Genealogy is an important element of French Canadian culture. Genealogies back to the first emigrants began appearing in the 19th century. But as John Goulait writes, there are often roadblocks to discovering your heritage. And what happens when heritage is based partly on oral tradition or family lore? Can records legitimatize identity or do they simply serve to verify our knowledge? French Canadians often have family stories that have long been difficult to prove, yet are increasingly verified through modern research and science. — the editor
JOHN J. GOULAIT for THE STORYKEEPERS PROJECT
About ten years ago I embarked on a journey: to find my heritage, my background, and who I am. Although I have been traveling the genealogy road about a decade now, mine is really a journey through the centuries – although it ‘began’ for me in St. Clair, Michigan, where I was born toward the end of the Second World War. This is the story of that journey, and how it continues.
But let’s start in the beginning. I have learned to begin with that I am not only a French Canadian, but also Métis. In this genealogical journey, I have realized that there are many stories and long-held beliefs that people choose to show within their family tree. But in genealogy ideally we have, and one is often told that we must have, records to reflect the truth.
For example, because I have no printed material (baptism, marriage, etc.) I have encountered a ‘brick wall’ on my great-grandfather Joseph Henri (Honore) Goulet’s line. However, I have been able to trace his wife, Mathilda Marie Currier (Carrier), b. 1839 in Quebec all the way back to our ancestor’s arrival in New France in 1660. On this line I can find proof of Mètis ancestry, which also is substantiated through Autosomal DNA.
Although I have encountered a ‘brick wall’ with my great grandfather, Joseph Henri, (b.1826 in Canada), I have learned that ‘Goulait’ was originally ‘Goulet’. This discovery came through the use of YDNA testing and a Goulet that I matched on 67 markers, who I could trace on paper back to Thomas Goulet in France in the late 1500s and his son, Jacques, who came to New France in 1646.
There have been many other indications and hints discovered along the way of still-hidden stories, from throughout the centuries. For example, there are indications that my branch of the Goulet family is part of the history of the Voyageur world and was directly involved with the Red River uprising and Canada’s westward expansion.
My belief rests in part in what little paper facts I have found – in census records and records of travels of the Goulet family. But I also find myself asking questions and returning to old family stories as my journey continues.
A history is within us all –– the story of where we are from, where we have been, and where we are heading. As I look for answers to what I don’t know, I learn things that sometimes surprise me and other times confirm for me what I thought all along. It is a great journey and I would hope you would join me by sharing your own.
July 19, 2013