Wednesday, May 9, 2012

French Connection

My family connections to Ireland have always been held close to my heart, along with my mother's and my grandmother's. Because of my appreciation for my Irish heritage, I recently began learning about the French branches in my family tree.

Hi, it's Sheila.
And how crazy is this? I just found out I am eligible for membership in La Societe des Filles du Roi (Daughters of the King). More on that later.

Last year ago, I posted a 'blog here on the Fox 19 Morning News website for St. Patrick's Day about my grandparents. It was a short piece about their Irish heritage, and a little love story about my Nanny and her husband Bill, who died before I was born. If you want to read it, go here:

It's because of that little 'blog that I discovered even more about my grandfather's ancestry. Mary Fleming Simon of Lexington, Kentucky found it while doing her own genealogy research, and she sent me a message on Facebook a few of weeks ago. She wrote to me: "I thrilled when I realized what I'd found. It's like hunting for diamonds."

Turns out Mary is my mom's cousin. Her grandfather Ralph Albert Fleming and my grandpa's mother Emma Ruth Fleming were brother and sister. This is a picture of them with their baby sister Ella Mae, taken in Michigan in the late 1800's. My mother and I were absolutely thrilled to make a cyber-acquaintance with Mary, and through their emails to one another, now I've learned much more about my grandpa's family.

Ralph, Emma, and Ella had two other sisters, one of whom, Crystal played piano and sang on the Keith Vaudeville Circuit (no wonder I love performing - it's in my DNA)! My mother remembers pictures of her Great Aunt Crystal hanging in her grandmother's home when she was a little girl. The way she describes Crystal's dark hair and dark eyes reminds me of my mother.

This picture of my great grandmother Emma Ruth and her brother Ralph looks a lot like one of my cousins. It's so uncanny!

On to the French connection. Mary and my mother share a pair of great grandparents - George Edward Fleming (1859-1927) and Ellen "nellie" Patterson (1865-1919), and Mary has traced the Fleming family all the way back to France, where our family name was not Fleming at all! It was Ladriere. My seventh great-grandfather, Joseph Ladriere left the Flanders area of France in the 1730's and emigrated to Quebec. In Canada, Joseph went by the name Joseph Ladrier dit Flamand (of Flanders). His son Joseph dropped the "dit" and hyphenated the name. Then later, Joseph's son Louis dropped Ladrier, went by Flamand, and emigrated to Iowa. That's where he changed the name to Fleming, like so many American immigrants who changed their names to blend in. It's been Fleming since the Civil War.

In turn, my mother has been sharing all kinds of stories with Mary which I hadn't heard before about meeting some of these Fleming relatives when she was a child. Here's an excerpt from one of my mother's emails: "I remember Aunt Clara (Ralph's wife, Mary's grandmother) coming to our house and making donuts and strawberry jam and chicken and dumplings. I was around 9 or 10, and she sent my sister and me to the store a few times to get the "right" ingredients, i.e. Rumford Baking Powder, not Calumet. Mother said Clara probably didn't think she was measuring up as a cook."

Reading Mom's and Mary's emails has been a bit like an episode of Who Do You Think You Are, a television show I never miss because I find the stories of our past so fascinating. I am convinced that who we are is not just about how we're raised, but that who we are really is, in part, ingrained in our DNA. My daughter Katie and I have both taken four years of French in high school and excelled in it. I just don't think that could be a coincidence.

And Mary just informed me in an email yesterday about the Daughters of the King. We descend from several of the young women who arrived in Quebec in the late 1600's specifically to help establish a growing French colony. They were sent by the King (who also provided them with dowries), and thus came to be known as the "filles du roi," daughters of the king. They were able to literally choose their own husbands and enter into contracts--a rare and wonderful thing for a woman back in the day. You can read more about them here:

Mary and my mom and I haven't met yet, but we will. My home in Northern Kentucky is just about halfway between them, and I can't wait to meet our newfound family member. Even more, I can't wait to witness a bit of living history, when my mother and our cousin Mary share photos and stories about the Fleming family tree.

If you want to do some research like Mary has, she recommends and the the extensive genealogy resources of the Latter Day Saints.

Happy hunting!

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