If, in researching Parisian ancestors, you have come across those who have bourgeois de Paris after their names, you may:
- instantly assume nobility, and be wrong
- guess it means something along the lines of kulak, and be wrong
- be confused, and be right
We think that the current Wikipedia article on the subject is a bit misleading, for it leads off with an indication as to nobility, which was not always the case. Bourgeoisie was a status that changed over the years, was terminated and then, in 1716, restored. Though there were, indeed, some very old and powerful bourgeois families of Paris, by the eighteenth century, those who had the right to be called bourgeois de Paris were a very mixed bag.
The rights of the bourgeoisie de Paris could be acquired on application. The benefits were important. Coolest is that one could walk around with a sword. One could also then hold office as a magistrate or counsellor. For some trade associations, only bourgeoisie de Paris could become members.
Here is what the experts at the National Archives of France have to say about acquiring the statusof bourgeois de Paris in the eighteenth century. Firstly, one had to live in Paris for a year and a day. This had to be proven by showing receipts of payment of rent and poll tax (or head tax); simply lodging in the city for a year was not adequate.
Though the requirement generally meant that an applicant owned his home or was the primary renter, servants could become bourgois de Paris. If a domestic servant, even while living at the home of his master, could prove that he paid rent in Paris from his own funds or had inherited property, as well as paid the poll tax, he could qualify as a bourgeois de Paris. (We wonder about the social hierarchy in a house where the manservant was a bourgois de Paris and his master's application had been rejected.)
Bourgeois de Paris could be understood in two senses, really:
- In the older meaning, it was a social class of the wealthy, those who lived by independent means and did not need to practice a skill or enter into trade, who may not have been nobility in the strictest sense of the word, but were certainly "worthies".
- Yet, among artisans and tradesmen, many acquired the right to be known as bourgeois de Paris, and the majority of those from this group who applied tended to be from the provinces.
Thus, for the purposes of genealogy, coming across the term may mean that you have hit the jackpot and will find a substantial lineage in one of the older, long established families who were bourgeois de Paris. If so, you can plough through Lacombe's Histoire de la Bourgeoisie de Paris on Gallica. Or, it could mean that your ancestor, though a servant, had a solid connection with Paris. Or, coming across the term may actually mean that your ancestor was not from Paris, but was a tradesman from the provinces who had moved to the city. The term can take your research down completely different paths.
©2012 Anne Morddel