Book Review - Ma généalogie : Comment retrouver l'histoire de ma famille?
A Farewell

French Genealogy - the Search in Reverse

Retrouver
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Sometimes, it can be advantageous to look at things from a different angle in order the better to understand them. Thus, this book:
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"Retrouver un ancêtre français parti à l'étranger : Les français à l'étranger et leur déscendance" by Guillaume de Morant. It is published by Archives & Culture, in their series, "Guides de Généalogie".
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At seventy-seven pages, it is a mere slip of a thing, but very little of it is useless filler. Its readership is intended to be those whose ancestors left France. The author points out in his Introduction that many books about tracing the ancestry of migrants into France have been written but that this is the first about tracing the descendants of those who left France. The idea is good, if the presentation of the concept baffling.  The average descendant does not wish to follow an ancestral line down to himself or herself, but works from his or her parents back through ancestors, no? The average descendant of a French emigré would not be in France, buying this French book, unless the ancestor or another in the line had returned, making this book something of a cry in the dark, with a miniscule readership. Fortunately, you have us to guide you to it, and all is well.
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We suspect that the convoluted sales pitch comes from a desire to avoid the words migrant and migration, which carry hefty baggage, but that is what the book is about. For those having trouble finding an ancestor's place of origin in France, this could be of some small help, for some groups from some places went only to some destinations. For others, knowing a bit more as to the cause of migration during certain eras could give a better understanding of a group of ancestors and perhaps a clue or two to aid in their identification.
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De Morant gives the briefest of histories of the main waves of migration from France, beginning with the Huguenots in the mid-sixteenth century. (For those who wish to trace their French ancestors prior to 1550, he has this to say: "Oubliez!" e.g. Forget it! The documentation was required by law from 1539.) He gives the reasons for others leaving in order of importance:
  • Hunger
  • War
  • Colonization
  • Racial, religious or class persecution
  • Military, administrative or diplomatic service that became a permanent expatriation
  • Banishment and exile of criminals
  • Political opposition

His section entitled "Originaires de Toute la France" discusses where many of the migrants called home. He relates that, from 1650 to 1730, some 200,000 French Huguenots left the country. One third were from Normandy and the Ile-de-France; this group went primarily to what is now The Netherlands. Another third were from the regions of Aquitaine and Saintonge; they went primarily to the British Isles and North America. The final third were from the south and southeast of France and went mainly to Switzerland and Germany, with a smattering going all the way to South Africa. A very useful intial guide, that.

We have previously written about French nationality being retained by emigrants and passed on to their children.  Monsieur de Morant includes this among his three categories of French in foreign climes:

  • The Expatriate lives outside of France for reasons of work and intends to return, thus remaining within the French systems of documentation
  • The Permanent Resident lives outside of France and may not intend to return but is registered with the French embassy or consulate and retains French citizenship, and will appear less and less in the documentation, except that which deals specifically with this group
  • The Emigrant left France and has no intention of returning or of retaining French nationality. Obviously, this person does not appear much in French documentation after he or she emigrates.

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The above is in the first third or so of the book. The rest covers how to trace these emigrants in French documentation, most of which has been described here on our humble blog:

The last section of the book covers how to research in the various countries to which these people emigrated, and is rudimentary.

Buy this little book. Sit down with it and with your notes. Comb through both looking for a hint. All you need is one.

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

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