Luck was certainly on my side when I searched for the mercurial Gingras ancestral lands. I had all but given up the search when I caught a glimpse of the marker on the left.
Background is undoubtedly in order. All Gingras (pronounced Gin-Gra) in North America descend from my eighth great-grandparents Charles Gingras (1641-1710) and Marie-Francoise Amiot (1660-1736). Charles emigrated from France in 1669. Two years later, he was awarded 30 arpets (about 25 acres) with about 195 yards of frontage along the St. Lawrence River. According to historical reports, the ancestral ground was occupied without interruption by ten generations of Gingras from 1670 to 1965.
Great, but where is it? You’d think that land this important would be easy to find. An Internet search revealed that Rosario Gingras, the last owner of the hallowed ground, sold it to the University of Laval on March 31, 1965, a transaction recorded in the Registry Office of Cap-Sainte on the following April 8. According to a posting, the land was to be used for agricultural research. There’s no mention of the land on the University of Laval website, however, and two Gingras on the faculty weren’t aware of its location either.
So off we went in search of the sacred soil, cutting short a Quebec City vacation. Based on today’s maps, it seemed likely that the land would be incorporated into the University of Laval station agronomique saint-augstin-de-Desmaures, located on a hillside south of Quebec City overlooking the St. Lawrence River.
Once we reached the facility, we were greeted by official-looking signs and buildings. In my experience, when on a critical mission such as this, the best tactic is to act first and ask for forgiveness later. So on we drove, right between the research buildings, straight to the fields of experimental plantings, hoping a dirt road would lead us all the way to the river.
It would have helped had I done a little more research in advance. I later learned from a Wikipedia entry that the plot would look much like the ones on the map on the right. Bequeathed lands were arranged in long narrow strips known as seigneuries or fiefs. They were typically located along the banks of a river, estuaries, or the few roads at the time. The idea was to make it easy to transport goods.
That was important because part of Charles’ deal was to bring grain to a mill built by Seigneur Jean Juchereau de Maure, the feudal lord of Cap-Rouge, the first French settlement in Canada. Giving the seigneur one out of every 14 sacks of flour was customary. The feudal lord also had the right to a specific number of days of forced labor by the inhabitants and could claim ownership over fishing, timber, and common pastures.
Charles Gingras was obligated to pay rent, clear the land, and start farming, according to the seminal work, Our French Ancestors, by Thomas J. Laforest. (When I pass, descendants can check out Vol. 22, pages 94-115.) Laforest speculates that the last stipulation wasn’t a problem — Gingras had been squatting on the land for two years. Charles agreed to pay Seigneur de Maure sixteen livres and six sols for the arrears owed for the past two years. The money was transferred from Jean Chesnier in a release from Gingras, as indicated in a private document dated July 19, 1670. Gilles Rageot drew up the contract of concession on September 22, 1671. The Gingras lands bordered lands owned by Esnard Tinon on one side and by Robert Choret on the other. Charles’ older brother, Sebastian, bought Choret’s land in 1672, which presumably helped the brothers achieve some economies of scale.
We drove unsuccessfully all over the agricultural station, looking for something to indicate where the ancestral lands might be. Eventually, we doubled back to the headquarters building to find someone who might know. The first person we encountered spoke virtually no English. It’s incredible how French dominates the spoken word in Quebec City. Unable to understand what we asked, he pointed down the road several times and said “Montreal” as if we were looking for directions. We had more help from a college intern who spoke pretty good English. He thought our best bet would be to go to the older section of the research farm, a half mile down the main road.
There was no evidence of the ancestral lands there, either. We were just about to give up when we spotted the marker at the top of the story. It seemed too incredible to be true–an actual stone marker identifying the Gingras lands. Plus, it was mulched and planted with flowers, indicating that someone might know more about the historical tract. A property fence to the right of the marker indicated the Gingras land would be to the left. You can see the location of the Gingras marker in the Google Earth image below. The fence goes through the woods to the right of the marker. The land Charles and Sebastian tilled is likely to be the brownfields in the image. On this day, crops were growing in the fields, as evidenced by the picture I took three paragraphs above.
Charles worked the land as soon as he arrived from Saint-Michel-le-cloucq, Vandee, France, in 1669. He would have been about 28 years of age. By 1675, he believed he was doing well enough to start a family. Francoise Amiot, according to Laforest, was his heart’s desire. She was also a source of income. Her family set the dowry at 500 livres tournois. According to the customary laws of France, the wedding would take place with “joint property,” presumably meaning Francoise would jointly own the grounds. “For their part, the Amiots promised to give their daughter an advance of inheritance of 200 livres, paid in three payments, in provisions and other things,” writes Laforest.
The couple had at least a dozen children. The 1681 Census of Canada has them living with three children — Mathieu, Jean, and Charles. They had a gun for hunting and to defend themselves against potential enemies. They kept four heads of cattle and worked twelve arpents of their land. Perhaps the rest of the 30 arpents hadn’t been cleared.
Sebastian, Charles’ older brother, died first in 1687. His widow, Francoise St. Louis, requested an inventory of the couple’s community property. Charles became the guardian of their minor children. When Charles died in January 1710, he was buried in the small cemetery of Saint-Augustin. (It will take a return visit to find the marker if one exists.) He was survived by more than a quarter century by his young wife, Marie-Francoise Amiot.
After her husband died, Marie-Francoise asked her son Joseph, who wasn’t her oldest son, to take over for his father at home. This information came from another son, Jean, who married in 1705 and lived in the neighboring parish of Neuville. On December 22, 1711, shortly after their father died, Jean donated a piece of land to Joseph that Charles had bequeathed to him when he married. The act was signed by the lawyer Hilaire Bernard de la Riviere. Jean (1678-1742) was my seventh great-grandfather.
Jean donated the land as an act of fraternal friendship. He was grateful for the “good care” that Joseph had given his mother and their brothers and sisters since the death of their father. It was presented with the hope that he would continue this care. Marie-Francoise, with the consent of her older sons — Mathieu, Jean, and Pierre — made it official two years later, ceding all rights to her property to Joseph in the presence of a notary, Chambalon. An inventory of the property had been drawn up by Thierry Hazeur, a missionary priest fulfilling the duties of the curate of the Saint-Augustin parish. The document was dated March 18, 1713.
The property was appraised at 2,748 livres and five sols. Half of it was given to Joseph on the condition that he promised to feed the household, do laundry, and support his mother for the rest of her life, in health or sickness. Joseph was also obligated to feed and support his two little brothers and sisters and his two older sisters in case they wanted to remain in the house. The older sisters, though, would be held to work according to their strength. “Joseph was also charged, after the death of his mother, with having her buried and having 25 requiem masses said for the repose of her soul,” writes Laforest.
Eventually, Joseph’s older brothers — Jean, Pierre, and Mathieu — ceded their hereditary rights to the property. They wanted him to have the means to feed and support their mother more comfortably. Joseph later acquired the successive rights of his other brothers and sisters. “He would also have the good fortune of keeping his mother close, his best adviser until she had reached her 76th year. She died on February 7, 1736, and was buried the next day in the parish cemetery of Saint-Augustin,” writes Laforest.