Thursday, May 28, 2015

One Story of Vitaline Lantagne Perusse

I suppose I’m a cynic down deep.  I listened to my mother’s stories about her family but didn’t really believe them.  For one thing, Mom held a lot back.  I didn’t realize she had a sister until I was 21 but I did know that she always got a box of chocolates every Christmas from ‘Beena’.   She told me that one of her uncles who was a carpenter fell through a church floor when he was trying to fix it (can’t confirm that one but there were carpenters in the family), and she said her father was the only one who could read the architectural plans for the new Boys’ Club and install the new curved picture window correctly (can’t confirm that as well).  She empathized with her deceased grandmother who had 17 children but died in an explosion. 

Imagine my surprise when we met her sister Mary and my new aunt started telling more stories of her sisters and brothers.  I knew my mom was the only child of Katie Flynn Perusse but she never told us that her father Ambrose Perusse had a first wife who had five children.   One of the reasons for withholding information could have been that the children from the first family were nearly all adults when Ambrose re-married.  Ambrose’s mother Vitaline Lantagne Perusse did reveal in the 1910 Census that she had had 17 children – 9 were alive at the time of the enumeration.  When I finally had the time to research this I was amazed to find many children born to this couple in Lowell, Massachusetts.   And I was also amazed to see how many different spellings of their names made it into official records (but that’s another blog).   I also discovered that they had lived in a part of Lowell that was originally in Tewksbury, Mass.    

After many years of research I have found a possible 14 children born to this couple and a history of many journeys, probably to find work.   There were journeys from the Lowell area to Fall River, and back at least twice.  There was a trip to St Calixte du Somerset, Quebec, (one child was baptized in St Julie, Laurierville).  Mom had mentioned 3 sets of twins but I couldn’t find evidence of that in any of the birth records which have come to light. 

I really wanted to know if there was an explosion that factored into their lives and, of course, I asked a reference librarian at the Lowell public library.   He immediately pulled the microfilm for me and I was able to read about the explosion of the U.S. Cartridge Company on July 29, 1903, in the early morning hours.  The storage facility was just across the street from a housing development, Riverside Park, in what was then Tewksbury, Mass.   Many things were disturbing in the newspaper articles but I was really surprised that there were munitions stored across a narrow street from a residential district.   

The people who died in the explosion were listed, and my great-grandmother was the first one mentioned.  She died in her home directly across the street – she was about 50 years old.  Her youngest child, Josephine, 14 years old, also died.   My great-grandfather was blown from a ladder a short distance away.  One of his sons was also working nearby and was injured.  They were both carpenters.    Several properties that my great-grandfather owned were destroyed.  In fact, the neighborhood was characterized as a smoking crater.  The speculation was at the time that the weather – it was hot and humid—contributed to the catastrophe.  Nitroglycerin apparently had been dripping from stored dynamite and was saturating  the floorboards.  Something sparked. 

There was some misleading information in one of the reports in the paper which made the search for this family more involved.  But because of this, I discovered that there are a lot of folks named Perusse in Minnesota.  I know now that they are descended from a mutual ancestor of my branch of Perusse but at the time I could find no evidence that my Perusse family ever lived there.  The similarity of names was quite striking.   Relatives gathered from New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut and I wish that the reporters had listed their names, relationships and home addresses (we can hope). 

Vitaline Lantagne Perusse was buried in Cimitière St Joseph in Chelmsford, Mass. with her daughter Josephine.   Her husband and two more of her children were eventually buried there as well.   There is an interesting monument at the site. 

Vitaline Lantagne was born in Quebec, Canada about 1852.  She married Zephirin Perusse 13 February 1870, in Lowell, Massachusetts.  They were both 18 years old.  He had been born in Bytown, now Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  Vitaline died 29 July, 1903.  Zephirin died 4 June 1929.  Children: 

1. Louis Zephirin Perusse, b. 30 Nov 1870, Lowell; d. 1 May 1922, Lowell
2. Vitaline Perusse, b. 25 Nov 1871, Lowell; d. ? m. Surprenant

3. Zephyrin Adelard Perusse, b. 5 Jan 1873, Fall River, MA; d. before 1929

4. Ambrose (John) Perusse, b. 2 Jan 1874, Lowell; d. 27 July 1955, Lynn, MA

5. Marie-Georgina Perusse, b. 29 July 1877 St Calixte du Somerset, Quebec; d. ?; May have married a Bishop/ Levesque.

6. George Perusse, b. 10 Dec 1879 Lowell; d before 1929

7. Joseph Perusse, b. 26 Dec 1880 Lowell; d. ?

8. Gerry C Perusse, b. March 1882; d. Jan 1912

9. Albert Perusse, b. 6 Dec 1884, Fall River; d. after 1930

10. Marie Delia Perusse, b. 22 July1886, Lowell; d. ?

11. Philias Perusse, b. 28 Aug 1887; d. ?

12. Charles Perusse, b. 5 July 1888 Lowell; d. 10 Aug 1888 Lowell

13. Edward Perusse, ? (his birth date is improbable)

14. Josephine Perusse, b. 20 Oct 1891 Lowell; d. 29 July 1903 Tewksbury, MA.

I now always appreciate Mom’s stories and all the other family stories because there will be a kernel of truth in all of them. 


  1. Again, Peg, a fascinating and well-written tale. There was also a story about a baby that the brothers Perusse would toss back and forth over the dinner table like a football. True fact? unknown.

    I had always thought the curved window was for one of the shops on Union Street in Lynn. Bell Shops? Rook's? I'm not even sure why I think that.

    Bummer that the 3 sets of twins wasn't corroborated - I loved imagining that. Mom did relate a story her father Ambrose told her, of getting up one morning, going to the kitchen where his mother Vitaline was cooking breakfast, and she asked him "Do you want to see your new baby (brother? sister?)?" He wasn't interested in the baby born during the night, I guess it was old-hat... Imagine, if true, the strength of that woman.

  2. Peg,

    I want to let you know that your blog is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!

    1. Thank you very much Jana. I hope you have a great weekend, too.