Who Am I ! ? ...not the philosophical Me!

Trip Start Sep 20, 2007
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Trip End May 16, 2008


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Flag of United States  , Louisiana
Monday, February 11, 2008

The Cajun people of Southern Louisiana. Cajun comes from the French word Cadien, which comes from the word Acadien or Acadian.
 
Growing up in the predominately French suburb of Saint Boniface in the City of Winnipeg we knew about the Cajun people of Louisiana from the musicians that would come perform every February during "Le Festival du Voyageur", our French Heritage festival. Everything else we knew about the Cajun people came from the stories or media portrayals of them as a backwater culture that lived on houseboats in the swamps of Louisiana that spoke a half French, half English un-understandable dialect. We also knew about the Acadiens because the wood carvers and musicians from the Maritimes would also come.
 
What I found out this week is their history. Did I learn it in school and forgot, or is it part of our past that has been brushed aside. The Cajun's history begins in the 1600's with their arrival on the shores of what is now Nova Scotia and the other Maritime Provinces. They were a happy, fun loving people from France. Some of the first settlers to what would become the country of Canada. In the 1700's the English arrived and in the mid 1760's a certain Englishman decided to deport all these people from their new homeland. Certain Acadiens were rounded up and put on ships and sent back to France. Others, upon hearing of what had happened fled into the woods. Some of these people, after a difficult winter, gave themselves up and were then sent to certain US states along the coast...Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, and many others. Other Acadiens were sent to the Dominican Republic.
 
Joseph Broussard was a resistance leader who led a group of refugees to Louisiana after hearing that the Spanish Government, who owned Louisiana at the time, was offering land to new settlers. Word was sent out to all those deported that they were welcome in this new land to the south. Of the 10,000 Acadiens deported, 3000 made it to Louisiana. Check out this link if you want to read more. The Cajun People.
 
Staying at a campground in the heart of Cajun Country, there was a group of about a dozen locals who came camping for the weekend. They set themselves up in 3 or 4 campsites and spent their time together around 1 campfire each day. They were only a couple of sites away and so I could hear them talking. It was funny listening to them because it sounded just like what it must sound like for someone who comes to one of our family reunions and hears us speaking a mixture of French and English. Being curious I started doing some research on their history.
 
Then I decided to stay an extra couple of days to visit the local area. French is still quite a part of the region. Very similar to certain regions of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta that were settled by the French in the 18th century.
 
I took a drive today to visit the swamplands in the Atchafalaya Basin, but also to visit the French settlements. I stopped to take some pictures of the swamp from the top of a levy when a woman saw me taking pictures. She asked if I wanted to take her picture. So I did. During this drive I drove through what must be considered Cottage Country. Each cabin, trailer, shack had a sign with the name of it posted nearby, something of a "your are at so and so's place". I didn't write any of them down but I should have. They all reflected the Cajun sense of humour. One was something like "Da place where Popa comes when Moma 'z mad!". They all had monikers that showed that the Cajun people can laugh at who they are and what people say about them as backwater hicks. You see that from the humorous stories I posted in the other entry. It reminded me of cottage country where the French communities went when I was growing up. Places like St. Albert and St. Malo...where cottages were a place to get away for the weekend and relax...not a replica of the house you have in the city with every modern convenience.
 
My next stop was McGees Landing, a marina. I stopped to take some pictures. As I'm walking around a truck drives up. The driver rolls down his window. Says Hi and asks where I'm from. We start speaking French then switch to English. Something I would do automatically in Manitoba with someone I knew spoke French. His name is Guidry. He's traced his heritage back to Quebec. There aren't many Guidry's around due to a strong female gene. Sounds like my Fisette heritage. There aren't many of us around either. He says he knows of a Fisette that lives in the area. We chat a while longer then say bye.
 
I continue my drive on top of the levy then turn down the highway and head towards St. Martinville. The Acadian Memorial Museum is located here. I stop in and see a short presentation done as a first hand recitation from sone of the refugees. There's also a wall listing the names of all the first settlers. There are no Fisette. Outside is a memorial to Evangeline, the story of lost love as written in a poem by Longfellow in the 1800's with its ties to St. Martinville. I walked around town a while. It felt like home. The road signs were primarily French with English secondary.
 
I continued my drive through the "French" countryside. I passed numerous towns with French plastered everywhere. I saw people walking and others in their cars. It gave me a sense of being home, which is something I haven't felt in a long time.
 
Why did I title this entry "Who Am I?" The Fisette name is not a popular one. In 2000 we had a Fisette family reunion where most of my dad's family got together in Winnipeg. One of my cousins did a lot of research and found the genealogy of the Fisette family. We did know that my dad's grand-father and his brother settled in Manitoba in the late 1800s. They came from Massachusetts. For some reason I always believed that they came from Louisiana. I haven't the faintest idea where I got that story from. Before Christmas I had contacted Katrine to bring the Fisette family history book with her when she would come to  Orlando. There's nothing in the book that mentions Louisiana or even L'Acadie.
 
The first indication of our name being spelt Fisette, with the double T and E is in 1721 in Quebec. Prior to that it was spelt Fiset. There are inconsistencies in the research. Both the 6th and 7th Fiset great grand-parent are born on August 31, 1635 in Dieppe, France. The 5th great grand-parent was married in 1711 in Chateau-Richer, Quebec. The 6th great grand-parent was married in 1664 in the same place. Would a child be married 53 years after their parents and still have heirs. Possible if they married someone much younger or was born quite late to their parents. The 5th great grand-parent birth date says prior to 1705. With these inconsistencies it is hard to follow which ancestor was the first to actually come to Canada and where they spent their early years. The 7th great grand-parent is the furthest back they found on the Fiset name. So who were we prior to 1635?
 
Why is any of this important? Aren't we all a little curious as to where we came from? Who are our ancestors? How did we get to where we are? Like I said the other day. It fascinates me to walk through a cemetery because each tombstone has a story to tell. The furthest back any ancestral line goes in this research that was done is to 604 where there is a Comte born, and there is a Frankish ruler born in 685.
 
The other reason? I don't feel it deep inside of me that my ancestors are from Quebec. I lived there for 8 months to study. I didn't feel like I fit in. I've visited a few times since and it feels like a foreign land. In Calgary there are numerous people who have moved from Quebec. I don't feel a connection to any of them. I've been to France and toured various areas there when I was 15. That felt like home. Something deep inside of me felt an attachment. Like some part of me was saying, "your ancestors walked these lands". Strangely, these past few days in Cajun Country I felt at home. I looked into the eyes of these people and it felt like we were related. Why is that? Nothing in my history says that I should be related to these people. And why did I believe all these years that my great grandfather came from here?
 
Something I found quite funny was the billboards everywhere advertising "boudin" available, or blood sausage (if I remember that translation correctly). I don't think you would see that advertised on a billboard anywhere else then in a predominately French community.
 
Like I said earlier, there are some Fisette here. I found an obituary online from 2000 where, in a town nearby, a female Fisette (so possibly never married) passed away at 74 years of age. It sounded like she lived her whole life in the area. I did an internet search and there are about 150 Fisette in the USA listed in various phone books. There are about 250 in Canada. There's a group on Facebook where all the Fisette can join, since they all seem to think there are so few of them. One day I went through the list. They're mostly all in their 20's. A lot of them are females (once married they may no longer be Fisette). From my dad's lineage there's only one hope to continue the Fisette family name. Yes, those hopes are on Nick's shoulders (don't think you have to rush in doing that Nick) . My brother had 2 girls. That strong female gene continues on strongly. Of my dad's 4 brothers and 6 sisters there are only 3 of my "Fisette" cousins with boys, for a total of 5 Fisette to carry on the family name.
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