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February 2012

The Irish in France

Soldier Silhouette

 The Irish have been coming to France forever, but in the seventeenth century, after the Nine Years War, the success of the Glorious Revolution and the defeat of the Jacobite forces, the numbers were enormous. James II and his court, along with about 24,000 Irish men, women and children, took up residence in France. They had their own regiments within the French army, the most notable being Dillon's. Some of them  have been thoroughly researched and discussed by Nathalie Genet-Rouffiac in her fine tome, Le Grand Exil : les Jacobites en France, 1688-1715, published by the Service historique de la Défense in 2007. Using the many files in the SHD archives, Genet-Rouffiac has traced the military careers of all of the Irishmen in the French army and, in some cases, on their families as well. The book's index of names could be much better but it is still an excellent resource for those tracing Irish ancestors in France.

The Cercle Généalogique de Versailles et des Yvelines at one time had a working group on the Jacobites. Their website,, seems to be faulty and sets off all sorts of alarming messages on our computer. However, they have combed local documents for all traces of Jacobites and have listed them. Some of these lists are in the Archives nationales and some have been published in their newsletter over the years.

The finest online resource we have found to date is the Irish in Europe Project of the Department of History at the National University of Ireland at Maynooth. As the title makes clear, it covers the Irish in all of Europe, not just France, and people of all walks of life, not just the military. To use their Virtual Research Environment (VRE) one must register, but it is free. Then, one can search across the following collections:

The primary search is on a surname. Results give the full name, where the person went, and the collection in which they appear. One can click on "Full Record" to see more and get the complete source for the data. Alternatively, one can search by region of origin in Ireland, but that tends to bring a hefty number of results.

There is plenty of information here, with biographical data on more than 40,000 people. The other pages, with explanations of historical events are clear and complete. It is a pretty site.

Sadly, as of early 2017, this site seems to be down. Please do let us know if you come across a working link!

These sources may be of  help to any of you tracing an ancestor in one of the flights from Ireland to France. 

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Finistère Departmental Archives - A Game of Wait and See


At one time in the distant past, we had a beau who was a philosopher, a Japanese Wittgensteinian with strong leanings toward Quine. He was baffled by the expression "wait and see". 

"Does it mean that you see while you wait?" the Philosopher asked.

"No, it means if you wait, you will see."

"Is that an ontological certainty?"

"Not any kind of certainty. That's why you have to see."

"So, really, it should be wait to see, not wait and see?"

'No, that sounds wrong. It's more iffy than that." 

"Well, does it mean that, if you wait, you will see or only that you might see?"

"Agghh! It means that you will see, in the sense of understand, because either you will see or you won't see, but in either case you will understand that something has happened or it has not!"

"Understand?" the Philosopher said, pouncing. "You said nothing about understanding. Does this expression mean that seeing is understanding, empirically?"


Fed up with the wait for the Departmental Archives of Finistère to go online? So are a few others. A  large number of folks from Finistère left France for the New World and their descendants are champing at the bit, as they say, to be able to do online research on those ancestors. The folks from Finistère who stayed put have descendants who have been a tad snooty about la numérisation -- digitizing images, in this case of parish and civil registrations -- and for long have refused to discuss the very idea of putting said registrations online. Now, they say they will. It was to have been in January. It is now predicted for March. Is this mere stonewalling or dare we hope that the delay is because it will be the Mother of all Departmental Archives Websites? We can only wait and see, or perhaps wait to see.

Two cities within the boundaries of Finistère that are not waiting any longer, having seen enough, have set up their own websites with parish and civil registrations online and free to view. Both are major ports, and both are boons to genealogists.

  • Brest has had the archives of the Mairie -- the town hall -- online for a while now.  They have more than parish and civil registrations, in a somewhat haphazard list.
  • Quimper has just opened its website with parish and civil registrations, electoral lists and censuses. 


  • Roscoff writes that it has its registrations online, but we cannot get the site to work for love or money.

Though that is it for the moment for online municipal and communal archives in Finistère, remember that you can check to see what other towns have websites with the regularly updated list of the Archives de France or with the map of same maintained by GénéInfos

If these do not work for you then, sorry, but you have to wait.

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


How France Has Changed

Ma Vigne small

Technology swamps our lives. Instead of marathon Monopoly sessions with the neighbourhood gang, our children played computer games. Instead of soberly reading Plato by the fireside of an evening, we find ourselves trawling iTunes for a good film, and there never is one.  Yet there can be jolly aspects to all of this gadgetry, one being selecting a ditty for the phone. Ours is a rousing tune. When we are trudging from one archival facility to another, often via the Métro, the word most aptly applied to us might be biddy, or perhaps frump, but if our phone rings, the tune brings a surprised smile to those around us at first and then, when it is recognized, a frown, it being the Overture of 1812 and celebrating the Corsican's defeat at the gates of Moscow. (By way of compensation, we give above a ditty celebrating French victory, albeit of a different sort.)

Had he won, Napoleon would have extended the boundaries of France to a degree that would have disconcerted mapmakers for generations. As it is, the boundaries of France, particularly on the north and the east, have shifted with the speed and contortions of a sidewinder on scorching sand. For those tracing their ancestors who lived near the northern or eastern borders, it can be very tricky indeed, for it is difficult to know just when a certain region was part of France or not and so, whether to search in French records or perhaps Belgian or Italian archives.

To those of us who have never had the benefit of an education covering the entirety of French history comes a spot of relief from La Maison de l'histoire de France with two dandy animated maps. One shows the changing northern border of France through the past five hundred years; the other shows the changes along the border formed by the Alps. Technology the way it should be. Really simple. Really clear. Really useful.

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Hard Times in France

Jean Valjean small

We are all suffering here with unusually cold weather for which we are pretty much always unprepared. Thus, pipes have frozen and burst at our little abode in the countryside. The outrageously expensive heater is working overtime to burn fuel faster than Malcolm Lowry could knock 'em back, though it may have greater discernment. Roads are not cleared and have been covered with solidly packed ice for a week. The temperature has dropped to lows so evil that they can come only from the heart of Lucifer. It is, as they say here, a catastrophe. 

Our kindly plumber tells us that there have been other years of such painfully icy froid, and he rattled off 1946-7 1956, 1974, 1985-6, 1993 and now. Of course, there have been other such catastrophes of cold, epidemic, and famine throughout history in France. Might as well list a few now, as this bit of history is useful for the genealogist to know, whether to guess a cause of death or a reason for emigration.

  • 1620 Political instability and revolt of the nobles against the king
  • 1626-31 - Constant political instability as Richelieu and Marie de Medici battle for power
  • 1628 The city of La Rochelle surrenders to the French crown
  • 1685 Edict of Nantes revoked and persecution of Protestants resumes
  • 1693-1694 Famine killed 1.7 million French people
  • 1720 The Great Plague of Marseille (where the Black Death first entered France in 1347)
  • 1738 The grain harvests failed
  • 1749 Such hardship that there were food riots and anti-tax riots in Paris
  • 1779 Dysentery epidemic
  • 1788 After a freakishly hot July, the winter brought extreme cold, -22 C in Paris; there were bread riots throughout the country
  • 1789 Extreme cold in January; French Revolution begins in the summer
  • 1803-1815 Napoleonic Wars
  • 1815 Final defeat of Napoleon and a rather vengeful invasion of the conquerors
  • 1830 Revolution in France
  • 1832 cholera epidemic throughout France killed over 100,000 people
  • 1836 Extreme cold
  • 1838 Extreme cold
  • 1847-8 “The hungry forties”, a time of  severe economic depression
  • 1848 Another revolution and another cholera epidemic
  • 1849 Another cholera epidemic
  • 1854 Yet another cholera epidemic, killing approximately 143,000
  • 1870-71 Franco-Prussian War, with the loss of the regions of Alsace and Lorraine; there was also a smallpox outbreak
  • 1873 Cholera epidemic
  • 1886 the first appearance of the disease, phylloxera, that was to wipe out many vineyards and put thousands out of work

Obviously, this is not a comprehensive or exhaustive list, but it does give some of the larger events. Perhaps one of the above touched the life of your ancestor.

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Many More Finding Aids to Military Archives Now Online!

Artilleur 1915

The Service Historique de la Défense has just put online more than one hundred finding aids to the military archives they hold, bringing the total to over three hundred. These finding aids are PDF documents that explain the contents of and give the codes to various files and cartons in the archives. All of them are of use to the genealogist as well as the historian for they cover not only policy but personnel and go as far back as 1740. The main archives categories included are:

  • Army
  • Ministerial, interministerial and inter-army
  • Navy
  • Air Force
  • Armaments

Within the above are also many personal archives donated by the individuals or their families. All are in French, of course. Most do not include lists of names, but some do, such as:

  • Well-known military people - Répertoire des célébrités
  • Geographical engineers - Répertoire des ingénieurs-géographes 
  • General Officers of the Army - Officiers généraux de l'Armée de Terre
  • Pension files of the officers of the colonial troops in North Africa - Dossiers de pensions des troupes coloniales et ressortissants de l'Afrique du Nord....1850-1950
  • Administrators, inspectors, commissariats - Commissaires des guerres, inspecteurs aux revues, intendants militaires 1791-1847
  • Army chaplains - Aumôniers 1791-1847 
  • Veterinary surgeons - Vétérinaires 1791-1847
  • Female personnel - Femmes militaires 1791-1900
  • Canteen workers, sutlers, and laundresses - Cantinières, vivandières et blanchisseuses 1791-1900

Searching through these finding aids can help one to prepare for a more productive visit to the archives at the Château de Vincennes.

Bonne chance!

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Try Planète Généalogie - Now Heredis Online

Sarlat window view small

Online family trees and genealogies are treacherous territory, genealogical quicksand at times. Their danger is that they are so often just plain fiction. They may include faulty research or no research at all. They may have few sources,  no sources, disputed sources, silly sources, or the fraudulent sources of the likes of Gustave Anjou, whose name is cooler than his work. Their beauty is that sometimes they are very, very good, with superb documentation and sourcing and that they can put one in touch with others researching the same lines.

In France, many people put their genealogy trees online on or, the big guns of commercial genealogy in France. Planète Généalogie  - now Heredis online - brings up the rear, but trees posted there are rarely duplicated on the others. It is run by the makers of the Heredis genealogy software, probably the most popular genealogy software in France, and certainly the most sophisticated. (Its users are not limited to France; for some reason, it is quite popular in New Zealand.) Those who purchase Heredis  can choose to upload and share their trees on Planète Généalogie. Many thousands have done so, making it a fairly useful site. 

A bit of vocabulary may be of use.

On the opening search page:

  • Nom = surname
  • Lieu = place
  • Prénom = first name
  • Conjoint = spouse
  • Année début = beginning year
  • Année fin = ending year

 On the search results page:

  • Evt. = event, with some twee symbols indicating birth, marriage and death
  • Commune = city or town 
  • Filiation = family members
  • Auteur = click to access the relevant page of the person's tree

Heredis Online has knocked through brick walls for a couple of people we know, so give it a go and let us know how it works for you.

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy