The lead-in for this episode says that Tom Bergeron will follow the dramatic trail of his father's French family, including a young family that endured starvation and religious persecution. He will be moved by the actions of one of his ancestors, who was brave enough to leave France behind.
Bergeron is a two-time Emmy Award-winning television host. He began as a disc jockey in radio but by 1998 was the host of Hollywood Squares (well after the days of Paul Lynde, unfortunately). He gained some measure of fame as the host of America's Funniest Home Videos (a program on which a good friend of mine worked, in the Bob Saget days) and now is known for Dancing with the Stars, where he is in his tenth season. He divides his time between Los Angeles and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He lives with Lois, his wife of 33 years, and their two daughters.
Bergeron begins by telling us that he grew up in New England with what he considers to have been a typical family life. His mother was Mary Catherine Costello; his father was Adrian Raymond Bergeron, Jr. He went to Catholic grade school for eight years. His was the classic family: father, mother, brother, sister, and a pet. As far as he knows, he is Irish on his mother's side and French on his father's.
He spent more time with his father's family growing up. He knew one of his great-great-grandparents (lucky him!): His father's grandmother was called "Mi-me" (or at least that's the closest I can come to approximating his pronunciation without using diacritical marks), which Bergeron thinks might be French for "grandmother." He has no idea what her actual name was.
Bergeron thinks that his family went from France to Canada and then to the United States. He apparently has already discovered that looking for family history can be like driving in a fog. Growing up, his family didn't talk much about about their history. Now he is interested in learning how the Bergerons came to the United States, what they went through, and about them as people.
Bergeron begins his journey of following the trail of bread crumbs by meeting with Kyle Betit at the Portsmouth Public Library, probably not far from his home. Betit has built a family tree on Ancestry.com for him to look at. (We, however, do not really get to look at it; there are few camera shots, and they go by quickly.) We start with Bergeron himself: Thomas "Tom" Raymond Bergeron, born May 6, 1955 in Haverhill, Essex County, Massachusetts. We move from him straight to "Mi-me", who it turns out was Marie Azilda "Memere" (mémère translates to "old woman" and is French Canadian for "grandma") Gaudrault, born December 27, 1883 in Les Eboulemonts, Charlevoix, Québec, Canada; died September 23, 1977 in Haverhill. Bergeron is surprised at the name Marie; he never knew what her name was. There is a small amount of discussion about the fact that the French in Québec are almost all Catholic. We see glimpses of a few more names: Moses (Moïse) Bergeron; Michel Bergeron, born 1842, died 1929; Joseph Bergeron, born 1804, died 1883. The camera zooms in on Marie-Josèphe Vanasse dit Précourt (but no discussion about dit names).
Bergeron wonders when his father's side of the family came from France, and Betit directs him to look at Suzanne Rabouin, born November 23, 1655, died 1755. She was the daughter of Bergeron's 9th-great-grandmother Marguerite Ardion, born 1636–1640 in La Rochelle, France, died unknown (yeah, sure it's unknown). She married Jean Rabouin in 1663; he was also born in La Rochelle. Bergeron finds this information intriguing and asks if they met in France and then came over. Betit, who apparently is trained to lie on camera (which makes him a better actor than Kelly Clarkson), says, "In this case we don't know." (Sure, you don't.)
Now that Bergeron knows who his first French ancestors were to come to the New World, he wants to know the next step. Betit recommends he continue his search in La Rochelle, of course.
As Bergeron departs, he's already having a good time but is wondering why his 9th-great-grandparents went to Canada, whether they knew each other in France, who were the parents of his 9th-great-grandmother (what about his 9th-great-grandfather?), and whether they were upset when she left. That sounds like an interesting list of beginning questions to me.
As he drives around in La Rochelle (I noticed he did his own driving everywhere), Bergeron says he wants to find out why Marguerite would leave for Canada. He's impressed by the feeling of real history in the city, that you can sense thousands of years gone by. He is likely seeing the same buildings that Marguerite saw when she was a child there. He goes to the La Rochelle archives (La Charente-Maritime Archives Départementales), where historian Kevin C. Robbins of Indiana University suggested they meet. The first thing Robbins has Bergeron do is put on a pair of the infamous white conservator's gloves. Then out comes a 1623 register of notary contracts; Robbins knows that this particular notary worked primarily with Protestants. There is a marriage contract for Ardion and Soret, Marguerite's parents.
Bergeron admits immediately, "I can't even pretend to read any of this." Conveniently, Robbins has a translation handy. Before they get around to the contract, there's discussion of the fact that the Reformed religion (Protestant, but specifically Huguenot) was typical for La Rochelle at the time; about 80% of the city was Protestant. The Catholic kings of France were suspicious of Protestants, and Protestants thought that the church was corrupt, greedy, and focused on money (well, you can't fault them on that).
|February 1623 registration of marriage|
of Pierre Ardyon and Suzane Soret
(their names are just above the
signature at the bottom)
And what was in the future for this newly wedded couple? This was a period of growing tension. The Catholic kings had been hunting down the Protestant community.
The narrator tells us that the French Royal Army tried to take La Rochelle in 1572 but failed. After this, Protestants in the city minted their own coins and ran their own municipal government, and many of them prospered. King Louis XIII, who came to power in the early 1600's, considered the city a threat to Catholic control and decided to make an example of it.
In 1627, royal forces of the Catholic king surrounded La Rochelle for another siege. To learn more about what happened, Robbins directs Bergeron to a colleague who specializes in the military situation in that period. In the meantime, Robbins "intend[s] to pursue" more research on "what happened to Marguerite" and will let Bergeron know what he finds. (Have you noticed there's no more mention of the 9th-great-grandfather?)
Bergeron says this is the first day he is starting to see the silhouette of his ancestor through the haze. As she becomes more real to him, he is becoming more emotionally invested in the search.
|la tour Saint-Nicolas|
|map of La Rochelle showing|
the second, outer, wall
By the spring of 1628 things were looking pretty bleak for the town. Thomson has a translation of an account written by Pierre Mervault, who survived the siege: A Journal of the Last Siege of the City of Rochel, Begun the 20 of July 1627. The original book (in French) was printed in the 17th century. Bergeron reads two short sections. (The translation style is . . . interesting.)
At this time the necessity, which was horrible, obliged divers to seek ways and means to pass the Line, others to scatter themselves in Vineyards, to gather even but Virgin Grapes, and some to render themselves willingly. It was now published in the Camp, upon pain of death, not to suffer them to approach the Line, nor to take Prisoners any that should come out of Rochel, but by Musket-shot force them to return within their Counterscarp and Ports, from whence many were killed, choosing whether to finish their lives by a Musket-Bullet, than to return home to die there miserable of Famine: And many Women and Maids of the common people, going into the Vineyards, were violated, and beaten with Forks, and shafts of Halberts; then stripped as naked as when they came from the Wombs of their Mothers, and so sent back to the City; and in this sort I have seen some return: But to meet them, other Women went to carry them Gard-robes and Cloaks to cover their nakedness.
While reading this section Bergeron comments on how some people were committing suicide by deliberately choosing to walk out where the soldiers will shoot them. He is also struck by the fact that the royal army was raping and beating women. In the second section, things aren't going any better.
October 19, 1628
Now the Famine increased dreadfully, nothing being left, the greatest number having in three Months time not known what Bread was, nor any thing of ordinary Provisions, Flesh of Horses, Asses, Mules, Dogs, Cats, Rats and Mice, were all eaten up; there was no more Herbs or Snails left in the Fields, so that their recourse was to Leather, Hides of Oxen, skins of Sheep, Cinamon, Cassia, Liquorish out of Apothecaries Shops, Flemish, holewort frigased, Bread of Straw made with a little Sugar, Flower of Roots, Irish Powder, Belly of the skin of Beasts and Sheep, Horns of Deer beaten to Powder, old Buff Coats, soles of shoes, Boots, Aprons of Leather, Belts for Swords, old Pockets, Leather Points, Parchment, wood beaten in a Mortar, Plaster, Earth, Dung (which I have seen with my own eyes) Carrion, and Bones that the Dogs had gnawn, and indeed all that came in their sight, though such food gave rather death than sustenance, or prolongation of it, from whence there passed not a day that there died not two or three hundred, or more persons, of such sort, that not only the church-yards, but then the Houses, Streets, and out-parts of the City were in a little time filled with dead bodies, without having other Sepulchres than the places where they fell, the living not having so much — (and I couldn't read the end)
Bergeron exclaims, "They were eating leather?!" He is astounded and horrified by what the king was doing to the population of La Rochelle.
It becomes obvious that La Rochelle had to surrender. When it did so, only about 5,000 people were left. The siege had killed three quarters of the population. Obviously, Pierre and Suzanne survived (because from what we saw earlier, Marguerite's birth wasn't until the 1630's). In profound contrast to the detailed description of the siege, everything in the city looks perfectly normal now.
Bergeron is somewhat subdued after the revelation of what his 10th-great-grandparents survived. We see him apparently the next day, because while he is surprised at how emotional his reaction is to their circumstances, he wonders what he will learn "today" and asks, "Haven't I been through enough?" Even though he knows his ancestors have been dead for hundreds of years, he hopes things went well for them.
Kevin Robbins has returned with some "newly discovered" information and has arranged to meet Bergeron at the Médiathèque in La Rochelle (it appears to be part of the public library system). Bergeron is hoping that Robbins has the next chapter in his search. Robbins starts with a book of baptisms from November 1632–July 1638 (and something else, but I couldn't read the rest of the very aged handwriting on the cover), and since we were shown at the beginning of the episode that Marguerite was born 1636–1640, I was expecting her baptism to be shown. Indeed, I was not disappointed. In the church of Villeneuve, the only Protestant (i.e., Huguenot) church still allowed by the king, Marguerite Ardion, daughter of Pierre, was baptized August 11, 1636, eight years after the siege was over. (I looked several times for Marguerite's baptism, and I just can't find it in the La Rochelle records that are online. If someone else finds it, please let me know!)
|Burial registration of Pierre Ardion,|
47 years old
The men discuss that after Pierre died, Suzanne would have been in a difficult position. As a single mother, she probably would have faced the need to work. (Why wouldn't she remarry? Was that not common among the Huguenot community in La Rochelle at this time? And based on the discussion, I have to assume that Pierre must not have had much money, even though he was a master stonemason, though that might be partly due to lingering aftereffects of the siege.) After talking about this, Robbins takes out a book of deaths from 1647–1658. Bergeron definitely seems more on the ball than a lot of the celebrities we've seen on this program. Not only is he able to read the cover, he asks, "Now we're gonna find out when mom died, right?" And then they cut to a commercial.
|Burial registration of Suzanne Soret,|
50 years old
The next book is particularly fragile, and Robbins handles it very carefully. (Then why handle it just for an entertainment program??!!) It is another book of marriages; it includes a contract for the marriage between Marguerite and Laurent Baudet on January 12, 1659. This comes as a shock: Marguerite was married before she married Bergeron's 9th-great-grandfather in Québec? The translation shows that Baudet was a shoemaker from La Rochelle, son of the late Simon Baudet, who was a stevedore; Marguerite is identified as the daughter of the late Pierre Ardion. Baudet was illiterate; instead of a signature, he made his mark. Bergeron turns to the camera, breaks the fourth wall, and exclaims, "You can do better, Marguerite!" Looking at the dates, Marguerite converted less than two weeks before her marriage. It seems pretty clear that the conversion was done only so she could marry; she was a survivor and did what she needed to do.
Robbins points out a marginal note: A son, Laurent Beaudet, was baptized on February 21, 1662. (Unfortunately, I couldn't find the Beaudet records either.) Of course, Bergeron hasn't heard about this child and can't imagine Marguerite would have taken such a small infant with her on the cross-Atlantic journey. Robbins says he looked but could not find a death or burial registration for either of the two Laurents. Bergeron asks where he should go next, and Robbins tells him to investigate Marguerite in Québec. As the two men part, Bergeron says, "Merci," and Robbins responds, "Je vous en prie" ("You're welcome."). I was pleasantly surprised at how good Bergeron's French pronunciation was, such as when saying Québec and Suzanne (and far, far better than the mangling that Melissa Etheridge did). Sometimes he sounded better than Robbins.
While driving, Bergeron says he was not expecting so many tragedies on top of what Marguerite's parents had experienced during the siege. He hopes Marguerite had a happy ending with Jean in Québec. He drives by some wall art of a young girl who looks like a hitchhiker; she is carrying a suitcase that has "La Rochelle Québec" printed on the side. Is that what graffiti looks like in La Rochelle?
In beautiful Québec City, Bergeron heads to the National Archives of Québec (which is an interesting turn of phrase, considering that Québec is not a nation). He wants to find Marguerite's marriage to his 9th-great-grandfather, which had to have taken place between 1662–1663. Archivist Peter J. Gagné of the Musée de la civilisation of Québec City is waiting to meet him. Bergeron sees white conservator's gloves and knows he's going to learn things.
Gagné shows Bergeron something, which he correctly guesses is a marriage contract. Bergeron recognizes Marguerite and Jean's names and even the date, October 17, 1663 (by this point I was pretty sure that Bergeron has a good working knowledge of French). Gagné hands him a translation and he says, "Thank you. These have been very helpful." (I really enjoyed his wry sense of humor.) The marriage contract stated that Marguerite was a widow from her first marriage to Beaudet. Bergeron asks if that means Beaudet died in La Rochelle. All Gagné can tell him is that there is no mention of Beaudet in Québec records.
|Registration of October 28, 1663 marriage of Jean Rabouin and Marguerite Ardion|
Gagné now turns to an important history lesson. The fact that Marguerite came to Canada in 1663 with nothing, and that Rabouin was willing to accept responsibility for her son as part of the marriage contract, most likely means that Marguerite was a fille du roi, or a "daughter of the king" (and if she was, then by extension, her first husband had to be dead before she left, or she couldn't have come as a fille). (What Gagné doesn't discuss, at least not from what we saw, is that he is pretty much the authority on the filles du roi. He wrote a two-volume work which has biographies on all of the filles.) Until 1863, there was a significant imbalance in the number of men and women in New France, with about six to ten times more men than women.
The narrator steps in to elaborate. From 1663–1673 the French crown arranged for and funded about 800 unmarried women to immigrate to New France. They were known as the filles du roi because the travel expenses were paid by the king's treasury. Marguerite was among the first group of women sent. Their job was to marry, have children, and help create a sustainable colony for France.
Bergeron suggests this was analogous to an arranged marriage, but Gagné corrects him. The fille could choose her own husband. In the economics of supply and demand, she had the supply, and she could demand what she wanted. For Marguerite, this meant that she could stipulate that her husband-to-be accept and provide for her son from her first marriage. Women held negotiating power, which was unprecedented for the time. The program was very successful, and many (most?) of the women had large families.
But wait, Bergeron wants even more. How can he find out about Marguerite's children? Gagné says he needs to go to Nôtre Dame de Québec (hey, maybe Bergeron will run into Bryan Cranston there!), where he has a colleague who can be of assistance.
Bergeron finds it powerful to learn that Marguerite's baby survived. He can appreciate that Marguerite was a strong woman: He is married to a strong woman, and both of his daughters are strong. He's starting to like Marguerite a lot.
|Baptismal record for Jacques Ardion|
The next item Little shows is an estate inventory dated September 6, 1679, which suggests someone had died. She provides only the translation; we don't see the original. Jean Rabouin was listed as the widower, so Marguerite had died by the age of 43. Rabouin was the guardian of the following minors: Marie, 16 years old; Suzanne, 14; Marguerite, 12; Izabel, 10; Anne, 9; Magdelene (7, though not stated on air); and Jacques, 4 (the child whose baptism we saw). (The baptismal records for Jacques and all six girls are available online, as is the record for at least one more child. Birthdates: Marie, April 12, 1664; Suzanne, November 23, 1665; Marguerite, August 25, 1667; Izabel [Elisabeth], August 27, 1669; Anne, May 16, 1671; Magdelene, July 25, 1673; and Marie Angelique, September 28, 1677, who does not appear to have survived to 1679.) The number of children surprises Bergeron. (Marguerite's first son, Laurent, is not discussed, but if he was still alive, he would have been about 17, so he possibly wasn't considered a minor, Rabouin probably was not legally responsible for him anymore, and he wasn't covered by the guardianship.)
Church bells ring in the background, and Little turns her head to listen to them (possibly concerned that they might interfere with the taping?). Bergeron jumps in and says, "The bells are tolling for Marguerite right now." This man is quick on his feet.
Marguerite died at the Hôtel Dieu, which is not a hotel, as Bergeron thinks, but a hospital. She probably died of an infectious disease.
The last document Little has is a map of landowners, on which Jean Rabouin's name appears. The map is of a large island (Île d'Orléans) in the St. Lawrence River, about five miles out of Québec City. It was the site of some of the initial colonization of the area. Bergeron is excited: "We get to go there!" Little adds that he should visit Ancestral Park, which has a monument to the founders of Québec. She points out to him that his family is special because he is a descendant of a fille du roi, the Canadian equivalent of being a Mayflower descendant.
Bergeron appears to be surprised and says that he was so focused on Jean Rabouin (really? the entire episode has been about Marguerite's family; besides, he started out wanting to know about the Bergerons) he hadn't been thinking about how important Marguerite was. Now he's blown away and says that Marguerite has emotionally taken root for him.
On his way to Île d'Orléans, Bergeron is looking forward to walking the land where Marguerite lived with her children. He now can appreciate what the filles meant to Québec. At Ancestral Park (Parc des Ancêtres-de-l'Île-d'Orléans) he finds Jean and Marguerite's names on the founders monument (La mémorial des familles souches de l'île d'Orléans). He then drives to where Rabouin's land was. There's a lot of land (but it isn't clear how much of it actually belonged to Rabouin). (When he got out of the car to walk around, I noticed that he was carrying his jacket, which seemed odd on such a sunny day. Maybe the car didn't get to stay in that spot?)
Bergeron becomes philosophical at the end. We learn from the past to improve and enrich the present. He has been moved by the stories of his ancestors' lives and was more emotional than he had expected. He's now proud to be a descendant of a fille du roi. Even when your ancestors have been dead for more than 300 years, if you listen, you can still learn from them. He had anticipated that this search was going to be more of an intellectual experience, but it's great that he opened up to the emotional side of what he learned. He closes by saying that life doesn't play out as you think it will.
And to close this season's commentary, I have a little to say about the "Into the Archives" highlights episode, which I was able to watch before it disappeared from my On Demand listings. As I had expected, even though the commercials had hyped the never-before-seen footage, most of what we saw was familiar. Two scenes got my attention. The first was one from the Julie Chen episode, where we learned that the reason her grandfather Lou Gaw Tong built the school in his hometown of Penglai was because his mother had been murdered by hooligans. Lou felt that the reason this had happened was because children were not being educated and therefore did not feel they had anything to work toward. This was a powerful scene; I wish it had been included in the full episode.
The second set of scenes that caught my eye came from the Valerie Bertinelli episode. I noted a couple of times in my commentary that her ancestry through Edward I probably would go back to Charlemagne, but I hadn't found the information. Well, guess what they did — the Herald of Arms, Peter O'Donoghue, took her ancestry back to William the Conqueror, and from him to Charlemagne! I also found a handy page online listing royal descendants of Charlemagne; the first one on the page is the lineage of William the Conqueror. So I really was right! Additional scrolls extended the lineage back to Adam and Eve and then to God, but O'Donoghue said Bertinelli might not want to put too much faith in those.