When serendipity answers questions, magic seems to happen. Or, as Louis Pasteur once said: Chance favors the prepared mind. In my case, I think it’s the ladies talking again.
The Filles du Roi are still on my mind. These are the hundreds of young women (and a few matrons) recruited by agents of Louis XIV between 1663 and 1673 to populate New France. In Quebec, festivities and remembrances were in abundance over the summer as this is the 350th year after the first of these women and girls arrived.
Though 2.4 million people (Wikipedia) claim French-Canadian ancestry in the U.S., few of us, I’m guessing, are (were) aware of this anniversary. In Canada, Wiki puts the number at 7 million. Even without knowing the connections, and accounting for other women in the gene pool, that’s a lot of descendants for under 1000 women in the late 17th century. That’s a lot of cousins running around in this century.
Thank goodness for Jan Burkhart of the American-French Genealogical Society in Rhode Island and her project to document descendants. Early last week, she sent my certificate to confirm that I am a descendant of Marie-Reine Charpentier, daughter of Isabelle de Sens and Bonaventure Charpentier – the Queen’s master tailor. I’d picked her from among the many filles du roi in my lines because she is the progenitor of the mother-daughter line to me.
When I opened the folder, my reaction surprised me: I became teary-eyed. What the hey? Then I opened the folder holding the certificate for my sister’s (Sue) grand-daughter (Vivian), and the tears flowed. There was something overwhelming about seeing in print that Vivian Aurore Ober (now two) through her mom Melissa Paradis is a descendant of Marie-Reine, who came to Quebec City in 1671 when she was 13.
I guess that means that Marie-Reine has stepped forward to join Parmelie L., Marie V., and Anne P. at the country table in my mind. And that the conversation is becoming more and more lively.
Then comes a serendipitous moment. I am reading DNA Double Take by Carl Zimmer in the Science Times section of Sept. 17’s The New York Times. Apparently, what scientists think they know about the human genome is changing like a runway model during fashion week. “…it’s quite common for an individual to have multiple genomes…Some have genomes that came from other people.”
My first reaction was, well, duh, yeah, from our parents. But that wasn’t what he meant. Y chromosomes in breast tissue, a chimeraic woman whose genome seemed to indicate she wasn’t the mother of two of her three biological children, women who gain genomes from their children – DNA that is a whole lot less individual than what was biology dogma just a few years ago.
So, I got to thinking, well, if other people’s DNA is mixed in with our own, how crazy is it really to imagine that the ancestral ladies are talking in my head? How much of our ancestors’ “stuff” is mixed in with our biological “stuff” as well as our psychosocial “stuff”? Maybe we’re not only what we eat or known by the company we keep. Maybe we’re a lot more who they were than we realize.
Maybe not. But the possibility is certainly fodder for a writer’s imagination. Especially if she really, really listens.