Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Cajun's Who's Who

Tightly Woven Stories
I'm going to suggest for a moment that just as the fibers of the fabric pictured here are tightly woven together, so are our family stories.  Maybe we're not related by blood.  Maybe we don't share the same last name.  However, sometimes our stories - our family stories - are so tightly woven together, and we don't even realize it.  While studying the stories behind the names that we're researching, we might not find another twig or branch in our tree, but we might find some non-blood relationships that give us some insight to our ancestors and sometimes, even ourselves.

Pearl's Book
If you've read my past stories, then you are  familiar with the beautiful Pearl Williams Pointer.  She is my husband's great grandmother, and I recently became aware of some of her items/heirlooms, and I've borrowed them in order to document them.  I have to admit that I am having a fascinating time doing this.  One of the items that I've been investigating is a copy of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Evangeline.  This particular copy has no publication date in it, and I've been unable to find one for it.  It was published by E.A. Weeks & Company, 521-531 Wabash Ave., Chicago.  As you can see from the photos of it, it's in "O.K." condition.  The broken spine indicates that it's been well-read.  Also, It does have some illustrations in it, but no illustrator is listed.  Inside the cover, the following is written in pencil: "To Miss Pearl Williams From Bertie Fair."  On the facing page, also written in pencil is: "Pearl Williams Collins Iowa. Dec. 1st 1900 Collins Iowa." [Yes, "Collins, Iowa is written twice.] Well, my first question was, "Who is Bertie Fair, and what was her relationship to Pearl?"

Who Was Bertie Fair?
I was able to find and trace Alberta "Bertie" Fair and her family through the U.S. Federal Population Schedule, the Iowa State Census, as well as various databases available on the Story County portion of the website.  [Please note that this is a very preliminary search of Bertie Fair.]  Here is a quick run-down of the information I found:

  • Alberta Fair was born abt. 1878 near Newton, Jasper Co., Iowa to John W. & Emma C. Fair [both born in New York].
  • Between 1878 & 1880, the family moved to Laurel, Marshall Co., Iowa.
  • By 1885, the Fair family had moved to Indian Creek Twp., Story Co., Iowa, and they were still living there in 1895 and 1898.
  • Alberta M. Fair married Fredrick Heilman/Heileman 5 Jan 1899 in Story Co., Iowa.
  • One of Alberta's silblings was Grace who was abt. 11 years younger than Alberta.
  • Alberta Fair Heilman/Heileman died 9 May 1914 and is buried in Center Grove Cemetery Union Township, Story Co., Iowa.
What Was Their Relationship?
Now, this is just a supposition.  I don't have any written message from Pearl [or Bertie, for that matter] that indicates their actual relationship.  That being said, I have been to this area of Story County, Iowa, and I can say that these towns are small farming communities.  To this day, everyone knows, well, everyone.  So, even without the inscription inside of Pearl's copy of Evangeline, I feel that I can say with some certainty that they probably knew each other.  As for their relationship, I'm not sure, and the reason I say this is that Bertie was abt. 9 years older than Pearl, and Bertie was abt. 22 when she gave this book to Pearl [who was abt. 13 yrs old].  I indicated above that one of Bertie's siblings was Grace, who was much closer in age to Pearl.  They were all definitely near each other for most of their lives as Jasper and Marshall counties are adjacent to Story County.  Also, Maxwell is an incorprated town within Indian Creek Township and nearby is Collins, Iowa [where Pearl lived].  Therefore, without a doubt, the families lived near each other.  If accurately recorded, Bertie gave this book to Pearl 1 Dec 1900, which would've been abt. 6 yrs before Pearl married Harvey Pointer in 1906.  Pearl was born in May, so I don't think that this was a birthday gift.  However, it may have been a Christmas gift.  Basically, I don't know what their relationship was exactly, but at the very least, they were acquaintances, and at the very most, close friends.

Longfellow and His Evangeline
I next decided to read Evangeline in order to see what Pearl saw when she read it.  However, I did  some background research on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Evangeline before I actually read it [which turned out to be a good idea because I hadn't read 19th century poetry in a while...]  Very briefly, the story of Evangeline is a fictional story based on an historical event.  It's a story about two young betrothed Acadians, who "lost" each other in the expulsion of the Acadians out of Acadia [now Nova Scotia] in eastern Canada.  Evangeline searches her whole life for Gabriel [her betrothed] all over America.  She eventually is an elderly nurse who is nursing this older man, who turns out to be her beloved Gabriel.  Tragically, he dies in her arms.  Pretty dramatic, huh?  It may be.  However, America in 1847 loved it.  It was widely read and used often in schools for reading and memorization.  In other words, it was ingrained in America's students for decades.  Also, it served as a resurgence for Acadians everywhere, for by then, many had forgotten their history.  This served as a reminder of where they had come from and who they were.  The book was printed many times including in the late 19th century, when Pearl was born and growing up.  Evangeline was so popular with Acadians and their descendants that it has been immortalized in many ways and in many places.  To name only a few:  there is the Evangeline sculpture in Gran Pre National Historic Site in Nova Scotia; "Gabriel's" house in Lafayette, Lousiana; "Emmeline's" grave in St. Martin, Louisiana; the parish of Evangeline in Louisiana; and the Evangeline Thoroughfare in Lafayette, Louisiana.  In fact, in some places, you'd be hard pressed to convince some that the character Evangeline is fictional.

Who Were the Acadians?
This seemingly innocuous question led me to quite a bit of history.  The Acadians were French colonists from the western part of France who had started settling in what is now Nova Scotia in Canada in the 1600's.  Almost from the beginning it was a war torn area between the French and the British over this part of North America.  The Acadians remained neutral, but in the end were told to swear allegiance to the British Crown and take up arms against their fellow countrymen, which they did not do.  In 1755, they were expelled from their lands, and they were spread out all over the place.  Some were shipped back to France, some relocated in the American colonies, and some took refuge in Quebec.  

Acadians, Cajuns, Creoles, and French Canadians: Who's Who?
This Acadian history got me to thinking about a Cajun I know.  A Cajun that has a couple of lines that are French-Canadian.  [Interestingly, all the rest of her lines are of French descent, a.k.a. Creole].  When I previously researched some of her main lines, I found that most had been researched thoroughly all the way back to the 1500's in France.  [I'm not jealous.  Really...]   So, after reading this Acadian history, I was curious to see if her 2 French-Canadian lines were Acadian, as well.  The first line, Guillory, came from Blois, France, and settled in Montreal, Quebec in 1664.  They moved from there to Massacre Island [now Dauphin Island], Alabama ca 1707.  After the Peace of Paris in 1763, Great Britain gained control of land east of the Mississppi River, and the Guillory's migrated to Fort Opelousas, Louisiana.  Her other line, the Deshotels/Desautels also came from the western part of France and settled in Montreal, Quebec sometime before 1631, and they moved to Point Coupee, Louisiana sometime before the expulsion in 1755.   Before I go on, let me define some terms.  Now, an Acadian descendant is a descendant of a person who lived in what was once known as Acadia [now Nova Scotia].   A French-Canadian descendant is one who descends from French colonists that settled in Canada.  A Creole refers to those who descend from French and Spanish colonists who were born on the North American continent.  The term Cajun is a derivative [or slang] of Acadian, so by definition, it would mean the same thing as Acadian.  However, in researching these terms, I found that the meaning of Cajun has morphed into meaning those who are born and raised in 22 of the southern counties in Louisiana.  To prove this [not scientifically, though], I asked the Cajun that I know, "What do call yourself?"  She replied, "I'm a Cajun."  Specifically, what happened, is the cultures of the Creoles and the French-Canadians [who settled in the southern areas of Louisiana] were "absorbed" by the Acadian culture forming what is now known as a "Cajun" culture.  [About as clear as mud, I know, but the good thing is that the mudbugs, or crawfish, are found in the mud...]  Seriously, there are some similarities in her French Canadian migrations and that of the migration [that was forced] of the Acadians.  Also, Montreal is located near what was known as Acadia.  I would imagine that there was some identification between the two entities because of the proximity of each other in Canada and in France.  [Again, this is just my supposition.]

So, What's In A Name?
Well, in this case, Evangeline is a name of a book of poetry by H.W. Longfellow given by one friend and neighbor t
o another - from Bertie to Pearl.  This book tells the tale of a dark spot in history where the Acadians were expelled from their lands in Canada.  Some of the resulting Acadian migrations were similar to the migrations of two of the lines of a Cajun I know leading  them all to Louisiana.  These Cajun descendants who settled in what is now Ville Platte, Evangeline Parish, Louisiana where the Cajun I know is from. 

...a Cajun who became my neighbor because of a hurricane...

...a Cajun neighbor who became my friend.


1. U.S. Federal Population Schedule [accessed 
    by and Heritage Quest]
2. databases for Story County
3. Acadian-Cajun Genealogy & History 
4. 1755-The History and the Stories
5. Acadian GenWeb
6. Cajun Country History
7. Evangeline Parish, Louisiana USGenWeb
8. Maine Historical Society Website: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
9. Wikipedia: Acadia
10. Wikipedia: Evangeline
11. Google Map of Montreal 
12. Google Map of Nova Scotia 
13. Google Map of Southern Louisiana


  1. This is a really informative article and it's always fun to re-read an introduction to the difference between Acadians and French Canadians.
    One of the points of confusion is that the term French Canadian can refer in modern times to all Canadians who speak French, or to the historical meaning which you are discussing.
    I would like to comment on one or your phrases:"A French-Canadian descendant is one who descends from French colonists that settled in Canada". When using the term French-Canadian to contrast with Acadian, it would be more accurate to say that French-Canadians are those who settled in the area we now call Quebec.
    Thanks again for an interesting article.
    Evelyn in Montreal

  2. You are so very correct, Evelyn. Thank you for making the clarification. I should have been more specific in that statement. I'm glad you enjoyed it. It was difficult to get a lot of information "packed into" this story without being too technical!


  3. You're absolutely right - the very hardest articles to write are those that are packed with information AND succint, and it's even more difficult when you have a varied audience.
    I think you did a great job and I look forward to reading more of your work.
    Evelyn in Montreal

  4. This is a great article. I really love the way you bought everything together.
    I'm also a New Orleans resident who was displaced by Katrina, and ended up in Boston. I wonder if future generations will wonder and piece together why and how I ended up in Boston.


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