Who Do You Think You Are? (2010) s06e08 Episode Script

Melissa Etheridge

1 Narrator: On this episode, Melissa Etheridge digs into her French roots and finds a family shaken by a scandal A street walker.
Oh, this is getting so juicy.
Narrator: A turbulent relationship entangled with tragedy.
Oh, no, did the baby die? Narrator: And a young adventurer who prospered in colonial America.
Four generations here building this part of America.
I just feel like I belong.
Try to get the really, super orange ones.
Look at this.
It's beautiful.
Narrator: Grammy winning, multi-platinum musician and activist Melissa Etheridge, has had a celebrated career for 30 years, with such hits as "Come To My Window" and "I'm The Only One.
" She's just released her twelfth album "This Is M.
E.
" In 2007, Melissa won an Oscar for best song with "I Need To Wake Up" for the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth.
" When not touring, Melissa lives in Los Angeles with her wife, producer-writer Linda Wallem and their four children.
I was born in Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1961.
My mother's name is Elizabeth Williamson.
It was her maiden name.
My father's name is John Dewey Etheridge.
I was extremely close to my father.
He died when I was 30.
He was 60.
He supported me in a real -- in a very solid way.
From what I know, my father grew up outside of St.
Louis, Missouri, in a very, very, small town as migrant farmers.
And I came from that.
I came from my father who had nothing, nothing, nothing.
And he created something.
Two-car garage and the house, that was the dream.
Now, the price of that was we didn't talk about anything that anybody went through to get there.
So my mother did some research on my dad's family tree, and she found that his maternal line has roots in Quebec.
And I have such a connection with the Québécois.
It was my first huge, you know, thousands of people concert.
When my mother told me that, I thought, "Wow, maybe there's something, you know, in the blood that's stronger about location than that.
" And I think that's fascinating.
Since my father and I were so close, I'm hoping that maybe part of this journey can help bring a little bit of him back that I can share with my children who never got to meet him.
So, I'm headed to Quebec City, Canada, to research my paternal roots.
Such a beautiful city.
Today, I'll be visiting the Quebec National Archives, as my starting point on this exciting journey.
I've contacted historian Jennifer Davis to help me look for anything related to my French Canadian ancestors.
- Good to meet you.
- Good to meet you.
Now, this is a family tree that my mother did about 15 years ago of my father's side of the family.
Great.
She went into my father's mother, whose maiden name was Janis.
Okay.
Golda Martha Janis.
And then went back to my great-grandfather, James Felix Janis, to jewell Janis, to then, Pierre Antoine Janis -- looking very French.
And then Jean Baptiste Janis.
Then here, 1720, Nicholas Janis from Quebec, Canada.
Okay.
And then, from there, his father, Francois Janis, came from France, was here in 1720 and gave birth to Nicholas Janis.
This lineage goes all the way back to France, to my six-times great grandfather, Francois.
But since I know his son, Nicholas, my five-times great grandfather, was born in Quebec, I'm assuming Francois lived here, too.
So, this is a good place to start.
I think we should start off with the census.
The French were pre-eminent takers of census, collecting all of the data of their kingdom and they took that information to New France when they colonized New France in the 17th century.
So, Quebec was a part of New France, right? Yes.
This was put together from the original census.
From 1716.
So, I would look -- Oh, my gosh, look at this.
Janis, 401.
Francois Janis, that's him.
- What's Aubergiste? - Aubergiste.
- What's that mean? - That means he's an innkeeper.
He ran an inn, probably served food and wine.
My kind of guy.
Yeah.
He's 40.
So, his wife is Simonne Brousseau.
Oh, that's my six-times great grandmother.
How would you say? Simonne Brousseau.
Brousseau.
My high school French.
And then, children -- enfant of Charlotte, Antoine, Thérèse, Jacques, Francois, Marie Aimé.
So, there's no Nicholas, my five-times great grandfather yet, because he was born in 1720 and this was 1716.
Now, this census, would it give any idea of where they lived? Yes, actually.
You can see here Oh! This is itemizing everyone who lives on the Rue du Cul-de-Sac.
- Rue du Cul-de-Sac? - Yes.
And I think it is still there.
Wow.
So, where do we look now to find out even more about Francois? Next, I think we should probably try the directory for the archives here, all right? This is so exciting.
I'll bring up our computer.
So we'll just type in the oldest relatives name that you have.
Francois Janis.
To search.
It's all in French.
Can you tell me what this says? So, it says that he's in this trial.
He's in a trial? And they're brining suit against Jean Dubreuil.
So, Francois' accusing Jean Dubreuil of a crime? And he's accused of Accusé d'avoir séduit.
What's that mean? He's accused of having seduced and impregnated Francois' daughter, Charlotte.
Wow! Ah, ah, ah, ah Narrator: Melissa Etheridge is in Quebec City, Canada.
She has just discovered the archive she's in holds the original court documents of a lawsuit her six-times-great-grandfather, Francois Janis, brought against a man named Jean Dubreuil.
Look! Oh.
All right.
- And here we have - 720.
original trial records.
Oh! Well, look at that.
From the register of the Official Ecclesiastical Court Jurisdiction of Quebec.
So, there are two courts in colonial Quebec.
There's the civil court and then there's the ecclesiastical court, which is all church matters.
Is Quebec at this time, heavily Catholic? It is a French colony and the French state is a Catholic kingdom.
So, it is the Catholic Church that is dominant.
- Okay.
- All right.
And I believe we have a translation.
Oh, how very kind.
The year 1724, the 19th of October.
So, Francois is about 48 right now.
Yeah.
Okay, between Francois Janis taking the side of Charlotte Janis, his minor daughter, aged between 15 and 16 years, who was courted under pretext of marriage -- oh -- by Jean Dubreuil, son of Tenne Dubreuil, royal notary.
And what's a royal notary? Is that a notary, like we know notaries? Yeah, but it was a position.
It was a government position, great deal of authority.
And the plot thickens.
And having solicited her under promises and oaths to marry her, abused her simplicity.
She believed him and they went all the way, and she became pregnant from his actions.
Oh, my God.
For a crime of abduction, given the minority of his daughter, and her expenses, damages, and interests in all things that he can and must by law protest.
So Francois is basically saying, "Either force Jean Dubreuil to marry her or pay -- pay her for the expenses of having this child and raising a child, yeah.
" They said, "aged between 15 and 16.
" Is it common that she would not have a voice in this, that it's just her parents that are speaking for her? Yeah, that's really typical.
Charlotte's interests in all of this are We don't know.
We don't know whether she really wants to get married or not, or where she's coming from at all.
No.
She is the center of this case, and she is the only one who doesn't actually speak.
Narrator: In 18th century France and its overseas colonies, women were considered property of their fathers until marriage.
Women like Charlotte, who lost what was regarded as their most valuable asset, their virginity, before they wed, found their family's reputation at risk.
"And by the defender was said that it has been around two years and many times that he frequented the house of the petitioner, that he never made any promise to his daughter.
And he cannot marry a streetwalker.
" A streetwalker! He's calling her a streetwalker.
Aw! Not just on casual conversation, but in a court of law before the bishop of this city, he's calling her a prostitute.
Aw, and the family is saying, "No, she is not, and you promised to marry her.
" Oh, this is breaking my heart.
So, it's an important question for the family's honor.
- Yeah.
- Right? And they have a business that relies on having a good reputation.
Innkeepers, they don't want to be known as a brothel.
So he would have had -- Francois Janis has a lot on the line in this case.
"To the verbal conclusions advanced, we condemn the defendant for the violation of his faith to a fine of 20 livre.
" 20 livre, which at this time would be about what a carpenter or a skilled artisan makes in a week.
"Payable to the poor of Hotel --" what's that mean? The Hotel Dieu would have been the hospital in this town or the poor relief center.
So, they're saying the fine goes to there? - Not to the family.
- Not to the family? Yeah, yeah.
So he's only be held responsible for making a promise of a marriage sacrament and not following through on it.
Oh, wow.
The ecclesiastical court did not force Jean Dubreuil to marry his daughter.
They did not provide any income for the family to provide for this child who's arriving.
So Francois Janis takes the case to the civil court.
This is the next document.
So, this next document is dated the 5th of January, 1725, three months after the ecclesiastical court hearing.
Francois Janis versus Jean Dubreuil for seduction of his daughter, Charlotte.
So, is this the testimony from Francois in the case? - Yes.
- Okay.
"Firstly, that the theft is committed.
" The theft.
The theft of her virginity? So, they are saying that because Jean Dubreuil has had sex with their daughter, he's basically stolen that ability to contract an advantageous marriage for her.
Oh, this is getting so juicy.
I hear a song coming on.
"And in one, the crime is capital.
" So, he's calling for the death sentence for Jean Dubreuil.
Whoa! Punishable by death? Right.
That's what Francois is arguing.
Oh, my family.
"Please the court to decree to arrest the said Dubreuil.
" So, they arrested him? So, from this set of documents, we don't know the ending of that story.
And that is the end of this proceeding.
Oh, my gosh.
And this doesn't mention the child? It makes no mention of the child.
But this is the next document.
15th of September, 1726.
"Following promise of marriage was made, be it known.
" So, this is a marriage contract, like, a promise to marry? Exactly.
Wow.
"Jean Etienne and Marie Charlotte, future spouses, will take each other by name and law in marriage.
" What? So, Jean says, "Okay, let's get married.
" "The future husband brings with him his clothes and linens for his personal use.
" Wow.
This is a signal that we have, that he's bringing just the clothes on his back and his ability to make money in the future, potentially.
But he is -- had been disinherited, probably? It looks like his family has cut him off of any property, in terms of their family.
Oh, dude.
So, we don't know if Jean got arrested, but do we know if they actually got married? Yes, we can go to ancestry.
com and check their records.
And you would go to the marriage records? Right, so Canada.
Oh, look.
You can go to Canada, 1700 to 1799.
Quebec, there you go.
Charlotte.
Oh, Charlotte Janis.
Mm-hmm.
Charlotte Janis was married at Notre-Dame in 1726 to Jean Dubreuil.
So, we can view this record.
Oh, look, and there it is.
"The marriage of Jean Etienne Dubreuil with the daughter of Francois Janis and Simone.
" So, everyone's of this parish.
"Right in the presence of Francois Janis.
" Good, so he's there.
Yes, he's there, and he's a witness to the marriage.
It just feels like they were all just supportive of her.
I think that you're probably right.
But you could see it as they're taking the reins and telling her what she has to do, right? Yeah, that could be.
That could be the case, as well.
Indeed.
So, she got married.
Well, but he doesn't have anything, so maybe there some love there possibly? Yeah, it's really hard to know.
'Cause she brings more to the marriage at this point now.
She does.
She's bringing a few household goods.
But they don't talk about the child.
No.
So, I think that to learn more about what happened, we will have to go the parish registry records held at the Notre-Dame Basilica here in Quebec City, and I can meet you there tomorrow.
Oh, we're going! - Yes.
- How fun.
Yes! I got to give you a hug.
Melissa: You read a story where a father is defending his daughter in the court of law, it moves me.
If this happened to me, I believe that my own father would have rallied behind me, too and come to my defense.
I am so fascinated by it.
Charlotte is 15, 16 years old, and of course my thoughts go to, "Was she in love with this man? Was she not?" And I would like to know specifically about the child, if the child survived, and if that was one of the reasons for the marriage or not.
I think that says -- would say a lot about Charlotte's relationship with Jean.
I'm just driven to understand these people, and I want to know more.
I can't believe I have to wait a whole day to find out.
I'm headed to the Notre-Dame Basilica in Quebec City, Canada, where my relatives were part of the church parish.
I want to find out more.
What happen to Charlotte and Jean? All right, well, we have a few documents.
The parish priest has asked us to put on white gloves to preserve their documents.
Yes.
This is the daily running log of who is baptized, born, married, or deceased.
So, this is the baptism of Anne Francoise Dubreuil.
And, so, we'll just read through it, - if that's all right.
- Yes, please.
"Born today, the daughter of Jean Dubreuil and Charlotte Janis, her father and mother.
" She was born! - She was born.
- She was born.
The baby was born.
Anne Francoise, this is the 29th day of April in the year 1725.
That means Charlotte was likely about three-months pregnant when he father initiated this case.
Wow.
So, it's baptism? Okay.
Anne Francois Dubreuil.
Aw.
[ Speaks French .]
What does that say? Et inhumé.
- Oh, no, did the baby die? - Yeah, the 6th of may.
Ah, ah, ah, ah Narrator: Melissa Etheridge is in Quebec City, Canada at the Notre-Dame Basilica in the parish where her ancestors were married.
She's just uncovered evidence that suggests the newborn daughter of Charlotte Janis may have died.
Oh, no.
Did the baby die? Yeah, the 6th of may.
Yes.
So mort et inhumé is she was died and buried, then just eight days after she was born Ah.
the 6th of May.
Aw.
Yes.
Yep.
Which is all too common, right? Yeah.
Yeah.
In that time period, there's very high infant mortality.
So, the baby died in May of '25, but they got married in '26? Yes.
Which makes me think that if he, even through all the painful things he said in the court documents, I mean, I'd like to think romantically, maybe his father made him say that.
Maybe his father was like, "You can't go out with the innkeeper's daughter," "Get out of this.
" Yet, he loved her.
So I'm -- I believe that it's true love.
Is there anything else about Charlotte? I have one final record to show you for this story.
Mm-hmm.
We'll read through it.
And this is the 4th of June 4th of June.
1733.
Charlotte Janis.
Mm-hmm.
Dubreuil.
"Before us, the Vicar of Quebec, was buried in the cemetery, Charlotte Janis, the wife of Jean Etienne Dubreuil.
" She died the previous evening.
She was 26 years old.
Oh! And it doesn't say how? It doesn't say how.
And we can't know a cause of death of course, but this is right in the midst - of a smallpox epidemic.
- Oh.
There are estimates that it was about 10% of the population of Quebec died at that time.
Aw, and there they are.
Okay, so if Charlotte died in 1733, her brother Nicolas, my five-times-great-grandfather, would have been 13 years old after his sister died.
Right.
So we have gone through the parish registry, all of the parish records for a clue as to Nicholas.
There's really nothing from his adult life.
There's no marriage.
He doesn't show up, which is a good indication that he has left Quebec.
Well, maybe the family tree my mom made will help.
He's born in Quebec, and then he shows up in Illinois, Randolph County, Illinois, in 1759, or at least, that's where his son, Jean Baptiste, was born.
Okay.
So in the 18th century, Randolph County would have been Kaskaskia.
It was a -- a social hub, an economic trading point in the Middle-American continent.
So I'm almost certain, if you go Randolph County, they will have further records on this family.
Looks like I'm going to Randolph County.
Yes.
Wow.
This has been so heartwarming, and so to -- to have your ancestors become real people and real stories with real life issues and problems and hopes and dreams is -- is -- it just really fills out your own life.
Thank you very much.
Melissa: I believe in love and how important it is and human love for each other, despite rules, despite customs, you know, or societal norms.
I believe love overcomes all and conquers all.
Now I'm following the trail of my five-times-great-grandfather, Nicholas, beginning on the street he grew up on.
Walking through Rue du Cul-de-Sac, I realize that I had visited Quebec with my father -- Quebec City -- and I remember thinking how old the buildings were.
My father and I walked that street completely unknowing that this is where his family came from.
It's just the romance and the passion, maybe something that has been handed down for generations.
Now, I'm off to Randolph County, Illinois, where my five-times-great-grandfather, Nicholas Janis, ended up.
Since I knew his son, Jean Baptiste, was born in Kaskaskia, located today, in Randolph County, Illinois Oh, look at this.
The Randolph County Archives.
That's adorable.
I'll be meeting with historian Alex Dubé.
He suggested we meet here and look at any documents the archives may have on Nicholas Janis.
- Hi.
- Hi, welcome to Chester.
I'm Melissa.
Let's check the card catalog for Janis.
H, I, J.
H, I, J.
J-a-n-i-s.
Oh.
There it is.
Oh, my goodness.
Oh, there's a whole bunch of Janis' here.
Felecite, Francois Janis.
Nic -- oh, there he is! Janis, Nicolas.
Look.
Oh, there's another Janis, Nicolas.
- The next one.
- That's actually the same.
- Wow, there's a lot.
- A second card.
He seems to be quite the presence.
- Oh, my gosh.
- Third card.
- What did he do here? - So Oh, how exciting.
Ah, ah, ah, ah Narrator: Melissa Etheridge is at the Randolph County Archives in Chester, Illinois.
She's just discovered that the archives hold many records on her five-times-great-grandfather, Nicolas Janis, who came to this area, once part of Kaskaskia, from Quebec.
Let's take up numbers for a few of them.
All right.
Why don't I get the papers, and we can look at a map and see what this whole Illinois country all about.
What Nicolas was doin' down here.
Yes.
Awesome.
Thank you.
This looks sort of like America but not.
Well, it is considering the techniques of cartography in 1750 or the 1740s anyway.
So, where's Quebec? Quebec is at the very, - very edge of the map.
- Yeah.
So, Nicholas would have started up there? Precisely -- gone down the Great Lakes all the way to where we are, which is here, Kaskaskia.
In the first half of the 18th century, Kaskaskia was a strategic trading hub in the center of New France, the former French colony of North America.
The colony spanned from the Hudson Bay, all the way south to the Gulf of Mexico.
So the French settle here and will establish six little villages around the Mississippi over the course of the early 18th century.
When Nicholas came down.
Yes.
Precisely.
So let's look at the first document.
- Okay.
There he is.
- He's there.
It's funny because they spelled it Janis with one "S," and then, sometimes, they spell it with two s's and an e.
We do have a translation here.
Thank goodness.
"Partnership settlement between André Roy and Nicolas Janis.
" So, they were partners? Partners in trading.
"The 26th of September, 1747.
" Yep.
He was born in 1720 in Quebec, so he's 27 years old.
"Today, I the undersigned notary, in presence of the undersigned witnesses, went at the request of André Roy, dangerously ill And Nicholas Janis, partner and voyageur" Voyageur, of course, which is translated as traveler, but truly what it means is this is someone who does long-distance trade.
Because it is this very specific region we're in, the voyageur in this case, means that he is involved in the fur trade.
Wow.
And clearly doing well for himself in this case because a voyageur is already someone who has experience.
When you start, the only thing that is going to be asked of you is to know how to paddle and to know how to carry stuff.
Ah.
But once you've done that a few times, you start picking up the important skills.
You start knowing, you know, first of all, the kinds of stuff you can trade with Native Americans.
Ah, so the natives are the ones who get the furs - Yes.
- And then, the French buy them? Yes, exactly.
That's I find that interesting.
"They've asked to transport themselves, along with the said notary, to the house of widow Jean Baptiste Girard, where the said partners hold shop.
" So, this would be, maybe, the stuff in their store? Yes, precisely.
"Firstly, two pairs of buckles, one large for shoes and one for garter.
One item old with diamonds.
" Not doing so poorly it seems.
No.
Four hundred pounds of brown sugar.
This shows that they are getting stuff from the French colonies in the Caribbean.
He's movin' on up.
165 pounds of beaver.
Five and a half pounds of deer skin, cured.
A bear skin.
So they've been trading a lot.
- Oh, yeah.
- They're -- they're doing it.
- They've -- they've yeah.
- And they're successful.
56 pots of brandy.
That indicates that they might be trading brandy, even though it's technically forbidden - in the Illinois country.
- Ooh! That's my people.
So, Nicholas seems to be doing well.
Yes, he seems to be doing quite fine for 27.
Well, I got my record deal at 27.
So 27's good in our family.
Well, this is so amazing.
I would like to know more about him personally.
That might be better served by parish records.
- Yeah.
- I would suggest you go to the Parish Of The Immaculate Conception, which is the local parish for Kaskaskia.
Thank you.
I need to give you a hug.
- Thank you so much.
- Thanks.
Melissa: I love where my adventure is now, is that I know definitely what Nicholas was doing.
He's now 27, and he's got a great business.
Yet, I don't see any family.
Knowing that my father grew up not far from here, it breathes so much more life into -- into my history and what it means to have children, and they have children, and they have children.
And the stories are all we have when it's all over.
Getting all romantic.
But that is all we have.
I'm going to visit the Church Of The Immaculate Conception in Kaskaskia.
I'll be meeting with historian John Reda, to see if the parish records held here can shed any light on the family life of my five-times-great-grandfather, Nicholas Janis.
This is amazing.
- Well, tell me.
- Okay.
Do you have information on Nicholas Janis? Let's go take a look.
Okay.
We -- I see Nicolas Janis right there.
They keep spelling it different.
Ah, and I can't read fancy French.
Reda: Well, we've got a translation for you.
Yay.
Aw, it's his marriage record.
"The 27th of April, 1751, between Nicholas Janis and Marie Louise Taumur.
Way to go, Nicholas.
So, this is 1751.
Things are about to great crazy after this, right? Yeah.
It's a The British are coming, aren't they? The British are coming.
Narrator: By 1754, Great Britain and France were fighting over land in North America, leading to the conflict know as the Seven Years' War.
After suffering a crippling defeat in 1763, the French lost their territory east of the Mississippi.
Great Britain now only had one major European adversary on the continent -- Spain.
After 1763, the Mississippi river actually becomes and international boundary.
On the west side, it becomes Spanish territory.
On the east side of the Mississippi, where Nicholas lives, he's now a British subject.
Wow.
So he's now, um, married, has a substantial amount of property.
But again, he's in the middle of a volatile time period, where world events are going to impose on the life that he's built here in Kaskaskia.
So, it's just a powder keg around here, isn't it? Yeah.
Tell me more, please.
What I thought about was, "where can I find something else that's gonna tell us what happened during the years of the American Revolution?" The two things that came to mind, at first, to me, were George Rogers Clark, who was an American general, who led a force of American soldiers into Kaskaskia in 1778.
The other one is the diary of a man named John Todd, who was the civil commandant of this area when Clark successfully captured this territory.
So this is from Todd's diary.
Dated may 14, 1779.
"Made out the military confirmations for the District of Kaskaskia.
" Oh, he's right on top.
Nicholas Janis, First Captain.
Janis has been appointed as the captain of the First Company.
You go, Nicholas.
First of all, he's not a young guy.
No, he's 59 right now.
Yeah.
So we can infer that he's not going to be expected to go out and fight.
Right.
What Nicholas is gonna do is serve as a liaison and as an administrator.
He has emerged as one of the leading figures in collaboration with the Americans, and this is not an easy task because the Americans are rambunctious, and they are in the midst of a war for their own existence.
Residents of the Mississippi River Valley, like Nicholas Janis, were subjects of British rule and caught in the crosshairs of the Revolutionary War until 1783, when Americans won the territory, and it became part of the United States.
Going into the 1780s, the American Revolution has been fought, and I imagine, there's a big push for westward expansion at this time.
The Americans are going to begin showing up in large numbers.
And so for Janis, he needs to think about the postwar era and what means for himself and for his family, and is he gonna make one more move.
And the most likely place for him to go would be across the river into what was still then Spanish Louisiana, - so let's take a look.
- Oh.
So, this is a census of the Spanish territory at the time? Exactly.
Immigrants from the United States.
"Statement of the inhabitants who have come with their families from the American side to settle in this district December 1, 1787.
" So he's 67 years old now.
Mm-hmm.
"Giving the number of persons of both sexes composing each household and the slaves they have brought with them.
" Whoa.
Ah, ah, ah, ah Narrator: Melissa Etheridge is in Kaskaskia, Illinois, once a section of New France that became a part of the United States.
She has just learned that her five-times-great-grandfather, Nicholas Janis, may have had a connection to slavery.
Wow.
He's got 10 male slaves and five female slaves.
- It's disturbing - Yeah.
but it's part of our past.
It's part of all -- - yes.
- Yeah.
And it's the way of the world in the 18th century.
Yeah.
But still something that is troubling.
Wow.
So if you look at the rest of the list, you can see this is a substantial household.
And the whole household went to the Spanish side.
What we see here is he relocated to Sainte Genevieve, the oldest European settlement in the Mississippi Valley on the west side of the river.
He's an immigrant from the United States, but in reality, he's only moving a few miles, but he's crossing an international boundary to do so.
Oh, my goodness.
My -- my French Canadian, my -- my -- from Quebec, has come down here as a Frenchman, has been a British subject, a citizen, American citizen and now, has made the choice to cross the river and become a Spanish citizen.
Wow.
How do we find out what happened? Is there any more? In Sainte Genevieve, at the courthouse, there's likely gonna be some records there that might tell you something about what happens to him when he makes this move in the 17 -- late 1780s.
I will be doing that.
Thank you so much.
Thank you.
I got to tell you, I didn't feel that slave-owning was a part of -- especially my father's side.
Of course, it a travesty of the human race, and we've come so far, yet, to know it was in your family and part of the family life, just four or five generations ago is -- is eye opening.
I just learned that Nicholas left Kaskaskia for Sainte Genevieve, across the river, in what was then, Spanish held Louisiana and is Missouri today.
So I'm taking a short drive to the northwest, about 15 miles to the Sainte Genevieve courthouse.
I've asked local historian Robert Mueller to help me uncover what happened in the final days of my five-times-great-grandfather, Nicholas Janis.
We'd like to show you a couple of documents that relate to Nicholas Janis as he came to Sainte Genevieve.
These are 220-years-old documents.
Okay.
Ah.
Look at that.
They write so lovely.
I did want to point out Oh, there's his -- I know his signature.
And there -- you -- and you can see his son, Francois Janis.
Oh, yes.
And it's been translated for you.
Oh, thank goodness.
Okay.
The deed of Nicholas Janis Sr.
to Francois Janis.
Oh, so Francois is named after his grandfather.
Right.
Wow.
The year 1796.
"The said Nicholas Janis, the father, has finally declared to put his said son in good and peaceable possession of the said house, barn, stable, garden, orchard" Wow.
So Nicholas, he's giving his house to Francois, and Francois's going to take care of him while he gets old.
He's getting himself set up for his later years.
Aww.
So it looks like Nicholas had a very happy retirement.
Aww, he's an old man sittin' on the porch.
I can just see him.
He's got stories to tell.
Maybe he played the guitar.
The French loved their music.
They loved story-telling.
Ah, see.
There's music.
There's the music.
I have one more surprise for you.
Oh, you do? Ah, ah, ah, ah Melissa Etheridge is in Sainte Genevieve, Missouri.
She's finding out more about the life of her five-times-great-grandfather, Nicholas Janis, a successful businessman, who in his final days, left his son a significant estate.
I have one more surprise for you.
- Oh, you do? - Yes.
- What would that be? - Well, we talked about the house and the barn and all that.
I have to tell you.
The house is still here.
No.
It's not.
It is the oldest house in Sainte Genevieve.
It is not.
Oh, my God! It is thought to be the oldest house in Missouri that is still here.
No way.
And I can arrange with the owner for you to see this house.
No way.
No way.
No way.
- Well, thank you so much.
- Well, thank you.
I have to give you a hug about that.
Thank you.
Thank you.
This just does my heart so well.
Thank you so much.
- And mine too.
- Thank you.
Yep.
Melissa: Today's a very good day.
I feel so close to Nicholas Janis.
Four generations here building this part of America.
I just feel -- I feel like I belong.
My father was born 100 miles from here.
I only thought my father's side of the family was just poor.
And now realizing how rich they were, not just in wealth but in -- in history.
I had no idea that there would still be the Janis house.
I am thrilled, and I'm just -- I'm so excited.
Can't wait to get there.
Look at that.
That look.
This is amazing.
Oh, my goodness.
It's like a piece of history, like in a picture, just pops right out at you.
Oh.
That's incredible.
I tell ya.
The story that you tell about yourself is so important.
I used to very flippantly just say, "My heritage is just poor white people just forever and ever.
" You know? Used to kind of tell that story.
And having gone on this journey now and realizing that not that many generations ago, in the Midwest, where I come from, my ancestors helped settle a very important area and lived very interesting lives and were very successful.
And to sort of know that now, I can't tell that story about myself anymore.
To see the prosperity in Nicholas' life, and then to understand that four generations later, my father is in complete poverty, wealth and success comes and goes.
And I now have some success.
And hopefully, maybe, I can be on the upside of our family for once.
I was instantly warmed and moved by the story of Francois Simonne and Marie Charlotte, the daughter.
And how the father and the mother stood up for her.
And of course, the -- the father-daughter relation always -- always rings a beautiful bell in me.
And how that, you know, reverberates on down for generations.
I can't wait to share this with my children.
I have a strong belief that the influence of your ancestors, that influence of their journeys, of their adventures, of their thoughts, of their dreams, are handed down through traditions, through ways that we don't even know.
Can't wait to tell them the journey and things that I've learned.