What is this city name on this headstone?
February 15, 2012 2:52 PM   Subscribe

Please help me read the name of this French city on this headstone!

(You can click the linked-to picture to enlarge it.)

What is the word after "Natif de"?

This man's birthplace is a major missing piece in some family genealogical research. It looks like it says "Beumeig" or "Beurneig," but as far as I can tell, that's not the name of any currently-existing place in France. It might be a formerly-existing place, but I can't figure out how to find a list of places that used to exist in France to check it against.

I've tried using my limited knowledge of French pronunciation to figure out if it was a misspelling, thinking that perhaps whoever carved the stone in Los Angeles in 1872 didn't actually speak French or something, but it's got me stumped.

Any clues, ideas, suggestions?
posted by erst to Grab Bag (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps supposed to have been "Baulny" (vaguely similar pronunciation).

There are many candidates for differently spelled similarly pronouced names here.
posted by idiomatika at 3:12 PM on February 15, 2012

And this time with extra linky goodness.
posted by idiomatika at 3:12 PM on February 15, 2012

Well, I certainly concur with your reading of the letters, but I've no idea what they could mean.
posted by ambrosen at 3:13 PM on February 15, 2012

It really does look like it can only be "Beumeig", which yeah, doesn't seem to be a place according to google.

Google suggests "Beaune" (probably because it's a large French city, not because it's especially likely pronunciation-wise), as well as "Bernin".

A lot of my family's roots taper off with situations like this. Either there's a lost in translation misspelling from the home country to the US, or a mis-remembering/misunderstanding on the part of the person supplying the information, or maybe the village just died out. It's also possible that the settlement in question changed its name, or the spelling shifted over time.

To me Beumeig (assuming it's correct or close to correct) seems possibly kind of Alsatian?

Don't forget, of course, that it could be the France part that could be wrong. A google search for "Michel Clement 1872" brings up a Michel Clement in Luxembourg who was a village notary who died the same year. Remember, of course, that the "Pennsylvania Dutch" were actually German, and the "German Cajuns" in Louisiana were mainly from Alsace and Lorraine.
posted by Sara C. at 3:15 PM on February 15, 2012

I read it as "Beumeig" too.

Have you checked the newspapers for a death notice? The 1870 Census? I'd attack this one collaterally by trying to track down any tidbit on him to zero in on likely places of birth.
posted by katemonster at 3:23 PM on February 15, 2012

-eig can be a suffix meaning "island," as can -ay or -ey or -ea. I'd bet that "Beu" is meant to be "Beau," and he was born in Beaune or Beaume or Beaunay.
posted by argonauta at 3:23 PM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

The date of birth on the headstone is broken off but we can maybe tell from the other date and his age (is that his age? I don't speak French!) that he was born in 1819-1820. That might help with determining who was in charge of what land at that time. Politics change the name of countries all the time. Just look at Prussia, or Yugoslavia...

For some reason the spelling of the town makes me think Germanic. The "-eig" at the end is what does it for me. You might look into towns near the Eastern and Southern borders. There have been so many wars that have made borders in that area move around! What was France in 1820 could now be Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, or Luxembourg. His family could consider themselves from France when in reality it was under the control of somebody else. I've got relatives that were English but born in what is now France. England just happened to be in control at the time.

These are just my ideas, I'm no professional. You asked for clues, I'm only trying to give you some ideas.

I also concur with how you're reading it. Definitely either "Beurneig" or "Beumeig".
posted by TooFewShoes at 3:26 PM on February 15, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you for the excellent suggestions so far! Please, keep them coming! Some background, if it helps:

We are 100% certain that this particular Michel Clement was a winemaker who moved from France to the Los Angeles area (before California was even a state!), where he grew grapes and made wine, and that he and his immediate family spoke French.

He was naturalized on 7-31-1858, and his native country was recorded as France in the naturalization records. No city was recorded.

Unfortunately, census records only record country of origin, not city.

We've done as much research on ancestry.com and in the records we can find here in Los Angeles as we can figure out how to do without knowing his actual place of birth.
posted by erst at 3:39 PM on February 15, 2012

I found Beaumie' in Aquitaine, and Boisme in Deux Sevres.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 3:40 PM on February 15, 2012

Best answer: Did you get the full naturalization record from the court, or are you working from an index? I haven't handled any naturalization records from that far back, but have been pleasantly surprised at how much information was included in the full records from some of my more recently naturalized ancestors.
posted by katemonster at 3:48 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Beauménil is in the Lorraine region of France.
posted by ellenaim at 3:48 PM on February 15, 2012

I also found the "enter" button too quickly.

Aquitaine is known for bordeaux, and Deux-Sevres is known for Anjou, and goat cheese.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 3:50 PM on February 15, 2012

There is a Patrick Clement vineyard in Beaune, for what it's worth....
posted by argonauta at 4:02 PM on February 15, 2012

In the 1870 Census there's a 21 year old man living with the family who appears not to be their son (he's listed after the other 2 kids, out of chronological order, and he's not on the 1860 census when he would have been 11 years old). Do you know who he is? He's probably related, since he's listed as a Clement, and if you can track him down you may be able to pinpoint the familial town of origin.
posted by katemonster at 4:24 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, katemonster, we just ordered a copy of the full naturalization record. We'll also try to figure out what that 21-year-old's name is (Alennem doesn't make much sense). Very helpful!
posted by erst at 4:42 PM on February 15, 2012

Perhaps Beuvrigny? The "vr" combination could easily have been misread by the stone carver as "m."
posted by Knappster at 4:44 PM on February 15, 2012

The majority of cemeteries are associated with a particular parish/church; maybe check with them? Or the parish/church Cathedral High School is associated with. With any luck, the parish still has the books that they used to record births, deaths, marraiges and baptisms.

And seconding the folks who say borders between France, Germany, Switzerland and the rest of that area have frequently moved back and forth; also, even though he has France listed as his country of origin on his naturalization papers, that doesn't guarentee anything more than that HE considered himself French.

Don't forget that back then, there wasn't really a way to positively PROVE the information he put on that paperwork: it was far, far easier than it is now to bury or change your past. Also, remember that PEOPLE LIE, for a variety of reasons; people have sometimes wanted to hide from bad home situations or legal trouble or forced military conscription. Or maybe they lived where divorce was forbidden, and leaving was the only way out.

(Tracing my own great-grandfather is driving me nuts, for just some of these reasons: depending on the paperwork, he said that was born in Hungary, Germany, Switzerland, France, Spain, Luxembourg or Belgium..... before he came over here, he was either a weaver, a farmer, a barber or a blacksmith..... he was born anywhere from 1838 to 1865, and was either single or a widower..... Oh, yeah: people lie.)
posted by easily confused at 4:58 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

the problem with the Alsatian origin theory is that you can find records of the Frenchification of those place names post WWI and -eig isn't an ending you see in the old Alsatian/Alemannic names. Swiss German is also Alemannic

Here for example

If you want to pursue the German option much more likely its in the very far North of France, if you buy the aforementioned -eig as being a low german toponym related to Island.

(But that doesn't really book with him being a grape grower, as that is one of the only areas of France that didn't traditionally produce at least some wine for local consumption)
posted by JPD at 5:11 PM on February 15, 2012

It could be Benagues, in SW France, in the Ariege department; it sounds similar enough to 'Beumeig', a lot of the French emigration to the US came from that area (Cadillac is around there too), and it's a wine-producing region. No other town name comes close. The only thing against is the fact that it's a small village.

At the very least, I'd bet it's a town that ends in -ague or -agues, since that would be transcribed as -eig when pronounced the English way.
posted by Spanner Nic at 6:26 PM on February 15, 2012

Oh, and I also bet the headstone carver was French - there is no spelling mistake, and 95% of people who should know better make at least one mistake when more than two French words are written down. An American relative of Clement probably told the sculptor the town name, he thought it was a Breton or otherwise unusual name, and spelled it as he heard it.
posted by Spanner Nic at 6:31 PM on February 15, 2012

There is a possibility that the initial B could currently be a V in French. In Southern France, some dialects of Occitan would have the same B/V pronounciation as in Spanish. I found no Vaumage, but there is a Vaunage.
posted by Milau at 8:21 PM on February 15, 2012

I am totally digging this y'all. Best of the web, indeed. Times Ten.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 8:48 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

But wait, there's more!

Beuren, Germany was probably under French rule when he was born and Veurne, Belgium is so close to France you can probably spit to it from there.
posted by ellenaim at 9:53 PM on February 15, 2012

I'd disregard Veurne. It's in Flanders, so dutch-speaking. He would most likely not have identified as french nor have been able to speak it all that well. France being close doesn't say all that much - a variety of dutch was still spoken in the Dunkerque area at that time.
posted by Sourisnoire at 2:52 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ideally locating a gazetteer from around this time period would be of help. You'll have to be creative, though, as folks in history didn't think in terms we do of identifying the exact village or town. It might be a region, a geographical area or how the place was known colloquially. The fact that you have someone carving tombstones in French in 1872 in Los Angeles may mean the information was given to them phonetically (although the rest of the French looks to be letter perfect, but French is not a strong language skill for me!).

archive.org has an 1837 Dictionary of Post Offices but there is no index and you'd literally have to page through it in order to find any place names.

the University of Texas has an extensive list of historical maps of France. It might also be a good place to start, although a tiny village may not appear on these mostly general maps.

Also of note during the time period in question is the Franco-Prussian War. The "Beumeig" seems like a 'chocolate in peanut butter' rendering of French and German. There were places that changed hands after that war, and "Beumeig" might just be one of those places.

Have you tried other primary sources, such as a newspaper obituary? It might provide additional clues or they might have been able to get the name correctly published.
posted by kuppajava at 10:09 AM on February 16, 2012

Yes, I second using a gazetteer.

It looks like the one kuppajava linked to has been OCRed, but I didn't find anything promising in the full text.

The National Library of France has a copy with an alphabetical list: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k114527d. Looking on page 80, there is a town called "Beurrey". Which if written by hand, could have been misread by the engraver: the two Rs could look like an M, the left-hand side of the y could look like an I, and the right hand-side of the y could look like a G, especially if there is a loop at the top.

This town also appears in this Geographic Dictionary of France at Google Books: http://books.google.com/books?id=Y50wZBuggIAC&pg=PA159.

Both books are from around 1837-1839, so they might be using the spelling that was used around the time he left France.

You might also want to browse and see if there are any names that are similar phonetically. I'm not familiar with how words were pronounced, but it might have sounded something like Beaume (which is the name of a few places).

I didn't see his birth listed at http://www.archives-aube.com/arkotheque/tables_decennales_aube/fond_visu_img.php?ref_id=377, but image 6 has the marriage of Jean Clement and Marie Reoux on Jul 30, 1815. Perhaps those are his parents and he was born nearby or his birth wasn't registered.

In the 1860 census, it looks like he might be younger, but I didn't find his birth in http://www.archives-aube.com/arkotheque/tables_decennales_aube/fond_visu_img.php?ref_id=378 either.

It looks like his son Victor might have died in Zacatecas, Mexico in 1903 (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/F85X-PYN). If this is the right Victor, his mother's maiden name was something like Marie Bon (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/NQHF-T4L). It looks like the obituary thought his father was American and his mother was partly Spanish ( http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=uNU0AAAAIBAJ&sjid=UUoDAAAAIBAJ&pg=2831%2C1874236). His widow was apparently named Flora (http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=zdU0AAAAIBAJ&sjid=UUoDAAAAIBAJ&pg=5354%2C4103401).

As for his daughter, her married name might have been Clementine Lamer (http://cdnc.ucr.edu/cdnc/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=d&cl=search&d=LAH18840930.2.14.7). Her husband was a Canadian named Ambler/Amable/Amabele (http://cdnc.ucr.edu/cdnc/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=d&cl=search&d=LAH18870402.2.37) and according to the census it looks like they had at least 5 children, so perhaps they have some living descendents.

It looks like the Jennie L. Clement mentioned in the last article, is the same women listed with Michel in 1870 census, and is listed as being a widow in the 1880 census. It looks like she might be Jeanne Lescouzeres who married Michel on Jan. 25, 1864 (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/XL7L-RLM). You might check the marriage record to see if it has any more information about Michel.

Best of luck.
posted by derforsher at 4:21 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

FYI Beaume is pronounced: Bow-m. (Bôm).
posted by Milau at 5:24 AM on February 23, 2012

Response by poster: In case anyone ever comes back and reads this thread... Alas, the full naturalization record did not have a place to record city of origin, only country. Although it is very cool that we now have a copy of the document, it didn't provide any more info than we already had. Guess we'll keep digging. Maybe someday someone else doing genealogical research on the same line will find this thread on the internet and respond. :)

Oh, and derforsher's info is all correct, and we do know of all those people. The extended family has quite a history in the Los Angeles area. We wish they'd kept any of the property they originally owned!
posted by erst at 5:22 PM on March 8, 2012

:( Disappointing about the naturalization record. Did it give the date of his entry to the country?
posted by katemonster at 10:39 AM on April 4, 2012

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