Saturday, August 14, 2010

L'attaque du Moulin

Hate is a strong word. Hate grabs you like a vice. It boils the blood. It is the elixir that turns a rational Dr. Jekyll into a demonic Mr. Hyde.

Hate can flair up in an instance and last a lifetime. I am struck by the number of times that one will say, "I hate you." Child to parent, spouse to spouse, best friend to best friend - hate can flair up over the most trivial of incidents and burn the parties involved forever.

I was perhaps ten or eleven when my grandmother told me that she hated Germans.Well, to be honest, I don't remember her using the word "hate", it was just the intense look on her face when she related a story about the First World War. She was living in Graffigny-Chemin, a small village in Lorraine, France, perhaps 60 miles from the border with Germany. In the telling of the story her face became taut, her voice strident, and she spoke with such a ferocity, that one did not dare question her facts. We simply sat in silence and listened.

Marguerite is a very French sounding name and this was my grandmother's name. My grandfather was James Madison Pearson, which the grandchildren always shortened to Daddy Matt. My grandmother always remained grandmother Marguerite.

She was born in 1890 and although she came from a small village, it is apparent from old photographs that her family was comparatively well off. The village of Graffigny-Chemin is now located in the district of Haut-Marne, but before Napolean it was called the province of Lorraine.Occasionally, the area is still referred to as Lorraine.

The house that her family owned in Graffigny-Chemin was the largest and newest in the village. It was directly across the square from the village church, and during festivals the square was a center of attraction.There was a large garden with a spring attached to the house. And separate from the main house was a carriage house with a large oven where cooking for the house would have occurred. (The carriage house is seen in the left hand side of this postcard from 1909.)

Marguerite father died when she was perhaps thirteen, and so she lived a quiet and idyllic life in Graffigny with her sister Paula and mother Laura. When the First World War came in 1914, both she and her sister were still unmarried.

The war was for her and her family a transforming experience. Marguerite married my grandfather, an American soldier in France, at the end of the First World War and returned to the United States. She spoke English, but always with an accent, so that her stories came across with an air of mystery.

My grandmother's dislike of Germans is not so surprising. France endured three wars in the span of 70 years in which German armies marched into France and caused great destruction and loss of life. Most people are familiar with the two World Wars, starting in 1914 and again in 1939, but few Americans now can recall the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and 1871, ending in the capture of Napoleon III and a total French defeat. As a result of the treaty terms, Germany gained control of much of the provinces of Alsace and part of Lorraine. It so happened that the village of Graffigny-Chemin, where my grandmother came from, remained French while nearby towns and villages became German.

As I said, Marguerite was born in 1890, but her earliest tales were of the Germans marching through the village of Graffigny during the Franco-Prussian War. She was not yet born, but she told the story with such determination that you could imagine she had lived through it personally.

(Map from and is used here solely for educational purposes. Graffigny-Chemin and the fictional Roscreuse are added for this article.)

Her family, the Chevallier's, buried the silver and fled to the hills. The silver that was buried in the ground consisted of a set of knives and some candle sticks. That was all.Other valuables were not mentioned. Jewelry or gold, if there was any, was sold off during difficult times. Only the less valuable items remained to become part of the family history.

She spoke with such fierceness that I did not question her further. Or perhaps, I was too shy to ask. Or perhaps, I felt it was not a child's place to question a grandparent. Whatever the reason, I never learned the rest of the story.

This silver was eventually passed down to my mother. While I grew up we used the knives often as they were so sharp as to cut the toughest steak.The handles were silver and the blades made of carbon steel. And at each use I would remember my grandmother's story of her parents hiding the family valuables from the hated Germans.

History should be preserved better. Carbon steel is prone to rusting and the blades needed to be washed and thoroughly dried each time they were used. Instead, the knives, because they cut so easily, were used daily, and then placed in the dishwasher where the water would take its toll on the blades. With each cut of the meat and with each washing, the blades grew smaller and smaller. Blades that once were long and round faded away until only a sliver of steel remained. What the Germans did not steal, our family unknowingly wasted away. What has happened to the knives, I do not know. Perhaps they found their way into a drawer in my sister's house, or worse yet they were discarded as useless. I now have the set of silver candle sticks which adorn my dining room table.

It is tragic that families fail to preserve their treasured memories and stories.Growing up, I regret never asking my grandparents more questions. And with so many siblings and cousins at family gatherings, the moments spent together were more about the young than the old. Being young we wanted to run and play, and not sit and talk. Now that I am older, I long for those stories again.

L'Attaque du Moulin (The attack on the mill) is a short story in French by Emile Zola. The story in French is available for download through InLibroVeritas; it can also be translated using Google Translator. Emile Zola wrote the story in 1880, just ten years after the start of the Franco-Prussian War, when the sting of defeat was still fresh in the minds of the French. Admittedly, the story bears little relationship to the village of Graffigny or to the lives of my grandparents or great grandparents, as far as I know. But, as with all fictional stories - if you read the story carefully and you let your imagination run freely, you can for a moment transport yourself back to another time and place.

The story takes place at the beginning of the war in a fictional village called Rocreuse. Zola places the viollage in Lorraine on the river Morelle. The river like the town is fictional. But there is a river Moselle, a tributary of the Rhine River, which flows through France originating in the Vosges Mountains and joining the Rhine at Koblenz. The river meanders past the French towns of Epinal, Toul, and Metz before crossing back into Germany at Trier. Graffigny is located halfway between Epinal and Toul, and just at the edge of the Vosges Mountains. However, it is not on the river.

At the beginning of story, Merlier, a miller who lives with his daughter Francoise in the only mill in Rocreuse.A party is held and Merlier will betroth his daughter to Dominique, a Belgian man who lives nearby in the forest of Gagny. Zola describes the village and landscape beautifully. It could suffice for a description of Graffigny-Chemin and the famland that surrounds it, with the thick woods that are placed just to the east and north of the village.
" Le village n'a qu'une rue, deux files de masures, une file à chaque bord de la route; mais là, au coude, des prés s'élargissent, de grands arbres, qui suivent le cours de la Morelle, couvrent le fond de la vallée d'ombrages magnifiques.

The village has only one street, two rows of huts, a row each side of the road, but here, at the elbow of the river where the meadows expand, the large trees, which follow the course of the Morelle River, cover the valley in a magnificent shade.

Il n'y a pas, dans toute la Lorraine, un coin de nature plus adorable.

There is not, in all of Lorraine, a corner of nature more adorable.

A droite et à gauche, des bois épais, des futaies séculaires montent des pentes douces, emplissent l'horizon d'une mer de verdure; tandis que, vers le midi, la plaine s'étend, d'une fertilité merveilleuse, déroulant à l'infini des pièces de terre coupées de haies vives. »

To the right and left, thick woods, groves secular rise gentle slopes, filling the horizon with a sea of green, while to the south, the plain stretches from fertility wonderful place to infinite pieces of land cut hedges."
War is cruel. The Germans come to Rocreuse. The mill which stands solidly in the middle of the town becomes both a symbol of strength and then destruction as first the French defend it and then in turn the Germans before it is destroyed by bullets and shells. Peace, tranquility and love all fall victim to war.We are reminded that too often there are greater forces which influence our lives and destinies.

As my grandparents met because of the First World War, I can not say that war is all bad.Certainly we must fight to defend ourselves. And in the process, death is inevitable for the innocent as well as the guilty. However, Zola in this story makes a broader comment on the pointlessness of some wars. In particular, the Franco-Prussian War was started by the French, who lived by a code of honor, and ended by the superior armaments and tactics of the Germans. We should fight for a cause stronger than honor.

As for my grandmother's hatred of the Germans, there must be another story now forgotten. For, you see, my grandmother's father was himself German.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Missing Person: Elmire Chevallier

My mother's first name was Elmire. She was named after her aunt Elmire Chevallier.

I only learned of the existance of Elmire Chevallier a month ago. I learned of her existence in letters my sister Kathy gave to me. Elmire Chevallier was until then a missing person - missing to me at least and those in my family who did not know of her existence.

The name Elmire is not common. I have never been introduced to another Elmire in my lifetime. I never asked my mother the origin of her name, I just thought it pretty. My father shortened the name Elmire to El, and I thought that pretty too. At first I assumed the name origin as Spanish,  translated as"the sea". I have no basis for saying this other than it sounds poetic. I also fancy that my mother was named for Claude Debussy's beautifully then modern composition La Mer, which was composed in 1903, three years after the birth of my very French grandmother Marguerite Chevallier Meine Pearon.

An etymologist would dispute this interpretation, correcting me by saying that "el mar" is the proper Spanish translation for 'the sea', and that "elmire" translates better as "the view". Further, the word doctor would point out, Elmire is derived from the arabic, Elmira, and means aristocratic lady or princess. With this in mind, I conjure up images of  Arab Moors who swept through Spain in the 11th and 12th centuries and set up castles aand kngdoms in Cordoba, Seville, and Granada. Don't parents always dream images of faraway places and romantic persons when selecting the names of their children?

The name Elmire itself is obscure. The one reference to Elmire I can find is from a character in Moliere's play Tartuffe. The play was written in 1664 and was soon banned by King Louis XIV perhaps because of its racy subject, adultery, but also because the Catholic Church found it was not portrayed favorably. In the play Elmire is the virtuous wife and object of lust by the main character Tartuffe.

My mother's mother was French, and it is not unreasonable to suppose that she was a fan of Moliere. But, the reality is that my mother was named after an aunt, Elmire Chevallier, who lived in Graffigny as did my grandmother. Elmire Chevallier would have been sister to my great grandmother. There still exist several letters between my grandmother Marguerite and her aunt Elmire. Translating them is difficult, not only because of the cursive writing, but also because the long sentences which Elmire was prone to write.

Letters often reveal facts about families that are better left hidden. In letters we reveal our complaints and misfortunes. Keep this in mind for sentences written in haste can be exaggerated or taken out of context.

What I can pick out so far from the letters from Elmire to Marguerite is that there was some dispute as to the family home in Graffigny. So far, I have not found any letters from my great grandmother Laura to her daughter Marguerite. Correspondence seems to have been directred from Marguerite through Elmire to Laura, but whether this correspondence was returned I do not know.

What follows is my translation of a letter from Elmire Chevallier to my grandmother, Marguerite Chevallier Meine Pearson postmarked October 5, 1924. The translation obviously needs improvement and in the future I will photograph and post the actual letter. I will update translation as time allows:

M chere M'ite

Hier apres avoir mise a la porte la lettre que j'adressais a la mere, Marc est entre, comme sa femme m'avais apporte la, fameuse que tu lui a envoyee

My dear Marguerite

Yesterday after having put on the door the letter that I adressed to your mother, Mark came, as his wife had me brings, famous as you sent him

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


See page 6 for a reference to Anne Chevallier. Between pages 16 and 30 there are references to Chevallier and Richier. See page 31 for another reference to Anne Chevallier.

Page 35, birth of Elizabeth Marchal.

Page 67 the confimation of many boys and girls.

Stop at page 75.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Feburary 4, 1777 - Bans of Marriage


The Archives of Haut-Marne contain recordings of baptisms, births, and marriage for citizens of the villages in the province of  Lorraine. Go to the listing for Graffigny-Chemin and click. There are 11 sets of books of parish and civil records. Prior to Napoleon, the records are religious. Napoleon made the responsibility for civil records secular.

Start with the parish records for 1767 - 1792.Click on the book and it will take you to page one of 87 pages.

On page 7 the date February 4, 1777 records the publication of the bans of marriage for Claude Chevallier and Marie Jeanne Barbay. The post is the right-hand page. Claude is the son of Nicholas Chevallier and Anne Jaroin (sp). Marie is the daughter of Francois Barbay and Cecile Quentin (sp).

On the preceding same screen, lower left is a post for, it appears, the 18th of January of the same year. The announcement appears to be the engagement of the two.

For Jean-Marie:

On the following page 8, the same date, records the marriage of Nicolas Quentin and Barb Marchal.The name Marchal appears on many of the following pages.

I am stopping at page 15. Page 16 starts an entry for 1779 and the name Chevallier reappears. I will work on this later.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The French side

Thanks to Jean for the link to the Archives.

Log into the Archives of Haut-Marne.You will have to search a little.  I searched under Graffigny-Chemin and eventually cam across a listing for inhabitants during Napoleon's reign.  Here is a listing of the Chevalliers born (noms et prenoms des nouveaux nee) in Graffigny-Chemin in and around 1809.

Claude Alexander born 19 Fevrier 1810
Elizabeth Chevallier born 4 Novembre 1812
Elizabeth Victoria born 8 Frumaire 1814
Hypolite Chevallier born 23 Aout 1812
Marie Anne born 9 Fevrier 1809
Marie Anne born 21 April 1811
Marie Elizabeth 20 Novembre 1810
Piere Victor born 4 Avril 1809
Virgina Chevallier 19 Janvier 1809


Elizabeth Victoria Chevallier died 1 Aout 1809
Jopesph Chevallier
Marie Anne died 20 Mai 1809
Marie Martha Chevallier
Nicholas Chevallier

For Jean, there are also many Jaquots and Marchals listed in Graffigny-Chemin.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Who was first?

An O'Farrell Family History gives an extensive listing of relatives including many Pearsons.

There is another Pearson line, but it is uncertain how these Pearsons connect up to our family. One can also do a research of Pearsons in England.

Bishop John Pearson (February 28, 1612 – July 16, 1686) bishop of Chester. Was he the father of Bishop John Pearson (1636 - 1716)? Who knows?

My grandfather was James Madison Pearson of Tallapoosa, Alabama. His family came from Georgia. His family tree goes like this:

Bishop John Pearson – great x 6 grandfather (1636? – 1716?)

Edward Pearson – great x 5 grandfather (1661? – 1746?)

Enoch Pearson – great x 4 grandfather (1682/3 - 1758)

John Pearson – great x 3 grandfather (1728 - 1815)

Enoch Pearson - great great grandfather (1757 - 1831)

William Head Pearson - great grandfather (1780 - 1841)

James Madison Pearson - grandfather (1817 - 1909)

Benjamin Rush Pearson - father of James Madison Pearson

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

postcards from graffigny

Old postcards of Graffigny-Chemin

Voici une collection de cartes postales du début du siècle de Graffigny-Chemin.

Certaines des cartes postales célébrer la fête de Jeanne d'Arc du 29 Avril au 9 Mai.Le festival marque le siège de 1428-1429, quand Jeanne d'Arc ont aidé à libérer la ville d'Orléans des Anglais.L'année 1909 marque la béatification de Jeanne d'Arc par l'Église catholique.

These postcards are scenes of Graffigny-Chemin at the turn of the century. The scene shown is taken from the main church in Graffigny. The building shown on the left of the photo behind the wall is the carriage house of my great grandmother Laura Chevallier Meine.

Thanks to Jean-Marie for this postcard and another of the church at the Rue de Four. Other images from

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Qui est cette - Who is this?

Here is a one of the few family photos that I have from my grandmother Marguerite.

She was French and her family name was Chevallier. She grew up with her mother and sister in the village of Graffigny-Chemin, near Bourmont. Her father died when she was still young. She married my grandfather shortly after the First World War and left Graffigny. Her mother lived in Graffigny until her death.

Who is this? What are the medals? Can someone determine the unit he was from and rank?

Qui est le soldat sur la photo?

Ma grand-mère était française. Le nom de famille était Chevallier. Elle a habité à Graffigny-Chemin, près de Bourmont, France. Je crois que son père est mort avant la Première Guerre mondiale. Ma grand-mère Marguerite a épousé mon grand-père, un officier américain, après la guerre. Mon arrière grand-mère a vivre dans Graffigny jusqu'à sa mort.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

July 22, 1944

World War II touched the small village of Graffigny-Chemin on the night of July 22 1944 war.

A British Lancaster airplane returning from a bombing mission crashed in a thick fog into the hills outside of Graffigny. Thirteen airmen died in the crash and were buried later in the village cemetery. Three airmen survived the crash. Two were seriously wounded and treated by a doctor from the neighboring town of Bourmont. As their wounds were serious, they were taken to the Germans in hopes with the hope they would be treated well. The two airmen were never heard from again.

A third airman Canadian Paul Bell was hidden in the village of Graffigny-Chemin. He was then escorted to Switzerland by the French. He returned to England and rejoined his unit. Sadly, he died in the liberation of Holland.

Although the plane burned on impact, its radio transmitter, weapons, and some explosives remained intact. Villagers of Graffigny-Chemin removed these before the Germans arrived. On discovering this, the German commander took hostages and threatened to execute the hostages and burn the village if the plane's contents were not returned.

Living in Graffigy-Chemin was the widow of a German colonel who had died in 1913. She interceded with the German commander for the return of the hostages and cancellation of the order to destroy the village.

The story is by way of Dominique Martin.

Perdu dans la traduction

Je m'excuse pour les peu entrées au cours des quelques derniers mois. Je suis retourné à l'école pour apprendre le français. Alors que le français est une langue belle, elle est pour moi celui qui est difficile à prononcer. Je ferai de mon mieux.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Postcards Graffigny-Chemin, l'eglise de St Elophe and St Christophe de Graffigny

 L'eglise de St Élophe et St Christophe a Graffigny

church of Saint Élophe and St Christophe in Graffigny, 1909

This 1909 postcard celebrates the beatification and festival of Jeanne d'Arc  by Pope Pius X. Pictured is the church of Saint Élophe and St Christophe in Graffigny, two unidentified girls stand watching a group of men.

The church is named for the saints, Saint Élophe and St. Christophe. The statutes to the left and right of the entrance are respectively, St. Elophe and St. Christopher. Saint Élophe was a French martyr of the 4th century who was decapitated. St. Christopher is remembered for his act of carrying Jesus across a dangerous river, and, so became the patron saint of travelers. The church is located on the ancient Roman Way (Voie Romaine), travelling north toward Toul, one arrives at the way-station, Soulosse-sur-St-Elophe.

My grandmother was French and she grew up in the village of Graffingy-Chemin, in a house across the street from the church of St. Elophe and St. Christopher. Marguerite Chevallier Meine and her sister Paula grew up in Graffigny.  I am not certain about the birth year, but think that Maurguerite was born in 1890 and Paula in 1888.[Check this.]

The First World War came to Graffigny-Chemin in 1914. My grandfather Madison Pearson came in January of 1918 as part of the American Expeditionary Force and the Second Division. He was billeted in the village, injured near there, and nursed back to health by my grandmother.

They fell in love, married, and returned to the United States.