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April 2012

French Graves in India

Last Post cover

Pondichéry is upon us again! In truth, this happy find of a book covers nearly all of French India. The Last Post : Inscriptions on French Graves in India is a labour of love by K.J.S. Chatrath, (who also wrote something entitled  "The Joy of Mental Health", but let's not worry about that). Dr. Chatrath is a retired civil servant and now writes a number of blogs as well as books on the interaction between France and India.

The Last Post, he admits, is not an exhaustive listing of all names from all French graves in all of India, but it is a pretty good beginning, we think.  His table of transcriptions reads, in part:

  • French Graves in Agra
  • French Sisters of St. Joseph of Tabres, buried in Bangalore
  • French Priests and Sisters Lying Buried in the Sacred Heart Church Compound, Bangaluru (Bangalore)
  • Graves in the Erstwhile French Cemetery at Calcutta (Kolkatta) - Since Demolished
  • Graves in the Chanerdagore Cemetery
  • Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny Who Died At Chandannagar Along With the Dates of Deaths
  • Graves at Sarurnagar, Hyderabad
  • Graves in the French Cemetery at Karaikal
  • List of Reverend Parish Priests, Our Lady of Angels Church, Karaikal
  • Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny Who Lie Buried in the Premises of Nirmalranee Girls Higher Secondary School, Karaikal, Along With the Dates of Death
  • Graves in the French Cemetery at Mahé
  • List of Missionaries and Vicars of the St. Theresa's Shrine of Mahé From Its Very Inception
  • Graves in the French Cemetery at Pondichéry
  • French Jesuit Fathes and Other Reverend Priests Who Lie Buried in the Premises of the Church at Pondichéry From 1691 Onwards, Mentioning Their Respective Years of Birth, Ordainment or Death
  • Sisters of St. Jospeh of Cluny Who Lie Buried in the St. Xavier's Church at Pondichéry Along With the Dates of Death
  • Graves in the Protestant English Cemetery at Pondichéry
  • Graves in the French Cemetery at Yanam (Yanaon)
  • List of the Priests of Yanam (Yanaon)
  • List of the Dead Noted in the Death Register of Europeans, Pondichéry Commune, 1830
  • Some of the Recipients of the Légion d'Honneur Lying Buried in Graves in the Erstwhile French Settlements in India

There is discussion of some of the more celebrated names, including:

  • Victor Jacquemont, botanist
  • Jean Baptiste de Warren, astronomer
  • Eugène Courjon, billiards player
  • Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, jeweller

There are a few photographs. Within the above chapters, the names are in bold, followed by the inscriptions in normal typeface. There is a bibliography of works on French India. There is an index. Unfortunately, it is arranged firstly by cemetery, and secondly, alphabetically by the first name. The book is in Indian English and has been self-published, sans proof reader. 

Nevertheless, we find this an impressive achievement, bringing to the world of French genealogy data that would otherwise be extremely difficult to acquire. Combined with previously mentioned resources on Pondichéry and French India, this could be a true aid to finding a lost ancestor. Should you be so lucky, it would appear that Dr. Chatrath would be willing to photograph graves for you.

Click on the book title above to be taken to, should you wish to purchase it.

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


The FGB Is Three Years Old, and Offers a Gift of Three Great Research Tips to Break Down Your Brick Wall!

3rd blog anniversary

Now we are three, and we cannot express fully our gratitude to all of you our Dear and Belovèd Readers, for your loyalty, your suggestions and comments, your many kind words about and occasional donations to The French Genealogy Blog. We began intrepidly, with optimism and little else, and have been rewarded with what has become a community of readers with endless interest in this fascinating subject of genealogy in France. It warms the cockles, indeed it does.

In gratitude, we offer another gift to you all: a selection  -- one for each of our three years -- of our best and most useful tips for difficult research problems in French genealogy. Countless times, in our own research, we have resorted to these procedures and discovery has resulted. We hope that they will be of help to you. To receive a PDF copy by e-mail of "Three Great Tips", send a request by e-mail to us :

amerigen (AT) yahoo (DOT) com

We will rush it to you by return e-post. 

We will be opening a bottle of the Veuve tonight in celebration and raising a glass in thanks to each and every one of you, Dear Readers.

Fêtez avec nous!

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Help in Tracing the Ancestral Bakers and Pastry Chefs



In our golden youth, we had a summer job in the Sierra Nevadas during our university years. In our tiny home town of two hundred and forty-three mountain folk, some elegant ladies from "down the mountain" decided to establish, in the old plumber's supply shack, a country wares shop. It was a boutique for the tourist trade, a place none of us local bumpkins could afford, with hundreds of adorable, expensive, useless things, many imported from France.

The shop had a luncheon restaurant. Under the pine trees out back, had been placed a number of French café tables and chairs, all quite unstable on the roots surging up from the ground, and the owners had hired a couple of la-di-da cooks from Sonoma. The menu was sandwiches -- ham and cheese, pastrami on rye, bagels with lox -- standard fare that the owners had cleverly named after their friends from San Francisco's high society. These punters came repeatedly, with all of their family and friends, to smile, verily to beam, at seeing their names on the menu. Good trick.

The place was a ten minute walk along Highway Eighty-nine from our home,  ideal for a summer job. We were the pastry chef, and a woeful one at that. We spent every night alone in the kitchens (those fancy Sonoma cooks were catering dinners elsewhere), trying to make pastry recipes written for sea level ovens work at an altitude of more than six thousand feet. Every cake was a failure. Some turned instantly to stone, some fell to soft pieces. The former were thrown out the door for the coyotes, the latter were covered in whipped cream and chocolate shavings and put bravely on the dessert trolley.

Pie disasters were impossible to disguise the same way or the entire trolley would have been whipped cream and so, were smashed and dumped into trifles -- colourful layers of sugary goo. Excess pie disasters went out for the coyotes as well. Waitresses left notes for us, saying they were tired of slicing into a confection of whipped cream that looked lovely only to find chocolate sludge within. It took our employers three summers to figure out why the desserts never sold and fire us. Clearly, we never would have been enrolled in the ranks of the august members of the Fédération des Compagnons Boulangers, Pâtissiers Restés Fidèles au Devoir, or the C.B.P.R.F.A.D..

Boulangerie sign

Founded in 1811,  when Napoleon was Emperor, apparently on the day of the patron saint of bakers, Saint-Honoré, the federation has had, over the years, some six thousand members. This is no ordinary bakers' club. This is an organization of perfectionists who are highly trained professionals who see their baking of bread and maccarons, croissants, pains au chocolat,  as an art. In short, it is a guild, one that tightly controls qualifications and lavishly aids members.

Now two hundred years old, the C.B.P.R.F.A.D. offers something new in the world of French genealogy: a genealogical research service in their records for your ancestor. If your ancestor was a compagnon boulanger or patissier, you can send in his or her name with, if you have it, place and date of birth. They, in turn will send you copies of everything they have on your ancestor. They would appreciate even more information and documentation from you, if possible, giving the impression that someone plans to write a biographical dictionary of the membership. 

We have not tested this service and would be pleased to hear from any of our Precious Readers who do. It seems rather naively generous, and we suspect that, once they will be swamped by the inevitable deluge of requests, the offer will be withdrawn quickly, so get in there fast, we say.

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Cimetière parisien de Pantin - The Pantin Cemetery


We read on the very fine blog of Janice Sellers, Ancestral Discoveries, that the Pantin cemetery was embarking on a rash of reclamations of plots. We thought we should investigate. We dragged our weary self out to the near end of Line Seven on the Métro and hiked a long, traffic-blasted and gusty avenue to the entry. It looks rather battered but elegant in the photo above. Here is what one truly sees on approaching the entry:

Grubby entry

Four or five disembowelled sofas, rubbish bins, and a wide selection of empty beer bottles make for a different sort of depression from that usual to cemetery visits. Cross the threshold, however, and one is transported from grim poverty to grand avenues of beautiful gardens and mature trees. There are more than eight thousand trees, and the air is correspondingly cleaner than out on the road. A very nice place to spend eternity.

Grand street small

The Pantin cemetery is outside of the city of Paris, on the border between Pantin and Bobigny. Administratively, however, it is one of the Paris cemeteries. It is the largest cemetery in France and in Europe. It opened on the 15th of November, 1886, and has over 200,000 graves in 180 divisions, of which many are designated as Jewish divisions. When we asked about the threatened graves, we were told that in no case is an entire division or even a section threatened, but only individual graves. These include Jewish, gentile and other religions among them.

Jewish section

Graves and tombs in France are considered inviolable, except as concerns the bureaucrats, who can do as they please with the dead as well as with the living. The space in cemeteries could once have been bought as concessions à perpétuité, e.g. forever. Descendants merely had to keep up the tombs (they have a tendency to cave in if not maintained, and can be quite dangerous).

Untended grave

The population explosion having effected the cemeteries along with everything else involving humanity, the problem of overcrowded cemeteries has become urgent. In 2002, it was announced that all of the Paris cemeteries were full; there was absolutely no place for anyone to be buried. The press was full of comic headlines saying such things as "Death in Paris is Forbidden".

The solution has been to review the maintenance and condition of all of the graves taken as concessions à perpétuité, and there are reportedly some 1,157,533 in Paris, and reclaim those that have clearly been forgotten. There are rules: 

  • the grave has to have been abandoned for a minimum of thirty years
  • there must be an effort to find the family lasting at least four years
  • there must be a public notice that the grave is planned to be reclaimed unless family come forward
  • if the family do come forward, they have up to three years to make repairs; if they fail to do so, the bones will be exhumed and sent to the ossuary, as we have explained here previously

As repairs can cost up to 10,000 euros, one can be sympathetic to the families that have let the graves fall into disrepair. Nevertheless, there is a waiting list of dead, we read, though we cannot work out just where they are waiting, and the pressure on the cemetery administrators is intense. Many Jewish families want plots in the Jewish sections, many Muslim families want plots facing Mecca, many Christian families want plots in the Christian sections. Everyone wants plots near to relatives. Consequently, efforts to reclaim space have increased significantly. Hence, the blog post by Ms. Sellers and other notices in the press.

Pantin is run as are the other cemeteries. The summer and winter hours correspond to the hours of daylight. To find a grave, you must have the full name of the deceased and the date of burial or at least that of death. With that information, you can go to the office, just at the entry, and request directions to the grave. The guards wait outside and in a most kind and unParisian way will offer to drive you to the correct section, if you feel it may be too far to walk. The cemetery is so large that cars are permitted, should you wish to take one.

There is no online list of all those buried at Pantin, but Ms. Sellers's post does give a list of the names on those Jewish graves that are at risk of reclamation. If you think that your ancestor may be at Pantin, and you wish to plunk the small fortune to protect his or her grave for a bit longer, you can write to or ring the administration:


Bureau d'administration

Cimetière parisien de Pantin

164, avenue Jean-Jaurès

93   Pantin


(+33) 1 40 33 85 89 (general number)

(+33) 1 48 10 81 00 (Pantin office number)

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

A New Feature - Books to Download

Bon Marche 3


In the right-hand column on this page, we have long had lists of recommended books, in English and in French, some with links to pages from which the book may be purchased. Yet, there are many older books, usually out of print, which we think could be of interest to those researching their French ancestors. We thought it might be nice if we made available -- where possible -- downloads of some of the better books we have read that might shed light on the life of the French long ago. Fiction is a delight, but the best genres for this are surely epistolary collections and autobiography, so this is most of what we expect to be putting on the new page, to be found on the upper left-hand side of this blog, entitled "Good Reads" and inaugurated today.

The first book is The Little Madeleine, by Mrs. Robert Henrey. Mrs. Henrey was born Madeleine Gal in Paris in 1906, the daughter of a miner and a seamstress who also could make lace. They were poor but Madeleine was bright and observant. Her descriptions of her life in Clichy are full of the sharp, critical observations in the practical, realistic, utterly unsentimental and unromantic tone that is the hallmark of French thought. (Her title is an obvious reference to the famous first thirty pages of Proust, whose work is the marathon of description of Parisian life that we hope to run again one day.)

Time Magazine wrote of the book:

"French-born Madeleine Henrey, a highly intelligent woman, must have realized the risk she was running in writing the story of her childhood. All she had to work with were the short and simple annals of the poor. Yet The Little Madeleine is a triumph over the facts of life, a moving story of considerable charm and readability..."

The life that she describes before the First World War is as it could have been lived during the previous fifty or one hundred years: village weddings, the poor struggling to place babies with wetnurses in order to be able to work, the frantic work life of women who worked as seamstresses. With the War and the many extreme changes it brought, the new class differences, the new possibilities, her descriptions continue to be valuable to anyone researching their Parisian ancestors.

Please check out the new page; we hope you will enjoy this book and the others to come.

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy



An Ancestor From Pondichéry?


We are enamoured of the euphonious and Pondichéry lures us with its syllabic charm alone, but it is of historical and genealogical interest to some of you, our Dear Readers. Historically, it was one of the five pockets that constituted French India, that thorn in the side of the Raj. Genealogically, it is a black hole at the moment, for the actes d'état civil, the civil registrations of birth, marriage and death, for some two hundred years of French presence, are not yet online at the excellent website of the Archives nationales d'outre mer (ANOM). On its superb search engine, IREL, one can find the actes d'état civil of many of France's ex-colonies, but not yet those of India. 

Our readers in India and those descended from Pondichérians under French rule may find it useful to know that the Société de l'histoire de l'Inde française, under the auspices of the French governor of the territory, Alfred Martineau, and working in the early twentieth century, published a listing of all of the births, marriages and deaths in Pondichéry from 1676 through 1784. They are presented in three volumes, with an alphabetical index at the end of the third volume. They can be viewed online at Gallica, and we give the links here:


Résumé des Actes de l

Résumé des Actes de l 



Résumé des Actes de l


Combine searching in these tomes with a search among the crew and passenger lists of the Compagnie des Indes and, perhaps, you will get very lucky.

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

2014 Update: There is now a facebook page all about Pondichéry genealogy.