Sunday, July 27, 2008

From Catholic Records to Illinois Slave Records

Le vingt deux fevrier mil huit cent treize a ete baptiste George ne de Julie esclave de fem Mv LaChange ont ete parrein Ignace et marrein Marguerite tous deux esclaves de Mde Ve D'Amour

So it says in the records of the Catholic Diocese of Belleville, Illinois, referring to one George Micheau. What does this mean? Keeping in mind that 19th century French is different from 21st century French, I used my self-taught genealogical French as well as my law and altar-boy Latin. Here's my original translation:
On the twenty-second of February, 1813, was baptized George, born of Julie, slave of Mr. LaChance; his Godparents were Ignatius and Margaret, both slaves of Mrs D'Amour.
But a couple of folks, including a reader in France, pointed out that I had missed or misunderstood somethings that turn out to be genealogically significant. For example, Julie's master is described as deceased (see the comments to the first post on this topic). And our Paris correspondent says:

Mde Ve = Mademoiselle veuve, in the Ancient Regime, Mademoiselle was used for the ladies, married or not. Today it is used only for unmarried woman, young or old.
"Veuve" means "widow" in French. So Ignatius and Margaret were owned by

Assuming that the translation is good (and thanks to my helpers, I'm confident that it is), we now perhaps have learned more about George Micheau (the elder) as we seek the origins of the Micheau/Mischeaux family in French Illinois. That we may be dealing with slaves could be a daunting realization for some; enough to throw in the towel for others. How are we going to begin to research slave genealogy?

Fortunately, Illinois has a Database of Servitude and Emancipation Records which covers the period 1722-1863. (Why 1722? That was approximately the year that Pierre Renault, agent for the King of France, arrived in Illinois with slaves purchased in the Caribbean to search for silver and gold). The Servitude and Emancipation Database includes approximately 3,400 names found in governmental records involving the servitude and emancipation of Africans and, occasionally, Indians. The Illinois State Archives extracted the names of servants, slaves, or free persons and masters, witnesses, or related parties from selected governmental records to produce this database. The online version is searchable by names, by counties, or types of documents.

We have several names to work with here: George, Julie, Ignatius, Margaret, LaChance, D'Amour. and we know that the relevant events occurred in Randolph County, Illinois. A search of the database with those variables yields abstracts of a number of interesting documents.

First, there is an estate document dated 27 January 1739 which says in part:


The abstract identifies "Catherine" as Catherine Vinsennes, a fact that we'll keep in mind for later use. We have perhaps identified "Ignace" (Latin/French form of Ignatius), the godfather (if not in fact the grandfather) of George.

Another document is a bill of sale from Louis Marein to Pierre Mulin for a slave named "Margueritte." It's dated 12 June 1740. The abstract notes that:


Perhaps we have identified "Margaret," the godmother (if not in fact the grandmother). Note the double-T spelling of "Margueritte." The name "Margarett" with two "t's" occurs quite frequently in the Micheau/Mischeaux family, down to a currently living descendant, who's frequently asked about the spelling. She says that she's always heard it's a longstanding family name.

There are six documents that relate to slaves named "George" in Randolph County. But only one matches the relevant dates for our George. It's an indenture dated 12 August 1813 for a boy named George, described as one year old in one part of the document, but says "Born in Randolph County in April" in another place. His race is stated as "mulatto" which comports with later descriptions of George Micheau and his progeny. This document then may well refer to our George.

What about the discrepancies with respect to age? We know that George Micheau was born earlier than April 1813. It may well be that he was born in February 1813 and that the master did not know that; he being only aware that the child was several months old. There are some other issues raised by this abstract. For one thing, an indenture is usually a two-party agreement. Who was the party representing the interests of George. We no doubt will have to see the document. It's available for $10 from the Illinois State Archives.

Now we need to check the Servitude and Emancipation database for information on the bondholders.

What about the late M. LaChance? The database has a bill of sale dated 2 Jun 1774 from a Marie Franciose Ayet to one Nicolas LaChance. The memo on the abstract notes:


A second document in the database abstracts the 1820 census of Illinois--the first census in which Illinois appears as a State of the USA. On that census, there is a "Madame LaChance" in Prairie du Rocher, Randolph County, Illinois. The fact that a woman was enumerated as head of household in 1820 suggests that she was a widow.

We have to go to the 1820 census itself to understand the abstract. The household appears to consist of two white males under the age of ten; and two white males between 10 and 15 years old; a white female between 10 and 15 years old; and Madame LaChance herself, apparently between 26 and 44 years old. Then there appear to be two male slaves under age 14; one male slave between14 and 25 years old; two female slaves under age 14; and one female slave between 14 and 26 years old. There is one male "free colored person" between 26 and 44 years old.

All of this data on the LaChance documents needs analysis; we'll get to that later. For now, let's see what we can find about the widow D'Amour.

Just as in the LaChance case, the Servitude and Emancipation Database has for a Madam "Damore" an abstract from the 1820 census. She was enumerated in Prairie du Rocher, Randolph County, with two female slaves: one under 14 years old, and the other over age 45. Madam Damore herself was listed as being over 45 years old.

The D'Amour evidence also requires analysis before we draw any conclusions.

Remember, we're in search of the origins of the Micheau/Mischeaux family in French Illinois. So stay with us as we next analyze the evidence.

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