We continue with our review of the book and wonderful talk given by Marie-Odile Mergnac on the subject of orphans and wards of the nation. Orphans and their welfare have been as much of a concern in France as everywhere else in the world. In France, a child under the age of majority and without a father or either parent is considered an orphan. Children abandoned at birth are orphans with no identifiable family at all and become the responsibility of the state, while children who became orphans because one or both parents died usually have a family who are legally responsible for the child.
Madame Mergnac traces the history of orphanages, from their beginnings as religious institutions to being run by the state, to their being shut down by policy changes. This and the subject of orphans with no family touch on the subjects of other of our posts:
- How children are abandoned
- Wet-nurses and foundlings
- Rachel Fuch's book about foundlings in France
- A recent FGB Free Clinic Case Study
Children who lost one or both of their parents but still had family were under the care of a family council, conseil de famille, which was comprised of an equal number of members from the paternal and maternal sides of the family. The members of the family council voted for one person to be the guardian of the child or children. That person carried out the council's decisions as to the children's education and possible apprenticeships, as well as maintaining strict accounts about the cost of their upkeep and expenses against their inheritance.
The family council also made decisions concerning the rentals or sales of property that had been inherited by the orphans. If an orphan under the age of majority wished to marry, permission had to be granted by the family council. When all children became adults, the guardian was required to turn in the final accounts and the adult children to sign them, if they approved them. Often, the decisions and accounts of family councils were submitted as affidavits to the justice of the peace. Many such records may still be found, such as these we discovered in the Municipal Archives of Marseille.
Madame Mergnac's book goes on to discuss children taken into care and made wards of the state, children in correctional institutions and adults made wards of the state. In each section of this short but most useful book, she explains how and where to research such people who may appear in your family tree.
Quite highly recommended.
©2016 Anne Morddel