Today I got to do just that.
When a woman, Marie, in my congregation heard that I had ancestors in a town about an hour away, she agreed to drive me there. The problem was that she didn't speak English, and I don't speak French. So she invited another member, Neris, to come along. She is from Venezuela and has been speaking French for 3 years and English for less than a year.
For those who know that I have no sense of direction, you'll appreciate how funny it was that I was asked to navigate. At first I tried to give directions in English and have Neris translate into French, but that was taking too long and making us miss turns, so I resorted to giving directions in French. What a pair we were!
straight, wait, what's straight in French? droit, but that means right! Oh, boy!
We were finally getting close to Viesly, when I saw a sign that made my heart stop.
"Wait!" I screamed out. "Can we go there?" It was in the opposite direction of where we needed to turn, but suddenly I just felt that I couldn't be this close to where the DeMoulins are from and not go see it. I didn't have any research I needed to do on the DeMoulin side, but I just had to see what Saint Vaast looked like.
As we got closer I saw a sign that read "Moulin en Vent" I asked Neris what vent meant and she said wind. And then I remembered that the DeMoulin windmill was in Saint Vaast. I asked if we could follow the sign to the windmill. Ever since I learned that our family, the DeMoulins, had a windmill, I've always wanted to see it.
Today I got my wish.
|A DeMoulin at the DeMoulin Mill|
I was so happy to see something that my ancestors actually owned and used. Even though my maiden name should have been DeMoulin but isn't (it's Buchanan), I've never felt more like a DeMoulin than today!
We decided to pop over to the Mairie which is the town hall that keeps the records. The sweet lady there looked up my third great grandfather Martin Joseph DeMoulin's birth record for me so that I could look at it.
|She thought it was so strange that I wanted her in the picture.|
This was a really neat moment for me since it was less than 18 months ago, I was visiting Martin's grave in Illinois.
We then jumped back in the car to head to Viesly when I noticed that we were really close to Quievy.
A distant cousin had asked me to look up a marriage record for her. She had gone to Salt Lake and they didn't have it. I went to the Lille Archives and they didn't have it. I remembered that the marriage occurred in Quievy, so when I saw the road sign for it, I asked if we could stop at their Mairie to look for it.
My friend Marie found it right away.
I was so happy to write my distant cousin to tell her I was bringing home a marriage record for her. By the way, it was Camille DeMoulin, Nathan's brother. Nathan DeMoulin is John Buchanan's father.
Off we go again to Viesly, but this time no more detours. By now I'm getting worried because I know that the Mairies close at noon and it is 11:45 a.m. Fortunately we were only 7 minutes away and got there just before 11:55 a.m.
We had five minutes to find what we were looking for.
The man at the desk was surprised to find out that someone from America had come all this way just to find a death date for an ancestor. Yeah, I'm persistent like that. He agreed to stay open an extra five minutes to look for it. I told him he has to find in 5 minutes what I've been looking for for over a year. He laughed.
No surprise, he couldn't find it. So we all agreed to break for lunch and meet again at 1:30 p.m.
We decided to first visit the cemetery. Neris is not a fan of cemeteries, but Marie and I love them. So Neris stayed close to my side, while we searched for any Besin names to see if we could find Stanislas' name. Turns out it wasn't too hard to find a Besin at the Viesly cemetery.
In fact just about every tombstone had a last name that I had typed at least once if not 10 times already onto my family tree. I've never been in a cemetery before where I truly felt surrounded by family.
Doesn't it look quiet and peaceful? Well, it was.
Next we decided to visit the church. I've seen many churches on this trip, but never one that I knew my ancestors had worshiped in.
This may not be the biggest church, or the most ornately decorated, but to me it is the most beautiful church I've seen on this trip.
|Where my ancestors were baptized.|
|Where my ancestors prayed.|
|Where my ancestors listened to the priest.|
|Where my ancestors sat.|
After visiting the church, we had some fruit and yogurt and then went back to the Mairie to get to work. The two staff members were amazing. They pulled out record after record trying to find Stanislas' death date and two of his children's, Sophie and Elizee, (Suzanne's siblings) but nothing, nothing, nothing.
At this point you probably are imagining that I'm getting pretty frustrated. I'm probably thinking, "I came all this way from Utah just to hit another dead end? Where is that miraculous event where the exact date appears at the exact time it is supposed to?" Not at all. If taking 24 years to solve a family history mystery has taught me anything it is this:
1) not finding something can sometimes give just as much information as finding something and
2) enjoy the journey and everything else you find along the way.
Unfortunately those in the room with me weren't sharing my sentiment. They were getting frantic and frustrated. I kept trying to reassure everyone that it is okay if we don't find anything, but no one seemed to believe me.
And then the miracle happened. Had we not taken all those detours earlier that morning, we would have missed the miracle.
An older gentleman walked in the door. I didn't think anything of it. But the younger staff member's mouth dropped open and she got really excited and started talking really fast. She looked at me like I needed to join in her excitement. She said something to Marie and suddenly Marie got really excited too, then Neris. Finally I said, "I need to know what is going on."
Neris said, "The staff has been saying for quite some time now that there is one man in the village who can read these records. And he just walked in the door!"
I was stunned. The very person they wanted to see has walked in? They quickly brought him over to the books and asked him to start reading. They said that they were trying to find a death date for a Sophie Besin.
Are you ready for this? He said, "My grandmother's name is Sophie Besin."
I showed him my family tree fan chart with Stanislas Besin as the child and he said, "I know these names, these people are my family. We are cousins."
The staff took us into a very nice room so that we could sit down and chat.
Now remember, I don't know French, and Neris has known French for 3 years and English for 1 year. As he begins to talk, Neris has a concerned look on her face. "I can't understand what he's saying," she says. So we ended up playing an excruciating game of "telephone." He would talk to Marie (for what felt like 10 minutes) Marie would repeat it to Neris (for what felt like 2 minutes) and then I would get half a sentence. At first I was frustrated but the thought came to me to just relax and let him talk and don't worry about what he's saying.
This went on for 2 1/2 hours. He told story after story about my ancestors in Viesly. Neris tried her best to translate but there were so many words she didn't know in English.
Here's what I was able to pick out:
Quievy was a place where they held witch trials.
A Catholic Bishop in 1723 conducted an intense census that is now considered a treasure in Viesly.
There are small stones in the houses with initials on them marking who lived where.
A full description of Stanislas' and Antoinette's specific jobs (they worked in textiles like everyone else until he became a Baptist missionary)
Finally he got up and left. I was sad. I barely understood anything he had said and now he's gone. He came back with a paper and a pen and asked for my email. He said that he is going to send me a map of Viesly that shows where each of my ancestors lived. I realized that thanks to Google Translate, we'd be able to exchange emails.
We exchanged contact information. And then of course we got a picture.
And I knew he was right, my search for my family has only just begun.