Newspaper articles

More from the Gibson mailbag

More Uncle Punch letters written more than a century ago by children in Gibson.

Aug. 2, 1896

Dear Uncle Punch: This is my first letter to The Times-Democrat. I am a little boy eleven years old. I study fourth reader, first geography, spelling and arithmetic. I have plenty of school friends. We play several kinds of games – spy, hiding switch, football and somersault. I enjoy reading The Times-Democrat so much, especially the C.D. The letters are splending – every single one of them. I am a perfect bookworm.

Now, dear Uncle, please publish this.

Yours affectionately, Gibson Lad.

(P.S.) Fairy Belle – Do you think my letter will escape the W.B.?


Dear Uncle Punch: As three letter days have passed without my appearance (and all added to your department new nieces and nephews), will again resume writing with the hope that the next letter day will add to Gibson a few more cousins. I am very

R.L. Gibson, for whom Gibson was named. Before him, it was known as Tigerville.

anxious to know who the Young Admiral is. I know not who they are, a boy or girl, as they did not place niece or nephew. We had a nice picnic on the 14th of May. It was given on a plantation about five miles from here; the place belonged to Senator R.L. Gibson. Water Lily, how did you enjoy your anniversary? I hope you had a nice time in New Iberia.

Dollie Kirk, I know you had a nice time on the 13th. I did. C. had a good time too. S.D. was very quiet. It was a wonder for her. Accept love.

The Young Admiral, I know the song of “You Can’t Play In Our Yard” and like it very much.

Cocodrie, I would like to know if I guessed right Sunday? Believe I did.

Dilcue R., There is a young lady here who speaks often of you. She met you in New Orleans last year. Her initials are E.P. She has a sister who writes for the C.D. under the name of Dollie Kirk. Her initials are E.P. also. Do you remember her?

Magnolia, you should have taken the name of Curly Locks. It would have suited you.

Fairy Bell, why did you not attend the party of the 13th. We had a nice time, but missed you.

Which one of the cousins know the song of “A Widow’s Plea for her Son?” I think it is a pretty song and a sad one.

Who likes vacation? I am sure I don’t; that is, I like it for a week or so, but no more. I do not think this vacation will be lonesome, as I do not expect to be home.

Well, Uncle Punch, I think I will come to a close, as I have already taken up too much space.

I remain your niece, Dahlia.


Dear Uncle Punch: Rainy weather has set in, and the days are long and dreary. I am still going to school. It will close in three weeks. I am so sorry. I don’t like to miss school. I am still getting acquainted with the nieces and nephews. I know Dollie Kick, Gibson Lad, Magnolia, Water Lily and Dahlia.

Fairy Belle.



Newspaper articles

Century-old children’s letters from Gibson, Louisiana

unclepunchUncle Punch was a children’s column that ran in the New Orleans newspaper The Times-Democrat more than a century ago. Children would write in – under fake names usually – and snatch papa’s paper to see if their letter got published.

Reading the letters is a lot of fun and gives a glimpse into Louisiana village life in the 1800s. I chose letters from Gibson, since that’s where my granny lived.  You can click HERE to learn more about Gibson in my other blog.

It appears the children were part of a writing club. Their letters included their hometown so children from the same town would speculate about who the other writers were.

Here’s Feb. 2, 1896:





Penisson Family

The marriage of Etienne Penisson and Anne Pageot

etiennepenissonmarriageThe truly lovely thing about France is that so many original records are online! The truly horrible thing about those records is that the handwriting is so bad. Really, I want to get out a ruler and rap the knuckles of whomever wrote some of them (in theory, of course; I realize the authors are long dead).

While I was searching for the Montets, I took a break to see if I could find a marriage record that I knew existed. One of my distant cousins hired a professional genealogist years ago to track down our Penisson family roots to France. It’s lovely what she found. I have the details of her notes, but I don’t have copies of the source material.

I dug into the records of the Loire-Atlantique archives, found the village of La Plaine and located my ancestors’ marriage record. It’s attached above. The handwriting on this one really isn’t that bad. Now to translate this …


Montet Family

Scouring the village of Cazoules, France, for Claude Guillaume Montet

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According to Google, this statue can be found in the village of Cazoules. 

As far as I can tell from my Internet sleuthing, there is not much in the village of Cazoules, France. Nearby Souillac appears much more attractive with its 12 century church and medieval buildings.

However, it’s possible that my ancestor Claude Guillaume Montet hailed from Cazoules – which makes it very attractive to me.

Today, Cazoules is home to roughly 400 people so it is very much a village. I can’t even find where it has a church.

I’ve been scrolling through registers hundreds of years old in search of Guillaume’s relatives. What I’ve found is exciting but far from conclusive.

For one thing, the registers for the year of his birth appear to be missing for Cazoules. I don’t know if that means there wasn’t a church and the villagers traveled to a neighboring town or if the registers are lost to history.

So I fast-fowarded my search a bit and looked to see if there were any Montets mentioned in Cazoules later in the 1700s. Eureka! I have no idea if these folks were related to Guillaume, but I’m very excited to have found them. At least they give me hope that I’m in the right spot.

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Hello, Pierre and Francois. Nice to meet you!

Montet Family

The search for Guillaume Montet’s roots

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 …

FGB Free Clinic – Case no. 2 – Claude Guillaume Montet

Petits Soins

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.

David C said…

This may be nothing, but…casting a wide net by searching for Montet 1737, in the results:

I notice the village of Fajoles, Lot, Midi-Pyrénées, which is ~100 km from Perigueux, Dordogne, Aquitaine.

More distant, I notice the village of Perigneux, Loire, Rhone-Alpes, ~400 km from Fajoles.

annick H. said…

I would tend to agree with you Ann. My parents live just a few km from Cazoules and the locals still say pretty much what sounds like “Cajoulez”. Since this is so close to Souillac that is and was much more important, would a search there also be warranted?

The FGB said…

David and Annick, Thank you both. Cazoulès still seems like the best shot, but Annick has a very good point about looking at Souillac as well.
Let’s see what Madame M. finds!

Montet Family

The sad story of the Montet children

Guillaume Montet’s children had a rather Dickensian childhood. Those who survived ended up in Louisiana, where life improved for them.

My research on the Montet family basically comes to a halt at Claude Guillaume Montet. I know who Guillaume’s parents were (he apparently never went by Claude), but I don’t know anything about them beyond their names. I do know quite a bit about Guillaume, and it’s a sad story. It makes for a sad childhood for his children.

The Acadians were scattered to the wind when they were tossed out of Nova Scotia. Guillaume’s wife, Marie Josephe Vincent, ended up in England with her parents and brother.

Guillaume was born in France on Jan. 23, 1735/36, and married in Liverpool, England, to Marie Josephe Vincent on April 19, 1763. Marie Josephe was in England because she and other Acadians were imprisoned there after being drummed out of Nova Scotia by the English. I have no idea what Guillaume was doing there since there’s no proof that he was ever in Nova Scotia.

The conditions in Liverpool were not good. An astonishing number died, and the survivors were shuffled into camps. It must have been a happy day when they were allowed to set sail for France.

Guillaume and Marie Josephe welcomed their first child in Morlaix, France. That child, Pierre Vincent Montet, was my direct ancestor.

Within a year of their wedding, Guillaume and Marie Josephe were in a French slum along with other Acadians disrupted by the forced deportation. Their first child, Pierre Vincent, arrived in 1764. Pierre Vincent is my ancestor.

Morlaix was no better than Liverpool. If the Acadians were expecting an end to their agony once they were on French soil, they were disappointed. They were warehoused in disease-riddled barracks in the port city. King Louis XV did little to turn the Acadian farmers into seaport workers and make them real members of the community.

Belle-Ile-En-Mer means the beautiful island in the sea.

Belle-Ile-En-Mer must have sounded like a dream to the young family when it was dangled in front of them like a piece of choice fruit. They could leave horrible conditions in Morlaix and settle on an island off the coast of France. They would even be given land to farm.

From 1761 to 1763, the island was in England’s hands in the never-ending tug-of-war between England and France over land. France needed the Acadians to tidy things up and help the island turn a profit. Monet painted here, obviously struck by the island’s wild beauty. The island is a great place to paint and fish and vacation. It’s not great for farming, as the Acadians soon learned.

The colonization attempt wasn’t a success. Crops died, livestock died and colonists died.

A map of Belle Ile En Mer borrowed from Nearly 80 families settled on the island. The Montet land was in Bangor.

Guillaume and Marie Josephe had seven more children at Belle-Ile-En-Mer. They settled at Bangor, an area of the island prone to strong gusts of wind. Monet painted Bangor.

The Montets had farm #59 in Kervarigeon. Living with the Montets were Marie Josephe’s mother and brother. Sadly, the tranquility wasn’t to last.

Daughter Marie Elizabeth died first. Then Marie Josephe died just a few weeks after delivering her last child. Marie Josephe was only 33. Guillaume followed her to the grave just two years later. The Montet children were orphans.

The Montet children were at sea for two months before arriving in New Orleans. The eldest daughter, Francoise, married and soon died.

The surviving children and Uncle Pierre made their way to Nantes, France, and set sail for the New World in 1785.  The Montet children’s ship was called La Caroline.

The Montets were recorded on the passenger list:

Pierre Montet, 22

Francoise, 19

Joseph Montet, 16

Jean Baptiste Montet, 13

Marguerite Montet, 10

Pierre Paul, 7

I don’t want to make it sound like they were completely adrift. They traveled with other Acadians and descendants. No doubt, it was a tight-knit group. But they had to have been scared. Uncle Pierre was on a different ship so it was just the six of them – and three of those six were very young.

Within a few years, though, the children had land, corn, a cow and four hogs. Not too shabby for a family of orphans!

I’ll take the children, one by one, and let you know what happened to them in future blogs.

Prison Records

Early Louisiana Prison Records

convictsI was looking through the card catalog at FamilySearch when I came across a new resource. This is not a happy resource, but it’s interesting and sad all at once.

FamilySearch has Louisiana penitentiary records for 1866 to 1963. They’re not indexed, but you can flip through the digital books. Click here to give them a look.

The records start in the year 1909 (but really start in the year 1908). Indexes to prisoners go back to 1866. I have no idea where the records for the earlier years are.

An early ledger records that a Will Carey received lashes for laziness and misconduct. 

By records, I mean these are mostly conduct slips. They’re not pretty reading. They basically record how many lashes prisoners received for infractions – anything from sodomy to escaping to stealing food. Sadly, many prisoners were lashed just for perceived laziness.

Joseph Bailey’s record shows he was beaten for intoxication but later turned into a model prisoner.

In later years, the records get more detailed and include what the prisoner was charged with and his next of kin.

I was looking at the records when I spotted someone in the 1800s with a surname spelled very similar my extremely rare maiden name. He was in jail for horse stealing. Fortunately, he’s not in my family tree. Maybe he was a wayward cousin that no one mentioned.