The Trail in France

Painting of a civil notary by Quentin Massys.

Painting of a civil notary by Quentin Massys.


I’ll finish my last post about the Vesc Apothecary shop one of these days. I have a few pictures of Vesc, the surrounding countryside, and the shop itself to include in that post. It’s something that will stick with me for the rest of my life—to have been where my earliest known ancestor worked and perhaps lived, to have walked the same streets and looked upon the same hills.

Anyway, I thought I had reached a dead end for the Chastains in France. It seemed Pierre Chastain was the earliest ancestor I was going to find. And I was fine with that. Tracing an ancestor back to the year 1686 is nothing to sneeze at. (I just realized “nothing to sneeze at” doesn’t make much sense. Word Detective clears up the confusion. Snort and sneeze share the same root word. Nothing to sneeze at really means nothing to snort at. This makes more sense since sneezing is involuntary.) But I decided to get back in the ring anyway for another round of French research.

It turns out, I could well have been very wrong about reaching a dead end. I’ve unearthed some notarial records in the Drôme Departmental Archives in Valence, France (Here’s a good summary of French Notarial Records and their genealogical value). These records are from Vesc, the hometown of Pierre Chastain, and they stretch back to the 1560s. They potentially include births, marriages, burials, land transactions, and wills for Pierre and his ancestors. They may not. But they may. And that’s exciting after being convinced there was nothing left to find.

In the mid 1600s, these records are from the office of Jean (John) Noyer. In the late 1600s, they’re from the office of Etienne (Stephen) Noyer (perhaps a father-son notarial dynasty?). Remember, Chastain is French for “chestnut”. Well, as it happens, Noyer is French for “walnut”. I’ve contacted the archives in Valence to see if these records can be copied and sent to me. If so, we’ll find out if the Noyers recorded anything of interest concerning their fellow nuts.

(Update December 2016: The notarial records are positively brimming over with details on the Chastain family. So far, among countless other finds, I’ve discovered Pierre Chastain’s parents, Elie Chastain and Lucrèce Dubrotier, as well as the fact that Etienne Noyer, the Royal Notary of Vesc, was Pierre’s brother-in-law.)

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