Sunday, September 27, 2015

Paul's story:

This is Betty Charbonnet Reid Soskin, my 4th cousin 3x removed. We met over the internet as I reached out to distant cousins to begin building my Ancestry Family tree.  Betty is enchanting.  We both grew up in New Orleans but we have been separated by an age difference of 26 years, 3,000 miles, and racial boundaries.

Yet, Betty and I were sealed by our common stories of Out of France and St. Dominique.

We descend from my 7th great grandfather who lived in Southern France. His two sons left for  Louisiana about 1760.  Antoine became a successful sugar cane planter in Louisiana, but Jean raised his family in the French Caribbean island of St. Domingue, now Haiti.  The slave rebellion of 1802 and Jean's death in 1803 motivated family evacuation to Louisiana.  I descend from Antoine.  Betty descends from Jean.  Our conversations uncovered generations of relationships and warmth that neither of us had understood as children, but that now we are able to connect.

Antoine stayed in New Orleans as have many of his white descendants.  Jean’s son, Amable, evacuated to Louisiana about age 10, joining his uncle and cousins in New Orleans. There he met a lovely young slave.  Through Ancestry, we believe we have her bill of sale to Pierre Beaulieu  in St. James Parish (another full set of stories).  She took her owner's last name as her own.

Amable had a son, Dorson. By law, Dorson was a free man. White father’s of those days rarely acknowledged their mulatto sons, but assumed the obligation to school them in the military or
apprentice them in a skilled trade. Amable married a wealthy French woman and he died a relatively
young man. His white son, also named Amable, left Louisiana and returned to France with his mother . . .we have not yet connected with our French cousins.

my grandfather, Louis Charbonnet's, business card
Betty grew up in a strong, professional, mulatto community, Her father and my grandfather were builders of homes, churches, schools, mills, and offices.  The highly-skilled mulatto craftsmen were well paid in Uptown homes under supervision of my father and grandfather.  In exchange, my family worked with Betty's to obtain land, permits, city improvements, legal matters,and financing for less expensive homes built in the 8th and infamous 9th wards along Charbonnet Street ... but that's another story.

In 2012 at age 90, Betty spoke at the WWII museum in New Orleans and stayed with us in our home.
We had a goal of locating the tomb of Amable. We learned from Ancestry that he was interred in the St.Louis #1 Cemetery in the French Quarter. After a hot day of searching, the cooler evening descended in the cemetery. On our last turn, along the wall, we found Amable resting with his young daughter, a victim of yellow fever.

Leaving the cemetery, Betty introduced me to her cousins, Louis and Armand Charbonnet, operators of the Charbonnet-Labat Funeral Home a few blocks away. The two Charbonnet brothers are well-known for staging the Jazz funerals. Despite having spent their lives professionally in the business, both were unaware of the link to Uptown Charbonnets, Amable, who rested nearby in a beautiful, well marked, Parisian tomb.

Through Ancestry, Betty and I have linked the two branches of our great Southern family. Times have
changed. Ancestry calls us to build family ties even when we have to reach beyond the boundaries of the past.

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