My interest in my ancestor Jeanne Chevalier and her story began over a decade ago, but it didn’t grow into an obsession and start taking over my life until relatively recently. At first, I had a mild curiosity around sorting out some conflicting information that I had found in one book and on the Internet about where she had been born. In early 2011, while visiting my niece who was working in Paris, I travelled to Coutances at the lower end of the Cotentin Peninsula in western Normandy, one of the possible sites for her birth. The archivist, with whom I had been in contact via email, had found a baptismal record for “Jeanne Chevalier” and had been able to decipher the almost illegible handwritten one-line entry. It was waiting for me when I arrived at the Coutances Visitors’ Center. The record indicated she had been baptized in St. Nicolas Church on June 8, 1643. When I asked if I could visit the church, the receptionist handed me the key and took my driver’s license in exchange. The key was bulky in my hand. I wondered if it could be the original. [⇒]
The question came up again over beers at the Tête des Allumettes brasserie and brewery, on the St. Lawrence River, just north of Kamouraska in eastern Quebec. I got into a conversation with my neighbors at the table next to me on the patio overlooking the river, and they asked, “Why are you doing this?” [⇒]
Three weeks after four-year-old Louis XIV was crowned King of France and 35 years after the founding of Quebec, Jeanne Marguerite Chevalier was baptized on June 8, 1643 in the small cathedral town of Coutances, 330 kilometers west of Paris and the new king and 75 kilometers northeast of Mont St. Michel. Other than a one-line entry registering her baptism and listing Guillemette LeBreton as her godmother, I know little else about Jeanne’s life in France. The actual facts about Jeanne’s life are not resumed until her name is found as a Fille du Roi on ships’ rosters that left Dieppe in June, 1671. And since the rosters are still being researched, there is nothing really official about Jeanne until her name appeared on a marriage contract in Quebec City on October 11, 1671. [⇒]
In early April of this year, I went off to France to try to answer three pages of questions that I still had after many years of research on the lives of my ancestor Jeanne and her three husbands and about the history of her times in France and New France. That list included the following questions:
- What did Jeanne do in the first 28 years of her life in France? When was she orphaned? How and why did she move from Coutances to Dieppe? Why did she leave France?
- Why, how, and when did her first husband Guillaume Lecanteur come to Quebec? And what was his life like before coming to Quebec and marrying Jeanne?
- Who was Jean-Baptiste Deschamps de la Bouteillerie, her third husband, and what sort of family did he have in France?
- If documents are lacking, what are some possible answers or hypotheses that could resolve my questions?
After three weeks in Rouen, studying French and researching in the archives there, and after four weeks in Dieppe with side trips to the birthplaces of her three husbands and to the archives in Saint Lo, what do I know? [⇒]