As I write this, it is the most dreaded day of the year for many, namely April 15. However, I’m not thinking of taxes as I always do mine in early February. One of the cleverest things the federal government ever did was institute payroll deduction. Can we even imagine the uproar if everyone had to write one check for the entire year on April 15? But I’m not concerned about taxes at all today. Instead I’m looking back 100 years as it was on this day in 1912 the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank. The Taffin family is both horribly and wonderfully linked to the Titanic forever.
The Titanic was the largest ship built up to that time. Construction lasted from 1909 through 1911 and capacity was just over 2,200 people. Its maiden voyage was scheduled to leave Southampton, England on April 10, 1912 crossing the Atlantic bound for New York City. It was not filled to capacity with just over 1,500 passengers on board. For the world’s wealthiest people this was to be a holiday excursion and many of the well-known names of the time were on board including the world’s richest man, John Jacob Astor, and his family. However, it was not only the wealthy or the famous on board but also those looking for a better life in America. More than 1,000 immigrants from Europe were also on board hoping to see Lady Liberty in New York harbor and to experience the beginning of a new life.
All the latest conveniences and safety features were aboard the Titanic, however the crew was ill prepared for handling any disaster and there were only enough lifeboats to hold 1,200 people. None of this should matter; after all, the Titanic was believed to be unsinkable. On April 10 the Titanic left Southampton and made stops at Cherbourg, France and Queenstown, Ireland to pick up passengers. Four days out on April 14 the Titanic hit an iceberg and sunk at 2:20 a.m. on April 15. The debate continues today as to what really happened on the Titanic and several movies have been made of the disaster. Not only did they not have enough lifeboats these were not always filled to capacity. Of the more than 1,500 people on board less than half were rescued by the ship Carpathia.
One of the passengers on the Titanic was Marie Daumont. This lovely young lady, age 38, was from Escaudin in France and was married to Franck Lefebvre. They had eight children and their goal was to go to America. Franck left first along with at least two of his older children and settled in Iowa. Marie was to follow with their four youngest children, Mathilde, 12; Jeannie, 8; Henry, 6; and Ida, 5. Passage was very expensive and Marie’s ticket alone was $172. This was for 3rd-class accommodations and Marie and her four children as far as it is known were the only French passengers in 3rd-class.
They were to travel across the Atlantic and then take a train from New York City to Iowa to meet up with the rest of the family. They never made it. To this day their bodies have never been found, and if so could not be identified. Franck was anxiously awaiting their arrival in Iowa and when he went to the offices of the White Star Line for news of the crossing he was horrified to find the terrible news the ship had sunk.
This was not the end of the tragedy as when he went to the Red Cross Relief Committee his personal file was opened and it was determined he had entered the United States illegally by providing false and misleading statements to immigration officials on Ellis Island. He and his children were sent back to France in August 1912 and at least one son was killed in WWI.
Marie and her four children were the only French family in 3rd-class passage on the Titanic, however they were not the only French family planning to sail from Southampton to New York City. Another young lady, actually younger than Marie, by the name of Angeline was also booking passage with her four children. She had four with her, however she was already expecting a fifth and her husband, Jean, like Franck, had also gone to America first.
Angeline, along with her youngsters, Angel, Augustine, Louis, and Amy, made their way from France to Southampton to board the Titanic. And just as Marie had done they paid extra money to travel from France to Southampton simply because they did not know the Titanic was stopping at Cherbourg, France to pick up passengers before continuing on its journey.
Marie had spent the extra money and she now bought tickets for herself and her family and was ready to board. Angeline got to the ticket office and although she had been saving for quite a while to purchase passage the extra funds spent to travel from France to England had depleted her funds just enough she couldn’t afford to buy all the tickets necessary. So Marie was ready to go and Angeline needed more money. Angeline was also a Daumont and she was Marie’s younger sister. Her husband, who had gone on ahead was Jean Taffin; Angeline and Jean were my grandparents and the baby she was expecting was destined to become my father.
The boat is ready to sail but Angeline does not have tickets yet. The solution is simple. Marie would give her the extra money needed to buy the tickets for the Taffin family. Problem solved; they would all come to America. Except as far as Angeline was concerned the answer was not so simple. She had never borrowed money in her life. Anything the family desired had to wait until the money was saved for it. Now isn’t that an old-fashioned idea? Angeline would not take the money from her sister and instead decided she would wait until she had the rest of the money and then follow on another ship.
Marie argued with her saying it was all family and she should not be so stubborn. Families help each other and she would be happy to loan the money to her younger sister. Angeline didn’t even come close to weakening. When you don’t have enough money you simply wait until you do. This had always been her practice and she was not about to change. Marie and her family got on the Titanic; Angeline and her children did not. Marie felt badly because her sister would not be with her. She not only wanted to keep the family intact she also felt they should face this new adventure together. Well we now know what happened. Marie and her children were all lost at sea and Angeline and her children including the baby she was expecting safely arrived at Ellis Island on another ship.
History whether in the very broad picture or in our personal family often takes interesting twist and turns. What if Angeline had enough money? Would her and her family have been lost? Would my father have never been born? Would I not be here now? What if she had not spent the extra money to get from France to England? Would she have then had enough to be able to board the Titanic? These are all questions, which certainly will not be answered on this side of life.
By the time I came along Grandma Taffin, who always treated me very special, was an older lady and it was later in my life before I learned her history. She did make it to America, however life was not to be happy for her and a cruel fate awaited her. Her husband was killed at an early age and then my father in turn was also killed before I was a year old. When that happened the light went out in my grandmother’s life. She lived for another 10 years but she was never the same again. I often think of the tremendous courage these two women had as well as thousands of others like them. They did not see much of a future in Europe and America held out great hope. Imagine traveling with all these children and coming to a country not knowing the language and not really knowing what to expect. Grandma Taffin not only had this courage she had great strength of character and would not back down from her ideals. From what I saw of my uncles and aunts she passed the same traits onto them. They had little or no formal schooling and they learned the English language in everyday living. I know for sure my uncle could not read or write, and yet he made a good living by building houses and selling them and by farming; all without any schooling whatsoever.
I’m still left with a lot of questions and for more than 70 years now I’ve wondered why I was never able to know my father. Perhaps someday all my questions will be answered. But I doubt I will ever know who took his rifle and shotgun; guns which should have been saved for me.