This summer, Julie McIsaac, co-writer of Les Filles du Roi, made an exciting discovery: that she herself is a descendent of a fille du roi. Here, she shares her story of this unexpected personal connection to the historical world of the play.
When I was in elementary school – probably around ten or eleven years old – I remember going over to my grandmother’s house to interview her for a school project. We were to find out about our family’s history, and I remember feeling uncomfortable sitting there in the afternoon quiet, just the two of us at the dining room table. Typically I would be visiting my Mémère’s house in the company of some thirty-plus relatives, and if you get any more than three of my ma tantes together, it’s a party. Imagine book & lyrics by Michel Tremblay, with music by Dolly Parton… that’s sort of the right feel.
So I was suddenly shy, reluctant to ask my Mémère some of the questions on the assignment sheet. My Pépère had died only a couple years before, and I wanted to avoid mentioning him; I didn’t want to make her sad. And maybe that’s why I didn’t dig into his side of the family very much, I can’t quite remember. What I do know is that since then, I’ve always thought that my mother’s ancestors came over from France in the mid-1700s.
Then this summer, sitting in the passenger’s seat of my mom’s car, as we’re driving past the gravel road that leads to the site of the “Robitaille homestead” where my grandfather was born, she tosses a book into my lap, something that her uncle Louis has recently self-published. I begin flipping through it, and immediately recognize places, faces, photos – and all those names that made me laugh as a child: Urgel, Velma, Albertine...
My mother is one of ten children, and though that makes for a big extended family, most of her relatives have lived their entire lives in and around our hometown, so for the most part, I know the people in these pages, or at least I know of them. But when I get to the last page of the book, I pause. There’s something I haven’t seen before. A genealogy tracing the Robitaille line back to the 1600s. And there he is, Jean Robitaille, marrying Marguerite Buletez in Quebec, 1670.
I’ve never heard of this Jean Robitaille. Which is odd, seeing as my mother carries his name inside her own: Jeanne Robitaille. And Marguerite? Never heard of her before, either. And then, hey, wait a minute. 1670. That’s right smack in the middle of the French government’s les filles du roi initiative. Could this Marguerite be…?
As one does in these moments of wonder, I turn to Google.
And turns out, the answer is yes.
The in-concert presentation of Les Filles du Roi takes place November 4 & 5, 7pm at the Orpheum Annex. Admission is free. Click here for Facebook event.