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.
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