Monday, April 07, 2014

Mystery Monday: The Death in 1900 – or Not – of Mary Gertrude Vanasse

In the summer of 1891, a little girl was born to John and Dinasse (Ranger) Vanasse in Chapeau, Pontiac County, Quebec. She was the couple’s first of seven children; three sons and three more daughters were born between 1891 and 1912. She was also a first cousin of my paternal grandmother Julie (Vanasse) Belair.

At her baptism two days later, on 23 August 1891 in Chapeau’s church, she received the names Mary Gertrude. Her godparents were her maternal uncle Evangéliste Ranger and her paternal grandmother Elizabeth Frappier. They could not sign their names in the parish register, unlike the father, who wrote his name in a clear and legible hand. [1]

John and Dinasse suffered a tragedy on 11 April 1900 when one of their children died. According to St-Alphonse’s sacramental register, the child who died was “Mary Gertrude Vanasse”. The burial record adds that she was 8 years old and the daughter of John Vanasse and Dinna [sic] Ranger. (“Dinna” is a variation of Dinasse.) [2]

Mary Gertrude Vanasse burial record
Burial record of Mary Gertrude Vanasse (cropped image) [3]

Based on this information, there’s no reason to doubt who died that April day – or is there?

I believe there is room for doubt, especially because a marriage record exists for Mary Gertrude. On 8 August 1911, Mary Gertrude, “daughter under age of John Venasse [sic] and Dinasse Ranger” married Hector Marchildon in Chapeau’s St-Alphonse church. [4]

The daughter who married was under age, according to her marriage record. Since matrimonial majority was 21 years at this time in the province of Quebec, Mary Gertrude would have been born after 8 August 1890. [5] All of John and Dinasse’s daughters were born after this date, but only one of them was named Mary Gertrude, the eldest. The other daughters were Anna (b. 1897), Mabel (b. 1899) and Clara (b. 1907). I don’t think it’s a case of mistaken identity, say, for example Anna who married instead of Gertrude. Even though Anna was old enough to marry at 14 years old, it’s not her, since she married for the first time in July 1917. [6] As for Mabel and Clara, they were only 12 and 3 ½ years old, respectively.

So, if Mary Gertrude didn’t die in 1900, who did?

I have a theory that the child who died in 1900 was Mary Gertrude’s younger brother Michael John, who was born on 10 December 1895. [7]

Although I haven’t found a burial record for him in St-Alphonse’s registers, at least not one that explicitly states his name, it seems more likely that it was Michael John and not Mary Gertrude who died on 11 April 1900. I've located the death or burial dates for the other siblings (Isaac, Anna and Mabel) who were born before 1900, so it isn't one of them. Also, Michael John, who would have been 5 ½ years old, does not appear in his parents’ household on the 1901 census [8], suggesting he is not alive.

The fact that Michael John wasn’t enumerated with his parents on the 1901 census schedule doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s the child who died in 1900, but the fact that his sister Mary Gertrude married in 1911 means that she couldn’t be the one who died in 1900 and whose name appears in that burial record.

It's difficult to image that St-Alphonse's parish priest would get a child's name, age and gender wrong in its burial record, but it seems to be the case in this situation.


1. St-Alphonse (Chapeau, Quebec), parish register, 1890-1893, p. 57 (stamped), entry no. B.50 (1891), Mary Gertrude Vanasse baptism, 23 August 1891; St-Alphonse parish; digital image, “Quebec Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967”, ( : accessed 16 July 2010).

2. St-Alphonse (Chapeau, Quebec), parish register, 1900, p. 10 recto, entry no. S.17, Mary Gertrude Vanasse burial, 12 April 1900; St-Alphonse parish; digital image, “Quebec Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967”, ( : accessed 17 July 2010).

3. St-Alphonse, parish register, 1900, p. 10 recto, Mary Gertrude Vanasse burial, 12 April 1900.

4. St-Alphonse (Chapeau, Quebec), parish register, 1911, p. 13 recto, entry no. M.10, Hector Marchildon – Mary Gertrude Venasse [sic] marriage, 8 August 1911; St-Alphonse parish; digital image, “Quebec Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967”, ( : accessed 17 July 2010).

5. Hélène Lamarche and Guy Desjardins, “Majorité matrimoniale et majorité civile”, Mémoires de la Société généalogique canadienne-française, 56 (printemps 2005): 31; DVD edition (Montreal, QC: SGCF, 2013). The “Code civil du Bas-Canada 1866 (art. 115)” fixed the age of majority, that is, the legal age at which parental consent was no longer required for marriage, at 21 for boys and girls.

6. St-Alphonse (Chapeau, Quebec), parish register, 1917, p. 11 verso, entry no. M.13, Adolphe Chassé – Anna Vanasse marriage, 28 July 1917; St-Alphonse parish; digital image, “Quebec Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967”, ( : accessed 17 July 2010). Anna is described as “daughter under age” of her parents, which indicates a first marriage. Had she been a widow and married subsequently to a previous marriage, custom dictates that the name of her late husband is stated in the record instead of the names of her parents.

7. St-Alphonse (Chapeau, Quebec), parish register, 1895, p. 26 recto, entry no. B.86, Michael John Vanasse baptism, 10 December 1895; St-Alphonse parish; digital image, “Quebec Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967”, ( : accessed 16 July 2010).

8. 1901 census of Canada, Chichester, Pontiac, Quebec, population schedule, sub-district I-1, p. 6, dwelling 50, family 50, John Venance [sic] household; digital image, ( : accessed 1 May 2011). Only four children are listed in this family: Gerty (10), Isaac (7), Annie (4) and Mabel (2).

Copyright © 2014, Yvonne Demoskoff.


  1. This is interesting Mary Gertrude Venasse was my husbands grandmother. My husband is Michael Marchildon. Never heard this story before and stumbled upon it while googling something else.

    1. Thank you for commenting, Tricia. I'm glad to hear from one of Mary Gertrude's descendants (-in-law).