Pat Miller is related to someone who fought in the War of 1812, and she has two years worth of detective work to prove it.
The executive assistant to the Dean of the Faculty of Mathematics and Science has spent countless hours in museums and libraries to show that her husband, Edmund Miller, is related to Hippolyte Brissette, a “voltigeur” from Quebec who fought for the British in the war against the U.S. Her search even included a resource close to home – Brock’s Special Collections and Archives.
The result has been a fascinating journey through history. Miller began the project for her husband, who was adopted by a relative as a child and felt the need to know more about his history, Miller said.
“I wanted to help him understand his heritage.”
Miller’s interest was piqued about 10 years ago when her mother-in-law talked in broad terms about her family history in a kitchen table conversation. Miller grabbed a piece of paper and sketched out a rough family tree. It was further piqued during a vacation to Port Severn when they visited the welcome centre, which was called the Brissette House after her husband’s family. That led to travels through cemeteries museums and libraries in Penetenguishene, Midland and Victoria Harbour.
Hippolyte Brissette is Miller’s husband’s great-great-grandfather. He was born in Varennes, Quebec in 1796, making him 16 at the start of the War of 1812. After the war, he spent 20 years working for the Hudson’s Bay company as a carpenter and “middleman” in the canoe. Miller speculates that he worked as an interpreter in the canoe. He married an Aboriginal woman (possibly Cree) named Archange L’Hirondelle. Miller has found 10 children on record, but has seen hints that it could be more like 13 to 15.
Records show that Brissette lived to be 89, dying in Victoria Harbour in 1885. He lived a hearty life. When he was 80, a photographer saw him carrying sacks of potatoes and carrots through town and took a portrait of him, which became known as “The Old Voyageur.” The final link connecting Brissette to the War of 1812 came from Special Collections and Archives. Miller found the document “Canadian Veterans of War in 1812,” which showed that Brissette was finally paid – in his eighties – $20 by the Canadian government for his work in the war.
Brock’s library is a great starting point for any kind of War of 1812 research, said David Sharron, head of Special Collections and Archives. There are a number of primary and secondary resources.
“With some work and a bit of luck, one may find reference to an ancestor who participated in the War of 1812 among the correspondence, lists, newspapers, transcripts, notes and books we have.”
Miller submitted her findings to the Ontario Genealogical Society to get the certificate showing her husband’s relation to the War of 1812 veteran. More work remains, including finding Brissette’s grave site in Penetenguishene and official documentation of Hippolyte’s parents through great grandparents believed to have settled in Quebec from France in the 1600s,.
Successful or not, Miller has been bitten by the genealogy bug. “Now I think I’ll work on my side of the family.”
She suspects there are many others in the Brock community with ties to the War of 1812. The investigation is fun and rewarding, she said.
“I would encourage anyone to do this. It’s like a giant puzzle. You get stumped in one corner and then when you approach it from a different angle it somehow comes together.”
The 1812 materials in Special Collections and Archives are available to everyone, Sharron said. The search can begin online by looking at the Library catalogue.