It was a Saturday when Paul Deocurro committed suicide in 1878. He handed a note to a friend and returned home, where he strolled to Bayou Lafourche – presumably he didn’t hasten to his death – and flung himself into the water.
Quite a bit of effort was put into finding his body. The officers of three steamers dragged the bayou. When that failed to produce his remains, the Donaldsonville Cannoneers fired into the bayou for several hours in the hopes of dislodging the body. A few days later, Mr. Deocurro’s body was found two miles away lodged in driftwood in front of a store and fished out.
The reason for Mr. Deocurro’s suicide was a mystery, especially when the note he’d left with a friend was read. The Pioneer of Assumption newspaper obligingly reprinted it:
According to the newspaper, Mr. Deocurro was a “quiet, inoffensive and upright gentleman.” There wasn’t the “slightest breath of suspicion of wrong.”
Sure, there had been the murder of his father in 1865, but that had clearly been at the hand of P. Vegas, who had escaped the punishment he so richly merited by the newspaper’s reckoning.
From reading newspaper articles and burial records, a few other possible reasons emerge.
He’d buried two children within a few years of his death. His wife and two other children survived him.
And there were some pecuniary misfortunes in his commercial affairs. He was a partner in a country store that wasn’t doing well. However, no one seemed to expect Mr. Deocurro to jump to his death much less to confess to an unspecified crime.
There’s no indication the mystery was ever solved. What did Dr. Materre know? The newspapers never said.
Mr. Deocurro was deposited into a stately mausoleum in Paincourtville, where he rests to this day.
You never know what you’ll find when you root around in digital archives. Certainly, I didn’t expect to find a letter from my g-g-grandmother’s cousins politely declining membership in the Louisiana Sugar Planters’ Association.
I do understand their reluctance. Years ago, at my grandmother’s insistence, I joined a local women’s club. I made it very clear that I would pay dues and buy socks and underwear for aging veterans, but I just couldn’t commit to attending or hosting meetings. And I stuck to that. Imagine my surprise when they phoned me last year and asked if I’d like to be a club officer.
Meetings aren’t my thing. Apparently they weren’t the Montet cousins’ thing either.
What’s surprising about their demurral is that the Louisiana Sugar Planters’ Association wasn’t a cucumber sandwiches and tea crowd. This was a big deal. Its mission was to ensure that sugar remained a huge industry in Louisiana. It’s still around under the umbrella of the American Sugar Cane League.
Most probably, the cousins never imagined their letter would wind up in the Louisiana Digital Library. Thank goodness they at least used the good stationary.
A whirlwind: A 90th birthday party. Mexican food. FaceTime between aging sisters who will probably never see each other in person again. Cake. An actual alligator. Flowers at the cemetery. Dinner at a seafood shack. A hotel filled with family. A giggle-filled tea party amongst the breakfast buffet. Packing up the car. Packing up leftovers. A dash to church. Church. My husband’s knees on different kneelers. Ouch. A messed up pedicure. Mass ends. Sunshine. A giant Easter bunny. My 1-year-old nephew recoiling from the giant Easter bunny. An Easter egg hunt. Countless Easter baskets. Lunch at my aunt’s. Jalapeno poppers. Crawfish cornbread. Ham. Trifle. All four of my godchildren in one spot. Yet another Easter egg hunt. The journey home.
Frankly, it’s a wonder we had time for a detour to a country churchyard on the way home.
In church records, I’d seen mention of the Church of Immaculate Conception in Canal, but I’d never visited it. Somehow, I thought it was along the main highway in the vicinity of the Dairy Inn and the other Catholic churches that unspool along La. 1. It’s not. You have to turn onto the appropriately named Canal Road in Napoleonville and plunge into the countryside before arriving at this little church.
Canal – which gets its name from Attakapas Canal – officially got a church in 1858. Priests from neighboring churches took turns traveling to the little chapel for Mass. So, it was a big deal when Father Leo Jarysch arrived in 1920 as the first resident priest. The archbishop personally visited Canal to install Father Jarysch in a celebration punctuated by the sound of a gunfire salute and the scent of ferns and palmettos.
It’s clear that the congregation welcomed Father Leo – as they soon began calling him. They even collected money for him to give to the pope when he visited the Vatican during a trip home to Poland a year later.
Today, a monument to Father Leo greets you just before you enter the small graveyard behind the church. It asks God to be merciful to him.
The graveyard itself is well tended and utterly peaceful. It’s so quiet with just the wind rustling the nearby trees.
A tree at the back of the cemetery caught my attention. It’s a sprawling oak tree – absolutely majestic. In my younger days, I would’ve begged my dad to build a treehouse in it since I always longed for a treehouse of my own.
Noticing a grave underneath the tree – and away from the rest of the graves – I wandered closer for a better look.
And, there, I found Gilbert – or Gubert – Besse. On the other side of the tree is Marclin Solar.
It’s a pretty spot to be buried. I thought little of it, snapped a few photos and planned to use the internet to fill in the rest of the details. There, I slammed into a brick wall.
There’s no mention of Mr. Besse or Mr. Solar on the cemetery’s findagrave site. No worries. I searched newspaper archives. I searched the Internet. I found a picture of Jesus in the tree (trick of lighting, I’m pretty sure), but no mention of Mr. Besse or Mr. Solar. Did they once spot Jesus in the tree and the markers commemorate their sighting?
Now, I was beyond curious.
I posted an inquiry in an online forum. I found an issue of the “Terrebonne Life Lines” that mentioned the cemetery, but I couldn’t actually view the periodical online because of copyright restrictions.
I’m not going to pull any punches here. Genealogy is fun yet often frustrating.
Family stories passed down through the generations often turn into a game of Telephone. A little bit of the true story gets lost with every passing generation.
Case in point: As a teenager, I heard a fantastic story about my great-great grandmother’s aunt. It featured murder, revenge and the Gold Rush. Decades later, I was bored and plugged a few keywords into a newspaper search engine. And I made a fantastic discovery. The story was true. Mostly. The murder happened. The revenge happened. It did indeed happen during the Gold Rush. However, the great-great-aunt’s name was different from the family’s recollection.
So, I thought it would be fun to open this blog up to Louisiana genealogy stories you’ve heard but never been able to verify. Maybe some armchair detectives can prove or disprove them. Submit them in comments.
I’m sure there’s a story behind how Aunt Mayme (really my great grandmother’s aunt) ended up publishing a recipe for Green Tomato Pickle in a San Francisco newspaper. I have no idea what that story is.
Aunt Mayme was Olive May Rhodes. She never married but supported her nephew Homer on a schoolteacher salary in Texas. She liked going to the movies and collecting the free gifts given to encourage ticket sales. In fact, one of those free gifts – a candy dish – sits on my dining room table.
Money was always a concern. She often didn’t even have enough money to send a letter so I doubt she ever traveled to California.
My point is that you never know what you’ll discover when you put someone’s name into a newspaper search engine. Sometimes, you can even search for free if your library has a subscription to Genealogy Bank, Newspapers.com or Newspaper Archive.
In the meantime, enjoy Aunt Mayme’s recipe from 1913.
Finding old birth records in Louisiana can be a bit tricky.
Take my grandmother as an example. She was born along Bayou Boeuf in 1913. It was the same year the Model T started rolling off the assembly line in Detroit so the world was definitely changing and advancing. However, Louisiana wouldn’t start keeping statewide birth records for another five years.
Because she was Catholic, I found her baptism record, which made note of her birth date as well as the day she was baptized – no doubt screaming at the top of her lungs when the water hit her head. I have to imagine she was already a spitfire in the making.
Church records are a great resource if your ancestor was Catholic. Many of the records in south Louisiana have been published and can be found in local libraries.
Another thing to consider is whether your ancestor lived in New Orleans. For Louisiana records, New Orleans is always the great exception. Records there go further back than in any other city.
Family Search’s database of New Orleans birth records goes back to 1819. Search here.
Sadly, the images of the certificates themselves aren’t online. However, this is a good index that includes the parents’ names.
While scanning in photos of the Texas side of the family, I keep coming across the same old house. It’s not a house that I’ve ever visited, but it intrigues me.
Someone went to the trouble of putting up a gate and trellises. Obviously, this was a much loved home even if it wasn’t grand. Whose home was it?
There are some clues. Clearly, this was a place where the Millhollons and Newnhams gathered. Is this where my great-great grandmother, Lucy Jane Newnham Millhollon, lived? I have no idea. I don’t think it’s my grandfather’s boyhood home – later torn down and turned into a barn – because I don’t see the dog trot that was described.
I believe – but I can’t be sure – that my grandfather is the little boy standing behind the screen door in the photo below. I don’t know who Maud and Cannon – the couple photographed above – were.
The group photo above is of my grandfather’s great aunt, great uncle and their daughter and son-in-law. How strange it is to meet relatives in photographs.
Above is yet another photo of the house. This one shows that the gate stood on its own although maybe a fence once complimented it. At some point, someone scrawled the name “Vera Redwine” on the back of this photo with a question mark: I haven’t a clue who Vera was.
Most of the people in the photo above are recognizable to me. That’s my grandfather: the little tow-headed boy in overalls. That’s his cousin, Billie Jean, on the bike. My great grandmother – never a team player – is the woman looking at the ground. I believe the woman on the far left is Lucy Jane.
Let me give this a try: Lucy Jane Newnham Millhollon (?), Mattie Millhollon Henderson (?), Carol Henderson (?), Billie Jean Henderson (on bike), Edd Millhollon, Tommie Stark Millhollon, Rex Millhollon (little boy), Juanita Ashmore Chaney, Frosty Chaney, Addie Newnham Ashmore and Reed Ashmore.
Clearly, this is an assortment of Millhollons and Newnhams. Two Newnham sisters are in this photo – Lucy Jane and Addie.
It’s a sweet house, isn’t it? And a sweet family gathering.
I discovered a bunch of photos tied to logging towns in Cherokee County, Texas, while going through my grandmother’s photo collection. I though that I’d share in case someone’s interested.
Cherokee County and logging towns figure heavily in my family history. My great grandmother was born in the little town of Forest. My grandmother said it was a logging town (a town that sprang up to harvest the timber). I’ve heard a lot about Forest because it’s where my grandmother’s relatively young great-grandfather took a break under a tree while working at the logging operation and never woke up from his nap. The owner of the logging operation let his widow and children stay on in one of the homes provided for workers.
I’d never heard of Wildhurst, but it also must have figured in my family’s history since we have multiple photos of logging operations there. Like Forest, Wildhurst is in Cherokee County. The mill at Wildhurst closed in 1944, and the forest’s reclaimed the area. But the pictures show a lot of excitement back when the logging town was flourishing.
Finally, I’ll share a photo of the schoolteacher at Forest. This was Tip Hayes Vaughn, who died in 1956 at the age of 71. That’s him below. He probably taught my grandmother’s kin.
If you read Joseph Arsenne Breaux’s Wikipedia page, you’ll quickly learn that he had a remarkable life. He became the first lawyer in Iberia Parish, launched a newspaper, distributed food during a yellow fever epidemic, traveled to Nova Scotia to learn about his Acadian ancestry, reformed public education, expanded free health care and served as the ninth chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court. It’s a wonder he and his wife found the time to take in an orphan.
I’m not sure what spurred Chief Justice Breaux and his wife, Eugenie, to adopt Mae Bolian. Perhaps it was the fact that they had no children of their own. Perhaps it was the fact that Eugenie was an orphan herself after losing her parents to a hurricane. What I do know is that Mae was a bit of a problem child. Sort of the Paris Hilton of her day.
I’m also not really sure how Mae’s story began. She was born about 1883. She later gave her place of birth as Colorado, and there is a little Mae Bolian on the 1885 Colorado census. Perhaps that’s her.
By 1900, she was living in the Poydras Female Orphan Asylum – just one of numerous girls with no other home. It was an enormous place full of staircases and soaring ceilings. That’s a snapshot of a dormitory room above.
1900 also was the year Mae went to work for Judge Breaux as a stenographer. She would work for him until 1915 and also lived in the family home. Perhaps she aged out of the orphanage and had nowhere else to go. Regardless, she was soon being characterized as his adopted daughter. I doubt that there was a legal arrangement given that she was 16 or 17 when this occurred.
1915 was the year Mae started scandalizing New Orleans society. A bout with catarrh led to a raging cocaine addiction. Mae left the Breaux home and moved in with a friend, who tried to break Mae of her drug addiction. The intervention didn’t work. Once she stopped being able to get cocaine in Louisiana, Mae took a trip to California and returned with a pile of cocaine that she placed in a safety deposit vault at the bank.
Just before Thanksgiving, she checked into the Grunewald Hotel and started sending suicide letters to friends and loved ones. A maid at the Breaux home received a letter instructing her to shroud Mae’s body. The maid, who’d been going to the hotel weekly to do Mae’s nails and massage her face, alerted the hotel instead. Mae was found unconscious and gasping for breath. It was thought that she wouldn’t recover. She proved resilient and recovered within days.
A friend described Mae as “a dainty, sweet creature” and then asked for a policeman to guard her home upon Mae’s release from the hospital.
1916 was the year Mae went to jail. Months after her overdose, she showed up at the hospital and told a nurse that she planned to kill the doctor who had attended her. She then went home, where police shortly arrived to arrest her. Newspaper reports said she arrived at the jailhouse neatly attired in expensive clothes and laughing at her predicament.
While bunking in the parish prison, Mae found time to write. She wrote a 20-page letter to the district attorney protesting claims she was insane. She was vehemently opposed to a mental examination. A grand jury was called to review the case.
A convenient agreement ended the saga. Mae’s brother, Walter, agreed to let his sister live with him in Chicago. Getting Mae out of the city and the state seemed to satisfy local authorities. She was placed on a train, alone, and the investigation into her sanity was dropped.
1917 was the year Mae married. She wed prominent architect Henry Collier Cooke in Galveston. Three hours after the wedding, they were on a train headed east to make their home in New Orleans.
Henry was considerably older than his bride. This was his second marriage. His first wife died in 1915.
1920 was the year Mae became a widow. Henry died of cirrhosis in Mineral Wells, Texas.
1926 was the year Judge Breaux died at age 89. Newspapers listed all 40 of his honorary pallbearers, who included the governor. No mention was made of Mae.
Not to brag, but Jane Austen is in my family tree. Granted, I’m about as closely related to her as I am to Lady Di (another relative). The point is that you’re all peasants to me now.
Just kidding – although Jane and Di apparently are my cousins. They could also be your cousins. I’ll tell you how to find out.
I’ve always been more of a Brontë fan than an Austen fan, but I watched a little bit of the Colin Firth version of “Pride and Prejudice” last night. Perhaps that’s why I opened up familysearch.org and saw this teaser: Jane Austen and I are seventh cousins (seven times removed).
It’s a wonder this never came up at the childhood dining room table.
Here’s our really close connection (read with sarcasm but still delight at discovering we’re “related”):
Thomas Throckmorton and Elizabeth Berkeley begat William and Mary. William is my great-grandfather (times 12). Mary was Jane’s great-grandmother (times five).
I discovered the very long distance connection through a new feature at www.familysearch.org. If you know me – and most of you don’t – it would seem far more likely that I would be related to Lucille Ball than to Jane Austen. Both redheads (mine used to be natural). Both slightly nuts.
And wouldn’t you know it? Lucille and I are 11th cousins once removed! This connection is actually a little more recognizable than my connection to dear Jane. My grandfather’s beloved granny was descended from the Holleman family. Lucy and I share a Holleman ancestor. We last shared a real family connection in the 1500s before the family tree started growing in different directions so it’s not a close connection.
All you need to do in order to use the “Am I related tool” is to upload your family tree. Then, it’s just a matter of clicking on celebrities’ pictures to see if there’s a connection. Now, be warned. Unless you’re Colin Firth’s first cousin, most of these “connections” happened centuries ago. You’re not likely to be invited to a family reunion.
Here are the rest of my celebrity connections:
Sean Astin? Sadly, we’re not related.
Walt Disney? 9th cousin, 3 times removed. Had I only known that summer I sold ice cream at Walt Disney World!
George Washington? 7th cousin, 7 times removed.
Charles Dickens? No connection.
Babe Ruth? 12th cousin, twice removed.
Princess Diana? 11th cousin.
And, here’s where I should add another word of caution, as much as I’d like to be related to Lady Di. This connection is through John Millhollon, who’s as far back as we’ve gotten in our Millhollon family tree (Millhollon is my maiden name). I don’t know who decided that his mother was Martha Scroggin, whose ancestors were also the Spencers’ ancestors. So, it’s obvious that Family Search is taking my family tree and making it more robust using other people’s submissions.
Have fun with this, but don’t make a claim to the throne of England based on it.
Now excuse me. I have an inexplicable craving for a cup of tea.