Pre-1808 documentation of French Jewish families is rare and not easy to find. While legally required parish registrations in France began, more or less, in 1539, these pertained to Catholics only. Protestants maintained their own registrations as best they could. Yet, there was no general law across the country that required that Jewish people also register their births, marriages and burials. Additionally, before the Revolution, Jewish people were often considered as nationals of the region or country of origin and so, in documentation they are referred to as a type of foreign resident, even though this was not their actual legal status.
In the south of France, the assumed place of origin of much of the local Jewish population often was Iberia. In Bayonne, in the department of Pyrénées-Atlantiques, the Jewish quarter of the eighteenth century was within the parish of Saint-Esprit, where some registers refer to les juifs while others to les portugais. Still others use the more common French name of Israélites. Whatever the term, these registers are a rare and precious resource and it is quite nice indeed to find some of them online on the website of the Departmental Archives of Pyrénées-Atlantiques. More difficult to search but also very useful are certain tax and notarial records. A few of the records on Jewish people that may be found on the AD Pyrénées-Atlantiques at the moment are:
- Etat des charges et modérations accordées par Mgr. l'intendant....sur le rolle....de l'industrie des juifs du Bourg-Saint-Esprit pour l'année 1784 (a business tax list that contains some Jewish names)
- Rôle de vingtième 1787 - another tax list for all who had to pay their "twentieth", which includes some Jewish names.
- The registers of the parish of Saint-Etienne d'Arribe-Labourd at Bayonne - a single microfilm roll which contains a number of Jewish registers, some of them in Spanish, concerning births, circumcisions, marriages and burials. The typed contents list at the beginning of the roll is most helpful.
For those who wish to dig deeper, try using any of the terms juif/juifs, portugais, espagnoles, Israélite/Israélites in the Recherche Simple box and pore over each and every one of the results. If your French Jewish ancestors were in Bayonne for a significant number of generations, the finest resource is Léon's Histoire des Juifs de Bayonne, which may be downloaded in its entirety here, or read online here.
Nice research opportunities, especially for those hoping for a Spanish passport.
©2017 Anne Morddel