Archives and records in France are termed as being either of the Ancien Régime or moderne (post-Revolutionary, e.g. from 1792 onward) and as the post-Revolutionary governments radically changed how many things were done, documents from the two eras can be quite different. Wills were no exception. Under the Ancien Régime, most people wrote a will and it was common for spouses each to make the another his or her sole heir. Older wills will contain a long prelude as to faith, requests and payments for masses and burial instructions before getting down to the nitty-gritty. From the early nineteenth century expressions of faith become less common.
The greatest change was caused by what has been mentioned here before: the rigid requirement of the Napoleonic Code, also know as the Code Civil, that all children of a couple receive exactly equal amounts. Portions of an estate may be left to others but primogeniture was abolished. No child can be disinherited; no child can receive more than another. If the child predeceases the parents and had children, his or her share is to be divided equally among those children. If a person had no children, then his or her estate must be divided equally among siblings, parents, and on to cousins. Hence the work of notaires in genealogy.
The will we examine here was written in Paris by the notaire Maître Jules-Victor Froger-Deschesnes, who owned the office, called an étude, number thirty-one (always expressed in Roman numerals, see the photo above) located at 47, rue de Richelieu, for twenty-two years. He had been in his étude for just a year and a half when he wrote this will for Dr. Pierre Delpeux on the 15th of January, 1822, which reads:
Before me, Maître Jules Victor Froger-Deschesnes and Joachim Cesar Perret, notaires in Paris, undersigned, and in the presence of Monsieur Cesar Joseph Jolinger, property owner living in Paris at no. 4 rue de Gramont, and of Monsieur Louis Mercey, hotel proprietor, living in Paris at no. 25, rue de Richelieu, both witnesses,
Monsieur Pierre Delpeux, doctor, living ordinarily in Port-au-Prince on the island of St. Domingue, presently in Paris and lodged at the Hotel de Bretagne, no. 25 rue de Richelieu.
The said Mr. Delpeux being ill in body but well in mind has thus called the notaires and two witnesses undersigned and having been found by the said notaires and witnesses to be in a bed placed in an alcove facing a window in a room numbered ten, on the third floor, lighted by two casement windows looking onto a courtyard and being a part of the house in Paris at no. 25 rue de Richelieu called the Hotel de Bretagne, has dictated to the two notaires, in the presence of the two witnesses, his will which follows:
I give and leave half of all of my goods, property and letters of credit, without exception or reserve, which will remain on the day of my death to François Auguste Delpeux, my natural son, whom I have named [acknowledged] in the presence of these witnesses as my son.
I give and leave to Monsieur Haudandine, merchant of Nantes [ Download A minor hero.jpg] in the department of la Loire Inférieure, the other half of all of my goods, property and letters of credit, without exception or reserve, which will remain on the day of my death.
I charge Monsieur Handandine to pay on the half which I leave him of my goods the sum of two thousand francs to Elisabeth Delpeux, my niece living in Angouleme.
I name as my executor Monsieur Lemesle, merchant of Nantes, and I beg of him to accept this charge as a proof of his friendship.
I wish that the sum of two thousand francs which I leave to the named Elisabeth Delpeux will be paid to her free of all taxes and charges and I wish that these taxes and charges will be paid by Monsieur Haudandine from the portion that I leave to him.
I declare that I understand the bequests that I have made above to my son François Auguste Delpeux and to Monsieur Haudandine of all my goods, property and letters of credit, without exception which comprise my estate on the day of my death whether these goods be situated in France, the island of St. Domingue or elsewhere, without exception or reserve.
This will has been made and dated in the presence of the two notaires undersigned and in the presence of the two witnesses undersigned in Paris in the room designated no. 10 of the Hotel de Bretagne, in the year one thousand eight hundred twenty-two, Tuesday the fifteenth of January at ten o'clock in the evening.
The testator signed before the witnesses and the notaires after the reading aloud of the will by Maître Froger-Deschesnes in the presence of Maître Perret his colleague and the two witnesses. [All signed]
The wording and structure are standard for the time. The names, professions and addresses of the notaires, witnesses and the testator or testatrix are always given. If not in the notaire's étude, a description of the place where the will was dictated will be given. A person could also write his or her will and post it to the notaire, who would then keep it on file until the person should die, when it would then be registered. A confirmation of the registration will be put in the file with the original will.
Wills are good for finding family members, but for a view on the person's life as he or she lived it, nothing tops the inventory after death. Stay tuned.
©2011 Anne Morddel