Francophile

While I was growing up, I was very interested in my mother’s German forebears, and much less so in my father’s French Canadian family. I did have the foresight to study French in high school, and, unlike every math or science class I ever took, I’ve retained most of the French I studied, except for the subjunctive tense.

My interest in Things French (Les Choses Francais) emerged when my son began kindergarten at a French Immersion school. At the same time, one of my brothers became interested in genealogy, and shared his information with me. It was fascinating to discover that Drouin is a common surname in Quebec (I’d only met two Drouins that weren’t family) and even more so, that they could all be traced back to Robert Drouin, from Normandy, France, who had emigrated to Canada (then New France) with the first batch of permanent settlers, not the usual soldiers, trappers, or missionaries. Robert’s marriage license to his first wife (who died, alas, very young and exhausted by childbearing) was the first marriage license issued in Canada. Even more exciting was the information that the house in Normandy where Robert had been born was still standing.

After my son graduated from middle school, he visited France with some of his class, and stayed with a most charming French family, the Passelergues, near Le Mans. He returned, enraptured with French customs and colors, and, especially, French food. I began an e-mail correspondence with Monsieur Passelergue, as he was fascinated by everything American, rather like Ron Weasley’s father’s obsession with muggles, and we became penpals, sharing ideas while correcting each other’s grammar and spelling. When they invited us to visit them in France the next summer, we did, and I truly loved every minute of it. No church was too old, no historical reference too obscure, no village too small for my enraptured attention. They took us to Robert Drouin’s house, the Normandy D-Day beaches and Chartres Cathedral among many such delights. They loaned bicycles to my husband and me, and we played “steeplechase”: spotting a church spire in the distance, pedaling to it, drinking cafe au lait outside at a bar, and then exploring the village, and, if I was lucky, an ancient unlocked parish church. Our hosts taught me to drink kir, corrected my French (which improved immeasurably) and even showed me how to cook, and eat, escargots.

Then, last year, I found out that a tour group was planned to return to Robert’s natal village in Normandy, Le Pin La Garenne, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of his birth. (As was usual then, no exact record exists of his birth date, but his baptism, in August, 1607, was duly noted in the parish register.) It was the trip, literally of the century, or perhaps four of them, so of course I joined up for my fist big solo adventure. I was the only traveler from the United States, all the others were from Canada, though some stateside Drouins joined us for the fetes. I traveled first to Quebec and spent a few days in Quebec City and Montreal, and then joined my relatives for the flight to France. What followed were two weeks fantastic beyond description. The history, architecture, culture, food–were all as fabulous as I found them two years before. And this had an additional bonus–I made the trip with my family, my cousins. I had truly come home.

Also regarding genealogy, the French Canadians have made it into a cottage industry, and since the initial population of French Canada was quite small, we’re all related in several ways, and have the intersecting family trees to prove it. In researching the ancestors of my grandmother, Nellie Pluff, we were intrigued that her grandmother, Marie duBois, apparently had no family at all. There’s not one relative attached to her name in any genealogy chart I’ve seen. My grandmother always claimed that her grandmother was a full-blooded Native American, and I can only presume that was Marie, whose ancestry, however admirable, was never written down. Marie’s name was later anglicized to Marie Woods, the literal translation of “duBois,” but she also passed down an important physical trait. My grandfather, John Drouin, was fair-haired and blue-eyed. But my grandmother, all her children, and all her grandchildren all have the typical coloring of a Native American. My father’s profile was exactly that shown on the Indian head nickel. Our hair color ranges from medium brown to black, our eyes are brown to almost black, our skin color ranges from ivory to copper. As a final note of coincidence, the charts show that Robert Drouin’s mother was also named Marie DuBois, though she never left the Perche region of France. So I have two ancestor named Marie duBois on my family tree, three hundred years, and one continent, apart.

I’ll post links to the Association Drouin and photos of the fete in the future.

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