Arrière Grand-Mère

I’ve always wanted to learn more about my French side. If there was a time machine and I could hitch a ride, one of my first stops would be to meet my great grandmother, Esther Parris Hallberg, the youngest daughter of French Canadian immigrants Joseph Parris and Delia Boivin.

Esther Parris ca 1910; author’s collection

I try to glean bits of mannerism and culture through the stories that my mother tells of her Grandma Hallberg. How she often cried when the children left for school in the mornings, how she made special birthday meals for each grandchild and didn’t allow their siblings to intrude on their special time (mom said her little brother would stand at the screen door and mope but not be allowed inside). When her sisters would visit, they would speak French and drink pony beers and sometimes loudly argue and be dramatic – Oh là là!!

Latrobe Bulletin 2 Sep 1966; newspapers.com

Unfortunately, I don’t have many pictures of her or her side of the family to examine, so I pour over details of face shapes and clothing in an attempt to learn via osmosis. Perhaps I got my height from her side as I am the same height as my grandmother (5’3″) and she looks to be taller than her mother Esther. Perhaps that’s where I got my curly hair also? My mother says we have her silly sense of humor and her penchant for laughter. Whenever emotion or tears penetrate our staid Scandinavian exterior, we say, “there’s that French side…”.

My grandmother Wava Mary with her parents Esther Parris and Carl Hallberg (a Swede); author’s collection

Since I don’t have a time machine, I will have to rely on these anecdotes and pictures to tell her story. I am trying to find and collect Parris descendants and have reconnected slowly but steadily with cousins who will hopefully add their anecdotes and pictures so that the persona of the Parris family will be honored and remembered for our next generations. C’est la vie!

This post is part of Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge, a year-long blogging project focusing on family history stories. This week’s prompt is “I’d like to meet.”

Cara Jensen is owner of Sherlock Homes historical consulting & genealogy, where she provides expert services on cultural preservation and ancestral discovery.

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Joyeux Noël

If there were traditions to be observed when I was growing up, they were mostly Scandinavian.  Which makes sense as I am roughly 75% Scandinavian.  The other half of my 25% is French Canadian and unfortunately we don’t have much information on that side of the family or keep in touch with cousins as we should (I’m trying to remedy that). Now that we are in the merry season of Yule, I wonder how the French Canadian side of the family celebrated and what kind of traditions they may have had.

La bûche de Noël

A delicious sponge rolled with jam or cream or chocolate filling, decorated to look like a traditional Yule log.  I tried to make one once complete with meringue mushrooms and it did taste good…

Le réveillon

Christmas Eve was the time for the réveillon – a nightlong dinner and dancing party traditionally held after Catholic midnight mass . The word itself comes from the verb réveiller, which means “to wake up”. People would sleep during the day to be fresh and ready to feast and frolic on Christmas Eve. The réveillon usually was the biggest feast of the year – a large banquet where traditional dishes abounded –  tourtière (a uniquely French-Canadian meat pie), ragoût de patte (pig’s feet stew), ragoût de boulettes (meatball stew), turkey, vegetables, pea soup, meat pâté, roasted chestnuts, maple cream pie, etc etc. This is also where la bûche de Noël would be served.  Gifts were opened after the feast and party.

I’m sure there were many small things, like in every family, that my French Canadian side did out of tradition.  I wish I had more pictures of that side, or knew more stories, or had some relics from them.  I guess I could step up my game and try some of this holiday dishes (maybe my second bûche de Noël would be prettier) in order to feel closer to my francophone family.

Parris family
The Joseph Parris family, ca 1890; the only picture in the author’s collection

Cara Jensen is owner of Sherlock Homes historical consulting & genealogy, where she provides expert services on cultural preservation and ancestral discovery. She is a member of the National Genealogical Society, National Council on Public History, and American Association for State and Local History. You can find Cara on Twitter @cjjens