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An Internal Passport from the First Empire

1807 Passeport

We wrote about passe-ports in a previous post. We described an internal passport but were not able to display any of our many photographs of them, due to the high fees required by the Departmental Archives for the use of images of their holdings (fair enough for them to charge fees but as this blog charges none, we attempt to keep our costs low). A few days ago, on our trundlings through the premises of various brocantes, we found a passport for sale, à vendre, and happily snapped it up. But for a couple of creases, it is in rather good condition, enabling you to read it easily.

As we described before, the French passport of the 19th century was a sheet of paper that separated into two parts along a curved line. One part was kept by the voyager and constituted the passport. The other part was kept by the issuing authority. The issuer for an internal passport, such as this one, was the adminitrative centre, the chef-lieu, closest to where the person lived, in this case, Belloc in Haute-Vienne. Its copy of the above passport, if it has survived, would be found in the Departmental Archives of Haute-Vienne.

The genealogical value of such a document is basic. One might learn a full name, and a date and place of birth that were not yet known. Then, it would be possible to go to the archives or to write to the commune to obtain a copy of the birth registration, which would reveal a bit more. We find the true value of an internal passport to be in that it provides personal details about the individual, revealing more of the human being than even the largest collection of administratively required data can do. 

In this case, a rather short, illiterate (his passport shows that he could not sign his name) sixteen-year-old boy who has a big nose, grey eyes, a wide forehead and a scar over his right eye-brow is on his way from the town of his birth to Crecy. He would be travelling from a village of about 2000 people, where a dialect of Occitan would have been spoken, far north to Crécy. Why?  It was 1807, during the Premier Empire and the Napoleonic Wars and he was of an age for military service. Perhaps he was going north to join a unit. Perhaps he was going north to escape the service. Perhaps to visit relatives or to find work. The passport does not give a reason for travel, but it does give an image of the boy, making him not just another name in an ever-growing genealogy data-base, but a person.

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy