History in her hands

Josh Pennell
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A Quebec woman walks on her sixth great-grandfather's land in Placentia

Suzanne Beaulieu holds rocks in her hand on what was her sixth great-grandfather’s plantation in Placentia. The map in the background points to Claude Thomas Dit Beaulieu’s land. The map allowed the Beaulieu sisters to learn a lot about their ancestor. — Submitted photo

A Quebec woman has added a lot of timber to one branch of her family tree thanks to the town of Placentia.

Denyce Beaulieu has known from Day 1 of becoming interested in her lineage that she had an ancestor who lived in Placentia. Her father started the family genealogy.

“My father had sort of lined out the tree with names,” says Denyce.

Years ago, she took over the task and started adding bits and pieces of knowledge to her family history.

“What I have been doing ever since Google has been around is every spare minute, I Google ancestors’ names.”

One name has always been special to her: Claude Thomas Dit Beaulieu.

“I have this thing about this ancestor in particular,” she says.

Twenty years ago, she went to Quebec City looking for his burial plot.


Stepping into the past

Born in Brittany in 1654 and an original immigrant to Newfoundland, Claude Thomas Dit Beaulieu was Denyce’s sixth great-grandfather. When she was recently planning her first trip to the island, on a whim she contacted the Town of Placentia explaining who she was and who she was interested in learning about.

She never expected to hear much and when she hadn’t heard anything back within 24 hours, she planned her trip to the island without a stop to Placentia.

What she has since found out with the help of the town’s archeology field technicians and archeological consultant, Steve Mills, is more detail than she could have imagined — a 1699 census with her ancestor’s name and a map providing the location of the man’s property.

While Denyce won’t be in Newfoundland for another couple of weeks, her sister Suzanne is here now and on Tuesday visited Placentia and stood on the land of her sixth great-grandfather and his family.

“The minute I put my foot there, all of a sudden the image of the woman — the woman of the house — standing on this land drying laundry on a beautiful sunny, windy day. There was just this connection of the matriarch line,” says Suzanne.

The property is the site of the old Placentia Cottage Hospital.

“There’s a fence up so you can’t walk right to the water which would have been the beach where my ancestor would have been supervising the drying of cod,” says Suzanne. “Absolutely never in our wildest, wildest dreams. I never thought I would stand on what was 10 generations ago a backyard.”

The sisters even found out that their ancestor had 30 men working for him.

Mills, the town’s archeological consultant who helped in finding the information, says it’s a fantastic occurrence to be able to link up such specific information with an actual living relative.

“To be able to put a name to the person and then actually have a descendant of that person show up on our doorstep ... it’s incredibly rare,” Mills says.


So much detail

The amount of detail they were able to pull up is amazing to Mills.

“This guy’s name shows up on the census of 1699. It talks about his wife and his three boys and his daughter and even talked about how much land he owned.”

Some of the man’s extracurricular activities are also known — including raiding English settlements with others from Placentia in the late 1600s. Archeological digs have found some booty taken during these attacks, and Mills was able to put it in the hands of Suzanne.

“This is stuff that was most likely gathered by (their) ancestor and the other men from Placentia when they did the raids in English Newfoundland,” says Mills. “It’s a truely fascinating story.”

The two sisters and Mills commend the town of Placentia for doing such tremendous historical and archeological research to have been able to pull this information together literally within days.

“That’s a real cool for Placentia to be able to put that stuff together,” says Mills.

“The work that everyone has done here to find this link is pretty phenomenal,” Suzanne says.


Another time

As for Denyse, after 20 years of research, she was feeling the distance of space and time on Tuesday.

“Today I’m sitting here in Montreal and I’m like, ‘Oh my God. There’s this big party going on based on 20 years of research and I’m not even there,’” she says.

All this information came about after she had her trip booked and planned — she’s flying into Gander and going straight to Fogo Island for a week. So she’ll have to step onto her ancestor’s land on her next trip to the island.

“To look out to where he must have looked out every day — to me this is a big deal,” she says.

And she’s not done adding weight to the branch yet. She has more questions, such as what her ancestor did in the winter when the fishing season was over. Denyce thinks she can add even more to this puzzle, and in adding more to what’s known about her sixth great-grandfather’s life, she’s adding more to her own, as well.

“It represents a lot to me,” she says. “The whole path that he took and everything that he did because if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here today and I wouldn’t have such a rich life with such great heritage.”



Organizations: Google, Placentia Cottage Hospital

Geographic location: Placentia, Quebec City, Newfoundland Brittany Montreal Gander Fogo Island

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Recent comments

  • Tom O'Keefe
    September 17, 2013 - 05:09

    For anyone who wants to know more about the history of Placentia, go here: www.placentiahistory.ca.

  • Denyse Beaulieu
    August 27, 2013 - 20:33

    I am now in Fogo, today I hiked from Tilting to Cape Cove with a great guide named Normand Foley, he cooked fresh Cod for us on the rocks from a fire he lit with the drift wood. I thought how great it is to be here, how wonderful the scenery is and...I thought of Claude my ancestor. The name Beaulieu means Beauitiful Place in French, the name Claude adopted once he arrived here describing what he saw, today I witnessed this beauty for myself. I look forward to visiting the rest one vacation at a time! Next Placentia! thnaks for the welcome home Mary, it sure feels like it! Denyse

  • Colette Dionne
    August 26, 2013 - 08:19

    WOW what a great story...and so many generations backwards. Good work Denyse and good for you Suzanne for enjoying the fruits of her labor...Been working on a art book of MY ancestors and have a photo as far as 1800's but that' s it... and I'm inspired to keep going. THankx for the article and thanx for b-day wishes Suzanne.

  • Roderick  Brentnall
    Roderick Brentnall
    August 09, 2013 - 12:17

    I have been a genealogist for more than 40 years and upon reading Suzanne's story I find that this is the jackpot behind all the hard work we do. This story in itself just adds to the rich history and archaeological findings in my native province. Thanx to Steve Mills and Suzanne for putting Newfoundland back on the map yet again. To some it will always be Plaisance. Wonderful!

  • Susan Phaneuf
    August 07, 2013 - 09:58

    What a fabulous story! Not only am I close friends with Suzanne & Denyse but my husband also has strong interest in genealogy. In fact, the Phaneuf / Farnsworth family are holding a reunion celebrating 300 anniversary of the wedding of Claude Matias Fanef in Quebec. It will be held on August 24th ... just a couple of weeks from now! Thank you for sharing such a great story! Susan Phaneuf Montreal

  • Mary
    August 07, 2013 - 09:52

    Such a lovely story. I was feeling bad earlier this week about comments made by a tourist who visited Newfoundland and for some reason hated his trip here and said a lot of nasty things about our beautiful province and people. But this story today is what really happens when people come to us for help. Good job Steve Mills and welcome home Suzanne and Denyse!!

  • D. Maria Paul
    August 07, 2013 - 08:54

    Love this story. I was born in that area. My maternal grandmother was french and I did some research a while back and accessed the census from that area in the 1600/1700s. The French, as well as the Irish after them (my maternal grandfather was Irish), brought such knowledge with them and passed it on to their offspring. It was a vibrant and amazing place. It is sad to see, now, how it has been reduced in terms of work and production, i.e.: fishing and farming. There's still so much potential and yet no incentive to rejuvenate these two important opportunities - being surrounded by clean water and soil. I truly believe it would greatly benefit the economy if the powers-that-be would research and put into action community planning & restructuring.