Friday, November 7, 2008

Geneology hunting..in France...

josephine ...

We have always been family that loved to travel. We have gone all over the world with our children since they were small. Today, my daughters go to school out of the country, speak several languages and are busy working in International relations..interesting lives...but mom and dad don't get to see them too much..

so a week ago, it was my eldest daughters birthday and she is about to start a new job with the UN....so mom decided to meet up with them overseas...

So, I flew to France to meet my girls (no I dont speak French, but my middle daughter is fluent)

And for fun, we decided to hunt down the geneology of their dad's family. My husband's father's side immigrated to America from France in 1908. It was the side of the family that just never talked about the past...so there was no information at all. My hubby knew his grandmother, but his grandfather had died long before. His dad, who died several years ago, never told his children about their history...so we just had names and the town where they came from....this was going to be a mystery....and we were excited for the adventure .....


So this is the story. Josephine (great grandmother to my girls) came to America with Joseph in 1908. They set up a life in America, had 3 children then Joseph got the flu of 1918 and died within 3 days. Josephine never went back to France again..and supported the children...and fought hard to make them all a success. And each of them became very successful, starting businesses and having rich full lives. But, we never could understand why she never went back to France, even to visit after her husband died........ and of course this was never spoken of.
The girls and I rented a car and headed to the town they put down on their information at Ellis Island. It was Belfort, a beautiful city in France. There are geneology centers at many of the cities in Europe and we found this center and a kind woman to help us...but she couldnt find any birth certificates or anything..we must have been mistaken? As a last resort she took out a LARGE old book which was a handwritten census book from 1906. We began to hunt through each page (there were 1000 hand written pages) to see if the names were in there...

It took 4 hours...but ... we found the name of Joseph and of Josephine..before they were married, living a block away from each other. It seemed that Joseph was a butcher, and Josephine was a cook. ( can't you just see the budding romance already!) On the census, it told the cities each of them were from, which were different towns in the Alsace region.

The woman at the village center (they call it the "Marie "in France) called a neighboring town that had the microfilms of all the information of all the families from the region. She found out how late they would be open ...and sent us on our way.

After driving for an hour, we found this town, Grubeviller, and the geneology center. It was full of people who were looking through lots of microfilm..There was a woman that sat us at a table, with our own box of microfilm from the community that Joseph was from. And sure enough we found his birth certificate. It was exciting to see the old names and to realize who this person was in our own histry...and as we were talking..an old man next to us, said: "oh is your family frmo Wittersdorf?" It turned out that this man was a distant cousin of ours! He has spent years of his life putting together his complete family tree..and he showed us all the information he had on Josephs family...(it took us back to the 1600s!) Then he taught us how to hunt for more ..we found the names of the brothers and sisters of joseph, cousins and all...and we learned that the town Joseph was from was small and everyone in that town with the same family name was related to us....amazing!! We were so excited!

but we still couldnt find anything for Josephine. The only thing we could do was to go to the town and see if the records were at the "Marie".
Overwhelmed by what we had already learned and eager to find out more of the story..we started early the next day and headed first to Joseph's town. When we saw how small the town was we wondered why Josephine never kept in touch with this family. Then we went to the church in the middle of the city. At the front of the church was a large statue in honor of all the men that died in WW1... sure enough..on it were the names of Josephs brothers.

Pieces of family were coming together...and the sad things that they went through...
so much loss....

After getting lost in the countryside of France (not a bad thing!) We finally got to Josephines town. Again, I dont think any of her grandchildren knew she was even from there..... But by the time we got there, the City Hall (Marie) was closed. All this way with all this information and it was closed....and wouldn't reopen for 3 days.

Bummed, we decided to head to the tourist office (she came from a wonderful town in Alsace France..beautiful) we hoped we could find someone that would open the office for us... My daughter ran in and asked. "No one is around, it is a holiday, but there is this local geneologist... possibly she could help. Go ahead and knock on her door" so we did...and we got her name...
Yep...... SAME last name of Josephine.........!!(yes..a cousin!!)

She was home, and when we met, and told her who we were looking for...she was shocked! and welcomed us in ...turning to her computer and the spreadsheets she had on her family...she showed us all the information on our family... all the way back to the 1600s....
Incredible......
So why didn't they keep in touch with their french families? Well, what we learned was, that both families where quite poor, had really suffered. Out of the entire family, they were the only ones that went to America and "made it" most died in WW1. Josephines parents had died. Her sisters were quite a bit older than her, and her cousins also died in the war..This was a family story of much struggle..

The stories were sad and it was no wonder no one talked about them...

At first we felt kind of bad we dug up something that Josephine worked hard to hide, But then something happened...we realized that this tough French lady..fought the odds and went to America to have a new life...a better life for her children than the life she had ....she wanted to change her history...and she did...
and my daughters, who are quite international, found out that this was their story...the story of the American dream....and that night we were all grateful for our country, America, the place that we had taken for granted.... and we were grateful for stubborn great grandparents..whose sacrifice and struggle..made our family who it was today...
100 years later...the great grandchildren went to France..but found their home....
Cathi

4 comments:

Margaret Cloud said...

First of all I like that photo and glad you found out about Joseph and Josephine. It is always nice to hunt up family history, my cousin that lives in Ohio did this a few years ago for my dad's side. We found out we are from a Joseph McKinnon who comes from the Isle of Skye in Scotland in 1734. Thank you for putting me on you post site and commenting on mom and kittens.

Margaret Cloud said...

Hi, I wanted to say that this was Sir Joseph McKinnon and we have his coat of arms from his castle, would I be able to have your email, if not I understand.

Margaret Cloud said...

Thank you for the awesome gift, I will treasure it forever, it is so nice, thank you again, I love thos photos.

cathi said...

hi margaret..
i sent you a note so look on your internet and you should find it..
so glad you liked your gift!
have a great week!
cathi

 
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