One of the most exciting events of my genealogical journey occurred on 9 August 2014, when I got to meet 3 cousins from Paris, France – Isabelle Calmettes and her daughters Audrey and Maureen Breckler. Firstly though, let me explain the link between the Australian Whiteman family and the connection with the French Thevenet family, and the very “round about” way in which I finally met my cousins.
I have been researching my Great, Great Grandmother Mary Whiteman for many years and it has been a fascinating journey into family secrets, stories of love, heartbreaking decisions and lost love ones. Mary Whiteman had six children out of wedlock, the first of which was a daughter – Hariette – who was born in the Patricks Plains area of New South Wales on Thursday 17 June, 1852. Hariette was the eldest sister of my Great Grandmother Mary-Anne.
Hariette seems to have had a fairly difficult early life, giving birth to a son – Ernest James b. 1869 & d. 1870, and a daughter Clara Adele b. 26/6/1872. Both children were born out of wedlock. For an as yet unknown reason Hariette then moved from Tamworth in New South Wales to the French owned Noumea, New Caledonia. To date I have been unable to find a family connection in Noumea at that time, which leads me to believe she did not travel there to stay with family, or even friends. So why would a young woman of about 22 years of age leave her beautiful daughter to be raised by the Bennett family of Tamworth and also leave her mother and siblings to start a new life thousands of miles away? I’m of the opinion that we may never know the reason, as too much time has passed – and there are few older relatives that knew of Hariette.
Hariette did find happiness in Noumea though, when she married Edgar Victor Guette in 1875. Unfortunately Edgar died 6 1/2 years later in 1882 leaving Hariette childless. Eighteen months later Hariette married again to Pierre Auguste Thevenet on Saturday 13 October 1883. This marriage lasted much longer and produced five children – Eugene Jean Edouard 1884, Gustave Philippe Raymond (always known as Raymond) 1886, Marie Madeleine 1888 (always known as Madeleine), Marie Germaine Ada 1890, and Adolfe Henri 1893 (always known as Henry).
Two of Hariette’s children – Raymond and Madeleine – grew to adulthood and went on to have children. Our French Connection comes from Raymond’s family.
I knew that Hariette had married a “Thevenet”, as my grandmother had a picture of Hariette Thevenet, her mother Mary and sister Mary-Anne in the family photo albumn. My first big breakthrough with the Thevenet family came when I accidently stumbled onto the birth registrations of Hariette’s children when I was randomly “Google-ing” whilst at lunch one day. ( Baptêmes en Nouvelle-Calédonie (patronymes T- http://www.calameo.com/read/0008024725bb7495adca0 ). I was just so excited to at last find out some information on Hariette, who had seemed to disappear off the face of the earth. Of course, from the register I was able to get the name of Hariette’s husband, but then – no matter what I did, or where I searched – I could find no other leads. That was about 4 years ago.
In May of this year I left a message on a Private Family Tree at Ancestry.com that had the name Pierre Thevenet and the location of New Caledonia on it, with the hope that two things might happen. Firstly – I just wanted a response, which you don’t always receive if the owner of the tree doesn’t believe that you could be related. Secondly – I desperately wanted this lead to produce information on my “lost” Thevenet family. Well, the most wonderful thing happened. I not only got a response from the tree owner but the responder was in fact a 3rd cousin! Isabelle Calmettes was a direct descendant of Gustave Philippe Raymond Thevenet – Hariette’s son.
There were franticly happy emails flying around the world for weeks which produced wonderful information about the family for both sides. Isabelle, Audrey and Maureen had known very little about their Australian history, which was something I could help with, and they very graciously shared with me their knowledge of the French history that I had longed to find out about. Along the way we learned a little about each other and discovered many things that we had in common – things like our love of reading, and of course – family history.
As luck would have it, Isabelle and her daughters had already been planning a visit to Australia to see the old family home of the Thevenet family during the month of August. How could we not take the opportunity to meet each other? So, on August 9th, at Bill’s Restaurant in Surrey Hills, we gathered for what turned out to be a wonderful, exciting, happy and “loud” get-together. The night was filled with laughter, French to English and English to French translation, family stories, memories, and the very best thing of all – friendship!
There is so much more research to do. For instance, I would love to know what happened to the descendants of Marie Madeleine Thevenet who was a very close friend and cousin to my own grandmother Ines Bailey nee: Smith. I do sincerely hope that one day I can visit New Caledonia and photograph the headstones of Harriet and Pierre Thevenet, and other members of their family. There is a driving passion inside me to try to ascertain why Hariette Whiteman decided to travel to New Caledonia in the first place. Although I clearly recognize that I may never be able to achieve this goal, I have found that perseverance is the key to my family history successes. I wonder if there might be a letter in “someone’s” possession that might explain the whole story?
Thanks Isabelle, Audrey and Maureen – what a great night we had. I look forward to keeping in contact with my newfound cousins/friends – and who knows what history will turn up! You never know – I may one day be able to visit you in Paris!!