand corner refers to the fact that Magdeleine's gravemarker is absent at the St. Leon cemetery.) 

Magdeleine's Grandparents

Now, let's examine Magdeleine's grandparents (Katrine-Genvieve’s parents). They were:
  • Madeleine Ouiouiskoin of the Outawas Nation (more commonly known as Ottawa First Nations of the Ojibway) born about 1769 at Lac Court Oreilles, Wisconsin
  • Jacques Vasseur born ____ of Montreal and married 5 August 1799.
This is a photo of their original marital record at St. Anne's Church in Michigan:

Below is their official marriage and baptism registration between Jacques Vasseur and Madeleine of the Outawas Nation as recorded in the 1695-1821 Register of Baptisms of the Mission of St. Ignace de Michilimakinak, MI:

This is a valuable piece of our ancestry as it notes:
  1. Jacques Vasseur of Montreal, likely a voyageur;
  2. Madeleine's ties to the Outawas Nation, also known as Ottawa, which is of the Ojibway group of First Nations; and
  3. Genevieve, about seven years old -- this is our Katrine-Genevieve born in 1792 who's birth certificate states that she is Metis (as demonstrated earlier in this posting).
Here is the list of Jacques and Madeleine's children (some of these children are vaguely referred to in the above registration) were:
  • Marie Louise Vasseur born February 1787; married Joseph Gautier dit Caron on 1 July 1804 at Michilimackinac, MI.
  • Louis Vasseur born 15 June 1790 probably at St. Ignace, MI.
  • Katrine-Genevieve Vasseur born 2 July 1792 at St. Ignace, Mackinac County, MI.; married Joseph dit Letard St.Onge
  • Joseph Vasseur born 8 August 1797.
  • Jacques Vasseur III born 8 January 1799 at St. Ignace, Mackinac County, MI.(It is noted in his record that he was privately baptized one month after his birth).
  • Jean Baptiste Vasseur born 1801 and baptized by missionary priest J. Dilhet on 18 July 1804.
  • Andre Vasseur born 1802, and baptized by missionary priest J. Dileht on 18 July 1804. According to The Ontario Historical Society Papers: Papers and Records, Volume 3, Andre Vasseur became a landowner of Lot 84, Concession 1 in Tiny, ON and later moved to Bruce Mines, ON where he died (date unknown).
An interesting note by the Ontario Historical Society Papers is the claim that Jacques Vasseur, [believed to be either Madeline's spouse or her son Jacques Vasseur] died at Pinery Point, ON when he was killed by an Indian.
Jacques asked the Indian to shake hands with him, and while reaching for his hatchet with the other hand discovered his arm was broken. He is buried on the Gidley farm (Antoine Lafreniere's property at Tiny, ON).

Next week: Revealing Antoine Lafreniere's birthparents


  1. do you have more info on Katrine Genevieve's family? im a descendant of her right down to the boucher family. my great grandfather's name was Edward Boucher (Bushey) if so I am Jana B Ingram on facebook...Any info helps and it's really neat to learn as well. I am trying to do the geneology for my family and eventually am going to make books up for them.

  2. Hi Jana,
    I am sorry but I have no information on the Boucher (Bushey) family.

  3. Want to learn more about the mission of St.Ignace, Michigan, the birthplace of Metis Katrine Genevieve Vasseur? Check out this website which discusses everything from geology, First Nations and fur trading activities. This website mentions Rev. Gabriel Richard, the Curate of St. Anne's parish in Detroit, and oversaw the marriage and baptism of Jacques Vasseur to Madeleine of the Outawas Nation.

  4. Great inform. Looking for a record ( marriage of Pierre Giroux to Marie Louisa St. Onge dit Le Tard D.O.M. Feb.9,1836) that shows who her parents are. Hopefully they are Joseph St. Onge dit Letard & Genevieve Vasseur as the index page suggests in the marriage records of St. Anne but the second page is missing. Any help available