Alsace-Lorraine Genealogy

Genealogy Circle Reincarnated in Alsace

Reincarnated Circle

Pertinent to our recent post on dying genealogy circles and good news for those researching Alsatian ancestors, the Centre Départemental d'Histoire des Familles (CDHF), which we reported as being on its last legs here, has been born anew as the Centre de Recherches sur l’Histoire des Familles (CRHF) and will reopen its doors on the 12th of February.

How did this come about? How did they find a way to survive, when their funding from the department was stopped? Is there something to be learned here by other genealogy circles and associations? As the CRHF tell it:

  • They have had to reduce their opening hours, but will be open to the public from 1.00pm to 6.00pm on Fridays and from 9.00am to 5.00pm on Saturdays. Staffing will be by volunteers.
  • Publications may again be ordered by post. The list is on the old website. For the time being, payment may be by cheque (in euros, on a French bank) only.
  • The CRHF will do some research in Parish and civil registrations -- on request and for a fee. They will no longer be able to transcribe or explain them.
  • The old CDHF website remains accessible to all, though some databases are for members only. Access codes are sent to members by post.
  • Money is still urgently needed. If anyone knows of a person or organisation that might be able to contribute, please contact them and encourage them to empty their pockets! The new incarnation has received its charitable status and donations are, thus, tax deductible.*
  • Membership form is here.

 Excellent news!

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

*Probably not for Americans, as the IRS does not recognise French charities.

The Workers' Convoys to Algeria

Barbary Lion

The year 1848 was one of uprisings across Europe and there were two in France. In February, after a period too long of unemployment, financial crises, bad harvests and a constitutional monarch quashing freedoms in an effort to roll back history and bring back an absolute monarchy to France, people lost patience and took to the streets. The streets of Paris were barricaded, there were fights, the Prime Minister resigned. Outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, soldiers fired into the crowd, killing fifty-two people. The king abdicated and moved to Britain (where else?).

The Second Republic was formed, pleasing no one. At first, jobs and workshops were created for the unemployed. One of the rebels was made a sort of consultant or token worker in government. Radicals wanted more democracy, opportunity and freedom. Conservatives, as ever, wanted the same things but only for themselves. Mobs took to the streets again in June. Karl Marx was in Paris at the time and was most hopeful. However, the revolution was crushed.  It took over 120,000 soldiers to overpower armed workers and their families. Afterward, the government became more repressive and somewhat vengeful. 

Even before the June Days uprising, the mayor of the First arondissement of Paris had been promoting the idea of sending the unemployed and their families to colonize Algeria. By September, it was a plan, approved by the Ministry for War and by the Senate. Money was approved for the establishment of agricultural colonies and the offer to the poor was made.

Only volunteers were accepted, and they had to be workers. They and their families had to be French citizens. They had to complete a form, produce a certification of "good morals" (presumably from their local mayor) and a doctor's certificate of good health. They were promised land and financial support. The land was to become theirs after they had successfully farmed it for a few years. The number of people to be accepted as colonists was set at 12,500 but there were many, many more applicants, so it was raised to 13,500. In the end, the numbers of those who went were 13,903 adults and 391 children.

The first convoy left from Bercy in October,  165 years ago. Over the next six months, there would be sixteen more convoys of workers turned colonists, the majority from Alsace and Lorraine. It took them about two weeks to get to Marseilles, travelling on inland rivers and then by train, then about three or four days to sail the Mediterranean to Algeria. Their colonies in Algeria were named:

  • Saint-Cloud
  • Saint-Leu
  • Rivoli
  • El-Affroun
  • Castiglione
  • Tefeschoun
  • Bou Haroun
  • Robertville
  • Gastonville
  • Fleurus
  • Saint-Louis
  • Damiette
  • Lodi
  • Montenotte
  • Pontéba
  • La Ferme
  • Jemmapes
  • Mondovi
  • Marengo
  • Novi
  • Zurich
  • Argonne
  • Héliopolis
  • Aboukir
  • Millesimo

There were successes and catastrophes. Most of the colonists and then their descendants stayed until the Algerian War for independence began in the 1950s. Then, though many came to France, many others went elsewhere in this wide world.

If you find that your family history travels this very strange path of being starved into rebellion, suppressed, then packed off to a colony, there are some blogs and websites dedicated to documenting these people:

  • Emigration Algérie covers the Alsatians who went on the convoys.
  • Algérie Migrants - by the same people as the above, lists all of the villages from which the Alsatian colonists came.
  • Généalogie Algérie Maroc Tunisie - is the genealogy association concerned with the French of North Africa. They have a number of well-written publications and a search box for surnames on their website, which is excellent.
  • The website of the Archives nationales d'Outre-Mer, about which we have written before, have the civil registrations of Algeria online.

Bonne chasse!

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Upper Alsace and an Index to the Census of 1836


Little Alsatian girl

In earlier posts, we have explained the French census, or recensement, which began for the most part in 1836. As  is the case elsewhere, census returns in France can be wonderful for genealogical discoveries. There is but one caveat: if indexed. French census returns have no index, not at the local level nor the departmental level, and certainly not at the national level. In the United States, the recent, uncontrolled enthusiasm with which volunteers raced to index the 1940 census is explained by the need to turn a confusing heap of information into an efficiently accessible tool. This is not the case in France. Hence, les recensements are a brilliant genealogical resource that it is mighty hard to use, being still at the confusing heap stage. Except for those of Upper Alsace.

Upper Alsace corresponds roughly to the department of Lower Rhine (Bas-Rhin), "upper" in the former referring to its being further north than Lower Alsace while "lower" in the latter referring to its being further down the Rhine than Upper Rhine (Haut-Rhin). Isn't geography a delight?

The 1836 census returns for Bas-Rhin are all freely available on the website of the Departmental Archives of Bas-Rhin. Unusually, there is also an index to this particular census, but it is not with the Departmental Archives. The ever-busy volunteers of the Centre Départemental d'Histoire des Familles (CDHF), one of the best and most productive genealogy associations in France (these are the same people who have made the  Optants booklets and website), have created an excellent index, which can be searched by:

  • Surname
  • Forename(s)
  • Civil status
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Profession
  • Family relationship
  • Age
  • Village name
  • Census-taker's comments

Along with doing superb work, the folk at CDHF are no fools when it comes to making a sou or two. The index cannot be viewed or fully searched online. It is for sale on six separate CDs, ranging in price from US $ 55 to US $ 85. Knowing their market, CDHF have made a set in English and the website also has English pages. The search programme is compatible with Windows ONLY, Mac users please note. 

Being so costly, this index will be best appreciated by those who have many ancestors from the region. For those who think their ancestors are from "someplace in Alsace-Lorraine", but are not sure of where, or who have only Macs, we think you might as well save your money and spend the rest of your life trawling the free censuses on the website of the Departmental Archives of Bas-Rhin.

Think about it.

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy



Jewish Genealogy in Alsace and Lorraine


Mortes en deportation en 1944

This year, the Day of Remembrance of the victims of the Shoah, Yom HaShoah, falls on the 8th of April. As before, at the Mémorial de la Shoah in Paris, the names of all French Jewish victims will be read aloud.  The abomination that is human brutality when expressed as genocide is chilling and, it seems, will not go away any time soon.

All that any of us can do in the face of evil is good. There are times when we think that the search for our ancestors, and our need to find them and remember them, springs from not only obsessive research, but from a deep feeling of sympathy with and for those who are gone and cannot ever again speak for themselves. To be sure, genealogy is not charity but perhaps thoughts of kindness for the dead do lead to acts of kindness for the living.

One of the most important websites dedicated to the preservation of the culture and memory of France's Jewish people is the site du Judaïsme d'Alsace et de Lorraine. It began as a website only, and not as the Internet presence of an association (though it now has such an association of supporters) in 1998 and very quickly grew to be the centrepiece of research and historic preservation of the Jewish people of Alsace and Lorraine. Founded by Michel Rothé, one of the co-authors of the seminal book "The Synagogues of Alsace and Their History", the site is dense with information.

  • Scholarly articles on many aspects of the communities and their history
  • Memorials of those from the region who died in the Holocaust
  • Much about the local customs, traditions, cookery and clothing of the Jewish communities of the region
  • Oral histories
  • Biographies of the well-known
  • a section on genealogy, including a beginner's guide and two discussions of marriage contracts, along with notices placed by people seeking genealogical data and/or connections

It is a very well constructed site and could well lead you to some research success. For those of you who may have photographs, postcards, or any documents relating to the pre-war history of the Jewish communities of Alsace and Lorraine, sharing copies via this site would be of help to all.

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Alsace-Lorraine Genealogy Basics

Alsace-Lorraine crest

Changes are happening quickly in terms of Alsace-Lorraine research. Even so, we continue to receive communications that indicate a lack of understanding as to just what Alsace-Lorraine is. We have all ready given a brief, oh so brief, history of the region, and numerous discussions of the Optants. (For a much fuller history, see the wikipedia article.) Now, a bit of geography seems to be in order.

Alsace and Lorraine are two areas in eastern France that have often been in western Germany and before that, the Holy Roman Empire.  Being border territories, when the border shifts, so does their legal nationality.  Together, they cover just under 14,500 square kilometers and contain thousands of villages, towns and cities, the largest being Strasbourg, Mulhouse, Metz, Thionville-Hayange and Colmar. The eastern border of the region is formed by the Rhine, a river which locals crossed constantly, for love or money. Much of the other side, during the nineteenth century, was the Grand Duchy of Baden. 

Eight different dialects are spoken in Alsace-Lorraine:


  • Two of  French roots:

Lorrain, in all of the west

       Franc-comtois, in a very limited area of the southwest 

  • Francique méridonal palatin, which is close to High-German, in the northeast
  • Two of  High-German roots:

Alsacien, in all of the east

     Haut-alémanique, in the southeast 

  • Three of  Middle-German roots:

 Francique luxembourgeois, in the northwest

Francique mosellan,  in the north

      Francique rhénan, in the central north

This is a part of the world where French and German identities intermingle. Thus, when researching ancestors from this region, one must recognize this fluidity and expect that documents on the same person could say that he was French or German, came from Alsace or France or Germany or maybe Baden, and that all would be true. Ancestors who said they were French could have spoken a variation of German, and vice versa.


There are no French départements named Alsace or Lorraine, nor are those the names of any villages or towns. Elsass-Lothringen was the German name for the territory after the 1871 annexation. The departments that cover Alsace are Haut-Rhin and Bas-Rhin. The department that covers Lorraine is la Moselle

Lists of communes can be very helpful in locating an ancestral village:

A few days ago, Haut-Rhin put some of their civil registrations and ten-year indices online. Bas-Rhin is expected to have theirs up some time this month. There seems to be some competition between these two departments, or so the rumours go. Thus, Haut-Rhin, in a rush to be the first of the region, may have not been quite ready to open the database when they did, for it does not work very well. (Competition does not always work in the consumers' favour. Sigh.) Bas-Rhin keeps issuing notices that they are checking, checking, checking, to make sure all is correct before they make their registrations available. The more cautious Moselle is aiming for 2012. The links are in the panel to the left.

Get a map; get some dictionaries; get to work. Enjoy!

Update: the Bas-Rhin parish and civil registers are up, and the site is a joy to use. Well done.

©2010 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Optants Updates

Postcard Alsace small

Probably belatedly, it has come to our attention that various indices to the Optants have appeared online. These little cards are not particularly useful on their own. We  explain here how to get the best out of this new availability.

Recall, please that the Optants were those born but NOT living in the Alsace-Lorraine territory lost by France in the Franco-Prussian War who opted in 1872 to remain French. Had they done nothing, as their homeland became German, so would have done their nationality, which was the case for all who continued to reside in the region. For a native of the region to keep French nationality, he or she had to get out of the region AND file an option. The options were published in supplements of the Bulletin des Lois.


B des L Optants 


 Various organisations have made index cards from the information. The best, of course, is that made from the original forms held at the Archives nationales.  These original forms, completed by the people opting to remain French, were the source of the listing in the Bulletin des Lois. (There were also those outside the region at the time who opted to be German. There is no card index for them, but there is a 184-page list of their names on The forms themselves are fragile and access to them is strictly limited. 

The Archives' set of index cards  based on them are on microfilm that can be viewed in the Archives nationales only.  Geneaservice has another set of index cards that they made, which can be viewed on their site and which is now available on Ancestry, both charging a fee. Finally, the genealogists of Alsace and Moselle (C.O.D.A.M.) have published booklets with names of Optants, and have put more than 470,000 in a database that can be searched online. The database leads one to purchase one or more of their booklets.

In the case of Geneaservice and Ancestry, a key part of the usefulness of the information is not mentioned or available. In the Bulletin des Lois,  the family is shown together. It also gives the full name, date and place of birth, place of residence and the date of the declaration for each person. 


B des Lois Optant headings 


(Click on the image above to see the large version.) 

 N.B.: Married women will be found not with their family, but under their maiden names, with a note afterward saying "femme" (wife of) or "veuve" (widow of) . It is important to remember that, in official documentation, a married woman will always appear under her maiden name. In all other aspects of life, she will be Mme. Nom-de-son-époux.


Both sets of the index cards give the birth and locations information and refer to where in the Bulletin des Lois the entry can be found. Geneaservice and Ancestry have the cards indexed only by name, so a search by place of birth and place of residence is not possible. That seems a wasted opportunity.  Neither site presents a copy of the Optants supplements to the Bulletin des Lois, so it is not possible with their index cards alone to regroup a family.

The online site of scanned books from the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Gallica, has all years of the Bulletin des Lois, but not the supplements. The C.O.D.A.M. booklets are lists of Optants taken not only from the Bulletin des Lois but supplemented with information from the Departmental Archives and the National Archives. The names are not grouped alphabetically, but by town. 

Thus, the best way to use the Optants information to its fullest is to have access to the following:

  • To find an individual: An alphabetical index, such as the microfilmed cards at the Archives nationales, or online at Geneaservice, Ancestry or, and
  • To see the individual's family (minus married women): the Optants supplements to the Bulletin des Lois or the booklets produced by C.O.D.A.M.

Someone please pester Ancestry to cross reference the Optant cards by birthplace and residence, and then to film and upload the Optants volumes of the Bulletin des Lois. Then they would be providing a great resource about a particularly mobile, emigration-oriented group of people.

©2010 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Protestant Genealogy in Alsace

Picture 5


As always, the case in Alsace is different. The region has been bandied between Gauls and Germans, and French and Germans since the beginning of time it seems. (See this handy timeline.) It has effected religious practices and the documentation of generations differently from in the rest of France.

In 1529, when it was part of what would become Germany, the senate of Strasbourg, the city of Martin Luther,  voted to end Catholicism in the city and that "culte" was banned. Alsace eventually became about 10% Protestant. For all of the 16th century, when Protestants were battling it out against Catholics in France, Alsace was not in France. Part of it was annexed to France in the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, when Alsatians believed they would not be persecuted, for the Edict of Nantes was still in effect. The rest of the region was annexed in 1674, just a few years before the Edict of Nantes would be revoked. However, imposing absolute adherence to Catholicism was impossible and the existing Protestant traditions and structures continued.

This means that Protestant parish registers were maintained by pastors since the inception of Protestantism and most are preserved in the Archives Départementales. In almost every case, they are in Latin or German, with Gothic script if the latter. The genealogy society of Alsace, the Cercle Généalogique d'Alsace, has transcribed a number of the registers. They have a small data base on their website. They also sell publications containing the transcriptions. Lastly, they have placed some on Géné, a site one must pay to use.

It also means that one rarely hears the term "Huguenot" in reference to Protestants from Alsace, for they did not generally flee religious persecutions. They fled war.


© 2009 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

The picture above comes from a depressingly jingoistic book for tots, Le Paradis tricolore, by Hansi and published in Paris by Fleury in 1918.

A Successful Search in Alsace

This television clip comes from 2002 and was posted on YouTube. It is from a French television presentation, "La Généalogie" and tells of an American tracing his ancestors in Alsace. It is particularly useful in that it shows his visits to local and Departmental Archives, where he looks up actes de naissances on microfilm and has the plans cadastrales explained to him by an archivist. It is in both French and English.


©2009 Anne Morddel


French Genealogy


The Archives of French Algeria

With great fanfare recently, the Archives nationals d'outre-mer (the National Archives of the Overseas Territories), which is located in the south of France, announced the completion of the digitization of the civil and parish records for all French in Algeria from 1830 to 1904. They can now be viewed online, with a superb clarity.


The French ruled Algeria from 1830 to 1962, when the former colony won its independence after a long and bitter war. During the colonial years, thousands of Europeans emigrated to Algeria. After independence, thousands of French Algerians left the country for France and other parts of the world. Until now, the lack of easy access to these records, (except for those mad fools who wished to spend their magnificent French Riviera holiday in the archives), has been a lacuna for genealogists tracing ancestors in French Algeria. Delightfully, the Algerian records, coupled with the optant records described in the previous post, together can make for some significant discoveries.


To use the French Algerian archives, click on the link, which brings you to a blue opening page.  Click on the acronym IREL (online search tool). 


Picture 8

Then, click on état civil Registres paroissiaux et d'état civil numerisés. This brings you to a page with a map. For the time being, the only region's records available are those of French Algeria. Thus, either the search box or the map will finally take you to where you can type in a name.


As a random example, we chose the Alsatian name, Krauth, and typed that into the search box. It brought us two pages of people named Krauth, 34 records of births, deaths, and marriages. 


Picture 7


We chose Florent. We found his marriage, in Haussonvillers, 1887, to Eve Friand, and the birth of his children. His marriage record was full of information.


Picture 9


It reveals that he was born in Niederschaeffolsheim, Alsace,  the 6th of November, 1846. That he had reached the age of majority, and was the legitimate son of Michel, who died in Niederschaeffolsheim the 21st of January, 1855. His mother, Madeleine Keller, was still living in the  village and had sent a letter giving her consent to the marriage. Finally, Florent was a widower, whose wife, Anne Wiennert, had died the previous year in Haussonvillers. The following page goes on to give a similar amount of information on the bride, who was born in Moselle. Some of the witnesses were relatives also.


Going now to the site of, described in the previous post, we can type in the surname, Krauth. The resultant list has 32 optants of the name, three from Niederschaeffolsheim. 


Picture 10

It would now be possible to order the optant booklets from the genealogical society, CDHF, and to write to the Mairie at Niederschaeffolsheim and ask for a number of further documents.


In the past, one pitied those genealogists researching families from Alsace or French Algeria. Now, they are rather to be envied.


©2009 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Les Optants of Alsace-Lorraine


In 1871, the newly formed German Empire, flush from having won the Franco-Prussian War, annexed the French departments of Bas-Rhin, Haut-Rhin, Moselle, a third of Meurthe, and some of Vosges. The Treaty of Frankfort included a provision for French citizens of the region to retain their nationality and be allowed to move to France, and to retain ownership of the homes they would be leaving.   The German government told its new citizens that they must declare their choice to be either French, by the first of October, 1872, or German, by the same date of 1873. What they did not do was provide clear instructions or a form for doing so.

Confusion resulted for many months, with different newspapers giving different versions of what was to be done. People did not know how children's nationality would be affected, as no provision had been made for them to choose differently from their parents. Many thought that simply by staying, they did not need to make an official declaration and would stay French. The fear and bafflement of the citizens of Alsace-Lorraine was given enormous publicity in France and sympathy for them was high. (At the same time, a public "vow"was also gaining support; it was to build a monument to the dedication to somehow save the annexed region from Protestantism. It took quite a while, but Sacré Coeur was built and stands high on the hill of Montmartre above Paris, looking like a Frenchified Taj Mahal.)

Finally, six months before the deadline to declare French nationality, the German government sent round a notice of clarification. No declaration was necessary if one wanted to become German. If, however, one wanted to remain French, a declaration to that effect was to be made and they had to get out. Children were to have the same nationality as their parents chose. Those from the region who were overseas had to choose by October, 1873. Those who chose became known as the optants, the "choosers".

As is always the sad case with refugees, it was mayhem. Thousands of people overcrowded trains to France. Many hoped to get around the law by leaving and then returning, crowding the trains going back. People were camping in the streets of Nancy. In Marseille, a charity was established to help pay the passage for any optants who wanted to emigrate to Algeria, where the colonial government gave them some of the best land. More than five thousand people took up the offer. In all, the total number of people in the region, in France, and worldwide who chose to remain French came to more than half a million.

Yippee for the genealogist, the  options remain, restated in the Bulletin des Lois for 1872, which can be found in most large French libraries as well as in CARAN (see the post for 10 June, 2009).  Some fifteen thousand pages (with an alphabetic index, thank heavens) give about each optant:



  • Full names of the optant and family members (children and sometimes grandparents)
  • Date and place of birth 
  • Residence at the time of opting (as this was a worldwide activity, with some families it is possible to discover relatives opting from as far away as South America)
  • Date and location of making the declaration 

Be aware that, if your ancestor still lived in the annexed area after 1873, they did not make a declaration. By staying, they became or remained German. 

If you cannot get to France to research your optant ancestors, you can go to the website to search their data base of both French AND German optants. This is only optants from Alsace and Moselle. The website is the work of the local genealogical society, CDHF, who have produced a number of booklets giving the optant information. The booklets are arranged by the residence of the optant at the time of choosing. On the website, you can type a name into the search box and get a list of people with that surname and their location. The German names of the villages are also given. If you are certain of the name and village, and you find your ancestor, you can order the relevant booklet for 15€ (At a higher price, they are also available from La Librairie de la Voûte, see the post of the first of May, 2009.) To see the names of those who opted to be German, the website offers a free .pdf download on the publications page. The website also has pictures and some interesting ditties of the region with words and music so you can sing along.


N.B.  Again, the picture above is taken from the book by George Wharton Edwards, entitled "Alsace-Lorraine". 

©2009 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy