Our trip to Europe was incredible for many reasons but our visit to Montbéliard, France stood out for deeply personal reasons. As noted in previous blogs it is the hometown of my great-grandmother, a woman who seemd to disappear with the passage of time. My mother and her five siblings always wanted to know where their grandmother came from, even though they never met her. All they ever knew was she came from France.
For years I casually played with looking up my geneology. I tried to find where Suzanne, our great-grandmother came from but met with dead ends, as though she never existed. My interest in geneology flared anew when Tim told me about his connection to the Mayflower. Then last year on our cruise we pulled into LeHavre, France, the port Suzanne sailed from. LeHavre suddenly became a real place to me and I had to find her.
When I found she was from Montbéliard, France I contacted the Roots Tourism bureau there. In June, we traveled to France before our cruise around the British Isles. A lovely young lady, Anaïs gave us a tour of the city when we arrived. Montbéliard, “The City of Princes” has a very rich history dating back to the Holy Roman Empire. She let us know that on Monday we would be meeting with the archival folks and the mayor. The mayor? That was a head scratcher.
On Monday we arrived at the Municipal Archives with the folks from the tourism bureau. Aline and René greeted us and proceeded to roll out a piece of paper in front of me. It was five feet long and listed my ancestors dating back to 1560. Étienne Vienot was a mason, born in 1560. I suggested that he helped build “the temple,” the church of Saint Martin built between 1601 and 1607. While they were quick to point out there was no evidence of that, I liked my version of the story. Saint Martin’s is the oldest Protestant church in France.
Lined up on the far side of the table were the books from which they did their research. Some have been digitized but not all. The pages showed their age, but seeing the handwriting from the 16th century was remakable. In one of the books the writing was very small because of the expense of paper. In the oldest book there was a list of Étienne Vienot’s belongings.
More people began filing into the room, including the mayor, her staff, and a reporter for the local newspaper. Tim counted seventeen in all. The mayor gave a speech and spoke of the history of the city and referred to Montbéliard as my ancestral homeland, which touched my heart. They asked me to say a few words and I thanked them for all the work they had done. Then I teared up when I wished that my mother were still alive so she could finally learn about her grandmother. When I asked why I was being given such a reception, I learned that while they had researched other families for the program, my family was only from Montbéliard where others were from other towns as well.
Afterward we went outside for refreshments of local meats, and cheeses, along with wine and soda. Also on the table was a bowl of Bugles Corn Snacks, I had to smile. My mother always loved those and I hadn’t seen them in years.
My next order of business, send René information about Suzanne. Beneath her on the tree there was nothing, not her two daughters, nine grandchildren, nor her twenty great-grandchildren. I have more research to do before I start writing about Suzanne but this visit gave me a great deal more to think about.
I can’t thank this group of people enough for their work, their warmth, and their kindness. If anyone is interested in finding out more about the city and or their Roots Tourism program I’m including some links below.
The City of Montbéliard https://www.montbeliard.fr/fr/no.html
Roots Tourism https://www.paysdemontbeliard-tourisme.com/node/33