What Were Your Ancestors Worth? Converting Old Money Into New

Monnaies

We cannot understand why, but countless times people have written us to ask that we help them to prove that their French ancestors were wealthy. No one seems to want their family's journey to embody the rags to riches story; all seem to prefer that their family show how the mighty have fallen. 

We have received messages from our correspondents in which they insist that their ancestors chose to abandon wealth, land and status to travel steerage and work in a new land as a butcher or a seamstress. We have tried to explain that small sums, such as thirty livres, at the time of the French Revolution were no fortune and we have been roundly told off for our efforts to adhere to the truth.

No more.

Henceforward, we shall refer all questions concerning the value of old money in modern terms to the excellent new website Convertisseur de Monnaie d'Ancien Régime, the creation of one Dr. Thomas Fressin at the Université Côte d'Azur. An admirable achievement for Dr. Fressin, it is a great toy for the family historian, straightforward and easy to use. Now, you must haul out all of those old French wills and marriage contracts and start converting. 

End of many a dispute, this, and not a moment too soon.

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


At Long Last - Doubs!

Not 1st Place

The race among Departmental Archives to digitise and put online their parish and civil registrations finished long ago. The winners, Mayenne and Seine-Maritime, have had their laurels so long that the crowns have grown dusty and been relegated to a remote cabinet with indifference. Since then,  most Departmental Archives have moved on and begun filming and adding to their online collections such delights as probate and notarial indices. Spectators' spyglasses have all been pointed forward to see what new delights may appear. Pregnancy declarations? Parisian notarial records? When, lo and behold, a huffing and puffing is heard on the track and we all, in astonishment, swivel our heads and adjust our spyglasses to see. It is long-forgotten little Doubs! Performing something of a "Little Engine That Could" miracle, Doubs has finally put online its parish and civil registrations.

Well, perhaps not all but certainly a few of its parish and civil registrations may now be seen on the Internet. They still have not made their website any more user-friendly or logical. Nevertheless, a beginning has been made and praise as well as encouragement are due. Initially, the website offers three possible avenues of searching: simple, guided and expert. "Simple" searches the finding aids. "Guided", recherche guidée, is hardly that, unless eight images may be considered a guide, but that is where to begin.

If you click on the rather obscure picture of a hand grasping at a possible register book, next to Recherche dans l'état civil numérisé, you will be taken to a truly minimalist search page. There, you may enter the name of a commune (no drop-down menu of choices and no spelling aid, you had just better know or go away, or check this list) and you have the option to enter a range of years. The result will be all of the items filmed to date, looking something like this:

Sample Doubs search

Click on the image to be taken to the digitised microfilm.

Alternatively, to see all the communes, or towns, listed and what has been filmed for each, click on the words in red, Etat des fonds, next to the picture of the finding aid on the "guided" search page, below the title Recherche par plan de classement

Doubs état des fonds

This takes you to the classification of the series of Departmental Archives. Click the letter E - Communes. Seignuries. Familles. Etat civil. Notaires. Then click Etat civil. Then click Registres paroissiaux et d'état civil. Then, half-way down the page, under the bold Instruments de Recherche, click on the second, red Voir l'inventaire next to Répertoire des documents numérisés, en cours. Don't give up. Now, you are presented with an alphabet, being a list of communes or towns beginning with that letter. This is the only sure way to know if a negative result means that a town's registers have not yet been filmed or no longer exist.

As for the "expert" search, we must not qualify to benefit from it. Every time we have tried its large box, we get the same results as for the small box of the "simple" research. If the differentiation between "simple" and "expert" is thought to be a matter of the size of the query, much of the reasoning behind the Doubs delay is revealed.

Have at the Recherche guidée and good luck!

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Book Review - Atlas historique des diocèses en France

Atlas

The one-woman powerhouse that is the publishing company Archives & Culture  has brought out another genealogy guide, or guide de généalogie. To anyone who has researched his or her French roots to earlier than the French Revolution, the thought of a book that explains at last the intricacies and geography of French Catholic dioceses would bring joy and immense relief. This book, by Jean-Paul Duquesnoy, the Atlas historique des diocèses en France, is, unfortunately, something of a disappointment.

The problem is that it is a bit deceptive. Civil registrations in France began in 1792. They became the legal documentation and proof of births, marriages and deaths. While parish registrations may have continued, they became, in the eyes of the law, informal and without legal validity. What is more, no religious ritual of baptism, marriage or funeral could take place until after the civil registration had been made. So, for the genealogist, civil registrations are much more important than parish registrations after 1792. 

Prior to 1792, however, the parish registrations of life events were the legal documentation and are of great importance in genealogical research. The difficulty is that identifying the correct geographical location of parishes mentioned by emigrants far from France is often close to impossible. There is much repetition of parish names throughout France and one really needs to know the correct diocese to continue research. At times, the diocese may be mentioned but identifying its location and boundaries, or even its correct name may also be problematic. (We tell a tale of the struggle here.) Over the centuries since the Christianisation of France, the dioceses have changed names, changed boundaries, been reorganised and in some cases merged. Thus, a book that could resolve the issues concerning the geography of dioceses and parishes prior to 1792 would be extremely helpful.

The Atlas is touted as just the ticket but it is not. It describes the modern, post-Revolutionary dioceses and bishoprics. It gives a list of bishoprics as they were at the time of the Revolution's beginning, in 1789. It gives the briefest of written histories of the ecclesiastical provinces and their dioceses as they were in 1789, with a tiny map of the dioceses. By page six of a ninety-six page book, this brief history is finished and the rest of the book is dedicated to an alphabetical list of the dioceses, with a brief historical account of each, mostly but not entirely from 1802 onwards. In truth, for the genealogist, this is not much help. (Additionally, it contains some serious flaws, as detailed by a comment on Amazon.fr by "Loïc Pilven le Sévellec", such as omitting the diocese of Strasbourg, among others.)

The longed for series of maps showing the historical developments and changes of the dioceses is not to be found in this little book. That is because it would appear not to exist, at least that was the case in 1965, when the excellent article on the subject, "La carte des diocèses de France avant la Révolution" ("The map of the French dioceses before the Revolution") by Jacques Dubois, appeared in Annales. Dubois gives a lengthy description of the problem of identifying the boundaries of the dioceses as they changed over the centuries. He also gives what are probably the best, simple maps of French dioceses at different periods:

  • Dioceses created from the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries
  • Dioceses created in the fourteenth century
  • Dioceses created from the ninth through the twelfth centuries
  • Dioceses created under Clovis
  • Ecclesiastic provinces in the eighteenth century (showing the dates when some were created)
  • Ecclesiastic provinces during the Merovingian period

Neither Dubois nor Duquesnoy attempts to list for each diocese the parishes it contained. (For locating a parish, we describe some of the tricks we have tried here.) We cannot really recommend this Atlas because it is not what its title says, unless you are building a library and are happy to put this in a corner of it. More useful would be to download Dubois's article and, where appropriate to your research, examine the sources given in his excellent footnotes.

Would someone please write the book, complete with many maps, that we need?

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


The French Genealogy Blog Celebrates Nine Years !

9th blog birthday

 

Can it be that we really have been writing this blog about French genealogy for nine years? It feels but a blink. Its success is all due to you, our Dear Readers, for your comments, e-mails, support and encouragement have been extraordinary and we blush that we cannot thank you enough. You have remained with us during our rants and our mysterious, occasional disappearances. You have been kind in your praise of our work here on the blog and have suggested most interesting topics. Thank you so much.

This year, we are excited to be offering via the Virtual Institute of Genealogical Research two courses on French genealogy. In early October, we will be presenting “First Steps in French Genealogy: Parish and Civil Registrations of Births, Marriages and Deaths”. The following February, we will give “French Notarial Records: A Genealogical Goldmine”. We hope that many of you may be interested to sign up for one or both of the courses.

A landmark birthday, indeed. Raise a glass of Veuve with us in celebrating our neuvième anniversaire as we thank you, Dear Readers for the grand party it has been.

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Saint-Domingue Research - An Update

Tropical flowers

We have written about Saint-Domingue research before:

Much more has been made available, so we add an update today.

By far, the greatest amount that is newly available is on the ANOM website. Their digitisation programme has been going along at a snapping pace and new finds are constantly appearing. The parish and civil registers online have increased and can be searched by town, or commune, and include judgements. 

As more and more of you complete your basic fact gathering via such registrations, you have indicated that you would like to look deeper, to know more about your ancestors' lives and to find the elusive reason why they wandered the world. One of the best ways to dig deep in French archives is with notarial records. Wills, probate inventories, marriage contracts, even powers of attorney can reveal much about peoples' lives long ago. An excellent article by Robert Richard on the notarial records of Saint-Domingue may be read here. It gives a very clear explanation of notarial records in general and of those concerning Saint-Domingue held at ANOM in particular.

Having read the article, you may then go to the site of ANOM and to the page for searching the finding aids. Type in "Notaire" and select a location from the menu and all that Monsieur Richard describes is revealed. Not all of the actual notarial records have been digitised, by any means, but the finding aids are so detailed, that you would have enough information to request a copy of the file from the ANOM copying service.

Many people from Saint-Domingue conducted their business in Paris and the Archives nationales have indicated which études (notarial offices) they may have used, as in this example of Etude number thirty-one. These notes concerning études favoured by certain families or groups are incredibly helpful when one has no idea of which of the hundreds of notaires may have been used. Alternatively, search the Paris notarial records for Saint-Domingue here.

A superb bibliography and list of archival resources on Saint-Domingue has been made available online by the researcher, Dr. Oliver Gliech. On the same page, he has placed a list of the names of people who owned plantations in Saint-Domingue in 1789. Just below this is a list of heirs to plantation owners from 1826 to 1833 and of those who settled there but did not own land. 

Take the plunge!

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Saint-Cyr - Was Your Ancestress a Poor but Educated Aristocrat?

St Cyr Silhouette

In 1684, Louis XIV established at Saint-Cyr a school for the daughters of certain impoverished nobility called the Maison Royale de Saint Louis. It educated girls and young women until the Revolution caused its closure in 1793. Lists of the names of the students have been published in book form, but the website of the Departmental Archives of Yvelines, where Saint-Cyr is located, have placed the names on its website. They are given alphabetically in three groups:

  • Certain boarders (pensionnaires)
  • Likely boarders
  • Boarders whose home cannot be determined

It is also possible to view the list by department, colony or country of origin. Thus, one can find the three girls from Quebec, the four from Martinique, the two from Guadeloupe, along with the dozens listed under each department. In all, there were over three thousand boarders at Saint-Cyr during its hundred years or so of existence.

The information to be gained is little but genealogically precious:

  • The full and correct spelling and order of those tricky noble names
  • The place of birth
  • The date of baptism
  • The date of the documents used 
  • The date she left the school

In 1806, Napoleon handed the buildings over to the military and the place became the elitist Ecole spéciale militaire de Saint-Cyr. It may be a very sad irony that the military school was exclusively for males until 1983, when women were first admitted, only to have their lives made hell. The true founder, Madame de Maintenon (the king's second wife), would surely have been outraged.

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


French Inheritance Law in the News

Testament

Just in case our Dear Readers never, ever, for a second read any French news and do not know that the country's most beloved pop star and Elvis imitator died last year, he did. Johnny Hallyday was in his seventies and worth something over one hundred million euros. The press coverage about the dispute over his will and estate is worth following the better to understand (in an easy to read and entertaining way) how French inheritance law works and why your French ancestors followed certain legal procedures.

In particular, many of you have reported a letter to your ancestor from a French notaire concerning an inheritance. We have successfully researched notarial records and found letters from heirs who had emigrated to North America, thus determining the relationship between family members on either side of the Atlantic.

French wills and the sales of inherited property often have family genealogies written into them, with documentary proof on file. Why this is so is primarily because French law requires that all of the deceased's children and, perhaps, other heirs receive equal shares of the estate. No child can be disinherited. No child may receive a disproportionate share. This often baffles the non-French, many of whom come from cultures in which every person with money may do as he or she wishes, even after death (and they use the threat of disinheritance as a long-term tool of abuse and manipulation in life). Conversely, the French are just as ignorant of American or British inheritance law and are so baffled by the idea of trusts that these are defined in French news articles about the case.

 

Johnny Hallyday

Johnny Hallyday had, as is wont with such types, many relationships and liaisons producing a few children, two of whom he seemed no longer to appreciate. At the time of his death, he had homes in France and California, as well as elsewhere. In his will, he said he was a resident of California, lived there, and sent his two younger children to school there. In this Californian will, he left his entire estate to his wife and two younger children, with his wife as executor; the two elder children were left nothing. The management of the estate was put into a trust. It is a perfectly legal will in California but would be completely illegal in France. Not surprisingly, the elder children are contesting it in court. 

Because the estate is so large, the case is in the news quite a lot and will be so until there shall be a final ruling. We strongly urge you to read the articles about it in English and, if you can, in French as well, for it is an excellent and topical education on the subject.

 

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Was Your Ancestor Expelled From France?

Pont Louis Philippe

Was you ancestor a Pole or a Spaniard or a Russian who came to France in the late nineteenth century and was then expelled? Or, are you aware only of the fact that he or she passed through France during that period but you do not know when? In fact, you know little? The archives of documents concerning expulsions of foreigners are scattered throughout France's many facilities. There are probably such files in every Departmental Archive. None of these files is online.  If you did not know where your ancestor stayed while in France, the research prospect can be daunting.

Historians are wanting to research the same documents in order the better to understand policies of exile, asylum and expulsion of the past and, now, their work can benefit your genealogical research. The University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne is running a project called AsileeuropeXIX (e.g. European Asylum in the Nineteenth Century) and the researchers have made their database available to the public and able to be searched on many different criteria. It is a work in progress, with data from the: 

  • National Archives of France, out at Pierrefitte-sur-Seine
  • Departmental Archives of Bas-Rhin
  • Departmental Archives of Somme
  • Departmental Archives of Nord
  • Departmental Archives of Rhône
  • Departmental Archives of Calvados

One expects that data from other archives will be added. It is a very nice website, with more than just the database. There are interviews with academics on the subject of asylum and exile, there is a budding lexicon of the somewhat rarified vocabulary used to discuss political exiles, asylum seekers, expelled migrants and other such. Very interestingly, there are a few maps that show the routes followed by some exiles, beginning with that of a Prussian student who, after much journeying through France, ended up in the United States.

Naturally, the section of primary interest to you, Dear Readers, will be the database search page, on which you can search on:

  • Surname
  • Sex
  • Whether or not the arrival in France were for political reasons
  • Country of birth
  • Profession
  • Whether or not the expulsion were for political reasons
  • The year or range of years of the expulsion
  • The reason (motif) for the expulsion
  • The country to which the person was sent
  • The authority that ordered the expulsion
  • The source of the data

This is pretty comprehensive. What we particularly like is that it is possible to search on any of the criteria without having to give a surname (Filae and Geneanet, take note!) This means that spelling issues can be avoided. It also means that the data can be searched in more interesting ways, such as seeking all the women who were artists from Russia, or all the students from Prussia, or all the thieves expelled from Bas-Rhin, or simply all the glassmakers. Think of all of those vague family stories that could be tested here.

There are minor flaws:

  • The itineraries of migrant routes could have more identification and dates at each point
  • The countries lists need to be cleaned and organised. Currently, there are both Empire de Russie and empire russe, Hesse Cassel and Hesse-Cassel, Grande Bretagne and Royaume-Uni. This means that you must read the drop-down lists of possibilities and search on each one that you find suitable.

 This is a wonderful resource. We have reported on other such academic databases that have withered and died at the end of the project, finally falling off the edge of the Net altogether. This project ends in 2020 and we do so hope that the database will continue to be maintained afterward. (Or, again we ask Filae and Geneanet to take note, it could be purchased and added to a commercial genealogy company's collection?)

We hope that this may help you to confirm that family story about your political exile ancestor.

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Book Review - Le Guide de la Généalogie en Belgique

Cappart-Guide

We have had the pleasure of the acquaintance of the highly qualified genealogist, Marie Cappart, for a few years now and enjoy meeting with her when our paths cross at genealogy fairs, congregations and other extravaganzas. She embodies a happy combination of ebullience and expertise; she is also the author of the book we review here on Belgian genealogy, Le Guide de la Généalogie en Belgique.

This is a guide that is both thorough and succinct, both complete and clear. Unlike other guides to genealogy in French, it is not padded with an excessive number of attractive but useless photographs of dolls and documents; this guide is packed with useful information and advice.

Ms. Cappart covers the basics that one would expect to find. She explains the archives facilities and how to do genealogical research in their holdings, whether that search be on site or online. The specifics of the structure and wording of Belgian parish and civil registrations are described. The chapter entitled "Les archives coloniales : un sujet délicat" is a wonder of sensitive yet straightforward discussion of the archives of the Congo an d its years under Belgian rule, a period that is probably that darkest stain on Belgium's history.

The author shows greater patience than we have with the interminable pestering by some family historians to prove a connection with royalty. You think you have connections to Belgian  nobility or are descended from Charlemagne? Ms. Cappart gives a pithy chapter to the research of each. From military records to corporate archives, all seem to have been covered in this guide. There is even a chapter explaining who the Mormons are and why they are so important to genealogy, the necessity of which we find utterly disarming.

Following the bibliography, which includes websites, the Appendices are no afterthought, but contain more useful information in list form rather than in prose. They cover:

  • A sample of a letter you may need for archives access
  • Lists of archives and research facilities, with their addresses and websites, in Belgium, France and The Netherlands, plus Great Britain and the United States
  • A trilingual list of the most common forenames
  • A lexicon to the most common terms to be found in parish and civil registrations
  • A bilingual list, French and Dutch, of the most common of those terms
  • A very useful guide showing what data may be found in each type of document or registration

 You need no other book, guide or resource than this to begin your research in Belgian genealogy.

Brava, Marie!

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Bordeaux Municipal Archives - Archives Bordeaux Métropole

Bordeaux Municipal Archives

We have been junketting again, this time to Bordeaux and that city's excellent archival and library facilities. We revisited the Departmental Archives of the Gironde. We then carried on our research in the municipal archives of Bordeaux, called the Archives Bordeaux Métropole, for their collections cover the entire metropolitan area of Bordeaux.

In truth, we recommend that researchers use the website of these archives, for getting there is rather unpleasant. The tram stop, Jardin Botanique, is quite a trek away, down dirty roads with broken paving stones, past gaping car parks and grim bungalows of a bygone era. Around a wide curve one comes to a long, weedy road parallel to and fenced off from a railway hub; this is the last stretch. In case one were not already sunk into a gloomy view of our dystopian inner cities, the wall that lines this stretch, topped with barbed wire, has been painted with a long mural that seems to depict the last moment of the dinosaurs on this planet. Dinosaur Armageddon being a parallel, of course, for the warning that this little enclave of Hell gives.

 

Bordeaux Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs Bordeaux

 

Finding Bordeaux Archives

After the last dead dinosaur, we came to the archives, not at all cheered by the prison architecture the good city fathers selected (see the top photo). One enters to find a row of lockers blocking the view of a rather nice display.

 

Archives security

We went through the usual routine of registering, a process that is free but is required of all users. One must show some sort of identification, such as a passport or identity card, fill out a form and then receive a user's card. When we completed this, the receptionist then put in front of us a small box of bottle caps. 

"Choose one," she said, briskly. We stared, perhaps stupidly, certainly confused. She shook the box, rattling the bottle caps. "For the locker," she added, impatiently. We really were quite lost as to how a bottle cap could possibly operate a locker. She sighed with impatience and rattled the box again until a few small, plastic tokens rose to the surface. A Wittgensteinian "Aha moment" came to us. It would appear that the receptionist's love of soda and of carefully saving the bottle caps had overshadowed her responsibility to maintain a few tokens for archives users. As the very concept of customer service is anathema to French civil servants, this indifference to users comes as no surprise. We fished out a token from the bottle cap collection and went to a locker to deposit all that is not permitted in the reading room. The receptionist smiled her approval. 

Bordeaux Archives

The prison theme continued in the reading room, but there, the staff were friendly, intelligent and helpful. Our reason for visiting had been to see the more recent civil registrations, which are not yet on the website. Nor are they on an internal website, we learned. The archivist gave us a USB key that contained the tables décennales (ten year indices) to civil registrations through 1935 and generously took the time to explain the structure of the tables and how to search them.

We spent the morning viewing the tables and listing all possible registrations that we would like to see. We returned the USB key and asked for the one holding images of the actual registers, so that we could view the registrations, but no, we were told.

"No?" Even now, we have not adjusted to the French civil servants' warrior code of "Never Explain; Never Justify". In this code, the person holding the cards of power makes every statement as if it were one of fact, not policy or opinion or anything else that can be disputed. Ask why at your peril; but we did.

"Why? The law states that birth and marriage registrations over seventy-five years old may be viewed by the public." We spoke as evenly as we could. In this sort of encounter, to show frustration is more than a sign of weakness, it is like giving the scent of blood to a hound, and the game is on. The game is an exchange of the foolish person's increasingly frustrated protests and pleadings being countered by the civil servant's shorter and blunter replies, usually resulting in a back being turned and a stroke being suffered. Our experience served us well and we avoided the trap; we smiled through our teeth and a helpful answer was received.

"They are still in the Mairie (City Hall)" we were told. "Before you took out the USB key, did you note all of the codes for each registration?" Imagine if we had not! We noted the passive-aggressive's disappointment that we had done and so did not have to go though all of our work again. He sighed. "You must have been to archives before," he said, his fun spoiled, but this brought efficiency. "Now, you go to the City Hall with your list and they will make copies for you."

Our notes in hand, token returned to the bottle cap box, we left and walked past the dinosaurs again, growing fonder of them on this second pass. 

 

Last dinosaur of Bordeaux

 

We took the tram to the Hôtel de Ville stop and entered that lovely building. 

 

Bordeaux Hotel de Ville

Inside, one takes a number. When it is called, one gives no code (so, we had written them for nothing and, had we not done so and had spent another hour or so finding them as the archivist instructed, it would have been for naught; see how the game works?). Only the date of the registration and the surname are required. The civil registrations clerk printed all that we requested with great speed and then asked "Any more?" By then, beaten and exhausted by the game, we gave our sweetest thanks and left, grateful to have achieved our research goals and to have survived the game one more time.

Should you be seeking twentieth century Bordeaux registrations, you now know that you must go to the Archives Bordeaux Métropole first thing in the morning in order to be able to go to the City Hall before closing time, looking at the indices in the former and getting copies of registrations from the latter. Wear comfortable shoes for this adventure and perhaps take something calming, like beta-blockers.

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy