Why Migrate II Tuesday, Feb 10 2015 

It is almost two years since the Paris cab ride during which I speculated with brothers John and Donny and friend Supon why my ancestors might have left Paris in the 1600s and early 1700s. The usual suspects – a better life, escape from religious persecution, a desire for adventure – only seemed to tangentially fit. Something else, I knew in my bones, would better answer this question.

Here I sit on another snowy New England morning, reading Naomi Elizabeth Saundaus Griffiths’ book From Migrant to Acadian: A North American Border People 1604-1755 (Montreal:McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005) and, voilà! she suggests at least one of the somethings:

From the opening of the seventeenth century, the English had considered colonial settlement a means of coping with what the authorities considered undesirable elements, in particular religious and political dissidents. As a result, English transatlantic migration in the seventeenth century was an allowable path for those seeking better circumstances, whether this meant greater religious freedom, economic advancement, or social mobility. The French government, on the other hand, considered that there was a pressing need for men in both the army and navy. Migration outside the country, as opposed to within it, was only sporadically encouraged. Such migration as did take place to North America, officials believed, should consist of those who would build a society reflecting the best characteristics of contemporary France. This desire to make France’s North American settlements a different kind of society, one free of the elements that disrupted the harmony of France itself, slowed migration. (p. 197)

Aah…this would mean the ancestors were recruited because they had something to contribute to a group effort, to the creating of a sort of utopian 17th century French society.

Even if that meant to function as a brood mare, as my niece Melissa interprets the recruitment of the filles du roi.

I love finding these tidbits and signposts from other writers and researchers, these places where our journey-roads intersect. When I come across a cousin-story who, though distant in heredity, seems a kindred soul I am especially excited. What has this cousin uncovered? What piece has she or he fitted to the picture? What can we share? I so want to tell everyone I know that one of us has written a story that we descendants need to read.

It is especially disappointing then, when, even as historical fiction, this story can only track as one from an alternate universe. When someone is writing about an ancestor or story and suggests that only French Catholics arrived with Champlain in 1608 because the Edict of Nantes was revoked, I feel a sinking in the pit of my stomach. The Edict was in place from April 30, 1598 (Henri IV) to Oct. 1685 (Louis XIV). It allowed some measure of protection for French Huguenots.

Not that expulsions didn’t happen. In Nov. 1661, when Louis XIV really came into his own, 300 Protestants were expelled from La Rochelle. That may be one religious-persecution reason why some ancestors got out of Dodge. I don’t know where these folks ended up, and when I find a Calvinist in the tree circa 1661, I’m going to suspect a connection.

Then, when, in the same cousin’s story, Helene Eustache de Bouille, aka Mrs. Samuel Champlain, is portrayed to have pondered, in the early 1600s, the differences between her life in New France and the glory of Versailles, I cringe.

The first building campaign for Versailles began in 1664, and Louis XIV wasn’t even born until 1638, three years after Mr. Champlain died. Louis’ mom, Anne of Austria, was his regent from 1643 to 1651. Louis was settling into the Louvre in 1652 following his escape to the outskirts of Paris in the wake of Le Fronde. There was no “glory of Versailles” for Helene to experience.

These descriptions happening one after the other leave me wondering whether what comes next could have happened. I will, for the rest of this story, suspect the historical facts this cousin weaves into our shared tale. It is a most disheartening feeling. I so wanted to cheer on this publication. All I am asking of an ancestor story is that it could have happened in the universe I inhabit.

Which is why I’ve become so nitpicky with details and “whys.”

In 2013, before that cab ride with my brothers, I wandered Rue Mouffetard and tried to imagine what it looked like in the 17th century. In a nook along the rise of this hill-street, is a spot reputed to have served wine since the late 1500s. I am careful not to call it a restaurant because there weren’t restaurants as we know them now in Paris-then.

An image pops in – people are begging on a country street while other people are either helping out or not. This Left Bank is peppered with vineyards, gardens, and windmills. I imagine this is village-like and without streetlights. It is a place where the glow of moonlight or candles cast white or yellow hues on evening travelers. The King is in his Louvre home, Parisians are enamored of things Italian, and New France is in her youth.

This place, though, is where ordinary people live. Sound pollution doesn’t exist yet, so the chants from evening services, a babble of family voices, and the gurgle of a nearby but now-buried river fill the darkening dusk. I wonder, could this have happened?

Then comes a question: How would these people – the ones in Paris proper, the villagers, and the beggars – behave towards each other now if they knew that in 400 years they would share descendants?

As I head out again to Paris, a Paris recently beset with bombings, satire, and stress, I am carrying this question with me. I am asking it in the now: If I knew that in 400 years we would share descendants, how now would I treat you? How would you treat me?


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: 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.

Filles du Roi Part 2 Monday, Oct 14 2013 

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.

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.







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.

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.)