Meanwhile, back in the 1600's...
A "cousin" (the relationship is too complicated and dull to explain) went to the village in France where my ancestors are from. And, while there, received a copy of their genealogical research into our family. Another cousin (see previous parenthetical comment) gave me a copy and I now have my father's family back into the 1600's.
It's both fascinating and strangely anticlimactic. I didn't do the research, so I don't feel that sense of discovery. And the historian in me wants to know the documentation. It's just a list of name that I can't collaborate. I can't find records to substantiate the tree, so I'm not certain where the French cousins got the information. A family bible? A private detective. I suppose living there they have access to French records that I can't access from California. But I wish I had the evidence to back all this up.
There's a lot of information to copy onto my version of the family tree; a process complicated by the fact that I'm working from a copy of a copy of a copy and some of the writing is both small and faint. A magnifying glass (shades of Sherlock Holmes!) helps, but there are a few names and/or dates that are infuriatingly undecipherable.
But I'm learning a lot. For example, all of my male relatives seem to be named either "Jacques" or "Jean" and the women are heavy on the "Catherines" and the "Maries." They also seem to be impressively long-lived. Many into their 70s, which was unusual for that time. One of the things that really makes me wish for documentation is that the family tree lists exact birth and death dates for many of these long-dead grandparents. So how do they know that someone was born on July 17, 1684? I want to see the proof myself. (Maybe I'll just have to go back to France and this time actually get out of Paris.)
Husband got out the atlas and we found the series of little villages where they were from. They seem to be within a 30 mile radius, which makes sense as people didn't travel that far afield in the 17th century. All from the Pyrenees, not too far from the Spanish border. (Tour de France country.)
It's a fascinating set of documents that will take me ages to get through. In addition to the printed materials from the French cousins, the American cousins have hand-written notes from members of my grandmother's generation. These detail the family after they came to the US and are about as easy to read as hieroglyphics. Luckily I learned how to read hieroglyphics when I was a Classics major.
Anyway, it's a huge breakthrough in terms of family research. I wish I could have made the discoveries myself, but it's wonderful to have so much information going back so far. Apparently I have no famous relatives. I'm not the long-lost granddaughter of Charlemagne or Napoleon. (Husband has famous knife-wielder and Texas freedom fighter Jim Bowie on one offshoot of his tree.) But it's wonderful to know who and where I come from.