Famed musician Melissa Etheridge is eager to trace the history of her paternal side, having always been very close with her father who passed away. On a family tree that her mother has started, Melissa finds that her dad’s maternal side – The Janises – have deep roots in Quebec City, Canada; so Melissa starts her journey there.
At the National Archives of Quebec, Melissa discovers that her 6x great grandfather Francois Janis was an innkeeper there in the early 1700’s. Searching for him in the archives’ database, Melissa finds a trial record indicating that Francois and his wife sued a man named Jean Dubreuil for seducing and impregnating their teenage daughter Charlotte under the pretext of marriage. The original record shows a dramatic back and forth in which Jean calls Charlotte a streetwalker in court and refuses to marry her. Finally Jean admits to having seduced Charlotte and eventually a warrant is issued for his arrest and then the case ends abruptly. Melissa finds that despite the troublesome court case, Charlotte and Jean did ultimately get married, but the child they had is not mentioned in the documents. Curious to find out what happened to her Charlotte’s child, Melissa heads to the Notre Dame Basilica in Quebec in hope of locating church records on the family.
At the Basilica in Quebec, Melissa looks through original parish records and comes across an April 1725 Baptism entry for Anne-Francoise, the child of Charlotte and Jean born just at the end of the seduction trial. But Melissa discovers that the baby died on the 6th of May, only 8 days old. Finally, Melissa locates a document that shows Charlotte died in 1733 at the young age of 26, bringing this story to a close.
Consulting her family tree, Melissa now wants to know what happened to her 5x great-grandfather Nicolas who was 13 when his sister Charlotte died. Melissa deciphers from the tree that Nicolas may have moved to Randolph County, IL – which at the time was the French cultural hub of Kaskaskia – so she heads there.
At the Randolph County Archives, Melissa discovers that in the 1740’s, Nicolas very quickly moved up in the world of the Fur Trade in the Mississippi River Valley; he was trusted to watch over a large amount of pelts and owned a boutique selling expensive goods.
Curious about his family life, Melissa discovers Nicolas’ 1751 marriage record, as well as a census that reveals Nicolas owned slaves. She further learns that Nicolas navigated the evolving boundary lines of the time, changing from French subject to British subject to American citizen and finally to Spanish subject with his move across the river to Ste. Genevieve. Melissa heads to Ste. Genevieve to learn how Nicolas spent his final days.
At the Ste. Genevieve County Courthouse, Melissa gets to read Nicolas’ original will, which deeded his goods and home to his son. Delighted to find that her 5x great-grandfather’s home still stands, thought to be the oldest house in Missouri. Melissa visits the house of her ancestor and explores it, and reflects on the legacy of her pioneering family and the effect their story will have on the rest of her life.
You’ll enjoy this episode if you have ancestry in Quebec or early French voyageurs that settled the Mississippi corridor.
Want a peek?
Melissa’s episode airs this Sunday, April 26 at 10/9c on TLC.