Le Roux Rendezvous

These past days this last week have twisted and turned according to the elastic bonds of family. This morning I rode out of Milly-sur-Foret and the Fontainebleau Forests with a level of lightness and joy gained in no small part through renewed connection to family. I was no longer a solo soul adrift.
Backtrack to four days ago. My search of the cemeteries of Blois and beyond yielded no clues. Just weathered and worn opulence in stone. And, in metal, that familiar emaciated figure, ribs always exposed, pinned to crosses that lay about everywhere. Clearly both Catholic graveyards there in Blois. No Le Rouxs, Protestants, to be seen.
But no matter. I had bigger clues to follow. I had a record of birth. (Or of baptism, which in those times was the same thing.) “Those times” being Sunday 28th of July 1669. The register in the town’s book of births and deaths read [translated from French]: “Gabriel Le Roux son of Pierre Le Roux and of Anne Bourdon was born on the 25th of this month at three o’clock after midday and was presented to be christened by…his godfather and godmother…”
Stop right there! Do you hear what I’m saying? I held that old registry book in my hands! I touched with my fingers the old paper and its ink scrawls.
With no help from the Tourism Office – who had assured me with confidence that there were no publicly viewable records dating to that time – but with great help from Google Maps, I’d found the provincial archives office, walked in with trepidation, surprised myself with my ability to haul out sufficient French to explain my situation to the guy at reception, and 15 minutes later was sitting in front of the original, handwritten record book. Not at all unlike the ones in use in Laos today. What a feeling that was! What a grin on my face as I caressed those pages.
Plus, the helpful Alexis Durand, administrative assistant par excellence, had an article, published just last month in Australia by the Huguenot Association, that gave more information on the two Le Rouxs who made it to South Africa. My timing could not have been better.
Jean Le Roux, it turned out, had been born on the farm Pommegorge, just outside the village of Mer, about 25km from Blois. When his mother died, the parents of Gabriel Le Roux, whose birth registry I had in my hands, had moved to Pommegorge and all had lived together as one big happy family.
Gabriel was actually Jean’s uncle, but they were only a few years apart, and grew up as cousins until Gabriel’s dad died and his mom married Jean’s father. Now they were step-brothers. But no matter: they already called themselves brothers.
These were the “brothers” who fled together to the Netherlands as refugees when neither was yet 20 years old. Protestants at the time were not allowed to practice their professions or their religion, or sell their possessions. They had to go to Catholic Mass and get married in the Catholic Church. They were allowed to leave the country, but only if they took nothing with them. Which is exactly what the two young men did, finding themselves in Delft in the Netherlands by June of 1687, and on New Year’s Eve of that same year on the Voorschoten as it threw off its moorings to sail for the Cape, where it would make landing in Saldanha Bay (about a two-hour drive from Cape Town today) three-and-a-half months later on April 13, 1688.
Gabriel and Jean were granted land in what would become South Africa’s winelands. Jean named his farm Paris, married a French woman named Jeanne in 1703 and they had four kids. Gabriel named his farm La Concorde. In 1701 he also married a French woman and they had five children before both brothers drowned together in August 1711.
Three hundred and five years later, on a cold and cloudy day last week, I followed the voice of trusty Google Maps to Pommegorge. Not only was there a name sign outside, but when I buzzed, there was somebody to let me in the gate and to slowly shuffle out to welcome me. I told the old man my name and stuttered about why I had come. But my name was enough. The octogenarian owner, Andre Duche, walks slowly but gets highly animated when discussing the history of his farm, and was delighted to lead me to the very house my ancestors grew up in. A raggedy old barn now, it still shows all the markings of its two-floors-plus-an-attic original state. Andre Duche discretely stepped away and let me just stand there for a time. Stand and absorb. The space. The details. My history. I stood on the earth that birthed those who would eventually birth me.
And though, from one perspective, it was all very natural. From another, I felt… dare I say it… grounded. Rooted.
No, I am not French. Not European (with all the Apartheid-era nuances of that word.) I am African. But, at last, I have a heritage. I can trace one strand of my people back to a real place and time. I have stood where they stood. Now I can walk/trip/dance forward.
With that little victory just begging to be shared with more Le Rouxs, it was easy to make the call midway through a day’s ride to change direction and head to the little French village to the north that my brother and his family were visiting, rather than heading south-east as I’d originally planned. A few days with Douard and Emma and Ollie, a few South African braai barbecues, laugh-out-loud table tennis with a four-year-old, French baguette-and-cheese lunches in the courtyard, late-into-the-night chats, and hours of rewarding work on Douard’s business website, and I was plugged back into the grid again. Connected.
So much so that, this afternoon, when I went over a bump on the riverside path I was riding, and iTunes on my phone bizarrely switched itself on and Diana Krall randomly started belting out I love being here with you, my overwhelming feeling was “YES!”
In all the last three months, to the very day, those words would have elicited rather more gloomy feelings. But today, you was me. I was at peace with the world. Riding solo but without a touch of loneliness, I sang along to this and all Krall’s jazz standards as me, my bike and I wended along the winding river that will suggest our route in the coming days.
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10 Comments Add yours

  1. Elinore says:

    How wonderful to find this heritage, and yourself along the way!

  2. What gorgeous descriptive writing and vivid emotions in soul pictures you have given me! I don’t know who you are or where you are, but I feel deeply touched to have heard about some of journey. My cousin, Bonnie Anderson Walter, is the lead genealogist in our family of Carlton-Iverson relatives, and she and I spent a day recently looking at pictures and appreciating our ancestors and their lives.

    Thank you so much for giving us this gift. I treasure it!

    Anita L. Kozan
    Minneapolis Minnesota USA

    1. Anita, thank you so much for your wonderful response. You are a real encouragement to me to write more. It is what my soul loves, but I so rarely make time for it. This story seems to have really moved people in so many ways, and both the ancestry journey and the subsequent one of writing it have connected me with so many people in quite profound ways. And, of course, they’ve connected me to me again.
      You might be interested in an entirely different project I’ve been part of, and which has also inspired me: I’ve been helping digital asset management expert Peter Krogh to publish a book about how to digitize photos (old prints, slides and even albums) using a standard DSLR camera. (See http://www.thedambook.com/dyp.) Through that project, I ‘met’ some of his incredible ancestors, as we used their images to illustrate the book. And now we’re connecting with thousands of people who are finding the joy in keeping their old family photos alive, and making them more widely available. Telling our family stories in words and images is such a meaningful, grounding thing, I’ve realized. A real happiness generator.
      Thanks again for your beautiful note.

      1. Good morning Dominique! It is just shy of 5 AM where I live and I am packing to leave for a wedding in Phoenix Arizona. I look forward to reading about your work with photo preservation as well as your other writings. Please know that your efforts and energy are blessing the planet. Anita

  3. Bourbao says:

    Hi,
    my name is Lydia and I live in a small town, Le Conquet, in France. My mother’s name is Le Roux, she was South African, her ancestor was Gabriel. Welcome in the “big” family Le Roux.

    1. Lydia, it’s great to hear from you! Apologies that I did not see your message earlier. Thank you so much for your welcome! I just looked on the map to see where Le Conquet is, as I will be visiting France with my mother and brother and his family next month, but we will be SE and I see you are in the west. Wishing you all the best.

  4. Sebastien says:

    That is really cool Dom! You know I grew up in this region, my village is Vienne en val, you can google map it, and one of my neighbours when I was a kid was named Ivon Leroux. Maybe you are related to him…
    I hope you like the place where I grew up!😀

  5. Ian Robertson says:

    Fantastic Dom! Marianne would have loved to have seen this. I still have Grandpa Dick’s writings of his early life and patching together his recollections of family history. I must get these to you as it may fill in some of the gaps.

    1. Janine Wencke says:

      Wow Ian, I never knew about Grandpa Dick’s writings. That would be fascinating!

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