Homepage of the Charbonnet Family of France, the Canary Islands, and Natchitoches, St. Bernard, and Orleans Parishes, Louisiana
GENERATIONS OF THE CHARBONNET FAMILY TREE
OF LOUIS CHARBONNET
A BEGINNING HISTORY OF THE CHARBONNETS
By Betty Charbonnet Reid Soskin
I’d been working through old memories; my father’s six hours of a videotaped interview done by the U.C. Berkeley’s School of Public Health; my grandfather Louis’s business card; a postcard sent to him from Detroit (foldout pictures of the Ford Plant); with some old family photographs and known stories -- but the Charbonnet family history was illusive. There were always hints at mystery -- stories enshrouded in whispers behind hands, usually expressed only in the Creole patois that guarded them from my generation. Try as I might, I never could get past my grandfather, Louis Charbonnet (died in 1924) in the search for beginnings.
I knew that my father, Dorson Louis Charbonnet, was named for his grandfather, Dorson, but that was where the curtain fell on all prior records.
I was aware that my grandfather, Louis, had siblings, but there were no names or faces to identify them. Dad often spoke of their trips to a summer house at Ibita Springs, there was a picture of that lovely house -- unlike the modest duplex that I could still dimly remember. It was on Lapyrouse Street. My earliest memories involve sitting in my grandmother Victoria’s (Morales Charbonnet) lap -- in a rocking chair on the long front porch -- brushing her waist-length hair as she rocked us both. I remember sleeping under mosquito netting with the faint reeking of a chamber pot that was pushed under the bed... Little more ... except windows with wooden shutters ... and a kerosene stove in the middle of the floor ... and a woman scouring the front steps with a hard brush, a bucket of water, and crushed red brick ... and the watermelon man pushing his cart and singing out “watah mel-lon - red to the rind!”
At one time in my current search, I’d received copies of documents that gave the early family history that dated back to the 1700s. Dad had always spoken of two brothers who’d come from France many years ago, “before the Louisiana Purchase,” but there were no details. Eventually I was able to find records of those two brothers and worked forward fairly easily for a time there.
I learned about Natchitoches and the brother who settled there. There was the brother (my line, I believed) who sailed to Santo Domingo (Haiti) to fight for the French in the Revolution led by Toussaint L’Overture. I believed that he died there but that his family returned to New Orleans after the War of 1812 as refugees. After that time there was great confusion in the records. But I felt fairly secure that I was on the right track at that point.
Everything came to a halt around the year 1830. That was where the mystery began.
It was an interesting journey that -- though they failed to tie in to my story -- offered some fascinating side trips.
I learned from someone else’s attempts that the Charbonnets who settled in the Americas retained the spelling of the name with the “net” at the end. However, those who went to Canada to settle changed the spelling to Charbonneau, a variation that remains to this day.
I was fascinated by the discovery that Toussaint Charbonnet (or Charbonneau), guide for Lewis and Clark on the Northwest Passage trek and trapper husband of the Shoshone maiden, Sacajawea, might well be from the same line. That would have meant that her son, Jean Pierre Charbonnet (or Charbonneau), later adopted by Clark and brought up in St. Louis, may have come from the line which produced my family. For a few months there I was all for identifying as Shoshone for all time! The euphoria didn’t last long enough to do any harm, though.
After a couple of years of running into stone walls, I gave up and went back to concentrating on my mother’s line, the Breaux of St. James Parish, Louisiana. And then I received the first email from Ken Jenkins, an architect in the engineering department of the University at Baton Rouge.
Ken’s first wife was a Charbonnet. They had since divorced, but he was an expert geneaologist who was working to document his children’s lineage. This was a family who were white, and who were boxed in at the same point in their attempts at reconstructing the familiy tree. That first email from Ken was an inquiry listing my father and his brothers who had settled in California back in the 1920s.
Then there was another researcher whom I’ve never met who was working to trace the family tree for another member of the Charbonnet “Creole” family (mine) and who at that particular time ran into Ken Jenkins and his search. This was Lisa Henderson who lived in Atlanta, but who joined the expedition through our mutually connections through cyberspace.
I can think of no better way to present this history than to post here -- in sequence -- the exchange of emails that slowly unfolded the entire story of the Charbonnet -- from the mid-1700s to the present. The narrative speaks for itself.
The only omissions come with the later generations, those beyond the 10th generation. We need whatever filling in of information that you can supply -- from that generation to the present. Please feel free to use these records as the place to add your contributions to this still-evolving family story. We will try to continue to update as we receive new information. We’re particularly in need of photos to add to the richness of the site. Send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will continue to add or change or edit any information that may conflict with your research. This is intended to give us a place to begin our conversation, Charbonnets, and if we stay with it -- one day the entire story will be here to be shared with future generations.
Betty Charbonnet Reid Soskin