Sometimes, as we spend a day or twelve luxuriating in the archives of France, mulling over the history so clearly in evidence in the documents we read, we really are taken aback. Of course, we should not be; history is repetitive, as they say. Still, when we came across a list of refugees in a Mediterranean port city, we did have a frisson and a sense that what we were holding was not a nineteenth century ministry document but a modern electronic screen with a page of the day's news.
What we held was a handwritten list, dated 27 ventôse An IX in the Republican Calendar, being the 18th of March 1801. It was a list of names of people who had entered the port of Marseille, coming from Naples or Rome and who were so destitute that they had received some government aid. After three days of such aid, they had to agree to move on to Milan, it seems.
There are 169 Neapolitans and 22 Romans. Some are as young as six months; some are as old as seventy.* The Kingdom of Italy under the Napoleonic First Empire was four years off, but war had been raging across the Italian peninsula between the French and the European coalitions. These people, one can imagine, would have looked very similar to today's Syrian refugees. We are always baffled by people we meet who are so proud of their ancestors who were refugees from religious persecution, such as the Huguenots, or from invasion, such as the Alsatians, but who show no sympathy for anyone today desperately struggling to make the same kind of escape.
This blog, however, is about research and not politics. Though this list was the only one of its type in the archives box, one can be sure that the people on it were not the only Italian refugees who passed through Marseille. Tracing them will be difficult, for refugees were less documented then than they are now, and wars have a way of destroying records and archives. (Recall as well that, in 1801, all Italian registers of baptism, marriages and burials, were parish and not civil registers.) In addition to the records of the Marseille outpost of the Ministry of Foreign Affaires -- the source of this document -- you might also try the civil registrations of port cities (such as Toulon or Nice) through which your Italian ancestor may have arrived in France.
A suggestion: be sure when looking at the registers online, that you go to the end pages. Occasionally, a mayor took it into his head to perform a census. Sometimes it is a census of survivors after a battle or natural disaster; sometimes of newcomers, refugees, or displaced persons of one nationality or another. These are not listed anywhere as a source. Just look; you could get lucky.
Further to searching Italian ancestors who passed through France, we suggest the following:
- Racines Italiennes
- Ancêtres Italiens
- Associazione Nostre Origini, who do not have a website but may be contacted at Associazione Nostre Origini, via Bassano 19 - 10136 Torino
We believe that there are many more. If you, Dear Readers, wish to suggest some, we shall gladly add them to the list above.
©2017 Anne Morddel
*If you would like us to check the list for a particular name, send an e-mail message, please.