The Revolution brought full citizenship to Jewish French on the 27th of September, 1791. Napoleon did not retract it (as he retracted the abolition of slavery) but he did issue an edict that has proved invaluable for genealogists (given above in the Bulletin des lois). With the Décret de Bayonne, issued on the 20th of July, 1808, he ordered that all Jewish people in France or immigrating permanently to France who did not have a fixed and hereditary surname be required to choose one.
These registres d'options de noms 1808 became a de facto census of the Jewish people of France (to be followed in some places by a real census a year later). The numbers are interesting. According to a list in the Archives nationales (code F19 11010) there were 46,054 Jewish people in France who chose permanent names. The majority were in the departments of Bas-Rhin, Haut-Rhin (with some very legible examples for the city of Mulhouse), and Moselle. In each, the head of a family, usually the husband and father, gives for each family member his or her name, date and place of birth, and the surname and forenames chosen. The registrations have the appearance and structure of any other acte d'état civil in 1808.
The originals are in the communal or the departmental archives of the region where they were first recorded. Summaries and reports on these options are in the Archives nationales. As with any such documentation, not all have survived. Those in Strasbourg were burned in the bombing during the Franco-Prussian War, for example, and those of Moselle were destroyed during the Second World War.
The excellent Cercle de Généalogie Juive offers for sale from their (bilingual!) site volumes by the late Pierre Katz, an expert on Alsatian Jewry, of extracts of the data from the registres d'options de noms for the departments of Bas-Rhin, Haut-Rhin, Moselle, and Meurthe-et-Moselle. Most helpfully, they also have an alphabetical list on the website of all the surnames for Bas-Rhin, showing the villages where they were declared.
According to many, the registres d'options de noms 1808 are where French Jewish genealogy begins.
©2010 Anne Morddel