The thermometer in our poor, parched garden has gone over its top number. We do not know the precise temperature, but it is over fifty degrees Celsius (not Centigrade, merci Monsieur H.) For this, instead of traipsing the world, we could stayed in our natal California and simply moved to Needles (where, we note, some five thousand fools, madmen or rheumatics have inexplicably chosen to reside). We abhor the heat and feel most blessed to have a stone house with a ground floor that remains cool no matter what kind raging fireball is encircling the house. Somewhat oddly, being trapped in a cool dark room hiding from a heat wave is not all that different an experience from being snowed in during a blizzard. There are those who watch a screen, those who play patience, and those who, like us, rummage about in notebooks and folders of ideas and projects that we thought were brilliant but never got around to really exploring.
We came across a small family archive we had bought a couple of years ago at brocante (flea market) for less than five euros. The little bundle of papers presents quite a family history and one feels saddened to come across it orphaned in such a way. The head of the family, Jean Chicou, was a bailiff in the department of Corrèze and there are many letters that he wrote to the court for his work as well as documents confirming him in his official post. There are a few receipts, mysteriously saved from the family accounts. There is a collection of letters and court records from as early as 1821 and continuing through the 1860s deal with his children and their inheritance from him.
We began to search for this family, using Filae.com and the website of the Departmental Archives of Corrèze. The documents gave so much information that we soon had identified seven branches of the Chicou family.
They produced some wanderers who wrote home. in 1865, Joacem Chicou, perhaps a merchant seaman, wrote to his parents in Donzenac from Bombay, informing them that he now lived in Le Havre. It seems he had run off from a job in Paris as an apprentice for, a month earlier, he had written them that he hated his job and he hated his aunt. A daughter, Marie, married and moved to Bordeaux, then to Asnières; dutifully writing to her parents three or four times per year for thirty years. They saved many of her letters and those from her son, taught to write to his grandparents respectfully.
Another son, Jean-Baptiste Chicou, born in 1849 (his birth appears in the Donzenac registers), emigrated to California in about the 1860s or early 1870s. He lived first in San Francisco, then in Contra Costa and Alameda Counties. He married, raised a large family and died in California, apparently never having returned to France for a visit. (A quick look on Ancestry showed him with his wife, Clemence, and their many children living in Oakland for the 1900 census.) Two letters from him to his brother, from 1873 and 1874, tell of his work taking horses from San Jose to the mountain pastures. The letter from 1873 describes an attack by Native Americans and the battle that ensued, in which he was wounded by an arrow.
In both letters, he complains that his brother does not write back. He writes that he wanted to send a thousand francs to his mother so that she could visit him in California but she never responded. Either he gave up writing or they did not save his other letters in he way that they saved Marie's, for there are no more from California.
Many of you Dear Readers, responded enthusiastically to our earlier post about a letter home to France, sharing your own epistolary discoveries. We do not come across such letters very often but when and if we do find more, we shall share them here.
©2019 Anne Morddel