Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Mysterious Huguenot LeJays

Just Who Are these People and Why Can't They Be Found?

No family of mine is shrouded in as much obscurity as the LeJays. Talk about your brick walls! These folks are behind a lead wall of secrecy.

My LeJay connection is this: around 1860 or so, in De Soto Parish, Louisiana, Syntrilla [sometimes rendered "Centrilla"] Brayboy met a man named either Jim or Lewis LeJay. They ultimately had six children together, one of whom was Sylvia LeJay, who married Richard William Gines. Richard and Sylvia are my great-grandparents. Both Syntrilla and her LeJay husband had parents who came from South Carolina.

Here's the mystery: there are very few LeJays anywhere in the United States today. None turn up in census records in any state until 1910. But here's what else we know: in 1685, one Isaac LeJay, with wife Madeleine Fluery and daughter Magdalena, arrived in South Carolina from England and were granted 500 acres by the Lord Proprietors of Carolina. Thereafter, they seem to have disappeared. I found no LeJay in any record until 1725. In January of that year, one Adrien LeJay, arrived at New Orleans from places unknown. Beyond that, there is no further record of Adrien. The next official mention of the LeJays is in the 1910 census of De Soto Parish. What could account for a record gap of 185 years?

Some scholars say that the Huguenots dropped articles like "de," "la," and "le" from their French names leaving them more Anglicized. So while not many "LeJays" are to be found, "Jays" are numerous. But how to tell the English Jays from the erstwhile LeJays? I don't know a good answer. Remember: there are no easy cases in genealogy.

Anyway, the name change doesn't fully explain the dormancy of the LeJays in Louisiana for nearly two centuries. Nor does it explain the fact that more than 90% of modern LeJays in Louisiana are black.

So now what? Any ideas? Anyone? Hellloooo?

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