It’s not “official,” but I am pleased to announce that I am a …
“You’re a huge WHAT?”
/ˈhyo͞o gə ˌnät/
a member of the Reformed or Calvinistic communion of France
in the 16th and 17th centuries;
Let me explain …
If you’ve been following je parle américain for a while, you know by now that I’m a huge history nerd. I’m also an amateur genealogist. My arrival in France a few years ago really piqued my interest in both French history and how my family fit into it. I decided to delve into my genealogy again, and I ended up writing an article about my first French ancestors to come to America. As it turns out, they were Huguenots who left France in the 1680s to escape religious persecution under King Louis XIV. They were very courageous people by any measure who, rather than abandon their faith, chose to leave everything they knew — their homes, their livelihoods, in some cases their families — and search out a new land where they could live with integrity. This summer, while writing an article about King Louis’s revocation of the Edict of Nantes, I referenced my Huguenot forebears once again. That’s when I decided to take my interest in their story one step further and formally join a Huguenot genealogical society: The Huguenot Society of South Carolina.
Now, joining a genealogical society is easier said than done. You see, I already knew my lineage all the way back to my Huguenot ancestors; what I didn’t know was how to prove it …
My first step was to send a “lineage sheet” to the Society, on which I had to show descent from one or more ancestors known to be Huguenot. In my case, those ancestors were my great-great-great-great-<gasp for breath>-great-great-great grandparents Isaac Dubosc and Susanne Couillandeau. Isaac was born in 1660 in Dieppe, Normandy and immigrated to Carolina in about 1688, probably by way of London where it seems he had immigrated by 1682. (There is a record of his giving testimony at Threadneedle Street Church in London on August 23, 1682.) Susanne was born in 1663 in La Tremblade in Xaintonge, just north of Bordeaux. Conflicting sources raise questions about whether Susanne immigrated separately from Isaac, or if she too immigrated to London before going on to Carolina with him. In any case, both Isaac and Susanne appear on a “List of French and Swiss Refugees in the Province of Carolina who wished to be Naturalised English,” a document prepared in 1695/1696 from the passenger manifests of various ships arriving in Charles Towne at that time.
Luckily for me, the Society already had lots of information about Isaac and Susanne, who were among the first Huguenot settlers in Carolina. They also had all the documentary evidence needed for Isaac and Susanne’s son Andrew, and Andrew’s son Peter, a captain in the South Carolina militia under “The Swamp Fox” General Francis Marion (also of Huguenot extraction, by the way). Working from the other end, I had all the documents I needed to prove my lineage through my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and even great-great-grandparents … but that’s where the evidence got spotty. It looked like I was going to have to do some digging to prove that my great-great-great-great-grandmother, Laney Dubose Woodham, was really Peter Dubose’s daughter, and that my great-great-great-grandmother, Pheriba Jane Woodham Skinner, was really her daughter.
Isaac Dubosc &
Pheriba Jane Woodham
Working on my own, I found a transcription of Peter DuBose’s 1845 last will and testament in the online files of the South Carolina Department of Archives & History, and there was my proof:
“Item 4th To Laney Woodham my daughter I give another of the said five parts — whether of property or proceeds afore said — as the Case may be to her and her heirs forever. … Item 19th I hereby nominate Constitute and appoint Middleton DuBose my son — and Asa Woodham my son in law — Executors to this my last will and testament.”
Exactly what I needed!
Then came the search for documentary evidence that my great-great-great-grandmother Pheriba Skinner really was who the family said she was. With no publicly-accessible documents on the State Archives’ website, I started scouring the census records. While Pheriba did show up in the 1850 and 1860 census records as the spouse of Simpson Skinner, only the heads of households were named on census reports before that, so her name didn’t appear with her parents in 1830 or 1840. Knowing that her husband had died during the Civil War, I held out hope that maybe she had moved back to her parents’ home after the war and would be listed in her mother’s household in the 1870 report. No such luck.
It seemed that what I needed was a will — her father’s will or her mother’s will naming her as a daughter. I submitted a research request to the State Archives and held my breath …
No documents for Asa Woodham or Laney Woodham.
I resigned myself to the possibility that this one-generation gap in my documentation might foreclose membership in The Huguenot Society.
Then a friend from high school chimed in with some very good news: she had already contacted the Darlington County Historical Commission on my behalf and explained my situation. The historian was sure she had something that would help. I emailed her to clarify exactly what I was looking for and I had it two weeks later — an 1869 deed disposing of Asa Woodham’s property:
“And Pheriba J. Skinner widow of Simpson Skinner and Daughter of the Late Asa Woodham dcd do hereby acknowledge the receipt from H.M. Woodham agt. [Pheriba’s brother] of the sum of seven hundred dollars as payment in full of all claims in and to the Est. of said Asa Woodham Dcd.”
And just like that, I had finally and fully documented the link: the link that reaches across ten generations and three hundred years … the link between my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents and me, between two victims of religious persecution who braved a treacherous Atlantic crossing to build a new life in a new land and their distant American progeny who made the voyage back to France in a different era, in a different way, and for different reasons. It was a magical moment. So …
“You’re a huge WHAT?”
I am a huge nerd.
And I am a Huguenot.
And I am hugely proud of both.
© 2013 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved