Penisson Family, St. Mary Parish Genealogy, Succession Records, Uncategorized

In 1883, the kids weren’t alright

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.

In the end, the kids were alright.


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.


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!

Assumption Parish Genealogy, Cemeteries, Uncategorized

Christ Episcopal Church in Napoleonville

I’ve driven past this church for years. It’s off a state highway that runs through Napoleonville. That little archway has always beckoned me. This weekend I finally pulled over and explored the world behind it.

Long weekends are made for rambles. This is Christ Episcopal, which was designed by an NYC architect. For some reason, he wanted it to have the feel of an English country church even though it’s in a Louisiana country town. This church was an English-speaking oasis in French-speaking Napoleonville.

A cemetery is at the back of the church. This lovely statue holds watch over the graves, all of them magnificent even though some are crumbling.

The church dates to 1853 and was built at a cost of $9,500. Time hasn’t always been kind to it. During the Civil War, Union soldiers used it as a barracks and later a stable. The stained glass became a target for shooting practice.

The creation of the church was a true collaboration by the Episcopal members of a largely Catholic community. Napoleonville was very Cajun in the 1850s, but a few residents weren’t Catholic and they wanted their own church. New Hampshire native Ebeneezer Eaton Kittredge donated a corner of his plantation for the church and cemetery. Col. William Whitmell Pugh supplied the cypress and bricks. George Ament oversaw the construction and is buried in the church cemetery.

The original congregation numbered just 21 members. Not all were Episcopalian. Some were Catholics who wanted to participate in “so great a good.” Let’s face it: They were probably curious.

After the war, the congregation pulled together once again. They held church services in the courthouse down the road while rebuilding their ruin of a church.

The church would later be struck by lightning and ravaged by other acts of nature. Still, it endured.

At times, the church has been a bit of a hotbed for controversy. One clergyman, Quincy Ewing, embraced women’s suffrage and the equality of black people during the early 1900s. Enraged by a sermon on women’s suffrage, U.S. Sen. Walter Guion stormed out and quit the church. Ewing survived the controversy, largely because his family donated the land for the church.

Today, Christ Episcopal is one of the oldest Episcopal churches west of the Mississippi River. The grounds were quiet when we visited. We ignored the “private property” sign, kept to the pathways and respected the serene beauty. Hopefully, we didn’t offend.


Creekmore family photos

Before she married, my grandmother was a Creekmore.

Her Creekmores lived in East Texas. As a child, I went to several family reunions and funerals for the Creekmores. I fondly remember rambles down country roads, walks through the woods, visits to log cabins and picnics at state parks that always accompanied a Creekmore family visit.

This is most certainly my great grandparents – perhaps with one of their daughters?

My grandmother dearly loved her many uncles and few aunts. Unfortunately, I didn’t see everyone enough to keep the names straight so I need help with family photos.

My grandmother with her sisters. The man must be an uncle.
Assumption Parish Genealogy, lafourche parish, Montet Family, Uncategorized

My distant relation, the congressman

According to the internet – and we all know everything we read there is true – Kate Middleton and Prince William are distant cousins. More specifically, they’re fourteenth cousins, once removed.

Reading that inspired me to find the most famous branch of my family tree.

Here it is:

I am distantly related to the late Congressman Numa Francois Montet. His grandfather and my great-great-great-great grandfather were brothers. It’s amazing we never met with close ties like that!

I don’t know much about Numa other than that his tomb in the Plattenville cemetery is very grand compared to my poorer relations’ crumbling tomb. Apparently his Montets were more prosperous than my Montets.

Isn’t genealogy fun?

The other side of the family, Uncategorized

Searching for a tombstone in Caldwell Parish

After my grandfather died in May, my grandmother started giving me her genealogy files. Let’s just say we may need to build an addition to the house.

My grandmother was a dedicated researcher when her health permitted it. She visited libraries, searched archives, wrote letters, made phone calls and explored every branch of the family tree.

I’ve so enjoyed reading her correspondence and notes. And I’ve discovered that she and my grandfather were sometimes a sleuthing team when it came to genealogy.

In 1971, my grandmother wrote the “Caldwell Watchman” in Columbia, Louisiana. She and my grandfather were on the hunt for the grave of his great-great-grandfather, Robert T. Stark. My grandfather apparently even made the drive from Houma to Columbia and poked around a few cemeteries. At the time, there were more than 60 cemeteries in Caldwell Parish so I’m not sure how many he actually visited.

The point is they turned to the local newspaper for help. Local newspapers – as Miss Marple always stated – are a wonderful resource. A few years ago, when a serial killer was snatching women in Baton Rouge, I was a newspaper reporter. I clearly remember the Baker-Zachary bureau reporter, who’d been around forever, musing aloud that someone should take a look at Derrick Todd Lee since he was known in the community for peeping into women’s windows. Newspaper reporters know stuff.

But I digress.

The Caldwell Watchman’s genealogy columnist (how many of those are left nowadays) H. Ted Woods opined that Robert T. Stark probably was buried on his property as old-timers were back in the day. He wondered if anyone had even bothered to place a marker.

So my grandparents did some more digging and provided more clues. They learned that the Stark family lived at Alfa “several miles west of Kelly on the mail route between Columbia and Castor Sulphur Springs.” That clears nothing up for me, but apparently Mr. Woods was familiar with the area.

There also was a sighting of the marker at some point. According to our family, one of Robert T. Stark’s grandsons visited the old home place and found Robert T. Stark’s grave about five and a half miles from Columbia a quarter mile from the old farm and not far from the road. It was located in an area with four graveyards close together. 

Mr. Woods couldn’t think of an area with four graveyards close together – and he was a local expert. Sadly, it’s a mystery my grandparents never solved, even with Mr. Woods’ help.

I was curious about Mr. Woods. Was writing genealogy columns in a small town his full-time job? Turns out, it wasn’t. He owned the newspaper and contributed his considerable knowledge even after retirement.

For now, I’m smiling, thinking of my grandfather making the drive to Columbia in search of his ancestor. He and my grandmother were always a team, even when it came to shaking loose the mysteries in the family tree.

The other side of the family, Uncategorized

Molsey Rhodes: The devil could not live with my people

This is Angeline Rhodes Bennett, whose mother wasn’t happy about her lot in life.

I’ve been going through my grandmother’s genealogy files. While looking at her research on her mother’s family, I came across some interesting letters.

Molsey – no idea what her maiden name was – married Willis Rhodes. They had at least five children: Arnold, Susan, Samuel, Newton and Martha Angeline. Samuel was my grandmother’s great-grandfather.

The Rhodes family lived in Texas and Louisiana. Angelina, for example, married a John Bennett and raised a family in Frierson, Louisiana. When Angelina’s husband died, she buried him in the back yard, put their surviving four children in a surrey and moved back to Texas.

The letters I found were written by Molsey and transcribed by Avis Eldridge Jones. I don’t know who Avis was, but a quick internet search told me she died a few years ago.

Here’s one from Molsey to Angeline (I’m going to add punctuation but leave the misspellings):

April 1871

Well Angeline I tak my pen in hand to let you know that I am well at this tim. Hopping thes few lins wil find you well. I am at John at this tim. I hav bin here ever sens September. I saved your letters. Was glad to hear that you was aliv. You hear that I was ded. I was mity sick in Jun. I had flux. I com back in Jully. I hav no hom. The devel cold not liv with my popl. I hant bin to Peter Martins sens Dan did. He did in October after he left you. Susan had a son born then I was with her. I hant bin to Matthew in too years. Molsa is marred to Len Smith has a daughter. I hant bin to Newton in monts. Arnold has not bin her. I hant heard from thim in a long tim. I expet to see her befor long. I wont to see you mity bad. If you will com I will go hom with you. Writ soon. Send your letter to Orthas and let me know when you will com so I may be redy to go with you. Thear is a grat many dethes. The new mony has him fatel. Bud Rees is ded. Doc Gorum. Ther is so many I cant writ them donn. I hey no mre at present but remans your loving Mother untel dath. So good by.

I don’t know who some of these people were, but I gather that Molsey was jumping from one child to the next. She didn’t seem too happy about it. I believe she died in 1871 so I hope Angeline came and got her before she died.


Keep in touch – even if it’s through Zoom

The picture above is from the last Zoom call we had with my 89-year-old grandfather. He collapsed a few minutes later and died that night of an aneurysm.

We were joking about my background, which is of the journalism building at LSU. Granddaddy joked that we’d upgraded our house to a mansion. Hours later, he was gone.

Granddaddy had lymphoma, although that’s not what killed him. One of my frustrations with the stay-at-home order is I knew we needed to stay away from my elderly grandparents. That’s a tough restriction when a doctor’s just given your loved one two years – at best – to live.

Fortunately, we thought of Zoom. Soon, we had the entire family chatting from Louisiana, Arizona, Virginia and Texas. We got to do two calls, and I cherish them.

My point is: Don’t let this virus keep you from talking to your relatives and seeing their faces. In today’s age of Zoom calls and FaceTime, social distancing doesn’t mean distancing yourself from communication.


My mother-in-law’s wartime scrapbook

My beautiful mother-in-law grew up during World War II.

My mother-in-law, Carmen May LeBleu Guilbeau, grew up on a farm in Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana. She was born in 1928. Flipping through a scrapbook she put together as a young woman, it quickly became evident to me how much World War II impacted her.

There’s photo after photo of servicemen. Clipping after clipping of servicemen. These had to be boys – and girls – she knew from school or church (probably both). Some probably were distant relatives since Louisiana Catholic families tend to have lots of relatives. I started wondering how many of them came home.

This newspaper clipping has survived 75 years in my mother-in-law’s scrapbook.

Wilbert and Wilfred were the twin sons of John and Emma Hebert. I’m pretty sure they were my mother-in-law’s cousins. Both made it back home from the war.


More Heberts! Let’s hope this doesn’t turn out like “Saving Private Ryan.” Four brothers fighting in the same war. No worries. All survived. Can you imagine how worried their parents were?


Here’s another set of siblings from Jefferson Davis Parish who served their country. Inez Migues was a schoolteacher who joined the WAAC. She and her brothers all attended Kinder High School, where Roland was a football star.

All made it back home, but Alvin died young from collapsed lungs.


No doubt this was another distant relative since my mother-in-law’s grandmother was a Langley. Claude died in 2004. By the way, his father’s name really was Fernest. That’s not a misprint.

A page from the scrapbook