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March 2011
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May 2011

April 2011

May and Marriages

Muguets for sale small

May Day  -- le Premier mai, or la fête du muguet -- in France is a national holiday. That is because it is also Labour Day, but the old springtime traditions are what interest us here. The ancient custom known in Britain as "bringing in the May" has its expression in much of France with the giving of flowers on the day. The flower of choice is lily-of-the-valley, le muguet, and they are sold on every street corner on May Day. As everywhere in the northern hemisphere, May is a time when winter is truly past, and there are dozens of French proverbs relating to the weather and agricultural practices in May.


Mois de mai, queue d'hiver.

The month of May is the tail of winter.


Chaleur de mai verdit la haie.

Warmth in May makes hedges green.


Pluie de mai, rend septembre gai.

Rain in May makes September [the harvest] gay. 


For genealogical use, we recommend that, when hunting for a marriage, you leave May to the last. There are a number of sayings about marrying in May which indicate that it was considered an extremely bad idea:

Méchante femme s'épouse en mai.

Shrewish women marry in May.


Mariages de mai ne fleurissent jamais.

May marriages never flower.


Mariage au mois des fleurs, mariage de pleurs.

A marriage in the month of flowers is a marriage of tears.


Mai pluvieux marie la fille du laboreux.

A girl who marries in a rainy May will have a hard life.


En mai, si tu te maries, par le soleil ou par la pluie, ami, crois-moi si tu veux, t'auras des enfants morveux.

If you marry in May, whether it be sunny or rainy, believe me, friend, you will have snotty-nosed children (brats).


and our favourite, for it makes no bones about it:

Noces de mai, noces mortelles.

May weddings are fatal.


We have not been able to find the reasoning for this May wedding taboo, but we delight in the warnings. 

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Spring Fever Hits French Bloggers

Spring Fever

It would seem that the season and its oft attendant frivolity have had an effect on some of the most erudite of bloggers on genealogy in French but not, we hasten to say in the same breath, bringing them low by any means. Rather, they soar with hilarity and glee -- common enough in French farce -- but here flavoured with an unusual bit of resignation, brought on by the frustrations of the trade.

One of those frustrations comes about when a prospective client claims to be long lost royalty, the descendant of the Man In the Iron Mask or some such. Stéphane Cosson has written an exceedingly droll account of his research on such a case in his blog post entitled Roman généalogique

Another frustration for researchers in France is Paris, where most records were burnt. Maïwenn Bourdic, who writes the normally quite sweet and somewhat dainty blog,  d'Aïeux et d'Ailleurs, had to deal with four generations in 19th century Paris, with no civil registrations and no census records and no court records. She gave vent to her exasperation by naming a day spent in such research as a genealogist's VDM, or "vie de merde généalogique".

It being a small world here, the former, after his humourous tirade, commented on the post of the latter, advising her to be more optimistic. And to hire a professional. Ouch.

We cannot wait to see what the summer's heat will bring.


©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

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Another Birthday - Notre deuxième anniversaire!

Blog Birthday 2


We really never imagined we would make it thus far, but voilà, our blog has hit its second birthday. It has been a jolly ride and we hope it will continue to be so. There is much more about which to write and we have been greatly encouraged by the many kind words of praise sent by our admirable readers (though one has complained that our "sentences are too long"). In heartfelt gratitude, as we did last year, we wish to offer a gift.

We have written here previously about Napoleon’s English prisoners, known in French as the Prisonniers de Guerre Anglais, even though people of other nationalities were snagged in the round-up in the spring of 1803. It is a topic we enjoy studying in many of the archives of France, and our article on the subject appears in the latest issue of the Society of Genealogists publication “Genealogists’ Magazine” (vol. 30 no. 5, March 2011) 

“Zealous” does not quite describe the French authorities’ commitment to arresting every British male who could be considered, even remotely, an enemy combatant. Something of the crazed, schizoid delirium of the Terror seems to have come into play for among those arrested were the elderly, mothers, daughters, children, babes in arms and so forth, many of whom could not possibly have been considered a combatant or spy. 

Finding the names and documentation of these prisoners is a struggle for genealogists, and it is even more difficult when researching women. We thought that, in honour of our blog’s second anniversary, (and also, rather late, in honour of Women's History Month) we would offer a free list of the names of women who were among the prisoners. There are 237 names on the list. Though we have spent many hours researching it, it cannot be considered exhaustive, for the information in the archives is too chaotic for certainty. The names are taken from various indices and lists in the Service Historique de la Défense, including lists of those given passports to leave France soon after they were arrested and of those on whom correspondence or surveillance files were kept. If your family sagas contain a story of an ancestress held prisoner in Napoleonic France, it may contain some truth and this list may contain her name.

To receive the free PDF of  “Foreign Women Prisoners in Napoleonic France”, please send an e-mail requesting it to amerigen (AT) yahoo (DOT) com.  And  -- as we find it the most appropriately named of all champagnes for such a topic -- break out the Veuve!

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

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Art Student Ancestors at the Ecole des Beaux Arts

EBA 6 small

The downtrodden Ecole des Beaux Arts, (The School of Fine Arts, the full name of which is properly: l'école nationale supérieure des beaux-arts) is undergoing refurbishment. Our research took us there on a gloriously sunny spring day in which the new paint vibrated with an almost conscious beauty.

We were on the trail of one who had been a student there in the late nineteenth century. The hunt took us to the library, where we were surrounded by an embarrassment of helpful librarians. We gave the name of the man and approximate dates of his attendance. Very quickly, they found him in their database and then flurried about the shelves bringing us a plethora of books that contained mentions of him, his works, his years at the school, etc. The willingness to be of help and the information provided were most impressive. Genealogically, we gleaned a more precise date of birth and an address that enabled our search of Paris records to be much more fruitful. We also learned the name of a brother who had attended the school as well.

Should your ancestor have been either a student or a professor at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, it would be possible to learn much more about him or her by visiting, ringing or writing to the library. 

Bibliothèque de l'Ecole nationale supérieure des beaux-arts

14 rue Bonaparte

75006 Paris

tel: (+33) 1 47 03 50 00

Métro: Saint-Germain des Prés

Hours: Mondays: 14.00 to 18.30; Tuesdays through Fridays: 11.00 to 18.30


©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

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FamilySearch Is Becoming Useful for French Genealogy

Postcard Bretagne small


We have long despaired that one cannot get easy access to the parish registers of the department of Finistère, that land's end part of western France whence so many Bretons went to the New World. The Departmental Archives of Finistère have, as yet, no website. They used to bluntly refuse to discuss the topic. For ages, there has been a tiny message on the general administrative website for the department's local government that the archives will have a website "soon".

Now, somewhat more than 95,000 parish registrations from 1772 to 1909 for the Finistère diocese of Quimper and Léon can be found on FamilySearch. This is delightful news! 

At the time of this posting, FamilySearch has only six historical record collections for France, some more appropriately titled than others. In addition to the Quimper and Léon diocese registrations are:

We recommend that you keep an eye on FamilySearch's French section. It seems to be moving from having only the almost fraudulently misleading to putting up some really quite useful records.

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy