Démêler les fils du destin pour les nouer a la trame de l’histoire

Untangling the Threads of Destiny to Weave the Fabric of History
By Mathieu Racicot, Le Quotidien Jurassien
Translated by Lorelei Maison Rockwell and Kristene Fortier
December 2004

Columns of names. Dates falling like rain. And yet it is dry. Genealogy often neglects the real life aspect of what it studies
But how
does one breathe life into anonymous stories forgotten over centuries? Rather than focusing on dates of birth, marriage, and death, a new presentation is emerging. If we record national history and local history, then why not record family history?

The American Lorelei Maison Rockwell has been interested in it for many years now and when she made a trip to Movelier this summer, she finally walked in the footsteps of her ancestors, Christ Salgat of Movelier [1792-1859], Marie-Barbe-Victoire Defer of Pleigne [1805-1857]

Family history relates the same particulars as genealogy—she used the same sources, immersed herself in the same registers, she explained. But family history goes further than simple records, genealogy is a useful guide, but by placing people in the context of their times, we can understand the choices they made and what happened in their actual lives. Family history has taken root in America because it is fertile ground for genealogists and breathes new vitality into this passion. 


Born and raised in Michigan on the banks of Lake St Clair north of Detroit, Lorelei traveled for the American government out of Chicago before moving to California where she lives with her husband Wayne Kennedy.

 Why here and not somewhere else?

If she focused on genealogy somewhat by accident, we ask ourselves: why here and not somewhere else? Why did my ancestors choose this location and not another, asks Lorelei.

The difference with the Swiss is they know their communes of origin, know their ancient patrimony, know who is bourgeois from this place or that from the very beginning. In all of America—the Mexicans, the Americans, the Canadians don’t have roots—or at least not deep ones.

Jura locals Salgat and Defer come to life again through the history of colonization

With the exception of the Native Americans, everyone else has immigrated, they are transplanted in a world three times larger than Europe and their children in their turn have also moved on—going further west.

From a thread she researched, she discovered she is descended from French immigrants. She knows her grandparents spoke French at home.

She traces her ancestors back to the 17th Century when the Maisons came as colonists to New France first living in Quebec, then voyaging down the St Laurence River to settle around the Great Lakes. In the 18th Century the Maison family moved to the Detroit area taking with them their language and culture.

The banks of Lake St Clair

But surprise! Her French-Canadian ancestors met and married into a family who had just arrived from Europe. This family was probably forced from their village by famine and lack of work which could support them there, her great-great grandparents Christ Salgat from Movelier and Marie-Barbe-Victoire Defer from Pleigne who embarked from LeHavre, France some days before Christmas in 1851, with their children—a son and four daughters—headed for New York. Once there, it took them a month to arrive on the shores of Lake St Clair, not far from Detroit.

According to her research, supported by that of Marie-Angèle Lovis, of Porrentruy, and with the help of Jean-Pierre Feron of Movelier, Lorelei considered the possibility they came to Michigan to join Marie-Barbe-Victoire’s family—her mother, step-father as well as her brothers and sisters, the Defers, who had come ten years earlier.


Numerous French-speakers were settled around Lake St Clair. One of the daughters of Christ Salgat and Marie-Barbe-Victoire Defer, Marie-Rose, married James Maison, a French-Canadian, before the American Civil War. Perhaps living in proximity with people who spoke the same language and shared the same religion determined their choice.

The ties between Quebec and the Jura would thus be centuries old…

But from then on, this Salgat line seems to be extinct in America, for lack of males to perpetuate the name. Their only son, Francois-Xavier, at the age of 22, joined the Union cavalry during the War of Secession. He died much later without leaving any known descendants. Nevertheless, with the writing of Lorelei Maison Rockwell they comes back to life, finding their place in family history and in History with a capital H in a chapter of North American colonization. Thus the weft of History is interlaced with the threads of the destiny of individuals to weave the tapestry of the human adventure.

Perhaps Lorelei simply exorcises the congenital amnesia of migrants.