Saturday, November 30, 2019

Solving The Mysterious Disappearance of My Québécois Grandfather

My fourth great-grandfather George Felix Gervais has finally given up his long-held mystery: when and where he died.

Born November 28, 1840 in the Québec township of Durham and baptized the following month - December 20th - at Saint-Pierre-de-Wickham in Drummondville, George's life was well documented over the next sixty years.

George Felix Gervais - December 20, 1840 baptism
Saint-Pierre-de-Wickham in Drummondville, Quebec

On November 24, 1862 - just four days shy of his 22nd birthday - George married Adeline Parmelia Judd in the Church of England in Danville, Sherbrooke, Québec.

The marriage record reveals a couple interesting things:

  • For the first time, we see George's surname of Gervais Anglicized to Jarvis (a spelling adopted by his children). 
  • We also learn that he was illiterate, signing the record with his mark.

George Felix Jarvis and Adeline Parmelia Judd
November 24, 1862 marriage in Sherbrooke, Quebec

The family was enumerated in Canada's 1871, 1881, and 1891 censuses, but soon faced tragedy.

On May 8, 1899, Adeline passed away at the age of 54. Two years later, George was enumerated in the 1901 Canadian census as a widower. It was, for the past ten years, where his trail ran cold.

Until last night.

A Genealogy Hint Unravels A Mystery

Glancing over my tree, a shaky leaf hint summoned my attention to George's profile. I clicked into the clue where I found an 1899 New Hampshire marriage record for William C. Jarvis.

The back of the record included the names of the groom's parents: George Jarvis and Adeline Judd. Although I didn't have William in my tree, I immediately recognized his parents. The reverse side of the marriage card included a notation that his mother was deceased, but that his father was living in Canada.

William C. Jarvis Sept. 1899 New Hampshire marriage record (reverse)
Confirmed that George Jarvis still lived in Canada

Although it was bedtime, my curiosity was sufficiently piqued and the hunt was on.

I next turned to George's daughter Addie Jarvis. A new hint pointed me to her 1934 Vermont death record, which named her parents as George Jarvis and Adeline Judd.

Addie (Jarvis) Darling - 1934 Vermont death record

Vermont was already familiar territory to me because George and Adeline's daughter Phoebe, my third great-grandmother, had married in the state.

Addie's death certificate also indicated that she had remarried to a man named George Darling; a marriage that I hadn't recorded.

I turned to where I searched for George Jarvis. Several entries appeared for Vermont, but I was stumped. The clippings were for a George Philip Jarvis not George Felix Jarvis.

But something else immediately caught my attention.

On March 17, 1933, a local Vermont newspaper published a death notice for George P. Jarvis.

"George Philip Jarvis, 95, one of Rutland's oldest residents, died early yesterday morning at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Leon Lewis...Besides Mrs. Lewis, he is survived by four other daughters, Mrs. George Darling...and two sons, Edward Jarvis of Claremont and William Jarvis of Enfield, N.H."

The death notice confirmed that George Philip Jarvis had a daughter married to a George Darling and a son named William Jarvis who lived in New Hampshire. These facts were matches to individuals whose parents were recorded as George and Adeline (Judd) Jarvis.

The death notice also gave George's birth date as November 28, which was an exact match to the birth date given for George Felix Jarvis in his baptism record (although there was a slight discrepancy on the birth year).

Collectively, the obituary's evidence suggested that George Philip Jarvis was in fact George Felix Jarvis.

[As an aside, the one oddity about the obit is that it fails to name George's daughter, Phoebe Elizabeth, among his surviving children. She was my 3rd great-grandmother. Curiously, the record references that he is "survived by four other daughters..." and then names just three women. Perhaps it was an innocent oversight, or maybe the family lore - still unproven - that Phoebe's husband killed a man in Vermont which forced them to flee to Colorado was cause for family shame and justified her absence from the article.]

Backtracking to the 1920 US Federal Census, I found George living with his daughter Addie who was widowed following the death of her first husband Eddie Moore. In an encouraging sign that I had indeed found my ancestor, George's middle initial was enumerated as F!

1920 Vermont census with George F. Jarvis living with daughter Addie

A decade later, the 1930 census enumeration revealed that the middle initial changed from F to P. I'm unclear on what prompted the change.

Nonetheless, I'm content just knowing what happened to George, my Québécois ancestor. He can keep his middle name mystery...for now.

A couple items for continued research include finding George's 1933 Vermont death certificate (he's not surfacing in any of the digitized collections on FamilySearch or Ancestry nor in Vermont's online death record index). Why would that be? Perhaps he's in the system under an incorrect surname spelling.

I am also intrigued by the 1920 census indication that George became a naturalized US citizen in 1910. I would like to try and find his naturalization records. Perhaps they hold clues to George's middle name swap.


  1. I'm glad that you were able to solve the mystery. :)

    1. Thank you! I appreciate it. And that makes two of us. ;)

  2. Once again, proof we need to research all family members. Congratulations on a great breakthrough, Michael.

    1. Yes, the real lesson here is to definitely research up *and* out. Track down those collateral family lines. It's a wonder what can be accomplished in genealogy when you properly flesh out the trees and invest time (a tight resource when you have many different family lines vying for your limited research time).

  3. Great find, Michael. I bet they just thought that Felix was too old-fashioned or too French and decided Philip was close enough to be a good substitute. They do sound pretty similar.

    I am curious about your copyright comment under the obituary. Was there no notice on the newspaper as a whole? Usually that acts as notice for all the articles included in the paper. In any event, I generally reason that a short, fact-based obituary as a very "thin" copyright and when used as you've used it here---to report the facts---it is permitted under the fair use doctrine. Just my opinion, however... Fair use is so vague that it's hard to predict what a court would say. But I sometimes take my chances when I include a post-1923 obit in my blog.

    1. You may be right about Philip sounding more modern and close enough to Felix. I do wonder if there would be more details in his death certificate or naturalization record.

      With respect to the copyright, I spent time reviewing a post by the Legal Genealogist regarding copyright for articles published between 1923 and 1977, which stated that those without a copyright notice were in the public domain. I reviewed the entire paper in which the 1933 obit appeared and there was no claim of copyright (page 8 of the paper featured some details pertaining to the paper's publication).

      I've since opted to remove it out of an abundance of caution.

    2. I also found Judy Russell's piece here How interesting that so many newspapers failed to include any copyright notice! I guess I will also check now and then not have to worry so much about arguing fair use!

  4. Congratulations on cracking through a long time brick wall. Well done!

    1. Thank you, Linda! It sure feels good to be on the other side of this one.

  5. Hi Michael, where did the family lived in 1871, 1881 and 1891 in Quebec?

    1. In 1871, the family is enumerated in the Province of Quebec, District #137 Arthabaska, Sub-District Kingsey Falls. The family's religion is Baptist and the origins are given as Scotch.

      In 1881, the family is enumerated in the Province of Quebec, District #52 Arthabaska, Sub-District Kingsey East. The family's religion is again Baptist but George's origins are now French.

      In 1891, the family is enumerated in the Province of Quebec, District #152, S.District is Kingsey Falls. The origins are PQ (Province Quebec?) and the religion is again Baptist.

      I haven't found George or Adeline in the 1861 census enumerations (prior to their 1862 marriage in Danville, Quebec).

  6. Hi Michael, me again, sorry, I forgot to ask this:

    Have you looked at notary records in Quebec?

    1. I haven't and am not familiar with them. Is there a site you recommend I review to learn more?

    2. I just sent you a DM on Twitter

  7. My mother called herself Harriet Nadine Ward. She was really Harriet Newell Ward, a family name used several times among Harriet Newell Cook Ward's descendants. I should have asked her why the change when she was still alive.

    1. That's curious. I wonder if she made the change herself to separate herself from the longtime family name? Maybe she was just fond of the name Nadine and took it on.