We present here a very simple will from 1920, which is not all that different from one of 1822, examined here previously. Wills in France are usually short affairs. By law, a person must leave equal and set portions to each of his or her children -- including adopted but not step-children -- and this cannot be changed. Thus, most people simply add a few notes. If there are no children, there are requirements as to the relatives who may then inherit. (The European Union has just given a ruling allowing ex-patriates in France to bypass this law, which they find so evil.) If they have all predeceased the testator, as would seem to be the case of the will presented here, there is a bit of choice.
In November, 1920, Marie Martin, a widow seemingly without children, in good health and of sound mind, appeared at the office of her notaire with four witnesses and dictated her will. She left everything to her niece, also named Marie Martin.
The beauty of even the simplest will can sometimes be the witnesses. They are not always relatives. Here, they are four gentlemen of various professions, all who live in the same town as the notaire and not in that of the testator. Perhaps she did not even know them; perhaps they were called in from nearby offices or workshops by the notaire. Perhaps in your genealogy research it is actually one of them you seek and not Marie. Unfortunately, few archives have put together an index of all people named in notarial documents, so there is no way to know in which document to seek your ancestor as a witness. (Some genealogy groups, such as Projet Familles Parisiennes, have an ongoing project to do just this.)
The best opportunities for such a search will come to those whose ancestors were in a small town that happened to have a resident notaire. If such be your case, we recommend that you trawl the notaire's minutes for the years during which your ancestor lived. As a witness or as a named relative, your ancestor could appear and you could learn much more about his or her real existence.
Our dear friend, Maître M. writes about this post:
"A regular duty for young stagiaires in my day (we spent about half the time filing documents in the greffe, was to serve as a "friend" for a "Family Council". The Civil Code, since changed, required a family council to decide things like declaring your mother incompetent, or accepting legacies on behalf of minor children. Usually the greffier, who in those days carried the wonderful title of protonotaire (from ecclesiastical courts) had about three seriously close relatives but had to find four others to make up the seven minimum (I must find where this seven comes from some day).
I have sent off old ladies to homes, told ten year olds that they must let their unknown to me uncle look after their property etc, with no guilt fealings at all until I read your note re witnesses."
©2012 Anne Morddel