Previous month:
September 2017
Next month:
November 2017

October 2017

XXIV Congrès national de Généalogie - de Morant on DNA

Congres 2017

Among the many lectures and workshops that we attended at the conference, the best attended, by a long shot, was that of the illustrious Guillaume de Morant. Monsieur de Morant is one of the best known figures working in French genealogy. He presents himself as a journalist and a genealogist but it is as the former writing about the subject of the latter that has brought him fame. He writes the blog for the Revue française de généalogie. He writes books. He reports on RootsTech.

We will not steal Monsieur de Morant's thunder by giving here the entire contents of his talk, but we hope that he will not mind if we cover a few of the more salient points. He began by asking how many in the room had taken a DNA test. A show of hands revealed that about five out of the fifty or so present had done so. He then launched into an encomium on the advantages for one's genealogical research of taking such a test, adding that it would also be useful for many other purposes in life, such as advance warning of inherited medical conditions, finding distant cousins, contributing to a broader pool of French data and thus helping the descendants of those Acadians figure out who their ancestors were.

Perhaps the most important point was one of very useful clarification. It is not, he said, illegal for a person in France to take a DNA test via a company that is outside of France. What the law states, he explained, is that it is illegal for a laboratory to commercialise such tests in France.  He urged everyone to take the test and to sign his petition asking the government to authorise DNA tests for genealogy. (Only 224 more signatures required.)

He proceeded to explain the three types of tests, pointing out that the procedure of getting the DNA sample is "not elegant", and to list the companies that he recommends. However, he added that one of the laws protecting privacy, loi informatique et liberté, requires that private data be masked and that includes biometric data by which an individual may be identified. Thus, an entire haplogroup cannot be put online by someone as parts of it may be shared by and could identify someone else, violating that person's privacy. 

Monsieur de Morant is an entertaining and charming speaker but he melted our heart by introducing us to a thrilling new French word when he said that some of the phrases of the law were liberticides, that is, freedom-killers.

Liberticides. Liberticides. Oh, Dear Readers, you will definitely be reading this word here again!

N.B. Be sure to read the interesting comment from Pierre Gendreau-Hétu, below.

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy



The Municipal Archives of Lorient - Nice Little Film

AM Lorient

We have not visited the Municipal Archives of Lorient, but it is on our very long list of archives we long to see, not only for its holdings but as it is housed in  the old Compagnie des Indes building. (The archives concerning employees of that company are described by us here. The archives of the company and its administration are described here. Surprisingly the New York Public Library has seven volumes of the company's administration records of the company on Il de Bourbon, described here.)

In preparation for a visit, we discovered this very nice film on its website. It is in French, which some may not understand, but is well worth viewing to get an idea of what the inside of smaller French archives look like. Watch the film by clicking here. Should you happen to have ancestors from Lorient, the parish and civil registers of the city are online on the same website here.

Very nice!

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


XXIV Congrès national de Généalogie - Did Your Guadeloupean Ancestor Fight in the Great War?

Congres 2017

We found quite interesting the theme at the conference of researching those from France's ex-colonies in the West Indies and so we continued to pursue the talks on that subject. It was not always an easy thing to do for the names of the conference rooms had, most mysteriously, become jumbled. There was much to-ing  and fro-ing of people seeking the right room, asking others for guidance, and becoming alarmed by the sudden popping up of officious, self-appointed guides. In the end, we all found our places.

Our speaker was Monsieur Benoît Jullien, Director of the Departmental Archives of Guadeloupe. He had much to say that was enlightening as to why research into those of Guadeloupe who served in the First World War may have been difficult. Guadeloupe, (since 1948), is one of the departments of France and, since the abolition of slavery in 1848, all Guadeloupeans, including ex-slaves, have been French citizens. That citizenship, however, was not always enjoyed to its fullest by all of Guadeloupe.

With the First World War and the catastrophic loss of life in France, the French government turned increasingly to the ex-colonies and insisted that the military service laws be enforced. Monsieur Jullien explained that this had "enormous political significance" because, by doing so, the government of France was admitting that Guadeloupeans were, indeed, fully citizens of France. Though teachers, priests and seminary students were exempted, nearly ten thousand men from Guadeloupe were mobilised, following in the footsteps of the famous Camille Mortenol.

Initially, the French policy was to withdraw troops of mainland France who had been policing in the Caribbean and send them to the war in Europe. They were to be replaced by the newly conscripted local troops. However, even before the war began, in October of 1913, Guadeloupean troops were sent to Europe. They suffered from more than war, many dying of disease and cold in the inclement French winter. Monsieur Jullien's research shows that they were assigned all types of military work but none were promoted to be officers. Their furloughs, when granted, were too short for them to be able to go home to their island. As a result, many charitable societies formed in Paris and other cities to take them in during these times. (If you have ever been young, poor, alone and an outsider in Paris during the winter, Dear Readers, you will know just how much such charities might have been appreciated.) 

In the many, many commemorations and monuments to the dead and lost after the war, none initially mentioned those from Guadeloupe. The authorities "forgot", Monsieur Jullien politely put it. A separate decree was required to correct the omission and the first Monument aux Morts in Guadeloupe was erected in the 1930s.

Research into the military service of someone from Guadeloupe proceeds in the same way as in all other departments. Using the very attractive website of the Departmental Archives of Guadeloupe, search in the military conscription lists. With the number of the person that you will obtain, you may then request a copy of the personal file from the archives.

Bonne chance et merci Monsieur Jullien!

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


XXIV Congrès national de Généalogie - Research in Guadeloupe

Congres 2017

At the genealogy conference in Le Havre last month, one of the most informative lectures that we attended was given by a dashing young fellow from Guadeloupe, Monsieur Bruno Kissoun, come all that way to talk to us. The audience was so small that he insisted we sit around a table as he felt silly standing at a podium speaking to a near-empty room. So, we had a seminar around the table, which was even better. 

Monsieur Kissoun's co-presenter was an accomplished genealogist with a specialty in Guadeloupe, and a man with such energy and enthusiasm for his subject that he did not join us at the table but bounded back and forth across the room behind Monsieur Kissoun, lunging forward toward our table to add comments, then retreating back again in what may have been a remarkable display of extreme courtesy. 

Together, the gentlemen described and explained the resources available to those researching genealogy in Guadeloupe. 

  • There are thirty-two communes, or towns, on Guadeloupe, not all of which have complete archives. Hurricanes and general humidity have taken their toll. Additionally, while some towns were scrupulous about documenting people held in slavery, not all were. The point being that the quality and amount of holdings vary greatly.
  • Three copies of records were produced. One was retained in the town as the parish and civil registers, one was sent to Versailles and can now be seen on the website of the Archives nationales d'outre-mer (ANOM); and one was given to the departmental clerk and is held in the Departmental Archives. 

It was pointed out that the copies do not always agree, that many contain errors and that those that were sent to France and can now be seen on the ANOM website do not have the marginal notes that may be on the originals held in the town. Examples of such copies not in agreement were presented and discussed.

When researching a family in a village in European France, one sees that people tended to take care of family matters in their own village, possibly for many generations. In Guadeloupe, we were told, a family quite often baptised a child in a village other than that where the child was born, at times even on another island. The researcher must be imaginative.

Much discussion concerned the documentation of those who were enslaved. Some towns had registers of slaves and most towns maintained registers of freed slaves. Working with the two is necessary to try to piece together an individual's identity and relatives. The register of those born enslaved could contain for each person:

  • only a first name and no surname for the child
  • the date of birth
  • the name of the owner
  • the first name and the age of the mother
  • the mother's place of residence (plantation, or habitation)

When slavery was abolished and a register of freed slaves was made, very little information was given as the real point was to assign surnames and list people, thus:

  • a first name and the surname given to the father, where known
  • the mother's first name and the new surname given to her

As families appeared under mothers' names, for they went to register all of their children at once, but any older children who had been sold outside of the town would not have appeared with their mother and would not have been given the same surname. The surnames given and their meanings remain a highly emotive subject for, in many places, the officials responsible were quite malicious. The law forbade the giving of any surname belonging to a free person to a freed slave, forcing officials to use words not normally seen as names. Some used a dictionary or an atlas to find the words, others gave coarse and vulgar words as names and thus proved that they had tiny, poisoned souls.

We were told that it is exceedingly rare to find all of the above types of register entires as well as civil registrations for an enslaved person. Further to complicate such research are the facts that:

  • Towns maintained complete slave registers for each habitation within their boundaries, which probably would have given great detail as to birth or date of purchase, parentage, country of origin, etc. However, though no official order was ever given to do so, every single one of those registers in every town was destroyed.
  • There were no passenger lists created for the people kidnapped in Africa and taken to Guadeloupe. (However, those immigrants who were free on arrival may appear in the Gazette Officielle or on passenger lists, by vessel name, on the ANOM website.)
  • The many natural disasters that have assaulted the island and its archives -- hurricanes, tidal waves, earthquakes -- not only destroyed some archives, but jumbled them all up and scattered them so that, for those that could be saved, all order was lost.

 Monsieur Kissoun handed each attendee a copy of the Guide de généalogie familiale en Guadeloupe, a beautifully printed leaflet which explains the above and more. It has a precious chart, listing each town, the type of archives it had that have survived, the dates those archives cover, where they are held, and if they have been microfilmed. (Click on the title to download the PDF.)

A fascinating talk on a subject that includes great sadness.

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy