Previously, on “The Cuban Gauls”: your three-year-old Blogger is flying over the North Atlantic on a Cubana de Aviación Bristol Britannia. The turboprop-powered airliner has just taken off from Gander, where the new Cuban exiles were served tomato soup. Sitting next to him is his father, Roberto, who had fallen two days earlier as he walked in Havana, badly injuring his chin against the sidewalk. The father is now asleep, and the cheap Soviet bandage is falling off his chin. Next to him is Ana María, his mother, who can’t sleep. She’s thinking of what the doctor back in Havana told her when he found out that the small family was leaving the country and its members were, in effect, counter-revolutionaries: “So you are worms? In that case, we cannot conduct any further tests. Make sure you take your husband to a hospital as soon as you get to Madrid, as he may have a brain tumor.” On this night, flying over the black and cold Atlantic, my mother feels very alone. But that, for now, is another story.
Flash forward. Los Angeles, 3 October 2014, 6:58 p.m. I’m on Platform 2 at Union Station, waiting for the Gold Line train that takes me to Jim’s house, where I spend the week-ends watching Scandinavian cooking shows, etc. A day earlier, on Facebook, I announced I was probably discontinuing this blog, as I have a far more important writing project to complete. But then there’s a beep on my cellphone. It’s an email from a gentleman near Miami surnamed Vidaud. With lovely politesse, he tells me that his grandfather was one Louis Vidaud, born circa 1882, and that he has two octogenarian aunts, one who thinks she was born in La Reunión. In his family, he tells me, “there has also been this story about the tragic loss of the plantation and Louis Vidaud‘s ties to it.” I’m now on the train, going through Chinatown, my head spinning as I reread the email with its ghostly invocation of the farm in the Sierra Maestra and those who dwelled there. Later that evening, I receive a second email, this one from a twenty-five-year-old man in Miami, who descends from Sévère, or Severo, Vidaud Caignet, my grandmother’s grandfather’s brother. This young man’s knowledge of the Vidauds in Cuba is far vaster than mine — I have now learned much from him — but he has seen that I’m posting old family photographs, and he wonders whether I might have one of Severo. He also tells me he has “an old and terrible photocopy” of Adolphe Vidaud du Dognon de Boischadaigne, the father of both Severo and Alberto Vidaud Caignet, my grandmother’s grandfather. As it turns out, Mari has a copy of that image too.
Here he is, Adolphe Vidaud du Dognon de Boischadaigne, a copy of a copy of a copy, the white-bearded and stern-looking residue of a Victorian paterfamilias. He had a brother named Adelson. The two brothers married two sisters surnamed Caignet (M. Vallantin Dulac misspells it as Coignet). Adelson and Corinne had four daughters, but I don’t know anything about them at this point. According to M. Vallantin Dulac’s genealogy, Adolphe had seven children who “ont laissé postérité actuelle à Santiago de Cuba.” His chronicle, as far as it concerns our branch of the family, ends there, but we know the names of those seven brothers and children, and the names of many of their many children, and of their children’s children, etc. We are, indeed, members of that posterity. But we don’t know much about Adolphe himself. Vallantin Dulac states he was married in Santiago de Cuba, but says nothing about his birthplace or that of Adelson. Were they born in France or in Cuba? How did they end up marrying two sisters? What did they do in Santiago? When did they die?
What follows is a bit of a leaf storm in the family tree, a veritable forest of French names, three or four twigs called François. We do know from Vallantin Dulac that Adelson and Adolphe’s father migrated to Saint-Domingue in the wake of the French Revolution. François Vidaud du Dognon de Boischadaigne (thank heaven for copy and paste) was born in 1764 at the Château de la Dourville, near the village of Aubeville, which in turn is located 22 kilometers southwest of Angoulême, in the Poitou-Charentes region. Our François was the grandson of Jean Martial Vidaud and Anne de la Farge, and son of Jean André Vidaud, comte du Dugnon, and Luce Jayet. He was one of fourteen siblings, twelve of whom were born in the same ancestral château. At the time of the Revolution, according to the Wikipedia entry on Aubeville, “le fief de la Dourville était la propriété de messire Vignaud du Dognon.” At the time of the Revolution, too, such terms as “fiefdom” and “my lord” would have begun to sound terribly antique. At the time of the Revolution, during la Terreur, one of François’ younger siblings, a priest also named François, fled the country and sought refuge in the colony of Saint-Domingue. That’s how the Vidauds first came to traverse the cold and gray Atlantic. It was the first of many such crossings. The good priest François Vidaud du Dognon would end up fleeing Saint-Domingue for Philadelphia. Even though he did much to fight the abusive treatment of slaves, M. Vallantin Dulac tells us, he still had to leave the island “échappant à une mort certaine infligée par la révolte des esclaves en ce pays.” Ah, those rebellious slaves — more on them later. After the Empire was proclaimed in 1804, the Abbé François, with two of his brothers, returned to France, becoming a cathedral canon in Angoulême, where he died in 1845.
Could our François be one of the two brothers who returned to France with the priest? One of them — again, Vallantin-Dulac recounts — was Jean Michel Vidaud, chevalier du Dognon, seigneur de Pommeret, later comte du Dognon. He was divorced from his wife on 1 messidor II, after leaving for Saint-Domingue, but remarried her on 14 prairial XII, upon his return to France, and I mention this because I adore the revolutionary calendar. The second brother who accompanied the priest back to France was named François, like the father of Adelson and Adolphe. M. Vallantin Dulac doesn’t say so, but I’m inclined to think that it must have been one of the two other brothers named François, perhaps the eldest, born in 1758, but more likely the one born in 1765… Because we have our François down as marrying one Anne-Julienne-Aimée Gué in Cap-Français (maybe), which is present-day Cap-Haïtien, sometime in the mid-1790s (maybe), because in the late 1790s (maybe), that same lady (whom sources seem to call just Julienne), marries one Julien Tardy in New Orleans (maybe). If the genealogies are correct, Julienne Tardy (née Gué) and her husband Julien are (back?) in Santiago de Cuba, where their daughter, Anne-Joséphine Tardy, is born at the turn of the nineteenth century. Her half-brothers are Adelson and Adolphe Vidaud du Dognon de Boischadaigne. But could these boys have been born in France after Anne Joséphine’s birth in Cuba, in which case François would have been Julienne Gué’s second, not first, husband? More on that, too, later.
Our sources are vague and at times contradictory, mistaken and perhaps even apocryphal. In my imagination, at least, François Vidaud du Dognon de Boischadaigne marries Anne-Julienne-Aimée Gué, sixteen years his junior, in Cap-Français, where she had been born. They flee for Santiago de Cuba, where he dies, and then she ends up in New Orleans, where she, a very young widow, marries Julien Tardy. Or perhaps François and Julienne flee for New Orleans, where he dies and she remarries, leaving then for Cuba with her new husband and her two Vidaud boys, Adelson and Adolphe. Both versions of this story of marriage, childbirth, widowhood and navigation are vertiginously extreme. But the Gués seem to have been a family to whom remarkable things happened.
Consider, for instance, the tale of Jean-Baptiste Gué, Julienne’s father, a native of Brittany, who crossed the Atlantic before the revolution and became an architect in Cap-Français, in the prosperous colony of Saint-Domingue…