A Journey to my Roots

In the 1930's when you had nothing to entertain a family but yourselves, if you were lucky the radio, double feature western movies for a nickel, singing around the piano, or stories about family, I remember in particular my Dad with yarns about his Dad, my grandfather Anthony "Tony" La Brier.

Tony (Anthony) La Brier became almost a legend to me with all of the tales that Dad and his sisters Rebecca and Margaret told. Dad had a large solitary diamond ring that had been made from one of Tony's shirt studs. My aunt Becky had an oblong ring that almost measured from knuckle to knuckle that had been made from his tiepin. It apparently had 26 small diamonds (not chips) on it.

Other tales of his matched team of Percheron horses that pulled my grandparents carriage, their restaurant, and bakery in Edmore and Lakota North Dakota. Other businesses I learned that they owned later in my research, an example being a bowling alley, land and other partnerships in ranch/farm land in the area.

Stories of Tony walking down the streets of Minneapolis looking like Diamond Jim Brady,” told to my sister by the grandfather of good friend of hers in Minneapolis. He obviously was a successful businessman at the age of 33 years old when he married my grandmother Mary Ann Regan of Crookston Minnesota. How he got to this point is still a mystery that I would love to solve.

I can only guess that he found his way North from Kaskaskia over the Missouri river to the Dakota area, or perhaps having spent time in Minneapolis he traveled up the Mississippi to that city, then overland to Northwestern Minnesota and North Dakota. As he was already established in business before being married I can only assume that he had been busy for a few years before 1893.

Dad entertained me with stories of the Wild West mentioning Jessie James, (he called him Jessie Jimmy), Wild Bill Hickock, Wyatt Earp, and others. My grandfather would have been a young man when these characters were alive, and could have seen but most certainly had heard of them, passing on these stories to Dad.

Thankfully Dad also mentioned family names, his Uncle John, Aunt Mary and Alice. He also mentioned that his grandmother died giving birth to his Dad Anthony La Brier. He did not know about Kaskaskia, or if he did he didn't mention the name, only that his Dad had been born close to the Chester Illinois area. He also mentioned that our name was not always as it is now. That it had a "D" in front of it and an "E" on the end. I can only assume after my research that he meant both d' La Briere and d' La Bruyere, both names show up in my ancestors.

Add to these memories the desire of an aging man to find out who he is and where he came from. As long as I can remember I was certain that if cut, my Dad would bleed red, white and blue. My American heritage was always predominant when my Dad was explaining who and where we came from, he was very proud of the land of his birth and his ancestors. With this background I have grown up proud of my American heritage, and continue to be as a dual American/Canadian citizen.

When I started my search it was because of a letter from the Secretary of State for Illinois with a copy of the 1860 census showing my grandfather's family as of that date. I found this letter after my Dad died. It showed that my great grandfather was Peter La Brier and that my grandfather had four siblings. It did not show any mother which would confirm my Dad's story that his grandmother died giving birth to Anthony.

With this letter arousing my curiosity I found on the Internet, using the old Compuserve service, the address for the Randolph County Genealogical Society.” I wrote to them and made contact with a wonderful lady who offered to do searches for me. She provided me with lots of documents that in the early 1990's made little or no sense to me. Thankfully I filed them away and they proved invaluable later on.

When the web became more sophisticated I made a web page which allowed me to contact many more family members which fueled my need to visit the place where so many of my ancestors had lived and made their lives. Through this journey I have found many cousins, some distant and some not so distant, and to me they have become very good friends. This has much meaning to me, as I am the last of my immediate family, other than my children.

This generated a strong wish to visit the land where family lived and died, leaving descendants living in the area. In September 2002 I did just that, a dream come true. My wife Noreen and I drove 3,000 miles to Ste. Genevieve Missouri to meet with new found family members and to make connections that will last the rest of my life. I am so thankful for all of my cousins who took the time to visit Ste.. Genevieve that September where we all met and had a day of visiting.

Now in August 2004, the Pioneer Project is honoring our family during the Jour de Fete festival as original settlers of the area. The old house our ancestor Louis Ratté La Briere/La Bruyere built is still standing and we are hoping that it will be eventually restored to its original splendor. It seems that the owners plan on doing just that. We wish them good luck. Unfortunately because of a health problem I was not able to attend this celebration. It is a great disappointment to me.

The pictures here give you an idea of my enjoyment of being in Missouri and Kaskaskia, knowing that the ancestors who are responsible for me being alive, once lived, worked and died here. I stood on what probably was the farm where my Great Grandfather Pierre La Bruyere lived and worked with his brother Antoine. I stood beside Antoine's gravestone, but I cannot find my Great Grandfather or Great Grandmother's graves. I hope that some of these mysteries will be solved before I join them. I thank everyone who has helped me, hoping they know how much I appreciate it.

John La Brier


Old Kaskaskia


Kaskaskia Town Map

This reads; "The bodies of early Illinois settlers are buried in this cemetery. They were moved here from three cemeteries in Kaskaskia village. When floods began to destroy the village in the late eighteen hundreds, concerned residents acted to transfer the remains to a safer place. According to one account 3800 boxes, some containing entire families, were moved. The cemetery was dedicated in 1891.

In 1881, flooding caused the Mississippi to change course and pour into the Kaskaskia River. The village of Kaskaskia was not entirely flooded, but the cutting current would soon destroy it. By 1909 the old village had disappeared.

John (Jack) LaBrier - Antoine LaBrier Grave Marker
John (Jack) LaBrier's - Great Grand Uncle

This picture taken in 1899 shows Illinois' first statehouse very close to the river's edge. Within two years the Mississippi had swallowed the building completely.

You can no longer see the village of Kaskaskia, which stood on the opposite bank of the river. The flood of 1881 did not instantly destroy the town, but little by little, the Mississippi's swift current swept it away. Kaskaskia now lies at the bottom of the Mississippi.

The historic village was once a thriving frontier community. Founded in 1703 before St. Louis or Chicago this center of religion, trade and government attracted settlers, explorers and adventurers from all over the world. Known as the "mother of a thousand cities," and the "Paris of the west," Kaskaskia is considered by many to be where the west began. Kaskaskia was the capital of the Illinois Territory (1809 - 1818) and the first capital of the State of Illinois (1818 - 1820)

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