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.

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.

Listening to Parmelie Sunday, Sep 15 2013 

Uncovering The Ladies’ Stories is a lot like taking an early morning beach walk after a high tide. You know lots of other people stepped here before, maybe even hours before, but the seawash of highwater scoured the shore leaving all as discovery. That’s the magic of sleuthing this intertidal zone of personal history off that great ocean of human engagement.

I am reading an old (Spring, 2009) Je Me Souviens (published by the AFGS in Woonsocket RI) as part of this ghost year, this year of listening to the ladies and what stories they want to tell, when I come across Louis Poulin alias Spooner by Al Spooner. I’m in a mode now where I want to read everyone’s stories because something in all of them will connect me to them. It’s like a gluttony for tales that is unsatisfiable. Then, I need to write about this experience, or I’m like a cranky addict in need of a fix.

Spooner is a name that captures my attention because it’s a name associated with Gate 40 of the Quabbin Reservoir in Petersham MA. They are part of the story I tell in Rock & Write workshops. At the ghost of the hillside homesite of “my” Spooners (Ed and Lulu) spreads a rectangular patch beneath slim tree trunks. In late spring, the patch is a bed of abundant blue periwinkle flowers. This spot always draws me to reflect on what it meant to the people of the Swift River Valley to lose their homes to make way for Boston’s water, and what it meant to be on the receiving end of a grand-scale upheaval in the service of the more politically powerful.

I want to see whether Al Spooner’s Louis is connected to the Petersham Spooners. Instead, I find that he is tangentially connected to me.

There in the 4th paragraph Al tells us that he’s looking in the parish registers of St. Simon in St. Hyacinthe county in Quebec. Hmm, that’s interesting. After years of searching for my mother’s paternal grandmother Parmelie Ledoux, I found her family in St. Liboire and St. Simon. Parmelie is, I suspect, one of the ladies yammering in my head.

A few pages later, Al lists the parents and siblings of Louis. Another hmm. Louis’s mother is Seraphine/Agathe Gauthier, which is a name also in my mother’s line, also in St. Hyacinthe, and not so far removed in time. Genevieve Gauthier is Parmelie Ledoux’s great-grandmother.

Louis’s eldest sister is named Marie Delina/Adeline, which is the name of my mother’s mother (who came from Fall River)– with that same quirky equation of Delina with Adeline. Louis’s youngest sister is named Marie Parmelie: Parmelie Poulin, born Jan. 29, 1859 in St. Simon.

My Parmelie was born circa June 30, 1864 and christened at St. Simon. What’s up with the name Parmelie? What was happening in the culture or the families there that this name is selected at this time period? I know it’s only two, but after years of searching for Parmelie’s lines, and a lifetime of being fascinated with that name, the lens of my attention focuses here.

Then comes a kicker: Marie Parmelie Poulin married Magloire Morel, widower of Arzelie or Aurelie Ledoux, on Nov. 25, 1895 in St. Hyacinthe. My Parmelie Ledoux had an aunt named Arzelie Ledoux, (b. 1853) who married Louis Plante Feb. 5, 1877 in St. Simon (St. Hyacinthe). Did Parmelie’s aunt marry a second time to Magloire Morel?

My Parmelie also had an aunt Phelanise Benoit who married Jean-Baptitste Poulin on June 30, 1863 at St. Simon, and an aunt Mary Benoit who married Leon Poulin on Feb. 2, 1864 at St. Simon. And further down the line, my mother’s Uncle Teddy (her father’s only living sibling and Parmelie’s son) married Mary Ann Poulin sometime in the early 20th century. So…the Poulin, Benoit, and Ledoux families are co-mingled in St. Hyacinthe. Where’s Parmelie going with this?

A quick check to Wikipedia for Louis Poulin turns up a…holy cow…Louis Poulin (b. 1785, d. 1849) who represented Saint-Hyacinthe in the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada from 1832 to 1834.

He married Marie-Angelique Benoit dit Livernois. If I go up a few generations on the genealogy chart, there’s the dit Livernois/Nivernois in Parmelie’s Benoit line.

Looks like the legislative assembly was dissolved on March 27, 1838 after a rebellion in Canada. Holy cow, part 2…this looks an awful lot like Massachusetts rebellion that led to to formation of the U.S., except that the British overlords won in Canada. Parmelie’s paternal grandparents would have been making babies during this rebellion. Her maternal grandparents were getting married during it. Guess life goes on no matter what else is happening.

Holy cow, part 3…that means that Parmelie’s parents (Ursule Benoit and Levi Ledoux) were children when Surratt was hiding out in their farming community to escape from his part in Lincoln’s assassination.

Parmelie seems to want to say something about war and religion and politics. Maybe, it’s that while destructive events happen all around you, life still asserts itself. Maybe it’s something else, maybe something more.

As with Marie Vigneau and an Acadian story, I am listening.

Resources:

http://www.afgs.org/

American French Geneaological Society

http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dcr/massparks/region-central/quabbin-reservoir.html

Quabin Reservoir

http://www.amazon.com/Historic-Quabbin-Hikes-J-Greene/dp/1884132014)

J. R. Greene’s Historic Quabbin Hikes

http://www.nosorigines.qc.ca/

Canadian genealogy

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.)