Claude Guillaume Montet has intrigued me for a long time. I know when he was born. I know where he was born (kind of). I know his parents’ names. I should be able to populate his tree with names of brothers, sisters, grandparents and cousins, right?
Here’s what is slowing me down: I don’t read French very well and Claude Guillaume likely was illiterate. When he told someone where he was born, he likely didn’t know how to spell where he was born. So the person writing it down guessed. What I’m left with is a muddle. I’m casting a wide net through French records and trying to clumsily read bad handwriting in a language that I don’t speak. And don’t get me started on dits, which were someone’s curse against future genealogy buffs.
I reached out for some help a few years ago and received brilliant suggestions. One of these days, I’ll crack this nut (not that I’m calling Guillaume a nut). In the meantime, I’ll share the suggestions in case other Montet family researchers would care to join the search …
Our country home is in Périgord, a beautifully empty region in the southwest of France. It makes for a calming escape from the racket and excitement of Paris, allows for gardening, reading before an open fire and, most importantly at the moment, the concentration needed for our work on our next book. Yesterday was all blue skies and golden autumn sunshine; we harvested grapes, all twelve that remained after a visit of the blackbirds. Today, is rain and cold and fog, so we come indoors to address you, Dear Readers. As we are here, a suitable choice for the next FGB Free Clinic case is that of a man who came from this part of France.
Madame M. writes to us about her ancestor:
My ancestor Claude Guillaume Montet was born on Jan. 23, 1737 in Cajolay (Perigeaux), France – at least that’s how it was recorded later in life. Obviously, this was a misspelling as there doesn’t appear to be a Cajolay. His parents were recorded as Francois Montet and Marie Martin. I’d love to know who his brothers and sisters and grandparents were.
A snap trawl of the Internet shows that Madame M. is not alone in her search of Montet’s origins, though others say that Montet gave not Périgueux, a city, but Périgord, a province, as the location of his town. Thus Cajolay would not be a parish of the city of Périgueux – and it does not turn up in any list of parishes for the city – but a town of the province of Périgord, which is now, more or less, the department of Dordogne.
Madame M. has already searched diligently and found no such town, Cajolay, but in an effort to be thorough, we duplicated her search a bit. Indeed, no such town of Cajolay (which, we must say, does not “look right” as a French town name anyway) turns up on :
- The list of old commune names for Dordogne
- The list of current commune names for Dordogne
- The communes found on the Cassini maps, which was nearly contemporary with Montet’s birth
More tellingly, no town name beginning with the letters Caj appears on any of those lists (though there is a Cajarc in nearby Lot, that hardly seems close in pronounciation). This means that, almost certainly, there was a misunderstanding of a strong accent or a limited understanding of the notoriously difficult French spelling (not enough of those torturous dictées in the classroom) or both. We have written about just such a mangled town name and our struggle to solve the mystery here. In that case, Claude was pronounced “Glaude” and Vaugrigneuse was written as Vecin graingrouge, causing no amount of trouble.
So, we have to try to imagine what Montet was saying when the person listening recorded Cajolay. Recall that, given that Périgord is located in the region of Aquitaine in the southern half of France, he may have spoken Occitan and his French may have had a thick Occitan accent. As no recordings of early eighteenth century speakers of Occitan exist, it is really anyone’s guess as to how it sounded but, based on how modern accents in the region sound to us, we are guessing that the J could have had a bit of a ZH sound. Searching the same three sites above, the only town that is in Dordogne that — to our ears — has a sound that could have produced Cajolay is Cazoulès.
We are not entirely comfortable with this, but the only way to know is to check the parish registers to see if Montet may not be there. These are online and may be seen at no charge on the website of the Departmental Archives of Dordogne. Frustratingly, there seems to be no baptism register for the year 1737. Nor do searches on the Montet family details given by Madame M. on Bigenet or Geneabank reveal anything useful, which is to be expected if the relevant register is missing.
What would we do at this point? We would start with a cursory glance through the registers of Cazoulès that do survive to see if the name Montet appears at all. If so, we would look deeper, seeking in those years closest to 1737 to see if Claude Guillaume and/or his parents appear as relatives or witnesses. We leave that to you, Madame Millhollon.
With such a conundrum, we do hope that many will write in with more suggestions as to finding the true identity of Cajolay.
Excellent suggests in the comments to this post have been rolling in.