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Best Place for Genealogy Tourism in France? Montbéliard!




Montbeliard OT

For quite some time, we have thought that certain towns and cities in France really have been missing a tourism opportunity which is to welcome and encourage those seeking to research and to discover the origins of their French ancestors. La Rochelle and Le Havre certainly could do more, if Paris did anything at all it would be a grand thing, Calais and Boulogne-sur-Mer might take note. All should be watching the innovative and trail-blazing Montbéliard.

We had read a fine thesis on Montbéliard's programme for advancing genealogy tourism, tourisme de racines, by Ms. Messane Lepape (Une stratégie marketing appliquée au tourisme des racines at It inspired us to contact the town's tourism office to learn more. Instantly, really, instantly, we received a reply from Madame Evelyne Boilaux, in excellent English, arranging a meeting. On the appointed day, she welcomed us at the Montbéliard tourism office, just in front of the train station. Petite, pixie-coiffed and energetic, Madame Boilaux offered us tea or coffee and launched, with understandable enthusiasm, into the glories of Montbéliard's mostly non-French and non-Catholic history. We then shared our lists of the many waves of emigrants from the city to other lands.

  • The French Protestants (Huguenots) who crossed the border into the then Principality of Montbéliard after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Not only was it very close to home, but it was, at that time, the only Protestant and Francophone country in the world. As hope of a safe return to France faded, many moved on to other European Protestant countries and some from there continued on to the Americas and Africa.
  • The people known as the Foreign Protestants, recruited by the British from 1749 to 1751 to repopulate Nova Scotia after the expulsion of the French Catholics at the end of the Seven Years War. Their city of prettily coloured little houses, Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Heritage site, somewhat resembles cheerily painted houses in some of the roads of Montbéliard.
  • The Swiss and French Mennonites whose great-grandparents had arrived from Switzerland at the invitation of the ruler of Montbéliard, the Duke of Wurtemberg. His land had been depopulated by wars and the departures of the above and, not only did he want more Protestants, he wanted good farmers, which the Mennonites were reputed to be. They came and stayed until, when the region became part of France at the end of the eighteenth century, a general atmosphere of secularism along with Revolutionary fervour having tipped into insanity made them feel decidedly uncomfortable. Within twenty-five years, Mennonites as well as Lutherans were emigrating from the region to continents to the west and south.
  • The skilled labourers, especially watchmakers, of the region who had trained in the Japy factory and those of other brands, were poached by American factory managers, many of them moving to Connecticut.
  • In the late nineteenth century, there was another wave of which we did not know until enlightened by Madame Boilaux. It seems that the newly wealthy barons of unregulated industry had a yen for their children to speak French and learn to peel and eat a banana with a knife and fork. Only a French governess would do and only a Protestant could be trusted not to expose their children to unwanted Catholic prayers. At the same time, wealthy Russian Orthodox aristocrats wanted the same (though they showed up the Americans by usually having two governesses for their offspring, the other being Scottish and teaching an English that was grammatically perfect but ultimately most oddly accented in the speaking of their charges).

Thus, if your ancestry includes a Foreign Protestant, a governess, watchmaker, Mennonite or Protestant from the Montbéliard region, you may be interested in what the tourism office has to offer. If you arrive on a weekend without having contacted anyone in advance and with none of your research to hand, your visit will be a failure. If, however, you prepare your family history, preferably with photographs, clearly formulate your research questions and know the places you would like to visit, then Madame Boilaux and the staff of the tourism office can help to make your visit a success, taking advantage of their well-established network within the religious, genealogical and historical communities. Given enough time to prepare, she can arrange:

  • Accommodation and transport
  • Visits to relevant churches, synagogues or temples, with the possibility of attending a service and meeting the community
  • Meetings with local genealogists and genealogy groups specialising in your particular area of research
  • Introductions to archives staff and assistance in getting started with your research there
  • Visits to or at least to drives by ancestral homes or huts that are still standing
  • English-speaking tourguides
  • Visits to cemeteries
  • Introductions, with translators, if necessary, to distant cousins, if any

The more information that you provide in advance, the better will be the tailoring of your visit to your interests. Start planning now for this summer.

Office de Tourisme du Pays de Montbéliard

1 rue Henri Mouhot

25200 Montbéliard

tel: +33  3 81 94 16 05


Madame Boilaux also allowed us to photograph this charming map of the seigneuries of the principality of Montbéliard in the sixteenth century:

Principality of Montbéliard map

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy