Carnet de Voyage: Connecting with my Breton Ancestry for Healing

Carnet de Voyage: Connecting with my Breton Ancestry for Healing

Travel notes from the real France. Carnet de Voyage is a weekly personal travel story in France sent in by readers. If you’d like to write a story for Carnet de Voyage, head here for details on how to submit.

The town of Morlaix, in Brittany is the birthplace and final resting place for many of my French ancestors – grandfather, great-grandfather, great-grandmother, two great-uncles, and a great-aunt – many of whom died during WWII or shortly thereafter. One of my great-uncles, General Paul Rumen was a highly decorated WWII hero who died in Buchenwald, leaving behind a legacy of courage and resilience.

I’ve entered a two-year battle with cancer and I am drawing upon the strength of my Breton ancestors and their life stories as a source of inspiration in my fight to live. I’m an American who lives outside Orlando, Florida over 4,000 miles from the Brittany coast. I find myself ready for a “journey” that will take me across the Atlantic, into the heart of Brittany to explore the world of my Breton ancestors and discover the healing power of connecting with my roots.   

Robert’s grandparents at their summer house in Carantec

My mother was born in Nantes and raised in the Saint-Mandé suburb of Paris. After World War II she met and married my father, a U.S. Army Colonel and moved to the United States.  

I have fond memories of my French grandparents, great-uncle, and great-aunt. At the age of two, I moved with my mother from the United States to live in Paris with my grandparents, and at the age of five, they enrolled me in first grade at an International School in Paris. I cherish the memories of the summers I spent with them on the Ile de Noirmoutier and listening to childhood stories my mom would tell me about the “good life” my great-grandparents enjoyed before the war at Villa St Pol, their summer home in Carantec, on the Finistère coast.

Robert, aged one, with his mom and grandparents on Noirmoutier island

One day in April 2022 during the most intense period of my chemotherapy and radiation treatments, a chance encounter with a French gentleman led to a stunning discovery: a long-lost cousin who shares my passion for spiritual writing and the power of connecting with our ancestors. My daughter received an email from a French gentleman living in a small town not far from Grenoble, claiming to be my “French cousin.” He had in his possession childhood photos of my mother in his family album. He had contacted my daughter and found her on the internet due to her social media presence in the French wine field. He explained that he was passionate about family genealogy and that his mother’s grandmother was my grandmother’s first cousin and that she had taken care of my mother when she was little while living in Nantes. His investigation uncovered an old “immigration” photo taken of my mother in 1947 when she arrived in New York. He had spent months searching on the internet for her descendants and after considerable research was able to locate us, sending us a reconstruction of our family tree and other documents that he was able to uncover through his research.   

I now communicate regularly with my cousin, exploring the hidden corners of our family tree, sharing photos and stories of our ancestors, and uncovering a shared history that spans over the centuries. His mother is my age, he has two grown children, a son, and a daughter as I do. We are of similar temperament and share the same birthday (April 25). He writes telling me about the long walks he takes not far from his home and the stops he makes along the way to pray for me in a small twelfth-century chapel. We enjoy delving into our inner selves and “connecting” with our ancestors for greater healing. It’s a mystery how our paths and stories have crossed and that connecting with my Breton ancestors would be my personal healing path.  

The 12th century chapel in St. Didier d’Aosta in the department of Isère

Read our other Carnet de Voyage entries here

Robert Russell Hahn is a memoirist, urban development expert and community well-being advocate with over 40 years of experience. His memoirs delve into his ancestral roots on his mother’s side which is anchored in Brittany. His great uncle, General Paul Rumen was a World War II French hero who died in BuchenwaldHe has degrees in Psychology (University of California, Berkeley), and a professional master’s degree in urban planning and behavioral design (The Ohio State University). He writes, speaks, and teaches on the topics of individual and community well-being and has taught graduate school in the field of civic design. He is currently working on a historical memoir about his great uncle entitled, “Conversations with General Paul Rumen.”  


Email: [email protected] 

Phone: 407.719.5543 

Lead photo credit : The historic town of Morlaix, in Brittany © Philippe PATERNOLLI / shutterstock

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  • Lilia Dignan
    2023-07-05 04:57:53
    Lilia Dignan
    Thank you Mr. Hahn! I really enjoyed your path of healing and pray for you. I particularly liked the photo on the Ile de Noirmoutier because my son who was 10 at the time attended a Classe Verte there when he was attending Ecole Saint Pierre du Chaillot in Paris. Merci encore!


  •  Lisa Meuche
    2023-06-29 01:46:55
    Lisa Meuche
    Great stories!! I truly enjoyed reading them. Thank you, Inevett Hahn, for posting.