County of Michilimackinac, 1st day of October, 1850

Dwelling # 242

Andre Courchane – 48 yrs old. Fisherman born in Canada
Abigail – 24 yrs old, born in Ohio
Lucy – 8 yrs old, born in Mich
Emily – 6 yrs born in Mich
Margaret – 4 yrs. born in Mich

I was looking through some older posts and came across one about our family tree.  Above is the Courchaine family (“Heart of Oak”) and listed are my great, great, great, great, great grandparents and their three daughters.  Andre and Abigail died five years later on St. Helena Island (just west of Mackinac) during the cholera epidemic of 1855 and were buried on Round Island.  Margaret, the youngest, moved with her older sisters back to Mackinac Island where she grew up and later met Captain Alexander Ranville.  Together they began the Homestead Hotel and the rest, as they say, is history.

I was noticing the similarities to our own family.  Even some of the names are the same, the spacing of ages, all daughters and we are still near the Straits.   In her book Child of the Sea, Elizabeth Whitney Williams writes of the Courchaine family from her recollection as a small child leaving St. Helena for Beaver Island:

While more people were coming as more help was needed to finish the ship, all was busy bustle among the neighbors for there was to be a great gathering to watch the launching of the ship.  Soon another family came, old friends of my mother’s, a Mr. and Mrs. Courchane.  The man had come from Montreal, Canada, to Mackinac Island a few years before and there met and married pretty Miss Abbie Williams.  Aunt Abbie we children always called her.  Mother was so happy to have her friend with her.  They had three little girls.  Mr. Courchane was a ship carpenter by trade and came to help finish the vessel.  They were very kind neighbors to us.  Their little girls’ names were Lucy, Emmeline, and Margarette.  They lived just a few steps from our house; we children were all very happy together.  …

I remember it now, so white and clean with mother sitting near in her sewing chair, sewing and joining in the singing.  Then pretty Aunt Abbie coming in; she always looked to me like a picture, with her great dark eyes and black hair braided so smoothly and pretty red cheeks with white teeth just showing between red lips.  She, too, would join in the singing, which was pleasant to remember.  …

I remember our neighbors coming to the beach to see us off.  Aunt Abbie took me in her arms; the tears fell fast on my face.  I thought it was raining and held out my hand, as I had seen father do to catch the drops, but no, it was not raining, it was tears falling from our dear friend’s eyes.  When father called out “all aboard,” I was clasped in another tight pressure of her arms.  …

Mother said afterward I looked everywhere calling “Aunt Abbie,” and cried when I could not find her and Baby Margarette.

It’s something special to read of your ancestors in such detail at a time when there were no photos to capture the image of a person down to the subtleties of their smile.  I consider this text a gift and it is the only description I have of Abigail and her family.  

Without ever knowing the history of our family, I have always felt a special connection to the Straits of Mackinac and specifically to the islands.  It’s hard not to, but my mother always said, “It’s in your blood,” and now I know precisely what she meant.