Probably belatedly, it has come to our attention that various indices to the Optants have appeared online. These little cards are not particularly useful on their own. We explain here how to get the best out of this new availability.
Recall, please that the Optants were those born but NOT living in the Alsace-Lorraine territory lost by France in the Franco-Prussian War who opted in 1872 to remain French. Had they done nothing, as their homeland became German, so would have done their nationality, which was the case for all who continued to reside in the region. For a native of the region to keep French nationality, he or she had to get out of the region AND file an option. The options were published in supplements of the Bulletin des Lois.
Various organisations have made index cards from the information. The best, of course, is that made from the original forms held at the Archives nationales. These original forms, completed by the people opting to remain French, were the source of the listing in the Bulletin des Lois. (There were also those outside the region at the time who opted to be German. There is no card index for them, but there is a 184-page list of their names on www.optants.fr.) The forms themselves are fragile and access to them is strictly limited.
The Archives' set of index cards based on them are on microfilm that can be viewed in the Archives nationales only. Geneaservice has another set of index cards that they made, which can be viewed on their site and which is now available on Ancestry, both charging a fee. Finally, the genealogists of Alsace and Moselle (C.O.D.A.M.) have published booklets with names of Optants, and have put more than 470,000 in a database that can be searched online. The database leads one to purchase one or more of their booklets.
In the case of Geneaservice and Ancestry, a key part of the usefulness of the information is not mentioned or available. In the Bulletin des Lois, the family is shown together. It also gives the full name, date and place of birth, place of residence and the date of the declaration for each person.
(Click on the image above to see the large version.)
N.B.: Married women will be found not with their family, but under their maiden names, with a note afterward saying "femme" (wife of) or "veuve" (widow of) . It is important to remember that, in official documentation, a married woman will always appear under her maiden name. In all other aspects of life, she will be Mme. Nom-de-son-époux.
Both sets of the index cards give the birth and locations information and refer to where in the Bulletin des Lois the entry can be found. Geneaservice and Ancestry have the cards indexed only by name, so a search by place of birth and place of residence is not possible. That seems a wasted opportunity. Neither site presents a copy of the Optants supplements to the Bulletin des Lois, so it is not possible with their index cards alone to regroup a family.
The online site of scanned books from the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Gallica, has all years of the Bulletin des Lois, but not the supplements. The C.O.D.A.M. booklets are lists of Optants taken not only from the Bulletin des Lois but supplemented with information from the Departmental Archives and the National Archives. The names are not grouped alphabetically, but by town.
Thus, the best way to use the Optants information to its fullest is to have access to the following:
- To find an individual: An alphabetical index, such as the microfilmed cards at the Archives nationales, or online at Geneaservice, Ancestry or optants.fr, and
- To see the individual's family (minus married women): the Optants supplements to the Bulletin des Lois or the booklets produced by C.O.D.A.M.
Someone please pester Ancestry to cross reference the Optant cards by birthplace and residence, and then to film and upload the Optants volumes of the Bulletin des Lois. Then they would be providing a great resource about a particularly mobile, emigration-oriented group of people.
©2010 Anne Morddel