Saturday, February 28, 2015

Julie Burcard Thomas (1836-1922)

Julie Burcard is my direct maternal 3x great-grandmother. 
In other words, she is my mother's mother's mother's mother's mother. 
I wrote about Julie two years ago in a previous post. Since then, I have learned so much more. 

This family branch originated in Edgard, Saint John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana. The family has lived in this area since the beginning of the 19th century. 


Julie is super special to me, because she is the first female survivor of slavery I was able to identify. My family has held onto her legacy through oral history, however, her name and the details of her story had been lost. 

Through years of research and cousin connections through, I was blessed to fill in many gaps. Not only do I have names and stories, but I now have pictures!

Julie Burcard Thomas
Courtesy of C. Humphrey
Edited by Julia J. Dumas

Julie's Story:

Julie was born circa March 1836 in Edgard, Saint John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana. She is described as a mulatto woman--short and fair. After much research, I was able to identify her father was the wealthy sugar planter and sheriff, Jean Frederick Burcard (Burkhardt). Almost nothing is known of her mother. 

Being the colored child of a planter was not uncommon. Planters and overseers were men of power. They had unlimited access to women held in bondage, who could not deny their master anything, including her sexuality. The spreadsheets of slave schedules testify to the commonality of these unions through their offspring: mulatto slaves. 

The plight of the mulatto slave: 

The very idea of a mulatto slave is in and of itself an oxymoron. America's system of race-based chattel slavery was a bundle of contradictions. The natural social order of that time dictated that blacks were subhuman and were born slaves. Whites were free, born to conquer and rule. 

What then was the natural position of someone who was mixed race?

Society's racial hierarchy also influenced the rules within families. Being owned by relatives, who were either unwilling or unable to acknowledge their familial connection, was a precarious position to be in. 

Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist, describes what life was often like for a mulatto slave in his autobiography. 

The whisper that my master was my father, may or may not be true; and, true or false, it is of but little consequence to my purpose whilst the fact remains, in all its glaring odiousness, that slaveholders have ordained, and by law established, that the children of slave women shall in all cases follow the condition of their mothers; and this is done too obviously to administer to their own lusts, and make a gratification of their wicked desires profitable as well as pleasurable; for by this cunning arrangement, the slaveholder, in cases not a few, sustains to his slaves the double relation of master and father. I know of such cases; and it is worthy of remark that such slaves invariably suffer greater hardships, and have more to contend with, than others. They are, in the first place, a constant offence to their mistress. She is ever disposed to find fault with them; they can seldom do any thing to please her; she is never better pleased than when she sees them under the lash, especially when she suspects her husband of showing to his mulatto children favors which he withholds from his black slaves. The master is frequently compelled to sell this class of his slaves, out of deference to the feelings of his white wife; and, cruel as the deed may strike any one to be, for a man to sell his own children to human flesh-mongers, it is often the dictate of humanity for him to do so; for, unless he does this, he must not only whip them himself, but must stand by and see one white son tie up his brother, of but few shades darker complexion than himself, and ply the gory lash to his naked back; and if he lisp one word of disapproval, it is set down to his parental partiality, and only makes a bad matter worse, both for himself and the slave whom he would protect and defend.

Slave Status?

Some relatives debated whether Julie and her husband were indeed slaves. For some people, there is a shame or dishonor in being the descendant of people who were once enslaved. I do not feel this way. My ancestors who were enslaved are survivors in my eyes. To me, they are the strongest people to have walked this earth. There is no shame, only pride, because they did nothing wrong. 

Why I believe Julie was a slave: 

1. I am unable to find her in any record prior to 1870 (before the Civil War). Only enslaved persons were not enumerated by name in Census records. They were instead listed as property on slave schedules during 1850 and 1860.

2. In 1860, I found Julie and her first two children listed in a slave schedule as mulatto slaves in the house of her father's business partner Benjamin Bethancourt. Though there are no names, the gender and ages of Julie and her first two children match. Why would Julie not in the household of her father, even though he owned numerous slaves? As Frederick Douglass stated, keeping one's mulatto offspring in the household was an offense to white relatives. The social order had to be maintained.

3. Julie married a black man by the name of Pierre Thomas. Though having several children, they did not legally wed until 16 May 1868, after the Civil War. If they were free, I am sure they would have wed before the Civil War because Julie was a Catholic woman. It was also the tradition of newly freed persons to legally wed their long-time spouses to ensure legal and financial rights as free persons.

Julie and Pierre had several children: 

Elmira Leonie
Jean Baptiste
Henry Raoul
*debated, only listed once in records

Confirming Julie's father

In the 1900 Census, Julie listed her father's birthplace as Germany. This led me on a wild goose hunt to identify any foreign born people in and around her area. This immigrant claim helped tremendously, because most of the inhabitants of the parish were not immigrants nor the descendant of immigrants. 

Julie's boldness in proudly proclaiming her father's German heritage helped to confirm her father's identity. My research revealed he was actually a first-generation Swiss-American, on his father's side. JF's mother came from a long line of German-Americans who first settled Louisiana, 40 miles north of New Orleans on the German Coast. I assume Jean spoke German fluently (as many Swiss do), which may be why Julie thought he was solely German. Also, the borders of Germany changed so frequently, it is possible there may have been whispers of Germany in the household.

Our family had always known about this German heritage, because it was passed down through our oral history. 
Researching this branch of the family has unearthed a treasure of goodies.

Remember, I told you have pictures. 

Here is a side by side comparison of Julie Burcard and her father Jean Frederick Burcard.

Julie Burcard (L) with father JF Burcard (R)
Photos Courtesy of:
C. Humphrey and V. Trahan
Edited by Julia J. Dumas

Anyone see a resemblance? 

If I ever had any doubts between Julie and JF's connection, 
I simply look at their photographs. 
It is truly amazing! 
(DNA has since confirmed a connection between the white and colored offspring of JF Burcard.)

I often wonder about the relationship between these two people caught in the peculiar institution. I am sure Julie knew exactly who her father was. But, was he willing and able to acknowledge her and her children? What was Julie's relationship with her half-siblings, who were born free and white? That, I do not know. 

What I do know is that for many years, Julie and her descendants continued to live in close proximity to Jean Frederick Burcard and his legitimate children. Also, Julie had an affinity for her maiden surname. Though a married woman, she continued to use her maiden name, even on church burial records. 

This does seem a bit odd for a colored woman because none of JF Burcard's former slaves used his surname after they were freed. Only Julie. However, this was not uncommon for women who were born into prominent families.

After becoming widowed, Julie resided with her son Gustave Thomas and his family, in Montz, Saint Charles Parish, Louisiana until her death. At her death, Julie would have been approximately 86 years-old. He passed away on 10 March 1922. She is buried at Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church in Edgard, Louisiana, USA.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Jules Keller

This week, I chose to write about Jules Keller, my maternal 2nd great-grandfather. I grew up hearing about this man. Because of this, he seems more of a mythological figure than flesh and bone. Jules Keller is the patriarch of the Keller clan of Vacherie, Saint James Parish, Louisiana. This is where my mother's family resides to this day. 

Pop Jules (as he was affectionately called) is our closest ancestor of Native American heritage. He shunned American and European ways of life. He was always described as always wearing Indian attire. He wore his hair in two long braids adorned with ornaments. He never owned an automobile and chose to either walk or ride a bike for transportation. He lived a simple, modest life and earned a living as a farmer. Physically, he is described as a tall man with brown skin and sparkling blue eyes. I thought this was an interesting mix of features for an Indian and wondered if there was more to the story.

After obtaining additional information from his marriage, I was able to identify his parents. His mother is listed as Adele Robin. Almost nothing is known of her. She is but a ghost. His father, Noel Keller, a "mulatto" man descended from an African woman and a German-American planter. Surely, this is where he inherited those sparkling blue eyes. If his father was African and German, how did he receive his Native American heritage? The only logical conclusion is from his mother, whom disappears without a trace from the records. This also makes since because most Native American tribes are matrilineal in decent. This means you are culturally of your mother's tribe, no matter your father's lineage. Property and social status also was inherited from the mother's line. We have not been able to confirm her tribe, but the region the family lived was on the border between Choctaw and Chitimacha territory. 

Choctaw Village by Francois Bernard

Another mystery about Pop Jules is his exact date of birth. At the time of his death, it was believed he was 99 years young. However, some Census records show different years. He was born before birth certificates were issued. However, we can confirm he was lived over 90 years. The most accurate estimate for his birth date is 15 Jan 1858.

On 11 Feb 1888, Pop Jules married Pauline Pryor at Our Lady of Peace Catholic in Vacherie, Saint James Parish, Louisiana. She was the daughter of Pauline Tony and Sam Pryor. (Other variations of her surname include Prior, Pryer and Prayer.) Witnesses to their union were Julien Lewis, Joseph Victor, Adam Becnel and Edouard Eagan.

Jules and Pauline made a home in St. James Parish. Jules was a hard-working and educated man. He even owned a tract of land, which was a great accomplishment. 

Together, Jules and Pauline reared nine healthy children born between 1883 and 1901. They are:


During his life, Pop Jules witnessed three major wars: the Civil War, World War I and World War II. He also lived through the Great Depression. His sparkling eyes witnessed many changes during his time on Earth. On the second day, of the second month, in the year 1952, Pop Jules he passed away. A combination of pneumonia and heart disease claimed his life. Pop Jules was buried wearing his beloved hair ornaments in honor of his indigenous roots. He rests at Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in Vacherie, St. James Parish, Louisiana, USA with his wife and children.

Keller Burial Plot
Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church
Photo Credit: RV Schexnayder

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Sylvio & Eunice Caire Boudoin

Happy St. Valentine's Day!
This is my week 7 entry for the 52 Ancestors Challenge, 2015.
Of course, this week's theme is "Love" <3 

This week's spotlight is on my maternal great-grandparents: 

Eunice & Sylvio Boudoin.
Eunice Caire & Sylvio Boudoin

My great-grandparents were from Saint John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana which is known as the "Heart of the River Parishes". How fitting.

The Back Story:

Eunice Caire (1900-1979) was an only child of Gustavie Thomas and Louis Caire. She is also the granddaughter of Frenchman Pierre Jacques Caire, whom I wrote about in January. Her mother, Gustavie, died in childbirth before Eunice was able to make her 6th birthday. Her father, Louis, moved to New Orleans to obtain better employment opportunities. This left Eunice in the care of her maternal aunt, Julia Thomas, and her husband, Pierre Boudoin, whom she loving referred to as "Ma Neat" and "Papa Pierre".

Sylvio Boudoin (1894-1978) was one of six children, only four of whom lived to adulthood. His parents were Olympe Borne and Joseph Albert Boudoin. Both Eunice and Sylvio grew up in the Edgard area of Saint John the Baptist Parish. I am unsure as to when and how they met. However, it is an extremely small town and the community was close. At 18, Eunice married Sylvio, who was 23 at the time. They created a life together in what is often called Lucy (still in the Edgard area). Together they raised 9 children, including a set of twins, of which my grandmother is one. Eunice was a homemaker and cook at the local Negro school. Sylvio worked as a sugar farm laborer and chauffeur. 

Family Memories

Since my mother and grandmother are still living, I interviewed my family asking for memories of my great-grandparents.

My mother describes her grandparents as extremely kind-hearted people. She remembers visiting them on Sundays after church. She and her siblings would pile into the car and travel to Lucy to spend the afternoons full of food and family. My mother remembers their land was lined with pecan trees. (This comes in handy if you are baking pecan pie.) All of the children (siblings and cousins) would play outside, often sneaking to a neighborhood store to purchase candy from a man who was hard of hearing.

My grandmother describes her parents as extremely hard-working people. They led a simple life. The family kept chickens. The men hunted and fished. The women made clothing. Their home did not even have electricity until my grandmother was a teenager. Despite not having material wealth, they were rich in love and generous with all they had.

As a testament of the times for people of color in the rural South, neither received much of a formal education. Eunice completed the third grade, while Sylvio completed one year of formal education. In true Louisiana form, they were devout, Creole-speaking Catholics. Eunice would recite her rosary religiously. (no pun intended). Sylvio, nicknamed "Don", is described as a quiet, kind man. He was a gentlemen in every sense of the word. He was a member of the African-American Catholic fraternity Knights of Peter Claver, #66. He also loved to smoke. Sadly, his smoking habit would be his undoing. He would die of throat cancer at 83 years young. Eunice, unable to live without her love, passed away one year later, at the age of 79. They are buried together at their church home-Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church.

A Legacy of Love

Eunice & Sylvio Boudoin
50th Wedding Anniversary

Eunice Caire and Sylvio Boudoin are remembered for their enduring love: for one another, their family and their faith. I am told my great-grandparents were inseparable. "If you saw one, you saw the other." This concept is unheard of in relationships today. Though my great-grandparents are no longer with us physically, they still have something incredibly important to teach us: how to love.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Edward Williams

This is my 6th week entry for Amy Crow’s 52 Ancestor Challenge 2015. 

This week's theme is So Far Away
My interpretation of this theme is 
one ancestor who always seems to escape me, hence being "far away".

His name is Edward Williams, 
my 3rd great-grandfather.

Edward Williams was born to unknown parentage circa 1835.

According to his daughter, Clementine Williams Grant, he was born in Africa. [1] Due to the timeline, if this is accurate, Edward would have been smuggled into the United States by an illegal trade. The International Slave Trade was abolished in 1808. But, it was not uncommon for slave traders to continue to capture and sell Africans into slavery. Louisiana's numerous waterways provided one way to remain under the radar.

Military Service:
Edward served in the United States Colored Infantry during the Civil War. [2] He served as a Private in Company T-66th Regiment from Mississippi between 1864-1865. He enlisted in May 1864. This unit was organized 11 March 1864, from the 4th Mississippi Infantry (African Descent). I have been unable to locate any pension records for him via the US Archives. However, according to the 1890 Veterans schedule, I learned he was injured in the right leg from military combat.

Family Life:
Edward had both a wife and a daughter named Clementine. His wife was remarried by the end of the Civil War to a man named Raphael Victor of Edgard, Saint John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana. His daughter, Clementine, is showing living in the household under the Victor surname. Later, I find little Clementine married to a man named Benson Grant.

Where are you, Edward?

By 1890, I found Edward living in Saint John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana. He is in the same parish as his daughter. However, the location of his residence is the Louisiana State Penitentiary! What?!

Edward's story leaves me 
with more questions than answers.

Where was he from? Was he really from Africa? Did he get smuggled illegally into the country? How did he end up in Mississippi fighting in an African regiment? Why was he incarcerated after the war? So many questions! Edward's death also remains a mystery.

Due to Edward's fighting spirit. I am sure he gave many people a run for their money. I would love to uncover more information about his life. In any case, I am happy to shed some light, no matter how dim on our freedom fighter.

[1] Year: 1890; Census Place: Bonnet Carre, St John the Baptist, Louisiana; Roll: 5; Page: 1; Enumeration District:Special la state pravity

[2]Year: 1910; Census Place: Police Jury Ward 3, Saint John the Baptist, Louisiana; Roll: T624_529; Page: 6A; Enumeration District: 0079; FHL microfilm: 1374542