Saturday, April 7, 2012

Julie Chevallier Meine

The decades leading up to the First World War were known as the Belle Epoque, the beautiful age. How beautiful was it?

The Franco-Prussian War, which France began and Prussia ended, began and ended in 1870. France's humiliating defeat marked the end of the government of Napolean III and the beginning of  the Third Republic. The peace treaty required France to cede the province of Alsace and much of the ancient province of Lorraine. Graffigny-Chemin was located in Lorraine, then called Haute-Marne. It is the village of my grandmother Marguerite Meine (nee Chevallier).

Defeat brought reform. A new government established a new education system. Railroads were built, the telephone invented, and the camera revealed images of daily life.

Marguerite Chevallier Meine
[Recheck the name Julie Laura Emma Chevallier]

My great grandmother was Julie Laura Emma Chevallier (b.1862). That is a mouthful. There is a saying I heard that mothers and fathers gave their children multiple names to fool the devil. Often the first name was a misnomer, and the child's spoken name would be the second in the series of names given at birth. This was the case with Julie Laura Emma Chevallier. For when I visited Graffigny and went to the house she shared with her husband Charles Meine, over the door, I saw the initials "C & J" which stood for Charles and Julie. 

Julie Laura Chevallier Meine and her two daughters

I have a few pictures of my great grandmother. The above image shows Julie with her two daughters, Paula and Marguerite. Marguerite, on the right, is my grandmother. 

I missed the chance to ask my grandmother about her life in France. I was a teenager when she died and saw her but a few times during her lifetime as my father was in the military. 

Thinking back on the few conversations we had at her house in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, it is surprising now that she was so vehemently anti-German. I say that not because she was French. The French hated Germany for two wars. There was much to hate. But my great grandfather was German. His name was Charles Meine. My grandmother was, as I would learn later, born in Hannover, Germany. The family was well-to-do with business interest in Germany and a vacation home in Switzerland. Charles died before World War I, and Julie raised her children alone, as far as I know.

front door with intials "C & J"

My grandfather James Madison Pearson came to France in 1917. He was part of the American Expeditionary Force, serving with the Second Division, and fighting in several major battles. He was injured, met my grandmother, and they married.

eglise de St.Elophe et St Christophe, Graffigny-Chemin

Julie Chevallier Meine stayed in Graffigny after the war. She was there during the Second World War, and there is a story that she saved the village from destruction by the Germans. See Wikipedia on Graffigny-Chemin. The house that she and her husband lived in Graffigny is still there. It is located across from the church of St. Elophe and St. Christophe. The postcard below shows the street in front of their house and their carriage house behind the wall.

Graffigny-Chemin 1909

Feast of Joan of Arc, 1909, Graffigny-Chemin


My great grandfather's name was Charles William Meine. I know next to nothing about him. He died before WWI, leaving behind a wife and two daughters in Graffigny. Below are two more images. I presume that they are also of Julie, taken at an earlier date. The one on the left was taken in Meran, Italy near Bolsano. The other was taken in Innsbruck, Austria.

Graffigny-Chemin 1909

La Belle Époque, French for " the Beautiful Era," -  in France the time between 1871 and 1914, the end of the Franco-Prussian War and the beginning of World War I, when life was beautiful, Europe stable, and the world at peace.

My grandmother Marguerite lived in the small village of Graffigny-Chemin with her mother and sister. Marguerite's father, Charles William Meine had passed away, but left the family in comfortable circumstances. He, as I was to learn later, German, though nothing is left of his family records other than an old photograph or two. In 1918. my grandmother married my grandfather, Madison Pearson, an officer with the American army in World War I.

In 1909 Graffigny-Chemin was, as it is now a small village of several hundred souls in the French department of Haute-Marne, formerly the province of Lorraine. Then, as now, it was a farming village with cattle in the pastures, and orchards in the hills behind the village. A stream fed the waterwell in the center of town next to one of two churches that Graffigny had, and across the main square from the house where my grandmother lived with her family. The house where they lived was unlike any other in Graffigny, for it was surrounded by a wall which enclosed the two-story house, a carriage house, and garden.

In April of 1909, Jeanne d'Arc was beatified by Pope Pius X. That event, most likely, inspired the photograph and postcard seen below. And there in the postcard, on the left side is the wall surrounding the home and the carriage house of my grandmother. My grandmother was a young lady at this time. She is perhaps lost in the crowd.

Visit the Orleans Fête de Jeanne d'Arc.