I got an email from a stranger the other day that said, "Bonjour, huitième cousin!" (Hello, eighth cousin!)
I entered a hotel lobby to attend a meeting and a stranger came up to me with a smile, hand extended, and said, "Bonjour, petit cousin. Ca fait 250 ans qu'ont c'est pas rencontré." (Hello, little cousin. It's been 250 years since we've met.)
I got a Facebook message a few days ago from a stranger in Connecticut who greeted me warmly as his second cousin twice removed.
If this kept happening to you, how would you react?
Well, if you're Acadian or Franco-American you most probably would not be apprehensive nor would you even be all that surprised.
Generally speaking, Acadians and Franco-Americans deeply treasure genealogy and our extended families — even to our eighth cousins several times removed.
I'm sure that this is also true among some other ethnic groups, but, to Acadians and Franco-Americans, genealogy is much more than a list of names and dates in a database. Genealogy is alive and it is comprised of real people.
You know, when you get right down to it, this is what Congrès Mondial Acadien 2014 (2014 World Acadian Congress) is all about: families. Families are the essence of life.
Between August 8 and August 24, 2014, more than 120 families will hold reunions in l'Acadie des terres des forêts (Acadia of Lands and Forests), a tourist and business destination that encompasses northern Maine, southeast Québec, and northwest New Brunswick.
And more than 50 of those family reunions will be held in Maine, more precisely, in our beautiful and proud St. John Valley.
For some people from "away" (central and southern Maine, for example) this is almost inconceivable. I mean, just how many people live up there in the St. John Valley, you ask? While this is certainly a legitimate question, it's the wrong one. The correct question is, how many people live in L'Acadie des terres et des forêts?
Maybe you should sit down for the answer. Ready? Here is the answer: There are approximately 100,000 people in the Acadia of Lands and Forests. I know! It's even kind of hard to believe, isn't it? It shouldn't be — it's our reality.
If you stick a pin in the middle of the international bridge between Madawaska, Maine, and Edmundston, New Brunswick, and you draw a circle with a radius of about 60 miles, there would be more than 55 municipalities with a combined population of about 100,000.
So, more than 120 family reunions doesn't sound quite as far-fetched now as it might have a few seconds ago, does it?
Here is where you can find a list of all the families who are holding reunions, along with a contact person: www.cma2014.com/en/reunions-de-familles/familles-inscrites
To see a schedule and to register for a particular family, go to: .cma2014.com. For example, levesque.cma2014.com. (Editor's Note: Do not type "www." as you normally would.)
Of course, there are specific family names that are uniquely Acadian. The British (actually Bostonians) who deported the Acadians at gunpoint in 1755 from land they had occupied for more than 150 years simply because those inhabitants spoke French and were Catholic, kept very good records. So, there are lists of the families who were forced onto ships and dispersed throughout the world so that Acadians would cease to exist as a people.
Here is a list of the families who were deported: www.acadian-home.org/deport-list.html.
However, there are many other Acadians who no longer have an Acadian surname but might be more Acadian than someone who does. For example, the Acadians arrived in the St. John Valley in 1785. However, settlers from Le Bas Saint-Laurent, Québec (lower St. Lawrence) arrived in the St. John Valley almost immediately afterwards.
So, our northern Maine culture is a very rich mixture of Acadian, Québecois, English and Maliseet. We seem to have absorbed something from all those cultures and made it our own.
Today, it is possible for a McBreairty who does not speak French to be more Acadian than a Thibodeau who does speak French. So, the question of who is Acadian and who isn't can be very, very complicated chez nous.
This is also why there are so many Acadians absolutely obsessed with Acadian genealogy. The Grand Dérangement was designed to spread the Acadians in small groups throughout the world so that they would essentially cease to exist as a people. It was supposed to erase Acadians from the face of the earth. But it didn't work.
This is one of the main reasons that family reunions are not restricted to Acadian surnames. Take me, for example. Like most people I have two sets of grandparents. Their family names are Levesque, Ouellette, Beaupré, and Doucette. Of those, only my Doucette line is Acadian. But I consider myself more Acadian than Québecois because my culture and heritage is richly Acadian.
To wrap this up, the 2014 Congrès Mondial Acadien is open to all Mainers of Acadian or Franco-American descent ... which probably means all Mainers because all of us probably have one or the other among our thousands of ancestors.
So, come on up to the St. John Valley. Come connect with your roots, meet cousins, near and far, and discover the most beautiful and most charming part of Maine — our beloved, cherished, and under-appreciated St. John Valley.
For a full schedule of events and information about lodging, transportation, passports, and tons of other stuff about CMA 2104, visit: www.cma2014.com.
Venez nous voir pendant le CMA 2014 qu'ont jase un peut dans notre belle langue française. (Come and see us during CMA 2014 so we can chat for a while in our beautiful French language.)
NOTE: About 90% of the residents of L'Acadie des terres et des forêts speak French. So, if you speak French when you visit here, no one will insult you or belittle you or refuse to serve you or tell you to speak American. Vous serez chez vous che' nous. (You will feel at home in our home.)