Press-Republican

August 18, 2008

Local residents trace their roots to Samuel de Champlain

Local residents trace their roots to Samuel de Champlain

By JEFF MEYERS

PERU -- Milton Boule and Marion Schmitt have a personal interest in the upcoming quadricentennial celebration of Samuel de Champlain's arrival on the lake that bears his name.

In fact, the brother and sister -- life-long residents of the North Country -- will be welcoming home family when Champlain is recognized in 2009 for the 400th anniversary of his trip from Canada to the lake via birch-bark canoe with a group of Algonquin warriors.

Boule and Schmitt are descendents of Champlain's wife, Helene Boulle, the daughter of Nicholas Boulle, chief adviser to the king.

MARRIED AT AGE 12

Helene was married to the 43-year-old explorer when she was 12 but remained with her parents for a few years after the wedding because of her age.

"I got interested in this 30 years ago when my great-uncle Isadore mentioned one day that we were related to Champlain's wife," Boule said from his sister's home in Peru, while looking at family records he has been gathering since learning of his heritage.

He began writing to several resources in Canada to trace his genealogy and today can list the names of his grandfathers dating back generations to Robert Boulle (spelled differently by his descendents), the nephew of Helene Boulle.

"Robert was the first (relative) to come here," Boule said. "When he came here (to Quebec City), he borrowed money and got in debt to purchase land."

FAMILY RESEARCH

Robert Boulle farmed land on the Isle of Orleans in the St. Lawrence River near Quebec City, and that 160-tract of land is still intact, said Boule, who visited the property in the mid-1990s.

Over the years, Boule has advanced his research efforts by accessing records over the Internet.

"I don't know how to use a computer, but I can find information on my laptop," said the 83-year-old native of Keeseville. "Once you get hooked in it, you spend more and more time on it."

Boule and Schmitt meet every Wednesday for lunch and to share time together. Four years older than her brother, Schmitt became a mother-figure to him when he was 4 when their mother died.

GIFT OF A MIRROR

Helene Boulle accompanied Champlain to Quebec in 1620, more than a decade after he had first entered Lake Champlain where Rouses Point now sits.

However, she apparently missed her home in Paris and returned to France in 1624, never to set foot in the Americas again.

"She was here long enough to get to know the Indians, and she liked them a lot," said Schmitt, adding that her brother's interest in Champlain piqued her own curiosity years ago.

"She always carried a mirror around her neck, and when she left, she gave that mirror to the Indians."

Ten years after the death of Champlain in 1635, Helene joined the Ursulines of Sainte-Ursule convent in Paris and took the name of Sister Helene de Saint-Augustin. She founded a convent in Meaus, France, in 1648 and died in 1654 at the age of 56.

The Champlains had no children.

jmeyers@pressrepublican.com