By Michael Dwyer
Part 1 ended with the mystery of why Mary Bird’s date of death was not recorded on her gravestone in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Brandon. Under her husband Edward Bird’s name and dates of birth and death, it reads Mary E., His Wife, Nov. 1, 1827. Mary died in Brandon on 7 December 1910, age 81 years, 1 month, 6 days, with her name recorded as Mary La Point Bird. Correspondence in Edward Bird’s Civil War pension file disclosed her son Simeon Bird expected the United States government to pay for inscribing his mother’s death date on the stone. They did not, leaving us only with her incorrect date of birth. Although Simeon Bird recorded his mother’s maiden name as La Point, he had no knowledge of his maternal grandparents. How then do we rediscover family history lost for over a century?
One of the trickier aspects of French-Canadian genealogy is recognizing “dit” surnames, a nickname, alias, or what appears to be a double name. A prevalent example is the surname Audet dit Lapointe. In Québec records, sometimes the full three-part name is written out, other times written only as Audet or Lapointe, even when describing the same family. Thus, when Mary married Edward Bird, her last name was recorded as Audet. At her death, Simeon Bird remembered the name as La Point. He was not wrong. Without knowledge of these “dit” names, one might think they are two separate families.
Concerning French-Canadian women’s names well into the 20th century. Nearly all girls were baptized with the first name, Marie [Mary]. Usually, they went by a second or third name. In non-French speaking New England, however, if that first name sounded foreign, the person reverted to being known as Mary. We’ll see how this worked in the Bird family. Edward and Mary’s only daughter was born in Auburn, Massachusetts, on 20 July 1850, her name written as Zoa Odit [Phonetic rendering of Audet] Bird, with parents named as Edward Bird and Zoa O. Bird. “Zoa” This child adopted the name Mary, rather than Zoa. She married John Fredette and died in Brandon on 19 November 1923.
Back to our subject, Edward Bird’s wife. I would therefore seek a baptismal record in Québec of a Zoe Audet dit Lapointe. To narrow the search for her parents, I explored the possibility that in another marriage performed by Rev. Azariah Hyde, that Toussaint Odet [Audet] who wed Emilie Croto [Original name Croteau dit Vincent] on 16 January 1847 may have been Mary’s brother. Indeed, they were both proven as children of Toussaint Audet dit Lapointe and his wife Ursule Quintin. Marie Zoe Audet dit Lapointe, later known as Mary Bird in the United States, was born in Beloeil, Québec, on 3 November 1831. [The birth date on her death certificate is closer than the one on the gravestone!]
Unlike his sister Mary Bird, Toussaint Audet and his wife Emilie soon returned to Canada where their first daughter was baptized in a Catholic Church. This couple moved frequently, occasionally with brief sojourns back to the United States, as when they lived in Putnam, Washington County, New York, in the early 1850s, while the Birds also lived there. Emilie Audet would continue to bear children over the next thirty years. A chilling statistic from the 1900 United Census when Toussaint and Emilie Audet lived in Putnam, Connecticut, tells us that of her 20 children, only 8 were living!
Peeling back another layer of history gives us a glimpse of why members of the Audet dit Lapointe family landed in Benson, Vermont, in the 1840s. Their father, Toussaint, a resident of Mont-St-Hilaire, Québec, was caught up in the unsuccessful Rebellion of 1837, often called Papineau’s Rebellion, a key factor in French-Canadian immigration at that time. He and some of the other rebels fled over the border into Vermont. Shards of their stories remain largely unexplored.