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Honorine Berger

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Berger Family Life in the
1800s and Early 1900s

In the late 1800s, Henry taught school in a house in the LeBlanc Community. It was called the "French School." He taught anyone who wanted to learn French, English, reading, and probably arithmetic. The ages of his students varied. Many for his reading and writing abilities admired Henry.

According to cousins Margaret and Thomasine Bares, "it was his pleasure" to elegantly document special occasions for family and friends. He also was more than willing to address packages, read letters and assist in their dealings. Some stories portray him as lazy. However, in a family still known for it is strong work ethic, his diverse talents may have often been misunderstood.

Henry was amazing when it came to his daughters-Henry had the attitude that it was not necessary to formally educate females. In those days, women's roles in life were thought to be limited to having babies, cooking, sewing, and cleaning. Of the five sisters, only Aline had schooling through the third grade. In contrast, Gam Berger could read. It has been said that she walked to the houses of her daughters (umbrella always in hand) to read letters from loved ones serving in World War I.

Youngsville was the location of the only Catholic Church near the LeBlanc Community until the number of worshippers grew too large to accommodate. In 1897, a Catholic Church was established in Delcambre. It was not until 1928 that the church in Erath was founded. The St. John of the Cross Church often referred to as the LeBlanc Catholic Church served as a place of worship for many family members when it opened its doors in 1951. Four of the five Berger sisters attended this church on a regular basis as well as many descendants living in the area. St. John of the Cross Church was closed in 1973. The church was abandoned but is now being renovated. This evolution of the Catholic Churches in the area explains the various gravesite locations of the Berger descendants.

In the early 1900s, babies were born at home. In addition, when a person died-the deceased would be dressed and put to rest in their own bed. Friends and relatives would then be come to pay their respects. Homemade coffins were part of the process only at the time of burial.

Mail was picked up at the train depot in Abbeville, Louisiana or at country stores. Speaking of country stores, food products purchased there were generally limited to the basics like sugar, coffee, and flour. It was customary for families to grow their own food. With no refrigeration available, fresh milk from the morning was kept cool in a jar under the steps of the house.

Cattle were slaughtered weekly and the meat was shared by a group of neighbors. Fresh chicken was available from the backyard. Sausages were made, dried and kept in the attic on wooden rods. A use was found for every part of the slaughtered hog-some uses more imaginative than others were. Fruits and vegetables were preserved. Sugar cane and cotton were harvested by hand.

Hard work was accepted as a way of life. No one knew any other way. The unyielding strength of the human spirit was tested daily and always prevailed.

Fortunately the conveniences enjoyed today make our lives much easier.

In preparing to enter the new millennium it would be wise to recognize that some of the earlier ways of life need to be left behind. Even wiser would be to vow that the legacy of learning, sharing, working and worshipping together, in addition to loving each other, will continue to apply in the future just as it did for Cecile, Honorine, Anita, Aline, and Lucy-the five Berger sisters.


Our Family Inventor

In 1984, Tommy LeBlanc obtained a copy of Henry Berger's patent-for calculating machine attachment-from Washington D. C. The patent was granted in 1929. Presumably, after Henry's death in 1932, attorneys with Lacey and Lacey encouraged Gam Berger to sign a document and accept .00 in total payment for the significant discovery. Unfortunately, she complied.

Another important invention to Henry's credit was the hook link that couples train cars. He regrettably did not receive credit for this important discovery. The ides was likely stolen as one relative so aptly described "he put it on the streets of Abbeville." Research attempts for any evidence of a patent were unsuccessful.

With his obvious intelligence and farsightedness, there conceivably may have been more inventions out there that he was never credited with.

Research is still being done on where his formal education was obtained. It is thought to have possibly been at the University of Paris.

Berger Family Artisans:
The Needle Women

Sewing was a major part of the lives of the Berger family. Three descendants have carried forth the tradition.

Laura Mae Romero (Lucy's daughter) still sews today. Her beautiful dresses can be found not only in Louisiana but also in many parts of the United States and even in Cuba, France, and Germany. Many babies have been baptized in her christening dresses. One example appeared in "Sew Beautiful" Magazine (Spring 1998).

Another descendant who followed the tradition was Margaret Griffin Monlezunm (Honorine's daughter). She is known for her lovely christening dresses as well as her baby dresses.

Lastly is Eula LeBlanc, wife of Clet "June" LeBlanc, Jr. (daughter-in-law of Aline). Eula specializes in christening dresses, first Communion dresses and even Confirmation dresses. Some of her dresses also have appeared in magazines. The November-December, 1997 issue of "Creative Needle" features a dress and bonnet. Another publication, Louisiana Agriculture, Spring, 1998 also featured a baby dress and bonnet. The article can be found on this website under that title.

Berger Sewing Community
Louisiana Agriculture, Spring 1998

Each one…a Unique Creation

Handsewn infants' and children's garment in Louisiana

by: Pamela P. Rabalais and Jeannie Downs Baumeister

Responding to consumer demand for handsewn infants' and children's garments, the New Orleans company De Lis advertised in a 1920s catalog that its merchandise was locally made by needle women of French descent whose "taste and skill are a matter of inheritance." Such advertising is not only evidence of a cottage industry that developed in Louisiana early in the popular reputation allotted Louisiana French women involved in the industry.

De Lis was just one of the many New Orleans' companies employing South Louisiana needle women as the century began. Department store D. H. Holmes, as well as smaller manufacturers and retailers Maison Rouf, Isabel and the Louise Shop, engaged the same group in the manufacturing of handmade garments. It was one of these companies that provided a rural Acadiana family with an opportunity for home-based employment of their needle art skills.

In conjunction with the 1997 Dream Stitches exhibit of 19th and early 20th century infant garments in the LSU Textile & Costume Gallery on the Baton Rouge campus, documentation of the production and retailing of handsewn infants' and children's garments in Louisiana had been conducted. The focus of the study was a Vermilion Parish community known as the LeBlanc community and three generations of one family, the Berger family. Participants' memories recorded in oral interviews, archival records and extant garments were used to piece together the previously unrecorded history.

Louis Françoise Henry Berger, born in 1855, is remembered as having the distinction of coming to Louisiana directly from France and was not of Acadian descent as his wife and many in the LeBlanc community were. He and 18-year-old Eugenie Marie Mart Bares married in 1885, with the first of their five daughters born in 1886 and the last born in 1903. It was Cecile, Honorine, Anita, Lucy, and Aline who are remembered as the first in the community to sew for New Orleans' companies. Their father responded to an advertisement offering such an employment arrangement to supplement the family's income. What initially involved these young women soon engaged others and resulted in community-wide female involvement by mid-century. Neighbors involved neighbors, and mothers taught daughters as each became old enough to assist.

Although the New Orleans' companies continued to provide an outlet through the 1930s and into the 1940s, The Acadian Handicraft Project, another retail channel, soon surfaced to engage the LeBlanc community needle women. Targeting Acadiana and the preservation of the traditions of its French peoples, the project began in 1942, sponsored by Louisiana State University's General Extension Division for adult education. It was directed and represented solely by Louise Olivier, an Acadian descendant herself. Project records indicate that the 1946 Olivier had found the Leblanc community needle women, and four of the Berger sisters were sending their work to her for purchase and sale. By 1948, the Berger women of the next generation were establishing their homes and arranging for their own sewing orders as indicated by the presence on worker lists of daughters and daughters-in-law of the four. Of the 70 infants' and children's wear sewers listed in the project employment records during the course of its activity, 60 are easily linked to the LeBlanc community, a farming community with just a 3-mile radius.

The Acadian Handicraft Project abruptly cam to an end in 1962 with the death of Louise Olivier. Two venues offered markets for the LeBlanc community women who continued to sew: Flo's and Orleans Product. Flo's Baby Lane had begun business in 1951 in a neighboring community and even a nationally circulated magazine, House Beautiful, directed its readers traveling through French Louisiana to Flo's. Orleans Product, a New Orleans' manufacturer with a retailing division called the Lylian shop, had evolved from the Louise shop and is the only New Orleans company still in business today.

The number of LeBlanc community needle women has dwindled to a very few as the last generations have sought employment away from their homes. The art the women practice is referred to as French hand sewing. The garments produced incorporate techniques requiring needle women with a great deal of taste and skill, just as those advertised by the early New Orleans' companies. They are sewn, with almost every stitch by hand, using a fine thread and needle, high quality imported cotton batiste, French lace and mother-of-pearl buttons. Each is embellished, often extensively, with tiny pin-size tucks, hemstitching and embroidery work. Christening dresses with matching bonnets are the most elaborate pieces and feature yards of lace insertion sewn onto the fabric. Acknowledging these exceptional needle women, Orleans Product does not give them any instructions, just fabric. The result, as described by the granddaughter of the 1920s Louise shop proprietor, who with great regard continues her family's business, is that: …each one is a unique creation, all beautiful works of art.

Pamela P. Rabalais, Instructor and Registrar, LSU Textile and Costume Gallery, School of Human Ecology, LSU Agricultural Center, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Jeannine Downs Baumeister, Designer, The Old-Fashioned Baby, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

ORAL HISTORIES REPOSITORY: T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History Collection, Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

A Grandmother's Gift

Below is a letter that appeared in "Sew Beautiful" magazine (Spring, 1998). Christy Ortemond-Franques, the granddaughter of Laura Mae LeBlanc Romero, the daughter of Lucy Berger, submitted it.

Dress design by Mrs. Laura Mae Romero

Dear Sew Beautiful,

My grandmother, Mrs. Laura Mae Romero, is a fan and a subscriber of your magazine. She has been sewing handmade baby clothes for more than 60 years.

Two years ago, after I became engaged, my grandmother designed and made a dress for me to wear for my engagement portrait. I always wanted a Victorian-style dress, and she really surpassed my expectations. I wanted to share my pictures and my story with you magazine because I think that it is definitely a work of art, which I hop to see in a future issue.

Many people asked why I didn't wear the dress as my wedding gown; it was that beautiful! I did wear the dress on my bridal luncheon, and it was absolutely stunning.

My grandmother's talent is a rare gift, which will unfortunately pass with her because neither of her daughters took to heirloom sewing. My great-great grandmother, Mrs. Romero's grandmother, was actually the first person to introduce the art of heirloom sewing in this area of Louisiana. The tradition still lives through my grandmother's baby clothes and dresses for little girls from all over the country and even Cuba, France, and Germany. She sews unbelievable christening gowns that have been treasured by families from generation to generation. Some of the gowns she made were worn by children who are now dressing their grandchildren in the same gown. Her work is beyond words, and I felt honored to have this very special dress. I consider it a piece of art that I will undoubtedly treasure for the rest of my life.

Christy Ortemond-Franques
Granddaughter of Mrs. Romero

Baby Dress Patterns

As the story goes, in the early 1900s, Henry Berger obtained sewing business for his five daughters from Isabelle, inc. and Maison Rouff from New Orleans. Isabelle, Inc. located at 300 St. Charles Street, would send the daughters material already cut up along with a pattern and they would sew and embroidery. Maison Rouff would pay $1.00 for a dozen baby slips.

Henry Berger would mail out and receive the packages for his daughters at a Mrs. Fils store. None of the daughters was taught to read or write even though he was an educated schoolteacher; therefore, he had to take care of the mailing if the baby dressed.

Laura Mae (Lucy's daughter, Henry's granddaughter) knew the story of the daughters sewing business. She, herself, remembers earning .00 for sewing 2-dozen slips right before her wedding. She was then able to purchase a bedspread and a box of powder.

Henry Berger's Achievements

The Government of France awarded a medal to Henry Berger. The medal, which is 107 years old, is in the possession of Dianne Romero Ortemond and her husband Leon. Investigation is underway for the reason he received this medal. In addition, there is a note in an excerpt from Henry's journal, dated 1926, referring to a medal.

The front of the medal has a silhouette of a woman and the words "République Francaise." The back of the medal has "H. Berger 1891" engraved in a square in the middle of the medal, and on some decorative ribbon work "Honneur Travail." "Ministere du Commerce et de L'Industrie" is written along the border of the medal.

The journal entry reads: "Medal from France
April 28, 1926
Second Notice
NO# 87594
Sealed Register # 828
From Salins, France
Master Registry Division, N.O.G.

Literary Works and Family Possessions

Henry also wrote a book entitled "Elements de Géométrie." The 138-page book is written in French and appears to be in Henry's handwriting. It is not known if Henry authored the book, if someone else may have been involved or what the circumstances were surrounding the book's creation. An investigation is underway.

One of Henry's math books is in Shelia Lauw's possession. The book is written in French and is dated 1874. The book is entitled "Dictionnaire des Mathématiques Appliquées"-Dictionary of Mathematical Applications.

Sug has a hardware store in Erath, Louisiana. One day Edith, who is a first cousin to Lucy, came to the store and told Sug about a clock that Harry Hulin had inherited. Harry Hulin is a second or third cousin to Sug.

Sug went to visit Harry and offered to buy the clock. Harry gave it to him. It was in pieces in a box and was being stored in a chicken coop in the backyard. Sug opened the box and all the pieces seemed to be there. He brought the clock to his friend, Bill Stout at 6 o'clock in the evening. By 8 o'clock, the clock was up and running. The only thing that needed to be replaced was the dial face.

Bill Stout repaired old clocks and eventually taught Sug how to do the same. Sug developed a hobby of tinkering with clocks. Sug refinished the original casing of the clock himself. The date inside the clock was discovered-1858!

Henry LeBlanc has Henry Berger's desk and compass.

Bergers in Business

Aldon "Sug" LeBlanc, a resident of the Charonge community located north of Erath, acquired an interest in the Dixie Auto-Lec Store from Wiltz "Goose" Theriot, and the business was renamed the LeBlanc-Theriot Hardware Store. Theriot, interestingly, was the grandson of Patrick O'Toole, on of the original settlers in land Section 35. The store is still located on Patrick O'Toole Street is the only original hardware business still in operation at the end of this Century. Their business success and longevity must be attributed to the exceptional service they render to the community and the active participation of the entire family, including "Sug," the owner and founder, his son Tommy, and Bradley Baudoin, his son-in-law.

Source: Dronet, Gen. Curney J. A Century of Acadian Culture; The Development of a Cajun Community: Erath (1899-1999). Pp 66-67. Copyright 2001.

If you have a business venture or know of someone in the family that does, please contact us and give us a small history. We will not advertise, but will be happy to show our pride as to how well our family is doing for themselves.

Information Received from France

Henry Berger's ancestors came from Ivrey and Saraz, France. These two villages are located southeast of Dijon, France along the Switzerland and Germany borders.

The following passages are copies of correspondence between Berger descendant, Shelia LeBlanc Lauw, and Phillippe Gustin from Le Centre International de Lafayette and Jean Claudet from Dijon, France.


July 10, 1997

Yesterday, we went on our way to Morlier, to Ivrey for Mrs. Lauw. It is a tiny village, 70 residents, and very nice and quite pretty, in a little valley. It had been a long time since I had been there, because it is out in the middle of nowhere. We took some photographs, which we will send you. We are supposed to go back next Tuesday July 15, since the Mayor, with the City Hall secretary, have office hours from 1:30 to 3:30 that day.

I met the Mayor, a farmer, currently very occupied with the work in the fields right now. We spoke for half an hour and he is very interested in this research. I am going to attempt to retrace the genealogy a bit and will send it to you when I have completed my research. There are no more Bergers in Ivrey but there are fairly nearby (7 or 8 kilometers away) at By in the county of Doubs. Ivrey is in Jura County.

We went to By and met the Mayor, who is going to get information from the Berger families, to see if they came fro Ivrey. This is an important matter to these tiny villages.

Do you happen to know how Mrs. Lauw obtained the birth certificate in 1984, since the Mayor is very intrigued by it, never having heard anything about it.

I hope and expect to be able to send a good bit of information fairly soon. It is very interesting and you may put me in charge of this type of work for Bourgogne and Franche-Comte regions, which I know particularly well. I have done this a number of times for Father Jammes.

I am returning the Xeroxed copy of the birth certificates for Jean Bertrand Bares, which was attached to the one you sent me. I presume he was an ancestor of Allen Bares, was he not?


Jean Claudet

Translated by: Ann Morgan, 7/17/1997



July 23, 1997

Dear Philippe:

Enclosed you will find six files on the subject of the father and ancestors of Mrs. Shelia Lauw. While we were doing the research, it was not difficult to go further, since in documents from the time of the French Revolution to the present are kept in the City Halls. Documents from before the revolution were either destroyed or placed in the Departmental archives.

We also took photographs of the villages, especially Ivrey, and only one of Saraz, then we had camera trouble.

Please tell Mrs. Lauw that Ivrey is a village of 30 homes, pretty and quaint. Currently there are 70 inhabitants; and the end of the 19th century, there were 240! Saraz has 20 homes and 30 inhabitants, also very clean and nice.

Contrary to what I told you in my previous letter, the village of By, where there are one or two Berger families, is not the area they are originally from, but Saraz, which we discovered while searching through the Archives. In that village, there is an old lady named Berger, 92 years old, and her married daughter. Both of them were out of town when we visited. I am certain that Mrs. Lauw would find some second or third cousins. If she would like, she could come and we would go with her and do the research together or we could do it for her.

Enclosed you will find the following photocopies:

a birth certificate for Pierre Antoine Bournier, maternal grandfather of Louis Françoise Henry Berger, 1797; a birth certificate for Charles Honore Berger, father of Louis Françoise Henry Berger and his twin sister, 1827; marriage certificate for Jean-Nicolas Berger, paternal grandfather of Françoise Henri Berger, 1813; a birth certificate for Felicite Bournier, mother of Louis Francois Henry Berger, 1829; a marriage certificate for Charles Honore Berger, father of Louis Françoise Henry Berger, 1849; a birth certificate for Louis Francois Henry Berger, 1855.

For all of these documents, I did a "translation" to help make them legible and made two copies. One with a red border and one without in case Mrs. Lauw would like to frame them, even after enlarging. It is very difficult to make better photocopies because the originals are ancient.

To help her locate the villages, I am sending two photocopies of the Michelin map with the villages underlined in red. I can send a whole map.

Currently in Ivrey, there are several Bournier families, among them certainly some "cousins." The two villages are rather hooked on the idea that one of their own went to Louisiana.

In order to help if the research is to continue, I have kept a copy of everything, so I am at your disposal.

We hope Mrs. Lauw will be pleased. For us, it was very interesting and allowed me to show Marie-Germaine an area she was not familiar with. Among other things, we found Saint Anne to be a small typical and very pretty region.


Jean Claudet

Translated by: Ann Morgan, 7/30/1997

Death Information

Henry Berger died in 1932 at the age of 77 and Eugenie died in 1964 at the age of 97. They are buried together in a grave west of Our Lady of the Lake Church in Delcambre, Louisiana.

It is believed that their four sons-Maurice, Henry, Leon, and Dennis-are probably buried in Youngsville and/or Delcambre, Louisiana. This assumption is based on the dates of their deaths and the Catholic churches that existed at the time. We currently have no clear proof of their actual gravesites.

Cecile and Honorine died one month apart in 1954. Cecile was 67 years old when she died on April 9. She is buried near her husband in a gravesite in the Erath cemetery. The graves are located towards the rear of the cemetery parallel to South Severin Street.

Honorine died on March 13 at the age of 65. She is buried with her husband in the Graceland Cemetery located in Abbeville, Louisiana on Lafitte Road.

Anita lived to be 95 years old. She died in 1988. Aline was 86 when she died in 1990. Lucy, who was the last surviving sister, died in 1994 at 97 years of age, which coincidentally was the age of her mother at her death. These three younger sisters are all buried with their husbands in the Erath Cemetery Mausoleums.

In 1977, thirteen years after Eugenie (also known as "Gam Berger") was buried, her coffin was opened prior to moving her remains to make room for another deceased loved one. When her coffin was opened, her body was found to be remarkably well preserved. Her clothing showed signs of deterioration, but her hair as well as her overall appearance was amazingly intact. Her grandson, Clet LeBlanc, Jr., witnessed this, and others. It was decided at that time not to disturb her remains.

A very important tradition in this family is honoring and maintaining gravesites of loved ones. It is a beautiful custom signifying the love and respect that continues even after death.