Births, Deaths and Marriages

Recently I discovered that my story is actually ten years shorter than I thought it was.

I know, right?

One of the research tools I use is Mes Aieux, a website for Quebecker genealogy. It assures me that Alphonsine only had six children, rather than the thirteen my Grandma insisted on.

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What was Grandma thinking? Honestly.

She did like to shock people and that would have been reason enough for her to tell me that Alphonsine had thirteen rather than six children.

But the really important part of this is that, for some reason, losing the decade has made me feel more connected to the story; it fits together more naturally now. I guess I was feeling the gap in the plot. A lot of my anxiety around the book is just gone. It’s a little bit miraculous.

I did look into the possibility that Alphonsine might have lost seven babies who didn’t make it into the records. This could have happened if they died after they were born but before they were baptised.

Infant mortality (counted as children who died after their first day and before their first birthday) rates at the time—before antibiotics and vaccination—were pretty horrifying. Infant deaths were so common, many of them weren’t given an official cause of death.Canadians in general lost 20% of their children in the first year, while French Canadians lost almost 30%. The difference was probably due to lower incomes and resultant poorer nutrition, especially in French Canadians living in cities.

Worst off were babies in orphanages: 97% didn’t make it.

So it seemed pretty likely that Alphonsine could have lost that many babies. Until I read that French Canadian babies tended to be baptised within a day of birth to make sure they avoided Purgatory. So Alphonsine having any, let alone seven, unrecorded children is extremely unlikely.

Now I’ve realised that I really need to get the birth and death dates of each of her children, because the odds of all six of them surviving to adulthood are terribly small. Mes Aieux’s researchers don’t work for free though, so that’s going to have to wait a little while. (You can donate to the cause if you like 😉 )

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