For half a decade, I’ve been working with relatives to try to figure out where the bedeviling Marie Gingras (1861-1937) came from. I’m pleased to report that, thanks to the hard work of cousin Sue Wolfe, the mystery has been solved: My great great grandmother came from St-Nicolas, Levis, Quebec, Canada. That’s across the river from Quebec City.
No wonder San Francisco newspapers described Marie as “French down to her highly polished fingertips.” She was French-Canadian! Her parties were covered in detail in the society pages of the San Francisco Call. She held teas, knitted party favors, organized charity events, attended a noteworthy Bishop’s lecture. She was an early automobile owner, seen driving about town with her daughter.
But we could never figure out where she came from. A father, Isaac, was listed on her death certificate. But her mother’s name was missing. The omission was most unfortunate, because Marie was a devout Catholic, and if we knew the name of her mother we probably could have traced her back to a church in Canada through baptism records.
It would have helped to know when she was born, too. Unfortunately, she kept giving out different dates to different authorities, probably because it was nobody’s business how old she was! We searched in vain for her name in the 1900 Census, which is special because it asked citizens for the country in which their parents were born. Unfortunately, Marie and her husband, Fred Pickering, weren’t around when Census takers came to collect that information. They had rented out their San Francisco home.
The breakthrough came when a researcher working with Sue turned up a key piece of evidence that had eluded us — an 1918 obituary in a Fitchburg, Mass., newspaper for Celina (Gingras) Henault. It’s amazing how many old newspapers have been digitized in recent years. The article listed a surviving sister as Mrs. F. Pickering of San Francisco. Bingo.
Celina’s ancestry was much easier to figure out, using ancestry.com and other public sources. The genealogist eventually determined that Marie Cecile (we never even knew her middle name) Gingras was the 10th of 11 children of Isaac Gingras and Rose Deveau. All the children were born in St-Nicolas, Levis, Quebec, Canada. This confirmed the story that Sue had heard from her mother — that Marie had been born into a large family.
At some point, after all the children were born, the Gingras moved to St. Johnsbury, Caledonia, Vermont, about 40 miles south of the Canadian border. It’s a town of less than 8,000 people today. It’s known for its maple syrup. I want to go there. I have some research to do. Sue’s mother told her that one time the Gingras family nearly boarded a train that was involved in a large, and famous accident.
It looks as though several generations of the Gingras and Deveau families lived in St-Nicolas, Levis, Quebec. Isaac and Rose were both born there. So were Rose’s parents. But so far we haven’t been able to figure how how long the Gingras family lived in Quebec or where in France they came from. Sue’s mother told her the family at some point came from Nice, France.
The genealogist found one relative on Rose’s side, Eustache Lambert, who married Marie Laurence in Boulogne, Pas de Calais, Picardie, France in about 1656. They started having children in Canada the following year.
Sue’s mother used to tell her stories about how Marie Gingras met her true love, Fred Pickering, somewhere in New England. Fred’s family was from Portland, Maine. The Pickerings were prominent and easy to trace — “they probably came over on the Mayflower” is what my mother used to say. She might be right in this case.
Fred traveled 3000 miles by covered wagon to seek his fortune in San Francisco. Two years later he called for his childhood sweetheart to join him. She traveled with her Hope Chest — which is still in Sue’s family — by ship from New England to where the Panama Canal is now. She crossed the isthmus by mule train then took a boat up the coast to San Francisco, where, finally, she was reunited with Fred.
The pair married in January, 1883. They had two daughters. The youngest, my great grandmother, Marie Rose Pickering (1886-1940), married Julius Kruttschnitt (1885-1974), a miner who moved the family to Australia. The older daughter, Rhoda Elizabeth (1884-72), married Tenney Davis Williams (1884-1961).
Fred Pickering did extremely well in his chosen profession — real estate. A lot of his transactions, which I’m just starting to research, involved agricultural land in Northern California where commercial farming was taking root. The couple lived in a magnificent home, on a hill overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.