It seems that numerous descendants of French emigrants are on the move. We have been contacted by a number of people who plan to visit ancestral villages, hamlets, chateaux and such, hoping to research ancestors and encounter cousins. A few suggestions for how to make the visit a bit happier may be in order. We will leave off those relating to cultural differences, for there are plenty of books on the subject, and we will not repeat our warnings about striking archivists, though they still hold true.
A visitor and researcher to one of the larger cities and town halls (mairies) will be treated with the same harassed, indifferent bustling as anywhere else. However, in the smaller towns, where life is slower, people will have the time to talk with a visitor and exchange with a researcher. These are some things they will appreciate:
- Take copies of documents about your French immigrant ancestor. Some mayors may actually wish to enter the information into the existing documentation, making a marginal note on an acte d'état civil. The local genealogy association may be thrilled to add the information to a file on that family name.
- Take photographs of the immigrant ancestor, spouse and children (but perhaps not the entire family down to yourself) of the place where he or she settled, etc. Not only will this help with identification, but it will encourage those you meet to bring out their own old photos. If they allow you to photograph those old photos, you can double your collection.
- Take copies of the genealogy, with charts, that you have done so far. Offer them to the local genealogy circle for them to add to their collection. We have seen very happy reunions in a local cafe, where elders discussed a descendants chart, making many corrections, with enthusiasm.
- If your ancestor and/or his or her descendants did things that were newsworthy, take copies of articles, books, etc. about them to donate to the local library or genealogy association's library.
- Before leaving home, find out the name of the local paper, radio or television station and contact them to see if an interview about your visit and ancestor could be arranged. If it were to appear in the first days of your visit (or even before), that would boost the cousin-finding efforts significantly.
- Find out the names and contacts of the local genealogy associations and circles in advance and arrange to attend one of their meetings and maybe give a talk (if you speak French or can arrange a translator) about your immigrant ancestor. If anyone can help you with furthering your research, these people can.
People descended from French emigrants besiege the town halls, archives, and genealogy associations, asking for research help but almost never giving anything in return. Research that depends so much on goodwill needs to be a two-way street -- à double sens. Sharing your own research about your immigrant French ancestor with those who have helped or who could help you is a much appreciated way of saying "thank you".
©2011 Anne Morddel