Blair Family Fiction

Elizabeth and John…

Dear Rosa,

Your daughter, Mary, never talked of your mum and dad, Elizabeth and John, and I’m sorry for that. Sorry I didn’t try a bit harder to get that tight-lipped Vermonter to tell me the stories I ached to hear. Somehow, it felt too personal to pry. They were her grandparents, not mine, and I got the message to leave it alone.

Until now.

I did some digging this summer. Fired up my computer and typed in “familysearch.org” and oh, the treasures I found.

Immigrants. All the census say “Canada-France.” Neither side of your family spoke much English when they came down to Vermont. Both Elizabeth and John were born in Canada. Elizabeth in 1849 or so and John… well, he was just a bit older. Seems he was born around 1809. Imagine my surprise when I found they were 40 years apart. An incredible census (1880) lists four generations of John Drinkwine’s living in one house.

I could tell you more, but perhaps I can show you better. For those that’ve read my posts, you know my imagination is about to take flight….

*************************************

Jean Boisvin stole a glance at his new bride, Elizabeth Blair. Younger than him by some 40 years; a  real beauty with those blue eyes and how did he get so lucky? His first wife, Harriet, had died in childbirth, leaving him to raise little Antwine and Jean, Jr. alone. Something a poor laborer just couldn’t do in the 1800’s.

The marriage had been quiet and quick. A simple affair as there were children involved. And now they were packing to leave their home.

Canada, his French Canada, could no longer support a growing family of four. He needed work and Vermont was the place offering. The Irish were building the railroads, mining quarries, working the mills that seemed to spring up overnight along the rivers. He was a laborer and would never be anything but. He’d find kin there, of sorts. Others that spoke his language and maybe, if he was lucky, he’d find work.

Papa? Little Jean tugged on his father’s shirt. Je n’parle pas Englais…

Oui, his father answered, but you will learn.

He met his new wife’s gaze. We will all learn the language. Comprende vous?

Eliza nodded and hurried the children along. The packing was done. With so few belongings, they carried what they owned in crude sacks. A new life waited. Fearful, yet hopeful, they stepped out the door…

They’d change their names when they arrived in St. Albans, Vermont. After weeks of travel, mostly on foot, they would find a place to settle and Jean would become John. Boisvin would become Drinkwine. There, Eliza would birth children that would be American.

That would become their legacy.

*********************************

I don’t think your papa lived long, Rosa. By the 1890 census, he was gone, leaving Eliza alone to care for you and Alfred, Harriet and Alice, William, Margaret and Sophia. Your mum would marry again to Peter Drinkwine. Perhaps a cousin or distant relation of John’s. Poor, French-speaking immigrants stayed within their clans.

It was all they knew. It was survival.

And here is my great, great gram’s death certificate. Elizabeth Drinkwine, born Elizabeth Blair.

Ah, the power of familysearch.org

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20 thoughts on “Elizabeth and John…

  1. What a great story! Maybe because of the French connection, or the years involved (early nineteen century), but I feel very close to this story. I love family heritage, and the tales we spin from our imaginations. From my experience, it becomes a need to fill in those gaps, a longing to know, perhaps to better understand ourselves, or just plain curiosity, but whatever the reason, even tales of hardship, just feel magical. I least for me. Good luck with your search, I know how addictive it can get 😉

    1. So much of that side of the family came down from Canada. The trail ends there, though and I haven’t been able to determine if they were Scots Blairs or French Belairs… still love this stuff. Nice to see you – still want some info. on your new book, girl!

  2. It is great that you were able to discover new things about your family! Recently I’ve been able to do the same. You are inspiring me to do some more family digging! I just need some more hours in the day. 🙂

  3. Oh Susan! You are getting better and better at this. No doubt your imaginings aren’t too far from the truth either. How wonderful that you’re recording this legacy for your family. And that we can enjoy it too. Please keep it up. I think you’ve found your niche in the writing world.

      1. You too? Sometimes I feel like my body’s been taken over by an alien life form–an intelligent and wry little creature who’s totally the opposite of me.

    1. The “real world” may never find me, Eunice. Got my rejection email from the publisher yesterday. Ah, but it’s all good. I love blogging and it’s made me a better writer.
      Now… back to the keyboard…

      1. Guess the publishing houses got some stuff to figure out, too. With self-publishing more viable for so many… well, let’s just say they need some lessons in etiquette, or at least civility.

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