Welcome to the Renaud family history blog, in which I hope to bring to life the documented and undocumented story of an ordinary family over the course of 400 years. Most of the people I will write about are remote, little more than a name recorded in a parish register and unremarkable in their historical anonymity. The particulars of their lives are largely lost to us. Nevertheless, it is worth endeavoring to uncover what we can about them. History did not just happen to an amorphous “people” in the past. They were both individuals and members of their communities. They had names. They had ideas and opinions about what was happening in their world. They had lives worth living and remembering just as we have lives worth living and remembering.
I come to this project quite by chance but also as a result of the logical path of my life. It is chance that one of my sons was assigned a family history project for his 5th grade class. If he had decided to concentrate on his mother’s lineage, I probably would not be writing this blog. But that’s not what happened.
Looking back, it was an easy choice for my son as one of my brother’s had extensively and exhaustively researched the family line years before the Internet is what it is today, tracing our paternal lineage back to 17th Century Normandy France. Even though I had earned an advanced degree in history and had had academic aspirations, or perhaps because of it, my family’s history had barely grabbed my attention all those years. I knew more about Aaron Burr than I did about my grandfather and for the first time, it bothered me.
In a moment it seemed clear to me that I needed to reengage the long abandoned knowledge and skills I had cultivated in the process of earning my Master’s Degree in History 20 years prior. I thought that writing my family’s history may have been the task for which I had been unknowingly working toward. Of course, I naively thought the project would take a year at most. I imagined I could read a couple of Wikipedia articles and be done with it. That was nearly five years ago and I have barely scratched the surface of the story of my family.
Since then, my goals and interests in my family’s historical path has deepened and changed beyond some vague idea of writing family history. It may even be an illusion that a single history can be written. If that were possible, there would not be so many biographies written about George Washington. In writing history, the dead are never truly dead as we continually reinterpret the meaning and significance of their lives. As the English novelist, art critic, painter and poet John Berger once said in a 2002 interview with Michael Silverblatt, “we live with the dead.” Although our “instant culture” dismisses the idea, “living with the dead is the first thing that distinguishes man as a species….” It is “perhaps what makes us human.” Or as I like to think, we are our parents but in a different context. We are the same and yet different. I have to believe that there is continuity from generation to generation just as the Y chromosome passes unchanged from father to son and the mitochondrial DNA from mother to daughter. Though the nuclear genome recombines mixing 50% from each parent to make a new whole, the parental genetic contributions to their children consists of their parents' DNA and their parents’ parents and so on. In this blog, I shall seek to follow this line to discover what the dead can tell us about ourselves.
Although centered on a single lineage of a larger clan of Renauds, what I call La Ligne or “the Line”, I will cover what can be known or is known of the many spouses and children attached to my lineage which I hope will be valuable to those who belong to those branches of the family. I shall attempt to describe them in their time and place hopefully without anachronism. I also hope to highlight historical sources and methods that may be of general interest to other family historians. Although largely focused on my French and French Canadien heritage, I will also delve into my Polish and Ukrainian heritage as well as touch on some general themes and issues in genealogy and family history.
I welcome all questions, comments and inquiries. You can contact me via the contact form on my “Bio” page or leave a comment below.