The French Connection

It always fascinates me how the tiniest piece of information, gleaned in a most unexpected way, can surface as a bubble rises through water.

I spent last week at a conference in Nashville, Tennessee. Fortunately, my flight home was non-stop and would only take about four and a half hours.  As I settled in to my window seat, a young woman took the middle seat next to me.  As she was settling in, I noticed her passport was not a US passport, and in my limited traveling experience that was unusual.  However, I didn't feel it was my business, so I didn't ask the question that was in my mind, "Where are you from?" 

As time would have it, we started conversing and it turned out she was going back to Berkeley, CA, after assisting a friend to move out to Nashville. However, she had a slight accent, very light and almost undetectable. So, I finally did ask her the question that was foremost in my mind. It turns out she is from France, and is a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley. Her accent was a result of having grown up in English speaking countries like the US, Canada and England, but her home is in France. We talked about our professions, but mostly about her work in “statistical machine learning and scientific computing applied to molecular biology problems, such as inferring the 3D architecture of the genome or data-integration methods to better understand gene regulatory networks.” Okay, I know that’s a little over the top. Did I say that she was impressive? (I won’t bore you with the technical details of that part of conversation.)

We started talking about French ancestry in general, and then I pulled out my iPad’s Ancestry app to show her my LeComte/Queripel line (it goes back through the 1600’s). We browsed through the names and dates, when she noticed quite a few generations lived continuously on Guernsey in the Channel Islands. She told me that some of the island people speak a very unusual dialect of French. I looked this up and found, Guernésiais, also known as Dgèrnésiais, Guernsey French, and Guernsey Norman French, is the variety of the Norman language spoken in Guernsey.  The Channel Islands are a part of the UK, but lie in closer in proximity to France. Everyone appears to speak English, and not a lot of people still speak Dgèrnésiais. Learning these details actually explained a lot about my ancestors. There were many generations living on Guernsey, and I loved learning a bit more.  She also told me that there were few cars on the island, so I wonder how people get around? Hmmmmm, perhaps I should go there some day.

So, in a short, pleasant conversation I learned a bit more about the place of birth of many of my ancestors, that they were French-speaking (well, French of a sort) who lived as subjects of the British crown. It kind of information that brings me a bit closer to long ago roots.


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