Thursday, July 13, 2017

Forgotten gravestones in the Basque Country

I had the opportunity to visit Barcus and Esquiule last​ year, their churches, graveyards and town halls. But only Marie Larrory was supposed to be buried there (Marianne Etchegoren migrated with her family shortly after Marguerite Lerdou was born). Unfortunately she was not in the grave of the present-day Larrory and she could be buried in one of the many unkept headstones which names are almost completely erased. 

We waited for the town hall to open and asked for information regarding these tombs. They had none, the oldest records went missing a long time ago and recommended to try to identify them by gravestone rubbing. They were many headstones in this pitiful condition and we were only there for the day. I guess a collaborative restoration and indexing project is in order.

Carved in stone? Cemeteries and headstones as a Genealogical resource.

When you start playing rock-paper-scissors, you may intuitively consider the paper as the weakest element and the rock as the strongest. But the beauty of the game is showing that all three elements are just as resistant. It just depends on how we use them.
Unless you are very very lucky, you've been there, you've seen the paper trail vanish in front of your eyes: lost baptismal books, torn marriage records, missing pages of a notary's archives, whole churches burned to the ground (yeah, thank you, Carlist Wars) or plain and simple bureaucratic stupidity.
But of course, silly me! It is just paper! So you consider using a tougher material. After all, that is the whole purpose of a headstone: eternity.
Some headstones display a lot of information, besides the usual dates of birth and death, and the FAN (Friends And Neighbors) strategy can uncover even more data. Moreover, if you are well versed in the subject of funerary art, you could even come up with an accurate profile of the family's socioeconomic status. So, again, the strength of this resource depends on how we use it, but also, the cultural context of our ancestors, and our own.
I've had avoided cemeteries as much as possible. In my culture (catholic-based but no more, extremely urban and obsessed with youth), you can easily ignore they even exist. But then I visited France and found myself walking around the well kept graves by the church of a village in Alsace. They didn't have tons of information but many had those telling details of lives well lived and suddenly, I didn't find it so gloomy. Then, it became easier, and, given the chance, I would visit the cemetery whenever I visit a village.
But when it comes to bigger towns, it is a whole other story. If they are not glamorous historical places where you can find A-list celebrities like Oscar Wilde in Pére Lachaise, Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir together in Montparnasse or Evita Peron in Recoleta, they can be quite sad.
Left: Oscar Wilde in Pere Lachaise, Paris. Center: Jean Paul Sartre & Simone de Beauvoir in Montparnasse, Paris.
Right: Eva Duarte de Perón in Recoleta, Buenos Aires.

But again, what are the chances of finding your great grand uncle buried next to Jim Morrison? (Hopefully, very low, the place is a mess).

Their big advantage is that they usually have an administrator, databases, a direct phone number and an e-mail address (seems obvious? Well, some of them don't). So when I started to work in Genealogy and ran out of resources to find information about that narrow time-frame between my elder's memories and public available data, I had to chose rock. Luckily, at least two of the main branches of my tree had established in the same town back in the Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina (and their cemetery has an institutional e-mail address!).
I wrote my first email asking about my Sosas 8 and 9 with estimated dates and got an immediate reply from the administrator. 8 was there, and I got an exact date of death, but 9 wasn't (she was quite a character, actually). I've continued to email for information about other ancestors so I could ask the civil registry for death certificates, which were free of charge if you can provide the exact date (if you can't, you can pay, they will take your money and still not search for the records). I was filling the information gap faster than ever (except for my dear Margherite, who's date of death was missing).
Later the same year, I had the opportunity to go home and took my parents to a Genealogy road trip to our ancestor's town. Long story short: the copy machine of the civil registry was broken (so, logically, no searches), there was nobody in charge of the records in the church and the café across the main square was closed for mourning. Everything seemed to point out in the same direction. So we finally visited the cemetery. My contact was on vacation but I got a glimpse of how they had their files organized: a big poster with the coordinates of the parcels and an excel sheet that can only be opened in a very old PC that runs on Windows 3.11. Of course they have the original books but when we don't know the dates, it will take them too long to find what we need.
Big deal! All the information is carved in stone, right? Well, maybe initially it is, but sometimes headstones or metal plaques are removed, changed and summarized, losing all those telling details a database can never reflect.

To be continued... in France and Italy...

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Etxe strategy

Recap: After one unsuccessful attempt, one not even tried and one shortcut, I found a way to leave the comfort zone and try a new technique to search for Marianne's hometown. Voici, la Etxe!

Esquiule is part of the Basque Country and for the Basque culture, the father's house (maison in French, Etxe in Basque) remains in the family for many generations, if not forever. This way, the houses become lieu dit or landmarks and sometimes, the street also carries the family name. There could easily be a Maison Etchegoren nearby.
So where in the area may the Etchegoren house be? According to Google maps there is a maison Etchegoren and belongs to Barcus, the closest town to the West. This house is also mapped in the cadastre (a map that registers the properties of a certain district). 

Right: Cadastre of one of the districts of Barcus. Left: detail with the maison Etchegoren and neighbors.

I browsed the Tables Decenales of Barcus around 1818 for the birth of Marianne (who was 34 years old at the time Marguerite was born) and the next decade for her wedding. I found a Marie Etchegoren in 1815 (math was not their forte, or they really liked to lie about their age) and the wedding in 1843 of Gabriel Lerdou Hilarreguiborde with a 27 year old Marie Etchegoren (born about 1816). Was she the same person?
Fortunally, the mayor of Barcus in charge of writing down the act clears this out for us: "Marie surnomée (a.k.a) Marianne Etchegoren". Both acts also name Marianne's parents: Benoit Etchegoren and Marie Larrory.
The marriage record has an extra hint. Before the name of her mother their is the particle "feue" which means the late (as in deceased). Marie Larrory had died before her daughter's wedding and I found her death record in 1838, she was 51 years old but the only information of filiation are regarding to her husband and his house.
This was a new opportunity to test the Etxe theory: Google it, or even better, Cadastre it. The house of Larrory is literally down the road (take another look to the detail in the picture).

Unfortunally, the Tables Decenales don't go back in time forever and neither does the civil registry.
But, it is still to be continued...

La theorie de l'escargot...

Recap: I had traced Margherite Lerdou all the way back to Esquiule, France, where she was born and cofirmed the names of her parents: Gabriel Lerdou Hilarreguiborde, born in Esquiule, and Marianne Etchegoren, born elswhere. Seems like I will be heading... Elswhere.

Leaving your comfort zone is not easy, but since you are already there, you might as well get something done. So I tried my old trick of Geopatronyme for the Etchegoren lastname but with only 5 hits between 1891-1915, the distribution was not going to mean much.
There was an even older trick, that I hadn't used before, and that some experts like to call “L'escargot”. No, it doesn't mean it will take forever to search for records in other towns, quite the contrary. We grab a map of the area and we pin the last known residence of the person (in this case was Esquiule, where Marianne gave birth to Margherite), that will be the center of our cloud of possible hometowns. Then, it is pretty much like connecting the dots, we draw a line to the closest town and the next dot should be as close to the center as possible (you will probably end drawing a snail, which I hate so I don't care about representing them correctly).

It does seem logical and sometimes it works. But we must keep in mind the circumstances in terms of Geography and History. What if there are mountains (like in this particular area) and towns are better connected by the roads of the valley than across the mountains? What if there was an exodus towards the cities?! Which cities?!! Where they moving east to reach the Mediterranean, or west, towards the harbors of the Atlantic to migrate to the Americas??? What about moving to Paris??? (ok, let's stay realistic, here).
Before drowning myself in questions, I decided to take a short cut and see what the experts have already found. Luckily, one of Geneanet's power users had already found Marianne and Gabriel's marriage record in the bride's hometown. Thank you blaplume! (please let me know how you'd prefer to be cited).
See what I did there? I'm giving proper credit to the person that did the research. It doesn't hurt at all and we all should do this as part of our research.
I cannot be more clear about this: the rest of the information you will find about Marianne after she left France was copied from a GEDCOM file created by me (it either leaked from GEDMATCH or Ancestry) without giving proper credit, nor answering messages. The original dates of the findings and attached documents are in FamilySearch entered by the user Na+, et Na+ c'est moi. I have a system to trace the information I release and I will discuss it in another post.
En of rant and back to happy!
If you are not so lucky, here is one more trick that I learnt later and should work very well for those researching their Basque roots.