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/

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 Chastains of Vesc after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes

King Louis XIV quartered dragoons, French Cavalry, in Protestant households as a tactic to force their conversion. The dragoons were free to abuse and torture the Protestants. The dragoons were also a significant financial strain as they had to be supported by the Protestant families whose houses they were quartered in. The Chastains could very well have experienced this before their flight into Germany.

King Louis XIV quartered dragoons, French Cavalry, in Protestant households as a tactic, referred to as the dragonnades, to force their conversion. The dragoons were free to abuse and torture the Protestants. The dragoons were also a significant financial strain as they had to be supported by the Protestant families whose houses they were quartered in. The Chastains could very well have experienced this before their flight into Germany.

Along with Pierre Chastain, I’ve come across a handful of other Chastains from Vesc, France who, attempting to escape religious persecution, emigrated to Germany after 1685. It seemed probable that these Chastains were related to Pierre, but, until now, I’ve had no direct evidence. Recently, the Drôme Departmental Archives in Valence, France sent me a copy of Elie Chastain’s last will and testament, dated November 8, 1686. I was hoping that this document would, among other things, definitively prove these relationships. Before I get to the will, which I’ll cover in another post, I want to review what I knew beforehand.

Pierre Chastain is first found in Germany in June of 1687 as one of the original settlers of Schwabendorf, a Huguenot colony. He is listed in family group number four along with Moyse Chabrier and two of Moyse’s sons. There is no wife listed for Monsieur Chabrier. Right away, I assumed there must be some connection between Moyse and Pierre. Otherwise, why would they be listed together?

Temp

Family group #4 of the original settlers of Schwabendorf, Germany. Pierre Chastain is grouped with Moyse Chabrier’s family. (Source: Marburg Archives.)

For a while, I had nothing else to go on until I found the following, which shows Moyse Chabrier, of Ourches, France and his wife, Marguerite Chast(a)in, in Frankfurt, Germany on May 19, 1686. Moyse and Marguerite had 3 children. The document also notes that Marguerite was pregnant. With them is a Benjamin Gachet of Volvent, France. I’ll mention him again shortly.

temp

Moyse and Marguerite can be found in Frankfurt again five months later on October 18, 1686. This time with five children, which would seem to indicate they had twins. Unfortunately, of these seven, only Moyse and two of the children made it to Schwabendorf by June 30, 1687. The other children and Marguerite died along the way.

For further evidence of the relationship between Pierre and Marguerite, the below is the second page of a marriage contract between Hector Grimolle and Louise Chabrier in Vesc, France. Louise’s parents are Marguerite Chastain and Moyse Chabrier. Marguerite, like Pierre, was a Chastain of Vesc. Was Marguerite an aunt? A cousin? A sister? If a sister, then Moyse Chabrier would have been Pierre’s brother-in-law.

temp

Second page of the marriage contract of Hector Grimolle and Louise Chabrier of Vesc.

Isabeau Chastain can be found in the same general vicinity as Pierre after the flight into Germany. Below is a document from September 6, 1686 in Frankfurt, Germany. It records Isabeau Cha(s)tain and Benjamin Gachet of Volvent, France, the same Benjamin Gachet found above with Moyse Chabrier and Marguerite Chastain.

temp

Iseabeau Chastain and Benjamin Gachet in Frankfurt. (Source: Frankfurt Archives.)

Isabeau can also be found in Louisendorf, Germany as a godmother for a baptism in 1690. Pierre Chastain and his mother, Lucrèce Brotier, were living in Louisendorf at the time. In this entry, Isabeau is the wife of Benjamin Gachet of Marburg, so Benjamin and Isabeau were living in nearby Marburg. (Pierre was a godfather at the very next baptism in the church register.)

temp

Isabeau Chastain in Louisendorf. (Source: Louisendorf Church Book.)

I was sent a list of the children of Benjamin Gachet and Isabeau Chastain by the German Huguenot Society. The children were Lucrèce, Judith, and Marc. Marc Gachet of Marburg was the godfather of Pierre Chastain’s first son, Pierre, at his baptism in Schwabendorf in 1718. If Isabeau was Pierre’s sister, then Marc Gachet was Pierre’s nephew, and Marc and the younger Pierre were cousins.

temp

The baptism of Pierre the Younger, Pierre Chastain’s eldest son. Marc Gachet of Marburg is the godfather. (Source: Schwabendorf Church Book.)

Finally, there was a Jacques Chastain from Vesc, France who was in Frankfurt, Germany on April 17, 1686.

temp

Jacques Chastain of Vesc in Frankfurt. (Source: Frankfurt Archives.)

The below, from the Marburg church book, shows the deaths of Isabeau Chastain, wife of Benjamin Gachet, and her brother, Jacques Chastain, in 1691. She was 45 and he was 35. They were both from Vesc, France.

temp

Jacques Chastain and Isabeau Chastain both died in Marburg, Germany in 1691. (Source: Marburg Church Book.)

The only explicit relationship is between Jacques and Isabeau—brother and sister. As for the others, Isabeau was likely connected to Marguerite, since Isabeau’s husband, Benjamin Gachet, was traveling with Marguerite Chastain and Moyse Chabrier. And another connection existed between Marguerite and Pierre Chastain since Pierre is grouped with her husband, Moyse Chabrier, in Schwabendorf.

The will of Elie Chastain, Pierre’s father, mentions them all. They—Jacques, Isabeau, and Marguerite—are the children of Elie Chastain and Lucrèce Dubrotier of Vesc, France. Two other children, Marie and Judith, are also mentioned in the will. The fate of Marie is unknown. At the time of the will, she was unmarried and had remained in France. Judith married Etienne Noyer, the Royal Notary of Vesc, and had also remained in Vesc. The Catholic parish records have an entry for Judith’s death in 1718. She remained true to the faith of her father. The entry states that she was buried outside hallowed ground.

A Case of the Hives

A French Notary

An engraving of a French notary. Artist unknown.

In a previous post, I wrote about the signature of my earliest known ancestor, Pierre Chastain. A curious symbol follows his name. And it wasn’t just his. I discovered others whose signatures also included this same symbol. Not sure what to make of this, I asked a good friend for his opinion, and he pointed out that it looked like the number 98. I agreed. And I concocted, what I thought to be, a solid theory based on it being a 98. King Henry IV of France, in 1598, signed the Edict of Nantes, which gave Huguenots a measure of civil rights and religious freedom. I believed that, when signing documents, including a 98 was a way for Huguenots to commemorate this event.

Well, thanks to the good folks at the Genealogical Circle of Provençale Drôme, I finally have an official answer. To my great disappointment (for I fell in love with my own theory), it is, in fact, not a 98.

Sig

Pierre Chastain’s signature.

This symbol is an example of a practice referred to as “ruches”. In English, this translates literally to “hives”, which isn’t that helpful. The Oxford English Dictionary is more illuminating. Ruche is defined as “a frill or pleat of fabric as decoration on a garment or soft furnishing.” It’s not hard to see how the term came to describe this ornamental custom.

Hives first appeared in France in the 7th century as the use of signet rings gave way to manual signatures. They could be personalized however the signer deemed fit and, not coincidentally, were a way of demonstrating skill with a feather pen. This practice, which vanished by the 19th century, would have been most prominent among those whose work required the signing of documents on a regular basis, solicitors and notaries being two obvious examples.

Pierre Chastain’s signature is a specimen of hives at its most basic—three interlocking loops. It simply stood for “the undersigned”. Below is a more elaborate signature, though it is, when compared to the most ostentatious examples of hives, still fairly simple.

Hives

An example of hives found in the Vesc notary records.

Manuel de Diplomatique by Arthur Giry is the authoritative work on this subject. A digital copy is available at Gallica, the digital library run by the National Library of France.

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.

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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.

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(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 VII: The Mühls of Geudertheim

From the

The Month of Floréal, April 20 – May 19, From the 1797-1798 French Republican Calendar.

Since the late 18th century, France has kept excellent civil records, and we now had a place to begin the search for the Meehl family in earnest—Geudertheim. Confident that they could now be found, I headed on over to the Bas-Rhin Departmental Archives and started digging.

There are a few things that are helpful to know when looking at these records:

  1. The Catholic and Protestant parish registers existed before the local government kept civil records. The Protestant parish records in Geudertheim stretch back to 1600. Mühls can be found throughout.
  2. After the Catholic and Protestant parish registers, there are indices, based on date and surname, which will point you to the correct book and page number in the civil records for a specific event (births, marriages, and deaths).
  3. The French word for birth is naissance, marriage is mariage, and death is dècés. The books are labeled ‘N’ for births, ‘M’ for marriages, and ‘D’ for deaths.
  4. A brand new calendar was adopted during the French Revolution to represent the new order of “liberté, égalité, and fraternité”. Everything old was oppressive and unjust. They wanted to begin anew with rational, enlightenment ideals replacing ancient, worn-out creeds and absolute monarchies. So they re-designated 1793 as “Year 1” to signify this fresh start (and decapitated 40,000 people via guillotine but who’s counting?). This new French calendar was used from 1793 to 1805, and these years are referred to as Year One through Year Twelve. Since “An” is the French word for year, the books for this time span are labelled An I, An II, An III, An IV, An V, An VI, An VII, An VIII, An IX, An X, An XI, and An XII. And, to complicate things even more, “An I” didn’t begin on January 1st, 1793 but on the autumnal equinox of that year. To further add to the confusion, the French Republican Calendar introduced new months with names like Frimaire (frost), Floréal (flower), and Messidor (harvest). These months do not align with the traditional 12 months of the calendar so have fun sorting those dates out if you dig into the records between 1793 and 1805.
Michael Mühl Geudertheim birth record from 1811. Record from Bas-Rhin Departmental Archives.

Michael Mühl Geudertheim birth record from 1811. Record from Bas-Rhin Departmental Archives.

Once I familiarized myself with how to navigate the Geudertheim records, I headed straight for the book of 1811 births. I wanted to see if I could find a Michael Mühl whose parents were George and Anne. Find him, I did. Michael was born on May 7, 1811. His parents were George Mühl and Anne Wolff. George was a journalier or day laborer. He was not literate, as can be seen by the ‘X’ at the bottom of this record instead of a signature.

This was a promising piece of evidence, but I wasn’t yet convinced. Michael, George, and Anne are all common names. I’ve seen more unlikely genealogical coincidences. So what about the rest of the family? What about George Jr., Eva, Mary, and Catherine? What about the other five mystery children? Eventually, after an hour or two of scouring the records, I found them all.

George Mühl and Anne Wolff had ten children, as Anne claimed on the 1865 New York State Census. They were all born in Geudertheim.

  1. George was born on January 22, 1805 and died November 26, 1807.
  2. Michael was born on November 26, 1807 and died June 18, 1808.
  3. Anne was born on May 13, 1809 and died June 25, 1809.
  4. Michael (Michael Meehl of North East, Pennsylvania) was born on May 7, 1811. There is no death record for him in Geudertheim (which makes sense since we know he died in North East in 1895).
  5. Anne Meehl was born on June 1, 1813. There is no death record for her. (This was particularly interesting since, at the time, I hadn’t known of her existence. More on her in a later post.)
  6. George (George Meehl Jr. of Boston, New York) was born on December 13, 1815.
  7. Eve Meehl (Eva Meehl of Boston, New York) was born on February 9, 1818.
  8. Jean Adam was born on May 12, 1820 and died May 14, 1823.
  9. Marie (Mary Meehl of Boston, New York) was born on October 12, 1822.
  10. Catherine (Catherine Meehl, later Catherine Endress and Catherine Miller of Boston, New York) was born on May 21, 1828.

Ten children. Count them. Ten. No more. No less. There are no other records of children born to George and Anne. (As a quick aside, there are a few interesting things to note here. First, some of the names are slightly different than how we saw them in the American records. Anna is now Anne. Mary is Marie. Eva is Eve. Michael is Michel. This was common and can be explained by the names being reported in different languages. Second, Michael Meehl was George and Anne’s fourth child but the first to live past the age of 3. And the final item of note, as we can see quite plainly with the Mühls, it was common at this time to reuse the names of previously deceased children.)

So, to sum up the evidence, all five children that we knew about had been found. Including the parents, we had matched up all seven names from the family group in America to the family group in France. The other five children were also found, giving us the grand total of ten we were looking for. Michael Meehl’s birth year was 1811, and we found Michel Mühl born on May 7, 1811. And, finally, Geudertheim was in Alsace. These Mühls were the Meehls, and the Meehl’s ancestral hometown in Europe was Geudertheim, France.

There are plenty of other records to be found in the Bas-Rhin Archives—George and Anne’s marriage, their births, their parents and grandparents, etc. Like I mentioned briefly above, the Mühls can be traced back to the earliest surviving records in 1600.

The Spirit of ’98

King Henry IV

Henry IV, King of France in Armour by Frans Pourbus the Younger. circa 1610. Louvre Museum. Paris, France.

 

Recently, in some old German records, I found for the first time the signature of my earliest known ancestor, Pierre Chastain. This discovery was exciting enough on its own, but then I noticed something curious after his name. At first, I thought it was just a fancy way of terminating the signature, perhaps a symbol of some significance to the family. Whatever it was, to me, it looked purely ornamental. For a day or two, I was focused solely on how it would have been written. I had the image zoomed in so close I could see the pen strokes, three loops connected without the pen being lifted, the middle loop created last.

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The signature of Pierre Chastain from the Schwabendorf, Germany kirchenbuch (church records) from 1695. Pierre was a witness at the wedding of Noë Villang and Susanne Allard.

 

I sent this image to a good friend of mine to see what he could make of it. He has a PhD in history and is an all around smart guy. To him, he said, it was clearly the number 98. I looked again and had to laugh at myself. It was absolutely a 98, but I never saw it until he pointed it out. (Hey, they don’t hand out PhDs to just anyone.)

I next compared Pierre’s signature to some other Chastain signatures from Vesc, France circa 1680. Vesc was Pierre’s hometown, which he had fled in 1685. These signatures all had a 98 as well.

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Three different Chastain signatures circa 1680 from Vesc, France. These signatures were found in the notarial records of Vesc from the Drôme Departmental Archives.

 

And The Chastains weren’t the only ones…

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Other signatures circa 1680 from Vesc, France.

 

I even checked other towns and villages around Vesc from that period. All of the records had at least some signatures that consistently included a 98, some so ornamental the 98 was almost hidden. What was going on?

I stared at these signatures until a light bulb appeared over my head, lit up, and exploded. The 98 was actually a ’98, which represented the year 1598. What was so special about the year 1598 you ask? Not much really, except that King Henry IV signed the Edict of Nantes which granted Huguenots religious freedom and, for the most part, put an end to the religious civil wars that had ravaged France for decades.

Adding a 98 to one’s signature was a way of claiming Huguenotship. It was a proud symbol of the hard-won freedom to worship as conscience, not the state, dictated. It was a celebration of heritage.

In 1685, King Louis XIV revoked his grandfather’s edict, causing hundreds of thousands of Huguenots to flee from France. Despite this loss of freedom, in 1695, in another country, Pierre Chastain still signed his name with a 98.

This is my theory anyway. I’ve so far been unable to discover an official explanation. I’ll update this post if I am ever able to confirm or deny. In closing, I’d like to add that I’m probably the first person to ever use the word Huguenotship. Of that, I am proud.

Update (23 August 2016): I’ve heard back from some experts from France on this matter. My theory was wrong. It’s not a 98. Hives are the name given to this part of the signature in France. The three interlocking loops stand for SubScriptiS or “undersigned”. Pierre’s signature demonstrates the simplest form. They could be personalized as the signer pleased and were often used to show off their skill with a feather pen. I’ll give a few examples in a lengthier update and link to it here.

Update (5 September 2016): As promised, here is the full explanation.

The North East Meehls Part VI: Back Across the Atlantic

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An Emigrant’s Thoughts of Home by Marshall Claxton. 1859. Oil on cardboard. National Gallery of Victoria.

In the previous post, I neglected to include the following piece of evidence. The first document below is the 1855 NY State Census for Michael Meehl’s family in Eden, New York. The second is for George Meehl Jr’s family in Boston, New York. Column thirteen records how long each person had resided in the current town or city. Michael Meehl claimed 25 years, George Meehl, 24. They were both in the general vicinity for roughly the same amount of time. This is not conclusive proof of a connection by itself but, when added to the growing list of facts, it’s compelling.


Eden-1855-NY-State-Census


Boston-1855-NY-State-Census


Now that I had a solid theory about Michael’s parents, I hoped to find the Meehl family’s ancestral hometown in Alsace. I had a decent sized family group to look for—George, Anne, Michael, George Jr., Eva, and Mary. If I could find these names together on a passenger list or in the civil records in Alsace, there was a good chance it would be them.

The main difficulty in this pursuit was the surname. As I’ve said before, I wasn’t convinced Meehl was the original form. Without knowing the original surname, tracing the family back across the Atlantic was going to be challenging to say the least. After perusing a book of German surnames, I developed a theory that the name was not Meehl, but Mehl, which would have been given to a miller or someone who worked with flour. It was only one letter off, a small mutation compared to others I’d seen, and it was particularly popular in Alsace.

Family Search is an invaluable website when learning what records are available for a specific area. They have wiki pages for virtually every region in the world. Their page for Alsace has a section on emigration with some intriguing resources. One of them, The Alsace Emigration Book, I ordered immediately through inter-library loan. This book contains the names of twenty thousand emigrants who left Alsace between 1817 and 1870. Often, it includes the hometown of each family. When it arrived a week later, I searched for any Meehls or Mehls. There were a few Mehl families but none with the right combination of first names to match the Meehl family group. I then scanned all emigrants with a last name beginning with M. Of course they weren’t there. That would have been too easy and no fun at all.

Luckily, I discovered a few more records for the family in New York that were crucial. The first one was the 1865 NY State census for Boston, New York. There are vital pieces of information here. First, we find Anna Meal and Mary Meal living with a Wolfgang and Catherine Miller. Anna is listed as the mother-in-law and Mary, a sister-in-law. Mary is recorded as being deaf, dumb, blind or idiotic. This is Michael Meehl’s mother and sister, which means that Catherine Miller is Catherine Meehl, another sister of Michael’s. Now Catherine could be added to the family group, another name to help with the search.

Wolfgang Miller is Catherine Meehl’s second husband according to this census. The two other residents of the house are William and Charles Andrus (I’ve also seen the last name spelled Endress). These are two of Catherine’s children from her first marriage (she had a total of four children). Finally, one last fact that proved pivotal in identifying the family in Europe, Anne states that she had ten children. So far, I knew of Michael, George Jr., Eva, Mary, and Catherine. That was only half of them.


Boston-1865-NY-State-Census-Anna-Meehl-had-10-children-and-is-living-with-daughter-Catherine


Thanks to these next two records, I finally discovered the original last name of the family. It wasn’t Meehl or Mehl. The following are baptism records from Trinity Lutheran Church in Buffalo, New York for two of Michael and Sallie Meehl’s children. The first record is for George, their second son, born in 1841 in Hamburg, New York. The second record is for Jacob, their third son, born in 1843 in Eden, New York. Not surprisingly, these records are all in German, confirming that the Meehls originally came from a German-speaking area (Alsace). Sallie is listed on George’s record as Salomé Volmer. On both records, the father’s name is Michael Mühl.


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Jacob-Meehl-Baptism


Mühl. This name, unlike Meehl, has a meaning. In German, it is a topographic name given to someone living near a mill. (Keep that in mind for something I’ll cover in a later post.)

Using Family Search’s wiki pages, I found this page which has links to name distribution maps for France. The first one I tried, http://www.geopatronyme.com/, divides France into its departments (which, instead of states or provinces, is how France has been politically organized since 1791) and shows in which departments the name appears most frequently in the historical records. The Bas-Rhin department, the northern portion of the former province of Alsace, was overflowing with Mühls.

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Each department of France has an official identification number. This number is displayed on the map. These are not the number of Mühls found in that department. The number of Mühls for each department can be found in the table to the right of the map. The darker the color on the map, the more the name is found in the civil records. The darkest colored department is Bas-Rhin.

The next distribution map I analyzed showed, not just departments where the name appeared, but individual towns. By far, the town with the most Mühls in the historical records was Geudertheim. This is where I started my search. And this is where I found the Mühl family—George, Anne, Michael, George Jr, Eva, Mary, Catherine, and, the other five children, giving us a grand total of ten.