A serendipitous conversation

William Shangraw’s four-sided monument at Evergreen Cemetery in Pittsford, Vermont.

A few weeks ago, after presenting a talk (“Adventures in DNA”) at the Shrewsbury (Vermont) Community Meeting House for the Ann Story Chapter of the Vermont DAR, I stopped in the kitchen and asked longtime acquaintance and former regent Julanne Sharrow for a drink of water.

She asked, “Do you think DNA results can really knock down brick walls?”

I said yes and added, “Who are you looking for?”

“William Shangraw of Pittsford.”

The brick wall tumbled instantly because I knew this family through my research on French-Canadian immigration to Pittsford.[1].

Julanne later wrote, “It took my breath away.” She had searched for years in vain for a baptismal record in Canada that would possibly link her great-great-grandfather William Shangraw to Augustin Gingras mentioned in Virginia Easley DeMarce’s Canadian Participants in the American Revolution, an index.[2] Would this knowledge result in Julanne gaining a new patriot ancestor? Julanne had already overcome one research barrier in recognizing Shangraw as a phonetic variant of the French surname Gingras. William Shangraw died in West Rutland, Vermont, on 2 February 1888, aged 55 years and ten months. His death record listed birthplace Canada and father’s name “Austin” Shangraw. Julanne had not discovered a corresponding baptismal record for a Guillaume/William Gingras/Shangraw, born circa 1832.

Easy for descendants to get confused! “Uncle Bill Gingrass” is actually James Shangraw (1849–1912) of West Rutland with his older brother Joe Gingrass (1845–1927), who died in Logan, Colorado. Paul Shangrah [Basile Gingras] (1837–1904), a Civil War veteran, died in Osborne County, Kansas. Photo posted on Ancestry.com by Paul’s descendant Michelle Worcester
Proving that the Joseph Magloire Gingras baptized at St.-Pie-de Bagot, Québec, on 22 April 1833 moved to Vermont having assumed the name William Shangraw requires an explanation. His parents, Augustin Gingras and Marie Daunais, married at Contrecour, Québec, on 6 November 1823, and moved often in the vicinity of Ste. Hyacinthe, as the baptismal records of their eleven children children attest.[3] All six of their sons left Québec for Vermont, with three eventually settling in other locations. With these moves came changes to first and last names: Augustin went by Austin, Basile by Paul, and oddly enough, the youngest son, Guillaume, went by the name James when he moved to West Rutland, Vermont. As was usual among French-Canadian immigrants, the Rutland County Shangraws joined the Congregational Church. It is not surprising therefore that William left behind his Catholic baptismal name, Magloire.

The larger question loomed for Julanne: Did this family descend from Augustin Gingras, a participant in the American Revolution? The Gingras/Shangraw brothers’ grandfather was Augustin Gingras, born on 19 July 1760 in St. Augustin, Portneuf County, Québec. DeMarce’s index succinctly claims one Augustin Gingras of St. Augustin was “Captain of militia, [and] carried out the rebels’ orders without opposition.” Further details from the Archives de Québec describe how in July 1775, the parish priest, Monsieur Beriau, called together the town militia and told them not to resist the rebels [Americans]. It is unlikely, however, that Julanne’s ancestor, a boy of fifteen, would have been already commissioned as a militia captain. At least a dozen Gingras families, all related, lived in St. Augustin, among then an older Augustin Gingras. Nonetheless, Virginia Demarce’s pioneering studies continue to inspire new generations of researchers seeking to identify French-Canadians who qualify as Revolutionary War patriot ancestors.


[1] Michael F. Dwyer, “Shangaw, Pelkey, and Poro Families of Pittsford, Vermont,” Vermont Genealogy 25 [2020]: 137–50.

[2] This work has been digitized and is available through familysearch.org.

[3] All Québec Catholic Church records accessed through genealogiequebec.com.

About Michael Dwyer

Michael F. Dwyer first joined NEHGS on a student membership. A Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists, he is a contributing editor of The Maine Genealogist and The American Genealogist. His articles have been published in the Register, American Ancestors, and Rhode Island Roots, among others. The Vermont Department of Education's 2004 Teacher of the Year, Michael retired in June 2018 after 35 years of teaching subjects he loves—English and history.

4 thoughts on “A serendipitous conversation

  1. My own proofing error: It was UNusual for French-Canadian immigrants to join the Congregational Church, though I am finding more examples that Roman Catholicism was not universal among this first generation in Vermont.

  2. Need to share this with a cousin whose last name is Pelkey. My mother was a Pelkey. Her father was like the 3rd man in the family named John Pelkey. Her only brother was also named John Pelkey.

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