Showing posts with label Micheau. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Micheau. Show all posts

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.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Doing Some Hard Genealogy With Catholic Records

So I broke away from all the other toys to actually do some hard genealogy. I've written many times about Record Search at FamilySearch Labs. I noted awhile ago that I had found there the records of the Catholic Diocese of Belleville, Illinois, which includes an area of my research interest, the village of Prairie du Rocher in Randolph County, Illinois. That's location from whence come the Micheau/Mischeaux family that I've been studying.

A few months ago, I translated and transcribed a number of the records relating to St Joseph's Chirch in Prairie du Rocher as well as Our Lady of Lourdes Church in nearby Sparta. It took a combination of skills that I've honed doing indexing for FamilySearch and my certainly imperfect recall of church and law Latin and the bits of genealogical French that I've picked up in the last few years. But I think I've got it right.

Having translated and transcribed some of the relevant records, I have now put them to some use.

I'm interested in the origins of the Micheau/Mischeaux line in French Illinois. Early in my research, I traced a line of present day family members back to George Micheau (1852-1942). That wasn't very hard because still-living family members recall him vividly. He was born in Potosi, Washington County, Missouri, lived in Prairie du Rocher, and died in St Louis. According to family members, he was married twice: first to Emma Roy, and then to someone the living family members recall simply as "Grandma Rosie." I also knew from the 1870 census that George Micheau appears that decade in the household of a senior George Micheau (their names were spelled "Misho" in that census). The 1870 census did not explicitly show relationships, but presumably, George was the son of George. I cannot find the family at all on the 1880 census.

So what did the church records add to my knowledge of this family? First, I found a death notice for Emma Roy. I had known that she was born in 1855, but not much more beyond that.

[Click to enlarge]
Death Registration, Mary Emma Roy, page 120,
Liber Defunctorum, Ecclesia St Joseph, Prairie du Rocher, 1864-1956, Records of the Catholic Diocese of Belleville, Illinois (retrieved from Record Search Pilot,

The Latin reads:

Die 12a Julii 1900 obit Maria Emma Micheau uxor Georgii Micheau, annos circa 46 nata, ejusque corpus sequenti tumulatum est.

And I translated it:

Maria Emma Micheau, wife of George Micheau, died on July 12, 1900. She was about 46 years old. She was buried in the general burial ground.
We learn her full name and her date of death. There is also a death notice for "Grandma Rosie," but it is in English:

[Click to enlarge]
Death Registration, Rosine Micheau, page 199,
Liber Defunctorum, Ecclesia St Joseph, Prairie du Rocher, 1864-1956, Records of the Catholic Diocese of Belleville, Illinois (retrieved from Record Search Pilot,

Now we know a bit more about Grandma Rosie, including her maiden name. Then, a curiosity: recall that Rosine was George's second wife who he married after the death of Emma Roy. But when he died in 1942, here's what the priest wrote:

[Click to enlarge]
Death Registration, George Micheau, page 221,
Liber Defunctorum, Ecclesia St Joseph, Prairie du Rocher, 1864-1956, Records of the Catholic Diocese of Belleville, Illinois (retrieved from Record Search Pilot,

Does this tell us something about the family or about the pastor or both?

Moving on to the elder George Micheau we find notice of his death too, on page 136 of the same set of records, also in English. The page follows another which is headed "1906."

Died May 13th George Micheau, the oldest colored member of the parish in his 94th year, as verified by the following extract of the baptismal record of 1813, viz.:

[Click to enlarge]
Baptismal Registration, George Micheau, unnumbered page included with
Records of St Anne du Fort de Chartres, 1721-1765 Records of the Catholic Diocese of Belleville, Illinois (retrieved from Record Search Pilot,

This baptismal registration was found with the records of St Anne's Church at Fort de Chartres, Illinois, which existed before the church at Prairie du Rocher was constructed in 1765. It is in French:

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.

What does this mean? I have an idea, but help us out, you French scholars! More to come!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

William George Micheau, 1880-1949

Born 31 Dec 1880, Prairie du Rocher, Illinois
Died 15 Nov 1949, St Louis, Missouri
Occupation: Barber*
Parents: George Micheau, Sr. & Mary Emma Roy
Spouse: Clara Robinson (or Roberson), 1885-1938

*"It will doubtless be observed by the reader, that a majority of our colored aristocracy belong to the tonsorial profession; a mulatto takes to razor and soap as naturally as a young duck to a pool of water, or a strapped Frenchman to dancing; they certainly make the best barbers in the world, and were doubtless intended by nature for the art. In its exercise, they take white men by the nose without giving offense, and without causing an effusion of blood."

Cyprian Clamorgan, The Colored Aristocracy of St Louis (1858)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A St Louis Belle

19 year old Edna Mary Micheau
on her wedding day

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

How'd My Mother[-in-law] Get So Smart?

My mother and my mother-in-law are both bright women, each in their own ways. But in keeping with my theme of praising mothers-in-law, we'll leave my mother-in-fact for another day.

My mother-in-law is a descendant of the French Negroes of Illinois. Her father, Joseph Perry Micheau, was born in Prairie du Rocher, Illinois, in 1888 and married Edna Julia Lewis in 1913.
Joe Micheau probably went to the school for black children in Prairie du Rocher which was run by the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, an order of Catholic nuns. Later, when the Adorers left Prairie du Rocher, Joe's wife Edna became the teacher for the black children.

Joe Micheau was an extraordinarily literate man. After leaving school, he continued to educate himself. He had intended to become a priest, until he met his future wife.

My mother-in-law and her three siblings benefited from their parents' interest in education and particularly in reading. My mother-in-law, born in St Louis, Missouri, about fifty miles west of Prairie du Rocher, attended the public Sumner High School for a year, then transferred to St. Rita's High School, a Catholic girls school, from whence she graduated.

Her innate curiosity, however, is what makes her so smart. At age 50, despite not knowing how to drive or even owning a car, she took an automotive repair course, just because she "wanted to know." The same impulse led her to learn how to make soap and glass.

She reads everything she can get her hands on. Sometimes she reads labels in the grocery store just to learn about a product even without wanting to buy it.

She's quiet and she listens. Those traits make her seem shy, but they're the key to what makes her smart.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Edna Mary Penny Wells 1941-2008

Edna Mary Penny Wells died last week in St Louis, Missouri, just a few days shy of her 67th birthday. She was the daughter of Edna Mary Micheau of St Louis and the late Ralph Penny; and the granddaughter of the late Joseph Perry Micheau and Edna Lewis.

She was the third generation daughter named Edna and hence she was nicknamed "Li'l Ed." She hated that nickname, yet it stuck until her death.

Edna Mary Penny was born on April 27, 1941 in St Louis, the eldest of four children. She was quite a talented child, learning the piano as very young child. She could play at a professional level by age seven, and as a teenager, the sounds of Gershwin as well as the classics wafted from her room as she played. But for reasons known only to her, she did not pursue music much past her teens.

The great influence in her life was her husband, Bill Wells. They were married for over thirty years until his death in 2006. A gregarious and likable police officer, Bill nurtured her dreams. Her family believes that a broken heart may have been a major factor in her death.

Edna Mary was interested in many things, among them, genealogy. She was among the early group to use the Internet for genealogical research and she was exploring DNA as early as 1997--unusual for someone without a science background. She was the person who first discovered the story of her great-grandfather's family's escape from slavery, recounted here in part. She joined us on our research trip last summer when we went to Prairie du Rocher, Illinois.

Intelligent and beautiful, Edna Mary was not an easy person to get to know. And near the end, she seemed push her family and friends away, as if she was saying, "Don't stand in the way of my journey." But taking charge of Edna Mary's apartment this week, her sister said she found ample evidence that many people loved and cared about Edna Mary, and they don't understand why she had to die alone.

Edna Mary Penny Wells is survived by her mother, Edna Micheau Penny; a brother, Claude Penny of Dallas, and a sister, Margarett Penny Manson, of Carmichael, California. Other survivors include her two aunts, numerous cousins, and nieces and nephews.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Trying Again Pays Off Again: Updating "The French Negroes of Illinois"

Last year, I did a major series on the so-called "French Negroes of Illinois," focusing on the Micheau family of Prairie du Rocher, Illinois. In that series, I traced the origins of the French Negroes of Illinois from slaves brought from Haiti by Pierre Renault, who was seeking silver and gold.

Also in that series, I recounted the story told by George Micheau (1852-1942) in a letter of how his family escaped from slavery in 1864. The family had been held by one John Highly of Washington County, Missouri.

Yesterday, my research into this family took a dramatic turn.

I was following my admonition to re-examine areas that one has explored before. I was checking various websites for the several permutations of "Micheau." I was on the Washington County (Mo.) Genealogical Web Page when I spotted a link there that I had not seen before. It was a link to a page about the African-American history of Washington and Iron Counties, Missouri. That page had a list of slave emancipations. To my surprise, among these was George "Misho"
who later moved his family to Randolph County, Illinois! This would be George Micheau, Sr. (1812-?), father of the George who wrote the letter described above. See here and here.

Well! Well? Well . . . .

According to the website, Washington County court records show that in 1846 George Micheau, Sr., was given a license to live as a free man in Missouri upon the posting of a bond secured by one Steven D. Mullowny. In 1850, the census shows him living with a white couple, Garland and Clarissa Nuckols. The 1850 slave schedule also shows that Garland Nuckols of Washington County owned two slaves: an 18 year old girl and a 1 year old girl.

One must wonder if the two slaves might be the wife and child of George Micheau. The young woman seems to match the age of George's [later] wife, Margret. Perhaps he was living in the Nuckols household to be near them and ultimately purchase their freedom. No record has been found showing that George and Margret had a female child. The 1870 census shows them with six sons.

So wait a minute . . .

If George Micheau was a free man in 1846 (and as late as 1850), how is it that he was a slave in 1852 [George, Jr., was born in 1852 and his letter suggests he was born into slavery] or in 1864 when his family escaped from John Highly? And just who are Steven D. Mullowny and Garland and Clarissa Nuckols?

There are some possible explanations for this apparent discrepancy. But first, we need more information. Next step: get the original documents from the Washington County court.

Obviously, there's more to be known about the Micheaus. Once again, looking again has paid off again.

Monday, October 01, 2007

My Families' Weddings

She's there every morning, watching me, this pretty teenager. Her eyes dipped slightly, confident yet demure; slender and shy. She grips a rosary in her hands. A long veil falls down her back to the floor where it merges with the pool that is the train of her dress. She watches me, this teenager from across the room, from across more than six decades, perched above the fireplace.

The picture is of my mother-in-law, Edna Mary Micheau, on her wedding day in 1940. Still healthy now past the mid-point of her eighties, she doesn't speak much of that day anymore. Her reticence serves to remind me that I don't know much about weddings in my family.

The first wedding of record that I know of is that of Ezekiel Johnson and Sarah Gilbert. According to records in Clay County, Missouri, they were married 140 years ago this year, on September 5, 1867. Zeke was just back from his service in the Civil War. What kind of wedding did they have? I don't know. The records say that the officiator was Richard C. Morton, M.G. [Minister of the Gospel]. The Reverend Morton performed a number of weddings in Clay County; like a lot of people there, he was from Kentucky.

The second wedding of record that I know about was that of Guy Bryant and Amanda Maria Martin Pane. According to the records of Aransas County, Texas, they were married on June 28, 1882, in Rockport, Texas. John F. Cooke, M.G., presided. Maria Martin had been married briefly before to one James Henry Pane. They had been married in June of 1878; it's not clear when they split. Her son from that marriage, Isaac Pane, was born in November 1879. He later began using the surname "Bryant."

I have no artifacts of Guy and Maria's wedding either.

James William Long married Mary Elizabeth Johnson, the daughter of Zeke and Sarah Johnson, on May 30, 1888, in Kansas City, Missouri. Mary was just seventeen and Zeke had to sign giving his consent. Zeke was illiterate, so the record shows "his mark." What kind of wedding did they have? I don't know.

The marriage license of James William Long and Mary Elizabeth Johnson
(click to enlarge)

On August 19, 1890, Otis Manson married Betty Sanford in Rockdale, Milam County, Texas. Three days later, Betty's younger sister, Addie, married Abe White in the same town.

All of the above set the stage for the wedding that really matters. On July 19, 1953, in Houston, Texas, my parents married. They had a Catholic wedding with Father Ralph Urma McLane presiding. You've no doubt already figured out that July 19, 1953 was a Sunday and some of you know that Catholics typically do not have weddings on Sundays. The problem was that both my parents worked six days a week back then and their bosses wouldn't let them off on Saturday even to get married. It was much simpler to ask the bishop to let them get married on a Sunday! And with His Eminence's blessing, they got married on a Sunday!

They had a twelve hour honeymoon at a place loaned by a friend. They were back on their jobs Monday morning!

My parents on their wedding day, July 19, 1953, in Houston, Texas, with my paternal grandmother, Jessie Beatrice Bowie

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A Little Photographic Treat from The Research Trip

[Posted from Los Angeles, California]

In several posts in the last year, I've mentioned the Oblate Sisters of Providence (see The French Negroes of Illinois series, here, here, and here; and the Gunsmoke post). In St Louis, I found this photograph of Sister Mary Philomena (nee Emma Micheau) and Sister Mary Celestine (nee Adelaide "Addie" Francis Micheau). That's Sister Philomena on the left and Sister Celestine is on the right. The woman in the middle is Mary Angelique Micheau (1873-1959), also known as "Nin."

Addie and Nin were the daughters of George Micheau (1852-1942). Emma, the daughter of Marshall Emmanuel Micheau (1878-1954), was their niece.

Nin was not a nun.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Illinois State Archives Databases

I've been reminded that I really like the Illinois State Archives Databases on that state's Secretary of State website. There are a few things that could be better, but overall, this is a useful resource.

There are the state's vital records databases, of course. Unfortunately, unlike neighboring Missouri, the Illinois death index (1916-1950) has no retrievable images. On the other hand, also unlike Missouri, Illinois has a rather extensive pre-1916 death database and a statewide marriage database for the years 1763-1900.There are also databases of Illinois veterans for several wars, but not for the World Wars. Again, no retrievable images, but useful nonetheless.

Most unusually for state archives, Illinois has a database of servitude and emancipation records as well. It's hard to tell how comprehensive this really is, but the fact that its exists at all is a boon for researchers.

Since I last visited, a "Global Database Search" feature has been added. You can search on surnames or full names. I was slightly disappointed that the search results consist of only links to databases where the names are found, which you must search all over again. Oh, well . . . better than nothing!

I do appreciate that Illinois is constantly upgrading its state archives website. They also make it easy to order copies from several Regional Archives Depositories, which are universities around the state. These Depositories also each contain unique records from counties within their areas.

I came to the Illinois sites after not having been here for awhile because a recent e-mail correspondent had sent me some information about the Micheau and Penny familes of southern Illinois. As I searched through the databases, I came across a marriage record for George and (Mary) Emma Micheau. They were married on September 4, 1872, I'd been unable to find that information in any other place. And that was just the impetus I needed to move out of a research doldrums I'd been in the last few days!