Grandma’s Grandma was an Indian

Week 2

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

This post is part of my commitment to Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks for 2021.

Proving a legend is a difficult task when so little facts are known. When time mangles memories, our minds try to fill in the gaps with something… anything. I find most family legends have a basic theme, but the actual facts may change depending on who you ask, and how much they embellish those missing gaps.

“Grandma’s Grandma was an Indian. Or was it Grandma’s Great-Grandma?” That is the legend that was passed down to me from my father, and to him by his mother. While the tribe and details changed depending on who I talked to in the family – some had grandma’s grandma as a full-blood, one cousin claimed we descended from Choctaw Indians – the general theme rang true, our recent family believed and passed down that an ancestor of Della Phyllis Grenier, my grandmother, was an Indian.

There is a great amount of circumstantial evidence surrounding our family legend. After all, many of our cousins are part of the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi. This is a state recognized Nation in Swanton, Vermont. While based out of Swanton, the Nation claims many members from the area towns, including Highgate, the town directly north which shares the Missisquoi River. Highgate is where my grandmother, and her parents were born. A lot of the French-Canadian families which grew up in Swanton and Highgate have a similar legend, and that’s how the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi came about in the 1960s-1970s. It took until 2012 before the state agreed to recognize the Nation. The Nation failed in their attempt to gain Federal recognition, and I doubt they could succeed. There are excessive gaps in their timeline, and the legend as it was being told to the federal government had gotten too embellished.

I had to go way, way back to prove my grandmother’s Native American heritage. That she has a Native American direct ancestor is undeniably true. It may even be true that there is a second direct line, if not Native American by blood, then Native American by adoption. Further, there is a prevalent theme in her genealogy, and that is the inter-marriage of my ancestors and their offspring with Indigenous women.

Marie Olivier Ouchistaouichkoue Manitouabeouich… that’s a mouthful. If I spell her Native name as the French did it would look something like 8chista8ichk8e Manit8abe8ich, that is because the French were unable to directly translate the guttural ou sound made, it coming closest to the French number 8, huit. Marie Olivier is the name the Superior Jesuit, Barthelemy Vimont, used in her marriage record. When looking at that marriage record, you will see that her father was clearly identified as Roch Manit8abe8ich Sauvage. Sauvage is the French term for an Indian at that time.

The marriage record never mentions the mother of Marie. Nor can I find a baptismal record for her. But on 18 May 1642, priest Joseph Duperon baptized an Indian child named Claire Aimikoue at the same parish. Godmother of the child was Marie Olivier Ouchistaouichkoue. Some genealogists believe that Ouchistaouichkoue is her mother’s name, and the name Marie went by. Most tribes identified through the female line. When a man and woman from different tribes married, the man usually assumed the wife’s clan and tribe as his own, their offspring did the same. Contemporary genealogists have identified the mother of Marie as Huron, the father Algonquian. I see no evidence which clearly states either, and many friendly tribes were often intermingled around the French villages. Without specific proof I remain skeptic on our ability to know which Nation she belonged to. Eventually, most of these tribes friendly to the French assimilated themselves into the Abenaki by the 1700s.

Marie married my 10th great-grandfather, Martin Prevost, on 03 Nov 1644 at Notre-Dame-de-Quebec. Witness to that marriage was another of my great grandfathers, Guillaume Couillard. Martin and Marie would have eight children, four of whom would eventually marry and have children of their own. Many of their children and grandchildren would maintain connections to the fur trade, generation after generation, trading with the various tribes both in Canada and United States. They often had a lifestyle of living as the Canadians did when with them, and living as the Natives did when with them. In America they would be called “half-bloods,” in Canada they were called Metis. Canada has officially recognized these Metis communities. The United States has not.

I don’t expect anything from my ancestry but the knowledge of it. I do find it interesting though, that I can document and prove my ancestry from a Native American, while most members of the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi cannot.

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