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December 2017

Notarial Records Online

Frieze Ile de Re

We belong to a group about French genealogy in the godforsaken world of so-called social media, a group in which there has recently been some discussion and confusion concerning the presence or not of notarial records online. Time for clarification, we opine.

Our booklet on the subject explains much about notarial records and we do not intend to repeat it all in this post, but differentiation seems to be required; specifically, differentiation between a minute and a répertoire. Understanding the process a notaire and his or her clerk followed makes this quite simple.

For a client, a notaire wrote an acte, such as a will or a marriage contract or a contract of a sale of property, etc. The clerk made copies of the acte for each of the parties and, in some cases, for registration with a government bureau that may, at the time, have required copies of certain actes. The clerk also copied the acte into the notaire's minute book, this copy being termed a minute. (Later, the minute book gave way to the notaire's copy being a separate document in a folder or with a cover, but it was still termed a minute.) Like the other original copies, the minute was signed by all parties. Because this was done as the work occurred, the minutes were written chronologically, which makes them very hard to locate again for those without total recall. Thus, the clerk also wrote, in the last pages of the minute book or in a separate book, the briefest of summaries of each acte, giving the type of acte, the names of the parties (often written larger than the rest of the summary), the date and, in some cases, the page number, into a répertoire. Thus, the répertoire is not an index, as it is still chronological, but is more a sort of table of contents.

Quite a few of the Departmental Archives (and, for Parisian notaires, the National Archives) have digitised the répertoires and put these on their websites. Members of the group on social media were confused and thought that these short summaries were the minutes but they are not. In your research, the online répertoires are a tremendous help but they are far from ideal as they are not indexed.

Thus, to find a minute, you must know the notaire your ancestors used. This is not always the one closest to their home. The notaire for a marriage contract, for example, may have been the one preferred by the bride's parents. A notaire who was a relative of one of the parties may have been preferred -- or avoided -- regardless of location. We have found that some people used one notaire for family documents, such as wills or probate inventories, and another for business dealings. If you do know the name of the notaire and the approximate date of the acte, you can then hope for some success in searching the répertoires online. Once you find the summary of the acte, you must discover from the website how to request a copy of the full document. Given the correct code and the details of the acte, most of the archives will, for a fee, copy the minute and send it to you. 

Excitingly, a very few Departmental Archives have also begun to digitise the complete minutes. For Paris, those online tend to be minutes concerning persons of historical interest. For Pyrénées-Atlantiques and, most recently, Vienne, those online tend to be the oldest and most fragile documents. Even more exciting, once digitised, these are being indexed, though only by the notaire's name, location and type of acte, not by the names of the parties. (No discussion of notarial records online can be complete without mention of the fabulous work of Odile Halbert, which we discussed in this post.)

So, the key is to know what it is your are seeing when you begin researching on a website: is it a répertoire or is it a minute? And then...commencez!

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Aristocracy Comes and Goes


Our grandmother (pictured above) used to remind us that "the only life worth living is the life of the mind" and that "the only aristocrat worth knowing is an aristocrat of the intellect". She was always a tad disappointed in us but she would have applauded France this week for financing the relocation to this country of some very fine aristocrats of the intellect indeed. Eighteen scientists from around the world, including thirteen from the United States, will be leaving their de-funded research departments and bringing their brains, research and discoveries to France. Will they stay, the author of the article at the link above wonders, or will they finish their projects and then go?

Two hundred years ago, France lost rather a lot of the more traditional type of aristocrat when the Revolution and Terror, having made life very precarious, prompted thousands of them to make a run for it. As a group, they became known as the émigrés (literally translated as emigrant, but for that meaning in English the French use migrant, which in English means migrant, but for the same meaning of that word the French use migrant économique, which, at last! means the same thing in English). Some managed to take money or valuables out of the country with them; very few had the prescience to sell their property before 1789; most simply abandoned all in their dash for safety. After a while, the motherland missed her émigrés and, in an invitation not unlike that to the scientists, began a campaign to lure them back home.

The Archives nationales estimate that there were roughly 150,000 émigrés, in two waves:  those who left before 1792 (ruled as traitors and their names listed by the police) and those who left during the Terror (this fleeing mob included people of all classes). In 1802, they were offered a general amnesty and many returned. However, they were not offered the opportunity to try to get their property back until 1825, ten years after the fall of the First Empire.

For those of you with a French aristocrat among your ancestors, the documentation of the émigrés has recently become much more accessible. When they began to return, they submitted requests to the police asking that their names be removed from the lists of those who were traitors and that the confiscation of their property be annulled. The files of these requests of returning émigrés, dossiers nominatifs des demandes de radiation et de main-levée de séquestre, are what are now possible to search on the system of the Archives nationales known as SIV. They are arranged -- like so much in France -- by department. However, the entire finding aid may be searched for a name. A few of the dossiers, those on people of historical importance, have been digitised and may be searched and viewed at no charge here, a search yielding a result looking like this:


If you find the search facility, with its results seeming always to be either zero or in the hundreds, to be difficult or frustrating, it is also possible to see the entire PDF list of names here, and find the name you seek using the time-honoured Command-F on your keyboard.

This really is a very exciting new availability of an old resource. Should you have an émigré among your ancestors it may be that you will be able to find him or her here. If so, you may then request a copy of the file from the archives and discover, we fervently hope, that he or she was neither dolt nor duffer but an aristocrat of intellect or talent who brought as much to France as those eighteen scientists may do.

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Win a Prize for Your Genealogy Write-Up

Genealogy writing prize

We have had the pleasure of reading many of the excellent family histories written by you, Dear Readers. Some of them have been so good that we urge you to submit them for the top genealogy literary prize in France, the 2018 PRIX FLOUCAUD DE LA PÉNARDILLE - Dr DU CHALARD. Entry requirements are that:

  • The work be in French
  • It be your first work of genealogical or family history writing
  • It's length be at least one hundred pages, of which at least seventy pages must be of the body of the work
  • It must contain at least one genealogical tree

The value of the prize is 1500€. Is there anything nearly as large in the Anglophone genealogical world, we wonder?

Judgement criteria are based upon:

  • The quality of reference works and sources
  • The quality, placement, use and relevance of illustrations
  • The quality of the genealogical tree or trees
  • The correctness and completeness of any heraldic emblems (a common stumbling block for many in the Americas, but not of you, Dear Readers!)
  • The precision of the name index

The competition is open to all. To enter:

  • Send two typed or printed copies of your manuscript or publication, by post (one copy will be for the judges and one for the library of La France Généalogique)
  • Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for acknowledgement of receipt (you can buy French stamps online and print them at home here.)
  • You must agree, if you win, to the publication of a chapter on the sponsor's website

The deadline is the 18th of March 2018.

The postal address is: 12 rue Vivienne, Lot 3, 75002 Paris

The e-mail address is:

We urge you to give it a shot!


La France Généalogique is the sponsor of this prize so we thought we would give an update on their website, which is dismal in design but useful as to content. Please read our earlier post on the website, for not much has changed in the last seven years. The website where there is much to help you with your research is called Numéric

Those sections that we find have been improved or new are:

  • Courses and talks offered
  • Much more assistance and help via the question and answer service
  • Links to what they have shared with FamilySearch
  • A members' service helping with palaeography
  • A list of agnatic (male line) names in their database, with a list of all names of spouses linked to each agnatic name. Very useful.
  • A members' service to look up and copy parish and civil registrations in the Archives de Paris.

So, if you have ancestors who lived in Paris, we strongly suggest that you join to take advantage of their excellent genealogical help. If any of you is an expert website designer in France, you might like to offer your services.


2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Book Review - Revolution in the French Navy


This book was published in 1995 so not a new one in the least but it is new to us and we are mightily pleased to have discovered it. Revolution and Political Conflict in the French Navy by William S. Cormack is an expanded doctoral thesis but only just barely reads like one. Considering the subject, it is concise: ten chapters in three hundred pages, with a decent index and an excellent bibliography.

What happened to the French navy during the French Revolution and the First Empire is a history told almost exclusively from the point of view of the British or at least agreeing with that point of view. Cormack departs from that and it results in blessed clarity. Gone the comparisons of the Marine Royale with the Royal Navy or the French marin with the British tar or the Admiralty with the Ministry of Marine. Cormack looks exclusively at what happened to the French navy in the context of French history and it is enlightening.

Early chapters describe the state of the navy and its officers and seamen just before the Revolution, including their stellar contribution to the American Revolution. He covers in great detail the key disastrous events the so unsettled the French navy: The Toulon Affair of 1789, the mutiny at Brest in 1790-1791, the surrender of the Mediterranean fleet in 1793, and the Quiberon mutiny of 1793. His thesis is clear: that the new concept of the Will of the People could not be reconciled with the functional requirement of naval authority.

The works of previous historians on the subject are discussed and examined and given a fresh analysis. It is a bonus that the -- at times -- shambolic political events of the day are explained neatly and that two centuries of over-simplified characterisations are washed away. Confusion is removed from the complexities of the time; we certainly acquired a greater understanding not only of the navy but of the Revolution and Terror generally from this detailed account that is never turgid, always extremely interesting. 

We have often written here that good genealogy requires a good knowledge of history. For those of you with ancestors who were in the French navy at this incredible time, this book is essential reading. You will come away with a better idea of why an ancestor who was an officer may have deserted (and he may not have been a royalist!) or why another may have been guillotined. You will have a better understanding of the old and new ranks and of how some men moved back and forth between the merchant navy and the navy of the Republic.

An absolute must.

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy