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White Nights and Military Yearbooks

Etat Militaire


Grand cities, for all of their noise, crowding and pollution, offer at times grand moments of delight. Among such cities, Paris may top the list, with its crazy events of self-celebration such as importing sand and closing main roads to make a beach along the Seine every summer, an all night music party that happens to be mighty close to the ancient Midsummer Night (and which also takes place in many other cities in France), and the White Night, another all-nighter that turns the city into a collection of performance art shows. 

A bonus to living in such a city is the free shows of the rehearsals that go on for weeks before. Once, when walking the children home from school across the Champs de Mars, we got the full dress rehearsal of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony by the Vienna Philharmonic. Snack time came very late that afternoon. A couple of Fridays back, on leaving the Service Historique de la Defense (SHD) at the Château de Vincennes, we got the heart-stopping rehearsal for this year's White Night (Nuit Blanche): acrobats on wires dangling from the parapet, dancing and flying across the walls. 


The gasp, the pleasure of the moment was equal to that we had experienced an hour or so before in the library of the SHD, where we discovered a series of little books (see above) that list thousands of names of men in the French military for the past 250 years. 

The Etat Militaire de France (in the photo above) and later, the Annuaire Militaire de l'Empire and, still later, the Annuaire Militaire de la République Française are the successive incarnations of a military yearbook for the French Army. For each year the book gives a summary of the military administration, its laws and addresses and then, chapter by chapter, lists the names of people by rank, from the top down. As an example, the Annuaire for 1848 has the following chapters:

  • Etat-major général de l'armée, maréchaux , officiers généraux
  • Corps d'état-major
  • Intendance militaire
  • Etats-majors des divisions territoriales, des divisions et des brigades actives
  • Etats-majors des places
  • Gendarmerie, Voltigeurs corses et Sapeurs-Pompiers de la ville de Paris
  • Infanterie
  • Cavalerie
  • Corps de l'artillerie
  • Corps du génie
  • Troupes de l'administration
  • Service de santé
  • Services administratifs
  • Ecoles militaires
  • Service de recrutement et de la réserve
  • Remonte générale et vétérinaires
  • Justice militaire

There follow pages of names and, crucial to finding a person's records, regiment numbers. (Click on the image below to enlarge it.) Using these volumes, it is possible to follow a person's military career, and to get enough information to request from the archives at SHD, his entire military file.


Naturally, the library at SHD has the entire set. We have seen a number of volumes online at Gallica and at the Internet Archive. One could make an all-nighter of reading them.


©2010 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy