Madame Guérin was, in reality, Madamoiselle Anna Alix Boulle. She was born on the 05 February 1878, in Vallon, Ardèche. Her parents were Vallon farm-owner Auguste Boulle and his wife Anna Granier. Anna was their second child, their first daughter. In total, Anna had three brothers and three sisters but the youngest sister only lived three days. Upon death, father Auguste was listed as “cultivateur” – as his father had been before him. (http://releves.free.fr: Relevés Ardéchois: S. Jumas)
The Ardèche remains predominately rural today – it is one of the most sparsely populated and most forested departments of France, although tourism now plays a large part in the area’s economy today. Incidentally, in 1948, the town ‘Vallon’ changed its name to ‘Vallon-Pont-d’Arc’.
Anna was actually born into an Ardèche Protestant family, and not a Roman Catholic one. It would appear that the Ardèche area is historically known for its Protestant connections. During the French ‘Wars of Religion’, it is reported that the Ardèche was considered a strategically important location between the Catholic Languedoc and Protestant Geneva & Lyon regions. The Ardèche region was supported by the powerful Protestant Huguenots and it became a Protestant stronghold. There were many attacks and battles between 1562 and 1595. In 1598, the Edict of Nantes gave rights to Protestants.
However, persecutions did not cease because of it and, as a result, many of the Protestants emigrated because of their harsh treatment in the area. The peace was restored in 1715 but not before many of the Ardèche Protestants had converted to Catholicism and thousands more had fled to Switzerland. It was not until 1789 (with the creation of the ‘Declaration of Human Rights’ during the French Revolution) that Ardèche Protestants were finally allowed to practice their faith without persecution. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ardèche)
This was the environment that Anna and her six siblings were born into.
According to family-lore, Anna was so brave and dynamic that she could dive off the Pont du Gard Roman Aqueduct into the River Gardon. Apparently, she dived on one occasion for a film – in the place of a famous French actress. It would be good if this family story could be verified one day.
On Saturday 06 November 1897, at the age of 19, Anna married one 26 year old Cuban-born Paul Rabanit in Vallon. According to their marriage record, neither Anna nor Paul had jobs (“Profession: sans”). Paul was from Les Vans, less than 20 miles away from Vallon.
Paul Rabanit was born at Santiago de Cuba, Cuba on 23 September 1871. In the marriage entry transcription, Paul’s parents are noted as “Joseph Emile Polydore Rabanit” and “Laurestine Savine”. Laurestine had died at Santiago de Cuba on 16 June 1887 – it is believed that she was of Cuban birth. Paul, his father and a brother were all classed as French when they were found arriving in New York on 28 May 1879, from “Cienfuegos, St. Jago” Cuba on ‘SS Carondelet’.
Soon after the marriage, the newly-weds travelled to the French colony African island of Madagascar. The journey to Madagascar would have been by sea via the Suez Canal, on a Messageries Maritimes ship. The newly-weds would have set sail from the port of Marseilles – probably, then, an over-land journey of 105 miles from Vallon. At that time, ports-of-call en route would have been: Port Said – Djibouti – Diego Suarez (Antsiranana) -Tamatave (Toamasina). The ship would have then gone on to St Denis de la Reunion (an island in the Indian Ocean, to the east of Madagascar. Later in life, Anna would describe the three week voyage during one of her lectures about Madagascar.