Assumption Parish Genealogy, Court records

Women didn’t go to the courthouse in 1853 … unless their husband was dead

I’ve noticed something while looking through court records over the years. First, it’s amazing how few of my ancestors knew how to sign their name. Second, husbands always got the chore of going to the courthouse. Unless they were dead of course.

In 1853, Marie Melanie Gautreaux had to let the court know that she had given her children and stepson their share of their father’s estate. As an aside, I believe Louisiana law dictates the surviving spouse gets half and the children split the other half if no will is written. I’ve been told this is a holdover from French possession, but I have no idea if this is true.

Anyhoo, this document tells me a number of things, which is why I love succession (or probate) records.

  1. It lists the daughters alive at the time and their spouses.
  2. It lists the sons alive at the time.
  3. It mentions a deceased son but not all of the deceased children. That means Julien died after his father but before this document was filed.

This document isn’t in the succession record itself. It’s in what are called Original Acts that have been wonderfully translated from French to English (big thank you for that). Dig when you go to the courthouse. Look through all of the index books: successions/probate, marriage, conveyance, civil suits, etc. You never know what you might find.


The search for Valsin Giroir

Many years ago, I set out in search of my great-great-grandfather’s fractured family.

Augustin Giroir was just 6 when his father died around 1874. I’m not sure of the exact death date or even what killed Eulice Edmond “Ulysse” Giroir. The story passed down was that he died when his youngest child was just a baby. That caboose was Valsin – or Valcin.

In less than 10 years of marriage, Ulysse and his wife, Anaise, had five children: Augustin, Augustine, Marie, Alice and Valsin. Valsin was named for Anaise’s father. Because he was born on Christmas Day, he was given the middle name Noel.

When a parent died young back then, families tended to splinter. Anaise couldn’t have provided for all of her children. She seemed to have kept the two boys with her. The girls went to live with relatives. They were split up but lived not far from each other.

Augustine moved in with a Landry family and married Jean Baptiste Arretteig. At first, they lived in Gibson, where they lost a child before moving to the Lafayette area. Like her mother, Augustine was widowed fairly early in life. Her youngest child was just 15 when Jean Baptiste died. Augustine’s children would do well. They attended college and went into the medical field. The only girl became a nun. Augustine died of a stroke at age 56.

Marie was listed as an orphan on the 1880 census even though her mother was still living. I really didn’t know what had happened to Marie after the 1880 census until I stumbled across her grave in a St. Mary Parish cemetery. She had been buried under her maiden name. Years later, I discovered that she married at age 22 to Placide Bourke, had eight children and died in Lake Charles at age 86. Her children buried her in Patterson, near where she was born and where she started her family.

Alice was said to be 101 when died. She wasn’t. She was only 91. As a young girl, she moved in with her father’s sister Elizabeth when the family fractured. I suspect another aunt’s death brought her to Gibson. She was there in 1900 living in the household of her mother’s deceased sister Lizzie. No doubt, she was helping care for Lizzie’s children since she was listed as the cook. Alice stayed in Gibson, where she married and adopted a child.

Finally, there’s the caboose. Valsin was living with his mother in 1880. Also in the household was a male carpenter and an orphaned child. I don’t know what the story was on that. It looks like Anaise’s mother-in-law was living nextdoor. Perhaps Anaise was running a boarding house?

Valsin married in 1898 to Marie LeBoeuf. They had at least two children: Robert and Lillian. On the 1910 census, Valsin was listed as Charles (his grandfather’s other name). It’s possible Valsin’s real name was Charles Valsin Noel since his grandfather’s full name was Charles Valsin. Valsin is listed as a sewing machine salesman. Then, poof. Valsin and Marie vanish. Their children later turned up in Texas, where they married and died.

Court records tell me Valsin sometimes got himself in trouble. He was caught trespassing in 1908.

He engaged in a property sale in the town of Franklin a year earlier.

And he ignored court summons. It was a busy two years.

What happened to Valsin is beyond me. I can’t find him in further court records or burial records. It’s like he vanished.

Fun facts about Louisiana

A lighthouse disappears and reappears in 1875

See that little red icon? That marks Timbalier Bay off the coast of Louisiana. From 1857 to 1941, a keeper was stationed at a lighthouse on this lonely spot to keep the light burning brightly for ships.

As you can imagine, this is a spot vulnerable to hurricanes. From time to time, the lighthouse has fallen prey to Mother Nature and had to be rebuilt.

In 1875, word came from the oystermen that the lighthouse had once again been knocked down, this time taking the keeper and his family with it. The keeper was just referred to as Judge Collin.

Days later came the happy news that the lighthouse was still there with its light burning brightly.

The deputy collector of customs wrote to a New Orleans newspaper confirming the report.

Previous to reports of the gale (and whether it was fake news), the lighthouse made the newspaper because it was fairly new and deemed “large and costly.” So, maybe the oystermen were just having a bit of fun: Ho, ho. That big, shiny lighthouse got knocked down!

From Lighthouse Friends, here are the keepers who kept the lighthouse burning bright through the years. You’ll see that Keeper Collin/Collins lasted two years before calling it quits. Very few lasted a long time at the post. While the solitude likely appeals to some, the fierceness of a Gulf storm probably quickly dulled the charms of lighthouse keeping.

  • Elijah Chester (1857 – 1859)
  • W. Taylor (1859)
  • Jacob Lottmann (1859)
  • Louis Alley (1859)
  • William Douglas (1859)
  • Thomas C. Barton (1865 – 1866)
  • B. C. Miller (1866 – )
  • F. Collins (1875 – 1876)
  • John Anderson (1876 – 1877)
  • Richard A. Fitzgerald (1877 – 1881)
  • William Munck (1881 – 1884)
  • David Conners (1884 – 1885)
  • Cornelius Canty (1885 – 1898)
  • Fred Tredup (1898 – 1905)
  • Joseph B. Brockenborough (1905 – 1906)
  • William H. Oliver (1906 – 1908)
  • John C. Gray (1908 – at least 1921)
  • Eddie M. Authemont (at least 1935 – at least 1941).
Genealogy tools

Funeral notices in the days before obits

I recently started organizing the photos on my iPhone because there are a lot of them. In fact, there are so many that I don’t want to admit how many there are (11,131 but don’t judge me). The good news is I now have a genealogy folder, which makes it easier for me to post the photos I’ve taken of records and other documents.

The image above is a photo I snapped of a funeral notice. These used to be posted in shop windows in the closest shopping town (where you’d go to pick up groceries, etc.) when someone died. They were the 1800s’ version of an obituary or an online death announcement.

As you can see, the one above is in French. This was very common for south Louisiana. My grandmother was fluent in Cajun French. It was her only language until she went to school and learned English.

I read just enough French to know the notice tells when Mrs. Hubert Aucoin died and when her funeral will be. Helpfully, the notice also tells us how old she was when she died at 2:30 in the afternoon.

Thankfully, some people held onto these fragile pieces of paper and saved them. Even more thankfully, some of these notices ended up in libraries.

There are two bound collections of death notices for parts of south Louisiana:

  1. “Death notices, 1867-1954, Assumption Parish” by Audrey Westerman.

2. “Death notices, 1859-1961, Thibodaux and vicinity.”

You can find these in some Louisiana libraries. Nicholls University also has a few collections containing death notices:

Genealogy tools

Free Stuff Friday: Bigamy in New Orleans and other tales of woe

Don’t you hate it when you go to the trouble of getting a marriage license from the justice of the peace, stand before a minister of the Gospel and enter into the bonds of matrimony only to find out later that your bride was already married?

That was James McDonald’s complaint in 1879, when he filed for his marriage to Virginia Frances Wall to be nullified in New Orleans. They’d been married for 10 years when Mr. McDonald discovered that Mrs. McDonald had forgotten to mention that she was actually the lawful wife of Drury W. Wall of Amite County, Miss. Mr. McDonald immediately ceased to cohabit with his wife and they “since remained as strangers to each other.”

I have so many questions. Did no one in Mrs. McDonald’s family think to mention the husband back in Mississippi? Where in the world was Mr. Wall for 10 years? Do you have to file for a nullification if your marriage is invalid because of bigamy? Finally, it took Mr. McDonald TEN YEARS to find out about the first husband?

Sadly, early New Orleans divorce records can be scant on details. Mrs. McDonald responded that she divorced Mr. Wall in Mississippi. And it does appear that Mr. Wall remarried and had children so let’s hope that was true. However, I don’t know if the McDonalds patched things up or continued to remain as strangers to each other.

I do know this: New Orleans’ divorce records from 1846 to 1880 are fascinating reading.

For example, I know now that an “assignation house” is a brothel.

Dive in:


Free Stuff Friday: Help make genealogy accessible

A few years ago, I started transcribing records for Imagine my surprise when I found myself transcribing my great-great-aunt’s birth certificate. Not only was I helping other people, I was also helping my own family.

Transcribing makes genealogy more accessible by using volunteers to index records. Years ago, we looked at census records on microfilm and spent hours hunched over those machines looking for our ancestors. Now we can look at census records online and even search a digital index for names.

The Smithsonian Institute is looking for volunteers to help transcribe records. Among the projects is the records of the Freedmen’s Bureau, which was a federal agency that helped freed slaves and poor whites with shelter, food, clothing and fuel.

Records for Louisiana aren’t in the available list yet, but you can help with records for North Carolina and Tennessee. Here’s the handy dandy link:

If you’d like to see the records for Louisiana, you can hop on over to Carve out a few hours. There are nearly 100,000 images of records, and they’re not indexed. See: This is why transcribing is so important!

Aucoin family

The mystery of an orphan named Louis Aucoin

I stumbled across Louis Aucoin while researching the Aucoins who settled in New Orleans. Where he falls in the family tree is a mystery. To me, what little I know about him reads like a Charles Dickens’ novel.

His death certificate lists him as an “inmate” at St. Mary’s Orphan Boys’ Asylum. That just means he was in care.

Little Louis was 13 when he drowned in the Mississippi River. He died in June, which can be unbearably hot in Louisiana so perhaps he went swimming in search of relief from the heat. The newspaper article about his death is sparse.

What it does tell us is that the nuns at the orphanage took charge of his body. No doubt Louis ended up in a pauper’s grave. There’s no mention of family.

Children weren’t necessarily orphans when they ended up in an orphanage in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Sometimes their parents just weren’t very responsible, and the orphanage became a place to deposit unsupervised children when extended family failed to step up. The Big Easy had temptations long before college kids started discovering Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras.

At one time, New Orleans teemed with orphanages. Here’s a list of some of them:

St. Mary’s was an “immense brick pile” that consisted of an old plantation home, a yard for playing ball and niches that held statues of the saints. The Thanksgiving of the year little Louis died, 400 boys at the asylum dined on a donated roasted pig.

How Louis ended up in the asylum is unclear. The New Orleans Mayor’s Office kept records on the disposition of orphans. However, the online records end in the year 1889.

The records are a great resource. They detail who brought the child to the orphanage (sometimes it was a policeman) and the reasons why. Here’s one little boy who was sent to St. Mary’s in 1889:

Here’s the handy dandy link if you’d like to browse the books:

What perplexes me about Louis is the Aucoins who settled in New Orleans weren’t destitute or lacking in relations. I don’t know why Louis would’ve been placed in an orphanage, where 400 boys shared a single roasted pig for Thanksgiving dinner.

For now, I’m filing this under Unsolved Mystery.

Fun facts about Louisiana

The only person buried at the State Capitol

Huey facing the State Capitol he built for all of eternity.

The death of former Gov. Edwin Edwards (Louisiana’s only four-term governor) sparked a debate the other day. It was well known that Edwards wanted to be buried on the Capitol grounds. This was so well known that a political aide admitted to me that she walked the perimeter of the Capitol garden two nights in a row to see if a hole was being secretly dug. She expected one last fast one from our most colorful and controversial governor since it’s supposed to take an act of the Legislature to be buried at the Capitol. If you’re from Louisiana, you tend to expect shenanigans. I can’t explain it.

But back to the debate.

Huey Long – the political firecracker who built the State Capitol building and was gunned down in a marbled hallway there – actually is buried in the Capitol gardens. I thought his wife was placed beside him. My friend insisted it’s just Huey out there in the grounds. I looked it up – and, of course, she was right.

The Legislature passed a resolution to bury Huey outside his beloved State Capitol.

I’m not sure that most tourists realize there’s a grave amongst the neatly trimmed hedgerows and rolling hills of the Capitol gardens. The original marker now is in a museum. It was replaced by a towering monument with a statue of Huey looking at the State Capitol. It doesn’t look like a headstone.

Huey’s original marker.

By the way, there’s a crater in front of the statue that would make a great sledding hill if we got snow in Louisiana. Most Louisiana kids have slid down that hill on their bellies using a piece of cardboard. It’s great fun.

Back to Huey. He wasn’t governor in name when he was assassinated. But he was running the state as a U.S. senator with an eye on the White House. He died 30 hours after he was shot by a rather nerdy looking eye doctor in a Capitol hallway that used to lead to the Governor’s Office (now it’s where the Senate president and House speaker conduct business).

The day of his funeral was sweltering hot. Many among the 100,000-thick crowd fainted from the heat. The LSU band played. His widow wore black. His daughter wore white. From the grand Memorial Hall (wrongly called the Rotunda by most everyone), the heavy coffin was carried down the steps of the State Capitol to the Capitol gardens. It must have been a relief for the pallbearers to place it on a horse-drawn carriage for the rest of the journey to the grave. Huey’s family sat in folding chairs until the graveside service was over and they could escape the spectators to the privacy of a limo.

Here’s a newspaper account: “The sun beat down on trampled grass and dirt-caked concrete. Scraps of paper lay lifeless and hot in the windless air. It looked as though some great picnic party had encamped in the vast garden and now near dusk was straggling home. Huey Long was in his grave.”

He’s been there every since.

As I looked at the coverage of Edwin Edwards’ funeral, which was held over the weekend, I was struck by the similarities to the Long funeral. Both had a horse-drawn hearse, marching band and the difficult, final walk down the steps of the State Capitol to the Capitol gardens since both governors’ viewings were held in Memorial Hall. Edwards’ coffin didn’t stop at the gardens. It moved through and onto the Old State Capitol a few blocks away for his funeral service.

There is a rumor circulating in Louisiana right now. The speculation is that Edwin Edwards was cremated and his ashes quietly spread on the Capitol grounds to fulfill his supposed wish of wanting to be buried there. So maybe Huey’s no longer alone.

Genealogy tools

Free Stuff Friday: New Orleans Missing Persons’ Cases

Reading through reports of people who went missing in the city of New Orleans between 1906 and 1925 is rather sobering. Most of the “missing” people are actually unidentified bodies. These are people who fell into the river or got hit by a car without any identification on them.

Then there’s Ida Henry, who fell from a ferry in 1908. She was wearing a black dress, a white shawl over her head and two rings. I don’t know if her body was ever found.

Someone put a notice in the newspaper offering an unnamed reward for the return of her body.

The fact that a report on Ida is contained in the Coroner’s Office’s Missing Person files makes me think they never found her body. I couldn’t find a death certificate for her.

And, really, that’s all I know about poor Ida. I don’t know if she jumped into the river or fell from the ferry. I don’t know if she left behind a husband and children. All I get is a glimpse of her with a shawl over her head and two rings on her fingers before the Mississippi River claimed her.

Here’s the link to the records:

Genealogy tools

Free Stuff Friday: Periodicals

Years ago, when researching the family tree coincided with the typewriter, our grandmothers did invaluable work pouring their research into periodicals. You’ve probably walked past rows of them at the library: Terrebonne Life Lines, St. Mary Links, New Orleans Genesis, etc.

I got frustrated in my early days of library research at having to flip through volume after volume in search of something that pertained to my family tree. Then I discovered an online index:

Happy day!

Here’s the handy dandy guide to the abbreviations for the periodicals:

The kind folks behind this website went through 21 periodicals and indexed 5,000 articles by subject matter. Wasn’t that very nice of them?

You’ll find insanity, burial, marriage records and more.