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Guest Post - One FGB Reader's Huguenot Research


Protestant town door



We received the following from one of our Dear Readers, Monsieur C, which describes his research on a Protestant ancestor:

First, I wanted to thank you for your lovely site! I just discovered it the other day. I've been going back and reading every single post. Even if they have nothing to do with my research, they are still a joy to read. I especially love the little flavor you add with Le Roy's descriptions of the months used during the French Republic.

Second, I wanted to thank you for helping me with a big discovery, which I'll get to momentarily. Here's a little background first. 

Last summer, I started researching my family history. My grandfather had died the previous fall, and I had been thinking frequently about him and where the Chastains had come from. His name was Peter Alexander Chastain IV. His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were Peter Alexander Chastain the III, II, and I, respectively. Now they're all buried next to each other in the ancient dirt of the Appalachian Plateau.

Peter I was the first of my Chastain line to come to America. He traveled here in 1860 with his family. He was born in Schwabendorf, Germany in 1820. His father's name was Christian Chastain. This was all the information we had. So, knowing this much, I started doing some digging online. I soon discovered that Schwabendorf was a colony formed by Huguenot refugees from France in 1687 after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. (Now I knew why a family with a French last name had come from Germany.)

After doing a little more research, I found the Schwabendorf site. It looked like some sort of historical society. Surely they'd be able to help me or at least point me in the right direction. I emailed them. The next day I received a reply. They could trace my family back to a Pierre Chastain, a doctor, who moved to Schwabendorf in 1717 from another Huguenot colony, Louisendorf, Germany. Well, that was easy. In just one day I had extended my family's knowledge of its origins by over a hundred years.

I purchased one of the family books that the historical society offers. It contains details of every family that lived in Schwabendorf from 1687 to 1925 (taken from church records). The book also lists where each family came from in France. Everyone had a town listed except for two families. Of course mine was one of them. Chastain - unknown. This has been a source of frustration for a while now. However, it did at least mention the province of France where the Chastain family came from—the Dauphiné. Armed with this new knowledge, I began researching Louisdendorf, Germany as well as the Dauphiné Province in France.

My research then hit a wall for a while. I realized how lucky I had been to strike gold so early in my efforts. Not knowing what else to do, I began reading every book about Huguenots I could get my greedy little hands on. I found one book titled "A History of the Huguenots of the Dispersion at the Recall of the Edict of Nantes" by Reginald Lane Poole. In it, there was a chapter about Huguenot refugees who had settled in the Hesse Province of Germany. This is where both Schwabendorf and Louisendorf reside. He mentioned that most of the families that settled in this area of Germany had passed through Switzerland first and had come from the Dauphiné Province in France, with most of these coming from the town of Die. Well, I thought. Every bit of new information should help.

Soon, I learned about the existence of the Swiss charity registers which recorded assistance given to the refugees while in Switzerland. I did some searching, but was unable to find them. In the meantime, I found a book that was extremely helpful—"Hugenotten und Waldenser in Hessen-Kassel". It's in German, but has an index of names. Chastain had several entries. From this book, I learned that Pierre Chastain was recorded as arriving in the Hesse Province of Germany in July of 1687. Now I had pushed back even further, from 1717 to 1687. But again, it only mentioned that he came from the Dauphiné Province, no specific town, and I was coming up empty researching from the other end in France.

Now I can finally get to how your blog helped me. One of your recent posts on the International Museum of the Reformation linked to a database that holds those Swiss charity registers that I've been looking for for so long. Excitedly, I navigated to the site and searched for Chastain. Nine results popped up. Three of them were for a Pierre Chastain. The province listed as his place of origin? Dauphiné. His occupation? Doctor. This all matched so far. Now to the dates. On 11/22/1686 he applied for assistance in Neuchâtel, Switerland. Two days later he applied for assistance in nearby Neuveville, Switzerland. Then in February of 1687, a few months before he was known to be in Hesse, Germany, he applied for assistance in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, right next to the German border. Each time he was closer to Germany, and the dates match with what I had already known. If you are familiar with the Huguenot trail from France to Germany, these towns in Switzerland are all on it.

I'm 99% certain that this is the very same Pierre Chastain who is currently my earliest known ancestor. And the big discovery? The assistance registers also list the home town of those applying for help. Pierre was from Vesc, France. I was beyond excited to discover this, and it's all because of your blog. I now know the exact town where my family came from in France. Thank you.

I'm now hoping to use this information to see if I can find out more and dig back further. I know that Vesc resides in the Department of Drôme so I've started doing a bit of research already.

Sorry this was so long-winded. I knew I would get carried away. I love researching and discussing my family history as I'm sure you understand. So here is my final thank you for your lovely blog and specifically for the post that led me to this wonderful discovery.


Merci ! We are very pleased that the FGB is of help and we know that Isabelle will be pleased that it was her post that guided someone to new discoveries. You can read more about Monsieur C's research on his blog.


©2015 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy