Norman roots – Calvados, apples, and migration Monday, Jan 19 2015 

Apples, brandy (Calvados), cows and hills. Maybe pears, horses, clay and camembert.

Images that settle and stay as I read my not-a-Christmas-present book from my brother John. A big, big book about everything Calvados (written in 2011 by Charles Neal). A non-holiday book my bargain-hunting, travel-for-points brother saw in a remainders bin and instantly recognized as belonging in my hands. He was as much tickled by the idea of getting a $60 book for $2.50 as he was about identifying just the right recipient: a sister who is also tickled both by the bargain and the information, but more especially by the realization that her image lived in his mind, though they hadn’t seen each other in months.

Calvados-apple pie is becoming a birthday tradition, a gift made by the sister, to John and another brother (Donny). Though a decade apart in age, they celebrate a birthdate a day apart in late November — at the end of apple-gathering days, at the start of the bitter-winds season when a draught of Calvados fortifies body and soul, at a pause in the growing cycle when field produce is transformed into all manner of physician finger-wagging delights.

The book is subtitled: The Spirit of Normandy; it begins with cows, horses, cheese, food, and wine. By the time I get to the recipe for Poulet Valleé d’Auge, I am in love. And surprised that I have all the ingredients – including sea salt, chanterelles, cider, and cream — in my larder, or under heavy plastic in an experimental garden plot where I am learning how many years parsley will continue to sprout if semi-protected from New England winter extremes.

“Most Normans are content to be Normans and proud of their history…” Neal writes (p. 22).

What is my Norman history? Am I proud and content 400 years removed from this place? Are there qualities and habits inherited along with other Gallo-Roman-Norse physical traits that are there but invisible to my conscious mind?

This question is part of the quest that draws me out, a quest to seek my personal Holy Grail: the answer to the question How long does a physical, emotional, learned, inherited, or remembered experience persist from ancestor to descendant? Especially those of the almost unknown women who made me.

Who of the ancestors I’ve learned of thus far came from Norman regions – the departments France now calls Manche, Basse-Normandie, Orne, Haute-Normandie, and Seine-Maritime?

Ever aware that tracing the ancestors involves murkier certainty as the centuries reverse, still, what do I think I know of them thus far?

Vivienne Brunelle and Pierre St. Denis linked to St. Jacques de Dieppe (Seine-Maritime) before 1663 when their daughter Marie St. Denis shows up in Chateau -Richer, Quebec to marry Pierre Boucher dit Pitoche. I can’t find Marie in either the Filles du Roi or Filles à Marier books of Peter J. Gagné, so what is her emigration story? And what about her mother, whom geneaologist Drouin lists only by name without a known origin? What is her story?

And isn’t this curious that my sister’s first grand-daughter was given the name Vivian before anyone knew that Vivienne was a prenom de famille (first name). That Vivienne was a Brunelle is also curious as my mother – 11 generations from Vivienne – was born a Brunelle. Aurore, my mother’s name, is also the middle name of sister Sue’s first granddaughter: Vivian Aurore. She carries the name of two Brunelle women 11 generations apart.

I learn that it was common enough in the 17th and 18th centuries among my French/Acadian/Canadian ancestors for a first daughter to be named after her grandmother. My neice Melissa and her husband Mike did not know this when they carefully and secretly chose the name of their first child, a name they revealed to us after her birth.

Gabriel Samson de St.-Gatien-des-Bois, Lisieux (Basse-Normandie) married the Francoise Durand from Quimper in Brittany on Nov. 29, 1669 in Quebec City. They later migrated to Acadie where son Guillaume married Jeanne Martin in Annapolis Royal in 1704. The generations lived in Acadie on Cape Breton at least from 1734 when son Mathieu married Marguerite Poujet, who seems to have descended from the not-so-uncommon marriages between French men and Micmac/Pasamaquoddy women.

Mathieu and Marguerite’s daughter Anne married Francois Carrier in Louisbourg, Cape Breton in 1777. Somehow, their son Simon ended up in Rimouski by 1808 when he married Genevieve Desrosiers. Somewhere in there is another story of a family who escaped, who survived the Grand Derangement of 1755 and its aftermath.

Pierre Levesque and Marie Caumont, married in Hautot-St-Sulpice, in the Caux (Seine-Maritime) region of Normandy, in 1641, according to a book by Ulric Levesque published by the Levesque Family Association. Their son Robert is the second husband of Jeanne Chevalier, another Norman from Dieppe or Coutances, who migrated to Quebec after her father died. She was a fille du roi in 1671 when she married Guilliaume Le Canteur in October in Quebec City.

When Le Canteur died, he left Jeanne a widow with 3 young boys. How she met the 36 year-old bachelor carpenter Robert isn’t yet known. After they married, Jeanne moved from L’Ange-Gardien to Riviere Ouelle where Robert had cleared land. Their three living sons founded the Levesque surname lines. We know we’ve descended from two of them through my maternal arrière-grandmère (great-grandmother); who knows whether the third son will also appear in an as yet unfinished line of ascent.

Guillaume Couture was born about 1616, St. Godard de Rouen (Seine-Maritime). In Peter
é‘s Before the King’s Daughters is a harrowing tale of Guillaume’s life before he married Anne Emard, the 7th child of merchant-tailor Jean Emard and Marie Bineau from Niort (Poitou).

Guillaume, a carpenter, was a donné (someone who signed a contract to help with missionary work) of the Jesuits when he arrived in New France on June 26, 1641, and “soon set off to deliver supplies to the missionaries in Huronia.” (p. 131) In 1642, the 26 year-old brought back three men who were ill – the Huron chief Ahatsistari and the Jesuits Isaac Jogues and Charles Raymbaut.

About two weeks later, Guillaume, Ahatsistari, and fellow donné René Goupil set out to return to the chief’s home. Captured by an Iroquois group, Guillaume was tortured: “his fingernails torn out, joints broken and one finger sawn off with a shell. He was brought to the Mohawk villages, forced to watch the murder of Ahatsistari and suffer further torture.”

Somwhat ironically, to me, Gagné adds: “During his time among the Iroquois, Guillaume learned their langue and customs and gained their respect and the name Achirra. In July 1645, he accompanied chief Kiotseaeton to a council with Governor de Montmagny at Trois-Rivières.”

So, does 29-year-old Guillaume then stay in New France? No, he goes back to Mohawk territory to work on a peace agreement. He asks to break his contract with the Jesuits in 1646, and is allowed to do so. By October, all hell breaks loose and peace is not an option. Guillaume returns to Huronia.

Perhaps by 1647, as a man of about 31 years old, he had had it. He and a partner, Francois Bissot de La Rivière, settle at Pointe-Lévy where they clear land and build houses. This is a man whose capernter’s hands were mutilated only 5 years earlier.

On November 16, 1649, he and Anne married in Guillaume’s home in Lauzon. They had 10 children, and Guillaume continued on missions among the Mohawk and to seek the Northern Sea.

But wait, there must be an Anne story in here, too. How did they meet? What did this 22 year-old girl see in him? What did she think and feel while he was away? How’d she handle her growing brood as a single mom during their separations?

Another tidbit surfaces – their daughter Anne is the great-great-great-grandmother of Genevieve Desrosiers who married Simon Carrier, the son of Anne Samson and Francois Carrier. This is the Simon who seems to have averted capture in the Grand Derangement, one of the descendants of the Norman Gabriel Samson and the Breton Francoise Durand.

Pierre Crenel (or was it Crevet?) and Marie LeMercier, married in Benouville, July 18, 1613 (arr. Caen, Dioc Bayeux, Basse-Normandie). They died before their daughter Marie came to Canada in 1637 when she was 20. What happened to them? What was going on in Benouville before 1637 that contributed to their death? Or did they live a long life and pass in their elder years? What enticed Marie to uproot herself from Normandy, never to return? I suspect it was opportunity for this now-orphan. Still, what was in her character or experience that she thought it a good idea to sail for months across the Atlantic in a wooden ship stocked with food and water that would become increasingly questionable as the days passed?

Francoise Creste and Barnabe Gagnon married in 1571 in Tourouvre, Orne, Basse-Normandie. Their son Pierre married Marie-Renee Roger in 1597 in the same town. Their grand-daughter Noelle Gagnon married Giles Fournier, Nov 20, 1619 in Coulmer, Orne, Basse-Normandie. Their great-grandson Guillaume married Francoise Hebert on Nov. 20 1651 in Quebec City (Francoise seems to be a grand-daughter of Marie Rollet and Louis Hebert, a couple of whom much is written). With generations in Normandy, what happened to entice Guillaume to leave for New France?

Marie Foubert from St.-Vivien de Rouen. She married fellow Norman Jean Cusson from Ste.-Marguerite-Duclair in the archdiocese of Rouen in 1656 in Trois Rivières. She doesn’t show up in Before the King’s Daughters, so what is her story? How did she come to be in New France then?

Marin Richard dit Lavalleé, born about 1640 in Les Authieux-sur-le-Port-Ouen or Les Authieux-Ratiéville (Seine-Maritime) married Marie-Madeleine Grangeon on Oct. 21, 1669. She was the daughter of nobleman Philippe Grangeon and Claude d’Argentière. Marie-Madeleine and 19 other girls from the Salpêtrière in Paris signed a complaint against the Compagnie des Indes Occidentales at Dieppe on June 17, 1667 (Gagné, Kings Daughters and Founding Mothers, p. 280). More stories to uncover. What were the girls upset about? Did she take two years to find a husband because no one was of suitable rank, as Gagné suggests, or did she fall in love with habitant Marin?

There are more Norman ancestors, but it is time to pause, to reflect, to return to Neal’s book .

“Another ten million years passed.” (p. 62) Neal is talking mostly about the evolution of the soils that will eventually support the apple trees of Calvados in our era. In the evolution of dinosaurs and deposits of soil substrate, he finds a connection to the nourishment that will sweeten or sour the fruit that becomes this apple brandy. In a much grander time scheme than mine, he is describing the ancestry and story of Calvados.

The thought comes: but what other stories happened in those 10 million years? I am seeking ancestral narratives strung and woven across 400 years, and there, in geological time, are stories, albeit pre-human, that span more time than my mind can fathom. The ancestor stories that pull and reveal are such a tiny moment, maybe even a micronanosecond, of universe time. Still, these are the ones that nourished the descendants.

Is it any wonder, then, that the pattern of my todays are not so different from the patterns of the people whose genes shuffled and sorted across these 400 years to coalesce in the organism I call “me”? It is only my human mind that thinks so much time has passed.


Identify Yourself Tuesday, Apr 29 2014 

The ladies are yammering about identity. Too many of the seemingly random readings I’m coming across raise slant questions to a perennial one my own mother frequently asked: Who do you think you are?

With mom (Aurore Orise Brunelle, grand-daughter of Parmelie Ledoux), the question was really more about a child acting with hubris, something that would challenge the gods of the French to rain down corrective lessons. That wasn’t something one wanted to invite into one’s life.

It’s a different question now, this Who do you think you are?

Are you what the dominant culture defines you as or are you what you feel inside? Or both? Or more? Or none of the above? Do you have to have a certain genome, untainted by epigenetic transformations or come from a certain place or be descended from certain people? Or be born someplace, or live there for some amount of years, or generations?

Did Marie-Reine Charpentier become Canadienne when she left Paris at age 13 to come to New France to marry? Was Marie Vigneau (born in Beaubassin, Acadie, and married on Iles St. Pierre et Miquelon, France) always Acadienne? Was Anne Pastourel (born in Boucherville, wet-nurse in Detroit, married in Montreal, and died in Trois Rivieres) always Canadienne? Was Parmelie Ledoux a French-Canadian because of where she was born (St. Octave in Rimouski) or a Franco-American because of where she died (Worcester MA)?

I imagine these women sitting around an old wood farm table in a French Nanog where they enjoy a grand chuckle at the confusion and questions they raise in their offspring – some French-French and some French-Other. “Just when you think you know us, here’s something else to think about: you can’t believe everything you read or think. You’ll get to know some things about us, some of which will even be true. Tee hee hee.”

What provoked this meandering of mind was a snippet in the September 27, 2013 The Week (p. 6) — okay, I am a bit behind in reading — in which Kashmir Singh, a Sikh community leader points out that he’s lived in Quebec for 40 years then asks “Am I Québecois, or not?”

I know that if he were the husband of my third cousin’s sister-in-law’s aunt, I’d say ‘yes’ without thinking. And thank him for diversifying the gene pool. But I’m not so sure that living in a place for 40 years is a priori proof of identity. I wonder next: does that make me provincial/narrow-minded/bigoted/limited? For heaven’s sake, do you have to belong to people rooted in a geographic place for hundreds of years to wear a tribal moniker? And if one or more of your generations leave that geographic homeland, do you lose your tribalness? When do you belong? When do you un-belong?

I’ve lived in Orange, Massachusetts for 28 years and am still considered an outsider by people born here, even more so by people whose parents and grandparents were born here. Though I’ve been going to Cape Cod for more than 50 years and have some deep emotional ties and one-week of property there, I’m there considered a “wash ashore,” a person who doesn’t really understand “Cape-ness.” This does give me an inkling of and kinship with Mr. Singh’s frustration.

Even plants have to struggle to be considered resident in the U.S culture. Plantain came to Massachusetts with the English colonists hundreds of years ago, and, yet, though this “white-man’s footprint” is ubiquitous in lawns and sidewalk cracks, it’s still an “introduced species.”

Well, isn’t everything? It’s not like we’re still stewing in some primordial soup waiting for life to emerge or watching pterodactyls sore across the horizon in our early primate forms.

Which thought then reminds me of a conversation I had with my Cape Cod pal Valerie Lane one August retreat. (Marie Vigneau was yammering for mental attention then.) We were wondering why we have affinities and affiliations for some places and people and not for others within our own families. What is it about the stories of some lives that rivet attention while others at best disinterest and at worst remain invisible?

Each question leads to more questions to revisions of thought and knowing to more questions and more revisions. Each step seems to reveal more about the “not known” than the “known.”

I can hear the ladies now: Aah. Now, you’re finally listening. Tee, hee, hee.

Patates Saturday, Aug 31 2013 

For today’s potato blog, we can thank [or curse (: ] the inspiration from my writer pal Aine Greaney. Apparently, not all the ladies are in my head.

Aine wrote a thoughtful post on her blog ( about the hard-working people we should remember on Labor Day, including her da, who dug a lot of potatoes, and Seamus Heaney, a Noble Laureate poet who wrote about pens and potatoes. (Just look at her blog.)

Which got me thinking about Acadians and potatoes.

In 2010, brother Glenn and I visited Le Pays de la Sagouine ( in Bouctouche, New Brunswick. I’d been looking online for something ancestral when up popped Viola Leger’s name and an advert that “for the first time” she would perform La Sagouine by Antonine Maillet in English. Whatever that force is that compels us to do things without our conscious awareness, it took over and I said “I’m going.”

Ms. Leger ( was born in Fitchburg MA, about 25 miles from where I live. Perhaps that had something to do with the front and center dinner-theatre table seating we had. Perhaps that was just Acadian hospitality. We were grateful and enthralled. So…

We spent the following day on the Isle of Fleas (where Le Pays is housed), and, though not fluent enough in French to understand all that was said, we had enough language memory to follow the antics of the musicians and actors.

Which brings me back to potatoes. Glenn and I talked about this, so we both think it’s true. There’s a Cajun/Acadian song called “Lâche pas la patate,” which translate literally as “don’t drop the potato.”

One of the performers at Le Pays sang a slant version. We’re fairly sure he said “lâche ma patate” and that the verses were colorful. From what I remember, the song took him around the world dropping potatoes, or whatever they were a stand in for.  Maybe someday we’ll go back and find out.

In the meantime, Lâche pas la patate – don’t give up — seems a pretty good maxim as many of us face the vagaries of the changing workplace.

Aine’s da didn’t, and neither did our Acadian forebears.

Vive la patate! Ne la lache pas.

Diaspora and Coming Home Monday, Aug 26 2013 

I’ve just finished Christopher Hodson’s ( inspiring new and first book The Acadian Diaspora. Wow. It is, for me, the beginning of understanding the deeper story of the consequences of being uprooted from your people and of being scattered hither and yon. And how I came to find it seems a bit like the wandering route of the ancestors to get back to their roots.

There I was in late July, looking in my family history files for the Comeau line so that I could keep a year-old promise to Cousin George to send him what I had about the link to our patriarch Pierre (married to Rose Bayols in 1649 in Port Royal, Acadie). I was still trying to find my way back to listening to “the ladies” when Marie Vigneau stepped forward demanding attention. There she sat on a branch of the genogram, a grand-daughter of Marguerite Comeau, who was herself a grand-daughter of Pierre and Rose. What did it mean that Marie married in 1764 on the still-owned-by-France islands of St. Pierre et Miquelon?

So, I “googled” her and her parents (Jean-Baptiste Vigneau and Agnes-Anne Poirier) and came upon Jacques Maurice Vigneau who was something of a Moses to a group of Acadians who were first deported to Georgia. Lo and behold, up pops Marguerite Comeau, his mother, and her husband Maurice Vigneault, grandparents of Marie. That made Jacques, known to the British colonists in Boston as Jocky Morris according to Hodson (p. 59), her uncle. Jacques’ story, told through Hodson, became my story.

What an eerie feeling to be reading a history of a people only to discover that you are reading a history of your people.

The kicker was that I was reading this part of Hodson’s book as I sat on the Lower Marshview deck at Craigville on Cape Cod. Note that this is in Barnstable County. So, when I read that Vigneau and his extended family (100 Acadians) in the spring of 1756 headed up the Georgia coast in old canoes (p. 59) past “both Carolinas and New York before the alert residents of Barnstable, Massachusetts, had the group arrested” (p. 60), I felt stunned. Seriously? The ancestors of the people in this place that I love arrested my ancestors?

What do you do with something like that? I’m still sorting it out, but I suspect that Marie would like to state her opinion about what it was like to wander hither and yon.

I’m listening.

Paddling My Own Canoe Monday, Aug 19 2013 

At this summer’s writer’s retreat at Craigville (Cape Cod), my distant cousin George Comeaux wanted to know why the blog went dormant. (He’s such a Southern Gentleman. My Northern friends would have just asked “why aren’t you writing?”)

Was I not following ancestor Anne Pastourel as she climbed into a canoe with her infant daughter and headed west from Montreal to the newly built Fort de Troit? What about our Comeau(x)s in Acadie — do we know how the Grand Derangement separated our branches?  And what about Anne’s mysterious mother Marie Leclerc from France, the one I thought to write a novel about, the one I imagined had a crazy mother who made her run through a 17th century forest outside of Paris proper to practice her escape and hide skills? Were are these people?

Still in my head.

During the year I wrote “dailies” (thoughts about where the stories might take me), took research notes, and read histories of French, Acadian, and French Canadian 17th and 18th century people and places. I abandoned the idea of a John Jakes-like set of novels in favor of a Stones and Stories series. “The ladies” as I call the seven women who are emerging as the kernels of these tales stopped “talking” to me last November. I, apparently, had stopped listening to the way they want these stories told. It took this writer’s week for the chatter to resume.

One night, in our own version of the “swig and gab” that a Cape Cod Times reporter claimed was a highlight of the Obamas vacation on Martha’s Vineyard that same week, our pal Judy Mac identified books more akin to what “the ladies” seem to want: Roots (Alex Haley) and Black Beauty (Anna Sewall). Both stories immerse the reader in the lives of the characters and have elite-recorded historical events happening around them. Characters are minimally influencing, but maybe majorly influenced by, world events. Their lives, lives that were silenced but for the spotlights these authors shone, mattered most.

That seems to be what “the ladies” want. As soon as I “got it,” the struggle ended. With that little nudge from Cousin George, the dormancy of this blog ended.

Welcome to my “little canoe.” Join me if you like on this journey to discover the lives and stories of some people who no longer wish to remain silent. Some of that they reveal may even be true.

World Acadian Congress Aug. 8 to 24, 2014 Sunday, Jul 8 2012 

Just a quick post to let you know that plans are well underway for the next World Acadian Congress. Imagine 600,000 cousins, many of whom look familiar — though you’ve never met them and though your ancestral tree branched hundreds of years ago —  gathering on Aug. 15 (National Acadian Day) at 17:55 (5:55 pm) to make a great noise (tintamarre) as a show of solidarity for our culture.

Heck, grab a pot and a spoon this August 15 and celebrate on your own. Just in case you don’t know, 1755 is the year of the Grand Derangement that sent Acadians on the great diaspora that resulted in some of us starting a Cajun culture in Louisiana. Others of us ended up in New England, and when hostilities settled down, walked 700 miles back to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia only to find our homes appropriated by British loyalists.

Ah well, you do with what you’ve got.

My youngest brother Glenn and I learned about the Congress when we went to Bouctouche and Beaubassin in 2010. While we were at an archeological dig run by Parks Canada in Beaubassin (where some of our ancestors may have lived), one of the locals told Glenn he looked like a Gallant. The Gallant ancestor is our many times great-grandparent. Then we went to Le Pays de La Sagouine, where so many people at the 1755 Concert looked familiar that we played the “who’s that look like?” game. We saw people who looked like our brothers, sister, uncles, aunts, cousins, and neighbors. And they treated us like family members. Made the decision then and there that we would go back for the Grand Rendezvous.

From the sound of things, this next Congress aims to make the whole world Acadian for a time. Can’t wait.

Here’s the announcement — en francais!

Bling for the King Monday, Feb 13 2012 

Welcome to AcadiAnn, a blog about French-Acadian-Quebecois-FrancoAmerican times. I’m writing a novel about the experiences of women in these cultures. The novel is loosely based on my female ancestors.

As I work on this, ideas and observations and tidbits of information surface that surprise and provoke deeper thought – like the following:

Catching up on The Week today, the Jan. 27 issue (p. 14), I come across a snippet of a column done by Yves Michaud for Libération. According to this snippet, Monsieur Michaud says “I never used to join in the annual outcry about national honors being given to undeserving people” – until the latest round in which President Sarkozy awarded a Legion of Honor to Salma Hayek, actress and wife of François-Henri Pinault, a billionaire campaign donor to the French president. The snippet goes on to say the award “is a sad reflection on France’s new ‘supermarket culture,’ which Sarkozy has fostered with his lack of taste and love of bling.”

I know next to nothing about any of these players, but, if what I’ve been reading about the Ancien Régime is true, awards of honor in exchange for money have a long history in France. Before Napoleon’s time, people – men as far as I can tell – could buy noble titles in exchange for plenty of bling and support of the king. And they had to live “nobly” – no manual labor or commercial activity – and they had to find a way to exempt themselves from the land tax (taille).

My head spins trying to understand the different ways in which people could come in and out of nobility – born to it, bought it, given it by the king, earned it as a judge or administrator, or married it (unless you were a noble woman in a province that didn’t recognize female inheritance, in which case you lost it if you didn’t marry someone of equal rank). And then there was a system by which you could claim it if your ancestors were noble before 1400, you devoted at least 20 years of service to the king (which you could split with your son), or you’d managed to pay enough and act noble through four generations. I wonder how our ancestors kept track of all this.

The upshot of this is that we appear to have had a ‘supermarket culture’ well before there were supermarkets. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, heh? (The more things change, the more they stay the same.)