Documented History of Johann Becker

Johann Becker died on April 9, 1817, at the age of about 88 (which places his birth about 1729). A missionary priest from Bonaventure, Québec, François-Xavier Demers, "said the prayers and performed the ceremonies for burial" at the grave of Johann Becker, in the Cemetery of Percé, Québec, on May 25, 1817.1

Almost fifty-one years earlier than this final record, is the first record of Johann Becker. It is the September 1, 1766 marriage acte for Johann Becker and Marie Jeanne David in the parish register of Notre Dame de Québec2. And it tells us a number of things.

First, Johann was from "Wislock en allemagne" (now, Wiesloch, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany) and Marie was a native of Gaspé.

Second, at the time of their marriage, both were residents of Québec City.

Third, Johann's father is Matthieu Becker, deceased, and his mother is Françoise Vichetin. Marie's parents are Jean David and Françoise Olivier.

Fourth, the witnesses were Johann's friends, Jean Bouché and Salomon Petit, and Marie's friends, Charles Auclair and Joseph Harnois.

Finally, his signature provides us with his spelling of his name.

Among these data are both clues for further research and some elements which have to be explained.

First, consider Johann's origins.

Undoubtedly, he was from Germany, but probably he was not born in Wiesloch.3 Perhaps, it was from Wiesloch that he left Germany to join the French army, most likely the Régiment d'infanterie de la Reine. Aldo Brochet's review of the witnesses for the Becker-David wedding: "reveals a deep military connection to the regiments serving at Quebec in the Seven Years War. These regiments were Béarn, Berry, La Sarre (Saarland), La Reine, and Languedoc, many officers of which returned to France in September 1760."4

It is not clear whether Johann was in the army as a soldier, or practising his trade, tailoring5. Certainly, the Régiment de la Reine's muster lists, from 1746 to 1789, include several tailors (none of whom is named).6

Second, consider his residency in Québec City.

Becker had been living in this city prior to his marriage (September 1766) and continued to live there, for over fourteen more years, until after December 1780. His presence is attested to by the register of Notre-Dame de Québec, which includes (besides the record of his marriage) the records of the baptisms of the first eight children and the records of the burials of two of these children.7 Moreover, Becker signed the records of the marriage and the eight baptisms.

Third, consider his name. With four exceptions, his signature is "Johannes becker". In the First copy of his marriage record, he misspells his surname, as "Johannes pecker" and in the Second copy, he misspells both his given name and his surname, as "Johanes pecker". In the record for Baptism 2 (his daughter, Johanna), he misspells his surname, as "Johannes pecker". Finally, in one of the records for Baptism 7 (his daughter, Marie Angélique), he misspells his given name, as "Johanes becker".8

nn_pecker pecker johanes becker
Johannes pecker Johanes pecker Johanes becker Johannes becker

A review of fifteen examples of his signature, shows that, in four of the fifteen signatures, Becker misspells his surname three times and his given name twice. This cannot be explained away as being due to the mechanics of writing or to being in the grip of some emotion. It has to come down to asking: what is Becker's priority? Given that he never corrected any of the misspellings, one can conclude that the correct spelling of his surname seems to have less importance to him than having his signature (in whatever form) on the acte.

In a parish register, in the left margin beside the record, there is an entry stating the kind of record ("B" for baptism; "M" for marriage; and "S" [sépulture] for burial). Often there will be a number which indicates the count from the beginning of the year. Finally there will be the name of the child who was baptized, the bride and groom who were married, or the person who was buried.

While we speak of the parish register as a singularity, we must remember that there were two copies of each register. The original remained in the parish for reference by the clerics. The second could be used to provide the equivalent of the current civil registration of births, marriages and deaths.

It is instructive to compare the two copies for the Becker-David marriage.

First copy Second copy

In the first copy, you can see that Jean-Pierre Mennard, the priest who wrote the marriage record, spelled the name "Beckre", in the margin, and "Peckre", for the groom and for his father, in the record, itself. In each case, the "P" seems to be superimposed on a "B". My conjecture is that Father Mennard, after seeing Becker's signature, "corrected" his own spelling of the initial letter of the surname, in the record, but he did not change the spelling in the margin. I think that he used the "re" ending to represent the French pronunciation of the last two letters of Becker's surname. In French, the ending "er" is pronounced "eh". Think of the pronunciation of the ending of the infinitive form of all the verbs in the first conjugation ("-er" verbs). For a French pronunciation of the "er" at the end of "Becker", you would need a different spelling. Menard chose "re", which, in French is pronounced "ruh" (not exactly equivalent to the English "err", but better than "eh").

However, that "re" ending seems to have spawned an error. The original PRDH online report of the data for the record of the Becker-David marriage has the groom's surname as "Peckve". A close examination of the actual record shows that nowhere does the letter "v" appear in anyone's spelling of Becker's surname. In fact, the evidence is readily available. In line three of the marriage acte, look at the phrase "entre Jean Peckre". Now compare the handwriting of the last two letters of "entre" and "Peckre". They are identical. The spelling is "re", not "ve". The PRDH change from "r" to "v" was egregious.9

And what are we to make of the fact that, often, in parish registers,10 Johann and his family are called "Becker dit Blondin". Perhaps, during his military career (maybe because he had pale hair), Becker was given "Blondin" as a sobriquet. Such nicknames were typical of, and much favoured by, soldiers of that era. In any case, and despite the fact that he, himself, never used it, Becker's nickname stuck, continued to be used, and, finally, "Becker" was completely replaced by "Blondin".11

Finally, we must address the variant spellings of "Becker". Apart from "Beckre/Peckre", discussed above, two other variations appear in the register of Notre-Dame de Québec. First, Father Lefebvre, following Becker's own spelling, wrote "Pecker" for Baptism 2. However, Lefebvre (correctly) wrote "Becker" for Burial 2, but (incorrectly) wrote "Pecker," again, for Baptism 8. Second, Father Pouget wrote "Beicker" for Burial 1 and "Becker" for Baptism 4. And that's it. In eleven records, written by eight different priests, there are four records which use a variant; the remaining seven records use "Becker". As well, both Father Lefebvre and Father Pouget, after using a variant, change to "Becker" for the next record which they wrote (although, Lefebvre does revert to his variation). The trend is toward using Becker's preferred spelling of his name.

And that raises another point to consider. The priests writing the actes were carefully noticing things and striving to record the information in the most accurate way possible. For instance, while Becker, himself, might not have worried about correctly spelling his own name, Father Mennard compared what he had written in the marriage acte with the signatures and then made any necessary changes. Moreover, (such as in the Becker-David marriage acte) when words (eight in copy 1 and three in copy 2) were added between the lines of the text, Mennard recorded that fact so that those words would be treated as part of the original acte and not as some later addition.

Becker moved his family to Percé between 1780 (the last record in the register of Notre-Dame de Québec) and 1787 (the first record in the Gaspésie).12 During that time, two more children were born: François, about June 1783, and Joseph, about 1785.13 However we have not been able to locate the baptismal records of these later children and so we do not know where the family was between 1780 and 1787.

A final observation about the surname. In the Gaspésie, Becker's name went through several changes.14 While "Becker" can be found in the register of St. Michel de Percé until at least 1822,15 the more usual spelling became "Beaker". Then, about 1837, curé William Dunn, changed the spelling from "Beaker" to "Baker".16 This was the final change, but it was not adopted. The descendants of Johann Becker no longer use "Becker". Their surname is now "Blondin". Anyone named "Baker" is not a descendant of Johann Becker but of a totally different English family, who have always been called Baker.17

Fourth, consider some problematic names in the marriage record.

Father Mennard provides the only known instance of Marie David being called "Jeanne". There are times, later in her life, when she and her sister, Anne, seem to exchange names, to the confusion of genealogists. But "Jeanne" has not been found again.

Where might "Jeanne" have come from? The groom, Johann, is called "Jean". His father-in-law, Marie's father, was Jean David. As well, there was the witness, Jean Bauché. Perhaps Father Mennard intended to write "Anne", but with so many "Jeans" present in his mind, he wrote "Jeanne," instead. Whatever the reason, we have yet to find support for this name anywhere else in the record for Marie David.

The bride's mother was definitely Françoise Olivier.18 However, with the "Beckre/Peckre" variant and the "Jeanne" anomaly in mind, someone might wonder whether it is more than a coincidence that "Françoise" was also the groom's mother's name.

Someone might even question her family name, "Vichetin", arguing that it is Mennard's phonetic version of what he had heard Becker say and, in turn, that that would depend on Becker's accent, when speaking French, and the accuracy of Mennard's hearing.19

This cascading series of questions is fruitless. The prudent thing to do is to put aside such doubts until we have proof on which to base any questions. At the moment there is none.

Finally, let us conclude with a final comment on Johann Becker.

Like his future son-in-law, William Molony, and at about the same age, Becker left his native land to join the army of another country, be part of its wars in North America, and arrive in Québec City. Perhaps they met there. After he left the army in 1784, Moloney settled in Percé and, within three years, Becker's family was living there, as well. They certainly met there.

William Moloney married Johann Becker's daughter, Johanna, at Percé, on August 21, 1787 and permanently linked the Maloneys to the Beckers.

1Registre de Saint Bonaventure, Bonaventure, Québec: 1791-1839; 1817 image 30760530 (137e (verso) and 138e feuillets), pp. 217-218. ( Quebec Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2008. Original data: Gabriel Drouin, comp. Drouin Collection. Montreal, Quebec, Canada: Institut Généalogique Drouin.) Online image 238 of 697.
2Registre de Notre Dame de Québec: 1759-1768; 1766 image 16110393 (17ième (verso) feuillet). ( Quebec Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2008. Original data: Gabriel Drouin, comp. Drouin Collection. Montreal, Quebec, Canada: Institut Généalogique Drouin.) Online image 437 of 625.
3In September, 2005, the author's careful search in the register of Saint Laurentiuskirche, the Catholic church in Wiesloch, showed no baptism for any Becker from about 1720 to 1740. There are, however, a number of nearby villages and much more research needs to be done in the Wiesloch area.
4Aldo Brochet, "Ancestry of Johanna Becker-dit-Blondin" (unpublished manuscript, revised 2004), p. 4.
5Registre de Notre-Dame de Québec: in the records of the baptism of his first and seventh child, Becker is called "tailleur" and "M[ai]tre tailleur", respectively. See also the registre de Saint-Michel de Percé (Dec 26 1803): in the burial record for his son, François, Johann is called "Tailleur à Percé". (See n. 15, below.) Gallant (p. 25) also calls him "tailleur".
6Régiment d'infanterie de la Reine: 1746-1789. Microfilm # F-788. (National Library and Archives of Canada).
7Marriage (1766 Sep 01), PRDH # 212107; Baptism 1 (1767 Jun 26), PRDH # 617732; Baptism 2 (1769 Jun 04), PRDH # 618374; Baptism 3 (1771 Jun 09), PRDH # 618943; Burial 1 (1772 Dec 04), PRDH # 485031; Baptism 4 (1773 Jan 30), PRDH # 619376; Baptism 5 (1775 Mar 19), PRDH # 622210; Burial 2 (1776 Nov 13), PRDH # 485717; Baptism 6 (1777 May 06), PRDH # 622764; Baptism 7 (1779 Jan 11), PRDH # 623290; Baptism 8 (1780 Dec 25), PRDH # 626287. [For "PRDH" see n. 9, below.]
8Many German parish registers of this period were written in Latin; hence, "Johannes". (And see n. 3, above.)
9Programme de Recherche en Démographie Historique (PRDH) Databank originally indexed this marriage under the incorrect spelling as "PECKVE-BLONDIN". In the PRDH online summary of this marriage (Union # 212107; Québec, 1766-09-01), the parties are listed in this order: groom, bride, groom's father, groom's mother, bride's father, and bride's mother.
10For example, in the register of Notre-Dame de Québec, "Becker dit Blondin" is in the records and their marginal material twice (the marriage and the second burial). It is also in the register of Saint-Michel de Percé, in the burial record for Becker's son, François (see n. 5, above, and n. 15, below). Its use increased in later years.
11The family seems to have adopted the addition. Jean Baptiste Becker wrote "Jean Becker Blondin" when he signed as a witness to his niece, Hélène Maloney's marriage (27 Feb 1822) to William Morrissey, and when he signed as godfather to Jean Baptiste Couillard (13 Oct 1822): [Registre de Saint-Michel-de] Percé: 1801-1941 (Longueuil, Québec: Diffusion généalogique Pepin [RN-CD45], 2003); Image 30620292 (deuxième (verso) et troisième feuillets) and Image 30620302 (douzième (verso) feuillet), respectively.
12abbé Patrice Gallant, Les Régistres de la Gaspésie (1752-1850), (Montréal: Société généalogique Canadienne-française (# 3), 1961), p. 25, notes that the first reference to this family, in the registers of Gaspé, is the marriage of Johanna Becker-dit-Blondin to William Moloney (21 Aug 1787). Gallant opines that Johann is the founder ("la souche") of the Becker family.
13Gallant records a marriage between Marguerite Molloy (daughter of Luke Molloy and Mary O'Keefe) and André Baker ("prob[ably] Jean [and] Anne David", p. 231). André is not part of Gallant's Becker entry (p. 25), but is added in the "Rectifications et additions" (p. 305). André's connection to the Becker-David family remains unproven.
14The priest who was writing the record ("acte") of a baptism, marriage or burial in a parish register used the names of parents or spouse to establish the identity of the person being baptized, married, or buried. So the "correct" spelling of a family name was not important for establishing identity. The priest wrote the phonetic equivalent of the pronunciation he had heard. If the priest was French, the sounds of French would guide his spelling of an English, or Irish, or German family name. Similarly, if the priest was English, the sounds of that language would guide his spelling.
15Examples before Becker's death include the record for the marriage (06 Oct 1802) of Marie Angélique Becker to John Morrissey, and the record for the burial (26 Dec 1803) of François Becker: [Registre de Saint-Michel-de] Percé: 1801-1941 RN-CD45: Images 30490412/13 (sixième et verso feuillets) and Image 30490415 (huitième (verso) feuillet), respectively. And for records in 1822, see n. 11, above.
16Élaine Réhel, St-Michel de Percé: Répertoire baptêmes, mariages, décès 1801-2005. Percé, Québec, 2005, p.23.
17In his répertoire, which ends at 1850, Gallant uses only "Baker-dit-Blondin" (pp. 25-26). For more recent records, see Cécilia Bouchard-Lévesque, Mariages de Gaspé Est: 1752-1941 (Rimouski, Québec: Société de Généalogie et d'archives de Rimouski (SGAR), 2003), passim, and also Élaine Réhel, Répertoire des mariages de Gaspé Est: 1801-1941 (Longueuil, Québec: Les Éditions historiques et généalogiques Pepin [#236], 2003), passim.
18Gallant (p. 101: David, 6-Jean) erroneously calls her Françoise David.
19In German, at the beginning of family and place names, a "W" is pronounced "V". Similarly, a "V" is pronounced "F". So, if "Vichetin" is supposed to be a phonetic approximation, what are we to make of "Wislock" which, having its correct German spelling, cannot be a phonetic approximation?

Last Updated: 2021-12-20
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