Tuesday, March 19, 2024

LaTullippe It Almost Was

I’ve never been a big fan of Genealogy or family trees. I tend to dismiss those infamous tall tales handed down through the generations about the ‘good old days.’ The past is the past and can’t be changed. Or so I thought.

Perhaps this laissez-faire attitude came from my own upbringing. Being raised in a single parent household, we never recognized the absence of my father. It was hardly an incentive for me to care about my own ancestry. We were poor (maybe lower middle class is a better moniker) but so were most of my friends. We had a place to call home and little else mattered.

So, it was with only mild interest that I watched my wife begin her search for our respective family trees through Ancestry.com. Sharon very quickly became immersed in the search and began tabulating ancestors on both sides of our family tree. Thus far she has researched more than 152 individuals. She was able to go back to the 1600s in Germany. The oldest person she’s found was Pierre Helle who was born in 1676. France, Germany and Canada seem to be the favorite countries of origin.

As she clicked along, some fascinating facts began to emerge.

For example, there has always been a ‘George’ Schumacher for at least eight generations back on Sharon’s side of the family. Her descendants came from a small village in Germany, no surprise there. One distant relative served in the Illinois Infantry Regiment, Company E, Unit 31.

My mother’s roots followed a much similar lineage. Her grandparents also came from another part of Germany. There was a grandfather who fought in the Civil War. He went in as a private and came out the same. But he did survive. Our assumption is that he probably got his farmland in Sterns County from the government for his time in the service. That seemed to happen to a lot of returning veterans. Most of my distant relatives come from Sterns County or nearby.

The real mystery begins with my father. As far back as I can remember there was never any mention of him in our home. Growing up, there were no pictures of him nor any references to him at extended family gatherings. It was as if he never existed. I was too young to understand the significance of his absence in my life.

I vaguely remembered that my father’s lineage was French Canadian. Beyond that… little else. He had been married once before. There was a lot of confusion about whether or not there had been a divorce or annulment with his first marriage. He married my mother but we’re not sure when. The reasons for their separation and subsequent divorce had been clouded by denial, mis-statements and confusion. About the time my mother decided to come clean, the fog of aging and miles traveled made any clear recollection of times past just a guessing game on her part.

I’ve written a play, Frenchy’s Eats, about this quagmire called my ancestry. It’s been a real challenge trying to tell their story and lineage in an informative yet entertaining way

Now, many years after my mother’s death, Sharon is finally making some headway on un-wrapping the mystery of my father. It’s been one long and arduous journey fraught with poor records, incorrect dates, family lies and purposeful misstatements to protect the innocent…or so they thought.

Stumbling back in time, we found out that the core of my ancestors settled in Quebec, Canada. Their descendants came from France. It’s probably too late to look for that French Chateau or three-story Paris walkup in my name.

One of my grandfathers was a ‘wagon loader.’ Laugh as you might, today he’d probably be working for UPS in logistics and making a nice income. Back in my college years, I used to load and unload trucks in the dead of winter. Now I know where those deft skills came from.

The French nuns at the little French school in downtown Saint Paul had a huge impact on my life even if I didn’t know it at the time. When the school was built back in the 1873 it was meant for the children of second and third generation French settlers.

By the time my sister and I started school there, our classes were a cosmopolitan smorgasbord of ethnic groups. There were Irish, Italian, German, and Spanish students. Almost all of them lived along the fringe of the downtown loop. Unlike all of our white counterparts where we lived in Highland Park, it made for some interesting playground banter.

It turns out there was a critical junction or fork in my ancestral road. The road split and one branch was named Lacombe and the other LaTulippe. The plot of flowers was on my grand-mother’s side. I never knew her but she must have been a wise woman to have chosen Lacombe. At least I didn’t have to defend myself in grade school from some bully mocking my name.

Another interesting fact was the evolution of the name LaComb. If you go far enough back there used to be an ‘e’ at the end of Lacombe. At another point, the ‘c’ became capitalized.

I was surprised to see on my birth certificate that my name was spelled: Dennis. When I asked my mother why it had been changed she had a simple explanation. She said that in first grade, the French nuns informed her that the proper spelling of my name was Denis. Mom knew better than to mess with the French nuns.

That’s okay; I’ve grown quite accustomed to Denis J. LaComb…and besides it’s not too flowery.

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