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September 2017

The Marine Archives at Cherbourg

Cherbourg SHD

 

Oh, we have encountered the most heavenly of archives! The Service Historique de la Défense branch at Cherbourg has one of the richest of naval collections outside of the central facility at Vincennes, as can be seen in this list that they offered at their stand at the Congrès de généalogie this year and that we give here:

Cherbourg archives treasures

In addition to that fine list, we found:

  • Innumerable crew lists from early nineteenth century merchant ships
  • A census done in 1778 of Acadians who had arrived on the Anne-Sophie and who were still living in Cherbourg
  • Passenger lists of colonists leaving Cherbourg for Saint-Domingue, Guadeloupe and Canada
  • Many pages of correspondence about French-British prisoner exchanges during the Napoleonic Wars

We had arrived on a rainy and blustery day, but the archivists were welcoming and the archives warm. We were signed in and given a key to one of the many lockers available for one's belongings. Staff were exceptionally helpful with our research. Not only did they guide us to the correct finding aids for our research, they continued to hunt for our topics in the library catalogue and in their internal data base. They were able to locate documents and dossiers that we never would have found other wise - truly exceptional assistance!

SHD Cherbourg

We hope very much to be able to return. This place is a true goldmine.

Service historique de la Défense

57 rue de l'abbaye

CC314

50115 Cherbourg Octeville Cedex

 

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

 


Municipal Archives of Le Havre and the Sainte Marie Cemetery

AM Le Havre

Our Le Havre junket was extended to include a day of research at the Municipal Archives. They are housed in an old bastion, the Fort de Tourneville. Though the archives part of the building has been done up very nicely, the rest of the fort is still being repaired and restored, so there is a sense, on entering, of being in the wrong place, of being in a maze of scaffolding, of being at risk from plummeting construction materials or pots of paint.

Signage is not yet completed and, the day that we went anyway, it was no hive of activity but more of an eerie, empty, abandoned place where the sea wind howled. There was not a soul to give directions. We persevered in our wanderings and found the entry to an exhibition -- no one visiting and no one at the desk -- where there were some stairs, so we went up them. At the top, in light and warmth, were half a dozen cheerful archivists, glad to see us and ready to help. Apparently they found it quite a joke that we had managed to locate them, as if members of the public were not really meant to do so.

AM LH entry 

We filled out the usual forms and handed over our list of requests based on research we had done on the finding aids using the archives' website. The helpful young man at the desk asked "Is this everything? I don't want to have to make two trips." Wherever it was that he had to go, it took only five minutes, for he rolled in a trolley laden with our requested cartons. The person at the desk was relieved every fifteen minutes, and we never saw the same person twice; from this we infer that the facility was very well staffed. We also inferred some sort of festivity in the back room as people were increasingly jolly and affectionate with one another.

AM LH

The finding aids are numerous and extremely detailed, making these archives very easy to use. Our focus was on the Naval and Port Archives and we were amazed and overjoyed to find certain categories to be more complete than those found in the Marine Archives of the Service Historique de la Défense. Excellent research day.

One of the archivists had told us that the Saint Marie Cemetery was just up the road and that it contained some graves from the mid-nineteenth century. So we went and discovered many graves and a memorial to British dead of World War One ships. In the chapel are provided maps showing the tombs of artists or naval heroes. Even on a sunny day, a cemetery is a sad place.

Ste Marie

 

Archives Municipales du Havre

Fort de Tourneville

55 rue du 329e

76620 Le Havre

 

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

 


Websites and Blogs to Enhance Your Alsace-Lorraine Research

Lorraine lr

Mixed media collage "Lorraine"

Recent trawls have brought us to new discoveries which we pass on to those of you researching ancestors from Alsace or Lorraine.

  • The Education blog on the website of the Departmental Archives of Haut-Rhin is a small but growing collection of superb articles about the history of the region, many of them pertinent to genealogy research (such as that on emigration, or the forty page essay on childhood in the nineteenth century). They are presented as PDF documents that need to be downloaded (Télécharger) to be read.
  • The Departmental Archives of Bas-Rhin have an excellent genealogy research guide that also includes much on emigrants.
  • Atelier de Généalogie de l'Arrondissement de Wissembourg et Environs - a very complete website about a small area of Alsace. There are many helpful pages. We particularly like those which have many French-German translations.
  • Généalogie d'Alsace - a rather literary and very personal endeavour with excellent pages on Alsatian palaeography. Families studied include Billiar, Büllmann, Degermann, Mertz, Seidel, and Specht. The bibliography lists publications in both French and German.
  • généalogie Origine Dorer Mietesheim - A very new blog about the Dorer family of Mietesheim with only three posts at the moment, but it looks promising as to discussions of research.
  • Généalogie et histoires lorraines - Very nice. Almost scholarly. Each post is a study of a village and all those covered are listed in a side panel. A blog to enjoy reading, with well-documented sources, many of them available on Gallica, such as Le Pays Lorrain. (See Annick's comment below.)
  • Le blog Généalogique de L'Est Républicain - L'Est Républicain is the main newspaper/news website covering eastern France. Occasional, soft news articles on genealogy-related topics are published on this blog.
  • Une généalogie lorraine - This is another personal blog about the genealogy of the Thiriet-Knidel family. Some of the posts are quite silly but others give good links that would aid anyone researching a family from Lorraine. Still others are well-written, small histories of the region. The subjects covered are what our children would term "random".

Each is worth investigating. Do let us know your opinion.

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


XXIV Congrès national de Généalogie - Shall We Say Muted?

XXIV

We have just completed our attendance at the three days of lectures and a hall full of stalls that is France's largest genealogy event, the Congrès national de Généalogie, held in Le Havre. It is held every two years in different cities around France and this is our fifth time in attendance.

Some things, such as the celebration of local costume and custom, do not change.

Conference

Lace

 There were a large number of very interesting lectures, many about the history of Le Havre, which celebrated its five hundredth anniversary this year. Many more, of course, were about genealogical research, with a particular emphasis on France's overseas departments in the Americas.

The salon, or hall of stands and stalls was a mix of commercial genealogy enterprises and regional genealogy associations, the latter being in the majority by a large margin. The mood here was at first subdued and, by the end of the second day, downright gloomy. Attendance on the part of the general public was extremely low. At no point did the aisles ever seem the least bit crowded or even full. To be sure, it was very rainy and blustery weather but that should have proved no obstacle for Le Havre is a sodden city, along with the rest of Normandy. No, there is some other cause, and it may be the same reason that there were almost no French genealogists represented in the hall. Some said there were none at all. There certainly were none at the last Who Do You Think You Are? Live show in Birmingham. Yet there were French professionals at past congresses.

It is our theory that family research (as opposed to heir hunting) genealogy is under threat in France. We have explained probate genealogy. We perhaps did not add that généalogie successorale is a very profitable business, with each heir contacted having to sign a contract to turn over a hefty percentage of the inheritance. Nor did we mention that the business is pretty much sewn up in France by just a few, big companies. The fees of these companies depend upon the fact that 1) they find heirs who would not otherwise have been found and 2) they are the first to inform the heirs of the death that will bring them money.

Clearly, the boom in genealogy as a hobby and interest in France is a threat to the généalogiste successoral. Increasingly, French people are putting online their family trees and genealogical research. Increasingly, they are finding and communicating with one another, even having family gatherings called cousinades. Increasingly, they know when a relative dies and they know their relationship to him or her. Inevitably, the fees for the probate genealogists will suffer, but they are not taking this lying down.

The press, with the indomitable Guillaume de Morant at the vanguard, has angrily reported that the largest of the probate genealogy companies has embarked on a campaign of legally challenging the claims of heirs that they already knew of a death and/or that they already knew of their relationship to the deceased. And they win. In a 2014 case, (reported here) though a family genealogy had been written and shared in 1991, because it was not one hundred per cent complete and perfect, the heir who challenged the probate research company's fee lost and had to pay 14,000 euros, plus costs. In another case, in June of this year, a woman knew of her first-cousin's death and wrote to the notaire handling the inheritance to say so; she refused to sign the contract with the probate genealogy company. They took her to court and she had to pay them 35,000 euros (reported in full here).

There are plenty of French genealogists, many of them very, very good at what they do. They would probably love to attend all possible conferences and congresses, but in a climate where their work could be challenged or obstructed by a large, domineering and litigious company or two, they may wish to pursue a less public route to their clients.

France is a country where, generally, competition is considered a bad thing and the "preservation of tradition" has sometimes crossed the boundary into being cartels and having professions as closed as medieval guilds. It is the land of big power: big companies, big unions, big families, big government. It is not a country that celebrates or encourages individual independence or small business. In spite of the truly fabulous Station F, we do not see how its creator, Xavier Niel, or Macron, or even Moses will change that.

And where does that leave France's genealogists?

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Dossier de Réintegration - Genealogical Joy from a Widow's Struggles

Widow

As we wrote in the previous post about women left widowed after the First World War, at that time, a Frenchwoman who married a foreign man lost her French nationality. That was a finality until 1922, four years after the war had ended, leaving the population of France much reduced and many, particularly war widows, impoverished.

That year, in March, the French Senate approved alterations to the Code Civil articles concerning nationality, granting the possibility for some women who had lost their nationality through marriage to become French again. It has not changed much and is still in effect today. The conditions were that the woman:

  • had to be widowed, divorced, legally separated or in some other way completely free of the foreign husband and his un-French influence;
  • had maintained or established manifest cultural, professional, economic, and familial ties with France.1

She had to submit documentary proof of the above with her application to the Ministry of Justice to have her French nationality restored, for her to be "reintegrated". If her application were approved, her nationality would be restored by decree, usually as one person in a batch. 

Decrete

 Hundreds of women whose foreign husbands had been killed or whom they had divorced took advantage of this new opportunity. Regaining their nationality would have given them much better employment opportunities and the right to have a French passport, of only to emigrate with it.

The forms that they completed survive in the Archives nationales, showing their origins, their marriages, their divorces or the deaths of their husbands, births of their children and so much more. We have seen these applications show all those details, plus:

  • list all of the woman's siblings, with their ages and addresses
  • the woman's place of work and her salary
  • the name of the place where she boarded her children and what it cost her (more than half of her salary)

To find these dossiers, one must search on an index to the names of those in the nationality decrees called NATNUM. Unfortunately, this is not yet on the wonderful Salle des Inventaires Virtuelle of the Archives nationales and must be searched on site on their computers in the archives at Pierrefitte-sur-Seine. That takes one to a microfilm of the decrees:

NATNUM

The decree gives the woman's name, date and place of birth, her married name, place of residence, and how much of the fee was refunded. On the left is the number of the full reintegration application dossier, which may then be requested from the archives.

The process of obtaining one of these wonderfully detailed files is a bit complicated but not half as complicated as it was for the poor woman to complete and submit it.

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

1 "Code de la nationalité française", article 97-4, Legifrance, https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/, accessed 4 September 2017.


Why WWI War Widows Had to Emigrate

War Widows

So often, people ask us why their ancestors left France and we must respond that the archives and documents rarely give reasons, only blunt statements of facts. However, if your grandmother or great-grandmother were a widow of a man who fought for France in World War One and she left France, the reason will be glaringly obvious: poverty.

The First World War left France with some 600,000 widows and close on a million fatherless children.1 In most cases, these newly fatherless families lost their breadwinner. The laws enforcing the customary oppression of women in force at the time made survival difficult if not impossible: 

  • Upon marriage to a foreigner, a woman automatically lost her French citizenship and her children were not French.
  • Girls received primary education but young women were not allowed to pass the baccalauréat, the basic education requirement for employment in any managerial position.2
  • A woman could not have an identity card or passport without her husband's permission.3
  • From 1871, in the Alsace and Lorraine regions, (which were returned to France in 1918) the law forbad women being the legal guardians of their own children. A male relative, such as a grandfather or uncle to the children took the role and, sometimes, the money.4
  • The work available to women in the early twentieth century was monotonous, long and poorly paid.5
  • The system of military pensions to widows nearly collapsed during the First World War.6
  • Our own research has shown that many war widows who did find work had to pay to place their children with families, often far from where they lived.

Very quickly, as the numbers of widows climbed during the war, the French government began to attempt to change the situation, in 1917 making orphans wards of the nation and, in 1919, granting better pensions to the war widows. In 1927, widows of foreigners could apply to regain their French nationality, and hundreds did so. The excellent study by Michael Lanthier (see notes 5 and 6) discusses in detail just how and why their lives were so very difficult. Suffice to say that they were and quite a few left. If your war-widowed grandmother left France during the inter-war period, you may now have a better understanding as to why.

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

 

1 "Veuves et orphelins de la Première guerre mondiale", Chemins de Mémoire, http://www.cheminsdememoire.gouv.fr/fr/veuves-et-orphelins-de-la-premiere-guerre-mondiale  , accessed 3 Sept 2017.

2  Malnory, Camille, "Quand les Femmes ne Pouvait pas ouvrir de compte en banque", Liberation, 13 July, 2015, http://www.liberation.fr/france/2015/07/13/quand-les-femmes-ne-pouvaient-pas-ouvrir-de-compte-en-banque_1347300, accessed 2 Sept 2017.

3 Ibid.

4 "Enfants naturels", Archives départementales du Haut-Rhin, http://www.archives.haut-rhin.fr/search/home, accessed 2 Sept 2017. N.B. :This is one of those PDFs, orphaned and alone, lost, floating on the internet like a soul seeking a body and without a clear link to its origins, so we give it directly here, with apologies to the AD of Haut-Rhin. It will be discussed further in a future post.

5 Lanthier, Michael, "Women Alone: Widows in Third Republic France, 1870-1940 : Thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of History, Simon Fraser University", 2004, http://summit.sfu.ca/item/2275, accessed 3 July 2017, p38.

6 Lanthier, "Women Alone", p68.