No, I have not abandoned the story of my father’s family. I have, however gotten a bit sidetracked. But the projects that have been taking time away from my narrative are very much connected to my family history. So rather than bemoan this gap in the saga of the Doyons, I have decided to put it to good use.
Before I launch into this story, I should give you a bit of background. A feud erupted in my family in 1960 that resulted in an estrangement from my father’s side of the family for most of my life. I was only eight years-old at the time, but I remember the day it all exploded very clearly. Although I didn’t understand the dynamics of what happened back then, when I apply the wisdom of hindsight and sixty-plus years of living to those memories, the story gains clarity. But that isn’t the story I want to tell here. It is the ramifications of the blow-up that resulted in a long-term feud that ultimately kept me from getting to know any of the members of my father’s family and worse, from learning anything about who they were or where they came from. Until my father passed away in 2000 and I found myself spending time with my Aunt Ida (my dad’s sister and my Godmother), I didn’t have the slightest interest in any of my father’s family. I know – pretty sad. I had four cousins I never spent any time with. It was as if my father’s side of the family didn’t exist in my little world.
I spent most of my formative years in a family circle that consisted of my mother, my sister and my maternal grandmother, absorbing information about my mother’s side of the family. Yes, my father was present – but only on the periphery – not actually an active participant in my life. At least that’s how I saw it growing up. Once I caught the genealogy bug and decided to start building my family tree and writing about my ancestors, I assumed that I would breeze through my mother’s line in no time, finding generation upon generation of great grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. After all, I have a treasure trove of material to work with. The plan was to tell the story of my maternal grandfather in great detail. To be fair, I would include a few generations on my father’s side – after all – I couldn’t completely ignore the biology. I have absolutely NO material, paperwork, photos or ephemera of any kind related to the Doyons. How much time could I devote to this part of my tree?
There is an old adage about “best laid plans”…
As it turned out, my mother’s side of the tree got a bit stunted – mainly because my maternal grandparents came from the area around Leipzig, Germany which, unfortunately, became part of East Germany after WWII. As a result, there are not a lot of public records easily accessible. I still have a lot of work to do on this side of my tree.
My father’s side of the family, on the other hand, has been a revelation! I have been able to find ancestors reaching back to the 1300s. I have sat in front of my computer screen and read through hand-written church records dating back centuries. A research trip to Quebec, to the region where the first of my paternal ancestors settled in 1644, resulted in the discovery of entire books about the Doyons, plaques marking their departure from one place and arrival in another, historic markers where the family farm once stood, as well as an entire society devoted to my family here in North America (Association des Doyon d’Amérique). There is a genealogical library in Chateau-Richer, Quebec, which houses information on the formation of New France and specifically the people who settled the area. I spent some time there in 2015. I remember the librarian directing me to a bookcase of materials and being startled to find numerous book spines bearing my surname. There were published genealogies by various Doyons that listed every Doyon born between 1644 and the publication date. As my finger wandered down the columns of names in each generation, eventually settling on my own, I was suddenly struck by a strong connection to these people. Wading through these books, I discovered a family with a rich history, and strong ties to their ancestors and the land they helped settle. I was impressed – and just a little ashamed. There was so much I missed out on growing up and much I had ignored as an adult.
But it’s never too late to move forward with a different perspective. As a result of my research, I have learned that my Doyon family roots run deeper and further than I ever expected. Much to my surprise – they are also some very interesting ancestors on this side of my family who had an impact on the history of both Canada and the United States. I can trace my father’s lineage back to the original Filles du Roi (Daughters of the King). I am descended from a Nadeau who was recently certified as an American Patriot, making me eligible for membership in the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution). My application to these societies is taking up a lot of my time. Why should I bother? Why should any of this matter? Why would a sixty-something woman who grew up estranged from an entire side of her family suddenly invest this much time and effort? Because the story behind each of these people is part of my story, my history, my DNA. And for those of you reading this who are members of my family – it is part of your story, too. Those generations yet to come will be vested in this saga as well. We are all made up of the bits and pieces of those who came before us.
By piecing together the mosaic of my past, I have often found myself in awe of the people who came before me, the decisions they made, and the hardships the endured. Each and every one of them contributed something to the life we now have and any small change – a different decision, an alternative path followed, an untimely demise – would have prevented us from being here today. Kind of scary, rather sobering and, I suppose, the impetus that drives those of us who become the narrator of the “dashes”.
Early on in my research, I stumbled upon a quote attributed to Mark Yost – “History, although sometimes made up of the few acts of the great, is more often shaped by the many acts of the small.” I am constantly reminded, as I add birth and death dates to the entries on my family tree that it is the “dash” between those two dates that matters … and every dash represents a life that made it possible for there to be a “me”.