A basher of brick walls par excellence, this. Periodically, during the nineteenth century, the government of France ordered its embassies and consulates to take a census of French citizens living abroad. They complied, albeit in their own sweet time, it seems, so that the years are somewhat irregular. London performed a census in 1833, Texas and Mexico in 1849, Mexico again in 1851. World wide, most posts did submit a census some time between 1848 and 1850 (perhaps linked to the 1848 Revolution), and again between 1872 and 1873 (perhaps linked to the Franco-Prussian War).
The detail of the returns varies widely in usefulness to the genealogist. For the 1872-3 census, Brazil responded with the simple statement that there were 114 French adults and 42 French minors in the country. Point. But Los Angeles (see below), Antwerp, Beijing, Rome, Mexico City and many others sent in detailed forms that give:
- Surname and first name
- Place of birth in France, giving the town and department
- Marital Status
Some also give a spouse's name and list children, exactly as in a national census in France.
The index to these census returns is not online. The series is entitled "Etats des Français à l'étranger" and it is a sub-series of the series "Affaires diverses politiques (1815-1896)". Within the Salle de Lecture, or Reading Room, of the Archives diplomatiques at La Courneuve, the listing of the fourteen volumes of census returns is in a binder on the archivist's desk. They are arranged alphabetically, by city. The originals may not be consulted, but they have been microfilmed and the microfilm is freely accessible in the same room. They are, as follows:
- Roll no. 18201 contains volumes 1 and 2
- Roll no. 18202 contains volumes 3 and 4
- Roll no. 18203 contains volumes 5, 6 and 7
- Roll no. 18204 contains volume 8
- Roll no. 18205 contains volumes 9 and 10
- Roll no. 18206 contains volumes 11 through 14
If you know your French ancestor was in a certain foreign city during the nineteenth century and you are having trouble learning more, hot-foot it out to La Courneuve and start checking those census returns!
©2012 Anne Morddel