After writing a blog entry about Highland Cemetery in Baton Rouge, I discovered a hiccup in the research. It’s unclear which cemetery resident met his end when he came home from the Civil War, tossed his cap on the bedpost and was killed by a stray bullet that ricocheted off his cap while he napped.
There are two candidates: Charles Daniel Comeaux and Albert Florestan Aucoin. A newspaper article cites Comeaux as the unfortunate napper. A history website says it was Aucoin. Since Aucoin died in 1863 and Comeaux in 1850, all signs point to Aucoin. However, I was curious as to the origin of this story. Could it be proven with source material from the era? Let’s dive in.
Albert was the eldest child of Florentin and Elizabeth Verdeau Aucoin. According to a story posted to Ancestry, he was killed during the siege of Port Hudson in 1863 and buried at Highland Cemetery.
A newspaper account from 1863 backs up the battlefield death.
Now, I suppose it’s possible that he carried a four post bed with him to the battlefield and was taking a nap in his comfortably furnished tent – and not charging into battle – when he died. However, that seems a tad unlikely.
I’ll keep digging. File this one under “unsolved.”
I’m busy pulling together information on yellow fever deaths in Louisiana, which brought me to Arthur Aucoin.
Arthur had an interesting life before dying of yellow fever in 1905 at age 32. His family often made the local newspaper in Thibodaux so it’s easy to track them. Hint: People didn’t have social media back in the day. They wrote letters and they wrote to the local newspaper.
The Thibodaux newspaper was full of news about the vault that Arthur’s father, Franklin, built in the Catholic cemetery. It wasn’t built when Arthur’s mother, Leontine, died of pneumonia in 1903. Her death may have been what prompted Franklin to start work on the vault. He moved his wife’s remains there. Soon, it would also hold his son’s body.
Arthur was a blacksmith who owned a shop in downtown Thibodaux. He seemed to be on his way to making it a success but hadn’t quite made a go of it.
His first wife was a Miss Felicie Pierce of Franklin. He married her on her deathbed. Told you Arthur had an interesting life!
Several days before their wedding, Felicie was playing with a young child by a fireplace. Her dress caught on fire and she rushed into the street. A passerby put out the flames with his coat, but Felicie was severely burned and died two weeks later. Arthur married her shortly before she died.
He married again to Virginia Bergeron. They had a son and a daughter. The daughter died young.
I don’t know where Arthur was when he died – likely on the property he bought from Zenon Guillot “up the bayou” for his family. The newspaper reported that his remains were brought by boat to St. Joseph’s Catholic cemetery and placed in that pretty vault his father had built.
I came across this record in the coroner’s book at the St. Mary Parish Courthouse, and I had so many questions.
At first I thought the Valentine Aucoin mentioned was Jean Baptiste Valery Aucoin. However, he died in 1879 during the yellow fever epidemic.
Why was the coroner called to this Valentine Aucoin’s death? It seems clear that Valentine met with an accident since the coroner had to decide whether to assign fault.
Since no inquest was held, we’ll probably never know how Valentine came to die … or will we?
Fortunately, I’m stubborn. I slogged through old newspapers in search of an answer and finally found it in the July 3, 1883, edition of the Daily Picayune.
Some people put together jigsaw puzzles. Other people read newspapers to solve the deaths of people who’ve been dead for more than a century.
Tucked between a rice report and a hanging is news of Valentine Aucoin’s death. Apparently he died of heart disease. So, why was the coroner called?
The Donaldsonville Chief provided more details.
Aha. He took chloroform to relieve pain and died of an overdose. That explains the coroner.
Now to who Valentine was. If he was 61 in 1883, he was born about 1822. Don’t you love that he was considered aged? Bruce Springsteen is still rocking at 73 – and I don’t mean in a chair.
Louis Jean Aucoin and his wife, Victoire Helene Arsement, had a son named Valentine who died as a teenager in 1815. I wondered if one of that Valentine Aucoin’s brothers named a son in his honor.
Valentine’s brother, Louis Ambroise, had a son named Valentine who is about the right age. Naturally, there’s a complication.
I have Valentine marrying Marie Mathilde Verret in 1844 and having three sons and a daughter. Yet, Valentine Aucoin was living as a bachelor in Morgan City on the 1870 census when he should’ve been living with his wife and kids.
My theory is that Valentine never married, worked as a carpenter and died from inhaling too much chloroform – probably in a Morgan City boarding house. His brother Valsin – older by a year – is probably the one who married Marie Mathilde. Who knows.
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.
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:
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.
You know you’re in for a sad tale when the next of kin on a document is the sheriff. I’ll come back to that in a moment.
My granny’s grandfather was Joseph Cordilier Gautreaux (or Gauthreaux). I don’t know much about Cordilier other than that he married at 21 and there was friction between him and the children from his wife’s first marriage. He was a good 13 years younger than his bride.
He worked as a swamper, carpenter and grocery store deliveryman. Death was a constant presence in his life. He outlived all three of his children, his wife and his parents, leaving it to the stepchildren to care for him in his final years. From family stories, it doesn’t sound like they were happy about it.
Cordilier’s sister had it no better. Marie Adrienne was the last of Desire and Heleine Gautreaux’s children. She was only two when her mother died (probably in childbirth). She went to live with one of her mother’s relatives. Since they had no children of their own, you’d think they would dote on her. And maybe they did.
Somehow, though, Adrienne ended up in a mental hospital, where she died in 1955. She had been there at least 15 years since she’s listed as an inmate on the 1940 census. I was curious what brought her there so I pulled the interdiction records.
An interdiction is the legal process for committing someone to a mental health facility. For some reason, these records usually are indexed with the probate records in Louisiana. It was not uncommon to be interdicted during the early 1900s.
Adrienne was interdicted in 1936 for “manic depressive insanity” and “constitutional psychopathic inferiority.” According to the doctors who examined her, she heard voices threatening to blow up her home and wouldn’t spend any money on food or warmth. Her stinginess extended to her husband, Oleus Landry.
Oleus, by the way, also died at the mental hospital in Jackson. That’s right. Husband and wife were packed off to the mental hospital on the same day in 1936. The orders were signed just three days after Adrienne’s 65th birthday.
Oleus was deaf, partially blind, suffered from a lung ailment and feared running out of money to live on. Again, it was the 1930s so the U.S. was in the midst of the Great Depression. A lot of people were experiencing economic stress.
Maybe Oleus and Adrienne were content in the mental hospital. They didn’t have to worry about providing for themselves. They had no children so it was just the two of them against the world.
What’s sad to me is something listed on both interdiction forms. For nearest friend or relative, the sheriff is listed. All of Adrienne’s sisters and brothers were dead by this point. Of the five children Desire and Heleine Gautreaux brought into the world, Adrienne had the longest life. And probably the unhappiest.
I was looking through Ancestry hints when I came across this:
Consider me curious. Definitely curious.
Antarctica? Can you even be buried in Antarctica? I’m diving in.
First of all, the photo doesn’t go with the burial. I don’t know who the Rices were.
But there is a Whalers Bay Cemetery on Deception Island. It’s the final resting place for whalers and men lost at sea in the area. Today, there are only two markers because a volcano buried the cemetery in ash back in 1969.
Those two markers belong to men from Norway. Neither of them was Joseph Aucoin.
A newspaper database search was no help. Google didn’t help either.