The Last Will & Testament of Elie Chastain

St. Pierre’s Church and Cemetery, the final resting place for centuries of Chastains in Vesc, France.

Last summer, as detailed in this post, I finally discovered Pierre Chastain’s parents—Elie Chastain and Lucrèce Dubrotier. Up until that point, Pierre, my 7-times great-grandfather, was my earliest known Chastain ancestor. Then in a later post, found here, I discussed other Chastains found fleeing into Germany from Vesc, France after 1685, and my theory that they were siblings of Pierre.

Below, from the Departmental Archives of the Drôme, is the Last Will and Testament of Elie Chastain, Pierre’s father. In it, along with some other fascinating passages, is proof that the other Chastains from Vesc found in Germany were, in fact, Pierre’s siblings. Two additional siblings who I was unaware of are also mentioned.

Below is the will1, transcribed and translated by Transciption Services Ltd.

Etienne NOYER, public notary at VESC

Archives Départementales de la Drôme (France)
Ref. #1 : 2E11971 (register of E. NOYER)
Ref. #2 : copy on micro-film 2 Mi 6386/R1 (2012).

Will of Ellye CHASTAIN of VESC

[Folio 153r]
In the name of God, may all know that today, 8th of November Year 1686 in the afternoon in front of me public notary and witnesses, here present Mr Elly CHASTAIN land owner residing in VESC considering that there is nothing more certain than death and nothing less certain than the hour of passing away and not willing to quit this world without setting his will so that there will be no trouble after his death due to the assets that God provided him with, being lying on his bed due to illness, hearing and understanding well

[Folio 153v]
did and required, does and requires his last will in a loud voice and in the presence of witnesses, which would include his last wish, taking into account the whole assets that God provided him with. In the first place, as a good Christian fellow, he did the sign of the Holy Cross, saying “In Nomine Patris, et filii, et spiritus sancti”,

This is Latin for “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

offers his soul to the almighty God, praying him that He would please when He will call him to leave this world to get into His World, that his soul would get into the Paradise by the merit of the death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ,

“By the merit of the death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is a very Protestant thing to say. Remember, the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes took place in October, 1685. This was over a year later. At the time of this will, it was illegal to be Protestant. Among other indignities, Catholic priests were often sent to the death beds of Protestants to harass them into converting. Elie, despite the pressure he was under to convert to Catholicism, was still bold in his faith.

his burial within the cemetery of St Peter’s church here in VESC, and regarding his funeral and obsequies let the process in the hands and good will of his heiress mentioned hereafter.

Built in the 12th century, St. Pierre’s is a typical example of Romanesque architecture. In Elie’s time, the 17th century, this was the Catholic church, however, Huguenots were still Frenchmen, and Frenchmen were eager to be buried in the same place as their ancestors as a sign of their belonging to the community.

During the peak of the Religious Wars, the two sides were equally brutal when it came to treatment of the enemy’s dead, “…Catholic authorities and royal courts allowed, even ordered, Huguenot remains to be disinterred and reburied or sometimes just thrown by the roadside. Protestant rioters, in their turn, dug up and burned remains that Catholics considered sacred.”2

Though this attitude and activity never fully ceased, an uneasy coexistence emerged. Or, as scholar Keith Luria has explained, “Despite long years of rivalry and bloody conflict, Huguenots and Catholics living in confessionally mixed communities intermarried, sponsored each others’ children at baptisms, worked together, shared civic responsibilities, and participated in each others’ observances. Sometimes they also buried their dead in common cemeteries.”

This attitude did not come from a modern sense of “toleration” but, instead, from a pragmatism that recognized both sides were here to stay whether they liked it or not. It also must be said that frequently family and community bonds, as well as tradition, were stronger than religious differences.

Bearing all of this in mind, there was still simmering animosity between the Catholics and Huguenots which would occasionally boil over into spasms of violence. And the persecution of the Huguenots steadily grew under the reign of King Louis XIV until 1685 when he revoked their religious freedom entirely. And so Elie’s request, made in 1686, to be buried at St. Pierre’s was likely fraught with tension. But it was made for good reason. Elie would have wanted to be buried in the same place as his ancestors.

The testator wishes and intends that his heiress shall give alms to the Priors of the current place (Souffretans and MONDENIER), precisely 3 silver pounds that would be delivered only once by my heiress after the death of the testator.

This passage confused me. I had begun to understand why Elie would want to be buried in the cemetery of St. Pierre’s, but why would he bequeath money to officials of the Catholic faith? My only theory was that perhaps he was bribing them to smooth over any difficulties arising from his burial.

Not wholly satisfied with this explanation, I contacted a scholar of French Protestantism and asked for his thoughts. He believes that there was a mistranslation. Instead of Elie giving 3 silver pounds to the priors of Vesc, he believes it says that Elie gave 3 silver pounds to the suffering poor of Vesc.

For further evidence, Henry Martyn Baird, a great 19th century Huguenot scholar, wrote the following about Huguenot treatment of the poor, “The poor were well cared for. There were regular gatherings for their relief at the church door. Annual collections were made from house to house. It might be said that scarcely ever was there a Huguenot will made which did not contain some gift, great or small, for the benefit of the destitute.”3

Then, the testator tackles down his particular legacies:
He gives and bequeaths 5 shillings to Jacques and Pierrot CHASTAIN, sons of the testator and of Lucresse BROTIER his wife. The amount of 5 shillings will be given to each of them, and will be delivered one year after his death, and they will not be granted permission to ask for more regarding the assets of the testator.

A quick note about Pierre’s presence in this will—Pierrot was a nickname for Pierre, a sign of affection, probably for someone younger (Jacquot would have been the nickname for Jacques, this ‘ot’ ending is similar to the ‘y’ ending in English for Joe -> Joey and Dan -> Danny). This fits my theory that Pierre was likely the youngest of the Chastain children. (My somewhat educated guess is that he was born around 1665, making him about 21 when he fled France in 1686 and 52 when he finally married Anne Marie Gautier in Schwabendorf in 1717.)

And here’s where the proof of the relationships begins. Jacques was a name I was looking for as a potential brother of Pierre. And there he was.

And, he gives and bequeaths 20 shillings to Isabeau, Marguerite and Judi(th) CHASTAINGS, daughters of the testator and of the aforementioned DU BROTIER his wife, in addition to what he has already given as dowry assets to both of her within the pre-nuptial agreement. The amount of 20 shillings will be given to each of them and will too be delivered one year after his death, and they will not be granted permission to ask for more regarding the assets and heritage of the testator.

Two other names I was on the lookout for—Marguerite and Isabeau—as potential sisters of Pierre. There they were, along with a third sister—Judith. It turns out that Judith was married to Etienne Noyer, the very notary who wrote out this Last Will and Testament of Elie Chastain.

And, he gives and bequeaths by the means of the rights bound to a particular legacy, to Marion CHASTAIN, daughter of the testator and the aforementioned DU BROTIER his wife, still single and seeking for marriage, thus he bequeaths what would be considered as fair by his wife.

Marion is a nickname for Marie, another sibling I was unaware of. Like Judith, she had not fled with her other siblings but had remained in Vesc. Due to the nickname, I believe she was the youngest of the children along with Pierre.

So, in all, Elie Chastain and Lucrèce Dubrotier had six known children—Isabeau, Judith, Marguerite, Jacques, Marie, and Pierre. It’s likely there were more children. The mortality rates of the time points to Elie and Lucrèce likely having closer to ten or twelve children overall. But these were the six who survived into adulthood.

On this topic, William Biek, author of A Social and Cultural History of Early Modern France, writes, “One study of infant mortality shows that for every hundred babies born in the seventeenth century, twenty-eight would die in the first year, eighteen more would die between age one and nine, and four more would die between years ten and nineteen. By age twenty, 50 percent of the children would be gone.”4

[Folio 154r]
The money will be delivered by his wife and heiress mentioned hereafter.
Asks and intends that the whole shall be payed and processed as said before.

And, to any other beneficiaries of the deceased, he gives and bequeaths 5 shillings to each of them.
And because any valid will requires the testator to appoint somebody as his heir or heiress, otherwise such will would be nullified, the testator, whatever his other assets could consist of, does appoint his wife Lucresse DUBROTIER ^° , as his universal heiress. She shall pay all his pending debts so that creditors would be satisfied. His heiress shall stick to the following conditions too regarding his inheritance. He asks her to give preference to male as opposed to female for any subsequent will that she would make, provided that they will remain too within this Kingdom, otherwise they cannot be granted anything regarding the inheritance of the testator.

Anyone who fled the Kingdom of France forfeited their rights to their inheritance.

The heiress will have to pay the debts of the testator; She shall stick to the any of requirements contained within the current will. His wife and heiress will never be obliged to provide explanations to anyone about how she is handling the inheritance. Should there be some money available once all the particular heirs would have received what the testator has given and bequeathed to them, his heiress is granted permission to use the rest of the inheritance as she intends to do.

I’m not an expert on French Huguenot wills, so perhaps this is typical language, but I’m wondering since most of his children had fled the Kingdom of France already, if this language was meant to keep anyone from questioning Lucrèce’s handling of the money. That way she may have been able to discretely take their inheritance with her when she herself fled once Elie had died.

Should it be that some of the heirs would like to go to court and even if they would argue about the sharing decided by the testator, nothing of this kind is allowed, and his universal heiress shall be respected as such, and the testator requires that any of the quarrelsome will be rejected from the inheritance process as the testator has given within the current deed what any of his heirs legitimately deserve.

#° And he gives and bequeaths £ 50 to Louise CHABRIER his granddaughter, and daughter of the aforementioned Marguerite CHASTAIN his daughter, and she will not be granted permission to ask for more regarding the assets and legacy of the testator provided that she will remain within this Kingdom. The legacy will be delivered when and how the heiress mentioned hereafter will decide.

According to the will, Louise Chabrier was Elie Chastain’s granddaughter. Louise was the daughter of Marguerite Chastain and Moyse Chabrier. Pierre Chastain was grouped specifically with Moyse Chabrier when listed as one of the founding settlers of Schwabendorf in Germany, but Marguerite had died by this point so the relationship between Moyse Chabrier and Pierre was unclear. This definitively proves what I had suspected—they were brothers-in-law.

^° his beloved wife, approving along with parties and witnesses

[Folio 154v]
It is his last will, done in a loud voice and in the presence of witnesses. Thus he requires to nullify any previous will, codicil, donation and any other dispersal that he could have made before this deed. The current will supersedes any of these deeds.

The testator prays and requires the witnesses mentioned hereafter to have a perfect recollection when they will be asked to recite the current will and to state they were here present. He states that he has a pretty good and satisfactory knowledge of any of the witnesses, whose names and surnames and well listed hereafter.
The public notary granted the current deed as required by the testator.

Done in the house of the testator, in the presence of Honest Paul CANDY, Jean DUFOUR (son of deceased David), Jean AUDRAND, Piere BLANC son of Jean, David DESPAGNE, Piere AUDRAND, Jean Andre CHASTAIN, all residing in VESC and Mr Jaques NOYER from COMPS, witnesses. The aforementioned NOYER CANDY DUFOUR CHASTAIN BLANC DESPAGNE and Pierre AUDRAND signed the deed. The aforementioned Jean AUDRAND stated he is not able to write, and although required to sign, the testator said that due to he great weakness he will not sign the deed.

Being 80 years old and quite ill, Elie was too weak to sign his name. Luckily, I’ve been able to find his signature on earlier documents.

Elie Chastain’s signature from a business agreement circa 1679 in Vesc5.

We do know that Elie was, as he had requested, buried in St. Pierre’s cemetery on 10 Dec 1686, a month after making his will, and eighty years after his birth in 1606. He was born during the reign of King Henry IV, who had signed the Edict of Nantes, and he died while King Louis XIV was on the throne, the sovereign who oversaw the Edict of Nantes’ revocation.

Burial record for Elie Chastain from the Vesc Parish Records6.

A visit to Vesc in the Summer of 2015 confirmed that St. Pierre’s cemetery is filled with Chastans (see this post for an explanation of how Chastain became Chastan in Vesc), no doubt distant cousins, all. Cemeteries in Europe, unlike North America, often recycle burial plots. The earliest tombstones only date back to the 19th century because of this. Though his tombstone no longer exists, Elie, along with the bones of centuries of unnamed and unknown Chastain ancestors, are at rest in St. Pierre’s churchyard.


Sources:

1 Notarial Records. Archives Départementales de la Drôme. Valence, France. http://archives.ladrome.fr/
2 Luria, Keith P. (2001). Separated by Death? Burials, Cemeteries, and Confessional Boundaries in Seventeenth-Century France. French Historical Studies, Vol 24, Number 2, Spring 2001, pp. 185-222.
3 Baird, Henry Martyn. The Huguenots and the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1895.
4 Biek, William. A Social and Cultural History of Early Modern France. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
5 Notarial Records. Archives Départementales de la Drôme. Valence, France. http://archives.ladrome.fr/
6 Vesc Parish Records. Archives Départementales de la Drôme. Valence, France. http://archives.ladrome.fr/

A Very, Very, Very Fine House

Five generations of Chastains lived in this house in Schwabendorf, Germany from 1724-1851.

From 1724-1851, five generations of the Chastain family lived in this house in Schwabendorf, Germany.1

In 1724, Pierre Chastain is the first recorded owner of house number 15 on Sommerseite (Summerside) Street in Schwabendorf. Including Pierre, the house stayed in the Chastain family for 5 generations (Pierre, Alexandre, Jean Pierre, Christian, and Peter). In 1851, Peter Chastain, having become responsible for the debt obligations of his siblings, was no longer able to afford living there.

He sold it to a merchant named Salomon Salzenstein, and, in turn, it was quickly purchased by a relative and neighbor, Conrad Aillaud, for 800 thalers. The property was described as such, “residential house with cultivated farm land along with a barn, stables and a yard opposite the house”2.

Peter and family moved into a smaller, more affordable house, number 9 on Sommerseite, just down the street. Here the Chastains lived until 1860 when, because of an increasingly difficult economic situation, they left for America.


Sources:
1 Badouin, Gerhard. Vom Val Cluson nach Schwabendorf : die Waldenserfamilien Aillaud und Vinçon. Rauschenberg-Schwabendorf: Arbeitskreis für die Geschichte der Hugenotten und Waldenser Schwabendorf e.V., 1996.
2 ibid.

Tears and Toil

A few years ago, as I was walking by a cemetery, I saw a backhoe digging a grave. This is a sight I’d seen plenty of times before. Normally, besides momentary pity for the grieving family, I had never thought much about what I was seeing. This time, however, I frowned. Continuing my walk, I was unable to name the cause of this consternation. Finally, after several minutes, I hit upon the matter. We should be buried, not by unknowing, unloving, cold machines, but by the tears and toil of our grieving loved ones.

Machines and technology are both a blessing and a curse. They improve our lives with comforts undreamed of by our ancestors, but, as they liberate us from our responsibilities to each other, they also increase the distance between ourselves, our families, and our neighbors.

This was back in those heady days when I fancied myself a writer. The incident so moved me, I did what anyone would do, I composed a few verses. The first two stanzas are enough to convey what I was going for. (Since I’m currently in a merciful mood, I’ll spare you the rest.)

The tree lifts its arms high in praise
Shading the hushed and shrouded graves
The mournful music swells and sways
Through cracking branch and rustling waves

We bury our dead now with machines
Progress—that two-faced, craven thief
The dignity of man, to me, it seems
Deserves loving toil and heroic grief

Not just any grief but heroic grief. I pictured myself with shovel in hand, digging for hours in a downpour, numbed by my loss and the cold, barely able, by the end, to lift the shovel higher than my knees. Perhaps, in this daydream, I wanted to contrast this simple shovel in the hands of a caring, feeling human against the mechanical complexity and cold indifference of the backhoe. Because it wasn’t just any shovel. It was an old, sturdy shovel, in the family for generations, hallowed by decades of good, honest work, caked with soil from home. You get the idea. I was quite transported.

Not long after, I was reading Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. In it, the main character, a seminary dropout and barber, also doubles as the gravedigger for his small community. He knew each and every one he buried and condemned the use of machines for burials as “not at all the right way to do it.” Hear, hear! Berry’s fiction always emphasizes communal bonds. Those bonds don’t end with death.

It was with these romantic notions of grave digging firmly implanted that I approached a new development in my family history research. Upon receiving The Schwabendorf Book of Families by Gerhard Badouin1, a publication that details all families in the church records between 1687, when the village was established by Huguenot refugees (among them Pierre Chastain), and 1925, I paged through to examine the Chastain family. Along with dates of birth, death, marriage, and the names of spouses and children, the book also lists occupations. Next to Alexandre Chastain’s name (second son of Pierre born 1727) were the occupations ackermann and hutmacher. These were easy enough—farmer and hatmaker. But then there was a more mysterious word. One that I couldn’t translate satisfactorily—grebe.

Grab translates to grave and greben to dig. These were the closest words I could find. On these shaky grounds, I concocted the theory that Alexandre Chastain was a gravedigger and that his fellow villagers had, like Wendell Berry, a high view of this office. Clearly our ancestors, living pre-Industrial Revolution, understood the importance of such work. As time passed, I forgot how weak my translation actually was, and I became very proud of my gravedigging ancestor.

Eventually, I found a German dictionary compiled by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm2. Yes, the Brothers Grimm. Along with collecting fairy tales, they did extensive linguistic work. This dictionary is filled with the language of the common country folk, much of it not found in typical dictionaries. The word grebe is included. It does not mean gravedigger but mayor! Alexandre Chastain was the mayor of Schwabendorf. Somehow, I was disappointed.


Sources:
1Badouin, Gerhard. Familienbuch von Schwabendorf und Wolfskaute. Marburg: Görich & Weiershäuser, 2002.
2Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Deutsches Wörterbuch, 32 Vols. Leipzig, 1854-1961.

Earl of Exeter

George Washington at the Constitutional Convention of 1787.1

When starting research on a new family, the first thing I typically do is ask the family what they already know. Often, there are documents, pictures, oral histories, and stories that contain glimpses of the family’s past. Next, I look at the meaning and origin of the surname, which often provides further insight. Once I have a firm grasp on this information, in order to get the lay of the land of existing research, I take a gander online to see what others have already found. Someone else may have already done the work.

However, especially when no sources are cited, I never accept as fact what I find. Instead, I use this information, along with what I gathered in the above steps, as a starting point for my own research. If, on the rare occasion, someone does actually cite sources, then I double-check them, and, if they’re legit, I praise the genealogy gods. This is a rare thing.

Impatient and overeager descendants too often force together pieces of information that don’t fit. Then other impatient and overeager descendants copy this information without question. These erroneous family trees spread quickly.

Be wary. Be skeptical. Be careful. Or you’ll end up with a miraculous family tree where men father children ten years after shuffling off this mortal coil.

For the Kings of Erie County, Pennsylvania, the discussion thread found here is typical of what I’ve consistently found online. Everyone seems to trace the family back to an Earl King of Exeter, Rhode Island in the mid to late 1700s. (Note: this is not the same Earl King who married Persiana Brown in North East, Erie County, Pennsylvania. If the Earl in question is, in fact, the ancestor of the Kings of Erie County, he would be the other Earl King’s grandfather.)

The earliest record I’ve found for Earl King is for his marriage to Content Richmond in 1768 in Exeter. Just below the lines that record Earl and Content is the marriage of Stephen King to Dorcas Watson in 1789. Stephen, it is claimed by most online family trees, is the son of this Earl King and the father of the Earl King who we find married to Persiana Brown a few decades later in North East, Pennsylvania.

Record for the marriage of Earl King to Content Richmond, daughter of Stephen Richmond, and the marriage of Stephen King to Dorcas Watson. It appears Earl was originally from South Kingston. 2

The next mention of Earl King I can find is in the book Rhode Island in the Continental Congress.3 A digital copy is available here. Rhode Island was the only colony to hold a referendum on the proposed Constitution of the United States. Rhode Islanders, including Earl King and his father-in-law, Stephen Richmond, voted decisively to reject it.4 The vote was 2,708 to 237.

Earl King can also be found in Exeter on the first United States Census taken in 1790.

Earl King in Exeter, Rhode Island on the 1790 United States Census.5

And, with that, we must, for now, say goodbye to Earl of Exeter. I’ve already spent too much time on him. We’re not even certain he is the ancestor of the Kings of Erie County, Pennsylvania. Time is better spent by starting from the present, working with what we know for certain, and slowly making our way to each preceding generation. Once we make it back far enough, perhaps we’ll bump into him again. If so, we’ll already know a bit about him.

Beach Pond in Exeter, Rhode Island.6

Sources:
1 Stearns, Junius Brutus. Washington at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. 1856, oil on canvas, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA.
2 Rhode Island, Vital Extracts, 1636-1899.
3 Staples, William R. Rhode Island in the Continental Congress. Edited by Reuben Aldridge Guild, Providence Press Company, 1870.
4 Wood, Gordon S. “The Great American Argument.” New Republic, 30 Dec. 2010.
5 United States Census. Year: 1790; Census Place: Exeter, Washington, Rhode Island; Series: M637; Roll: 10; Page: 142; Image: 87; Family History Library Film: 0568150
6 Munro, W.H. Picturesque Rhode Island. J.A. & R.A. Reid Publishers, 1881.

The King Family

King Henry I of England. Miniature from illuminated Chronicle of Matthew Paris (1236-1259), from BL MS Cotton Claudius D. vi, f.9, showing Henry I of England enthroned. Held and digitised by the British Library.

From the Dictionary of American Family Surnames:

English and Scottish: nickname from Middle English king, Old English cyning ‘king’ (originally merely a tribal leader, from Old English cyn(n) ‘tribe’, ‘race’ + the Germanic suffix -ing). The word was already used as a byname before the Norman Conquest, and the nickname was common in the Middle Ages, being used to refer to someone who conducted himself in a kingly manner, or one who had played the part of a king in a pageant, or one who had won the title in a tournament. In other cases it may actually have referred to someone who served in the king’s household…

The specific King family I’m researching can be traced back to the 1750s in Rhode Island before the trail grows cold. Based on the surname, location (New England), and their marriages with, exclusively, members of other English families, it can be safely assumed that the Kings originally came from England. They migrated west to Erie County, Pennsylvania in the early 1800s, settling in the Greenfield, Harborcreek, North East area.

My goal, which will be extremely difficult (and very likely impossible), is to discover their town of origin in England. I’ll be writing about the family and the documents that I find along the way, which will be a fun undertaking regardless of whether I can trace them back to England.

Forgotten Books

Old Books

Mmm. Smell that mildew. (Photo: William Hoiles)

I’m currently devouring volume 2 of History of the Rise of the Huguenots by Henry Martyn Baird. The quality of the writing as well as the painstakingly detailed research is impressive. Baird wrote six volumes on the Huguenots (roughly three thousand pages). These books have long been out of print, but, since they’re in the public domain, they can all be found on Google Books for free. There are two volumes each for his three titles on the Huguenots: History of the Rise of the Huguenots, The Huguenots and Henry of Navarre, and The Huguenots and the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Baird’s father was a Presbyterian minister, and Baird clearly has an opinion sympathetic to the Protestants. Nevertheless, he is fair and not as blindly partisan as other historians I’ve read.

Baird continues the trend of excellent Huguenot scholarship from the 19th century that I’ve encountered, including the first book on the Huguenots that I read—Reginald Lane Poole’s History of the Huguenots of the Dispersion at the Recall of the Edict of Nantes. Poole’s history holds a special place in my heart and on my virtual bookshelf since it directly led to discoveries about the Chastain family. Another laudable 19th century effort on this subject is History of the French Protestant Refugees by Charlie Weiss.

One thing I’ve learned from my efforts to research my family is how essential it is to read history. The more I read, the more I understand the lives of my ancestors. So read and read and read some more.

My Earliest Known Ancestors: Elie and Lucrèce Chastain of Vesc

Vesc from Above

Vesc, France, the ancestral village of the Chastains, as seen from above. Award-winning photographer: Me. June, 2015.

The genealogy gods are good. A few months ago, I found mention of Pierre Chastain’s mother in the Louisendorf church records. Before this, I had found no evidence for either of Pierre’s parents. Pierre was the end of the line for my Chastain branch. The records for Protestants in France from the 16th through 18th century are, to put it mildly, incomplete. Many were destroyed. Some have been lost. Most are missing. I’ve had better luck with the German records after the Chastain family emigrated from France.

This record from Germany is for the baptism of Elie Relincourt on 9 September 1695 in Louisendorf. The godparents were Pierre Chastain and his mother. To my great frustration, her name was not recorded. It simply says, “Mrs. Chastain, his mother”. I thought that this would be the end of it, and that I would have to be content at least knowing that Pierre had family with him after leaving his homeland behind.

From the Louisendorf Church Book from 1695

The baptism of Elie Relincourt from the Louisendorf Church Book.

In the earliest records I have for Pierre, there is no mention of his mother. He is first found fleeing from France through Switzerland in 1686 and 1687. In June of 1687, Pierre Chastain was in Schwabendorf, Germany as one the original settlers of this Huguenot colony. By August of 1688, he was in Frankfurt, Germany heading towards Geneva, Switzerland—back towards France. Then he shows back up again in Germany by 1690. I had often wondered why he went back to Geneva.

Recently, I’ve been poking through the records available at the Hessian State Archives in Marburg, Germany. One document that came in the mail two weeks ago has triggered an avalanche of discoveries. It is a list of citizens of Louisendorf (then called Hammonhausen) from 1690. In it, we find Pierre Chastain and his mother. But this time her name is given—Lucrèce. The last name is more difficult to decipher but looks like “Broucier”. This record also states that she was a widow.

Test

Pierre Chastain and his mother, Lucrèce “Broucier”, from the list of citizens of Hammonhausen (Louisendorf), Germany taken in 1690 by Abraham Fontaine, pastor. (Source: Marburg Achives. 5/9832 Bl. 389.)

Broucier does show up as surname in certain places. But it’s rare, and it can’t be found in Vesc. However, a very common name in Vesc is Brottier, Brotier, or Dubrotier. And, in Vesc, I found a Lucrèce Dubrotier, widow of Elie Chasta(i)n. (Elie is French for Elijah. Old Testament names were much more common among Huguenots than Catholics.)

The following is from the article Religionnaires fugitifs du canton de Dieulefit (Dauphiné): Sources Notariales by Jean Sambuc in the Bulletin de la Société de l’Histoire du Protestantisme Français. This article reviews information in the notarial records for religious refugees from the Canton of Dieulefit, where Vesc resides.

Temp

(There was an entry for Brotier but it simply stated “see Dubrotier”.) So, here we have a Lucrèce from Vesc, a widow of a Chasta(i)n, who left the Kingdom of France as a religious refugee. The Lucrèce “Broucier” found in Louisendorf is, in fact, Lucrèce Dubrotier of Vesc, wife of Elie Chastain. These are Pierre’s parents, and my eight-times great-grandparents (that’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents) or, to put it another way, ten generations ago. Like I said, the genealogy gods are good. I’m not worthy.

What was Pierre up to when he left Germany for Geneva, Switzerland? He had gone to retrieve his mother and bring her back into Germany with him. Lucrèce was living with a daughter, Marie, in Vesc after Elie died in December of 1686. Some months after this she fled France to, presumably, find her son and other children.

Geneva was the Rome of the Huguenots, and most refugees passed through on their way to other destinations. Lucrèce probably thought it wise to begin her search there. Perhaps, while staying in Geneva, she sent messages on ahead with refugees traveling further into Switzerland and Germany. Or maybe the family somehow remained in contact as some emigrated to Germany and others stayed behind. Perhaps Pierre and his other siblings sent letters back home, notifying Lucrèce of their progress and where they finally settled. Then, once Lucrèce made the decision to follow them, they made plans to meet in Switzerland. Either way, somehow receiving word that his mother had left France and was in Geneva, Pierre is found traveling that way in August of 1688.

The below is a record for Lucrèce Brottier (Brotier, Dubrotier) of Vesc and one son, two months later, receiving aid in Schaffhausen, Switzerland in October of 1688, on their way into Germany, after their reunion in Geneva.

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Lucrèce Brottier and Pierre Chastain in Schaffhausen. (Source: Staatsarchiv Schaffhausen, Exulanten Mappe 26, Nr. 14.)

Here is a rough timeline:

  • 1685 or 1686: Pierre flees Vesc, France.
  • November, 1686: Pierre is in Neuchâtel and then La Neuveville, Switzerland.
  • December, 1686: Pierre’s father, Elie Chastain, dies in Vesc.
  • February, 1687: Pierre is in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, next to the German border.
  • June, 1687: Pierre is in Schwabendorf, Germany.
  • 1687 or 1688: Lucrèce, then living with her daughter, Marie, leaves Vesc and arrives in Geneva, Switzerland. Marie stays in Vesc.
  • August, 1688: Pierre is in Frankfurt, Germany heading toward Geneva.
  • October, 1688: Lucrèce and Pierre are in Schaffhausen.
  • 1690: Lucrèce and Pierre are in Louisendorf, Germany.

The same article that mentions Lucrèce and Elie, also has an entry for Pierre Dubrotier, Lucrèce’s brother and Pierre Chastain’s uncle. He was an apothecary in Vesc. It’s likely that Pierre Chastain apprenticed under him (and was perhaps named after him). Further research has shown that Pierre Dubrotier and Lucrèce’s father, and Pierre Chastain’s maternal grandfather, Estienne Dubrotier (married to Clairette Marseille), was also an apothecary in Vesc. It appears that Pierre Chastain was continuing the family business. Pierre Dubrotier died in his attempt to flee the Kingdom of France.

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Pierre Dubrotier, apothecary of Vesc. Brother of Lucrèce and uncle of Pierre Chastain.

The above also mentions some of Pierre Chastain’s aunts and uncles, as well as two sisters, Judith and Marie Chasta(i)n. Judith was married to Etienne Noyer, the royal notary of Vesc. Marie was unmarried. Pierre had three other siblings who left the Kingdom of France for Hesse—Jacques Chastain, Isabeau Chastain (wife of Benjamin Gachet of Volvent), and Marguerite Chastain (wife of Moyse Chabrier of Ourches). Judith and Marie stayed in Vesc facing the imminent persecution.

Huguenot Families Leaving France.  (Immigration of French Huguenots in Berlin  in the 18th Century. Woodcut after a contemporary etching (1771) by Daniel Chodowiecki from the book "Deutsche Geschichte (German history)" by L. Stacke (Volume 2). Published by Velhagen & Klasing, Bielefeld and Leipzig, 1881)

Huguenot Families Leaving France.
Immigration of French Huguenots in Berlin in the 18th Century. Woodcut after a contemporary etching (1771) by Daniel Chodowiecki from the book “Deutsche Geschichte (German history)” by L. Stacke (Volume 2). Published by Velhagen & Klasing, Bielefeld and Leipzig, 1881

The Chastans of Vesc: The Case of the Missing i

The cemetery in Vesc is full of Chastan tombstones.

The cemetery in Vesc is full of Chastan tombstones.

There we were in Vesc, the ancestral village of the Chastains in southeastern France, with, besides my wife and I, not a Chastain to be found. Instead, we found Chastans. Lots and lots of Chastans. Chastan was inscribed on a World War I memorial near the mayor’s office. A multitude of Chastans were buried in the cemetery next to the ruins of St. Pierre’s. A few miles outside the village was a Chastan lumberyard. A friendly baker in nearby Dieulefit knew of a piano teacher who was a Chastan. As we talked with her, she asked several customers if they knew of any Chastains. They didn’t, but they knew plenty of Chastans. I was confused. Where had the ‘i’ gone? Were the Chastans and Chastains the same? I wanted to believe that they were. At just one letter off, it seemed obvious, but I didn’t want to make that assumption without evidence.

The World War I Memorial in Vesc lists a Chastan

A Chastan is among those on the World War I Memorial in Vesc

Overall, our trip to France had been a huge success, but, in this one matter, I was disappointed. I had been expecting to find at least a few Chastains still in their ancestral village, but they had vanished completely. I was eager to discover what had happened. Once we returned home, I took a closer look at the records. Below are a few examples of what I found in the Vesc Parish records in the Drôme Departmental Archives in Valence, France.

The first two records are for the births of two brothers—Pierre Chastain (not my ancestor) and Jean Isaie Chastan. Pierre was born in 1738 to parents Jean Pierre Chastain and Marguerite Gueyle. Jean Isaie was born in 1760 to the same parents. Pierre was born as a Chastain while Jean Isaie was born “Chastan”.

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Pierre Chastain son of Jean Pierre Chastain and Marguerite Gueyle.

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Jean Isaie Chastan son of Jean Pierre Chastan and Marguerite Gueyle

The next two records are for Marguerite Chastain. She married Pierre Gueyle in 1737 as a Chastain, but, when she died in 1761, she was a Chastan.

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Marguerite Chastain married Pierre Gueyle in 1737.

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Marguerite Chastan, wife of Pierre Gueyle, died in 1761.

The final two records are for Claude Chastain. When he married Catherine Roussin in 1753, he was a Chastain. Claude died in 1815 as a Chastan.

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Claude Chastain was married in 1753 to Catherine Roussin.

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Claude Chastan, husband of Catherine Roussin, died in 1815

These are just three examples of this switch in the spelling of the surname. There are countless others. Previous to this, Chastain, Chastan and Chastaing were all common spellings of the name, but, at some point in the mid-18th century, for unknown reasons, perhaps for no reason in particular, the ‘i’ was dropped from the name. And, from that point on, it was consistently spelled ‘Chastan’. All of those Chastans I discovered in Vesc are almost certainly long lost cousins.

Our family, having emigrated to Germany, left before this change took place in Vesc, and so we retain the ‘Chastain’ variation.

The North East Meehls Part IX: Loose Ends

In an earlier post, I mentioned Anne Mühl, the eldest living daughter of George and Anne when the family came to America. She was a bit of a mystery to me since I was unable to find her in any American records. Luckily, I’ve been in contact with some of my wife’s distant cousins. One of them graciously took the time to send me information she had collected on the family. This info included the whereabouts of Anne Mühl/Meehl. After arriving in America, she married Scott Aldrich in Hamburg, New York. They had several children, but Anne died in 1857 when she was just 43. She is buried in Fredonia, New York. Her burial record lists her birth date as June 1, 1813. This matches what I found for Anne Mühl in Geudertheim. So, there is another piece of evidence (as if we needed more!).

I’ve also been in contact with Mark Meehl, a descendant of William Meehl, Michael’s youngest son. He’s been going to town in the Bas-Rhin Departmental Archives and finding some great stuff. For one, it looks like George Mühl had a couple of brothers and, at one point, they were all in the French army. This means that Michael Meehl’s father did serve in the army along with two uncles. And, even though his father wasn’t an officer (and his name wasn’t Jacques de Mealle) and even though his uncles weren’t imperial bodyguards, there may be a kernel of truth to that family legend after all.

There is much more work that could be done in the archives, including untangling the myriad of Mühls mentioned in the records, as well as tracing the family of Michael Meehl’s mother, the Wolffs. There is also work that could be done to trace other living Mühl/Meehl descendants, including the Endresses, Millers, and Aldriches (the families of Michael’s sisters, Catherine and Anne). I have discovered that George Meehl Jr. of Boston, New York had one son, David Meehl (he also had a few step children). David married Rose Eggen and had three children—Rose, Amelia, and George. Rose married a Mr. Grabau (first name unknown). Amelia married William Reed. I’ve been unable to determine if either of David Meehl’s daughters had children. George Meehl (son of David and grandson of George Meehl Jr.) married Louise Scheible, but, as far as I can tell, they had no children. George was born in 1890 and died in 1964. He had a farm in Boston, NY, but, whether this was the original property of the Mühls in America, I do not know. After George died, the farm was sold to a property developer.

For this project, my one and only goal has been to connect the Meehls to their ancestral hometown in Europe and to demonstrate how that connection was made, not to provide an exhaustive family history. I feel that I’ve accomplished this goal, and so this will be my last entry. I’ve barely scratched the surface of the documents and information available for the Meehls of North East. For those who are interested, there is much more out there to find.

The North East Meehls Part VIII: The Mill on the River Zorn

King Louix XIV Receives Strasbourg City Key

Louis XIV receiving the keys of Strasbourg on 23 October 1681 by Constantijn Francken. Oil on canvas. Strasbourg Historical Museum.

Geudertheim is famous for its watermill on the River Zorn, a tributary of the Rhine. Mühl, a German surname meaning one who lives near a mill, can be traced back to the 1500s, where we find the earliest written records in Geudertheim. From the prevalence of the name in these early records, we can conclude that the mill has been a central part of the community since, at least, the late middle ages. We can also conclude that, in Geudertheim, the Mühls have ancient roots.

Geudertheim Mill on the Zorn
The Mill on the Zorn (photo from the National Library of France)
Geudertheim Mill Wheel
Geudertheim Mill Wheel (from the National Library of France)

Geudertheim, just nine miles from the Rhine (the current border between France and Germany), resides in the Bas-Rhin (Lower Rhine) Department of France. This is the northern half of the former province of Alsace. The general area that now makes up Alsace was conquered by the Roman Empire in the first century B.C. (The Romans were partial to its rich agricultural lands and, in particular, its vineyards.) After the fall of the empire, Alsace traded hands between the Alemanni (I’ve never heard of them either) and the Franks before becoming a part of the Holy Roman Empire until the 17th century.

During the Reformation, in the 16th century, Alsace became a prominent Protestant stronghold. When King Louis XIV took Alsace and its capital, Strasbourg, for the Catholic Kingdom of France in the late 17th century, he did not, thanks to the Treaty of Westphalia, interfere with their religion. The same cannot be said for the rest of France. In 1685, King Louis revoked the Edict of Nantes which had given Huguenots, the French Protestants, the freedom to worship in 1598. All over France, the Huguenots had to either renounce their religion, worship in secret, or flee, but the Lutherans and other Protestants of Alsace were, for political reasons, spared this fate. Otherwise, the Lutheran Mühl family would have been forced to flee Geudertheim or give up their faith long before they sailed for America in 1831.

Alsace remained part of France until the Franco-Prussian War when the victorious German Empire annexed it in 1871. After World War I, as part of the Treaty of Versailles, Alsace was given back to France. World War II saw it fall back into German hands, but it was liberated by the Allied Forces in 1944 and has remained under French control since.

After the Napoleonic Wars at the start of the 19th century, Alsace faced severe economic and demographic woes. Emigration to America picked up steam in the 1820s and continued well into the latter half of the century. The typical Alsatian emigrant’s path to America was from the French port of Le Havre to New York City. Once they arrived in New York, many gained passage on the newly opened Erie Canal to Western New York and the Great Lakes.

The Mühls can be found following this path. They sailed from Le Havre, France on the ship New Orleans and arrived in New York City on July 15, 1831. Steam ships were not yet used in Atlantic crossings, so they would have been on a sailing ship. The journey was likely a month in length.


Mühl-Passenger-List


There is some confusing information on the above passenger list for the Mühl family. First, the ages of the children are off, and, second, it lists Switzerland as the place of origin. These are most definitely clerical errors. If you look closely, you’ll notice it lists George, Anne, Michael, Anne, George Jr., Eva, Maria, and Catherine. These are all of the surviving Mühls from Geudertheim listed in their exact order of age. This record also fits into the family timeline perfectly. The last time they are mentioned in the Geudertheim records is 1828. The first time they are mentioned in the American records is post-1831. The odds are astronomical that this is any other family.