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Exploring Clerval in 2022

Ever since website cohost Jeff Vitter experienced The Aha! Moment That Led to This Website in December 2000, he had wanted to visit Clerval, France and learn more about where his paternal grandfather's ancestors lived in the late 1700s and early-mid 1800s. Clerval is in the Doubs department of the region Bourgogne-Franche-Comté in the eastern part of France, close to Switzerland and Germany. The river Doubs flows through Clerval.

Since Jeff had not yet learned about Clerval when he, Sharon, and family spent a memorable 13-month sabbatical in 1998–1999 in Denmark and at INRIA in Sophia-Antipolis, France, he missed a golden opportunity to visit Clerval back then. They traveled a lot that year throughout France and the rest of Europe, including areas very close to Clerval. In the following years, Jeff had to content himself with learning about Clerval on the web, which was interesting, but not the same as visiting in person.

Jeff and Sharon finally got a chance to visit Clerval in person on 9 October 2022 on a trip to explore the region with Jeff's sister Donna, Sharon's brother Don, and Don's wife Felicia. Jeff's 4th cousin 1x removed and fellow genealogist Jean-Pierre Vitter was planning to be part of the visit as well, and it would have been the first time he and Jeff ever met in person, but unfortunately Jean-Pierre came down with an illness just beforehand and had to cancel. They're looking forward to meeting sometime in the near future.

Clerval Clerval Village (now part of the merged town Pays-de-Clerval) in the Doubs region of eastern France, near Switzerland and Germany (click photo to zoom on Google Maps).
Clerval Sharon, Jeff, and Donna Vitter, along with Clerval historians Claude ______ and Gérard Blanc, pose in front of the Clerval monument to the dead of World Wars I and II on Place du Gravier. Donna is pointing to the name of Clerval native Léon Gaston Auguste Vitter, Jeff's and her 2nd cousin 3x removed, who died in 1921 from injuries sustained during World War I. (Click photo for information about the inauguration of the renovated monument.)

Although Jean-Pierre couldn't make it, the Clerval visit was very special because Jean-Pierre had reached out beforehand to local historian Gérard Blanc, who did a superb job along with his colleague Claude ______ in putting together a wonderful (and very detailed!) presentation of the Vitters in Clerval. It highlighted several generations of Vitter painters, plasterers, and artisans in Clerval, including Jean-Pierre's uncle Louis Gaston Vitter (1913–1992) and father Roger Camille François Vitter (1918–1955) (who are featured in the history Three Vitters of the French Résistance). Gérard and Claude led the group on a guided tour of where the Vitter family members lived and worked in Clerval. They even provided refreshments and a powerpoint presentation with more family information. In the video below, Gérard gives some introductory remarks before the start of the walking tour:

Video of Gérard Blanc and his colleague Claude giving an overview of a tour on Vitter Family history in Clerval (click to play the video, and double-click to enlarge).

There was a long line of Vitter artisans who decorated many of the building facades in Clerval. The decorations are still (though barely) visible today on several buildings in town. Photo 1 below shows the home and studio of painter and plasterer Louis Constant Vitter (1861–1941) as it was on a 1902 postcard during the Clerval's heyday. Louis Constant Vitter was the grandson of Hérard Vitter (1772–1843) and the nephew of Hérard's son and 1843 Louisiana immigrant Pierre Vitter. Louis Constant Vitter was the great grandfather of Jean-Pierre Vitter and the 1st cousin 4x removed of Jeff Vitter. World War I casualty Léon Vitter, whose name was on the monument pictured earlier, was Louis Constant Vitter's son.

Pierre Vitter's father Hérard Vitter (1772–1848), who was Jeff's 4th great grandfather, was also quite a craftsman. Photo 2 shows a decorative 3D-like relief and a working second-story sundial that he built on rue Haut in 1838. You can read more about him in the history How the Vitters Got to Clerval.

Photo 3 below shows the same building as in Photo 1, but 120 years later as it appeared during the October 2022 visit. Notice that the faux limestone blocks that decorated the building in the 1902 photo are now gone from the facade, which is currently plain stucco.

Louis Vitter Home and Studio Photo 1: Louis Vitter home and studio near the main square of Clerval in 1902. Louis and his brothers were very popular painters and plasterers in town, and they did very intricate designs and improvements for the facades of the buildings in Clerval. (Click photo to zoom on Google Maps.) Clerval Sundial executed by Hérard Vitter Photo 2: A sundial with a 3D-like relief crafted by Pierre Vitter's father Hérard Vitter in 1838, as it appeared on 9 October 2022; the great majority of the decorative work on the side of the house was worn off during the preceding 184 years, revealing the underlying stone. This sundial was routinely used to calibrate the mechanical clocks in town, such as in the main church. Pierre emigrated with his family to New Orleans in 1843. (Click photo to zoom on Google Maps.)
Bietingen, Germany Photo 3: The same building of Photo 1 but 120 years later during Jeff, Sharon, & Donna Vitter's 9 October 2022 tour of Clerval; the decorative faux stonework shown in Photo 1 no longer remains. (Click photo to zoom on Google Maps.)

The town of Clerval today is no longer a commercial center, and many businesses have left. In fact, the town has been merged administratively with neighboring communities into a new town that is named Pays-de-Clerval. The autoroute that goes nearby has taken much of the traffic that once went through town; its closest exit is several miles away. But the beauty of the town and its people remains. Jeff and Sharon look forward to visiting again.

Postscript

P.S.  One big open question that remained from Jeff's Aha! moment was how the Vitter family got to Clerval, France in the first place. Jeff Vitter knew from genealogist Roger Chippaux in August 2000 that there was a Hérard Vitter (or Witter or Widder) who emigrated to Clerval as a war veteran in 1799. Hérard was the son of Mathieu Widder and Ursule Jaektin and the crafter of the sundial in Photo 2 above. And in May 2001, genealogist Joelle Minary uncovered that Pierre Vitter, who emigrated to New Orleans in 1843, was the son of Hérard. But where Hérard and his parents came from was still unknown. There were cryptic references (and spellings!) in Hérard's birth, marriage, naturalization, and death records found by Roger Chippaux and Joelle Minary, which suggested that Hérard originally came from "Biethiruge, canton de Chafferesse Suenchingen" and "Süenchingen, canton de Schaffhouse (Bade)" and "Autriche" (Austria). The mystery of Hérard's origins was finally resolved in 2019 by Jeff's French 4th cousin 1x removed and fellow genealogist Jean-Pierre Vitter. You can read about the "rest of the story" in the history entitled How the Vitters Got to Clerval.

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