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?
Not a great deal more , unfortunately. I did not learn much new about Jeanne, other than remaining unconvinced by the argument that she came from lesser nobility – as one historian believes. But records I had hoped to find regarding her parents’ marriage and deaths are missing – destroyed over the centuries by war, revolutions, and possibly rats and human error. Those records could have given valuable insight into Jeanne’s life before she left France as well as her reasons for leaving.
Information about Guillaume Lecanteur is also missing. I was told by the Mayor’s office in Beaumont-en-Auge, the village where he was said to be born, that the archives were destroyed by the Germans who invaded the town during WWII. However, information regarding the births of his sisters and the death of his father in 1661 has recently been found in the archives in Caen. A visit to those archives will have to wait until my next visit to France.
On the brighter side, I made some unexpected connections that could yield more information in the coming months and gained a deeper understanding of the options available to a single woman in the 17th century. I was also able to gather more information about the family of Jean Baptiste Deschamps de la Bouteillerie, Jeanne’s third husband. I met again with the descendants of his brother, visited the chateau that is still in the family in Offranville, and examined their version of the family tree.
In search of information about the his family, I was driven around the “Pays Caux,” the area of upper Normandy where Jean Baptiste as well as Robert Levesque lived before leaving for France. My guide was by Jean Pierre Levêque, perhaps a distant relation and the former mayor of Cliponville, where Deschamps was born. We visited the churches and villages that were part of the family’s estate, found traces of the family crest, and met with individuals who have researched the family’s story.
Finally I also enjoyed the hospitality of the “Cousins of the New World” in Hautot St. Sulpice, Robert Levesque’s birthplace.
In addition to enjoying these most delightful experiences, I have come to realize:
- This journey to uncover Jeanne’s story is going to take a lot longer than I originally thought;
- I may never have all the answers; and
- I will have to use my research into the history of the times and my imagination to pose some options for Jeanne’s life in France.
Despite these frustrations and challenges, I am going to persevere. Jeanne’s story must be told!