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29 Oct.

, 1999
Hi cousins!,

It's been a while since I communicated with many of you and I thought I'd take this opportunity to tell you
about a very interesting trip that Mary Lou and I made to France this month and the family history
connection. Those of you who have no deep interest in genealogy will find much, much more than you want
to know in the following pages, so bail out now and consider this as just an early holiday greeting from Mary
Lou and I.

First, let me give some background information. As Armand Dumestre told us in his 1940 history "The
Family of Alexis Dumestre" our common ancestor, Alexis Dumestre of Mazerolles, Hautes Pyrenees, France,
immigrated to New Orleans in 1852 at the age of 16. He worked at many jobs, was an entrepreneur, became
rather prosperous and, at age 48, made a trip back to his native region accompanied by three friends from
New Orleans, Messrs. Lacaze, Maylie and Tujague (all restaurateurs). He died while there and was buried in
the Mazerolles village churchyard.

As many of you probably know I have been in mail and, more recently, e-mail contact with a Jean Jacques
Dumestre of Boulin, Hautes Pyrenees, France. In the fall of 1997 I initiated a letter to a Jean Baptiste
Dumestre of Dours, H.P., France, whose name I found in the French online phone book. I selected him from
the half-dozen Dumestres in the H.P. due to the common occurrence of the Jean Baptiste name in our family.
Jean Baptiste passed my letter of introduction to his son, Jean Jacques, who, acting on information in my
letter, drove to Mazerolles, photographed the village church and Alexis' tombstone and sent me other
information about Alexis and his family. Jean Jacques' wife Francoise also joined in the e-mail exchanges.
We have not yet determined if Jean Jacques and I are related but we have grown to think of each other as
dear cousins. All of this written communication was done via translation software since we could not speak
each other's language. He sent us a post card folder containing such beautiful pictures of the Hautes Pyrenees
area that, coupled with our interest in family history, induced us to plan our vacation in France. The H.P. is
a department of France adjacent to the Spanish border in the central Pyrenees Mountains. It is he size of a
U.S. county or parish. All of the above mentioned towns are within an area 20 miles in diameter.

Another connection we had to the area was through a wonderful French lady named Jeannette Legendre (no
relation to Kathryn as far as I know). Blanche Mouledoux Comiskey of New Orleans (a cousin descended
from Alexis' daughter, Blanche Ernestine Dumestre, and Edmond Pierre Mouledoux) had met Jeannette (who
lives in Tarbes, the H.P. county seat) a year of so back in New Orleans and had asked for some information
on the Mouledoux family who also comes from Mazerolles and Lubret-St-Luc. Jeannette had looked up and
met several of the Mouledous family members there and gave their names and addresses to Blanche. Blanche
passed them on to me and I passed them on to Jean Jacques. Jean Jacques and his wife Francoise proceeded
to call on and meet several of the Mouledous clan. (Note that there is a difference in spelling of the
Mouledoux/Mouledous name on the two sides of the Atlantic.) I then started exchanging letters and e-mail
with Jeannette. Mazerolles and Lubret-St-Luc are both tiny villages only a couple of miles apart.

Our trip started on Oct. 2 and the first two weeks was a guided tour starting in Paris, TGV to Bordeaux,
then bus to Sarlat, Lascaux, Toulouse (just an hour or so from Tarbes), Carcassonne, the Carmague,
Arles, Pont du Gard, Nimes, Avignon, Les Baux-de-Provence, Aix-en-Provence, Cannes, Nice and
Monaco. Most of the trip was through ancient Roman and Medieval towns and monuments and the sights
were amazing. The days through Cannes and Nice (the French Riviera) were cool and damp so their
monuments were covered. When the tour ended in Nice we rented a car and drove back to Toulouse for the
night. We called Jean Jacques from our hotel the next morning, Oct 15, (actually we had our hotel operator
call Jean Jacques since we don't speak French) as had been prearranged so that he would know when to meet
us at the autoroute toll booth exit at Tarbes. Jean Jacques and Francoise were there with a banner spread
across their car's windshield with "Alex & Mary Lou" in large red letters! We shook hands and smiled a lot
and their son, Stephane and his girlfriend Noamie, who speak halting English, did the translation, such as it
was. We followed them to the quaint country inn they had arranged for us, put our car in the garage there and
didn't see it again until the morning we left, Oct. 18. The first afternoon was spent visiting Lourdes, an
inspiring sight and only about 10 miles away from Tarbes.

The next day (Saturday, Oct. 16) was the special family history day. In the morning we drove to Mazerolles
and found the village church. Mazerolles has a population of only about a hundred today, less than a third
of what is had when Alexis lived there. We walked into the churchyard and soon found Alexis' tombstone
with this inscription on it (translation):

To the memory of
Alexis DUMESTRE
resident of New Orleans d'AMERIQUE
deceased at BAGNERES de BIGORRE
October 6 1884.
Eternal regrets of his spouse his children
and of all his family.

While we were there a woman walked up to Jean Jacques and started talking to him. He introduced her to
us as Madam Castay, wife of the mayor of Mazerolles (the Marie, or City Hall, was near the church). She had
a couple of pages of handwritten notes which she went over with Jean Jacques and she then gave them to me.
They were research she had done on the Dumestre family in the church and village records. I now have a
more complete record of Alexis' family, including the names of his grand parents, the birth dates and marriage
date of his parents and the birth dates of all of his brothers and sisters. Madam Castay then unlocked the
church and showed us the interior. She said the church is 300 years old (and therefore would have been the
church where Alexis’ parents were married and where all of the children were baptized and attended church.
Two interesting asides: Dominiquette was originally named Dominique but the revolutionary zealots would
not allow a girl to have such a masculine name and caused her parents to add the "ette" ending. Also, her birth
date was given as 18 fructidor 9. I did not recognize this as a legitimate French date and then remembered
that the revolutionaries had tried to establish a new calendar. I looked it up on the Web and found that this
date corresponds to 5 Sep 1801.

Madam Castay then took us outside and pointed to a farm in the distance, perhaps a half mile, and identified
it as the Dumestre farmstead! She took us to see it and explained that it was no longer in the Dumestre family
and that it was not currently occupied due to an inheritance fight. It is in disrepair but not in ruins. It is
typical of a farmstead of the region built in the early 19th century. It is of tamped clay construction with walls
almost two feet thick. Windows, doors and barn openings are bridged with large wood beams and the roof
structure is also of wood beams. It consists of a two story rectangular house with about 6 rooms and a barn
wing attached at right angles. The orientation is such as to shelter the farmyard from the prevailing wind.
The barn wing consists of barn, stables, rabbit hutches, a wine press and wine storage room and a more
recently added tractor shed. We could not enter the house but could peer through the windows. A smithy
forge building stood near the driveway entrance. Nothing fancy but it must have taken a relatively substantial
farm family to build such a complex. I was touched knowing that this was the home of our ancestors.

We returned to Boulin to have lunch with Jean Jacques and his family. Every meal had multiple courses with
soup, cheese, sausages and a main course but seldom a salad. I knew that we were scheduled to drive back
to Mazerolles that afternoon in order to visit some Mouledous in Lubret-St-Luc, the village next to
Mazerolles. With the language barrier we were often not clear on exactly what was planned. We arrived at
the Mouledous farmstead with a more modern house next door and found a dozen or more people waiting
in the side yard. We got out and were introduced first to a woman who turned out to be Jeannette Legendre.
She had helped set up the reunion and had come to serve as interpreter. In addition to being a very gracious
and kind woman she turned out to be very knowledgeable about French and local history. It was indeed a
stroke of good luck that she became involved in our visit. We showed the group some of the genealogical
information we had of our roots and of our American relatives and Jeannette showed us some documents she
had obtained -- a couple of letters written by Edmond Pierre Mouledous when he was a boy in Lubret (he
signed one of them as "Mouledoux", perhaps the originator of the spelling used by the whole family in this
country), the probate papers of a Mouledous of which I have a copy, and some land maps of Mazerolles and
Lubret-St-Luc, showing the location of the Dumestre and the Mouledous farmsteads. One of the cousins,
Gerard Mouledous is a chemical engineer and had worked for a year in England and spoke good English so
he also served as an interpreter to the rest of the group.

From Jeannette we also learned that Maylie was from Antin which is snuggled between Lubret and
Mazerolles and that Tujague was from Mazerolles. I inquired what might have led to so many from the
region emigrating to the U.S. According to Jeannette there was a general economic downturn through the
region in the 1840's and 50's due to a potato famine and to the first round of the disease (Phylloxera) that
killed off the French grape vines. (This disease was imported from California where the native vines were
resistant. The French wine industry was finally saved by importing Californian vines and then grafting
French vines onto the American root stock.) Also, she does not think it likely that Alexis died of cholera (as
has been speculated) because it was not common at that time. Bagneres de Biggore, where he died, was a
spa at that time (and still is) and it is likely that Alexis was visiting there to try to relieve his rheumatism in
the hot mineral water baths.

We then toured the old Mouledous farmstead and I was struck by the similarities between it and the
Dumestre farmstead that I had visited earlier that day -- same floor plan, same ell shaped house/barn layout.
This one was still occupied by the Mouledous family and therefore was in much better shape than the
Dumestre one but the construction was the same tamped earth and wood beam. Also the Mouledous one
had had an additional barn wing added to the other end of the house. As an active farm there was a flock of
geese and ducks and a rooster or two running around. Very bucolic. I was surprised to see a tobacco drying
shed behind the house with a full load of tobacco leaves. Jeannette relayed several questions to me from the
group asking about things in the United States and Texas and also why the U.S. Senate had just voted to not
ratify the Test Ban Treaty.

After this a couple of tables were set up in the side yard and some refreshments (French style) were brought
out -- champagne, wine, cheeses, cake, cookies and, with great ceremony, a specialty of the region, a "Rocher
des Pyrenees" or Rock of the Pyrenees that had been prepared by our host, Raoul. That was a sight to behold.
It was a cone about 8" in diameter at its base and fully two feet tall, all yellow-brown and bumpy on the
surface. It is a traditional favorite of the region and its size brought ooh's and ah's from the crowd. It's made
of equal parts of butter, cream, flower and eggs as far as I could understand and is made by painting the
batter on a form that is rotated on a horizontal spit over a fire. The painting process continues until it creates
many layers. The form is wood, wrapped in waxed paper held on by a wrapping of string. When preparing
to serve, it is laid down, the wood cone removed, the paper peeled from the inside and, finally, the string
pulled from the inner surface of the cone. It was then placed upright and the top few inches of the cone peak
was cut of and set aside for us to take with us. It was then cut into inch high rings (perhaps 2 inches thick)
and then into chunks for eating. Quite a ceremony!

Then we posed for group pictures and it was time to leave with many "merci boucoups" and lots of waving.
A great bunch of people! I have a good group photo but will have to await a response from Gerard
Mouledous before I can identify everyone for you. Jean Jacques and Francoise had departed early in order
to prepare dinner for us that evening (Jean Jacques was trained as a chef) so we rode home with Jeannette
Legendre. The ride was a very interesting history lesson as she pointed out churches and monasteries that
dated back 800 years. She delivered us to Jean Jacques' house where we had another wonderful meal of
several courses. It was only after we had returned to Houston that an e-mail from Francoise informed us that
the various branches of the Mouledous family had been estranged for a long time following an inheritance
fight. I will translate a quote from her message: "With your visit the feud was reconciled, it is thanks to you
that they have agreed to meet for the first time since their early childhood, more than 40 years. Your visit
was a great moment for them. It was Roland, Raoul and Gerard that explained it to us by telephone this
weekend. They asked us to say to you that they will be grateful to you all their lives. That is a pretty history
and let us say that we are also very happy". Part of the quaintness comes from the translation process.

The next morning, Sunday, had been planned as a day to tour Tarbes and to visit Bagneres de Bigorre and
the beautiful mountains (all of the towns and villages already mentioned are in foothills at the edge of the
mountains). In order that we not have to tour in two cars as we had done up to now, Jean Jacques had rented
a big Renault station wagon. It was an overcast and rainy day but this was our only bit of bad luck on the
visit. We toured Tarbes, visited the botanical gardens, attended mass in the cathedral and visited Jean
Jacques' place of work (he drives a big automobile transport truck across several countries in Europe). We
then drove to Bagneres de Bigorre which is part way up the mountains. It is a lovely historic city dating back
to Medieval times. One of the most imposing structures is a large 19th century solarium where visitors can
still take hot mineral water baths. We continued up the mountain passes (one of the sections of the annual
Tour de France bike race) and stopped for a rest and refreshments at a ski resort which was not yet open for
the season. Deteriorating weather conditions forced us to turn back toward Boulin. This was a
disappointment since the passes we were headed for are noted for their beauty. Jean Jacques was even more
disappointed than Mary Lou and I were because he loves the mountains and had hoped to take us to his
favorite spots.

A farewell party that evening at Jean Jacques' house was also used as an early birthday party for me. They
had invited some neighbors and friends and it was a rare chance to glimpse the rural French at ease. One of
the guests (Jean Pierre) was a prototypical Frenchman with a large moustache who was noted as a singer of
folk songs of the region in the regional patois. He, in a strong bass voice, and another guest harmonized a
couple of songs. Even though I could catch only a few words here and there (Pyrenees, mountains, father,
etc.) it was a moving experience.

I will send a couple of photos as attachments. One is the Dumestre farm house and the other is from the
farewell party. That is Stephane and Jean Jacques 2nd and 3rd from left in the back row, Jean Pierre 2nd from
left seated and Francoise holding the dog. The others are friends. Noamie took the picture. Let me know if
you are unable to view the pictures and I will mail copies to you.

Excuse the length of this account but I thought that you might be interested in some of the flavor of the
country. I am still working on updating my Dumestre and Mouledoux genealogy with the new data and will
send copies to those who request it.

Mary Lou joins me in wising all of you a very happy holiday season in this last year of the millennium.

Love to all,

Alex Dumestre
714 Marne Ln.
Houston, TX 77090
(281) 444-2040

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