If I were working on genealogy, I would speak of ancestors. If I were talking about olden days here at Choranche, I would use the French equivalent of an expression such as oldtimers or earlier generations. In general, I adore the word pioneers (which reminds me of 19th-century outback settlers in Australia), and I use it whenever possible to designate hard-working folk who have gone before us and paved the way for us. The generic term for all these people is, of course, predecessors.
A couple of years ago, my neighbor Madeleine lent me a small book about the history of Pont-en-Royans: the village a kilometer down the road from where I live. This book, published in 1961 (a year before I arrived in France), was written by a local schoolteacher named Sylviane Chaussamy. I was so interested in the contents of this history book, and impressed by the author’s enthusiasm about her native village, that I immediately scanned the 150 pages, printed out a copy for myself, and stored the files on a disk. And today, I’m proposing these files (in a PDF format) to interested people who visit my website about Pont-en-Royans.
While preparing these bulky files for downloading, I’ve been tremendously conscious of the fact that Sylviane, when she brought out her book (in her late fifties), was in fact assuming the role of a predecessor with respect to an unknown young man (me) on the other side of the planet, who could hardly read a word of French and who knew absolutely nothing about the magnificent Vercors region in south-east France and the village of Pont-en-Royans. Maybe, instead of designating Sylviane as a predecessor, it would be simpler to say that, in 1961 (when I was starting to think about the idea of maybe working one day in Paris with my current employer in Australia, IBM), I was about to fall into my role as a future successor—an inheritor as well as an admirer—of the devotion and research efforts of a French woman named Sylviane Chaussamy.
I have the impression that Sylviane’s book on Pont-en-Royans was, to a certain extent, a way of celebrating the life of her mother, Marie Ollivier-Pallud, who had been the headmistress in the same school at Pont-en-Royans where Sylviane started her career. In other words, Marie Ollivier-Pallud was not only Sylviane’s mother, but her vocational predecessor. On 29 June 1944, Marie Ollivier-Pallud was killed, along with eight others, in an absurd Nazi bombing raid on the village.
Today, in putting Sylviane’s book on the Internet, I have a profound feeling that I’m simply adding a few minor enhancements to my predecessor’s research and writing. In any case, there is a line of logical and necessary continuity between her work and mine, and I’m sure she would approve of what I’m doing.