Many area residents united by common French ancestor
FORT KENT, Maine — More than two dozen St. John Valley residents who recently learned they are descendants of the same man from from France gathered at Fort Kent Community High School for a family picture on Sunday, Nov. 12.
Fort Kent educator Robert Daigle, who discovered the connection between several area families and Louis Gaste dit Bellefleur of Cholet, France, addressed the audience in both French and English during the gathering.
“Between 15 and 25 percent of the students in our school district are the descendants of this ancestor from Cholet, France,” Daigle said.
Louis Gaste dit Bellefleur left Cholet as a soldier in the French navy when he was 31 years old. He married Marie-Genevieve Cardinal in the Notre-Dame church in Quebec City on Jan. 26, 1756. Their son, Louis Jr., married Louise Alexandrine Parent and moved to St. Basile in the Madawaska Settlement. Their five children settled in the upper St. John Valley from Allagash to Van Buren.
State Sen. Troy Jackson of Allagash and his two sons are among the Bellefleur descendants.
“My grandmother is a Pelletier and was born where the Allagash meets the St. John, a place that has been called Pelky Point since Nizaire Pelletier, her grandfather, first came to Allagash in the 1870s,” Jackson said after the gathering that Sunday. “Mr. Robert Daigle reached out to me earlier this fall inquiring about my grandmother and her connection to Nizaire, who he had identified as a descendent of Louis Gaste dit Bellefleur.”
Jackson also spoke to the crowd during the gathering.
“I think it’s amazing that Mr. Daigle was able to identify this particular individual’s origin in France, reconstruct much of his life for us, and then identify how many people in the St. Valley are descended from him,” he said.
After the event, he said that he and a son attended “out of respect for these Bellefleur ancestors we know little about. We were astounded so many people in the room were relatives, all kinds of people we know in different respects but don’t necessarily think of as ‘family.’”
The gathering also included exchange students from Cholet. In 2011, Daigle applied for participation in the Maine-France Partnership Program through the Maine Department of Education and was partnered with educator Tanguy Vilboux at Lycee Europe Robert Schuman in Cholet. In 2013 the two schools on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean began exchanging students for nearly two weeks each year.
In light of the connection developing between the two towns, Daigle and his students, who have researched the ancestry of many St. John Valley family names, decided to seek an ancestral connection directly linking Fort Kent to Cholet.
Bellefleur descendant Heidi Carter of Fort Kent, who attended the photo reunion, said she is glad Daigle researched her family tree.
“I love learning about my family. Discovering that our family could be traced on my mother’s (Ethel Thibodeau Jalbert) side to Cholet, France, was very exciting,” Carter said. “My son, Trevor, traveled with the French Club a few years ago to Cholet as part of their exchange program. It’s a special feeling to realize he was in a community that his ancestor was from centuries ago.”
During the gathering, Daigle read a letter from Valery Freland of the French Consulate in Boston, praising the exchange program, as well as Daigle’s genealogy efforts.
“In today’s world, it is important more now than ever to keep in mind what brings us together when so often we are preoccupied by what drives us apart,” Freland wrote.
Daigle pointed out that France and the United States have not always agreed on issues, but he hopes exchanges like the one between Fort Kent Community High School and Lycee Europe Robert Schuman in Cholet will help foster stronger relations between the two countries.
“Given the numerous ancestral ties that exist between France and our corner of the United States, we have the opportunity, in the context of this exchange, to make a small contribution to the maintenance of good relations between France and the United States,” he said.
When he visits France with exchange students from here in April, Daigle plans to offer a copy of the group photo taken on Nov. 12 to the mayor of Cholet. He also is putting together a booklet about Bellefleur and his descendants and hopes to reach out to descendants in the Frenchville, St. Agatha and Madawaska area to “get a more complete picture of the family’s story in the region.”
Jackson praised Daigle’s efforts.
“We all know that in a small rural area with a relatively shared history, our roots are intertwined. But to actually sit in a room with others and hear about the moment our common ancestor crossed the ocean to get here was really something that brought it all home,” Jackson said. “I hope Mr.Daigle will continue these really innovative projects that are getting people excited about their heritage.”
Bellefleur descendants interested in talking to Daigle about this research can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.