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February 2011

The Family Liqueur Recipe As A Regional Clue

U - Elder

A year ago, we wrote of how a family cookery tradition or term could possibly indicate the region in France where an ancestor may have originated. So might a liqueur recipe or traditional drink. Some drinks and traditions are nationally popular and universally known, such as elderflower wine, and so can be of no help as a clue. Others really are so tied to a region, either because the ingredients can be found only there or are appreciated only there, that their appearance among a family's traditions really could indicate a link to that region.

If your family has an odd insistence on making a liqueur with citron (Citrus medica) and NEVER with lemon, there could be a link to Corsica, where cédratine is made by every family. The citron is peeled, salted, soaked, boiled, deseeded, sugared and bottled with elderflower or a fruit wine for a couple of months. If this sounds familiar, perhaps your French ancestor came from Ajaccio or Bonifacio.

Vin de noix, wine with nuts and more sugar added, can be found in many parts of France. If, in your family, the nuts must be walnuts, and the walnuts must be green, and the wine a Bordeaux, with a serious quantity of sugar added, there is a good chance your ancestor came from Périgord.

As we wrote before, anything with an excessive emphasis on apples means Normandy. It is the same with the liqueur. Calvados is well-known and is sold everywhere, but those who prefer it at the end of a meal tend to be Norman. Those French ancestors who had their own recipe for it, producing distilled apple cider of about 150 proof, were almost certainly from Normandy.

We are particularly impressed by vin de chèvre, goat wine, which comes from Haute-Savoie and Switzerland. We promise you that, if you have the recipe for this in your family and you drink it, your ancestor came from nowhere else.  To make goat wine: fill a small oak cask of extremely thick staves with just-pressed white wine and let it ferment. Where is the goat? When the wine is ready and the tap of the cask opened, a stream of liquid as white and foamy as goat's milk pours out. Perhaps it tastes like it as well for, like goat's milk, it is to be downed in a gulp.  

Perhaps, during the holidays, the old recipes and family traditions were brought out and are fresh in the memory. Perhaps one of the above will ring a bell and lead to the correct region of an ancestor's origin. We do hope so. 

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy 


French Jewish Genealogy - a USEFUL Biographical Dictionary

Dictionnaire biographique des rabbins cover

Not so long ago, we trashed certain biographical publications as useless for genealogy. This is most definitely not one of them.  The Dictionnaire biographique des rabbins et autres ministres du culte israélite du Grand Sanhédrine (1808) à la loi de séparation (1905) is a mouthful of a title for a truly fine piece of scholarship.

A joint effort between the Commission Française des archives juives and the Archives nationales, this work attempts to list every rabbi of 19th century France, including Alsace-Lorraine and the, then, colony of Algeria. There are over 2800 names, some with photographs of the individual, nearly all with a biographical article about him. The documentation of each entry, as one would expect from the National Archives, is impeccable, and includes information from civil registrations, education records, other religious and family records, and records of associations. 

For anyone researching French Jewish ancestry, this book is valuable not only for those seeking to know more about a particular rabbi, but for those who wish to trace a family which included a rabbi and those wishing to follow rabbinical traditions in a certain locale. A serious and very useful work indeed.


©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

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Savoyards in Paris....and Beyond!

Savoyard nippers

As mentioned previously, there are a number of genealogy associations dedicated to tracking down those from the region of Savoie. Special mention needs to be given to the Centre Généalogique Savoyard de Paris et de la Région Parisienne (CGSPRP). This group has done an amazing amount of indexing of parish and civil registrations, and of liaising with other genealogy organisations working in Savoie. On their website, quite a lot of this is available to members.

One of their masterpieces is a book entitled Recueil de Mariages des Savoyards Dans les 20 Arrondissements de Paris, 1860-1892, produced under the auspices of one René Leger, back in the early days of computing from the look of the pages. No matter, it is really quite a phenomenal product of substantial labour. Someone went through all of the civil registrations of Paris for the second half of the nineteenth century and fished out the name of every Savoyard. The data is presented twice: alphabetically and chronologically (click on the images to enlarge them).



For those who lost track of their Savoyard ancestors somewhere in Paris, this is a tremendous help. We came across the book in the library of the Archives départementales of Paris and it is surely available in other libraries. The CGSPRP also have a number of lists of surnames from various villages, which can be downloaded at no cost. For those with Savoyards ancestors, this group would be most helpful with research. Recommended with gusto.


An additional resource is this handy guide to the Savoie dialect, the Dictionnaire du Patois Savoyard, on the Internet Archive. Use this to read old letters from suspected Savoyards in the family, and possibly to verify their origins. Finally, for those unsure as to whether it is politically correct to use the term Savoyen(ne), Savoisien(ne) or Savoyard(e), here is a handy tract on the subject. 

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy



Genealogy in Savoie and the Comté de Nice - Part 2


As explained in the post Genealogy in Savoie and the Comté de Nice - Part 1, with a potted history of Savoie, the region is now two departments, that of la Savoie and that of Haute-Savoie, having spent time as a part of other political entities. Worth noting is that Geneva was a part of Savoie and some records for that city are held in the French archives, while some of Savoie are in Geneva's archives. Researching ancestors from the region is, at times, different from researching those from other parts of France.

  • Parish and civil registrations of births, marriages and deaths:
    • Before 1792, as with France, registrations were created and maintained by by parish priests. Unlike the rest of France, this is also the case for the years 1814 to 1860, when the region was a part of the Kingdom of Sardinia.
    • Where duplicates were made, one set is with the town hall, mairie, the other with the relevant Departmental Archives. 
    • There are not consistent or complete ten-year indices, tables décennales, for all years of registrations.
  • Census records , including for Geneva, exist  for the years 1832, 1838, 1848 and 1858, and after 1860, as for all of France.
  • Some very interesting military records exist:
  • Tax and fiscal records include:
    • Lists of hearths from 1422 to 1700 in la Savoie
    • Lists of heads of families subject to special taxes in both the Departmental Archives of la Savoie and Haute-Savoie
    • Lists of those who had to pay the salt tax, which are almost like a census, for the years 1561 to 1576, in both the Departmental Archives of la Savoie and Haute-Savoie
  • Exclusive to the Departmental Archives of  Haute-Savoie:
    • A list of magistrates by name from 1559 to 1713
    • A register of foreigners from 1841 to 1859
    • A register of patients -- both civilian and military -- at the hospitals of Annecy from 1800 to 1819.

The archives for Savoie are very rich and have a greater variety among the older records than is found in many other regions of France.

Very little of the above is on the internet. Appropriate genealogy associations which could help with research in Savoie are:

 Additionally, the Savoie GenWeb and the Haute-Savoie GenWeb pages are quite good.

Happy hunting!

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

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Genealogy in Savoie and the Comté de Nice - Part 1

Comté de Nice flag

Up to 1860, the story of Savoie (the modern departments of Savoie and Haute-Savoie) and the Comté de Nice (roughly the area between the Var river and Italy, now within the department of Alpes-Maritimes) is essentially the story of a dynasty, the House of Savoy and a country that did not make it on its own into modern times. A glance at a map could reveal why.


Both areas have been inhabited since the beginning of time, occupied by the Romans, with a royal heyday in Medieval times. From the Renaissance, when France and Spain each became much more powerful and united, to the nineteenth century unification of Italy and creation of a German identity, the Duchy of Savoy  was in the fray, but increasingly as a medieval royal family against modern nation-states. Finally, a deal was struck in 1859, followed by a vote that many said was appallingly rigged in 1860, and France took Savoie and Nice, in exchange for military aid toward the unification of Italy. (For once, we find the Wikipedias article in English on the subject to be a study in befuddlement and do not recommend them. A cleaner, if laden with regional pride, version of the history of Savoie can be found here and and encyclopaedic site on la Savoie and Haute-Savoie can be found at Sabaudia. At an odd location a good one on the Comté de Nice is here. )

Two languages -- French and Italian -- and two cultures -- mountain and seaside -- make these two ex-states of the Duchy of Savoy as distinct from one another as they are from the rest of France.  For genealogical research, the distinctions remain. 

As concerns the Comté de Nice:

  • Though Grasse was part of the Comté, it more closely followed the French style of parish and civil registrations and so, most of the practices explained on this blog apply.
  • Before 1860, when the Comté was not part of the Duchy of Savoy, it was part of the Kingdom of Sicily (for much of the 18th century and from 1814 to 1860) or of France (1793-1814)
  • Parish, and later, civil registers were kept 
    • During the years as a part of the Duchy of Savoy, from 1582, but NOT in duplicate; they were kept by the parish
    • During the French periods, the French law was followed and duplicates were made and the registers were kept by the town halls (mairies)
    • During the Sardinian years (1814-1860) the procedure reverted to single not duplicate registrations and parish not civil registers.
    • From 1837 a form was used that also allowed for the registration of Protestant, Jewish and any other non-Catholics. These were held by the religious officers of those groups as the equivalents of parish registers.
    • After 1860, all procedures followed were the same as elsewhere in France.
    • The exceptions are Menton and Roquebrune, once of the Principality of Monaco, which have followed the French procedures without break since 1793.
  • Thus, finding the parish registrations means applying to a variety of places:
    • before 1793: to either the archives of the Diocese of Nice or to the archives of the specific parish
    • for the period of 1793 to 1814, and after 1860, visit the Departmental Archives of Alpes-Maritimes or the town hall of the town where the event occurred. 
    • for the Sardinian era, one copy may be at either the archives of the Diocese of Nice or at the archives of the specific parish, but not at both; copies for registrations of that period were made (in 1860) and are at the Departmental Archives of Alpes-Maritimes.
    • Registrations from Menton and Roquebrune, having been made in duplicate since 1793, will be found in both the Departmental Aerchives of Alpes-Maritimes and in the town halls, or mairies.

Appropriate genealogy associations which could help with research are:

Genealogy always requires attention to detail and precise documentation, but even more so in this case, for dates will tell where to begin looking. Next post: Savoie.

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

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À Double Sens - For a More Successful Visit to the Ancestral Village

Arche de Triomphe small


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

French Genealogy