SEARCHING FOR OUR FRENCH ANCESTORS
by Eva Augustin Rumpf, June 22, 1999
The story of our French ancestors, the Augustins, compiled by Anne LaBranche, has been passed around the family for years and has intrigued me since I first read it as a young adult. It traces the Augustins back to Dominique Augustin and his wife, Marie Coudrin, who lived in the mid-1700s in the Touraine area of France. According to the story, their son Jean immigrated to the Caribbean during the French Revolution and then to New Orleans in the early 1800s with his family.
It has been my goal to find out more about our ancestors and to try to document the dates and other facts in the family story. This summary of what I have done so far and what I have found over the last two years is for my own record as well as to share with any family member who might be interested.
In the summer of 1997, my husband, Bill, and I toured in the Loire Valley of France with an Elderhostel bicycle tour, which began in Chinon in the province of Touraine. It was a thrill to be there, as I knew the Augustins had lived somewhere in the area, but we did not have the time to go exploring then. I promised myself I would return.
Coincidentally, I had been contacted earlier that year by John Winslow, a distant cousin in Kerrville, Texas, who has compiled a family tree containing more than 5000 relatives. John’s work and our conversations further sparked my interest. I wanted to locate records in France of births, deaths, marriages, and so on, to document the story and, I hoped, add information about our ancestors.
The country of France is divided into 95 departments, each of which has a city as its headquarters, sort of like a county seat. Copies of civil records for all the towns and villages within a department are kept in archives there. My first challenge was to determine the correct name of the town where the family lived and the department in which it was located, which had to be somewhere in the Loire Valley, not too far from Chinon. The nearby departments are Indre-et-Loire, administered in Tours; Maine-et-Loire, administered in Angers; and Loir-et-Cher, administered in Blois.
The town was spelled various ways in the narratives I had: Savigny, Sauvigny, Sarigny. The atlas of France listed 23 towns named Savigny, four named Sauvigny, and none as Sarigny. (I concluded that Sarigny was a misprint, the “v” mistaken as an “r”.)
I found a Savigny in the Loir-et-Cher department and, using my elementary French, I wrote to the mayor of Blois in 1997, asking that my request be forwarded to the archives director. (I had learned that the office of the mayor in a French town - la Mairie - is a good place to start.) I gave the names of Dominique and his family and their approximate dates of birth, marriage and death. I hoped a record of some kind would be found.
The letter was passed on to the archives department in Blois, and I received a response three months later stating that no civil records were found for them. However, the letter suggested I write to the archives department of Indre-et-Loire in Tours for information on Dominique’s work as notaire Royal. The letter kindly included the address.
My search was put on the back burner until the following year. In July 1998, I wrote to the archives department in Tours, repeating my request for information. Once again, to my disappointment, no personal records of the family were found. However, the letter confirmed that Dominique Augustin was indeed notary at Savigny, apparently under the authority of the bailiff’s office at Chinon, for the period 1758-1773. I searched the atlas again and found Savigny-en-Veron, a tiny town about 30 miles northwest of Chinon. Now I had at least located him at a specific time and place! I assumed that since he worked in Savigny at that time, he and his family must have lived there. What puzzled me was why there were no records of their marriage and the birth of their son, which must have taken place during those years.
Being such a novice at this genealogical work, I decided to seek some help on the Internet. I discovered a number of Web sites on the subject of genealogy and found a link to one in Paris: Federation Francaise de Genealogie, http://www.genefede.org/, which is an association of local genealogical societies in France. In January 1999, I e-mailed them (firstname.lastname@example.org) and asked for help. They responded two days later, referring me to Centre Genealogique de Touraine in Tours.
I wrote to the Centre Genealogique on January 27, repeated my request for help locating family records, and included a copy of the letter from the archives department. Since this is a non-profit organization, I enclosed some French stamps to encourage a response. By this time, Bill and I were scheduled for our second Elderhostel bike tour in France, leaving May 22, and were planning to stay an extra week to revisit the Chinon area. About two weeks before we left, I received a response with some surprising news.
The letter confirmed Dominique’s service as notary in Savigny-en-Veron (1758-1773) and stated that when I visited Tours, I could consult the archives of the notaries and see some of the documents bearing his signature.
However, the letter reported that only one Augustin family record was found, stating that on September 12, 1786, Anne Monique Augustin, daughter of Dominique Augustin (deceased) and of Marie Monique Hyacinthe Coudrin, married Jean Joussaume, son of Pierre Joussaume (deceased) and of Marguerite Verdal of the diocese of Saintes.
This was surprising news indeed, as the family history made no mention of a daughter of Dominique and Monique, only of a son, Jean, who immigrated to New Orleans. We can also surmise from this that Dominique died sometime between the end of his service as notary in 1773 and his daughter’s marriage in 1786. Apparently, Monique was still alive in 1786.
When we left for France, I took along copies of all the correspondence and John Winslow’s wonderful descendants chart showing my connection to Dominique and Monique. I wasn’t sure what more, if anything, I would find, but I had a few things to check out. My main objectives were to get copies of any documents bearing the family name and to visit Savigny-en-Veron.
After our bike tour along the southwest coast, we ended up in Bordeaux, once France’s busiest seaport. Located on the Garonne River, which flows into the Atlantic, the city was the nerve center for trade with the Caribbean colonies in the 18th century. At the time, it was said that there were so many ships in port, you could walk across the river without getting your feet wet. Surely, this was the port from which Jean set sail for Saint Domingue (now known as Haiti).
From Bordeaux we took the TGV (a grand high-speed train) northeast to Tours in the lovely Loire Valley. There are many vineyards here, and the famous white wine, Vouvray, comes from this area. Tours is a beautiful city of parks, fountains, museums and wide boulevards, but it has also preserved its old town of medieval buildings and narrow streets, which were easy to explore on foot. Our first stop was the Centre Genealogique, which, unfortunately was closed. Apparently, it is a volunteer organization that is open only a few days a month. My mistake was not inquiring about their schedule ahead of time.
Next we visited the Centre des Archives Historiques d’Indre-et-Loire, where the notarial archives for the Touraine area are carefully preserved and kept with tight security. Using my limited French and a lot of gestures, and showing copies of my correspondence and my passport, I was granted my own library card and admittance to the reading room.
The actual documents of each notary in a particular locale, hand-written and signed, are bundled in packets by year. They go back hundreds of years. Many are frayed, yellowed and hard to read, written in French in old-style script. If I understood the clerk correctly (she didn’t speak English), these records are of a business or financial nature, such as land sales, partnerships and wills. I asked to see some of Dominique’s papers from the years he was notary. His signature was easy to recognize - distinctive, clear and confident, ending with a large flourish. I made copies of a couple of the records bearing his signature.
The next day we picked up our rental car and drove to Chambray-les-Tours, a suburb of the city, where the Centre des Archives Contemporaines d’Indre-et-Loire is located. We were told that this is where the civil records of families are located (births, deaths, marriages). Here the public has access to hundreds of years of archives on microfilm, each catalogued by town and date. The large, modern reading room is equipped with tables, chairs, lamps and microfilm readers, as well as a library of reference books.
Using the dates that approximate the births, marriages and deaths of Dominique’s family, we read through several rolls of microfilm from the records of Savigny. Again, many were hard to read, given the language and the unfamiliarity of the script. We had to just skim the documents, looking for the Augustin name among the principals. Before our eyes glazed over, we discovered a few!
We found what appears to be a baptism record of a son of Dominique and Monique, dated February 14, 1765. I assumed this was for Jean, who, according to the family story, was born in 1764, but I need to obtain a better translation of the old French script to be sure.
We also located what appears to be the marriage record of the daughter, Anne Monique, dated September 12, 1786, as the letter from the genealogical society had reported.
We also found a baptismal record of another child, dated January 20, 1783, in which Monique is listed as the godmother - marain - and which was signed by her as Coudrin Augustin.
I made copies of these three documents and will be happy to share them with others in the family. However, I would feel more confident of their contents with an expert translation, which I am attempting to obtain.
The librarians and clerks at both archives were exceedingly gracious and responsive, and, despite the communications barrier, did everything they could to help. They seemed as interested as I was in locating material on the family. One could spend weeks searching through the archives, limited only by one’s patience and eyesight. After staring at the microfilm reader for the better part of the day, we finally had to move on.
That afternoon we drove to Chinon, a picturesque town on the Vienne River. A city existed here in Roman times. From about the 12th to the 15th century, the French kings resided in the grand castle built on the hill above the town. It was here in 1429 that Joan of Arc first met King Charles VII and asked for an army to drive out the English from France. As we strolled through the castle ruins and visited the town’s medieval buildings, I imagined that our distant relatives may have visited Chinon as well, perhaps to shop or show the children the castle.
A few miles west and slightly north of Chinon lies Savigny-en-Veron, a small town of stone houses, surrounded by fields and vineyards. It is nestled in the area known as Le Veron, near the point where the Vienne River flows into the Loire. The highlight of our trip was visiting this place where Dominique Augustin worked and lived with his family. We pulled into the town square with the church and town hall sitting prominently on one end, and we began taking pictures, both still and video. The friendly secretaries in the mayor’s office, while they didn’t speak English, seemed very interested in my visit and tried to help with information.
Much of what existed in Dominique’s time is no longer there. The current church was built in 1848, replacing an older chapel built on the site in the 13th century, and the old cemetery is probably beneath what is now the town square and parking lot. In the newer cemetery we could find no gravestones bearing the family name. However, the secretary made some inquiries and told us that the family’s home had been located on Rue des Capelets, across the street from the town square. She said the house had burned some time ago and another one was built on the site. We easily found the short street and walked to the end of it.
As we looked around and took pictures, a French couple who lives at the end of the street drove up. I greeted them and tried to explain what we were doing there. They were very interested and, though they spoke no English, we managed to understand one another surprisingly well. They invited us into their home and served us homemade wine and cheese and crackers. We took photos and exchanged addresses, and we plan to keep in touch.
The next day we saw more of the countryside, visiting the home of the 16th century writer Rabelais near Chinon. We also visited a huge wine cave, dug out of a limestone cliff centuries ago, where wines made from vineyards in Savigny are aged.
While the visit to Savigny turned up little new information, finding the town and seeing it was a deeply satisfying experience. I tried to imagine what life was like for the Augustins who lived there more than 200 years ago. I was surprised and touched by the friendliness and interest of the people we encountered on our journey. But it was also with a sense of incompleteness and mystery that I left the area and pondered the unanswered questions. If the family lived in Savigny for many years, why haven’t more records been found? Were Dominique and Monique born somewhere else? Where? Where did their parents come from? Were there any other children besides Jean and Anne? Are any of Anne’s descendants still in the area? Are there any records regarding Jean’s stay in Paris? What about the family of Marie Sauton, Jean’s wife, and their origins?
So, there is much yet to be done. Anybody want to get involved?
Eva Augustin Rumpf [email@example.com]
Web Site: http://webpages.milwpc.com/evar/index.html
Search for French Ancestors continued: Return to Savigny
Last updated: January 8, 2002