Above: Israel and Sarah Rondeau with grandchildren Rose, Juliette and Edna Lafleur.
by Stephen Dafoe
Two women 11,000 kilometres apart have launched a new Facebook Group to preserve the memory and legacy of Sarah Rondeau after learning the Morinville pioneer woman was their great-great-grandmother.
Rondeau was part of the group of French and German settlers who came to Morinville with Father Jean Baptiste Morin in the late 1800s. She is most remembered locally for her work as a midwife.
Sarah Rondeau (nee Laurence) was born Apr. 10,1856 in St. Jean de Matha, Joliette, Quebec. She and her farmer husband Israel moved to Morinville in 1892 with their then 14 children. Ultimately, they raised 18 children. Rondeau died on Jan. 19, 1942, in the home she and Israel built. Rondeau is buried in the St. Jean Baptiste Cemetery.
Morinville resident Monique Van Rooyen and Kasey Hussey, who was born in Bathurst, New Brunswick, but has been a resident of Al Ain, United Arab Emirates for the past ten years, recently launched the Facebook group called Morinville’s Sarah Rondeau (nee Lawrence).
Van Rooyen said Hussey connected with her after Van Rooyen had posted a request on the Morinville Schools and Community Memories Facebook page looking for information about Sarah Rondeau’s indigenous heritage.
“Kasey found the link and messaged me, asking if I was related,” Van Rooyen said. “Through our communications, we discovered Sarah is both of our great-great-grandmothers.
Hussey has done significant research on the family and said she and Van Rooyen were wondering how to get more photos and information from other distant relatives they didn’t know.
“I branch off of Sarah’s daughter Mary Rondeau, who married Archie Lafleur, and Monique branches off her daughter Delina Rondeau, who married Thomas Houle,” Hussey said.
Though the administrator of the Facebook page Morinville Schools and Community Memories, they obtained copies of the Rondeau family photos from Volumes 1 and 2 of the Pictorial History of Morinville, some of which they had never seen.
“[It] just goes to show how powerful social media can be in finding out more of your family’s history,” Hussey said.
Sharing a lineage and an interest in preserving family history, the two women decided to create their own Facebook page to find other descendants and get more information, pictures, and stories about Rondeau.
“As the majority of her living grandchildren are in their latter years (my mother is in her 80s), we didn’t want the history to be lost,” Van Rooyen said. “We’d like to connect with other descendants and anyone who may have interesting stories or pictures to share.”
The women are confident Morinville still has a lot of Rondeau descendants, all able to share stories about the pioneer.
“I think it was important to create the page to share Sarah Rondeau’s amazing story and keep it going for future generations because, as the older generations in each branch of the family tree pass on, we lose the chance to know all that we could about her because, without her, none of us would be here today,” Hussey said.
During her research, the genealogist has found it particularly exciting to locate living descendants from the various branches.
“Through finding and bringing everyone together, we can see photos of our ancestors that we have never seen before, and share the ones we have with them,” Hussey said. “Somewhere out there, sitting in someone’s drawer of family heirlooms, lie little treasures of photos, documents, and maybe even former possessions of our ancestors that we may never have had the chance to see.
“We are all patches that belong to this very large family quilt, and I feel now is the time to stitch these patches together for all Sarah and Israel’s descendants, as well as Morinville families to enjoy, before it is too late to identify the photos, and they are lost forever.”
But it is not just the photos and documents the page is hoping to share. Stories are an essential component, as well.
One story she learned came from Rondeau’s only living granddaughter from Rondeau’s daughter Mary – Hussey’s great-aunt Jeannine Lafleur, who lives in Arizona.
Hussey’s great-aunt tells the story of Rondeau’s youngest daughter Oseline, who was one to one-and-a-half pounds at birth.
Rondeau would wrap her daughter in sheep’s wool and put her in the sewing machine drawer and put it on the oven door of the wood and coal stove. It served as an incubator. Oseline survived and lived to be 95 years old.
The founders of the page are looking to welcome the descendants of Sarah and her husband Israel to share old family photographs and stories. The page is open to anyone else interested in learning more about one of Morinville’s pioneer women. Both women believe there are many more stories to learn and share about their ancestors.
“We both would like to keep this great woman’s memory alive. We really believe she was a vital part of the community,” Van Rooyen said. “All founding Morinville families will have had some form of contact with Sarah Rondeau – whether it was with her attendance with a birth or helping with a sick person in their family.”
Hussey said although descendants branch off of the many different branches created by the children, and carry different names, they all belong to the same family tree.
“We all began our story with Sarah and Israel Rondeau, and I find that fascinating,” Hussey said. “From their union, and their parents and grandparents before them, we have the exact same roots. I’d like to encourage anyone who may have photos or stories to please share these little remaining pieces of our family’s history, no matter who’s home they ended up in because they are pieces of us all.”
Hussey believes Rondeau would be happy to know that her descendants in Morinville and far beyond have come together to share their patch in what Hussy calls a family quilt.
“[Her] story belongs to us all equally, as well as the town of Morinville, which she and her family helped shape,” Hussey said. “Many of Morinville’s pioneers were brought into the world by Sarah’s very own hands, as it is said that she delivered over 1100 babies during her time as Morinville’s midwife, and their families are also linked to her.”
The address for the Facebook group is https://www.facebook.com/groups/2594623760633676/.