Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Travel Tuesday: A Police Escort Through Sedan, France In Search of Ancestors

Police escort through the city.  It's a genealogy emergency!

Yes, this really happened.

In 2004, I traveled to France with my parents and my maternal grandmother. There were several motivations for this trip, many of which were family history-related. My grandmother's father, George Rutherfurd, had been stationed in France during World War I. He was there when my grandmother was born in California in 1918, half a world away. My grandmother wanted to drive the roads her father drove and see the sights he described to her during her childhood. She also wanted to research our Huguenot ancestors in the last place they lived before fleeing France.

The Cresson and Vuilesme families both sheltered in Sedan during the persecution of the Protestants in France during the 1500s.  The information we have about them is extremely minimal. My grandmother thought she might find some local records in Sedan that would prove helpful. After spending some time in Paris, we traveled to Sedan, which is eastern France near the border with Belgium. In Sedan, we drove to the local library, but despite the best attempts of the librarian, could not turn up anything about our family. The librarian indicated that records that old were no longer held at this facility, and had been centralized elsewhere.

As we left the library, we encountered two local police officers. It was quiet in Sedan, as it was just before the Easter holiday, and the officers took great interest in four Americans wandering around town. We explained what we were doing in Sedan, and their eyes lit up with excitement. They insisted on giving us a police escort to the local cemetery in hopes that we might find the graves of our ancestors. My father tried to demur, but the officers persisted. They told us they loved Americans and wanted to help. "Just call me John Wayne," said one officer. "And I'm Bob Hope!" said the other. They hopped in their patrol car, turned on the sirens, and escorted us through the city at high speeds, while my father attempted to keep up in our rental car. They led us first to one cemetery and then another. It quickly became clear that there were no graves old enough to belong to our ancestors in these cemeteries, but John Wayne and Bob Hope would not give up. We stood in the city's Jewish cemetery with them for some time, while they offered rapid-fire suggestions and asked us about our lives in America. Did we ever meet movie stars? What were the beaches like in California? My grandmother was thoroughly charmed.

While we did not learn anything new about our Huguenot ancestors in Sedan, we had an unforgettable experience. When you travel to research your family, you never know what you're going to find. On that day, we laughed a lot, we saw every part of Sedan, and we met two of the most engaging law enforcement officers in France. We walked the streets our ancestors walked, so many centuries ago, and made memories we will never forget.

The streets of Sedan, France

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