I would like to take this opportunity to recognize Magdalena Voisin. She helped me find Joseph and Anne Voisin, who were my ancestors, and quite possibly my great great-grandparents. She provided such a big clue for a little girl only eleven years old. You see, she was born about 1841.
The Buffalo Connection
Magdalena was listed in the 1851 Canadian census1 for Waterloo County in the household of Peter Joseph Voisin (1807-1892), the patriarch of all the Voisin families near Kitchener, Ontario. (The family is listed as “Wisong” in that census.) She was probably not his daughter however. Instead her usual residence was “Buffalo.” She was probably visiting the family and was from Buffalo, New York. This fits with another clue from the obituary of one of Peter Joseph’s sons, Anthony. It indicates his parents walked to Buffalo annually to visit relatives.2
Buffalo in this case could mean the area of Buffalo, which includes Canada just across the Niagara River. I searched the 1851 Welland County, Ontario census3 looking for a Voisin household and little Magdalena helped. There she was again, listed in the household of Joseph “Wison,” only this time she was 12 years old. Interestingly, this Magdalena was marked as a resident, but “Not Member,” probably meaning she was not present. It is unclear what the census taker intended. There is a separate column for absent members, but it was unchecked. Could Magdalena Wison be a daughter of Joseph Wison, or just a relative?
In any event Magdalena Wison was listed, but probably not present in Welland County. And, there was a Magdalena Voisin in Waterloo County, visiting from “Buffalo.” Are both Magdalenas one in the same? It’s possible. I theorized Joseph Wison could be Peter Joseph Voisin’s brother. It was quite common for census takers to misspell names and Wisong and Wison were probably spelled based on the pronunciation of “Voisin” as WA-san. Also the age difference can be explained by inconsistencies of different census takers recording ages, as told to them by different family members.
The French Connection
The Joseph Voisin in Welland County was a farmer, born in France, and a Catholic age 52, born about 1800. His wife was Anna Mary Voisin, born in France, Catholic, age 44, born about 1808. They had two children, not counting Magdalena. They were Joseph Voisin, Jr., age 25, born about 1827 and Maryann Voisin, age 23, born about 1829. Both of them were born in France.
Peter Joseph Voisin over in Waterloo County did have an older brother, Henry Joseph Voisin, born 11 December 1801 in Reppe, France. Could this be the Joseph Voisin in Welland County? To determine this, I had to search for marriage and birth records for his wife Anna Mary, and their children Joseph, Jr., and Maryann. Luckily the French kept detailed records after the French Revolution. Each community kept a decennial index of every birth, marriage and death that occurred during each 10-year period. I began searching the communities surrounding Reppe, where Henry Joseph Voisin was born. It was customary that a man marry a woman from a neighboring town, and they in turn would raise their family in that town. I looked for any Voisin child born about 1827 or 1829.
Late one night after having searched more than two dozen French villages, I decided to look at just one more, and that was Guewenheim. There I found the birth of Joseph, Jr.,4 then Marie Anne,5 then the marriage of Anne Marie Ditner to Henri Joseph Voisin of Reppe.6 All the names matched. All the ages and dates matched. Joseph “Wison” in Welland County, must be Henry Joseph Voisin. He was yet another Voisin sibling who emigrated to Ontario from the Alsace and Belfort area of France. His younger brother Peter Joseph Voisin and his older sister Marianne Voisin both settled in Waterloo County, about 90 miles away. Thanks to Magdalena for pointing me to a nondescript “Wison” family in Willoughby Township, Welland, Ontario.
The Family Through Time
I used other Canadian census records to “follow” the family through the years. In 1842, Joseph “Wissan” was listed in a family of four.7 I mentioned the 1851 census above. In 1861, just Joseph “Visaw” and his wife Mary A. are shown.8 The children would have moved out of the house by then.
Unfortunately the family is missing in the 1871 census. I think the census taker may have simply skipped them. Then something interesting happened by the 1881 census.9 Joseph “Voisen,” age 82 is listed, this time with Elizabeth Voisen, age 60, and both married. His first wife, Anne Marie, must have died in the years since 1861 and he subsequently remarried.
The Family Farm
It helps to track a neighboring family through the census records as well. That’s where I looked for the Voisins in 1871, but they were not near their usual neighbors, the Myers. I found them again in the next census, which means they had not moved away in 1871. I also used their neighbors to find both families on an 1876 plat of Willoughby Township.10 We thus know exactly where Henry Joseph Voisin settled. He purchased this land in September 1832. Incidentally that is the same month and year his brother Peter Joseph Voisin settled over in Waterloo County. And, he married Catherine Meyer, who could be related to Henry Joseph Voisin’s neighbors, the Myers family.
He is listed as Joseph “Wesaw” on the map. So the same person is listed in various records as Wison, Wissan, Visaw, Wesaw, Waisain and Voisen, all based on the pronunciation of “Voisin” as WA-san.
I positioned the plat map as an overlay on a modern satellite image.11 Who knew, that when we visited Niagara Falls, the Voisin homestead was just 4 miles away.
My Other Brother Joseph
Both brothers, Henry Joseph Voisin and Peter Joseph Voisin gave their first names, Henry and Peter, on the birth records of their oldest children. Later in life both men went by their middle name, Joseph. This is a common tradition among Germans. In this case, they lived a distance apart and for some reason, both chose to be called Joseph.
Voisin Relatives in Welland
I am very close to determining the parents of my great-grandfather, Joseph Voisin (1858-1916). He was definitely related to Peter Joseph Voisin of Waterloo County. This was proven by a Y-chromosome DNA match between me and a known descendant of the Waterloo Voisins, Clifton Voisin. If Henry Joseph Voisin of Welland County was Peter Joseph Voisin’s brother, then my great-grandfather was also related to the Voisins of Welland County.
Peter Joseph’s son, Joseph Xavier Voisin, had daughters who married men from Welland County families. Anna Catherine Voisin married Joseph Andrew Trendle, and Catherine Helena Voisin married John Joseph Willich. Interestingly, both families were immediate neighbors of Henry Joseph Voisin, and appear on the plat map above.
Circumstantial evidence suggests my great-grandfather may have been born and raised in Welland County, Ontario. At age 17 in 1875 he wrote a poem in his journal, after which he indicated he was at Humberstone Township, near Netherby Post Office.12 This was also in Welland County, and only 6 miles from the farm of Henry Joseph Voisin. Then in 1877 at age 19 he wrote that he worked in Hawkesville, Ontario.13 This was in Waterloo County, and only 2½ miles from Peter Joseph Voisin. He likely made the same trip in 1877 that little Magdalena did back in 1851, that is, to stay with relatives.
Nephew, Cousin or Son
Joseph could have been a nephew or cousin of Henry Joseph Voisin. It is still unclear who Magdalena’s parents were, too. Henry Joseph and Peter Joseph were the only two plausible brothers to immigrate to Canada, but perhaps an uncle of theirs did as well.
Great-grandfather Joseph Voisin’s death certificate indicates his father’s name was also Joseph.14 He could have been the son of either Henry Joseph Voisin himself, or the son of his son, Joseph Voisin, Jr. I must find birth and marriage records to prove this. Unfortunately Canadian civil records weren’t kept until 1869, when Joseph was 10 years old.
The fact they are missing (so far) from the 1871 census is crucial. Joseph would have been 13 years old and listed with his mother and father. Still, he would have been 3 years old in 1861 and he is not listed in the household of Henry Joseph Voisin and his wife Anne Marie in that census. This suggests Henry Joseph is not his father, but, Joseph’s actual birth date is still in question.
Joseph Voisin, Jr. is yet to be found in the 1861, 1871 or 1881 census after he left home. Those years may have provided evidence my great-grandfather was his son. Instead, I found a Joseph Alma Voisard, in the 1881 census for Fort Erie, Ontario. He was born about 1829 (close to 1827) in France. He was a Catholic priest, who started the parish at Fort Erie. It is still possible he was actually Joseph Voisin, Jr., but it is not likely. If he was a priest, it would explain the absence of any family in the census.
Interrupted by History
Henry Joseph Voisin’s farm was only 11 miles from Fort Erie, which was in the neighboring township of Bertie. The Battle of Fort Erie happened in 1866, when my great-grandfather Joseph was 8 years old. Known as the Fenian Raid, about 1,300 Irish-Americans attacked Fort Erie by way of Buffalo. They were Irish nationalists fighting against British control of Ireland. Fighting occurred in the townships of Bertie, Willoughby and Humberstone, where Joseph Voisin may have grown up.15
Perhaps his parents left the area, or were somehow involved in the conflict. The raiders stole food and horses from farmers throughout the township.
There was a Private Joseph O. Vezina who served in the Grand Trunk Railway Brigade, and he fought at the Battle of Fort Erie. He is likely not Joseph Voisin, Jr. however.
An Intriguing Irish Connection
One interesting clue concerns Henry Joseph Voisin’s presumed second wife, Elizabeth. She would have been about 37 when my great-grandfather Joseph was born in 1858, meaning she could have been his mother. It is interesting because she was born in Ireland. This is consistent with my autosomal DNA test results.16 They indicate 49% of my descent is through the British Isles, which includes Ireland. I probably inherited most of my British Isles descent through my maternal ancestors, but perhaps some is from my paternal ancestors. That could be through Elisabeth, if she were Joseph’s mother.
This circumstantial evidence could indicate Henry Joseph Voisin was my third great-grandfather or my second great-grandfather. It is still a theory that needs to be proven. More research is needed to find those elusive parish records, newspaper accounts, tax and land records that might hold the answer. Or, there may never be a definitive answer. In that case we’ll have to rely on a preponderance of circumstantial evidence and inferences. Research continues!Footnotes
- 1851 Census, Canada West, Wellesley Township, Waterloo County, Ontario, Canada, district 1 Wellesley, Waterloo County, Page 33 or 17, lines 38 – 46, Joseph Wisong ; digital images, Library and Archives Canada, Censuses (http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/census/Pages/census.aspx : downloaded 24 November 2017).
- “Descendants of Pierre (Peter) Joseph Voisin,” Obituary of Anthony Voisin, E-Mail 9-28-2017, Harvey Kuntz, Wingham, Ontario, Canada.
- 1851 Census, Canada West, Willoughby Township, Welland County, Ontario, Canada, district Willoughby Township, Welland County, Page 17 or 9, Lines 16 – 20, Joseph Wison ; digital images, Library and Archives Canada, Censuses (http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/census/Pages/census.aspx : downloaded 12 December 2017).
- “Etat Civil and Registres Paroissiaux,” database, Departmental Archives of Haut-Rhin, Archives départementales du Haut-Rhin (http://www.archives.haut-rhin.fr/: Downloaded 10 December 2017), Guewenheim, Joseph Voisin, No. 16, 5 May 1827, image 117 of 382.
- “Etat Civil and Registres Paroissiaux,” database, Departmental Archives of Haut-Rhin, Archives départementales du Haut-Rhin (http://www.archives.haut-rhin.fr/: Downloaded 10 December 2017), Guewenheim, Marie Anne Voisin, No. 28, 16 July 1829, image 134 of 382.
- “Etat Civil and Registres Paroissiaux,” database, Departmental Archives of Haut-Rhin, Archives départementales du Haut-Rhin (http://www.archives.haut-rhin.fr/: Downloaded 10 December 2017), Guewenheim, Henri Joseph Voisin and Anne Marie Ditner, No. 3, 7 August 1826, image 185 of 382.
- 1842 Census, Canada West, Willoughby Township, Niagara District, Ontario, Canada, district Willoughby Township, Niagara District, , Joseph Wissan indexed as Joseph Wissaw, image 004569584_00587 ; digital images, Library and Archives Canada, Censuses (http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/census/Pages/census.aspx : Downloaded 13 December 2017).
- 1861 Census, Canada West, Willoughby Township, Welland County, Ontario, Canada, district 2, Willoughby Township, Welland County, No. 5, Lines 24 – 25, Joseph Visaw indexed as Joseph Besaw, image 4391954_00519 ; digital images, Library and Archives Canada, Censuses (http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/census/Pages/census.aspx : Downloaded 9 December 2017).
- 1881 Census, Willoughby Township, Welland, Ontario, district 142 Welland County, subdistrict [9?] Township of Willoughby, Page 7, Lines 14 – 17, Joseph Voisen ; digital images, Library and Archives Canada, Censuses (http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/census/Pages/census.aspx : Downloaded 12 December 2017).
- Illustrated historical atlas of the counties of Lincoln and Welland, Ont. (Toronto: H.R. Page & Co., 1876); digital image, In Search of Your Canadian Past: The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project (http://digital.library.mcgill.ca/CountyAtlas/ : Downloaded 12 December 2017), Willoughby Township, Welland County, Ontario, Joseph Wesaw.
- Google Earth Pro, Niagara Falls, Ontario.
- Edwards, A. Wayne, II, Images from the personal journal of Joseph Voisin. “Joseph Voisin is my name.”
- Edwards, A. Wayne, II, Images from the personal journal of Joseph Voisin. “Take This Letter to My Mother.”
- Michigan Michigan History Foundation, “Death Records, 1897-1920,” death certificates, Seeking Michigan (http://seekingmichigan.org/ : downloaded 30 October 2009), Joseph Voison, June 2, 1916.
- The Fenian raid at Fort Erie, June the first and second, 1866 : with a map of the Niagara Peninsula, shewing the route of the troops, and a plan of the Lime Ridge battle ground. Toronto : W.C. Chewett & Co., 1866. Harvard College Library (http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:FHCL:902302 : Downloaded 15 December 2017), image 103.
- Tested at Family Tree DNA.