Names Lost in Vermont, Part 24: Loso


“NANCY LOSO,” ACCORDING to the Pittsford Historical Society’s donor.

This episode starts with revisiting two framed portrait-sized photographs donated to the Pittsford Historical Society. The photos came from the home of Myrtle (Rabitoy) Cameron (1917–2009). Her niece, who made the donation, claimed “The female is—Loso, grandmother of Minerva (Loso) Rabitoy. She is buried in Proctor and was a full-blooded Indian.” Is the attribution correct? First, let us consider the clues in the picture itself: The woman appears to be at least seventy, and her braided bonnet puts the style of the costume to around 1870. Minerva’s grandmother has been identified in American records as Nancy (Courchene) Loso, born as Des Anges aka Marie Angèle Courchene, born at St. Pierre, Sorel, Québec, on March 20, 1831. She died, age 41, a week after giving birth to her tenth child, Antoine, in Gracefield, Québec, on April 14, 1872—thus she is not buried anywhere near Proctor, Vermont. Clearly Nancy’s age does not fit with the woman in the photograph. 

Moreover, in exploring her Courchene ancestry in Québec [Cushman, see Lost Names, Part 7], no evidence exists to support the claim of Native American ancestry. This provides the opportunity to burst the bubble of one of the most persistent myths handed down in French-Canadian families that goes something like this: “My great-grandmother looked like a Native American princess with high cheekbones, jet-black hair, aquiline nose.” Among the dozen or so research requests I have undertaken to find a purported Native American ancestor, they have not proven correct. It is a curious sociological phenomenon that, in the nineteenth century, as the wars against Natives Americans concluded and many indigenous people were relegated to reservations, this perceived hint of exotic ancestry is attributed to a woman based on appearance alone. That is not to say that I will never find one of these stories to be true.

JOHN LOSO, PHOTO donated to Pittsford Historical Society.

Now to evaluate the photo of John Loso (1826—1888), born in Yamaska, Québec, as Jean-Baptiste Lauzon, on February 22, 1826, son of Modeste and Marie Louise Deguire dit Desrosiers. He and Nancy married in the early 1850s, most likely in Vermont, but no record survives. John, Nancy, and three Loso children Philip [Felix], Edward, and Nancy were counted in Pittsford’s 1860 census. Then, during the early Civil War years, in an unusual migration pattern, they moved hundreds of miles north to Blue Sea Lake, Québec, thence to Valleyfield, Québec. In Canada, Nancy gave birth to seven more children.

After Nancy’s death, John and the children moved back to present-day Proctor, where most of them found work at the Vermont Marble Company. The 1880 census for the Village of Sutherland Falls (now Proctor) has John Loso, age 52, head of family, with daughter Olive, age 16, keeping house for her five brothers at home. No doubt John had extended family in the area to help with the rearing of his children—he never remarried. 

1860 CENSUS FOR Loso.

1880 CENSUS FOR Loso.

John’s marble gravestone sits high on the hill across from St. Dominic’s Church in Proctor. His age at death errs by five years and thus falsely presents his birth year as 1821.  Next to him is the stone of his sixteen-year-old son, killed in a derrick accident. Transcription of St. Dominic’s Cemetery incorrectly stated his age at death was 6, not 16. The Rutland Herald published this eerie news item on 7 April 1881: “It is said that John Loso, Jr., fatally injured by the sliding of a derrick foundation at Sutherland Falls last week, at the breakfast table on the morning of the accident related a dream he had had the previous night, that a derrick had fallen and killed all employed about it except himself.” [I hear the theme from The Twilight Zone playing in my head!]


CHAPLIN LOSO’S STONE, not Cyprian Lauzon.

STUDIO PICTURE, POSTED on, of Antoine Loso (1872—1932), whose mother died the week after he was born.

Nancy (Courchesne) Lauzon/Loso’s short life belies the scores of her descendants who live in our community today. Her children married into other French-Canadian families: Yando. Gallipo, Ladabouche, Francis, Minette, Bousquet, Borette, and Hevé. They all used the American spelling of Loso, except, no surprise in church records. Chaplin Loso is recorded as Cyprian Lauzon in the marriage register of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church. Nancy’s last-born child, who never knew his mother, kept his French first name, Antoine, throughout his life. 

One hopes that this story which ascribes an identity to an ancestor based on appearance alone will inspire more research adventures in the direction of seeking and documenting Native American ancestry.

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