Monday, June 15, 2015

How a RAOK Broke my Guadeloupean Brick-Wall


A few months back while I was still in Madrid studying abroad, I received a message from another 23andme member wondering if I needed any help searching for my ancestors in Martinique. As you might already know, offering your help to others is known as a RAOK or Random Act Of Kindness, and in the genealogical community, you can surely find it pretty easily with people sharing their knowledge either with documents, countries, or languages in order for others to find their ancestors. Luckily, I had figured out the mystery of my Martinican ancestors with the help of David but I was stuck on the Guadeloupean side. Where was Gustave Jean Charles from? We know he had been married in Basse-Terre previously to a Françoise Jackson but with no marriage certificate or town of origin for Gustave we were stuck. We knew Françoise was from Marie-Galante but there was no marriage certificate for them there, or basically in any other town… my search was so thorough that I pretty much searched all of the towns nearby Basse-Terre and other parts of the island, such as Point-à-Pitre. However, no luck. So I told this member about Gustave and all the information I had on him, such as his occupation, estimated birth year, his mother's potential name of María Luisa, and his marriage to Françoise Jackson. We exchanged some messages about Gustave Jean Charles, and to be honest, I wasn't very hopeful. I knew that my search had been ongoing now for a couple of years and since I had searched most of the island, I had a feeling that he might actually be from Saint Thomas or another Caribbean island. When I received the response starting with "I found him" my heart dropped, could this really be Gustave Jean Charles?!?

An island of an island 

Pompierre, Terre-de-Haut, Les Saintes

The message continued with, "he is not from Basse-Terre but from Terre-de-Bas (Les Saintes)". My initial reaction was "HUH?!" Terre-de-Bas? Where's that? I've searched all of Guadeloupe and I haven't seen that town! But of course, I had stupidly ruled out a tiny island belonging to Guadeloupe, just below the area of Basse-Terre, and of course, it would be MY ancestor to have lived there!! The chain of islands, known as Les Îles des Saintes, include the islands of Terre-de-Bas and Terre-de-Haut (part of 9 islands in total). The island's population is rather small and because of its rather 'different' influx of immigrants, the islands diversity isn't completely the same as mainland Guadeloupe, "the archipelago of Les Saintes is mostly populated by the descendants of colonists from Brittany and Normandy, and inhabitants of Poitou, Saintonge, and Anjou who are mostly from the first French families that lived on Saint Christopher and Nevis when it was a French colony. The population has the peculiarity of being primarily of European origin and speaks a variety of popular American French, with some terms of Old French" [Wikipedia]. This would explain why Gustave Jean Charles' descendants carry a European Y-DNA haplogroup! 

Guadeloupe [Google]

The messages then began to flood my inbox with new documents, information, dates, and names. I was completely flabbergasted, could it be possible that my search for Gustave Jean Charles was really coming to an end?! After so much time wondering, contemplating, and trying to figure out where or who Gustave Jean Charles, were the walls finally starting to come down! 

A New Name in the Mix

When I glanced over the marriage record I was sent from 1843 in Terre-de-Bas, my first reaction was "OH OH! this isn't the same man". The marriage record was for a Gustave Chaleau and a Françoise Jackson, but I don't know a Chaleau! As I started reading the record I started to realize that this in fact was my ancestor and I'll explain why in a bit. The record stated that "the sir Gustave Chaleau, 21 years old [born about 1822], a sailor, born and domiciled in Terre-de-Bas, of age, the legitimate child of Chaleau Jean Charles and Marie Lucie, both landowners and domiciled on this island; and the miss Françoise Jackson, 20 years old [born about 1823], a seamstress, born on the island of Marie-Galante and living in this community, the natural daughter of Clarice Jackson, a laundress, domiciled at Point-à-Pitre, both appeared for marriage". 

For starters a lot of the information matched up, such as Françoise being from Marie-Galante and Gustave's birth year, his profession dealing with boats/sea, and especially that his mother was named Marie Lucie (which in Puerto Rico was translated to María Luisa). What's also important here to notice is that Gustave's father was named Chaleau Jean Charles, therefore we know that the Jean Charles name is there somewhere and as we know, the names did jump around in Puerto Rico so for it to happen in Guadeloupe wouldn't be so surprising. Also, luckily there was signature for Gustave which was similar to his Puerto Rican signature: 

Here on the right you can see his Puerto Rican signatures, if you focus on the first way he wrote Gustave you find some similarities to his signature in Guadeloupe. His signatures are a bit sloppy but this is probably due to the fact that he was in his 60s when signing as a witness in Puerto Rico. Here on the Terre-de-Bas signature we can see that Gustave signed with this new name of Chaleau, which has never appeared in any Puerto Rican records. The mystery of this new surname though can easily be solved with the help of another document -- the freedom record of my 5th great grandfather, Chaleau Jean Charles. 

A Free Man

My 5th great-grandfather Chaleau Jean Charles was manumitted from slavery on the 26th of August in the year 1842. Though it doesn't state who was his master, it does state that Jean Baptiste Caille came forward along with Paul Désiré Petit during his manumission. David has told me that it is possible for one of them to be an owner or even friends, though the record does not state an relation between the men. It states that Chaleau Jean Charles at the time of his freedom was 56 years old and a carpenter (which makes sense since various of his descendants would also take up this job!). It also states that he was a native of Terre-de-Bas, meaning that he was born there and not brought over as a slave like on my Martinican side of the family. However we don't know who Jean Charles' parents were and where they were born.   

Nº 8 Chaleau Jean Charles - Manumission, 1842 [ANOM]
Nº 8 Chaleau Jean Charles - Manumission, 1842 [ANOM]

So we see that Chaleau and Jean Charles were probably his names and out of there comes the confusion of using either "Chaleau" or "Jean Charles", and in some records they use Jean Charles as the surname rather than Chaleau. Most likely he was known as "Jean Charles" most of his life and then the Chaleau was added later on as a surname, however Gustave stuck with Jean Charles when he immigrated to Puerto Rico and even his other son goes back and forth between both Chaleau and Jean Charles on records. 

With his new found freedom, Chaleau Jean Charles was able to marry the next year and married on the 4th of September 1843 my 5th great grandmother Marie Lucie; two months later his son Gustave would marry Françoise Jackson. Chaleau Jean Charles' marriage record states that he and Marie Lucie were both from Terre-de-Bas and he 56 and she 55 years old. Their record also states that before this said marriage, together they had three children who apparently were: "inscrits sur les régistres de l'état civil de cette dite commune, de leurs actes d'affranchissements, en dite la premier janvier mil huit cent trente trois" meaning that the children were registered in the records for manumission on the 1st of January in 1833, records which I have yet to find! These three children include Charles (aged 23), Adelaïde (aged 28), and Gustave (aged 19) all living on said island. It's nice to see that Chaleau Jean Charles and Marie Lucie were able to marry! And even though Chaleau Jean Charles wasn't able to sign his own name on his marriage record, it's interesting to note that his son - my 4th great-grandfather  Gustave - at only about 19-20 years old was able to sign his own name, which makes me wonder about their education and childhood upbringing as slaves. 


At this point, I'm fairly certain this is the same man, just like with the records in Martinique, there are far too many coincidences for me just to brush it off. Because things like the name, year of birth, and especially the mother's name matches, I'm fairly confident that these two men are one and the same. I can't believe that that my search for Gustave Jean Charles is over, especially with all the confusion in the records and the craziness that was name order in Puerto Rico. Goes to show that with constant searching and some help a lot can be achieved. My next goal is to try and find out more information about Jean Charles and Marie Lucie, for example we know that Jean Charles was manumitted in 1842, but Marie Lucie seems to be manumitted in the year 1832 along with her children. I wonder why so much earlier then he was. Were they from two different plantations or owners? I don't know much more about the family and I would like to hopefully one day find where they were from before Terre-de-Bas. 

I'm excited to finally have names of towns in Guadeloupe and Martinique, and I can't wait to hopefully one day visit these two places. I can't wait to add more pieces to this puzzle, or rather make this picture a bit clearly in regards to their life on these French islands and the history that comes along with them to Puerto Rico. So happy that I can add more to my own story of my ancestors especially to a branch of my family that was so closed off to me genealogically for many years. 

Remember to keep searching, asking questions, revisiting documents and never give up! Sometimes it takes stepping away from a puzzle in order for you to gain a new outlook on how to potentially solve it. For any Puerto Ricans that might have ancestors from Guadeloupe and/or Martinique, feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions on how to get started on finding those ancestors. Also, I have written about it on my blog what feels like extensively, so feel free to poke around and read other posts for some tips and tricks. 

Can't wait to see this view one day! :D

Grande-Anse, Terre-de-Bas, Les Saintes, Guadeloupe [Google]


  1. I can feel your happiness as I read this. What a big one. This give me lots of hope. Looking forward to see where this new info. will lead you.

  2. I found your blog by my trying to find out which best DNA testing to use for Puerto Ricans (born on the isle). Thank you for sharing all this information. I am very inspired to start and really dig into my ancestry! Any recommendations are appreciated!