Charles Vermette (b. St-Gervais, Quebec, 1860), Albina (Ouellette) (b. Roxton Falls, Quebec, 1868), and family in 1904. Standing, from left, are: Alice, Marion, Geoffrey, Sylvia, Eva. Seated, from left, are: Albert, Albina, Ludger, Charles, and Benjamin Vermette.
Franco-Americans can access online genealogy and history data written by researchers who share their data on their websites and blogs.
One information-packed blog titled “French North America,” by David Vermette, is loaded with history about Brunswick and Topsham’s Franco-Americans as well as other New England Francos. Vermette also hosts a website dedicated to his research.
He began writing about the Brunswick-area French-Canadians in 2001, and his research continues.
“I’m continuing to learn more about Franco-Americans as I research my blogs,” he says.
Along with being a genealogy enthusiast, Vermette, 48, is a storyteller, who takes his findings beyond basic data collection.
He describes the conditions Franco-Americans lived in when they arrived in Brunswick to find jobs in the Cabot Manufacturing Company, a textile mill, which opened in 1857, using hydropower purchased from the Brunswick dam on the Androscoggin River. (In 1857, the Cabot Mill reported 235 looms, 9,000 spindles and employed 175 workers, http://learn.bowdoin.edu/apps/es/drupal/node/215).
Almost all the French-Canadian immigrant workers lived in mill-owned tenements. Conditions where the workers lived in the late 19th century were brutal and they were exposed to diseases like diphtheria and typhoid fever, he says.
Vermette is a Massachusetts native who currently lives in Annapolis, MD, in a family home he and his wife purchased from his mother-in-law. His father was a second generation Franco-American, born in Brunswick.
“I will always consider myself to be a Franco-American from New England,” he says.
Around 1881, his great-grandfather, Charles Vermette, originally from Saint-Gervais, Quebec, arrived in Brunswick with his brother François. They came to the area from the Eastern Townships region of Quebec. Another brother had already established himself in the area and soon, other family members arrived as part of a chain migration to the mid-coast area. Many of Vermette’s forebears, including his grandparents Albert and Ida (Lavigueur) Vermette and his great-grandfather Charles and his wife Albina (Ouellette) are buried in Brunswick’s St. John the Baptist Church cemetery.
When he was growing up, Vermette traveled to Brunswick to attend family events. These memories supported Vermette’s familiarity with Brunswick and the places he describes on his blog.
“I recall one reunion in particular in which French was commonly spoken and French-Canadian music was featured,” Vermette said. “Some Brunswick residents may recall my great-uncle Lucien who was an accomplished fiddler in the area.”
Many Brunswick and Topsham Franco-Americans came to the mid-coast area from the region of Quebec known as L’Islet. Others immigrated from other parts of Quebec as well as a few from the Acadian communities in the Maritimes.
Although most French-Canadians flocked by the thousands to Maine work in the state’s industrial cities, many fully intended to return to their homes in Canada.
But, Brunswick’s Francos were somewhat different in that regard. Vermette says the Brunswick Franco population seemed to favor naturalization. In fact, a lively naturalization society began in the 1880s.
Despite this movement toward citizenship, a Ku Klux Klan chapter formed in Brunswick during the 1920’s, targeting propaganda against Roman Catholic “foreigners.”
Regardless of the hardships they experienced while working long hours in the mills and the ethnic discrimination, Brunswick’s Franco-Americans, in the early to mid-20th century, enjoyed a rich cultural life including arts and music, sports, games, religious and cultural events. They created a joie de vivre through soirees where they participated in theater, music, and other entertainments. Their faithful support for the beautiful St. John the Baptist Church and the parish parochial school, both located on Brunswick’s Pleasant Street, continues today.
Vermette used several sources to write his blogs, like census records, church records, naturalization papers, town vital records, and newspapers.
One of the published sources on Franco-Americans he found were the publications of William N. Locke, who attended Bowdoin College as an undergraduate. In 1946, Locke published “The French Colony at Brunswick Maine” and also wrote a book on the French language spoken in Brunswick.Tweet