Rose Wilson ’21 liked her First Year Seminar professor so much that when she saw an elective she was offering during Wilson’s last semester at Siena, she jumped at the chance to take it even though it wasn’t related to her major. Her class project led to an interesting discovery about her family.
Janet Shideler, Ph.D., professor of French and a FYS instructor, taught the online course on Civilization of Quebec this spring and it immediately caught the attention of Wilson.
“I love her!” she said. “I started Siena with her as a freshman, and I thought it would be nice to finish up with her as a senior.”
Shideler researches and organizes the digital collection Je me souviens…I remember, which preserves artifacts of New York’s rich Franco-American heritage, particularly in Cohoes. The goal of the project, in addition to preserving family memories and local history, is to educate others about upstate New York’s deep French/French-Canadian roots.
Wilson mentioned her coursework to her family, and through their conversation she learned for the first time about her own family tree’s Quebecois branches. Rather than having Wilson write a traditional academic essay, Shideler asked if she wanted to research Franco heritage broadly and her family story more specifically, all with an eye to creating a website.
That clicked with Wilson, an actuarial science/software development double major. The result is My Quebec Heritage.
Wilson explored why her family – the Charbonneaus and the Therriaults – opted to leave Quebec in the late 1800s, why they and so many others chose Cohoes (textile mill jobs), and how they kept their Catholic faith and family traditions alive in the French-Canadian outpost.
“It was a deep dive into my family’s history, and it ended up being the perfect project for this course,” said Wilson. “It was a lot of work and the website was difficult to make but totally worth it.”
The site features vintage family photos, plus some new snaps that Wilson took while exploring in Cohoes. She learned that it was common for those with French heritage to marry spouses with Irish roots, primarily because of their shared devotion to the Catholic church. That was the case with her own family, which also has some Italian blood.
Wilson said she and her family don’t speak French, but she’s interested in learning the language now. She does admit to one family trait they attribute to the French heritage.
“Our stubbornness! That is definitely from our French side.”
Shideler said she loves teaching about Quebec and that province's considerable influence here in the Capital Region.
“I am especially thrilled that this wonderful student found a part of her own rich family story, all by signing up for a course,” she said.