Eugenia “Jennie” (Baillargeon) Vadnais (Little Grandma)

Eugenia “Jennie” (Baillargeon) Vadnais, referred to by many as “Little Grandma”, was my paternal great-grandmother and the mother of Adlore Joseph Vadnais, my paternal grandfather.

April 26, 1947 – Adlore Vadnais (age 57) and, his mother, Jennie Vadnais (age 80)

Eugenia (“Jennie”) was born May 24, 1866 in Hancock, Houghton County, Michigan to Albert Norbert Baillargeon and Genevieve (Giguere) Baillargeon.1  Albert and Genevieve had emigrated from Canada around 1864.  Albert was 38 years old and Genevieve was 34 years old when Jennie was born.  She was the tenth of eleven children born to the couple, with all but the three youngest children born in Canada.

Jennie’s family moved to Centerville, Anoka County, Minnesota sometime before 1880.2  At this time, the man Jennie would marry, William Vadnais, also resided in Centerville.  If they were not close neighbors, I am sure the families in this small community all knew one another.

Jennie wed William at St. Genevieve’s Catholic Church in Centerville on November 7, 1881.3 When they were married, William was 18 and Jennie was 15.

Jennie Vadnais – age 15

The young couple resided in Centerville, probably with William’s parents, Francois and Tharsile, until September of 1883 when they moved to their new home located on the northeast corner of Third Street and Murray Avenue in White Bear Lake, Ramsey County, Minnesota.  Their first child Joseph Albert had been born in Centerville and the other remaining six children were born in White Bear Lake.    

I think that Jennie’s path in life was difficult.  William abandoned Jennie and the children in 1899 (after which she filed formal charges against him) and then again, permanently, sometime after 1900.  Also in early 1900 their youngest son Amos Henry passed away.  Jennie and the 6 remaining children were left to fend for themselves.  From what I’ve read and heard, they all pitched in to survive.  For example, my grandfather Adlore, at just age 7, “held the horse for the man who delivered vegetables around White Bear” in order to make money.4 From there he continued with other jobs: working in the lumber yard, helping to build the street car line to White Bear, delivering kerosene…  It is told that neighbors, friends and relatives also helped Jennie and that she took in others’ laundry, which she scrubbed using a washboard, in order to support her family.5  The 1905 Minnesota census shows all of the children living at home.  The five boys are gainfully employed and the youngest, Alma, is a student.6

When Adlore married in 1910, he and his wife Ellen moved into Jennie’s home.  Jennie helped them all she could, especially after the birth of their first two children, George and Charles.   Jennie’s second oldest son, William Francis, was also living under her roof at this point in time.7

By the 1920 U.S. census, Jennie is living with her daughter Alma and Alma’s husband Lewis Heckel at their home located at 1309 Birch Lake Avenue in White Bear Lake.8  I’ve not yet found a record of sale for Jennie’s house on 3rd Street and Murray Avenue, so I am unsure of when she moved.  The sale would have occurred sometime after September 1912 because that is when Adlore and Ellen moved out and into their new home on 4th Street.

Shown (left to right): Jennie Vadnais, Joseph Vadnais (Jennie’s oldest son) and Alma Heckel (Jennie’s youngest child and her only daughter) at the Heckel home, 1309 Birch Lake Avenue
Shown (left to right): Jennie Vadnais, Annie and Albert Arcand

Jennie did have at least one opportunity to travel. The above picture was taken in Florida sometime in the 1920s. Annie (Hedwidge Annie Asselin) was Jennie’s niece. Albert Arcand, her husband, was previously married to Jennie’s next youngest sister, Anna Marie “Annie” Baillargeon. She died November 6, 1900 and Albert married Hedwidge on November 24, 1901. If there had not been writing on the back of the picture I would not have thought the palmetto house behind them was where they stayed. What an adventure!

Jennie’s husband, William Vadnais, died in 1922 in Ironwood, Michigan.  She was listed as widowed in the 1920 U.S. census so I don’t believe that she had any knowledge of his death.

Jennie Vadnais – 1922

Jennie lived during interesting times (Aren’t they all?).  The building of the transcontinental railroad started 3 years before she was born and was not finished until 1869 when she was 3 years old.  She was 3 in November of 1869 when the Suez Canal, connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, was finished.  The first successful flight by the Wright Brothers occurred in 1903 when she was 37.  The Ford Model T car started mass production in 1908 when she was 42.  It was written that, “She did not like to ride in a “fast” car – 40 mph was speeding to her.”9  In 1912, when she was 45, the RMS Titantic, the largest steam ship at the time, sank.  She lived through World War I, the Great Depression and World War II.  One can only imagine everything she witnessed.

Shown (left to right): Jennie Vadnais, Ellen Vadnais, Celestine Peltier and the baby is me, Cynthia 

This is one of my favorite pictures!  It was taken in 1954.  Jennie and Celestine are my paternal great-grandmothers and my paternal grandmother is holding me.  I found this picture about a year ago.  I never knew it existed.  I believe it was taken at Grandma Ellen Vadnais’ home on Bald Eagle Avenue in White Bear Lake.

This picture of Jennie was taken on September 30, 1950 (What was the occasion?) at the entrance to St. Mary of the Lake Church in White Bear Lake.  There’s no mistaking how diminutive she was – she is so small in comparison to the doors. 

I know very little about Jennie’s early education. The 1930 U.S. census shows that she had no formal schooling and that she was unable to read and write. However, the 1940 U.S. census states that she was educated through the 4th grade. Either way, I do know that Jennie had mastered signing her name.

Jennie’s signature from her son Adlore’s Minnesota delayed registration of birth record dated 1942

According to census and city directory records, Jennie continued to live with her daughter Alma and son-in-law Lewis Heckel their family until shortly before her death.10,11,12

Jennie passed away at 93 years old on January 22, 1960 at the Ramsey County Home in Maplewood, Minnesota.13  As you can see on the death certificate shown below the underlying cause of death (always the last line of causes listed) was “cerebral arteriosclerosis” (the result of thickening and hardening of the walls of the arteries in the brain) which had been ongoing for years.  The intermediate cause of death, 7 days before she passed away, was a “cerebrovascular accident” (a stroke), and the immediate cause of death, 3 days before her passing, was “bilateral bronchopneumonia” (double pneumonia).  She was buried at St. Mary of the Lake Cemetery in White Bear Lake.14  I don’t recall ever seeing her grave marker.  If anyone has a picture of it, I would be glad to add it to this post.

Jennie Vadnais Minnesota death certificate #14991
Back of prayer card from Jennie’s funeral

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