After our Case Study on Uniformologie, in which we reported an expert's view that the uniform in question was no French Army uniform and his speculations on what it could be (all wrong, by the way, but we are still grateful to him for his expertise) Monsieur R had no intention of giving up on the quest. Indeed no, he continued with heroic amounts of energy and determination and solved the riddle. With his kind permission, we give his account of the research below and hope that you may be inspired, even find new courage and ideas, to carry on your own research.
First, I would like to thank you, and tell you how much my wife (Madame R) and I enjoyed your "Uniformologie" Article, and your interest following our "needle in the haystack" search for the uniform identification and the ultimate confirmation of the identity of the man in the photo.
We were hoping to fulfill a dying wish of my wife's mother to learn about and tell her anything we could learn regarding her biological father. You see, due to the reasons unknown, my wife's mother, born in 1924, in Germany, was not told who her biological father was until well after she and her family had migrated to America in the 1930s. In fact, her mother was much older when her own mother (Madame R's grandmother) finally revealed who her biological father was. It was the handsome French man in uniform, in the old photo. The photo in question was always in my wife's grandmother's box of photos that she brought with her to America. They left their family village, located near the French Border, in search of work and a new life. We believe my wife's grandmother had met this man while across the border in France in search of work(?) Growing up in the Midwest, my wife had always been told by her grandmother that the man in the photo was a special friend. Eventually, my wife was told that the man in the photo was named Jules Martin, and that her grandmother had met him while in Sarrebourg, France.
So, in the last months of my wife's mother's life we began a search in earnest to confirm the identity of Jules Martin and perhaps of his life back in France. Unfortunately, to blur our endeavor, the name "Jules Martin" is about like Robert Smith in the USA. I always believed that the path to confirm the identity of Mr. Martin was along the route of first identifying the uniform, especially since it bore officer stripes. As you explained in your "Uniformologie" our search for the uniform identification was nearly in vain, even after exhaustive internet research. As a part of the search, my goal was to get this photo out on as many sites as possible, and to get the photo showing up in Google image pages as often and as early as possible-hoping someone may see it and know the man. We knew the photo was taken in Sarrebourg, France, by the photographer's imprint on the image. We also knew that the photo had to be taken in the early 1920s. We assumed the man, Jules Martin, to be about 20-25 years in age. We also searched under the assumption he was from that Alsace-Lorraine Region. At this time we were never able to confirm his existence through any mandatory military registration records, even though we reviewed many from Classes 1918-1924, in several "Departments." Nor, could any of the historical military forums I posted in, identify the uniform or insignia. Therefore, I began launching strategic darts, by way of emails containing the photo along with an explanation to civic officials in Sarrebourg and other Alsace-Lorraine Region Communes.
Finally, I received an email from a helpful director of tourism in Sarrebourg, whom I had contacted. She had distributed it to some folks in the Community, including the President of the Organization, "les Amis du Vieux Sarrebourg", translated as the “Friends of Old Sarrebourg.” And, thus, the needle was found! Through this Group, they identified the uniform as the "band uniform" of one of the local civic associations, known as the "Bengeles." (I suspect, that perhaps the uniform was from military surplus, because I had recently found that his uniform was remarkably similar to the Saint Maixent Military Academy uniform in the early 1900s.) One of the men of the "Friends of Old Sarrebourg" showed the photo to another friend in Sarrebourg, and this man identified the man in the photo, as indeed Jules Martin (aka Julius Martin)-his grandfather! He initially offered some sketchy information that his grandfather was born in 1899, and that he was a farmer, grocer and musician. Interestingly enough, the grandson has the exact same photo that was in my wife's old family box of photos.
With much pleasure, I shared this discovery with my wife and she listened with great emotion. Sadly, her mother had passed away earlier in the summer. Before we could tell her what we had finally learned of her biological father, Jules. My wife, Madame R, gave much consideration, thought, and prayer on how to take the next step. The dilemma of making contact with the living grandson, in France; considering the possible delicate situation arising from the relationship of my wife's grandmother and Jules Martin, long ago, in France, resulting in the birth of my wife's mother. Recently, my wife did send the email with an attached letter to Jules’s grandson. A letter she spent much time composing trying to be sensitive to the reader. After many rewrites, she finally had a friend, who could write and speak in fluent French, write a translation. We have now received a reply from the grandson still living in Sarrebourg, France. Though he was quite surprised, he offered more information regarding their common biological grandfather, Jules Martin. At this time, my wife does not know where this new relationship is headed. However, should they become friends, she hopes to visit Sarrebourg and so they may better share their stories of life and family.
A Happy Ending!
Note also how generous with their time and how interested in and willing to help with French genealogy puzzles the local official and history/genealogy buffs were. We have found this to be the case very, very often. There may be the odd over-worked official fed up with genealogy requests who will send a letter of rebuff to you, but most are keen to be of help and to connect with distant cousins in far-off lands. This post tells how you may find more about each department's local history associations. This website can be used to find the address of every town hall (mairie) in France, should you wish to emulate Monsieur R and write to one.
Monsieur and Madame R, thank you so much for sharing this research journey with us. (Suggestions for how to prepare are given here.) We look forward to a report on the discovery of Sarrebourg and family there.
©2016 Anne Morddel