Still reading Rachel G. Fuchs, we suggest that, if you have an ancestor who was an unwed mother in Paris, you have a dip into the pages of Poor & Pregnant in Paris : Strategies for Survival in the Nineteenth Century. As with Contested Paternity, by the same author, this is not genealogy but history, yet it is history, in English mind you, of an aspect of nineteenth century Parisian life that is poorly understood by most non-French genealogists.
Fuchs has a fine, clear style, unencumbered by polemics or by the arrogant obfuscation so often present in the writing of those who do not have complete mastery of their subject, for mastery she indeed has. She leads the reader through explanations of laws that affected pregnant women and the poor, the changing social attitudes on morality and motherhood, governmental concerns about depopulation, charity, welfare, birth control, abortion, infanticide and child abandonment. Throughout the book, she uses examples of real women and children found in the Archives nationales, the Archives de l'Assistance publique and, especially, the Archives de Paris.
In these archives, she has used the same resources as would the genealogist researching an ancestor who may have:
- been born in the Hôpital Port-Royal
- been accused of killing her child
- been accused of illegally abandoning her child
- been an abandoned child
- received a certificate from the town hall which would have permitted an application for assistance
- attended the Crèche Saint Ambroise
- been placed with a wet nurse
There are no lists of names of women or children, but Fuchs gives so many real cases as illustrations that there is a small possibility of finding one's ancestor in the lot. Even if not, it is an excellent starting point for understanding the historical context of such an ancestor and for preparing a research plan in this quite difficult area of French genealogy. The list of archival sources, including codes, given at the end is invaluable.
Poor & Pregnant in Paris : Strategies for Survival in the Nineteenth Century
Rachel G. Fuchs
New Brunswick, New Jersey : Rutgers University Press, 1992
©2011 Anne Morddel