Corinne Hermès and her Family’s “Gift of Life”

French-born singer Corinne Hermès brought the house down with her dramatic ballad, “Si la vie est cadeau” (“If Life Is a Gift”), in the Eurovision Song Contest in Munich, 1983 — clinching a fifth victory for the tiny European nation of Luxembourg. But why Luxembourg, and not her native France? Using a combination of MyHeritage SuperSearch historical records, family tree data, and DNA analysis, our research into Corinne’s family history just might hold the answer: her family history shows a deep connection to the humble country folk of France and Belgium, including a village not far from the country she represented in the Eurovision.

Corinne Hermès was born Corinne Bondeaux on November 16th, 1961, in Lagny-sur-Marne, France. Her career began in 1974 when she won a contest in Roquebrune-sur-Argens at the tender age of 13. After winning the Eurovision with “Si la vie est cadeau,” she went on to release about a dozen singles and four albums, the latest of which is a “Best Of” collection. In September, Corinne will release an album of covers of great French and international standards, whose title will be ‘Intemporelle’.

MyHeritage DNA Results

Corinne Hermès MyHeritage DNA Ethnicity Estimate
Corinne Hermès MyHeritage DNA Ethnicity Estimate

Although we didn’t find any close family members, Corinne has over 340 relatives from 23 different countries worldwide that she can now reach out to directly from the MyHeritage platform.

Corinne’s DNA revealed that she is 100% European in origin, but far from being purely French, she carries DNA from all over Europe. The largest percentage of her ancestry is actually from Ireland, Scotland, and Wales (36.9%), while 28.9% is North and West European—including France and Germany as well as Belgium and, yes, Luxembourg. 17.6% of her DNA is from Southern Europe, with 12.9% from Iberia and 4.7% from Italy; and the remaining 16.6% are from Eastern Europe.

Thankfully, many family members of Corinne’s created online family trees, so it was quite easy to document Corinne’s ancestors going back at least six generations. Original French documents are constantly being added to the “archives numeriques,” and what we found reveals fascinating aspects of the lives of Corinne’s ancestors during the Second, Third and Fourth Republics of France until Corinne’s birth in 1961, three years after the establishment of the Fifth Republic.

Le Tour de France

Most of the ancestors mentioned in Corinne’s family tree lived in rural communities that were small even at the time, with sometimes fewer than 100 inhabitants. The names of the villages sound like a little “Tour de France,” from Noroy-sur-Ourcq or Marizy Saint Mard—around halfway from Paris to the border with modern-day Belgium—to Amigny-Rouy, Betaucourt-Epourdon, Servais, Aisne and Barisis-aux-Bois to the northeast, all the way to Oinville-sous-Auneau to the west of Paris and Pusy-et-Épenoux toward the southeast border with Switzerland. All these villages have fewer than 500 inhabitants even today.

Corinne’s ancestors in these villages engaged in occupations one would expect in rural communities: we found a “manouvrier” and a “manœvre” (farm servants), several “journaliers” (day laborers), and a “bimbelotier” (peddler). Women worked in similar professions, and one ancestor was mentioned as a couturière (dressmaker). Unfortunately, people living out in the country—far from the vibrant metropoles and the newspapers—were seldom mentioned in the archival files kept to this day. We can trace their lives, however, through the exceptions: vital records such as birth, marriage, and death records, immigration papers and military dossiers. It is through these documents that we were able to unearth the stories and fates of some of Corinne’s ancestors.

The Unknown Mother

Below is a rare find for family researchers. This document concerns the marriage of Jean Baptiste Bondeaux, Corinne’s paternal great-grandfather, and his bride, Marie Clémence Brahier, which took place in 1882. The bride’s father is listed as unknown to the authorities; this is not unusual. What is unusual is that the groom’s mother is also unknown. There is an old Roman saying, “mater semper certa est” (“the mother is always certain”), but that seems not to apply to this document.

French authorities seem to have been quite strict, as they noted on the side of this document that Marie’s first name shall henceforth not be written Maria Clémence with an “a,” but rather “Marie Clémence” with an “e.”

Modern family researchers added Jean Baptiste’s presumed mother, Marie Arthémise née Dupont, to Corinne’s family tree, but it is fair to cast doubt upon this presumption. Why was his mother’s identity unknown, or hidden from the authorities? If his mother was indeed Marie Arthémise, why would it make sense to conceal her existence after her early death in 1874? We may never know.

French marriage document from 1882, listing Jean Baptiste Bondeaux’s mother as unknown.
French marriage document from 1882, listing Jean Baptiste Bondeaux’s mother as unknown.

The Belgian Connection

There are two roots in the family tree—one paternal, one maternal—that lead back to Belgium.

One of these families, the Jambus (Corinne’s mother’s ancestors), moved to rural France in the 19th century; the Guismés, from her father’s side, followed in the 20th century. The Jambu family’s naturalization was published in the “Journal Officiel,” which made them official citizens of La Grande Nation.

Four members of the Jambu family underwent the procedure to become French citizens on the same day. They swore their oath of allegiance on July 31st, 1891, in Montreuil-sou-Bois.

Passage from the Journal Officiel documenting the naturalization of four members of the Jambu family on July 31st, 1891.
Passage from the Journal Officiel documenting the naturalization of four members of the Jambu family on July 31st, 1891.

The document mentions that the Jambu’s home in Belgium had been in Vance: a small village in the wild Ardennes, just about 10 kilometers away from Luxembourg and 15 kilometers from the border with France.

The European War Hero

Europe of the 19th and 20th centuries was fraught with wars, and many of the men in Corinne’s family fought in these wars, most of them against the Germans. One ancestor, Corinne’s maternal great-grandfather Xavier Jambu, died in World War I. Born in 1884, he was a reserve soldier who was called up to serve on August 1st, 1914. His military record describes the circumstances of his last day in February 1916:

“Chargé d’une mission spéciale, l’a accomplie avec initiative, courage et sang-froid et s’est maintenu à son poste malgré un violent feu ennemi. Blessé mortellement au cours du combat.”

This translates as: “During a special operation, which he accomplished cold-bloodedly, with initiative and courage, he kept his position despite violent enemy fire. Wounded mortally during the fight.”

The military record of Xavier Jambu, describing the circumstances of his death in battle in February 1916
The military record of Xavier Jambu, describing the circumstances of his death in battle in February 1916

Corinne had the privilege of living in a Europe where, for more than 70 years, the French, the Belgians, the Luxembourgers and the Germans express their rivalry not through devastating wars, but through music.

MyHeritage’s research into Corinne’s family history reveals this Eurovision winner as a true champion of the common folk of Francophone Europe: descended from humble country farmers who loved, nurtured, fought for, and died for their land.