Early on the morning of June 12th I stepped into a long line to check in for my flight with the Panamanian airline COPA. I was surprised the flight was so full. The only business COPA does out of LAX is a daily back-and-forth between Los Angeles and Panama City, so I was fairly puzzled as to why there were so many people and so few of them were Latin Americans. I mean, it’s not the holidays, it’s not tourist season, in fact, it’s rainy season! What I failed to realize was that June 12, 2014 was the first day of something that’s kind of a BFD in every other country in the world, the FIFA World Cup. I quickly learned the three guys in front of me and the two guys in back of me, and many of the other passengers, were headed to Brazil via Panama.
As for me, I was heading to Panama to visit with family and see if I could score a new genealogy find or two. And with the help of my trusty in-country research assistant, Tio Lucho, I did. We went to the Registro Civil and managed to catch them during a lull. A lovely and patient woman who shares the first name of my late Tia Ilka (fate?) searched the database for death records for my maternal great-grandparents. We know that they were not born in Panama so I was hoping we could find some other records of their lives there, most likely marriage and/or death records. Since we did not have cedula numbers or dates of death for any of them, and their French names almost always get misspelled and/or Hispanicized in especially creative ways, it started out as a disappointing errand. I was not surprised when Ilka could not find anything related to my maternal grandmother’s parents, Louis Joseph Colomb and Catherine “Edelanive” Mondesi of St. Lucia. Next we tried my maternal grandfather’s parents, Francois Isambert Vallee and Adele Cadignan of Martinique. And we found them! As the World Cup commentators would yell, “Goooooooooooolazo!”
Of course, tracking them down took quite a bit of searching. As I’ve recounted in previous posts, my great-grandfather’s given name, per his Martinique birth registration, was Francois Isambert Vallee. However, family in Panama always referred to him as Simon Vallee and it has been the family’s experience in Panama that the French spelling of Vallee (two e’s) often gets reduced to the the Spanish Valle (one e). Given all of that it was not surprising that his death record was under the name of Simon Valle. According to the death record he died at 5 p.m. in Panama City’s Hospital Santo Tomas on March 6, 1938. The causes of death were listed as nephritis (kidney inflammation), congestive heart failure, and anasarca (massive swelling). His age was listed as 49, which is consistent with the September 18, 1888 birthdate in Francois Isambert Vallee’s Martinican birth record. The birth record listed his parents as Marie Victiore Bapin and Theodore Vallee, which is a comfortably close match to the Victoriana Bappe and Teodoro Valle named in the Panamanian death record. Score!
In Simon’s death record his wife was listed as Josefina Gadian, which we can accept as a pretty clear misrepresentation of my great-grandmother Josephine Cadignan’s name. Her own death registration identified her as Josefina Cadian de Valle, who died of arteriosclerosis (plaque buildup in the arteries associated with coronary heart disease) at Hospital Santo Tomas at 2:30 pm on February 7, 1935 at the age of 44. Her parents are listed as Jose and Diamantina Cadian of Martinique. Taken together, these bits of information in her death record do not tell quite as neat a story as Simon’s. This table (Goooool 7-7-14 table) allows us to weigh the likelihood that Adele Cadignan, DOB April 4, 1893 and Josefina Cadian de Valle, DOD February 7, 1935 are the same person. (The numbering below corresponds to facts listed in the table.)
2. The age reported in the death register would put Josefina Cadian de Valle’s year of birth at around 1891. This is pretty close to Adele, who was born in 1893 per Martinique vital records, but does not provide the same satisfaction we had in aligning Francois/Simon’s age at death with the date of birth from his birth registration.
3. Adele’s birth record lists her mother as a Rose Lubin Rose while Josefina’s death record lists her mother as a Diamantina Cadian. It is mainly the name Diamantina that has the potential to upset the narrative we had been developing of Adele/Josephine this far. And oh, the plot thickens. In Louis Vallee Cadignan’s birth affidavit, his maternal grandparents are listed as Joseph Cadignan (consistent information) and Matilde Joseph – not Diamantina or not Rose. This twist is pretty vexing, but given the context in which that birth affidavit was created (see here), it ultimately does not carry much weight. Furthermore, with the death record having been created after Josephine’s death, it is unlikely that whoever provided the information about her parentage for the Panamanian death registration could have firsthand knowledge that would trump the attestation given by her father Joseph Cadignan and his witnesses when he registered Adele’s birth.
4. The name of Adele’s father according to her birth record, Joseph, is the French version of Josefina’s father’s name, Jose. It’s definitely possible that the Panamanian authorities recorded Josephine’s and her father’s names under their Spanish cognates.
5. The death record stated that she was married and gives her last names as Cadian de Valle, which is conceivably a misrepresentation of Cadignan de Vallee. It does not name the husband as Simon (or Francois), but provides enough circumstantial evidence to make it likely this is the same Josefina Gadian referenced in Simon’s death registration. So what do we conclude? In my estimation, the preponderance of evidence suggests that Adele Cadignan and Josephine Cadignan (a.ka. Josefina Cadian/Gadian de Valle) are in fact the same person. The discrepancy between the birthdate and age reported at her time of death is noteworthy, but not in itself enough to disprove the Adele = Josephine assertion. It was surely not unheard of for people during this era, especially migrants with perhaps little or no education, to not know their exact date of birth or age. Or for the people left behind to provide such information at the time of death to not know this information nor have access to the relevant documents. The inconsistencies with Adele/Josephine’s mother’s name across three different documents is the biggest bump I’ve encountered on my rocky road to the past, but considering the context in which each of these records were created makes me confident in my assessment that the birth record trumps the other two.
I feel confident in asserting the following:
Adele “Josephine” Cadignan de Vallee was born on 4 Apr 1893 in Le Francois, Martinique and died in Hospital Santo Tomas in Panama City, Panama on 7 Feb 1935.
Francois “Simon” Isambert Vallee was born 18 September 1888 in Le Vauclin, Martinique and died in Hospital Santo Tomas in Panama City, Panama on 6 Mar 1938.