Canadian Besner Family of French Origins
First Section

HISTORY

1- A RESEARCH PROJECT UNDER DEVELOPMENT

I have always been interested in my family history. When I was a young priest, in the early 1960's, I would occupy my holiday time examining the parish registers in my native regions of Vaudreuil-Soulanges. My occupation was a perfect pass to have access to countless information.. Now that I am retired, I am using all notes I had jotted down all those years ago. I now want to share with you all the material that I have, so far, been able to compile...

At the turn of the last century, between 1895 and 1900, the Chanoine Alphonse-Charles Dugas was then the priest of St-Clet de Soulanges. A well-educated, cultured priest he was also a writer in his spare time. He was especially interested in two prolific families of his parish, the Besners and the Bourbonnais, of which the offsprings would light-heartedly marry amongst each other. Maybe by concern of knowing his sheep better as well as to discover the consanguinity that would prevent marriages up to the fourth degree. He put down on paper the genealogies of these two families from archive records as well historical notes and oral stories.

Many descendants of these families preciously conserve these "family trees" made in a professional matter at a printing office and who, anciently, would occupy a place of honor in the living room now find themselves dry and yellow folded amongst old papers and piled up in boxes with old photos in the attic.

Because I am a sixth generation descendant of these Besners and a ninth generation of the Bourbonnais, I have undertaken to rejuvenate the family history and, as much as possible to put it up to date. It is a colossal task when we observe that at the time of its writing, the genealogical tables ended with the present-day individuals, that is to say, the seventh generation of Bourbonnais, which counted 54 members already married, and the fourth generation of Besners, of whom we already counted twenty.

Another pastor, the Chanoine Adhémar Jeannotte, was the priest for the parish of St-Michel de Vaudreuil from 1946-1969, from the Besner cradle of Canada, he was also an adept enthusiast of genealogy. Because his parish registries would go back to 1773, many researchers would consult them to retrace their roots. His presbytery was next door to the county's Register's office. The priest would later transcribe in his books all the information that he would gather from these two sources. Before him, His Grace Guillaume Forbes, when he was the pastor of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue from 1903 to 1911 (he became archbishop of Ottawa in 1928), had realized a similar project in this other key parish that complemented our families of Vaudreuil-Soulanges. These two manuscripts are available for consultation at the regional museum of Vaudreuil-Soulanges:"La Presqu'île Historical Center".

Although their value is irrefutable, it is lamentable the number of errors that we find in these works, notably in what we find regarding the Besner family. When hard proof is required, I have said here differently then my predecessors.

The Coteau-du-Lac electoral list for the municipal elections held in November 1993 counted 58 voters with the Besner surname out of a total population of 3100; it is the most common last name amongst voters. This surname is quite distinct of the south-west region of Québec. It is only recently that the name has started to scatter itself outside of this region. Because this family arrived in Canada near the end of the French regime, it counts only six or seven generations and it is still relatively easy to find a common link between all the descendants of the same and unique ancestor.

Until 1992, all we knew on the origins of the Besner family stopped at the information that was contained in the ancestor's marriage certificate, on February 18, 1760, document conserved at the Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue parish registry, formerly know as Sainte-Anne-du-Bout-de-l'Ile on the Island of Montreal in Québec.

In September 1964, Robert Besner (1910-1970), notary and owner and president-general-director of a renowned hardware store in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield in Québec, during a trip to Europe, decided to make a detour to visit the land of his ancestors. Unfortunately, he did not write down any of the tale I will relay to you now, but that I received through the mouth of one of his cousins, Gaëtan Besner (1922-1998), farmer and resident of the "Ruisseau" concession in "Coteau-du-Lac". Here is the verbal transmission he gave me about this trip. It was by phone, on november the 4th 1996.

Robert, the notary, would have discovered and visited a piece of land that he believed to be the ancestral land. At that moment the land was being used as a dairy farm by one of the ancestors of the same family who would pass it down from generation to generation through inheritance. This man would had announced that he had but one daughter who was studying law, he was regretting not having someone to pass on the ancestral land.

M. Robert Besner would have told that, at first contact, the French cousin was apprehensive about the Canadian's visit. But as he found out that his reasons for being there were purely for family history purposes and not as a lawyer wanting to claim a part of an unsettled inheritance...

My informer did not remember any other details of his visit at the time he relayed this tale to me.

However, this 1964 visit was better documented in France by the daughter of the visited "cousin". Mrs Marie-Renée Colin, née Bézanère, at the time of the visit was working for the French Government in Paris for the Ministry of Finance and had finished her studies in law two years previously. Her mother, who was still living in 1999, relayed the tale to her daughter in November 1998. Here is her version of events that took place 36 years before.

Rural scenery in the vicinity of Savères; the Pyrenees in the background.

Here is the tale of the first meeting BESNER-BEZANERE in 1964, I will relay it to you the way my parents lived it as farmers in St-Loube-Amades in the department of Gers (my native village).

One day, my mother being occupied in the kitchen, sees four people enter the house without knocking on the door first. The door was open(at the time, I had suggested that it was for the lack of an electric doorbell). "We are your cousins from Canada". "We have no such cousins" said my mother, "but we will go ask my husband".

In the stables, my father busy feeding the cows, confirmed his wife's statement. The Canadians, two men and two women, presented themselves: Mr. Besner, lawyer, his wife, his sister and his brother-in-law, on a trip driving though Europe in a Pontiac. They claimed to be descendants of an ancestor originally of Riomoux, Lombez diocese, married in Canada with Anne Caglia. In order to find Bézanères in the department, they had gone to the prefecture building in Auch who had found my parents thanks to the electoral lists. My parents were not very welcoming to their faraway cousins who arrived out of the blue. At the time I had criticized them for not researching more on this Bézanère immigrant to Canada. They had merely stated that he had left over 2000 descendants.

They explained their reluctance towards these unexpected visitors:

1) They thought that they would have known about it if a Bézanère had immigrated to Canada, therefore it was not a very plausible story especially since their names were Besner...not Bézanère;

2) Riomoux was a name completely foreign to them (but a few days later they thought that Riomoux was none other than Rieumes, 10km away, but had not understood it right away because it was said in a incorrectly pronounced Gascon dialect;

3) They later regretted not having oriented the Canadian visitors to other Bézanères living near Rieumes but they, contacted later, confirmed ignorance of this whole adventure;

4) I believe that they had difficulty understanding each other through the very different accents. In Southern France we talk "flat", and even a Parisian accent (radio, television) is sometimes misunderstood by Occitanic ears. It goes without saying that a "Québéquois" accent versus a Southern France accent were not very compatible. Three proofs:

- why did my parents understand that the wife of the ancestor of French Canadian Besner family was named Anne Caglia instead of Marie-Anne Gruzelin? My mother was quite adamant that she heard Anne Caglia.

- the land that the Besner notary had discovered and visited, my parents land, was bought by my grand-father in 1905 (thanks to an inheritance received by his wife). If there was an ancestral land, it would have been in the rural district of Savères, but I doubt that the Bézanères" would have possessed land at that time.

-my father could not have declared that he had a son and a daughter since I am an only child and I had finished my studies in law two years previously and was working for the French Government in the Ministry of Finance.

In the spring of 1997, I was able to interview with Claire Besner, daughter of Robert Besner the lawyer, she was able to relay more information about her father's encounter with the French cousin. Claire was 19 at the time of her father's trip to France in 1964 and she remembers how bitter he returned from his trip whose main goal was to find his Gascony roots. Claire identified Robert's traveling companions as Lucien Perron, pharmacist, also from Valleyfield, and his young spouse from a second marriage. Robert practiced very little law but instead owned the large family business of a hardware store chain (still in existence after 5 generations)- Lucien Perron, the pharmacist also became more of a businessman than a health practitioner. Both did business in the rural community evaluating the needs of farmers in the agricultural market.

In 1980, another Canadian descendant, Yvon Besner, then a student, started to do research at the National Archives in Montreal, Québec. Today, he is a lawyer and civil servant for the Federal Government Justice Department in Ottawa. He was born in Montreal in 1956, like his father, Germain Besner, they are of the line of Michel of Vaudreuil. He is presently (1999) living in Hull, Québec and has been for the last 10 years. Yvon had discovered the ancestor's marriage certificate, deed passed before Louis-Claude Danré, Montreal Royal solicitor (1738-1760). This certificate dates from April 21 1760, after the religious ceremony. This is contrary to today's practices but was common practice under the French Regime. The priest presiding the religious ceremony was authorized to draw up a marriage civil contract that was later "insinuated" in good and due time by a notary. This document essentially contains the same information as the first except that the second legally drawn up by Danré de Blanzy in Canada was signed on the 29th of April 1760, eight days after the officialization of our ancestors' wedding. This royal notary is one of the many who opted to return to France after the defeat.

 

Mr. André Colin and spouse Marie-Renée, born Bézanère.
Mr Claude Besner, and his wife Lise

In August 1991, Mr. Claude Besner, real estate promoter, then residing in Chambly, took the trip to France with the intention to find the land of his ancestors and some descendants. Thanks to local phone directories, he was able to find Mrs Colin's mother (widowed since 1980) whom he visited. In 1992, Mrs Colin took a trip of her own to Canada to learn more about the Besners and the ancestor who came to Canada, namely Jean Bézanaire. Before starting the research on her own she contacted Mr. Claude Besner to obtain sufficient information to be able to retrace Jean Bézanaire. He was able to give her a copy of the genealogy chart of his family, the one we are indebted to Chanoine Dugas, for this genealogy chart which he proudly displays in his office.

It's from this chart that Mrs. Colin compiled a document, with the help of Mr. Alain Costes curator at the Rieumes Archives. This document, that I will refer to often later, was published in the no.6 issue of the "Archeo en Savés" in November 1994 after having given a copy to Claude Besner the 6th of June 1994.

All the research pertaining to the origin of the Canadian Besners of French extraction, has taken advantage of the competence and the collaboration of Mr. Alain Costes, registrar in Rieumes.

At the same time, Yvon Besner, the lawyer who had discovered the marriage certificate of the ancestor of French Canadian Besner family in 1980, was also going back to the roots. In August 1992, at the same time that Mrs. Colin was in Chambly, Québec, he was on his way to Rieumes in Haute-Garonne, France. There he met Mr. Alain Costes who gave him the coordinates of Mrs. Colin, whom he was not able to meet . She later mailed him a copy of the same document cited earlier. Yvon Besner returned to France in July 1995, but because of conflicting schedules, Yvon Besner and Mrs. Colin were unable to meet.

For a while, in December 1996, Mr. Yvon Besner published the essentials of Mrs. Colin's document on a Internet site. Since then, the author of these lines, thanks to the magic of technology, was able to regain contact with all these people and many more, verify known sources, striped legal archives, complete what was vague and to give you all the knowledge that we have accumulated, so far, on our Bézanaire-Besner origins.

 

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