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June 2011

Departmental Archives Updates

French Genealogy Blog


The work of the various Departmental Archives to get their parish and civil registrations online continues apace. We have been amending the notes in the links to the left on this page as quickly as we have received the information, but feel that a general update may be due. 

The latest to go online are the Departmental Archives of Rhône, with more than the first steps of maps and post cards. They have also put online their parish and civil registrations from 1527 to 1910, the records for enfants assistés, abandoned children and children under care. The latter is a significant amount of documentation on orphans, searchable by name and year of birth. Census records, military recruitment registers, and indices to notarial records round out what Rhône has made available.

Monsieur K has written enthusiastically to us about his enormous successes using the site of the Departmental Archives of Bas-Rhin.  He has been able to find many, many more of his ancestors by searching the village records online. Monsieur K has been particularly happy to be able to access documents of great age that concern his ancestors. Madame S wrote to point out that Bas-Rhin have put up their censuses for much of the nineteenth century.

Bas-Rhin has one of the nicest, user-friendly sites that we have seen. We wish that we could recommend to others to follow its design, but there is one of the problems of this rather exciting wave of archives going online. Every department puts out its own call for bids on the project and each selects what fits its budget, and not all are so lovely.

We recently had the opportunity to revisit the Departmental Archives of Doubs, which currently have their Tables décennales online, but do not yet have the parish or civil registrations up. Working in the archives is a pleasure, for the staff are incredibly helpful. They know their collection thoroughly and cheerfully come to one's assistance. We are most grateful to them. We hope that they will soon have all of their parish and civil registrations online, even if it would take the wind out of the sails of certain local genealogists (see below).

Monsieur H wrote from Louisiana asking for help in researching his French ancestors from Marseille. We pointed him toward the Departmental Archives of  Bouches-du-Rhône, where he had a field day of successes. 

Folks in Aude have created a petition to urge their Departmental Archives to put records online. Some years back, we attempted to walk from Carcassonne to Prades, traversing much of Aude and discovered it to be the most desolate, hot, craggy, underpopulated region of France. Tales of Cathares were shoved from our minds by the tales of the day involving escaped convicts tramping the same footpaths as we were. We were unnerved by the four helicopters criss-crossing the skies above, searching for them. They, and we, stood out as the only humans to be seen for hundreds of kilometers. We sincerely doubt that there will be enough signatures on this petition to merit a sneeze, if it be left to residents, and urge anyone who cares to do so to click on the link and sign it.*

These Departmental Archives websites are usually free and, for the most part, quite clean (no ads flashing in your face!) and well organised. It astonishes us that people are still ordering microfilms of the same records, paying the fee, waiting the weeks, straining with clunky microfilm readers, when the identical films are available for free and can be viewed on a computer screen at home. We really do urge everyone to check the column to the left regularly to see if the records they which to research may not be available online. You may find what you seek and can then spend the entire summer cooped up  with your computer!

In his Généalogie blog, Stéphane Cosson disapproves of this free-for-all of information. While he approves of the fact that this preserves and protects the originals and provides the opportunity for collaborative indexing, he also feels that getting these records online takes the archivists away from more important tasks. With what is a sort of market approach to putting online what the public wants, he feels that this causes other collections in the archives to be ignored. (So far as we know, they were always ignored by the general public.) 

He then exhorts professional genealogists to fear not (there's the rub) but to explore these other, neglected collections in the archives that are not online. Becoming expert in these will keep them employed and will enrich their knowledge. Indeed.

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

*Well done signatories! Over 6,300 people signed the petition urging the Departmental Archives of Meurthe-et-Moselle to stop requiring payment to use their site. They have agreed and, from the first of the year 2012, will no longer be charging a fee.

XXIe Congrès national de Généalogie - Part Six

Surly gent small


 We felt we were doing pretty to well to keep going to talks while others went on the tour to Bruges. Our smugness was punctured when, on the last day of the conference, a woman we had never seen before in our life stormed up and accused us of avoiding her. She pivoted on her heel and walked away with an air of having given a good dose of come-uppance, the wings of her spectacles showing on either side of her head, while we stood, bemused, and wondered at the mysteries of life.

We went next to the talk by Jacques Pladys, a retired customs agent and head of the Museum of the Frontier at Godewaersvelde, about customs agents and smugglers on the border between France and Belgium. It was a strange presentation. Mr. Pladys plead the case of compassion for the poor families whose farms and homes were split when the border was defined. He then went on to describe with charm and humour the many ways that they smuggled goods back and forth across it, according to wherever prices were cheaper. He claimed that "everyone did it": priests, ladies with long skirts, teenagers with daring, old men with homing pigeons; and he moaned that today's agents are too strict.


Paul Delsalle, professor at the University of Besançon and past archivist of Tourcoing, spoke on farmers in a talk entitled "Nos ancêtres paysans : laboureurs, fermiers, censiers". The title is a summary of the talk itself, for each of the words in the title can have the same meaning or widely different meanings.  Using examples from different regions, he made the valuable point that it is necessary to know the time and the place of the usage to know its meaning in context. A laboureur in one region was a man with a thousand hectares and dozens of farm animals; the same term in another area was applied to a man who owned ten manor houses; in yet another area, it was a manual labourer with no property of his own. The lesson was clear: a good genealogist has to be a good historian.



 We have loved trains since our days of train chasing in Jamestown and Oroville. Where possible, we try to make every journey by train. If it brings us close to a steam train, we will detour to ride that. Our greatest thrills have included riding in the cab of The Jacobite while crossing over the Glenfinnan Viaduct on a moonlit night,  and standing in the cab of the train jaune as it crossed the Gisclard Bridge. So, when there was a talk on the genealogical research on cheminots, railway workers, we jumped at it.

Henri Dropsy is the president of the Cercle Généalogique des Cheminots, and his title was straightforward: "Genealogical Research in the World of the Railway".  He began by saying that there are "railway nuts" and there are "genealogy nuts" and one needs to be both for this research as it is not at all easy. The main archives for the current, national railway company, SNCF, are at the Centre des archives et de la documentation in Béziers. And in Mans. And in Paris. 

For those who worked at one of the many other companies, information on them may possibly be found in Departmental Archives, in series S. Any documentation that gives a person's employment may also be useful. Specialised sources include annual directories of railway companies and lists of railway workers executed during the World Wars. Of assistance may the Association pour l'histoire des chemins de fer, the Association for the History of Railways.

Apparently, lost bundles of railway files still turn up; and Mr. Dropsy has managed to buy old railway personnel files on e-Bay. What a trooper!


Mr. Dropsy is vice-president  of the Union des Cercles Généalogiques d'Entreprises, which organised the congress. It is they who bring together the various corporate archivists to work toward improving their cooperation with genealogists and with the national centre for archives relating to employment and industry at Roubaix. While it was under attended, as we noted, it was a fine conference, with excellent speakers. Bravo!

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

XXIe Congrès national de Généalogie - Part Five

Marine de Commerce - poisson


The next talk we attended was by Patrick Vigan, a member of numerous circles in Aquitaine and in Seine-Maritime, in which he described how his hunt for one of his own ancestors  -- a captain -- had taught him a great deal about how to research someone who had been in the Merchant Marine, the Marine de Commerce or the Marine Marchande. He ranged in time across the periods of the Revolution, the Directoire, the Consulate and First Empire, and in the records across France: in the Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime, Nord and Gironde and at the Service historique de la Défense, of course, in Vincennes and Cherbourg. Essentially, he traced his ancestor through crew lists, passenger lists and other shipping documentation, which then took him to civil registrations.

Mr. Vigan explained the different grades through which a sailor would have passed, from mousse (aged 12-14), to novice (aged 14-16) to matelot, a sailor. A man could remain a matelot all of his life or proceed up through the sous-officier stages to lieutenant and capitaine.  He could also move back and forth between the Navy and the Merchant Marine. 

Helpful hints that he provided were that one must never overlook the marginal notes, for often much was entered there instead of in the part of the form designed for it. He also pointed out that, where a sailor died overseas, there will be a file and death registration on him in the Archives diplomatiques, hitherto at Nantes, but all being relocated to La Corneuve. At times, this file will contain little, but he found one that had a great many documents on an ancestor who had died in Argentina.

Private archives

 We then went on to hear "Une aide à la localisation des archives privés : la base Bora" by Rosine Cleyet-Michaud, Director of the Departmental Archives of Nord, about finding the locations of various private archives in France using the BORA database. We have known about BORA for a while but confess to have looked at it little. Madame Cleyet-Michaud put paid to that complacency pretty quickly when she showed us all that it can reveal.

Of the hundreds of private archives held around France, some remain private and may be accessed on appointment, while those that have been donated could be anywhere. There is no law that private archives must be donated at all and, if they are, they can be sent to anyone anywhere and not necessarily to the Departmental Archives or to the National Archives. Thus, they form a rather large resource that it is difficult to access because its components are quite a chore to locate.

Forget Google on this one, dearies, BORA is a dream. The entire contents of each archive are not, of course, indexed, but one can search on any word and the results can be quite impressive. A search on the word "généalogie", for example, brings up over four hundred results, archives of family genealogies throughout the country, nearly all in public archives. A search on the corporate family Peugeot, brings seven archives in different parts of France. For each result is given:

  • the title of the archive
  • its location
  • its code
  • who produced it
  • its contents
  • the dates it covers
  • how to access it
  • reproduction permissions
  • its historical importance
  • a bibliography of works related to the subject

BORA does not yet include archives that are held in communal or municipal archives or in libraries, so it is not quite the whole panacea, but it is pretty good, we must say. It is supplemented by BORA Photo, which is a database of photographs held in the private archives listed. Once a useful collection is located, one must then begin the long process of correspondence, research by e-mail, and possibly travel, but at least something has been found!

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


XXIe Congrès national de Généalogie - Part Four

WWI Soldiers small

The military was well represented at the conference. The Service historique de la Défense had, for the first time to our knowledge, a stand in the exhibitors' hall, sporting crisply spotless uniforms and touting their genealogical joys with shining eyes. (This new angle of promotion of the military archives may explain why it is getting to be mighty difficult to book space in their Reading Room at Vincennes these days.)

Madame Anne-Elyse Lebourgeois took time off from the stand to give a talk on the archives of personnel files on civilian workers for defence, held at Châtellerault ("Métiers civils de la Défense : les dossiers individuels conservés par le Service historique de la Défense à ChIatellerault").  The facility to which she referred was the CAAP, for Centre des Archives de l'Armement et du Personnel Civil, which is in an old munitions factory in Châtellerault. It houses two major and still growing collections.

The first, the archives concerning the manufacture of arms and weaponry, covers every aspect of that grim activity, in every part of France, her territories and ex-colonies, from the mid-nineteenth century onwards:

  • administration
  • project management
  • research and development
  • manufacture
  • modern arms, including tanks
  • manufacturing companies
  • materials and supplies
  • naval weaponry
  • aeronautical weaponry
  • missiles and bombs
  • private weapons (!) archives
  • purchasing and all accounts
  • the sad reality of arms fairs
  • drawings and specifications
  • charts, photographs and film
  • maintenance

This, however, was not her subject, nor ours, which was to be the second great archival collection held at CAAP, the personnel files of all civilian employees of the weaponry and arms manufacture divisions within the military. (These do NOT include civilian employees of the Army or Navy.) There are over two million such personnel files. They cover people born after 1870 and every category of employee, whether administrative or functional. A file may be viewed fifty years after it was closed, unless it pertains to government secrets (how many does that rule out, we wonder?) 

Each file can be expected to include an individual's:

  • administrative correspondence
  • medical and any accident details
  • salary details
  • career progression
  • pension
  • awards and decorations, if any
  • photographs
  • copies of civil registrations of birth, marriage and death

Madame Lebourgeois did not dwell on the fact, but a rather large percentage of these workers were women, whose lives are normally quite difficult to research. Finding a female ancestor here could possibly lead to great discoveries.

Assuming that one can get down to Châtellerault, the access details are:


211, Grande rue de Chateauneuf

Châtellerault, Vienne


Without an appointment: Tuesdays through Thursdays, 8.30 to 12.00 and 13.30 to 17.00

With an appointment: Mondays and Fridays, 8.30 to 12.00 and 13.30 to 17.00

To make an appointment:

Tel: (+33) 05 49 20 01 47



©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


XXIe Congrès national de Généalogie - Part Three

Save Jobs in the north

Our lunch on the first day of the congress was not a success. We were distressed by the foul, truly foul, odours coming up from the drains along the streets in Lille, making the walk from the hotel to the conference centre a trial indeed.  Hoping to avoid another running of the stench gauntlet, we chose a restaurant nearby. The salad we ordered had a garnish of drowned earwigs not listed on the menu, inspiring us to leave in a hurry. It would appear that Lille, for all of its glorious architectural treasures, is in the midst of some sort of sanitation crisis and we do not recommend investing in property there any time soon.

Back at the conference, we attended the talk given by Marie-Françoise Limon-Bonnet, head of the Minutier Central at the National Archives, on finding the professions and work of ancestors in notarial records ("Travail et ses conditions à travers les archives notariales françaises"). She pointed out that there are two other excellent sources: the actes d'état civil and the court records, décisions de la justice, before plunging into the subject of her talk. The best notarial records for finding out a person's work are:

  • Marriage contracts
  • Wills
  • Inventories after death
  • Apprentice contracts
  • Service contracts
  • Employment contracts

Generally, in each of such documents, a person's full name, date and place of birth, address and occupation are all given. In departmental archives, they are found in series E. In Paris, they are in the Archives nationales in the Minutier Central, for which a number of data bases are online. Madame Limon-Bonnet described ARNO, which enables a search of all notarial documents by all text for the years 1551, 1751, 1761 and 1851. 

Lille architecture 3

The following day, we attended the talk by the Quebecois, Marcel Fournier, the head of the Fichier Origine, THE database online of French pioneers in Nouvelle France. The Fichier Origine has over 5000 documents digitised and online. Mr. Fournier pointed out that while it was illegal to post some of them in France, it was not so in Canada, so there they are.

The title of his talk was "Métier du Père en France, Métier du Fils en Nouvelle France", a study of professions of fathers in France and those of their immigrant sons in Quebec. He had done a number of searches across the database and had quite an array of statistics. More than a third of the men who settled were in the military, while nearly half of all fathers had been artisans. The jobs that had the highest occurrence of remaining the same between father and son, old world and new were merchants (34%) military officers (13%) and oddly, to our mind, surgeons (12%).

Fichier Origine is a nearly complete source and allows for  numerous such statistical studies. We have long made it a habit to refer research requests about the pioneers of Nouvelle France to that site. It makes us wish we had a French ancestor who had made the journey.

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


XXIe Congrès national de Généalogie - Part Two

Rossi - rôles de tailles

The first talk we attended at the conference was by Alain Rossi, the president of the cercle de l'Auvergne et du Velay. "Using Tax Rolls as a Complement to the BMS" was an excellent and blissfully practical explanation of eighteenth century rôles de taille (literally, tithing rolls) as an aid to genealogical research. To illustrate their use, Rossi presented a research problem of some bewildering complexity involving intermarriages in the 1740s, then showed how he had untangled it with research into the tax rolls.

He gave the derivation of the word, taille. (Apparently, it comes from a word meaning to slice a baguette so that the taxman can have his share. That got a chuckle.) He explained the timing and administrative procedure for calculating the amounts due from each person. The  really precious documents are the collectors' books, which detail all that was collected, giving the names of all and their relationships in their families, and descriptions of their holdings. By following a person or family through the years in these records, one can learn much more about their businesses, their work, their financial ups and downs and about changes in the family.

  Jeu des 7 familles

Xavier Guyot, president of Loiret Généalogique and of the Club IBM d'Orléans,  gave an enchanting, tongue-in-cheek survey of métiers, (skills or professions), as shown in the old and still belovèd card game, le Jeu de 7 Familles. He had the best illustrations of the day, taken from his personal collection of many sets of the cards. This game, he informed the packed room, was a craze that swept Europe in the nineteenth century.  It was known as "Happy Families" in Britain, as "Gioco delle famiglie" in Italy, and made its way to the United States as "Authors" (how did that change in meaning come about?) His examples of the different types of employment given the families during different decades were accompanied by the images - really caricatures - from the cards. We propose that everyone become a collector of the old sets of this game, for they are one of the few opportunities to see exactly how the French mock their own. We plan to hunt some up at the next vide grenier.*

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


*literally, "attic emptying", in practice, it is the same as a garage sale or car boot sale

XXIe Congrès national de Généalogie

Congrès national de généalogie

We have been to Lille, for the Twenty-first National Congress of Genealogy, an event of presentations and exhibits held every two years. The theme of this congress is "Our Ancestors and Their Work" and we will be reporting on the presentations we attended. The event originally was planned to be held in nearby Roubaix, where are found the National Archives of the World of Work,  Archives nationales du monde du travail, a depository of corporate and other work-related archives. Unfortunately, it seems that the town of Roubaix was not able to cope with a large influx of genealogists, and the conference had to be moved. It being held over a national holiday, no archives were open to visit, not even those at Roubaix.

FamilySearch stand

The economic pinch was felt. The exhibitors included a few representatives of makers of genealogy software, but not many. FamilySearch had a huge stand but could not afford to put any of the posters, signs, brochures or screens into French, so it got little attention. Lille is in the department of Nord, and the Departmental Archives had a very nice stand, as did those of the neighbouring department, Pas-de-Calais.

As the patron of the congress is the Fédération française de généalogie,  the bulk of the stands were taken by the various associations and cercles généalogiques from all round the country. Even among these, however, many on the programme list did not actually show. Numbers of conference attendees seemed, to us, well below those of the 2009 conference, in Paris.

Congress stands

 Genealogy is a luxury hobby for most people, one of the first expenses to be dropped in hard times. That was most evident this year. Even so, all was not doom and gloom; cheering up all he met, the cheese guy was there again:

Cheese guy

Yet, there is another possible reason for the low attendance. In the past, people could take the opportunity at the conference to ask at each stand for a bit of research help. As we have described previously, the members of the various genealogy circles and associations have spent years compiling alphabetised extracts of the names on the baptisms, births, marriages, deaths and burials for the towns in their departments. At the conference, each stand has its books of these extracts for sale, and they now also have their computers to do searches for people.

Times have changed. Half of the departmental archives and dozens of municipal archives have images of the originals online. The genealogy circles themselves have put their extracts online via Geneabank and Bigenet. Their clientèle have little need for them.

This being something that will not go away even when the money starts to flow again, the key to a successful congress in the future is clearly going to be the quality  and quantity of the talks, workshops and presentations. These have improved greatly over the offerings of the last conference (which were a mixture of exciting and great with the unqualifiedly soporific). There were nearly forty presentations, all with some sort of reference to the theme of work, and nearly all given by known and respected experts. The workshops, especially those on paleography, are always hot tickets, and they were more of them this year. We attended the one on how to create a genealogy blog. Never too late to learn.


©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Secrets of the Archives nationales d'outre-mer



Interesting things are being digitised and put online by ANOM, the Archives nationales d'outre-mer in Aix-en-Provence. These archives used to be in Paris and everyone moaned loudly when they were relocated to the south of France (except, perhaps, the sun-loving members of the staff), as we all moan now at the planned relocations of more archives to outside of central Paris. Generally, the response of the bureaucrats is something along the lines of "go to Hades, you annoying citizen," for the concept of service is not taught to public servants here (or to anyone else, for that matter). The folks at ANOM, however are a decidedly different kettle of fish.

They do not publicise all that they are doing, possibly to avoid the wrath of lazier colleagues, but they seem to be doing quite a lot that is of interest to genealogists. Just a few days ago, we reported here on the new database on the bagnards, those sent to penal colonies overseas. Their work of digitising the parish and civil registers of baptisms, births, marriages, deaths and burials of ex-colonies now includes those for:

  • Algeria
  • French Guiana
  • Ile Royale in Canada
  • Martinique
  • Saint Domingue (now Haiti)
  • Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon in Canada
  • Guadeloupe
  • Saint-Lucie in the Antilles

It seems that it will be a long wait until they get around to putting up those for Biloxi, Kaskaskia, Fort de Chartres and New Orleans, let alone the dozens of locales in Indochina. (Their map allows one to keep up with their work  on the registrations.)

Yet, they are not limiting their digitising to just parish and civil registrations and prisoners. A look at the detailed lists, the inventaires détaillés, shows that they are also putting up an enormous amount of correspondence and personnel files from the consulates, local prefectures of colonies, and the Ministries of Marine, Interior, War, State and Colonies.  Click on any of the lists, and the next page is a description of the collection, with links at the bottom to the sub-categories. Even better, it is possible to search this list in other ways: chronologically, by location, or by the ministry or other organisation of authorship.

Search possibilities

Best of all, it is possible to search all of this additional material that is online, (thus, excluding the parish and civil registers, but including the bagnards) with a simple search screen that allows one to search by name or content. There are even prompts for all of the names. We typed in Nouvelle Orléans and got a list of ninety-three files on individuals who had been in New Orleans in the 1700s. They included soldiers, doctors, civil servants, and ordinary citizens. Their entire files are online. 

A search on the word Cambodge brings up the names of twenty notaires in Cambodia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but the minutes have not yet been put online. A search on the word Inde, brings up 361 files on those who were in French India from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. Again, the personnel files have been digitised, but not yet the notarial files. 

We find this an increasingly exciting resource. Every month, the archivists at ANOM seem, ever so quietly, to upload another bit of their wonderful collection. Keep checking it.


©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy