Many years ago on one of my trips to the Registro Civil in Panama, I tried to obtain as many birth, marriage, and death affidavits for my predecessors as I could. I was not even sure if my great-grandparents had met in the Caribbean or in Panama, so the prospect of finding their marriage records at the Registro Civil really felt like quite the shot in the dark. I was disappointed but not surprised I never did find anything there.
However, recently, one of my Vallee cousins, Ann Marie, found among some of her mother’s old papers a marriage record for Francois “Simon” Vallee and Adele “Josephine” Cadignan. She sent me pictures of the document and, later, a hard photocopy. The record was quite lengthy and written completely in French, which I first thought meant this was our proof they had met and married in Martinique. But further inspection revealed that this was actually a French translation of a Panamanian marriage record. (A million thanks to friend, former roommate, and native French speaker Sylvine for helping me figure that out!) The translation was handwritten on the letterhead of the Agence Diplomatique de France a Panama, meaning this was a French agency based in the isthmus that handled diplomatic relations with Panama.
Getting my DNA results a couple of weeks ago has inspired a new wave of family history research activity that is paying off already. This week I made my most exciting genealogical discovery to date thanks to FamilySearch.org. I found a form called a “Panama Canal Application for Photo-Metal Check Employees” for my great-grandfather Francois “Simon” Vallee. This single page provides a wealth of information that both confirms some facts we believed to be true and provided some new details that help to round out our timeline of his life and a picture of who Simon was. Let’s go through it line-by-line.
One of my most aching family history research questions comes from a desire to know if my great-grandparents knew each other in their home islands or if they did not meet until after migrating to Panama. So many questions: Did they grow up in the same town? Did they marry in the Caribbean or in Panama? Heck, did they marry at all? Did they travel to the isthmus together or separately? Were they truly in love or were their relationships more a result of circumstance or convenience…or maybe even coercion? Two sets of great-grands from Barbados, one set from St. Lucia, and another from Martinique; I’m sure at least one of their stories has an element of at least one of those. But I don’t know yet. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
When people ask me what I hope to learn from my family history research there are two things I usually say are particularly important to me. First, like most members of the diaspora, I yearn to know where in Africa my ancestors originated. For at least one ancestor I want to know what tribe they belonged to, the language they spoke, the name they answered to, the exact piece of earth they slept and worked on, and so on. Following from that, I’d also like to know the stories of their descendents that endured slavery. Continue reading →