William Vadnais (Perry) – part 2

In Pursuit of an Answer

In William Vadnais (Perry) – part 1 you were left with the question: WHY DID HE LEAVE HIS FAMILY AND NEVER RETURN?

For many decades I heard a story about my great-grandfather William Vadnais.  All of my aunts and uncles, as well as other older relatives, had conveyed the same story.  I am sure that many of you heard it.  For those of you who have not, here it is.

The story told was that William had an affair with a Mrs. Perry, a neighbor woman, and she became pregnant.  As a result it is said that he abandoned his family in White Bear and went to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where he changed his name and became a lumberjack.  He never returned.  Those that told the story were unsure if the Perry woman went with him or not.  Supposedly she was a married woman, but there was no definitive confirmation of that fact or whether or not there was a child born as a result of the alleged affair. 

Additionally, on February 2, 1900, William’s youngest son, Amis Henry, passed away from tubercular meningitis in his ninth year of life.1  The impact Amis’ death would have had on William and the rest of the family is unknown.  It appears the family dynamics were already on shaky ground with William previously abandoning the family.  Was this the last straw and William left, or maybe, did Amis’ death drive him into the arms of another woman?  Maybe there is another reason and we will never know what really happened. 

Doing my best to stay true to the story my first avenue of exploration was to look through the 1900 U.S. census records for White Bear Lake Township, White Bear Lake Village, where William resided, to determine if there was anyone by the last name of Perry in the immediate area.  I found a Lilly Perry living with her aunt and uncle, Joseph and Lizzie B. Ribel,2 within a few houses away from William and Jennie’s home.  Lilly Perry, born May 1889, is recorded on the 1900 census as being 11 years old.

1900 U.S. census record showing Joseph and Lizzie Ribel and their niece Lilly Perry

Initially my thought was to dismiss Lilly as a possible person of interest because of her age.  However, knowing that many of our French-Canadian female ancestors were married at age 12, I knew I needed to keep an open mind.  Furthermore, the age of consent in Minnesota in 1880 was 10 years of age and it took until 1920 before it was 18 years of age.3  I then tried to determine the path Lilly Perry took in life, but with no success.  If she is possibly the woman in the story, I think I would need to locate a tree with either her, Joseph Ribel and/or Lizzie in hopes of first determining if Lilly is the daughter of one of Joseph’s sisters or if the surname Perry is associated with Lizzie’s side of the family. So far any direct searches for Lilly Perry have been unsuccessful.  She does not show up in White Bear in any subsequent census records. 

Although I don’t relish the notion of Lilly Perry and my great-grandfather possibly having relations, it would provide a very strong reason for his leaving and her disappearing from White Bear records.

My next thought was to just do a general search for the surname Perry in White Bear between 1890 and 1910.  A Mary Ann (Perry) showed up as married to Joseph Esdras Auger.  The 1900 U.S. census showed 4 daughters of the age of consent in the family household.  Up until I found this record, I had not entertained the possibility that if the family story is true, William could have adopted the woman’s maiden name, not her married name.  The Auger family home on Town Road (now County Road E) was at least a few miles from William’s home.  Mary Ann was about 50 years old in 1900 (probably no longer of childbearing age) and the 4 daughters ranged in age from 11 to 19.  William would have been 37.  It is possible that William had an extramarital affair with one of these women, but I don’t think it is very likely.

Eauger [Auger] family in 1900 U.S. census4

I then conducted a search for family trees containing Mary Ann (Perry) Auger.  There were 105 family trees that were public.5  I looked at every one of those trees, and each associated account profile (the person who created the tree), to see if there were any common DNA relationships.  My hope was that I would find William Vadnais as a common ancestor.  That would tell me that there was a direct relation to him through this particular family.  Of those who had submitted their DNA, there was one match found, but the common ancestor was Joseph Houle a 4th great-grandfather.6

DNA is the most accurate way to confirm, at least part of, the family story so I continued down the path and decided to look at my DNA matches.7   If William had a child from an extramarital relationship, the target person would probably be a 3rd or 4th cousin with William as the common ancestor.  I looked for the common ancestor associated with each DNA match that contained a tree and did not find any that fit my criteria.  The one major problem with this type of research is that I am relying on the fact that one of the direct descendants of the supposed child submitted a DNA sample to Ancestry.com.  Although it is a remote possibility I will continue to monitor for new DNA matches to see if anything of interest turns up.

It was a fluke that I came across the following information.  I think that I was searching for someone else’s Minnesota birth record and happened to see this one for a “Baby Thompson (Vadnais),” a female.8  She was born in White Bear on July 20, 1902 to Albert Anson Atlas Thompson (47) and Laura Thompson Moore (33).  I did not understand why “Vadnais” was a part of the record.  “Vadnais,” “Anson,” and “Moore” had been added to the record after the fact.  Why was Vadnais on this record? 

1902 Minnesota birth record for Baby Thompson (Vadnais)
Thompson family in the 1910 U.S. census9

A search for the Thompson family led me to the 1910 U.S. census records.  It shows parents Anson A Thompson (not Albert as shown on the birth record) and Laura Thompson and the second of three children is Vadnais Thompson.  Judging from the census record it appears that “Vadnais” and “Anson” were added to the birth record as either a clarification or a correction.  The census record made clear why there was secondary handwriting on the birth record, but it did not deter my curiousity.  Vadnais is not what one would consider a first name.  Is it possible that Laura (Moore, not Perry) Thompson is the woman William had the alleged affair with?  If so, was William run out of town and the baby named Vadnais so that Laura would forever remember what she had done?  I just cannot get past a person having the first name of Vadnais.  There must be some explanation. 

My one last thought was the possibility that William took the woman he had an affair with along with him to Michigan and she gave birth there.  The Upper Peninsula of Michigan did not have a large population around 1900 and to narrow my search even further I restricted it to the handful of counties (Gogebic, Ontonagon, Iron, Houghton, Baraga and Keweenaw) in the western area of the peninsula.  I did not find William, Perry or a birth that might be associated with him.   

I hate to disappoint, but I currently have more questions than answers regarding William and his story.  After all,  anyone that would have had direct knowledge of what happened is gone.  I do not want to give up hope of solving our “family mystery”.  However, I’ve been advised that I may have to be okay with the fact that a solution might not be possible.  I guess for now we have the family story.

Thanks for visiting, come back soon,

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