When Etienne Bourgeois died in 1879, he left a young family behind: his wife, Marie Landry, their 3-year-old son, Alexis Etienne, and their 1-year-old daughter, Leonie. Marie quickly remarried, but life in the 1800s could be cruel. By 1883, Alexis Etienne and Leonie were orphans.
It was the district attorney for St. Mary Parish who went to court and reported that the children “were without proper care or moral training.” Worse, their mother’s sister, Victoria, was mistreating them and usurping their inheritance. The district attorney’s recommendation was that Etienne’s property and belongings be sold to pay for the children’s care at a Catholic asylum in New Orleans.
The saga is contained in St. Mary Parish’s probate records, proving once again just how interesting dusty old court records can be. You’ll also find a list of every looking glass, mattress and lamp Etienne owned because it all had to be sold for the children’s benefit.
What’s interesting is that the children’s mother remarried before swiftly dying. I don’t know why her second husband’s family didn’t take charge of the children. Maybe Aunt Victoria – who was helping herself to their inheritance – wouldn’t allow it.
Regardless, the court records shows that the district attorney was successful in placing the children in St. Mary’s Catholic Asylum in New Orleans. The proceeds from the estate sale were to be used for their schooling, board, tuition and the upkeep of property that wasn’t sold.
Curious what became of the children? Alexis became a steam engineer and settled in Morgan City with his wife and their two girls. Leonie – later known as Leonide – stayed in the New Orleans area, raised a large family and died just two months shy of her 97th birthday.
Sometimes you stumble across something funny when you dust off court records from more than 100 years ago. Case in point: A century-old squabble over the cost of postage.
Severin Dupuis died in 1879 from yellow fever. The disease also claimed his 19-year-old daughter, Amelia, for whom the town of Amelia was named. Because Severin left behind children and property, his widow filed a succession to divvy up the possessions.
Two years after Severin’s death, the estate still was being wrapped up. And someone – presumably a clerk with a sense of humor – stuck a rather pointed note about how much postage the case was consuming in the court record.
“Don’t talk to me any more about postage stamps,” the widow’s attorney, S. Lanaux, wrote someone named Placide (I would assume this was another attorney). “I only follow your good example.”
I didn’t quite understand what the argument was. I turned to the U.S. Postal Museum for help and learned that Congress authorized “postage due stamps” in 1879. Basically, the authorization allowed the Post Office to collect the cost of postage from the recipient of mail.
Whenever Lanaux picked up correspondence from Placide at the Post Office, he had to pay the postage due on it before he was allowed to take the letter. The same went for Placide.
Like any good attorney, Lanaux offered a compromise.
“If you promise me not to get mad and curse and beat your head against the court house pillars, I will send you in a day or so one dollars worth of postage stamps to stamp my letters with hereafter,” Mr. Lanaux wrote.
Etienne Penisson left a complicated succession when he died at his home on Bayou Boeuf in 1856. His widow had to detail the heirs.
Son Jean Baptiste
Daughter Marie, who was dead. So her portion went to her children Aimee Bourg Delucky, Pauline Bourg and Rosalie Bourg
Daughter Dometile (wife of Joseph Lacoste)
Daughter Cidalise, who was dead. So her portion went to her children Joseph and Eliza Brogdan
Daughter Amelina (wife of Auguste Lafontaine)
Daughter Celeste (wife of Joseph Font)
Daughter Carmelite (wife of Baptiste Menard)
Son Etienne Jr.
Making matters even more complicated was the fact that the heirs were scattered across Louisiana. Most lived in Assumption Parish, but daughter Marie’s children were in St. Mary Parish as was daughter Carmelite. Amelina was in St. Martin Parish. Celeste was in New Orleans.
All told, Etienne Sr. left an estate worth $105,000. That’s $3 million in today’s dollars. No wonder succession records state that Etienne Sr. Left a valuable sugar estate.
Ludfrois Aucoin fathered at least 13 children in his 49 years. His youngest, Merante, was my grandmother’s grandmother.
I know the fate of some of the children, but I wondered just how many of them lived into adulthood. Finding the will of his second wife, Philomin Gautreaux, gave me some clues.
Here are Ludfrois’ children:
Marie Elise, born 1820
Leufroi Heli, born in 1821 and died in 1879 during the yellow fever epidemic. Married and had at least one child, Mary.
Second marriage to Philomin
Simon Jerome, 1824-1824
Francois Rosemond, 1826-1826
Eduard Pierre, born 1827
Adolphe, born 1829
Felonise Marie, born 1832
Adrien Augustin, born 1834
Honore Luselien, born 1836
Caroline, born 1838
Celestine Marie, born in 1840 and died in 1879 during the yellow fever epidemic
Octave Francois, 1843
Merante Carmelite, 1846-1926
According to Philomin’s will, she only left property to Merante and the children of Adrien, Caroline and Celestine. So it appears that only Merante was alive when she died. Eleven children, and only one died after her.
I’ve not been able to find a marriage record for Caroline so I don’t know who her children were, but her mother’s will indicates she had at least one child.
Here’s the will. I’ll translate the French below.
Today in 23rd day of the month of November of the year 1883, before Septime Lanaux, public notary commissioned and sworn in for the parish of St. Mary in the state of Louisiana, and in the presence of Joseph Dellucky, Jules P. Telotte and Hebert Bedel, competent witnesses and residents in said parish, has personally appeared:
Madame Felonise Gautreaux, widow of Leufroy Aucoin deceased, resident of St. Mary Parish, state of Louisiana, who has had the help of the notary, and of the witnesses, and the said lady, who has appointed the notaries, who have taken the words of the receiving of this will, the notary has heard. In his own hand the so-called testament as it was dictated:
I possess at the moment the following immovable property:
A certain piece of land on the Bayou Boeuf, Parish of St. Mary, State of Louisiana, about fifteen acres from the Morgan City railroad station, five acres from the bank of said Bayou Boeuf on a piece of land of seven arpents more or less; neighbored north by the property formerly of Francois Gautreaux now occupied by Octave Landry, south by the property of Hebert Bedel Sr., to the east by Bayou Boeuf and to the west by the land of Appolinaire Frioux, with all the buildings therein.
I bequeath to my daughter Emeranthe, now wife of the Cordelier Gautreaux, an arpent by seven arpents of depth more or less, of my said property, beginning and dividing my property of that of the heirs of Hebert Bedel Sr. recently deceased, and all the buildings and improvements that are in them, and my furniture, which is in the house I occupy and where I live, and which has always been my residence.
I bequeath to my son-in-law, Cordilier Gautreaux, husband of my daughter Emeranthe, an acre opposite the Bayou Boeuf on seven acres of the property more or less of my said property, immediately adjoining the piece left to my daughter Emeranthe.
I bequeath to the heirs of my son Adrien deceased an arpent of seven deep of my said property located next to the piece of Cordilier Gautreaux.
I bequeath to the heirs of my two daughters Celeste and Caroline all two deceased, two arpents by seven arpents and located next to the piece belonging to the heirs of Adrien Aucoin.
This is how I want my property to be divided and shared after my death. I leave no heirs except to those who are mentioned in this will and I am free of debt at the moment.
I’ve known about succession records for years. In some states, they’re known as probate records. In Louisiana, they seem to be called successions. Basically, they’re what’s filed after someone dies in order to make a legal record of how their property was distributed.
You can find out useful information from succession records. They usually spell out which children were living at the time of a parent’s death, the death date itself and an inventory of the deceased’s property. Often times, the record notes the spouses of the daughters.
I was reading through an ancestor’s succession record a few months ago when I came across the mention of a will. I looked through the entire file and couldn’t find the will. At first, I assumed it just wasn’t included in the record. Then I thought to ask someone at the Clerk’s Office.
The answer to my question taught me another new word: conveyance. Conveyance records are basically property records. There, tucked into the conveyance records at the St. Mary Parish courthouse, was the will of my great-great-great grandmother. Alas, it’s in French so I’m still in the process of translating it. But how cool is it to find something that expressed her final wishes?
Assumption Parish has a will book with wills from the 1800s. It’s been scanned in and shared here.
Here’s one that I transcribed from Judge Bella Hubbard‘s will:
In the name of God amen! I Bela Hubbard of the Parish of Assumption and State aforesaid, sound in body and mind, being desirous to dispose of my property, which Providence has been pleased to bestow on me, solemnly declare, this present instrument of writing, to contain my last will and testament, and which I have been induced to make from my own voluntary movement and written and signed the same without the persuasion or suggestion of any person whomever and in matter, manner and form as follows to wit:
First, I desire that my body shall be committed to its mother earth without any vain show of ostentation.
Secondly, I bequeath and leave unto Melanie alias Mary Verret, my beloved wife, the daughter of August Verret and Mary Bijol his wife, of said Parish, the whole of my property, both moveable and immoveable, instituting her, my sole and universal heir and who on my demise shall be of full right, immediately seized, of all my property as aforesaid and which property she shall purely and simply enjoy until the day of her decease, which property shall then return to my legal heirs – the said Mary my wife, being bound to discharge and pay of all my debts.
Signed September 14th, 1841
Thomas Pugh first wrote his will in 1837, but he added to it over the years:
In the event of my death to which we are at all moments subject, I desire that this document so far as it goes to be my last will and testament.
My faithful negro man Slave Homer, I wish to set free comfortably supported as long as he lives.
I desire that three thousand dollars be given to my wife Eliza Pugh over and above her rightful portion of my Estate. She will understand the purpose for which this is intended and I trust cause it to be faithfully executed.
My old Negro woman Lucy, the mother of Homer, I wish comfortably supported from my Estate, free from labour for the balance of her life.
W.W. Pugh, my son Edward Pugh, I make my executors to settle up and close the whole of my Estate
Dec. 13, 1837
Addendums to the will:
This 7 day of June 1841:
I give to my wife the carriages and horses and Nathan the coachman and all the household furniture or so much of it as she chooses to take and I recommend to her to keep the property together at least till such time as the debts are all paid. I recommend her also to get W.W. Pugh to become tutor to our children, indeed this I earnestly desire.
June 8, 1841
In case of my incapacity or want of inclination on the part of my wife to execute the trust involved on the bequest of the three thousand dollars mentioned in the second paragraph of this instrument, then I request W.W. Pugh to take the said sum in charge and appropriate it to the support of a free colored boy named Henry Harrison now living in New Orleans under the care of an old yellow man named Essep or Isaac Taylor. When the boy Henry Harrison becomes to be 25 years of age, I desire the said W.W. Pugh to give up the said sum to him.
And now upon further consideration I associate my brother-in-law Arthur M. Foley with W.W. Pugh as administrators to my Estate and request both these gentlemen to have the kindness to accept the trust.
My Granny’s great-grandfather Joseph Florentin Montet died on Jan. 20, 1886. His son and namesake, Joseph Florentin Montet Jr., died just a few weeks later at a young age. I have no idea if they died of the same illness. They died before death certificates, and the local newspaper didn’t record the causes of death.
This much is clear: It was a bad time for the Montets. Florentin Sr. died first. His wife’s half brother died five days later. Then Florentin Jr. died quickly followed by Florentin Sr.’s sister-in-law.
Here’s how The Assumption Pioneer summed it up (I’ve clumsily translated the French to English): “In a calm and epidemic-free time, these consecutive and close trials seem to represent a fatality of which only God knows the end – our compliments and condolences to this respectable, honorable and honored family. Hope that providence will put the reward next to the misfortune.”
Successions were filed, and it’s clear from them that Florentin Jr.’s death was unexpected. Court officials just tacked his succession onto his father’s, giving it a 1/2 to differentiate it from his father’s succession number. Florentin Jr. was a young father when he died.
From Joseph Florentin Montet Sr.’s succession, here is the inventory of what he owned when he died:
The lower divided and separate half of a certain sugar plantation situated in the said parish of Assumption on the left bank of Bayou Lafourche, measuring six arpents and a quarter, more or less, front on said Bayou Lafourche probably by a depth of 40 arpents, bounded above by land of Bazile Ben and below by land belonging to the succession of Narcisse Templet, together with the double concession belonging thereto, said double concession measuring 222 3/100 arpents more or less.
The lower divided and separate half of lots No. 3, 4 and 5 of fractional section No. 55 in township No. 13, Range No. 15 East, which lower half of said lots contains 165 superficial acres, more or less, and is situated in the rear of the double concession of the above described plantation and is appraised by the said appraisers at the full sum of $820.
The one undivided half of the sugar house on the above described plantation and its machinery and accessories of two arpents of land on the center of which the said sugar house is situated, of the stable near said sugar house, of the cookhouse, harness house and cabin also near said sugar house, and of the corn mill on said plantation, appraised by the said appraisers at the sum of $2,000.
Seven mules, appraised in block for $1,050.
One mare and colt, $40.
One cow and calf, $20.
One stubble digger, $50.
Three No. 2 plows, $25.
One No. 1 1/2 plow, $5.
Three sets gears, $8.
Two spades and two shovels, $3.
Three hoes and two picks, $1.25.
Two three mule carts, $100.
Two cart saddles, $1.50.
One bagasse cart, $15.
One harrow, $4.
One croplut saw, $2.
One buggy, $20.
Corn seed, $75.
One old boiler now on land of the succession of James O’Keane on the Attakapas Canal, appraised at $20.
Cash on hand left by deceased, (unreadable) of crop of 1885, $1,673.56.
I pity any one with the main line of Frioux to trace. It could be Frioux, Fryou, Frillot, Frero or goodness knows what else.
I first came upon the name after discovering that my grandmother’s godfather, Oleus Oscar Montet, had been married before he married my Aunt Louise.
I always felt a little sorry for Oleus. He was always described to me as a very nice man who would give my mother and her sister fruit (a precious thing for a poor family). And he was married to Aunt Louise, who was never described in kind terms. Oleus and Louise had but one child, Paul, who died in his teens.
Ten years before he married Louise, Oleus married Josephine Frioux. She died a little more than a year after the wedding. My guess is that she died in childbirth, but I’m guessing because no one ever told me about Josephine. I stumbled across her in the Catholic record books.
Josephine’s father was Apolinaire Frioux. Her mother was Philomene Gautreaux. Josephine was the only daughter in a family of four children. When she was 14, her father died. Her mother died five years later. Josephine herself was only 20 when she died. I don’t know much about Josephine’s little family. One brother died young. The two other brothers moved to Texas. Frioux/Fryou/Frillot has been a tough name to trace.
The name Apolinaire was interesting to me, though, because Oleus’ mother had a sister who married an Apolinaire Frioux. I wondered if it could be the same man and if he had two families. It turns out he had three families (but all in a respectable way).
I hadn’t been able to make the link until I found a succession record for Celestine Aucoin, Oleus’ aunt and Apolinaire’s second wife. I knew Celestine died in the yellow fever epidemic. I didn’t realize that she had enough property for a succession to be filed.
In 1880, Apolinaire went to the Franklin courthouse to report that Celestine had died on September 24, 1879, leaving behind one (surviving) child, Florestine. Apolinaire wanted to get married again (only a year after burying poor Celestine) and needed to separate out Celestine’s property for their daughter.
Here’s the inventory:
A tract of land lying and being in the parish of St. Mary having two acres front on Bayou Boeuf and containing about 44 superficial acres more of less with adjoining tract to the rear line appraised and valued at $350.
Nine heads of horned cattle.
One small Creole mars (I have no idea what this means).
Total=$452, half of which went to Florestine.
If you read successions, you read a lot about family meetings. I doubt they were as formal as the legal papers make them sound. Regardless, in one description of a family meeting, it was revealed that Apolinaire wanted to marry a Philomene Gautreaux and that it would be his third marriage.
So now I know that Apolinaire was Oleus’ father-in-law and uncle.