French Canadian Roots

I was reminded by an ad for the coming season opener of “Who Do You Think You Are?” that I had not yet followed up on my last post, as promised, with a look at the French Canadian branch of my family tree.

My mother’s maiden name is Delpha, and the first record we have of that line is the Census of 1860 from the town of Brandon, in the county of Rutland, Vermont, which lists John Delpha, a farmer born in Canada, age 45, living with wife Lydia (age 38, born in Canada – we think her maiden name may have been Lassor or Lassour), and seven children (Charles, 16; Alice, 11; Lydia, 8; Albert, 6; Denis, 4; Julius, 2; and Phebee, one month), all of whom are shown as born in Vermont.  The value of John’s real estate is listed as $800 and his personal estate as $300.

We have no specific information about what spurred John and Lydia to immigrate, or even exactly when they made their journey, but as I discussed in my previous posting, historical accounts of this period tell us that unemployment and crop failures in eastern Canada at this time drove many French Canadians to seek employment on the farms and in the mills and factories of the “Green Mountain State” (French: Verts Monts).  Also, the strong flow of British immigrants into Quebec in the early 1800s had caused the French-speaking people to become a minority who found themselves the subject of much discrimination. We’ve previously seen that some of our branches ended up in the shoe factories of Massachusetts, while this line found its way to the farm country of Vermont.

A decade later, the 1870 Census says that John is a farm laborer and Lydia is “keeping house,” with only three of the children remaining at home (Lydia C., now 18; Dennis, 13; and Julius, 12).  The older children have probably established their own homes, but we would have to guess that little Phebee died young.  The value of John’s real estate is now listed as $1200 and his personal estate as $500, so he has risen a bit in the world!  This time, the place of birth for John and Lydia is listed as “Canada East”.

St Marys Brandon VT  John DelphaRecords from the Brandon Town Clerk’s office tell us that John died on December 28, 1889 (also on the gravestone, left and below) at age 73 from paralysis.  Lydia’s corresponding record says that she died at age 77 from a hernia.  John and Lydia are buried in St Mary’s Cemetery in Brandon, Rutland County, Vermont.

St Marys Brandon VT  John & Lydia Delpha

In this Town Clerk’s record John’s name is mis-spelled as “Delphy,” and we find the same error for son Dennis Delpha in the 1880 Census in the nearby town of Chittenden.  Dennis is listed in this year as age 25, living as a boarder, and working in a sawmill.  Listed just above John is Fred H. Morrill, age 22, also working in the sawmill, but living at home with parents Ira and Angelina Morrill, and a sister, age 18, whose first name is not legible but whose middle initial is E.  Putting 2+2 together and hopefully not getting 5, I’m guessing that E stands for Emma and this is Dennis’ future bride, who we know from family records was Emma Morrill.  E’s mother, Angelina, is shown to be from New Hampshire, and other records show that our Emma was born in New Hampshire and that Dennis and Emma were married in Canaan, N.H. on December 5, 1885. It would be very interesting to learn why they traveled to New Hampshire to be married, or if they ever lived there.

What happens during the next fifteen years remains a mystery for now, for the next available record is the 1900 Census, dated June 18th, which tell us that Dennis, now age 43, was living in Brandon, but as the head-of-household (widower) with 7-year old son Adolphus and 11-year-old John David, as well as a housekeeper, Hannah Welch, aged 71. So, we can surmise that Emma died sometime between Adolphus’ birth in 1893 (or perhaps as the result of childbirth) and the Census of 1900.  It is unfortunate that we cannot find out more about her, since the name “Morrill” is not as certainly French as the rest of them.  There are records of Morrills emigrating from Canada into New Hampshire, but there are also English Morrills, and therefore we can’t be certain this branch is wholly French.

In the 1910 Census, dated May 9th, Dennis Delpha is listed as still living in Brandon, now alone in his household, a farmer with marital status “widower.” For now, that is the last we know of him.

However, Vermont marriage records show that in 1910, John David Delpha, then age 21 and working as a railroad brakeman, married Mary M. Trombley on September 20th.   So, while farming may have been what brought this line to Vermont, the railroad is what sustained them for the next generation.  The Rutland Railroad carried much of the state’s dairy products, but it was also crucial to transporting the marble that was quarried in nearby Proctor and was a primary economic engine for the region. According to Wikipedia, a brakeman

was a member of a railroad train’s crew responsible for assisting with braking a train when the conductor wanted the train to slow down. A brakeman’s duties also included ensuring that the couplings between cars were properly set, lining switches, and signaling to the train operators while performing switching operations. The brakemen rode in the caboose, the last car in the train, which was built specially to allow a crew member to apply the brakes of the caboose quickly and easily, which would help to slow the train. In rare cases, such as descending a long, steep grade, brakemen might be assigned to several cars, and be required to operate the brakes while the train was moving from atop the train. Brakemen were also required to watch the train when it was underway to look for signs of hot box (a dangerous overheating of axle bearings), as well as for people trying to ride the train for free, and cargo shifting or falling off.

In 1917, John David registered for the draft, and his draft card tells us that he was living in Brandon with his wife and three children under the age of 12, still working as a railroad brakeman in Rutland.  The card shows a military rank of Private in the National Guard, but to my knowledge, he was not called to active duty.

The 1920 Census for the city of Rutland, dated January 16th, lists John David (age 30) as the head of his household at 39 Baxter Street, which is comprised of wife Mary (29), son John E. (8, who I know from family conversation was always called John Edward), daughter Josephine M. (7, who I knew as my great-aunt Mary), son Robert D. (5, my grandfather), and mother-in-law Rosanna (Picard) Trombley (58). By the 1930 Census, the family has moved to 24 Jefferson Street, a home which they own and is valued at $6500.  Mother-in-law Rosanna is still with them, youngest son Harold has been born, and John David is still working as a railroad brakeman.  This picture of my grandfather 1920@ Robert Delpha and brother HaroldRobert and little brother Harold was taken ~1923. John David also has a World War II draft card, dated 1942, but by then he was in his 50s and was not called to serve.  He lived long enough to retire from the railroad and passed on in 1950, at age 60, of myocardial insufficiency due to hypertension and related to bronchial asthma.  Mary outlived him by 23 years, and I do remember her somewhat from my childhood, but she and my mother did not get along well, so we did not visit often.

Rosanna Picard and her husband, Louis Trombley, also immigrated from eastern Canada, most likely both from Quebec, where Louis was born in 1844 and Rosanna in 1860.  Unfortunately, we know little else about Louis, other than that he died in 1899.  We do know that Rosanna was born in St. Angle in Quebec Province.  The first record we have is the 1900 Census for Rutland, VT, when we find Rosanna living at 27 Crescent Street with son George (18, a core maker), daughter Josephine (16, a wrapper and trimmer), Henry (14, a helper in the Foundry), Rose (12), Mary (7), Maria (6), and Annie (4).  I did some research to try to find out what foundry they might have worked in, and learned that “Foundry work related to the railroad and the stone industries grew out of the older ironworks, as did the single largest manufacturer, the Howe Scale Company, which employed almost half of the Rutland City work force in 1909. In 1899 Rutland City itself accounted for about one quarter of both county employment and value of manufactured goods, and ranked second in the state for its employment and manufactures” (Route 30).

This picture, marked with Rosie Doran’s writing, was taken in 1906, when most of the family was still together.  Sitting in the front at left is Rosanna Picard Trombley and next to her, also seated, is Mary Margaret Trombley.  Standing in the back, from left, are Rose, Annie, Josephine and husband Louis Loiselle, and Marie.

190_ Trombley & LoiselleBy the 1910 Census, Josephine has been married to Louis Loiselle (also a railroad worker) for several years, and George has also moved into his own home, but the rest are still with their mother; Henry is listed as a marble polisher and Maria as in inspector in a garment factory (the rest are not legible).  Josephine Loiselle, who I knew as my great-great-aunt Joe, is the relative from this part of the family that I recall best, for my mother was very close to Aunt Joe and Uncle Louie, as well as their daughter Rosie (named for her grandmother Rosanna) and her husband, Charlie Doran (who my mother viewed as second parents, and I knew them as grandparents).  I know that during this period, Aunt Joe ran a boarding house  (which I have learned was a common occupation for immigrant wives) for some of the railroad workers; the heavy labor caused her to miscarry a set of twins, and she was not able to have any more children after that, so Rosie was an only child.

Jo & mother TrombleyAunt Joe always spoke with great love of her mother and most of her sisters and her brothers (Annie, Maria, and Mary had all passed away before I was born, as had Henry; Rose had married an Italian man named Gillette and moved to California; I recall seeing George once when I was very young – he had moved to Detroit.)  This is a picture of Aunt Joe and her mother Rosanna; I don’t know when it was taken. Rosanna died in 1940, at age 80, from breast cancer; her death certificate says that she is the daughter of Frank Picard and Margeritt Boyer and that she has lived in the US for 70 years. 196_ Mary & Jo TromblyUnfortunately, I don’t recall Aunt Joe ever mentioning her father – but I do remember that she and sister Mary (my great-grandmother) had a falling out and did not speak for many years, although they did finally make up, and this picture is as I remember them.

The search continues, but for now, that is what I know of our French Canadian roots!



Route 30: The Stone Valley (2007 January). Rutland Regional Planning Commission.


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