Identify Yourself: Why Migrate Saturday, May 17 2014 

When I think about who the ancestors were, I wonder whether they, themselves ever wondered about their lives in their heres-and-nows? Those first ladies to come from the provinces of France or those already here who married men from those provinces, was there any time in their lives when they could sit and ponder their particular interests and beliefs? Or did they live lives at the whim of the forces around them?

 

I wonder whether their heads were so filled with the stories of others’ lives and wishes that they just didn’t have time or space to consider their individual lives and stories. Their days were rife with stories from their children, husbands, and relatives. Other stories came from their religious faiths (Catholic, Huguenot, and what is now called Aboriginal Canadian). Still more came from their communities: those that supported them (New France and Indigenous allies), those that used them (France’s king and nobles and the decree to populate the colony), and those who wanted to capture or kill them (Haudenosaunee and English). Was there room in there for a personal narrative? And with whom could it be shared? Was that even a consideration? Would it, did it, matter to them?

 

That they did express opinions comes to me slant in the stories told about recruiting them, about their voyages in wooden ships across an uncertain sea to an unknown land, and about the control they exercised in selecting a husband in New France.

 

What I am trying to dig through to, though, is the root of their stories, about why they migrated from France, or why they mingled with French and Canadian settlers. I want something deeper than “they wanted a better life,” because I hold a felt-sense that it’s not that simple an answer.

 

I remember trying to explain this question to my brothers. We were sitting in a Paris cab in February 2013 on the way to Charles de Gaulle airport. My brothers John and Donny, (they’d found a way to take me there with them on points, but that’s another tale), and their friend Supon were trying to help me wrestle through the question. “They probably came for the same reasons other people migrated. They wanted a better life. They wanted adventure. They wanted escape.”

 

But what I wanted to know was, why THESE women, why THEN, why THERE, why HERE? What’s the girl reason for migrating?

 

Take, for example, the situation that brought our mother-daughter progenitor to New France. Marie-Reine Charpentier was just 13 years old* when she left Paris for New France in 1671. Born in the parish of St. Sulpice (the church made even more famous in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code), in the faubourg St. Germain, she was the daughter of nobelman Bonaventure, master tailor to the Queen of France, and Isabelle de Sens. All that I have of Isabelle at this stage is her name. Surely, she must have had thoughts, feelings, beliefs, reasons for sending her 13 year-old daughter out of France after Bonaventure died.

 

Along this journey, I’ve learned that, in the late 1600s in France, it was a father’s job to find a husband for his daughter. So, if your father dies, who is responsible for finding you a husband? Did someone suggest to Isabelle and Marie-Reine that her prospects would be better in New France? Was she an only child? Was Isabelle even alive then?

 

Given what I imagine the connections to be with the royal court, couldn’t Marie-Reine have married someone in that social circle? What was going on in their lives that the eventual choice was to send a 13 year-old to another country to find a mate? Were Isabelle and Marie-Reine persuaded by Colbert’s plan and Louis XIV’s mission that becoming a fille de roi (King’s daughter, a woman who migrated with promise of a dowry payment from the King) was a good option? Were they scared or excited or unaffected?

 

Did this, in fact, represent a “better life” for Marie-Reine than staying in Paris in 1671? Might there be something else going on then that made it a good idea to “get out of Dodge”? And was that “something else” personal (unsavory prospects, mother-daughter rivalry, mother also dead) or political/religious (growing tension against Huguenots) or economic (more money if you leave than if you stay)?

 

If the year of her birth is correct (and genealogy is ever subject to revision), Marie-Reine married (July 28, 1672) her first husband when she was about 14. She could sign her name, which was a big deal in the 17th century. She came with a respectable amount of wealth – 400 livres of her own goods, and a King’s Gift of 100 livres upon marriage to Louis Prinseau. He was nearly 20 years her senior. (Think what we’d make of that in the U.S. in the 21st century.)

 

If the stories about the choice these girls had is true, Marie-Reine picked him. What went through her head in doing that? Was she more mature than one would expect of a 14 year-old today? Did she have help? Did she think Louis was hot? Did he court her?

 

Louis was a tailor from La Rochelle. Together they had three children. He died about 8 or 9 years into their marriage.

 

There she is, Marie-Reine, a widow with three daughters (ages about 6, 4, and infant) and just 22 or 23 herself. One of those girls, the infant Marie-Madeleine is baptized Jan. 24, 1680, 277 years before her great+ grand-daughter Susan Marie, my sister, is born on that date. Marie-Madeleine is also a progenitor in my mother’s line, though not a strictly female line. There are two generations of men – her great-grandson and great-great-grandson – before the line re-merges with a female line.

 

Marie-Reine decides to marry Étienne Domingo dit Carabi on August 26, 1681, 281 years before their great+grand-son Glenn, my brother, is born on that date. About 9 years older than she, Étienne is a Basque who came from Bayonne in Gascony and is a bargeman in Quebec City. What brought him to this land? What brought them together?

 

I mean, really, with all the French and aboriginal guys running around, she finds a Basque husband? What does that say about the way people viewed each other’s origins? Did he come from a fishing family, a descendant of one of the Basque groups that history says were fishing off the Canadian coast while Columbus was lobbying to “discover” the New World? What brought them into each other’s circle?

 

Together, they have six girls, the last one when Marie-Reine is 36.

 

What happened that she had no more children? She and Étienne were married another 8 years before he died.

 

Imagine this household – Marie-Reine births 9 daughters, the youngest of whom dies at age 3. All those girls, ranging in age from Marie-Jeanne Prinseau born in 1674 to Barbe-Charlotte Domingo born in 1694. There is more of an age difference between Marie-Jeanne and Barbe-Charlotte (20 years), than between Marie-Jeanne and her mom, Marie-Reine (16). My two progenitors, the half-sisters Marie-Madeleine Prinseau and Genevieve Domingo are 11 years apart in age. What was it like to grow up in a household of women, all of whom really are your sisters?

 

Marie-Reine lived until the age of 69 or 70 and died in Montreal. Étienne predeceased her by 26 years, at about age 55. Even if Marie-Reine took care of her children until the last one left the nest, she would have had at least a decade when child-rearing was not her sole responsibility. What did she do during those years? Did she finally have time to think on her own life? What did she think of the circumstances that brought her to leave Paris and take up in a new place, by all accounts, a much colder if healthier place than her childhood? Did she die still feeling the Parisienne or did she see herself as a new Canadienne? Having spent so much of her life living with a husband – from about age 14 to 44, what was it like then to live without one? She must have had some opinion on this? And at the very end of her life, would she, had she thought of it, made the same choices again?

What stories of her life and lessons learned from it would she leave as her legacy?

 

* The source of some of the genealogical information is Peter J. Gagne’s Kings Daughters and Founding Mothers: The Filles du Roi, 1663-1673, Volume 1. Orange Park, Florida: Quintin Publications.

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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.

King’s daughters: Les Filles de Roi Sunday, Sep 29 2013 

Filles de Roi

 

This year of 2013 marks the 350th anniversary of the arrival of the first Filles de Roi in New France. These women – some number between 700 and 1,000 – came to New France between 1663 and 1673 at the behest of Louis the Sun King. The mission – if they decided to accept it – was to marry a French or, by then, Canadian man and populate New France.

 

Why would you do that?

 

Really? You’re going to get on a wooden ship, most likely out of Dieppe in Normandy or LaRochelle in Aunis, sail three months across the Atlantic ocean during all sorts of weather, and eat crappy food and drink questionable water. So you can marry a stranger in a strange land and make babies? What made you think this was a good idea?

 

I suppose I’m asking these questions of at least one of the “ladies in my head,” one who hasn’t quite yet made her presence known the way Parmelie Ledoux, Anne Pastourel, and Marie Vigneault have. I’m asking this as I make my way through the King’s Daughters list sent by Jan Burkhart at the American-French Geneaological Society http://www.afgs.org/Kings_Daughters_Anniversary.html in Woonsocket, Rhode Island.

 

Jan heads up the Society’s project that invites descendants of these women to make a straight line chart back to a Fille de Roi (King’s Daughter). For a small fee, you can get a certificate and pin to commemorate this ancestor. And, on October 27, the Society is hosting an afternoon celebration for 150 people where Daughters’ descendants can meet and greet each other. By yesterday, I’d made it through “N” and linked to 15 women:

 

Catherine Baillon, left France in 1669 at age 24 after dad died (maternal)

 

Marie Brouart, left France in 1668 at age 27, after dad died (Parmelie’s ancestor, maternal)

 

Francoise Bourgeois, left Paris in 1669, age 23, after dad died (! looks like she’s Marie Vigenau’s great-grandmother, paternal)

 

Marie-Reine Charpentier, left Paris in 1671, age 13 (!), after dad (a master Queen’s tailor) died (maternal, and the direct female line ancestor)

 

Catherine Clerice, left France in 1671, age 18 (Parmelie’s ancestor, maternal)

 

Marguerite Colet, left Paris in 1670, age 17, after dad died (paternal)

 

Francoise Durand, left France in 1670, age 19, after both parents died (maternal)

 

Louise Fro or Frost, left Paris, 1670, age 16 (maternal)

 

Marguerite Girard, left France in 1673, age 24 (paternal, she married Pierre Forcier, my male namesake)

 

Marie-Anne Guedon, left France in 1665, age 24 (paternal)

 

Marguerite Itasse, left France in 1667, age 20 (paternal)

 

Marie Lamy, left France in 1671, age 18 (paternal)

 

Elisabeth-Ann Lefebvre, left France in1670, age 15, after father died (maternal)

 

Jacquette Michel (Michaud), left France in 1668, age 31, after father and husband died (maternal)

 

Marie-Madeleine Normand left France in 1669, age 18, after father died, sister Catherine ar. 1665 (maternal)

 

Which is all pretty cool, but still begs the question of what were they thinking?

 

Thankfully, Bill Pommenville, the Society’s webguy, links to King’s Daughters information, such as Michael LeClerc’s Genealogy News http://blog.mocavo.com/?s=filles+de+roi&search-go= and YouTube videos that will lead to other YouTube videos that will keep your mind in New France and Quebec for hours, maybe even days if you understand Quebecois.

 

There in Michael’s blog is a tantalizing tidbit about why these ladies may have come: their fathers died. Daddy was no longer around to find them a husband, and, so, if they wanted one, the King’s offer to pay their way and give them a small dowry in the process probably sounded like a good deal. In New France, it may have even seemed a better deal. One of those YouTube videos said New France had six French men for every French woman who arrived. (Which leads to another question for a future blog, which is Really? They were waiting around for French girls while they were living cheek by jowl with First Nations women? Anyway…)

 

Someone in here wants to be part of the ladies’ stories. Maybe it’s one of the ones on that partial list, maybe it’s someone who will come forward. My ears are open.

 

Resources:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnWGcdqYk7g

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-F-FiiMlu4

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31IfrPt4Lhk