In April 2009, my wife and I made a visit to England to tend to some business with her family, and to have an opportunity to tour England.
Thanks to the efforts of George Pelletier and others in establishing and maintaining a history of the Pelletier family on the web, I was aware of the existence of La Cristerie, the ancestral home of Guillaume Pelletier, my earliest North American ancestor. Needless to say, a visit to France and the land of my ancestor became one of my goals in life. Accordingly, we planned a visit to Normandy.
I was unable to establish contact information for Jacqueline Pelletier, however, and did not want to appear unannounced and unexpected, if possible. I managed to get the email address for the mayor of Bresolettes, Franck Poirier. We exchanged emails, despite my limited command of the French language, and through him I was able to write a letter to Jacqueline. The very day that I was preparing to catch my flight to England, I received her reply, just in the nick of time. In it, she expressed her warm welcome and provided her coordinates so that I could contact her once in France.
Following our business and touring in England, we took a very enjoyable six hour ferry crossing from Portsmouth to Ouistreham, the port for the city of Caen, home of William the Conqueror and the base for our visit to Normandy.
Once established in Caen, we contacted M. Poirier and Jacqueline. Unfortunately, due to family commitments, he was unable to meet with us but Jacqueline was available and enthusiastic to meet us. We had rented a car and, with the invaluable help of my faithful GPS, we had no trouble getting ourselves to Tourouvre and then to our goal, Bresolettes, the small village which is nearby.
We made a short visit to Tourouvre. Here we saw the church that our ancestor was married in and, to our delight, were shown a commemorative plaque in the church with the names of all those baptized in the church who subsequently had emigrated to New France. It was truly exciting to see, on the left side, the name of Guillaume's wife, Michele Mabille and directly opposite, the name of Jean Pelletier, their son. I presume that Guillaume's name was not there as he had not been baptized in Tourouvre but probably in the little church in Bresolettes.
In Tourouvre, there is a museum dedicated to the emigrants from the area who moved to New France. Unfortunately, for us, the museum was on Spring hours and was not open for us to visit with the time that we had available. This was disappointing but - next time!
We then drove the few kilometres to La Cristerie, the name of the ancestral home. Again, it was exciting to see the name, and then on the mailbox, the name "Pelletier". We were soon welcomed by Jacqueline and toured the house. She was very gracious with my choppy French and we had a very good conversation and visit. Naturally, we took several pictures, including one of Jacqueline and myself. As both of us are direct descendants of Guillaume we must, in some way, be related.
We were particularly fortunate to be visiting at this time. After more than 20 years in France, Jacqueline was in the final stages of preparing to move back to Canada at the end of May 2009.
Jacqueline does not own La Cristerie but rather has rented it from its owner for many years. When she moved in, the house, which dates from the 1500's, was in rough shape; in fact, she told me that cows had been in it! Today, it looks lovely and very much a solid dwelling. However, with her leaving, the disposition of the house is unknown. She expects that the owner may sell the property.
Needless to say, this is disquieting to me as who knows what may then happen to the property. It is possible that it may disappear or return to its former state of disrepair. In either case, it would be a loss to all the descendants of Guillaume if this were to happen. Jacqueline says that the sense of history which we feel with this home is not felt the same way by the local people. I suppose we are the people who left and life has gone on over the centuries since and so has much less meaning to them.
It is hard to describe the feelings that one has with an experience like this. I definitely felt a resonance with the house and a strange sense of "home" reaching back across the centuries. I think the thing that strikes me most about this heritage, which is made substantial by the solid, traditional, nearly 500 year old house, is the courage shown by Guillaume. He moved his family to the New World in 1641, when he would have been about 43 years of age. Even today, such an upheaval in one's family would be difficult. In those days, when life expectancy was much shorter and a voyage across the seas would be filled with danger, the courage required, and the faith in the future, would have been great. Others from his community and family had also made the trip so he would not have been alone or going somewhere completely foreign and friendless - still, I see it as an act of great courage.
And, due to that courage and that faith in a better future for his children and the generations to come, I and my children have had the opportunity to experience that better life in a great country.
Thank you, Guillaume, from all of us.