To research your family’s history is to potentially open doors you never knew were there. You have to be prepared no matter what you might find. It could mean finding out you were adopted, or that one of your parents was. You could find that you were the first person in your family to attend college. For one man, the pieces connected to reveal his affiliation to one of Saratoga Springs’ most recognizable families.
Hollis Palmer is a local historian and author of several nonfiction books on a wide range of topics. One of those books is a history of the Batcheller family, whose roots in Saratoga Springs date back to the 1870s. Palmer received an email from a man named Nicholas Le Saux, who was interested in learning more about a long-lost relative who’s mentioned in Palmer’s book.
“I didn’t even know how he found me,” said Palmer. “Turns out he just went and looked up her name and because she appears in one of my books, he came and found me through my webpage.”
Le Saux is a consultant who lives in Versailles, which is a suburb of Paris, France. His research into his ancestry led him to contact both Palmer and representatives from the Batcheller Mansion. Le Saux and his family happened to be coming to the United States, and they decided to take a detour to Saratoga Springs in hopes of finding the truth behind his connection to the Batcheller family.
The particular relative Nicholas was researching happened to be his great aunt Amelia Le Saux, housemate and supposed lover to the heiress of the Batcheller estate, Kate. In 1910, Amelia moved into the Batcheller Mansion and lived there until Kate sold the building in 1916. She and Amelia would move to nearby Broadway and live together until Kate’s death in 1943. Amelia would subsequently inherit the remainder of Kate’s fortune after her passing.
“The question has always been about how those two met,” said Palmer. “How did this poor, young woman who was a nurse connect to this wealthy family?” he continued.
Historians like Palmer have pondered that question for decades. The most likely theory suggests that the two met while the Batcheller family patriarch George was having a surgical procedure in Paris, and that Amelia was a nurse at this particular hospital. With the help of Nicholas Le Saux, finding a definitive answer is as likely as it may have ever been.
What Palmer wanted to know was whether the answer to his question lay somewhere in the piles of letters Amelia had saved over the years. The only problem, they were in French. A chance encounter with a French-Canadian couple helped Palmer translate a few of the letters to find correspondence between Amelia and her brother who was injured fighting in the war. Amelia’s brother, Joseph, is better known to Nicholas as his grandfather. After this link was established, Palmer was hopeful he could help fill in the blanks concerning the rest of the Le Saux family history.
Upon Le Saux’s arrival, he was greeted at the mansion by Palmer, who would be coordinating the schedule for the Le Saux family’s visit. Accompanying Nicholas was wife, Stéphanie and his two teenage daughters, Camille and Charlotte. Nicholas also has a son, Louis, who is currently studying at Michigan State University as part of an exchange program.
After a brief tour of the mansion, it was off to the Saratoga Historical Museum in Canfield Casino. The museum was closed to the public that day, but they opened their doors to the Le Saux family for a chance to uncover some of the city’s hidden past. Once inside, Nicholas and his family poured over the hundreds of documents, in awe of how much of their family’s history was suddenly available.
“What surprised me is that you have so much more here than my entire family,” said Le Saux.
The Le Saux family’s knowledge of Amelia was limited, at best. Following the loss of their family’s historical records in the World War II bombings of France little was known aside from her wealth. When Amelia visited Paris in the 1950s, she stayed at the Hotel Ritz. The reservation at one of Paris’ most luxurious hotels led the family to wonder where her money came from. After all, when she met Kate, she was a poor nurse. Nicholas Le Saux would learn that Amelia inherited Kate Batcheller’s vast fortune, and what that inheritance meant for his family. Amelia would send money back to France, which was used to send Nicholas’ grandfather to one of France’s most prestigious universities, Ecole Polytechnique.
“From what I gathered from the various letters at the museum, Amelia helped his parents with his boarding school fees,” explains Nicholas. “So I am indebted to her.”
Though there was still much to be sorted through, Nicholas remained undaunted.
“I could spend all day doing this,” he said with a smile.
Since only visiting for the afternoon, he simply couldn’t. Palmer had hoped to take him to Greenridge Cemetery where the Batcheller family’s Egyptian-style pink marble mausoleum can be found. Coincidently, the grave of Amelia Le Saux was only recently discovered by Palmer to be one plot away from where the Batcheller family’s mausoleum stands.
“There’s no doubt in my mind she’s there to be as close to Kate as possible,” said Palmer.
For now, Nicholas Le Saux returns to France, equipped with knowledge he wouldn’t have found anywhere else in the world. He plans to return to Saratoga Springs this summer, to continue his research and perhaps find more information about his family’s ancestry. His story reminds us that while you may think you know where you came from, you never know where you could end up once you start looking.