Napoleon created the Légion d'honneur in 1802 as one of the first post-Revolution awards for civil or military service to the Republic. It is extremely prestigious, even though it has been awarded to well over 100,000 people in its 200 years of existence. Soldiers, artists, authors and businessmen have received one of the three degrees of Chevalier, Officier or Commandant, and/or of the two dignities of Grand-officier or Grand-aigle.
The Fondation Napoléon gives a very good history of the Légion d'honneur in English.
The Grande Chancellerie de la Légion d'honneur is both the institute and museum, and the website has a virtual tour.
Our interest, however, is genealogical. Should you have any reason to suspect that one of your ancestors may have been a recipient of one of the medals, the list of recipients can be used to glean a bit of genealogical detail. The files on all recipients are held at the Archives nationales, and these are gradually being put on line. The index, with birth dates and birthplaces, is already up and can be searched. LEONORE is the name of the database of the Order of the Legion of Honour. It clearly states that not all files have been scanned yet, but do enter the site and type a surname into the box and see what comes up. The information on the index includes the full name, date of birth, place of birth, and the number of the dossier in the archives (should you be able to go there.)
It is a small, supplementary resource, but can yet be of use.
To know more about the museum and medals generally, here is a link to a post and internet radio presentation (in French) about Le musée de la Légion d'honneur by its conservator.
©2009 Anne Morddel