Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Bourbon and Branches

We've seen the ads for Ancestry.com and other similar products, allowing us to discover what we never knew about where our ancestors came from, and what makes each of us what we are today. (Some people are more surprised than others. You remember Kyle, don't you?)

In the years before the internet made the job much easier, my family had been rather thoroughly researched on both the Alexander and Rosselot (pronounced ROSS-uh-low) sides. This piece recounts them both, leading to at least one interesting discovery.

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In 1988, I, along with several generations on my mother's side, received a large spiral-bound book called "The Henry Rosselot Family History." It tells of Pierre Henri Rousselot his wife, the former Francoise Bermont, and their six children, migrating to America from Belfort, Alsace, France, in 1838. They arrived in Cincinnati, and in search of farmable land, went east into Clermont County, settling near the town of New Boston (now Owensville) in the surrounding township of Stonelick. Their descendants spread throughout the northern part of the county, and farther east into Brown County.

Saint Philomela Church, "the little church in the valley" established in 1839, and the parish of many of the Rosselot clan who settled there.

In January of 1900, Henri's great-grandson, Walter James Rosselot, was born in a log cabin just east of Newtonsville, Clermont County. Dropping out of high school shortly after his freshman year began (as the story goes that he found it lacking in intellectual stimulation), he continued his education on his own. His first date with Frances Gertrude Evans was in 1919, at a crossroads of Brown County known as Vera Cruz, at the little Holy Ghost Church. They married in 1923 at nearby Saint Patrick Church in Fayetteville, Ohio. In what may have been unusual twist those days, our high school dropout won the heart of a college graduate. "Gertie" had graduated from a two-year "normal school," or teacher's college, affiliated with Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and was teaching at a one-room schoolhouse near Vera Cruz. After renting in two other places, they eventually bought a farm in 1925 at the edge of a valley near the East Fork of the Little Miami River.

The Evans family originated from just north of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and were predominantly Methodists. Among those who migrated to Ohio, some converted to the Catholic Faith, others did not. Among the branches comprising the latter, settling in southern Clermont County, Ohio, was one born with the name Hiram Ulysses Grant. He was later and better known as Ulysses S Grant, the great Union general in the War Between the States, and later the 18th President of the United States. This was always a part of the Rosselot family folklore, and subsequent research in recent years confirmed it.

So, this writer is an indirect descendant of an American President, making every fifty-dollar bill in circulation a kind of family memento.

But ... that's not the interesting discovery. This gets better.

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The commune of Hannonville-sous-les-Côtes as it appears today.

In 1961, I was given a pamphlet entitled "The History of the Andre Alexandre Family." While the narrative is rather sparse, we learned that my great-great-grandfather came to Ohio around 1840, from France, a little town north of Verdun in the Lorraine province (the Meuse department in Grand Est in north-eastern France) known as Hannonville-sous-les-Côtes. He first went to Cleveland, and worked on the railroad, finally settling in Darke County, in west central Ohio, where many from his part of France, even the same town, had already settled. It was there, in a region known today as the “Land of the Cross-Tipped Churches” he met a young lady from his former hometown, one Marie Couchot. They married in a little church named for Saint Louis in North Star, Wabash Township, a few miles from the birthplace of Annie Oakley. From there, at least eight generations of progeny have grown to the present day.

Nearly twenty years ago, my cousin Angela Alexander served with the Air Force as part of the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. It was during her various occasions on leave that she journeyed to other parts of the continent, and eventually to the United Kingdom. It was there that she learned that the Alexandre line was descended from Scottish highlanders, more precisely Clan Donald of the Isle of Skye among Na h-Eileanan a-staigh ("the inner isles") along the western coast of Scotland. They fought with the Jacobite rebellion for restoration of the Scottish crown, and independence from England. When the cause was lost, many of those of Clan Donald had sufficient means to find exile in France, the result of their alliance with "Bonnie Prince Charles" and a mutual disdain for the English. Much of this part of our heritage was lost to the mists of time until the present.

Now we get to the really good part.

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One of Andre's sons, Albert, married Ann Katherine Grilliot (originally "Grillot," pronounced "GRILL-oh," before some idiot at Ellis Island inserted a typo), and they eventually bought a farm elsewhere in Wabash Township.

In my encomium to my father, written six years ago, there is related a bit of family folklore.

Leonard had been a teetotaler before getting into "the family business" operated by his mother, the former Ann Katherine Grilliot (Grillot), a feisty and formidable woman, who produced a byproduct of corn in the bathtub of their farmhouse, and had husband and sons on the payroll of her enterprise.

Annie Kate's mother was a woman named Marie Anne Aubry, a family that originated elsewhere in Meuse, in a town known as Herbeuville. It is from here, that our lineage can be traced back to King Louis XIV, also known as Louis the Great, also known as "The Sun King" who ruled France from 1643 until his death in 1715, as well as his grandson, Louis XVI, who reigned from 1774, until his overthrow in 1792 in the French Revolution, and his execution the following year. By extension, this links our family to the House of Bourbon, the rightful claimants to the French throne, currently in the person of one Prince Louis Alphonse of Bourbon, Duke of Bourbon and Anjou, who would assume the regnal name of Louis XX.

So, not only is this writer descended from a President, but also from royalty!

Of course, we'd probably just call him "Cousin Louie" if he shows up at reunions.

As if that were not enough, our lineage through the Aubry-Grillot line has been traced all the way back to Charlemagne (Charles the Great), born in 742, who ruled as King of the Franks from 768, King of the Lombards from 774, and Emperor of the Romans from 800, until his death in 814. Under his rule, much of Europe was united, enabling the rise of Christendom in the Middle Ages.

Further records have traced our lineage as far back as 600. Our ancestors held title to lands in the provinces of Burgundy, Brittany, and Normandy, all at one time separate realms, until brought together under a united France as the centuries came and went.

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So, what to make of all this?

When I was a little boy, and first heard I was descended from the French, it sounded glamorous, as some Americans might grow up imagining the French to be. I drew pictures of myself riding in a horse-drawn carriage, imagining that I was the lost Dauphin, awaiting the entourage that would rescue me from my dull existence, and return to me the crown and scepter that were rightfully mine. It was then that Grandpa Alexander told me the awful truth, that his own Grandpa and Grandma were poor. Andre was a wagon-wheel maker with a shop in North Star, who spoke very little English. His children, on the other hand, spoke very little French, having already acclimated themselves to the new world, and certainly having forgotten a long-buried heritage, only to be uncovered by a descendant more than a century later.

Paul David Alexander, posing with a fellow cast member, on the set of a remake of George Orwell's Animal Farm.

Then there was my son, Paul, to whom I first broke the news. Judging from his announcement in social media, he didn't take it in quite the way I expected.

Just found out I'm a descendant of the House of Bourbon on my dad's side, so I have to behead myself now.
I'm also descended from Jacobites on my dad's side. My forefathers gave zero f***s about my leftist cred.

It's tough to be a card-carrying socialist, only to discover that you're descended from the very flower of the bourgeoisie. Imagine no longer being invited to all the right (or should I say left) parties. I only hope he can move on with his life.

In recent years, I have managed to make the acquaintance of a number of aficionados from the arcane world of Catholic Monarchism. There are the usual congratulations, of course, and one of them telling me simply to "enjoy it." (Obviously I already am.) One of them told me of more than one account, of friends discovering they were descended from some figure of history. All this (and the potential invasion of privacy) is possible through the magic of DNA testing.

My siblings are finding out along with the rest of you, dear readers. They probably think I'm just showing off. Then again, I also wonder how my “Cousin Hiram” would react. Maybe this proves that we really are all descended from Adam and Eve, don't you think?

Or don't you?

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This writer extends the most heartfelt gratitude to his cousin, Angela Alexander, of Fairborn, Ohio, for her years spent in genealogical research. It is her tireless efforts that have contributed greatly to this account.

1 comment:

Dean W. said...

My father always said it would be better not looking up our family tree, because one might find some of our ancestors hanging from it.