Tuesday, February 1, 2011

La Belle France

Last semester in my French class I was given the assignment to create a digital storytelling project on some aspect of the Francophone world. I decided to do mine on the story of my French ancestors and their journey to the United States.

My 3rd great-grandparents, Joseph and Marie (Seltz) Drach came from the town of Benfeld, in the Bas Rhin region of France. Around 1843 they took their two daughters - Ernestine and Marie Aloise, and left Benfeld for Le Havre. Joseph's brother Antoine, his wife Marie Anne (Gastiger) and their five children. They apparently stayed there for a time, as Emil and Josephine were born there, and Ernestine died.

They sailed from Le Havre on the ship William Goddard and arrived in Boston on August 26, 1847 and traveled to Lowell, Massachusetts. There is a large French community there, although it is primarily QuebeƧois.Joseph Drach became a naturalized citizen in Lowell in 1894. His son-in-law, Hugh Gillon, was one of his witnesses.

Emil enlisted in Company K, 31st Massachusetts Infantry in February of 1862, and by December he was dead, killed by a sniper's bullet. But that's another blog.

The parents of Marie Aloise's husband, Theodore Antoine Vautrinot, were Jean Antoine and Marie Rosalie (Munier) Vautrinot. They came from Liepvre in the Haut Rhin region. They sailed on the ship "Mary & Adele" (637 tons) from Le Havre and landed at the Port of New York in January of 1855. From New York they traveled to Boston. Marie Rosalie gave birth to two more girls, but by 1862, she and the two girls had died. Theodore was their oldest child, and by this time he had already married Marie Aloise and started a family of his own. Jean Antoine took Marie Louise and Jean Jr. and moved to Egg Harbor City, New Jersey.

This is one of the great family mysteries. First, why didn't they stay in NYC when they landed in 1855? Then, after Marie Rosalie died, why pull up stakes and go to NJ? Egg Harbor City was a planned community as a safe haven for German immigrants, mostly Moravians. The Vautrinots have traditionally been French Roman Catholic.

The Vautrinot and Munier families have made their own individual marks in American history. Donald Vautrinot was a member of the Army Air Corps stationed in the Philippines at the start of WWII, and survived the infamous Bataan Death March only to die in a prison camp shortly before its liberation.Mary Canning, daughter of Ernestine Vautrinot Canning was an Army Nurse in the African and Italian campaigns and finished the war in Tokyo. Many other Vautrinots fought to defend their country in WWII, Korea and Vietnam.
Madeline Vautrinot was a well-known artist in New Jersey, and was commissioned to paint several WPA murals, including one in the Atlantic City Post Office. Her father was a banker who established a scholarship at the local high school which still exists today.
Ferdinand Munier was a bit player in 1930s Hollywood, acting in movies with the likes of Fred Astair and Lucille Ball. He played Santa Claus in Laurel & Hardy's "Babes in Toyland," and a senator with Will Rogers in "Ambassador Bill" that you can watch on youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_F2MYMiHpdU

In 2002, I was privileged to be able to travel to France to see the beautiful towns of Benfeld and Liepvre and drive through this beautiful region.

If I ever get the audio straightened out on my project, I might just post it on my blog!

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