No Jumping, Please

Addendum to report #4 on my 2011 genealogy research trip to Panama

I have to say, things have really been moving on the Cadignan end of things. I also have to admit that I may have gotten so excited about the progress I was making I jumped ahead of myself and went running full steam ahead towards a conclusion based on shaky evidence.  I’ll explain.

First, there was the discovery of my great-uncle Louis Vallee Cadignan’s birth certificate, confirming that his grandfather was Joseph Cadignan and firmly connecting us to the Cadignans of Francois, Martinique.  The birth certificate also gave us an estimated birthyear of 1891 for Adele/Josephine Cadignan based on the fact that she was reported to have been 62 years old when it was issued in 1953.  I wanted to confirm that I had understood this piece of information correctly with a native Spanish speaker and told my mom we should talk about it. We didn’t get around to it until a couple of weeks later.

In the meantime, I thought about how nice it would be to have a month and day of birth to go along with the estimated year. I took advantage of the fact that many descendents of the Vallee Cadignan clan had gathered over the Independence Day weekend for a wedding in Atlanta. The grandmother of the bride was none other than Tia Claire, the last surviving child of Simon/Francois and Josephine/Adele.  I could not make it to the wedding, so I texted my lovely cousin Ayanna and asked her to ask Claire if she remembers either of her parents’ birthdays.  Ayanna texted me back, reporting that Claire did not remember her father’s birthday (bummer) but that her mother’s was February 6 (score!).

So now I have a complete date to work with: February 6, 1891.  Of course, I do have to keep in mind that the year is an estimate and the month and day were sourced from someone who lost both parents at a very young age (Claire was raised by her older siblings).  But at least now we’ve got something concrete to work with!!

Being so excited to have these crumbs of information, I went online and scoured the internet for information on how to request a search for Martinican records. I eventually came across something better, vital records for this time period in Martinique were actually accessible through the French government’s Archives Nationale d’Outre-mer website, an online repository for records related to France’s colonial expansion in the Caribbean and other parts of the world.  I looked through the birth records for the month of February 1891 and did not see any baby Cadignans. Given the birthyear I had was an estimate, I resolved that I would widen the search, starting with February 1890 and 1892.

I may have reached for the “easy” button a little too soon as far as Josephine’s year of birth was concerned.

Over the next couple of days I discovered other Martinican documents were available online, which led to my self-education about actes d’individualité.  I was excited to pick my mother up from the airport so that I could hear about the wedding and have a captive audience for my latest leads.  As she looked over Tio Louis’s birth certificate I mentioned to her something seemed off and perhaps I had lost something in translation.  My mother looked it over and said my understanding of what it said was correct; the problem was that there was clearly a factual inaccuracy. I had been so excited to have enough information that would give me an approximate birthyear for Josephine I had missed one really important point.  Remember how I said that Claire was raised by her siblings because her parents died at an early age?  My mom said Claire was three and my grandfather Hilarion (born in 1921) was nine when their mother passed away. That means she died around the year of 1930.  So how could she have been present in 1953 to serve as an official witness for the issuance of this delayed birth certificate for Tio Louis?

*Sound of record scratching*

Oh, crap. I felt so silly for not having realized that, but the discrepancy was clear and the way it came about fairly easy to imagine.  “Mom,” I exclaimed, “they got some old lady to come and pretend to be Josephine so he could get that birth certificate!”  My mom said that was entirely within the realm of possibility.  I reasoned that they may have felt they had no other choice.  Tio Louis probably needed the birth certificate in order to conduct some sort of business and apparently this was one way to do it (I can’t imagine it was the only way, but perhaps it was the easiest or most “efficient” for his purposes.)

It’s important to examine each peice of the puzzle.

So where does this leave us with the birthyear we estimated for Josephine? Heck, where does that leave us as far as the validity of all of the information in that birth certificate?  Only time and more research will tell. Let’s break down the main pieces of information we get from the birth certificate and my reasoning about how much truth there may be to each fact.

  1. Louis’s name, birthdate, and place of birth.  I think we can feel confident all of that is true.
  2. Parents’ names, vocations, nationalities.  The only completely new piece of information, at least to me, was that Francois was a cook.  The fact that the name Francois, and not Simon, was used could still prove that this was Simon’s real name as it matches the name of the father on Tio Alfonso’s birth certificate.
  3. Grandparents’ names.  Again, a piece of information here lines up with other evidence, in this case connecting our Josephine Cadignan to the Cadignans of Martinique through her father Joseph.  But where did they get these names from for Louis’s birth certificate? From oral history? Perhaps a sibling’s birth certificates?
  4. Official witness testimony by Josephine.  We know it wasn’t her. Who was it?  Might they have based the given of age of 62 on how old Josephine would have been if she was still alive?

Despite the questionable context in which the birth certificate was produced, I don’t think it is a mere coincidence that the names Francois Vallee and Joseph Cadignan appear in Tio Louis’s birth certificate.  No matter how these peices of information came to be recorded in his birth record, the fact that they match details we’ve picked up from other sources suggests that the information was not pulled out of thin air. I believe that as we uncover more clues we’ll see those names quite a few times more – not that I’m jumping to any conclusions.

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