We continue with our reportage on the talks we attended and the stands we visited at the Twenty-third National Congress of Genealogy in Poitiers earlier this month with a talk whose title we shall not reveal. In translation, it surely could be considered slightly offensive to politically correct ears. The presenter was très originale, as the French say. With thick hair in a stylish blunt cut, she stood impatiently as the audience entered. Seated at the computer to be used for the presentation was a grey-haired gentleman. The presenter refused a microphone and spoke very quickly but not too loudly. The chart displayed on a screen was too high for her reach and there was no pointed, so she snatched a crutch from a person in the audience and wielded that toward the chart, as people looked at one another with some concern.
The gentleman at the computer seemed to have made a mistake was scolded roundly for it. Later, he contributed a comment, and the presenter whistled loudly at him to be quiet. The audience began to titter. He dared to speak again and received a shouted rebuke, bringing a few gasps from the audience. Not the nicest form of cabaret. Did we learn anything? Not about genealogy.
Fortunately, the next talk we attended was most interesting, quite astonishing, really. It was by Françoise-Albertine Mas and was entitled "La Vie et l'Histoire militaire d'un officier napoléonien de 1805 à 1812: Charles-Philippe Fitte de Soucy (1776-1813) - Officier de l'Etat Majeur à la Grande Armée". (Why mince words?) Mme. Mas was researching her soldier and followed the usual routes we have often detailed in this blog of seeking documentation in:
- The Departmental Archives for the places where the person was born, married, lived and died, in this case Paris and Yvelines
- The notarial records for that place, which would be in the Departmental Archives or, as here, in the Minutier Central des Notaires de Paris in the National Archives
- The military archives at the Service Historique de la Défense for this man's records of military service (described in our book)
Mme. Mas gathered a deal of information and learned that Charles-Philippe Fitte de Soucy was born in Versailles to a noble family, that he married and had two children, that he served in Napoleon's armies and seemed to have died on the doomed Russian campaign in 1812. She had also come across an old photocopy of an original letter from Fitte de Soucy, then a very ill prisoner in Königsberg, to his wife, in late 1812. She knew that what was then Prussian Königsberg became Soviet Kalinengrad, and she recalled a talk she had heard about a few years earlier in Paris.
A Belarusian historian named Anatole Stébouraka had visited Paris and floored academics and archivists with the revelation that the National Library of Belarus in Minsk had an enormous collection of books and manuscripts from France thought lost. They had been among the belongings of the illustrious Reinach family of historians, archaeologists and politicians, of the Rothschilds and other Jewish families, as well as the entire Masonic archives (thought destroyed by the French to prevent the Nazis from using it to persecute people) and the Slav Library of Paris. They had been stolen by the Nazis during the Occupation, taken to Germany, then taken by the Soviets and distributed around the Soviet Union. No one knew they still existed, until Mr. Stébouraka began writing about them. Much has been in a muddle and, bit by bit, the collection is being re-catalogued and organised. Mr. Stébouraka's description of the work on the Reinach collection can be heard here. It contains an unbelievable amount of original manuscripts, letters and documents from the Napoleonic era.
Mme. Mas wrote to Mr. Stébouraka and asked if this collection might have been the source of the photocopied letter and if so, had he any more by Fitte de Soucy? He wrote back that, yes, he had ninety letters written by the dying soldier to his wife. He very kindly sent copies of them all and Mme. Mas is soon to publish a book about them, for they present a deeply personal and very informative account of the Grand Army's retreat from Russia.
Lucky finds happen. Listen carefully to Mr. Stébouraka's talk. Perhaps there is a lucky find there concerning your French ancestor as well.
©2015 Anne Morddel