The Missing Chevalier
This article discusses the lives of French and English nobility. Out of respect for the people who fought on the right side in the French Revolution, some dying, others risking their lives, knowing that future generations would live freer lives under the Republic than they had under a monarchy; and for the people who fought in the barricades in 1848 for the right reasons; and for the people of Réunion, who suffered under the barbarity of slavery, those who held titles of nobility will not be glorified in this article.
A Reason to Search
In late 2014 I was notified by the company that did my DNA testing that family trees would no longer be supported, but that they could be migrated to another site. I thought that was interesting because I didn’t have a family tree. Why didn’t I have a family tree? Thinking it would be fairly easy, I proceeded to fill out what I knew of my recent ancestors. Indeed, when distant ancestors weren’t automatically populated in my tree I was usually able to find information on other websites. People had already done a lot of work for me. There was just one conspicuously missing part of my tree. And it wasn’t even very far back.
I didn’t grow up knowing my father or his parents. My parents divorced when I was six and I didn’t see my dad for several years until he had a layover in Minneapolis when I was fourteen. It was a very short visit and I haven’t seen him since, although I’ve occasionally kept up with him over email and, later, instant messages.
When I was under three, my paternal grandparents rode a motorcycle from Nampa, Idaho to Portland, Oregon to visit us. And I believe that that was the last time I met them. He was Avery William Nicholson, WWII Army veteran, tall and handsome. I easily found most of his recent ancestors. She was Elizabeth “Betty” Beryl Morgan, pretty, and it turns out only sixteen years old when they married. I knew very little about her.
I found out that Betty was born in London, which truly fascinated me. My grandfather had married her in Chelsea, London and they moved straight away to the western United States. I didn’t know much about searching for ancestors at the time, but I found out that Betty was born in the first quarter of 1930, most likely to a woman named Marie Courtenay. I became even more curious. It turned out that “Courtenay” was a noble British name and that they had come from descendants of French kings.
Everyone is a descendant of nobles, but they may be very far back in one’s family tree. I don’t particularly want to have nobles in my ancestry. I’d rather, for example, find that my ancestors fought for the French revolution than against it. But one benefit of being a descendant of nobles is that you can find out a great deal more information than usual about your ancestors. It’s more satisfying to see a picture or painting of an ancestor or to read about them in newspaper archives than just knowing them as a name. Why else would you search for your ancestors than to find out who they were?
I remember over the next few years the frustration I felt knowing that I’d likely never find anything about who Marie Courtenay was, how she lived, where she came from, or who her parents were. It was a few more months before I even confirmed that she was my grandma’s mother. I tried entering her name and variations of her name countless ways in Internet searches. I used advanced searching techniques. I uploaded my DNA to websites, organizing my DNA relatives into groups of people who all matched with me on the same chromosome segment, ruling out chromosome segments that appeared to be from different sides of my family. I was ridiculously persistent. But I found, whether through my lack of genealogical skills or her mysteriousness, that this Marie Courtenay’s parentage was quite puzzling. Little did I now that it would get more mysterious as I found out more information.
It’s All About Family
In early 2015, I made a breakthrough that would normally provide a person with all of the answers they could hope for. I found out that my grandmother was possibly still living in Idaho by virtue of her phone number being listed on a website. I’m no fan of talking on the phone, but what else could I do but call my grandma?
She was very surprised to hear from me. Most of our time on the phone was spent simply catching up. We even philosophized and discussed politics a little. There were a lot of questions I wanted to ask her when I got the chance. But whenever I started asking questions the time seemed to grow short and she had very few answers. She told me that her father’s name was Richard Louis Morgan, supposedly from Wales, and confirmed that her mother was Marie Louise Courtenay. Betty had a sister named Patricia Morgan and visited her in London several times before Patricia died in 2003. They also had an older half-brother named Francis Wellum from Marie’s first marriage before she was widowed.
Richard Morgan had been incredibly secretive about his upbringing and past. He wouldn’t talk about his parents, and, although his mother was still living nearby in London, my grandmother doesn’t remember ever meeting her. Richard’s family seemed to be as mysterious as the Courtenays.
From the information I obtained from Betty, the most surprising to me was that Marie Courtenay was from France — Reims, no less. I learned that the French Courtenay family had died out quite a while ago. The only surviving branch came solely from English nobles. For half of a millennium the kings of France were crowned in Reims. Marie being from Reims was beginning to sound like a tall tale. She had told my grandma that her grandparents were viscounts and had fled France during WWI, losing all of their property and money. I thought it was much more likely that Marie Courtenay was a descendant of a Courtenay from England who had lived in France for some time, like some other noble Courtenays from England had done in the 19th century. Perhaps Marie’s family had stayed in France for a generation or two.
I found tiny bits of information every so often for three years. I called my grandma a couple more times and found out very little more. She would tell me effectively what I’ve already described, followed by “and that’s all there is to tell!” What do you mean that’s all there is to tell? I knew that Marie lived in London from at least 1920 to 1945, when Betty left for the United States. What was she doing that whole time? Richard was in London from 1927 onward. I wanted to know if they drank coffee or tea. Did they own a car? Have pets? Were Marie’s and Richard’s parents living in England at the time, too? Were the Courtenays still in France and the Morgans still in Wales? Why did information not exist about them on the Internet or in databases like the other people in my family tree? How were they affected by the Second World War? When did Richard and Marie die? Do they have graves? What do you mean that’s all there was to tell!? At that point in the conversation my grandma would appear to get very coy. She seemed to really enjoy talking to me on the phone, but didn’t have a lot to say when I started asking questions.
At times it seemed that everything that my grandma’s parents had told her was false. Despite there being an inexhaustible supply of Richard Morgans from Wales, I eventually learned that he was none of them. If I wasn’t going to get answers by asking my grandma it was time for me to start doing real genealogical work.
Learning the Art of Genealogical Research
Over two years after my initial inquest into the person Marie Courtenay, I decided I needed to order some certificates from the GRO of the United Kingdom. They cost 9 pounds apiece. It was really quite easy, but each time I’ve ordered a certificate I waited up to a month and a half. The first one, from Marie’s first marriage, took the longest. I checked the mailbox earnestly.
When that certificate finally arrived, I learned the name of Marie Courtenay’s father. She also had an interesting witness at her marriage ceremony, M. Ruet, who was probably the art dealer Marcel Ruet, his wife Marie Ruet, or one of their children. Marcel Ruet was definitely in London at the time, trading at 26 Alfred Place West. Marie Courtenay’s father was listed as Henry Courtenay, a fancy leather worker and already deceased by 1920. I spent countless hours looking at the Courtenays of Britain and trying to find a Henry from the right time period with a comparable occupation.
I knew from the marriage certificate that Marie Courtenay was born in 1890 or 1891. Her age of about 30 at the time of her first marriage was an atypical one. She was listed as a “spinster” and was older than her husband by five years. I wondered what she had been up to before that.
Along came the second marriage certificate, this one from 1927. Richard Louis Morgan was born around 1887. His dad was Richard Morgan of the Indian Civil Service, already deceased. Most of that information was untrue, except for his father being deceased, which I later found out had been true for about forty years. Richard Louis Morgan was a gardener with the London City Council, which my grandma had told me by that point. Marie’s father was listed this time as Ernest Henry Courtenay. I was just as unable to find a suitable Ernest Courtenay in England as a Henry Courtenay.
With the second certificate I narrowed down the range of Marie’s birth date by very little. Two and a half years had passed from the initiation of my search. I felt a little better when I found out about the 1939 Register. It was like a census, except despite being less than 100 years old, it was allowed to be published because it was missing certain information, like familial relationships and where a person was born. However, it has exact birth dates and often surnames that women took on long after 1939, whereas available censuses only had birth years. Since the familial relationships are often fairly easy to figure out, the 1939 Register can be more useful than a census.
I was able to access the 1939 Register in a public library during a trip to Manhattan. In it I found that Marie’s exact birth date was 31 July 1890. Richard’s birth date was written in as 7 May 1884 and above it in smaller handwriting was 22 June 1882.
I had been wondering about a woman in London at that time who was also named Marie Courtenay. In the summer of 2017 I signed up for a free trial at an ancestry website where I found directories and electoral rolls for Courtenays and Morgans. Richard and Marie weren’t living together from 1930 to 1934. I wondered why Richard Morgan wasn’t living with his wife and young children. It turned out that both Richard and Marie were living with their parents at the time.
Richard’s mother, Beresford Morgan, was the daughter of a Lancastrian gardener named Richard Buckley. She once had a run-in with the law and was sentenced to spend one night in jail, so it might not be surprising that she didn’t get along with the Courtenay side of the family, who were supposedly a bit snooty. The electoral roles proved useful. I was very excited to learn that Marie was living with another Marie Courtenay. The 1939 register had her birth date as 4 July 1869, widow of none other than Henry Courtenay, fancy leather worker. I was excited to have found Marie’s mother.
In 1935 Richard re-joined Marie and even more Courtenays moved in. These were Henry and Augustine Courtenay. I had to ask my grandma who Henry and Augustine were. She answered that Henry was her uncle and Augustine was his wife. I couldn’t believe she hadn’t mentioned them in our conversations. My grandma had said that she had no first cousins of any kind. But now she told me that Henry had been married to another woman before Augustine and that they had had a son. If Henry had indeed had a son, then the story that my grandma had no cousins wasn’t at all true. And on the Morgan side, I would later find out that she had a relative who was much closer than a first cousin.
Another thing that my grandma had told me was that the Courtenays had spent time in Brussels. Henry, her uncle, was supposedly from there, but not Marie. This was my last hope. I searched for archives in Brussels, not expecting much. I found a website labeled “State Archives of Belgium” (they have an English version of their homepage). Amazingly, they had a search engine. I was about to crack the case. Well, one of many cases.
On the night of 17 September 2017 I was elated to see the marriage record for one Henri Ridley Courtenay and Marie Lebègue, born 4 July 1869. I was a bit confused to find that his name wasn’t Ernest, but it turns out that Ernest was just a nickname. At the same moment that I was finding that information my father sent me pictures of the people I wondered so much about. He scanned them after my grandma informed me that she had pictures and I had been patiently waiting for them for a few weeks. There were two pictures of Marie Courtenay.
Marie Lebègue’s birth date from her marriage record was, to me, irrefutable evidence that I had found the right Henry Courtenay. To top it all off Henry Ridley Courtenay’s exact birth date and birthplace were listed: 1853 in Nantes, Loire-Inférieur, France. I received the younger Henry Courtenay’s first marriage certificate from 1915 in Surrey in the mail not long afterwards, confirming that Marie Lebègue was their mother, as she was a witness to the marriage. Ernest was also listed as deceased in this record. I wondered if he died early in the war.
The Brussels marriage record had all of the parent names listed for Ernest Courtenay and Marie Lebègue. Ernest’s parents were Charles François Courtenay and Louise Patience Ridley, both deceased. Louise Patience Ridley sounded conspicuously British. Marie Lebègue’s parents were Paul Albert Victor Camille Lebègue, living in Brussels, and Florence Devivaise, deceased.
For the next few days I enjoyed greatly knowing that I had found that Brussels marriage record. I still didn’t know much about Marie Courtenay, but the next best thing was to find out about her parents and grandparents. Since researching family histories usually isn’t as hard as this one had been so far, I thought that several more generations of ancestors would now easily fall into place.
I entered Marie Lebègue and her parents into my tree. It turns out that pages for all three of them had already existed since 2012, so I had to merge them with the new ones. But there wasn’t any new information in those pages. I soon got antsy to learn more.
I scoured British records for people by the name of Charles Courtenay, just as I had done for Henry Courtenay and then Ernest Courtenay. None of them seemed right. The vast majority of French records aren’t searchable. I had long lamented that there was no way at all to see them online. Little did I know …
A New Favorite Hobby of Mine: French Records
Searching for archives in Nantes, France of course showed me some results for the building where the archives are stored in Nantes. And, after searching around on their website for awhile, I was intrigued by the phrases “états civils” and “archives en ligne.” I clicked to find out more. It turns out that nearly every department in France has their archives online and they are often more complete than what you can find for British or U.S. civil status records. There’s a wealth of information in these archives. But it’s difficult to find what you’re looking for if you don’t know the exact commune to search, as there are hundreds of communes per departments.
I learned of the tables décennales, the ten-year tables of indexes showing births, marriages, or deaths usually occurring in ranges of years like 1853–1862. That’s the first place to look if you have a name, commune, and approximate time period. After that, you can get the date of an event or even an index number, which can be used to quickly find records in the yearly tables. Sometimes naissances, mariages, and décès have separate tables; sometimes they’re all lumped into one document.
I couldn’t believe it when I first saw the name of one of my ancestors in a French record. There he was in the table décennale: Henri Ridley Courtenay born in March of 1853. I next went to the 1853 document for naissances. I didn’t yet realize that there would be an alphabetical listing with even more information at the back. Instead, I clicked through the pages, getting closer and closer to the right date. Soon I was reading a real birth record in the language that I had always wanted a reason to study.
Henry’s father Charles was listed as a master professor of English, which appeared to bolster my theory that he was from England. Very surprisingly, he was 56 years old at the time of Henry’s birth. Louise Patience Ridley was 36. I wondered if Charles had been previously married, possibly a widower. I wondered if he had had children before Henry. The record showed that, when Henry was born, the family lived at Rue Crébillon 18. I turned back to Internet searches, now knowing Charles’ profession.
It was hard to find further information about the Courtenay family, but a few days later I found an interesting death record from Paris in 1881. It was Emilie Ridley Courtenay, 32, born in La Rochelle, Charente-Inférieure. Her father was Charles François Courtenay, deceased. Her mother, Patience Ridley, was then living in Brussels. Since Patience was dead by the time her son Ernest was married, I figured that she died in Brussels between 1881 and 1887. I was very excited to learn that Ernest Courtenay had a sibling. But “a sibling” would be an understatement.
I hadn’t found any other Courtenay births in Nantes, but now I knew to check the records in La Rochelle. I went to the tables décennales to look for the birth record of Emilie Ridley Courtenay. From 1843 to 1852 there were three Courtenay births in La Rochelle: Françoise Ridley Courtenay, born in 1846, Emilie Ridley Courtenay, born in 1848, and Charles Albert Ridley Courtenay, born in in 1850. The ages of Charles and Patience in these records all coincided with a birth for Charles of sometime between 16 December 1795 and 19 February 1796 and a birth of Louise Patience sometime between 1815 and 1816. One would think, with all of the potential fourth cousins from this family, that I would have some DNA relatives with Courtenays in their family trees, but I hadn’t found any, probably because not many French people had tested their DNA.
Searching for English professors with the Courtenay surname led me to some publications of assignments for professors in the Lycée Impérial. They went by various names, such as “Journal general” or “Recueil des lois et actes” “de l’instruction publique de la literature et des sciences.“ These publications showed a M. de Courtenay being assigned to Besançon from about 1853 to 1855 and to Périgueux from about 1855 to 1865. Surely, this was my third great-grandfather Charles Courtenay, master professor who had recently taught English so near to Périgueux in La Rochelle and then Nantes. The last assignment was Auch in 1865. Then, it was stated that he was being replaced there after having missed most of the 1866–1867 academic year due to health reasons. There were no other future assignments and it seemed that he may have died in Auch shortly after. Auch is in the department of Gers, one of few departments I’ve checked that weren’t available to view online. However, they had begun digitizing them in April, 2017, so I figured I would just wait until they were online, at which time I would find Charles’ death record. It would contain his parents’ names, and I would finally have a chance at unraveling the mystery as to why the Courtenays were in France.
While I was waiting I found some more information about Henri’s siblings. Françoise Ridley Courtenay, the eldest of the Courtenay children born in La Rochelle, was married twice. Her first husband, Philippe Léopold Joseph Désiré Leclercq, died in Paris in 1881. She married her second husband, Antoine Edouard Lemire in Paris in 1884.
Charles Albert Ridley Courtenay had been a Belgian refugee in Fife, Scotland. He died there in 1917 after being there for a couple of years, as reported in the Glasgow Herald. His obituary said that he had been a draughtsman in Brussels and gave his address. He supposedly had a wife and children in Brussels who were still there. Maybe Marie Courtenay wasn’t really from France, but was from Belgium instead.
The Brussels almanachs would come in handy at this point. I had known for some time that Ernest Courtenay was present in Brussels in 1880 selling wallets and purses, perhaps making them, too. That year’s almanac appears to be the only one available through Internet searches. Now, on the website for the State Archives of Belgium, I found many other years in which Ernest Courtenay was listed as a professional in Brussels, first as a leather worker, then as a commissioner of merchandise for the London firm S. A. Cowdy and Co., then as a négociant, sometimes as a printer and lithographer, sometimes as an ateller d’ors. Ernest was in Brussels all the way up to 1914. I figured he had probably been dead less than a year when his son married in Surrey, only living to about 61 (although, I later found out that almanacs would sometimes list people who had been dead for at least a year). The only times that Ernest wasn’t listed there were from 1901 to 1905 and from 1907 to 1912. For this reason I hoped to find the Courtenays in Reims in 1906, but I looked at just about every surname in that year’s census with no luck.
It seemed, then, that Marie and Henry R. M. Courtenay were probably born in Brussels. I could understand why Marie Courtenay wouldn’t want people to know that she was from Belgium. The refugees in Britain were initially welcomed and given jobs. Eventually, some Britons started to see them as ungrateful and entitled and no longer welcomed them. The vast majority of refugees returned home after WWI. Since Marie hadn’t left England after the war, it would benefit her to embrace her roots in England and France rather than her family’s relatively short time in Belgium.
Charles A. R. Courtenay was in Brussels much of the same time that his brother Ernest Courtenay was there. Charles settled in the municipality of Schaerbeek. Ernest often lived and worked in Molenbeek-Saint-Jean or even Brussels proper, but did work in Schaerbeek some of the time. Charles was first a shoemaker, likely not a coincidence considering his brother’s leather working. The Brussels almanachs confirmed that Charles was later a dessinateur, or draughtsman. And he was sometimes listed as a civil engineer. The address that Charles had most recently lived at, according to his obituary, was rue Cistan 57. However, that street appears never to have existed.
Another interesting person living in Brussels around the time of Ernest and Charles was an architect named Édouard Courtenay, who was active in Brussels architecture from 1893 to 1914 and from 1922 to 1932. A periodical of architecture from the 1910s shows that he built a house for Charles A. R. Courtenay at rue de la Consolation 97. Charles may have lived at that address up to 1914 or 1915, making it the most likely to have been confused for rue Cistan 57. It’s quite possible that Charles abbreviated the street name and his handwriting was misread. That’s no small misfortune considering that this error could very well have prevented news of his death from reaching his wife and children in 1917.
Édouard de Courtenay could have been the son of Eugène Courtenay, who’s also a character of mysterious origins. Édouard shouldn’t be confused with Edouard Charles de Courtenay, who was the grandson of Justin McCarthy de Courtenay. I see no way for the McCarthy de Courtenay family to be closely related, as my Courtenay family would turn out to have a past that doesn’t seem to include the Courtenay surname at all. However, the McCarthy de Courtenay family is also of interest to me, as very little was known about their origins until recently.
A Striking Similarity
I continued to search for information on the early life of Charles François Courtenay. Often, when entering a person into a public family tree online, there are no suggestions for other people who could be the same person. After entering the person into your family tree, you can search for possible duplicates. Still, you’ll see no suggestions. Then, some other day, you’ll be searching through family trees and see another person who is unmistakably the same person. And you see that they were entered in 2012, just like I found in the case of Marie Lebègue and her parents, so they were there all along and somehow weren’t suggested. These entries were done, I believe, in batch migration from family trees that occurred prior to that point. It’s research that somebody has done long ago and perhaps put into a legacy system, which was then been transferred over to the current system without information about who found the information or when.
This phenomenon of finding family members who were already in online trees is exactly happened when I was searching family trees on November 29, 2017. There, sitting in an unconnected tree, ostensibly copied from a December, 1820 marriage record in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France, I found a groom Charles François Alexandre de Courtenay, knight of Fouchécourt, and his bride Charlotte Frances Aylisse. (Her surname was actually Ayliffe, but one can see from the record how easy it would be to mistake the letters.) The strange thing is that they had been married already in London a month earlier. I immediately looked up the actual French record. This Charles de Courtenay had the same name as my third great-grandfather, except the knight of Fouchécourt had the additional name Alexandre and the surname prefix “de.” He also had the same age, born about 1796. (The town is spelled “Fouchécourt.” Some descendants of Charles’ parents went by “Fouchécour.” I’ll use the form that individuals appear to have chosen for themselves.)
I now had more information to guide my Internet searches, and I was in for quite a surprise. This story, which already fascinated me, became far more interesting. This is where my family tree intersects with the recorded histories of England and France. The day after finding the Courtenay-Ayliffe marriage record in France, I found a publication by Jeremy Masters, an Australian descendant of the Ayliffe family.
His publication focuses on the Ayliffes, but it was immediately clear that it contained a lot of useful information for me. François de Courtenay was the son of the Jean François Louis Marie Marguerite de Salivet de Fouchécourt, a French count. Louis de Fouchécourt and his wife, Charlotte Anne Agathe Grant de Vaux, fled the French revolution in 1792 and settled in England.
Charlotte, who had previously been married to a man surnamed Saint-Germain, was the daughter of the viscount Louis-Charles Grant de Vaux III. A large privately held painting exists of Charles Grant as a lieutenant colonel, pictured below. Charles Grant fled to Scotland during the French revolution. He had been a supplier of privateering ships and sold supplies to the colonists in America during its own revolution. It appears that the British government may have overlooked that fact when allowing Charles to seek refuge in Scotland.
The whole de Salivet de Fouchécourt family took on the surname de Courtenay at some point while living in England, although at times they were called by their former name or a combination of the two, such as “de Courtenay de Fouchécourt.” In 1821 François and Fanny de Courtenay had a child named Charles William Philip Hamilton de Courtenay who only lived for a few months. In 1822 their second and only surviving child, Rosabella Elizabeth Egremont de Courtenay, was born at 4 Waterloo Place, St. James, London. François isn’t found in any of the censuses with his wife, Fanny Ayliffe; not in 1851, 1861, 1871, or 1881. None of the family is found in the 1841 census. It appeared that François and Fanny had split up not long after their marriage.
Two letters at the Petworth House Archives and one letter at the West Sussex Records Office, all of which can be made available at the latter, would shed insight into that. Fanny Ayliffe’s father sent her a letter concerning her relationship to François in 1830. In 1860 François sent a letter to Fanny. Those two are at Petworth House. The third letter was from Fanny’s cousin, Col. George Wyndham, and was addressed to his brother-in-law Charles Burrell in 1838. That letter also mentioned François and Fanny. What did those letters say? I was very eager to find out. If the postmark was from a place in France where Charles Courtenay could be confirmed to have lived, that would be strong evidence that this was the same man.
One thing is for certain: Charles François Alexandre de Salivet de Fouchécourt had some very striking similarities to my third great-grandfather, Charles François Courtenay. Unfortunately, any records of their births or baptisms seem to be missing. One publication of French peerage claimed that François de Courtenay was born in Southampton, England, in 1796; but I had no information about a place of birth for the one whom I knew was my ancestor.
I found some newspaper postings by François de Courtenay advertising his services as a French teacher in Brighton, Sussex, but the last ones I found were in the late 1830s. His parents were both French and he probably thusly considered himself a Frenchman. It made sense that he would “return” to France. Charles Courtenay, on the other hand, can first be found in French records in 1846, just after the disappearance of François de Courtenay from England. Charles is in the 1846 La Rochelle census, which I believe occurred in February of that year, just before his daughter Françoise Ridley Courtenay was born. He’s listed as an English professor there, just as on Henry Ridley Courtenay’s birth record in 1853. In summary, a French teacher with roots in France disappeared from England around the same time that an English teacher appeared in France with the same age and essentially the same name. These facts seemed to warrant further investigation.
Found: A French Chevalier
I wasn’t very satisfied with waiting for the department of Gers records to be digitized. To this day they’re unavailable. Just over a month after discovering the de Salivet de Fouchécourt connection to the Courtenay surname, I was looking through the death records in Reims for the period 1853–1862. On 7 January 2018 I found what I was looking for. There was a record of death for a Charles François Courtenay, survived by his wife Louise Patience Ridley. He died on the 15 December 1861. It said that he was born in London, not Southampton, but the birthplace of England definitely bolstered my theory that Charles Courtenay and François de Courtenay were the same person.
I realized that an 1861 death precluded Charles Courtenay from being the English professor called M. de Courtenay who taught at the Lycée Impérial and was still alive at the end of the 1866–1867 academic year. The only person I know of who would fit that description is Hugues de Courtenay, who was in Périguex in 1856. He was listed as a professor in that year’s census. The study of language wasn’t uncommon among Courtenays of the period. A person named James Michael Austin Courtenay, of Ireland, was living in London in 1841 and 1851 as a linguist. And Charles McCarthy de Courtenay, the son of Justin McCarthy de Courtenay, was an interpreter at the time of his death in France in 1903. Hugues (or Hugh), born about 1798, may have been a member of the Courtenay family of Devon. His wife, Alice de Courtenay (née Martin), was born about 1808 and was with him in the 1856 Périgueux census.
I later found further evidence that my third great-grandfather was from the de Salivet de Fouchécourt family. There were more newspaper advertisements for French instruction offered by François de Courtenay de Fouchécourt than I had originally found. They began running in the Brighton, Sussex newspapers by 1827 and continued until at least 1838. By 1836, François de Courtenay was splitting his time between England and France, teaching in both places. Patience Ridley’s family also lived in Brighton during this time, definitely in 1841, which explains how she and Charles Courtenay met each other. Throughout late 1843 François ran more newspaper advertisements for French instruction in Leeds, England. And if there was any question remaining of whether or not François de Courtenay was the same man as Charles Courtenay, there was a child born in Leeds in August of 1843 named Mary Ann Ridley de Courtenay. This child’s parents’ names were Charles François de Courtenay and Patience Ridley. The missing French chevalier, Charles François Alexandre de Salivet de Fouchécourt, had been found, and he was my third great-grandfather.
The de Salivet de Fouchécourt Family
Louis de Salivet de Fouchécourt was born in castle Fouchécourt, Franche-Comté in 1759. Before fleeing France, he was a wealthy man. He inherited the title Comte de Fouchecourt in 1803 following his father’s death in Basel, Switzerland. Louis de Fouchécourt owned large estates in France, including the Forest of Fouchécourt, which provided him about 400 l. in income per year. He was the proprietor of two “first-rate” estates on the Isle of Bourbon, now Réunion. They may have been in the hands of his family as early as 1665. Unfortunately, those estates would have been slave-driving plantations. While the benefit of having a count for a fourth great-grandfather is in the availability of information about him, the drawback is in facing the misdeeds of your own ancestors. After 1715 it’s probably most likely that the plantations were used for growing cotton, although the island also produced coffee, tobacco, cloves, vanilla and nutmeg for export, and food for Île de France. Louis de Salivet de Fouchécourt made twenty to thirty thousand Louis per year from those plantations.
He traveled to Mauritius in 1798, most likely to investigate the possibility of regaining some kind of income from his former plantations on the Isle of Bourbon. That year he also translated into French Dr. Samuel Johnson’s novel Rasselas. His wife, Charlotte, had published and Juvenile Dialogues by 1804 and Les Saisons before that, both of which were French instructional books for English children. But those ventures would not keep the family out of debt.
Louis de Fouchécourt was naturalized as a British citizen on or around 20 May 1812 and probably took the surname de Courtenay around that time. Usually, a person would have to publish notice of a name change in a local newspaper, but I haven’t yet found evidence that Louis de Fouchécourt did so. The British government paid him a pension of 100 l. per year. He had obtained a pension of 4 l. per month by the King of France by 1819, but his debt at the time had grown to 52,000 l. He probably didn’t ever pay much or any of that back. Most of the debt was due to promises he made to friends who ended up not pursuing the money when the count was in debtors’ prison. He returned to France broke around 1820.
Louis de Fouchécourt had been a visitor of the Caldwell family of Staffordshire from 1804 to 1808, probably for the purpose of teaching the Caldwell daughters French. On 10 February and 24 March 1807 he began teaching the Caldwell daughters Italian, which they found much easier than French. One of the daughters, Anne Marsh Caldwell, kept a detailed diary in which the best existing description of Louis de Fouchécourt can be found:
16th December 1805, Monday
Mr De Fouchécourt came for the last time, Government having required his services. This gentleman had the rank of Count in his native country which he quitted in 1792 on refusing to receive the oath directed to be administered. He was in the Prince of Conde’s army and served as Lieutenant Colonel during the war anceeding the revolution. He was engaged in the unsuccessful attempt at Linberon, out of 5,000 only 500 escaped. He then returned to England and was allowed half pay by the British Government which he resigned to a brother in distressed circumstances and taught French to support himself. His manners were gentle but like his face, very plain and his figure small but well made. He was well acquainted with the unfortunate Duke D’Enghein whose life he saved once when bathing and Bonaparte served a campaign under him in Corsica.
The brother whom he helped would have to be Jean Claude Antoine Joseph François Xavier Louis (n. 1763) or Louis Auguste Antoine François de Salivet de Fouchécourt (n. 1764). The only possibility I see, if Napoleon Bonaparte really did serve under him, would have been in the Régiment de La Fère from about 1787 to 1792. The year of the diary entry (1805) as I found it transcribed is incorrect. The year is given as 1808 in two other diaries by family members. According to the diaries of James and his daughter Mary Caldwell, he was to pay his last visit on 13 December 1808 before leaving for London, but stayed with them until December 16th. They both expressed sadness at the departure of a gentleman who had attended them for nearly five years.
Little is known about the couple after their return to France. Louis de Fouchécourt received a French military pension while living in Paris. His close acquaintance, the Duke of Enghien, wasn’t as lucky, having been executed on 21 March 1804 for aiding Britain and plotting against France. Since the Bourbons were re-instated in 1814, it was safe for Legitimists to return to France. Louis de Fouchécourt died in the first arrondissement of Paris in 1826. Charlotte Anne Agathe died in 1844, probably also in Paris. Chateau Fouchécourt, the place were Louis de Fouchécourt was born, became property of the commune after the revolution. It suffered from disuse for decades. Eventually it was converted into agricultural buildings, with little resemblance to its former splendor.
The Fouchécourt émigrés had one son before François, not long after they arrived in England. William Alpin François Charles de Salivet de Fouchécourt, who was born in London in 1794, was the heir to the title Comte de Fouchécourt. He would go on to fight against the Republic in the barricades in Paris on June 23 and 24, 1848. At that time he was seen leaving his residence with his musket over his shoulder, commanding at the barricades in the Rue St. Anastase, Rue Torigny, and Rue des Coutures St. Gervais. He forcibly entered the Hotel St. Albin, Rue Vielle du Temple and placed a man at a window to fire upon the National Guards and troops. When this man refrained from firing, he placed his son there instead. William later bragged that he killed several soldiers and claimed that his son, Josselin de Salivet de Fouchécour, killed four. They were later apprehended and brought before a general named Cavaignac. William was about to face a summary execution, but was saved by one very famous person who had ironically given up his royalist beliefs decades earlier. The author Victor Hugo had gone to the barricades out of curiosity and was moved by the plight of the insurgents. He intervened on behalf of several of them who had been arrested, including William de Fouchécourt, stopping national guards who were about to execute a kneeling concierge against a wall. Hugo smuggled the insurgents across the guard post by having them pretend that they were his servants.
William still had his day in court where he again narrowly avoided execution, five jurists voting to sentence him to twenty years in prison and two voting to have him executed. After his arrest, his wife Louise Charlotte Antoinette de Fouchécour (née le Pellerin de Gauville) was screaming and trying to reach the area where national guardsmen were holding him. It was reported that she went insane because of the ordeal from then afterward. She died two years later at the age of 48. William and six other Frenchmen convicted for their participation in the insurrection were held at St. Pélagie prison in Paris for thirteen months before being sent to Mont-St.-Michel. The surnames of the other convicted insurgents were Dubois, Bruere, Legenissal, Augier, Tezler, and Grenon. Eighteen more insurrectionists, who had attempted revolt from prison, were sent to Belle-Île-en-Mer. William either escaped or was released very early. He appears in Antwerp, Belgium eight years after his sentence. He died there in 1884.
Like his younger brother François, William used the surname de Courtenay, but he didn’t use it for very long. In 1820, a William de Courtenay and a person who is transcribed as “Othon de Courtenay,” born about 1799, returned to France and renounced their British citizenship. This person named Othon would appear to be a brother of William and Charles, but there seems to be no other mention of him anywhere either before or after that event. Alternatively, the person could have been William’s wife, although the reason for her being called “Othon” would be a complete mystery.
François de Fouchécourt didn’t fare any better financially than his father did. His house in Brighton, Sussex was robbed in 1838. A man who went by the name Auguste Roger and sounded as if he was from the south of France or from Spain approached him and asked to let a room for a fortnight, François assenting. François left his house at 11 one morning to “attend his pupils,” returned around 1:15, and was surprised to find that his lodger had left. Upon inspection, the lodger had taken François’ most valuable possessions, according to the Sussex Advertiser:
… a large gravy spoon marked with a coat of arms trois gules on a shield, surrounded by a garter with the motto “Tout en Dieu,” encircled on one side with oak leaves and on the other with laurel leaves surmounted with the coronet of a French Compte, and of course stamped on the back with the marks of the French mint, 3 silver table spoons, and 3 silver forks similarly marked, and three teaspoons and 2 saltspoons, with the arms but not the coronet. Upon further search it was found that the cupboard and drawers had been opened by means of false keys, and that a trunk had been forced open, and from them had been stolen a pair of fine linen sheets, some shirts marked C. D. F., and various articles of apparel.
The lodger had stayed at his place from July 31 to August 10. Additional items stolen were a gold seal and several silver spoons and some forks. The total number of shirts stolen was two dozen. The man’s real name was Etienne Hubert, his real age was 27, and he was soon apprehended in London. The man had been robbing foreigners in England since January. He was sentenced to 15 years transportation, but released a month later because of overcrowding in the gaol. Maybe he then returned to southern France. It was opined in the Silurian, Cardiff, Merthyr, and Brecon Mercury, and South Wales General Advertiser that “his sole claim to respect consisted in his elaborately arranged moustache,” although I would like to note that he had been very fond of claiming that he had been to Baltimore, Maryland.
Probably, François’ items were sold and he never retrieved them. Afterward, he would have fared much better than the average person due to his status as a gentlemen and a chevalier. But he probably never achieved anywhere near the level of affluence that he was born into or dreamed of. A decade later, while spending some of his time in France and some in England, he reported difficulty in finding work near Liverpool. The only other indications of how François fared after this time are those that can be inferred. His children married well. His daughters were were either sent away to school, which would’ve been expensive, or they were married off extremely young. Only Emilie died at a young age, 33, after having been married. François was listed as a master professor in La Rochelle by 1846, but that could have been referring to his employment in England. He’s confirmed to have been a master professor in Leeds, at Mr. Hiley’s, Miss Atkinson’s, and Miss Smith’s schools in the 1840s, but it isn’t known if he found employment as easily while in France. The last bit of information that’s known about his state of affairs later in life is that his wife, Patience, left a will when she died. One of her brothers obtained 1,983 pounds, 1 schilling, and seven pence by proving her will. That was a considerable sum in 1883, especially since Patience had been living off of the money via an annuity for 22 years after François died. One has to wonder how much was given to her children if just one of her brothers received so much. And it makes me rethink whether or not François lost everything when he was robbed.
The Ridley Family
Louise Patience Ridley was born about 1816 in Croydon, Surrey according to her death certificate. After she died in Brussels in 1883, it was her brother Frank Ridley who proved her will. For some reason this information was listed in conjunction with a Victoria, Australia passenger list. (Their brother John lived in Australia, but that has nothing to do with Patience’s will.) Frank Ridley was the son of Richard Ridley and Elizabeth Parnham. And that is how I found Patience Ridley’s parents. Richard and Elizabeth were married in 17 January 1816 in Croydon, Surrey. Based on the birth records of Françoise Ridley Courtenay in 1846 and Charles Albert Ridley Courtenay in 1850, Patience Ridley was probably born between 27 September 1815 and 19 February 1816. Patience’s birth occurring four months before or immediately after her parents’ marriage may explain why no birth or baptismal record has been found for her.
The Reason I Started Searching
I wanted to know why there were Courtenays claiming to be descendants of French viscounts in Reims and I was very glad to have found the answer. But I had skipped right past my great-grandmother Marie, finding her parents, grandparents, and most of her great-grandparents. I had even found out quite a bit about their lives, but almost nothing about Marie Louise Courtenay. My initial goal remained unresolved: I wanted to know who my great-grandmother was.
Marie Lebègue had a brother named Paul Camille Albert Victor Lebègue who was born in Fourmies in 1872. The margin entry next to his birth record (written with the book turned counter-clockwise one quarter turn) was the hardest text I’ve ever successfully read. I came back to it many times over the course of months. In order to finally decipher it I had to set it beside a map of the area around Fourmies. Eventually, a name stood out: what had looked to me like “Aubentoy” was actually Aubenton. Paul was married there in 1898. His marriage record gives his residence as Reims. This, combined with the death of Charles Courtenay in Reims, led me to once again explore the possibility that Marie Courtenay had lived in Reims.
Paul Lebègue was in Reims with his family in 1901 and 1906. Ernest Courtenay was there in the 1961 census with his mother, father, and brother. Charles François died that December. They lived at rue Lebergier 9. Other de Salivet de Fouchécours were on the same street in the early 1900s. But I never found Marie Courtenay in Reims. I had checked the birth records in Fourmies and many other communes in the Nord department. It seemed that I needed to do more research in Brussels.
On January 24, 2018 I wrote an email to the State Archives of Belgium asking how I could find information from their civil status records. They replied two days later to tell me that all of the Brussels civil status records can be found on familysearch.org, a website with which I’m very familiar. It’s just that the information in the Brussels records isn’t searchable, which is the same for most French records. Within a few hours of receiving the email I had read the death record of Louise Patience Ridley in 1883, the birth record of Henri Ridley Marie Courtenay, and the birth record of my very own great-grandma, Marie. And I found that there was more to her name. In full, she was Marie Louise Henriette Florence Courtenay; named Marie after her mother, Marie Lèbegue; Louise after her paternal grandmother, Louise Patience Ridley; Henriette after her father, Henri Ridley Courtenay; and Florence after her maternal grandmother, Florence Devivaise¹. This birth record of my great-grandmother was all I ever hoped to find. I had begun to think it would never happen.
A few days later I found the marriage record of Charles Albert Ridley Courtenay in 1878 and the birth of his sons in 1886 and 1889. The marriage record for Charles Albert Ridley Courtenay claims that his parents were both English. This is true in the sense that they were both born in England, but both of Charles François’ parents were French while Patience Ridley’s parents were both English. The civil status records for Ernest Courtenay’s marriage and the births of his son and daughter all claim that Ernest resided in Brussels, but was domiciled in London. If this is true, the early life of Marie Courtenay could have involved much travel back and forth between England and Belgium. She may have already been living in London at the outset of the Great War, despite telling her children that she had been in Reims.
Ernest Courtenay and his brother, Charles, appear to have been in Brussels right up until 1914. As noted before, Charles Albert Ridley Courtenay fled Belgium and ended up in Scotland. Ernest may have stayed in Brussels and died by 1915 or he may have died trying to escape Belgium. His wife and children may have been with him as he tried to do so. A typical flight from Brussels would’ve taken the Courtenays through the coastal city of Ostend, Belgium. In one day at the outbreak of the war, 600,000 Belgians passed through Ostend to England. Rail service to Ostend was halted shortly thereafter. Finding a car to rent became almost impossible. It would have been a harrowing journey.
I don’t know why Ernest Courtenay didn’t make it, why his wife and children made it to England, or why Charles Albert Ridley went instead to Scotland. I know that his son Henry went back to Brussels until the 1930s. That may have played a part in Marie Courtenay telling my grandma that Henry was from Belgium.
My goal of my search was to find out about Marie Courtenay. I’ve done that and more. I’ve found her. I’ve found her ancestors. And I’ve found my grandmother and stayed in contact with her. She’s told me personal details that I would have never found by simply researching genealogy. She’s shared pictures that, to me, are priceless.
The Separation of Fanny and Charles François
The husband of Fanny Ayliffe started another family with a woman who was 20 years younger than him and moved to France. I don’t know the circumstances under which Charles and Fanny separated. I don’t know what transpired in the first few years of their relationship or if the separation between Charles François and Fanny Ayliffe was mutual, or, if not, who initiated it. It could have been the stress of losing their first child. They could have been separated as early as 1823 and Charles François may not have met Louise Patience Ridley until just before 1843. Or it may be that Charles François met Patience Ridley much earlier and that could have been the cause of separation.
Fanny Ayliffe never remarried. Some members of her family moved to Australia, but she remained in England with her child and grandchildren. She must have had great expectations about her life as a child and when she married Charles François de Courtenay. Being separated from a husband at that time must have led to considerable disappointment. On September 21, 2018, I was finally able to read the 1860 letter from Charles François, the 1838 letter from Col. George Wyndham to Sir Charles Burrell, and the 1830 letter to Fanny from her father. Those letters provided me with quite a bit of insight about the circumstances leading up to and after the separation. And they also gave me the realization that Charles François had at least one other child I didn’t know about, this one with neither Fanny Ayliffe nor Patience Ridley.
Descendants of William Alpin de Salivet de Fouchécour:
There are many descendants of William de Fouchécour, the first son of Louis de Fouchécourt. The easiest ones to find are descendants of William’s sons, Josselin Emile Raoul de Salivet de Fouchécour and Paul Auguste de Salivet de Fouchécour. Josselin was with his father in June of 1848 and claimed to be fighting for the “Legitimist cause” and for “Henry V,” but somehow avoided a trial and a prison sentence. He was 21 years old at the time. He also confessed that his father had fought and commanded at the barricades in the February revolution of that year, which overthrew Louis-Philippe. They and a few others had fought in the barricades alongside their political opposites, pretending to fight for the “red Republic,” fighting against a common enemy.
Josselin’s grandson Paul de Salivet de Fouchécour was called a war hero in WWI. Other descendants with the name de Salivet de Fouchécour could be from uncles of William and Charles François or even earlier generations.
Descendants of Charles François de Courtenay and Fanny Ayliffe:
Rosabella Elizabeth Egremont de Courtenay (1822 — after 1851) was the only child of Fanny Ayliffe who survived to adulthood, but she has many descendants. She may have been married twice. It isn’t known if she had any children with the second man, George Sully. But she did have a daughter with Thomas Henry Horatio Cauty, who was an interesting fellow. He was sometimes called Captain Cauty, but was only a lieutenant in the army when his half-pay was cancelled in 1844, probably long after his military service had ended. He also had troubles in court involving bankruptcy. Their daughter was Horatia Fanny Paulina Henrietta Cauty (1848 — after 1911).
Horatia married a man named William Bear (1825 — after 1895) with whom she had seven children. There were some interesting descendants of this couple. Some of them were teachers or schoolmasters, which appears to be a theme among Charles de Courtenay’s descendants.
The first child, Laura Martha Wyndham Bear (1872 — after 1939) married Joseph Victor Hibbert. Their son James Wyndham Hibbert married a famous author and fighter against apartheid in South Africa, Beryl Gascoigne Taylor. Although I haven’t verified that they had children together, Beryl is said to have been a mother.
Ellen Mary L. Bear (1877 — after 1930) isn’t known to have married, but apparently traveled from Southampton, England to New York City in 1930, perhaps to visit other members of her family.
Martha Constance Egremont Bear (1879 — after 1939) married Charles Archibald King and had one son and two daughters. Charles Egremont King (1909 to 1984) and Patricia Egremont King (1911 to after 1939) are not known to have married. Noreen Egremont King (1911 to after 1973) married Alan Cumbrae Rose McLeod, who was a knight and surgeon dentist to the Queen. He was born in Australia, which may reveal that ties between the Ayliffe family and Rosabella’s descendants still existed.
Francis William E. Bear (1881 — ?) isn’t found after the age of ten.
Bertram William Bear (1844 — 1956) moved to America and joined the U.S. Marines. He was stationed in New England, as well as my home city of Norfolk, Virginia, and San Bruno, California, where he died. He married sometime between 1830 and 1840, but it isn’t known if he had children.
Leslie William De Fouchecourt Bear (1886 — 1934) has a most interesting name to me. I have to wonder if William Bear and Horatia Cauty didn’t know that her grandfather was a French chevalier up until this time. Leslie William married Doris C. L. Orton, but it isn’t known if they had children.
The last child of Horatia Cauty and William Bear, continuing on in the new tradition of recognizing Horatia’s ancestry, was named Irene De Fouchecourt Bear (1890 — 1978). She married Edney Philip Moore and had at least one child in 1925. Irene died in Australia in 1978. I was surprised to realize that I had found, thanks to long generations, a possbily living great-granddaughter of a French chevalier born in 1796. But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, since the same could be said about my grandmother.
Descendants of Charles François de Courtenay and Patience Ridley:
I don’t know if Mary Ann Ridley de Courtenay or Emilie Ridley Courtenay had children, but I think it’s likely. None of the daughters of Charles Courtenay and Patience Ridley appear to have stayed with their parents for very long. Maybe they all went to school in Paris at an early age and then married there. I have found no information for Mary Ann after she was born.
The next child, Françoise Ridley Courtenay, was married to Philippe Leopold Joseph Desire Leclercq. Searching for that surname is difficult because it’s so prevalent. He died in Paris in 1881, when Françoise was 35. After his death, Françoise went on to marry Antoine Edouard Lemire — another common surname — in Paris in 1884. She was 38 at the time and still may have had children. She did have at least one child with her first husband: in 1876, Ernestine Françoise Patience Leclercq was born in Laeken, Belgium. She was named after her mother, grandmother, and possibly named primarily after her uncle Ernest Henry Courtenay (my 2nd great-grandfather). In Paris on 14 May 1899, Ernestine announced marriage banns with a man named Alphonse Ducerf. They were married on the 27th of May in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, but divorced in 1903. On the marriage record she was listed as a widow. I found that she was previously married to Albert Marie Anatole Courtin, who had died in 1898. I was very excited to see that they had had a daughter: Odette Marie Albertine Courtin was born in Dieppe in 1897. I haven’t found anything else about Odette Courtin other than newspaper articles from 1914 for a woman who was elected to some title and may have been her.
Emilie Ridley Courtenay was married to Augustin François Mathuris Motay of the Cotes-d’Amor region of France. Surnames of any of their descendants could be Motay, or Mottay as he appears to have signed his name on Emilie’s death record. As mentioned before, she unfortunately died in 1881 at the age of 32.
Charles Albert Ridley Courtenay married a woman named Mathilde De Beaufay in Schaerbeek, Brussels, Belgium in 1878. They had a son named Oscar who passed away at the age of nine months. They had another son named René in 1889. He contributed to a miniature exhibit featured in a newspaper in Brussels in 1916 along with Édouard Courtenay, who was an architect. There was a leather making company called “Courtenay Sons” in Brussels in the 1920s. They were likely René Courtenay and his cousin Henry Ridley Marie Courtenay (my great-grandmother Marie’s brother), whose first marriage record in 1915 shows that he was a leather worker like his father. R. Courtenay, probably René, is found in the Brussels almanachs up to the 1960s. Charles’ Scottish obituary said that he had left “children” in Brussels. Since Oscar died in 1887, Charles could’ve had another child who is unaccounted for, unless by “children” the obituary meant “a child and grandchild.” Another possibility is that the architect Édouard Courtenay was his son from a previous marriage (or not a marriage) or with Mathilde De Beaufay before they married. I think it’s very likely that Édouard Courtenay was a son of Charles A. R. Courtenay, as the daughter of René Courtenay would later call Édouard an uncle.
René Courtenay married a woman named Germaine Rosa Goffint, who was born in Haine, Belgium. They had at least one child together, a daughter named Solange Thérèse Courtenay in Blankenberge, Belgium in 1914. Solange Courtenay married Jean Marie Henri Pinchart in 1946. They had two children who are still living. One has corresponded with me and is a proud grandmother.
My second great-grandpa, Ernest Courtenay, had no known children other than Henry Ridley Marie and Marie Louise. My grandma says that Henry had a son with his first wife, Marguerite Marie Ghislaine Mariaul. That child would’ve likely been born in Brussels between 1918 and 1923. Marguerite died in Brussels 1923. Henry went on to marry Augustine François Manceaux, who also had been previously married. Her former husband was André Albert Quétier. Henry and Jeanne-Augustine were unable to have children. They lived together from 1936 to 1974 in Chelsea, London. My grandma says that Henry was kind and generous, just like his sister Marie Louise Courtenay.
Obviously, there are descendants of Marie Louise Courtenay. My grandmother had three children, all of whom have married. Her sister, Patricia Louise Morgan, married a man named Edward Newman and had three daughters, each with children of their own.
Descendants of Paul Camille Albert Victor Lebègue:
Paul Lebègue was born in 1871 and is last known to have been in Reims, France in the 1911 census. He married Marcelle Gabrielle Massuel (1878 — after 1911) and had three daughters, Madeleine Lebègue (1898 — ?), Louise Florence Leonie Lebègue (1899 — after 1911) and Marie Louise Florence Lebègue (1900 — after 1911). If any of them married or had children, those records would likely be hard to find, as those events may have occurred within the last 100 years. My grandmother’s sister went to Reims to visit family, possibly in the 1950s or 1960s. I can only imagine that those people would have been descendants of Paul Lebègue.
Marie Louise Courtenay
I’m very happy to have pictures of Marie Lebègue and Marie Courtenay, a mother and daughter who both survived two world wars. If there’s a place in France that my family comes from, I think that that would be the birthplace of Marie Lebègue. Fourmies is near the border of Belgium and sits in a national park. Marie Lebègue’s family of wool merchants seem to be my only ancestors on the Courtenay side who stayed in one place for more than a generation.
Marie Courtenay sewed dresses for the opera in London. I’ve found no documentation of this. There was briefly a store called “ Courtenay, Marie and Partner, Hats & Gwns” in London in early 1923. The named person was probably her mother and the partner was probably Marie Louise. She would’ve been raising her son Francis at the time, newly a widow, mourning the loss of her husband.
Bernard Ernest Wellum served in WWI and later worked for the British war graves commission in France. He had severe respiratory problems due to his exposure to nerve agents in the war, probably chlorine, phosgene, or mustard gas. Bernard Wellum died in Lille, France in July, 1921, less than eight months after his son Francis was born and just a year and a half after marrying Marie Courtenay. He had supposedly attempted to swim across a river, possibly the Deûle, and drowned.² Bernard Wellum has the rare distinction, due to being an employee of the war graves commission, of being buried in a war graves cemetery at Albert, Picardie, France despite not having died during the war.
I think about the perceptions that Marie Courtenay and her parents must have had of the world. In 1870 and 1871 Prussia occupied Reims and nearly overtook Paris. Ten years earlier Ernest Courtenay was in Reims when his father died there, a man who was born in England only because his parents had to leave their home country to escape a revolution, the goal of which was to overthrow people just like them. I don’t know where Ernest Courtenay was in 1871, but I’m sure nowhere felt safe from the reaches of war for him, then 18 years old. In 1914 German troops marched through Brussels, perhaps as Ernest watched from the window of his leather goods store or workshop. He may have been a resistor, resulting in his death. Or he may have died trying to escape Belgium.
Marie Courtenay and Marie Lebègue lived through that war. Wherever they had been, it was likely a place they had to escape from. The city that they claimed to be from, Reims, was taken by the Germans. The Germans left soon after, but proceeded to shell the city for the next four years, ruining the city and the famous cathedral, which was hit more than 300 times. My great-grandma and her mom moved to England to escape that violence and destruction, only to witness Zeppelin raids by the Germans there until early 1917 and bombing by airplanes in 1917 and 1918. The world Marie Courtenay and Marie Lebègue knew was a world of war. And, as if that wasn’t enough, they watched it all happen again for the last few years of their lives, the second world war that they would live through. I don’t know if the school my grandma attended, Brompton Girls’ School, was affected, but their neighborhood of Chelsea suffered Blitz bombings. Friends of the family died. Maybe my great-grandma and her mother wouldn’t have died when they did if it hadn’t been for the war. I wish I could have told them that things wouldn’t stay the way they knew them; that, although wars would continue on, at least the places they lived would be safe for once. Marie Lebègue died in 1945 of heart failure. Her daughter Marie Louise Courtenay died just four years later at the age of 58. She had been a loving and gentle mother and I know that her daughters adored her.
Marie Courtenay has many descendants alive today, most of whom are living in the U.S. and are descendants of my grandmother. I also have first and second cousins living in England who are descendants of Marie’s first daughter, Patricia Louise Morgan. I’ve been in contact with some half-first cousins living in England. They are descendants of Marie’s first child, Francis Ernest de Courtenay Wellum, whose father was Bernard Ernest Wellum.
I still haven’t met my grandmother, at least not since I was under three. She’s been a great source of information for my research. At almost every turn, when I couldn’t verify what she told me and I spent uncountable hours looking elsewhere, the truth ended up being just about exactly what she had said. She began using a smartphone in late 2017 and I found out that she has a great sense of humor. We keep in contact regularly and I intend to visit her in Idaho.
I couldn’t have imagined my genealogical quest being such a success or producing such interesting results. I think about the beginnings of my search, when I would do essentially the same Internet search in countless different ways, hoping that the world hadn’t completely forgotten my great-grandma. It turns out that the world had forgotten her, but I think that I’ve righted that wrong.
¹Florence Devivaise died an untimely death in Fourmies, France just months after she and other raw wool sellers tried to sue a warehouse owner who let all of their wool go up in flames. The ordeal led her and her husband to declare bankruptcy
²Interestingly, the first anti-Tuberculosis vaccine was developed in the same city in the same month as Bernard Wellum’s death.
Feel free to write a response . Tell me what you think of this post, let me know if any of the people I mentioned are your ancestors or if you have additional information, or ask me about genetic genealogy or genealogical research.