Book and Magazine Reviews

FGB Free Clinic - Case no. 3 - Pierre Jacob Gaubert - at the XXIII Congrès national de Généalogie


As we have written, the 2015 Congrès national de Généalogie seemed a subdued affair. The word going round was that the villain was the Internet, that people are now doing all of their research online and are no longer joining or purchasing from the many genealogy associations and that, as a consequence, the associations are struggling to keep going. If this be the case, it is a great pity, for these associations are invaluable. Clearly, the Internet is a boon to genealogical research, but it is a complement to and not a replacement of the accumulation of expertise to be found in the membership of the genealogy associations. Just as no library cataloguing system will ever take the place of the brain of an experienced reference librarian, so the Internet, which is a generalist, cannot replace the expertise of the genealogy specialists who populate the associations.

One of the things we most like to do at these conferences is to take our research bugbears to these experts and see what they can find in their own collections and among their colleagues. Just before leaving for the conference, we had this request from Mademoiselle G.:

My ancestor Pierre Jacob Gaubert was born in Nantes and left sometime between 1772 (b.) and around 1800 to come to Louisiana.  I have no idea if he made stops along the way.  I have kind of done a "hit and miss" search for him but nothing methodical and I don't know the sources to research.  Also, I know very little French so I'm at a disadvantage there.

We strolled up to the stand of the Centre Généalogique de Loire Atlantique when there was a rare moment of it not being crowded with visitors. We presented the above puzzle and the kindly lady started searching the private databases of the CGLA. (It is worth noting here that all of the cercles and associations have numerous databases from many sources, not only parish and civil registrations, and not all of these have been rented to the commercial genealogy companies. Usually, with membership to the specific association, some may be searched on their own websites. Not all; it may still be necessary to write a query.) She found nothing. Then, she rummaged in the heaps of books and cartons on the floor behind her, et voilà!


She hauled out a very battered copy of Les Acadiens en France : Nantes et Paimboeuf 1775-1785 by Gérard-Marc Braud. (ISBN 2-908261-47-2) On page 117 she found a very large amount of information on Pierre Jacob Gaubert and his family, listed under the name of his father, Guillaume, which we give here in part:

As family no. 173 in the book: Gaubert, Guillaume (s), born abt. 1742 in Eparsac, Tarn-et-Garonne, son of Jacques Gaubert and of Françoise Perier, a doctor, in the parish registers for St.-Similien, Nantes. He was married to 1) Marie-Modeste Gaudet, in La Rochelle, in the parish of Saint-Nicolas and 2) Marie Gaudet in Nantes. Pierre-Jacob Gaubert was his first child from his first marriage, baptised on the 21st of January 1777 in St.-Similien, Nantes. 

There is a great deal more information, running to two pages on the families concerned. It gives the names of the seven ships on which each individual travelled to Louisiana in 1785 as well as references to various other types of documentation in which they appear. The book is in both French and English, which will be of use to those who, like Mademoiselle G. have little French. Eventually, we would have come across it via the Internet, but it would have taken some time. Here, it took five minutes, because the expert knew where to look. 

Keep these associations going; join one, please.

©2015 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Summer Reading - The Short Chronicle

St Clare

We are a bit late with this post and apologize, but we have been enthralled by a first-hand account of the takeover of Geneva by the Huguenots, beginning in 1529, "The Short Chronicle : a Poor Clare's Account of the Reformation in Geneva". It is told by a Catholic nun, Jeanne de Jussie, writing from within the not very secure walls of the Convent of Saint Clare in Geneva.

Many of our readers write to tell us that they are descended from Huguenots and tell a tale of their ancestors' persecution and suffering. This account shows that the viciousness could be on the other side as well. Brutal killings, mutilations, rapes, beheading children, destruction of religious artifacts, burnings of homes, churches, livestock and crops - all these crimes and worse were perpetrated by the Huguenots against the Catholics of Geneva. Jeanne and other women in religious communities lived in terror of their convent walls being smashed, their bodies violated, their lives cruelly and abruptly ended.

In spite of being terrified, Jeanne never becomes hysterical. Her writing is clear-headed throughout. She is an intelligent observer of the destruction of her world and reports not only on the acts of terrorism but on the political negotiations and machinations of those in power on both sides. She does, however, allow herself the luxury of some quite creative insulting of the enemy. Not only do "scoundrels", "profaners", "sinners" and "vile bodies" fill the ranks of the Huguenots, but the Swiss Germans are "disloyal, heretical dogs", and Martin Luther is  "the pestiferous dragon with the venomous tail".

The editor and translator, Carrie F. Klaus, has provided informative but unobtrusive notes. Though many people of Geneva and the surrounding towns are named, this is not a book on genealogy. As a contemporary account of the Protestant Reformation in Geneva, it may be of interest to anyone researching Huguenot ancestors and wishing to understand better what they may have experienced. To students of history, whether of the sixteenth or the twenty-first century, it will prove yet again, that there are never any good guys in religious wars.

©2015 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Game Review - Généalogik



There are already some genealogy games out there, board games, such as the Game of Genealogy, and card games, such as Six Generations. They do seem to have been created by grandparents to rope their children into helping out with research into the family. The main problem with games created by grandparents for pre-teen children is that the two age groups could be said to have rather different ideas of what is fun. We have observed that children are somewhat primitive, which is why board games that focus on primitive emotions such as greed (Monopoly), morbidity (Clue or Cluedo) or murderous urges (Risk or War) are so hugely successful. The urge to collect data on dead people lacks the same force for an eight-year-old.

Nevertheless, the world of genealogy games may now welcome a French newcomer, Généalogik, invented by the vice-president of the genealogy association, Généalogie en Corrèze. Ours arrived a few days ago and, our children being grown and gone and no others at hand, we played with our friend, Madame B, a most elegant Parisian lady who can be quite a cutthroat War player. She jumped at the chance for a new game and quickly opened all the little packets, set cards and tokens in place and began to read the rules. Keen as mustard, she was.

The ever-logical French mind was evident in the rules. There were many paragraphs about just how the dice could and could not be rolled and read and used to move around the board. The seventh and ninth paragraphs finally revealed the goal of the game: to progress, via the acquisition of documents, through the identification of three generations of a family. There are four families possible, each represented by a card and tiny, perhaps a bit too tiny, illustrated squares, one for each family member, to place on the card until it shall be filled. The player first to document all members of all generations wins.

The paces on the board take one to places where the documentation - actes de naissance, mariage et décès - can be found: the town hall or mairie, the Departmental Archives or Archives départementales, the local genealogy association or cercle généalogique, or the Internet. When one lands on any of those, one can then choose a civil registration for a family member. There are cards for good luck (chance) and bad luck (poisse). 

We found it moderately entertaining but Madame B., who does no genealogy, did not like it one bit. In fact she found it dull, dull, dull, as well as the print too small and the colours too light, no less. Thus, we recommend it for those who already have an interest in genealogy and who wish to improve their understanding of French genealogy in a slightly new way. To interest children, some stories may have to be told while playing to spice it up a bit.

©2015 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy 

Psychogénéalogie and French Family Photos


Young Family Group


The popularity of genealogy in France continues to grow and, along with it, the rather new field of transgenerational psychotherapy or psychogénéalogie. A fairly well-known name among the practitioners is that of Christine Ulivucci, who has recently published a book entitled "Ces Photos Qui Nous Parlent : une Relecture de la Mémoire Familiale" ("Photos That Speak to Us : a Rereading of Family Memory" - click on the cover image in the column to the right to buy). She describes the book in an interview:



During the interview, a short film is shown of an example. Aurélie, aged thirty-seven, wanted to know if there may not have been some transgenerational reason as to why she had not yet found matrimonial bliss. A study of a few family photos revealed bad marriages on both the paternal and maternal side. No further along the road to marriage, Aurélie at least had found an explanation as to why.

Dear Readers, beware of adding this type of analysis of minimal amounts of data to your family histories! Were this sort of conclusion to be subjected to the Genealogical Proof Standard, it would fall far short of the rigorous research and standards required. Photography long ago was expensive and used only for the most formal occasions. Later, only the rich could afford to take snapshots at every family event. Now, of course, everyone's computer and phone is flooded with digital images. Analyzing a family using hundreds of photos today might be possible, but we question very severely the validity of conclusions based on five or six formal, posed photos from a hundred years ago.

Had Aurélie wished to use that conclusion as a part of her family's genealogy, she would have  had to confirm the assumption of those bad marriages with further documentation. Barring the convenient discovery of a photo showing one spouse in the process of strangling the other, she would have had to find some sort of documentation, such as:

  • a string of births of children mothered or fathered by someone outside the marriage
  • a will detailing with vitriol why the spouse would inherit the minimum allowed by law
  • documented proof of crimes by one spouse against the other
  • etc.

We jest in part but the point is no joke: in genealogy, assumptions based on limited and/or vague sources are unacceptable. This is not only because it would be sloppy work but because the bad results would be interminable: one weak assumption would lead to another and another, unendingly. We all know how easily it happens: a guess that a marriage was bad becomes and assumption, the a certainty. It then is perpetuated in print and on the Internet and further conclusions about people, based on that "certainly bad" marriage appear, until there is an entire family history that is pure fiction.

We wish Aurélie no harm, nor do we wish to disparage Madame Ulivucci's work, which surely has its value when used correctly, but we do wish to warn against the invention of a life's "truths" based on limited sources.

©2014 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Press Review


Press Review

It has been some years since we last did a general review of what was to be found in the French genealogy press, though we have tried to keep you posted on any hot topics concerning French genealogy. Time to take a look at what three of the most visible magazines are saying.

La Revue Française de Généalogie has for its cover story an article explaining best practices for research in the censuses. It discusses the history of population censuses in France, where the returns may be found in the Departmental Archives. There is a long discussion of how a census was taken, explaining the paperwork, and a comparison of American and British census fashions with those in France. It is followed by a study of an example that includes many errors. As ever, the French love of statistics is evident.

There is an article on the value of permalinks to specific document images by Pierre-Valéry Archassal. A map of the country showing which Departmental Archives use the technology on their websites shows them to be in an odd south-to-north strip up the centre of the country. Arkothèque, the company that designed the system for archives is based in Marseilles and it would seem that the salesman never got off the E15 to Paris or the E17 to Lille.

 It seems there must always be a bit of celebrity genealogy and here it is that of Pierre Soulages, the artist. A few pages later is printed an eye-witness account of the Battle of the Marne by an unfortunate woman who lived nearby.

The prize article, in our opinion, is that on wolves. Not the genealogy of wolves, but -- statistics again -- the number of attacks on people and human deaths attributed to wolves based on information found in archives. Apparently, wolves claimed about three thousand victims per century until they were mostly eliminated in the twentieth century. The article is based on and praises the work of Professor Jean-Marc Moriceau at the University of Caen, who has launched a website on the history of the murderous relationship between wolves and humans.

Nos Ancêtres, Vie & Métiers is an off-shoot of the above publication. It comes out every two months and focuses on bygone skills and professions and on aspects of daily life long ago. The most recent issue tells of medieval cookery. As what the majority of the people ate is not very much documented (probably because for most there was not very much to eat) the author is forced to rely on the writings that do exist, and they are mostly about monks' dining rules and regulations. The source for what the nobility ate seems to have been illuminated manuscripts (of which we are most fond) many little reproductions of which dot the article.

There is a biographical article on the composer, Offenbach. The rest of the magazine is about the professions of maintaining law and order: the police, the gendarmerie and the maréchausée. In all, this magazine is not one to aid the reader's skills in genealogical research, but to deepen his or her understanding of the times in which various ancestors lived.

Généalogie Magazine always seems a bit down market to us, perhaps because it generally gives about sixty per cent of its space to celebrity genealogies. This month's big names are the new Prime Minister, Manuel Valls and Charlie Chaplin. For royalty fetishists, there is a biography of Louis Philippe I, really a long promotion for the big new book listing all of his descendants. As it runs to almost four hundred pages, we imagine there are many.

The lead article, however, is a step in a new direction, for it is about "The Best Genealogy Websites". It is quite a thorough directory. It lists:

  • all of the Departmental Archives websites
  • commercial data bases
  • online guides and manuals
  • websites about surnames
  • medal and military websites
  • lists of those who can be linked to historical personages or events
  • websites on heraldry
  • websites on paleography
  • map and geographical websites
  • websites of genealogy associations and cercles
  • publishers and bookshops specializing in genealogy
  • professional genealogists
  • international archives
  • genealogy bloggers (minus our own sterling effort)

It is a most unusual lurch into excellence for this magazine and we wonder if this heralds a new path or if it be merely the raising of the hippo's head out of the shallows and into the light of day before it is again submerged in the murky waters.

 ©2014 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Book Review - Unnaturally French

Unnaturally French

For a definition of French citizenship in the Ancien régime, for a complete explanation of how it was developed and eventually dismantled and for an understanding of how and why people became citizens of France, look no further than this excellent book. This is history, not genealogy, but one cannot do very well at the latter without studying the former. The author, Peter Sahlins, is a professor of History at our old stomping grounds, the University of California at Berkeley.

There are many fine historians out there, publishing with abandon, but few of them have the clear prose of Professor Sahlins. Indeed, after reading some of the more frantic, polemical and muddled histories out there, to come to "Unnaturally French" is to step from a pen full of turkeys at feeding time into a calm room where all are banished but the sane.

He explains the crucial difference between citizens of the realm of France and foreigners residing in it: the droit d'aubaine, the right of the king to seize the estates and property of foreigners who died in the realm. Those wishing their children -- if they were foreign also -- to inherit might have been inspired to apply to the king to become French. Those applications, of which the author says only about twenty per cent were successful, would have given much personal detail. Challenges in court by heirs concerning citizenship and the right to inherit were many. Quickly, it becomes apparent that this book is essential to anyone tracing ancestors who arrived in France from elsewhere and stayed for a generation or two.

The period covered is from 1660 to 1789 and the key sources used by Professor Sahlins are the letters of naturalization and the tax rolls for the 1697 Naturalization Tax. He has a very large sampling from both, running into the thousands of cases, and sprinkles his history with examples. His data base revealed that the largest categories of those who were naturalized were, in descending order:

  • Clergy
  • Merchants
  • Artisans
  • Liberal professions
  • Military
  • Office holders
  • Servants

Many came from regions that are now part of France but that were not so at the time, such as Savoie and Nice. The Irish flight of the "Wild Swans" occurred during this period and is covered as well. In terms of geographic origin, the largest groups were from:

  • Southern Europe
  • Northern Europe
  • Central Europe
  • British Isles
  • Ottoman Empire

Of particular use to those using this book to know better the history in order to trace better their family is the Appendix number two, which gives a long list of treaties France made with various countries to abolish or exempt foreigners from the droit d'aubaine, beginning with the 1753 treaty made with the Kingdom of Prussia and ending with the 1790 and 1791 unconditional and absolute abolition of the droit d'aubaine throughout France and her colonies.

Increasingly, we are contacted by people seeking not just their French ancestors, but something they have recently discovered. With DNA testing for genealogy, they have discovered indicators of ancestry from other parts of Europe and, based on other research, it seems to them that their French ancestors had non-French origins. For all those who suspect that those ancestors entered France and became French during the seventeenth or eighteenth century, this book is essential to understanding what may have happened.

It is also invaluable as a source of sources. A quarter of the book's 453 pages is devoted to notes, appendices, an index and a superb bibliography of published and unpublished sources. First, read this book  to learn the history, then use it as a guide for your own genealogical and historical research.

You can buy it by clicking on the image under "Books In English" in the column to the right.

©2014 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


More on Coiffes de France



In the past, we have written on the subject of coiffes (see our jolly tome, which can now be purchased directly from Lulu) and how they may help you to find the region, if not the very village, of your ancestress. Should you be fortunate enough to have a coiffe among the treasures inherited from your ancestors, give it a close examination. Compare it with these dainty cut-outs for a match that could guide your research.

















During our junket to Bretagne, we have taken a small break from genealogical research in the archives to admire the elegant exhibit of Breton dress -- including coiffes -- at the Musée Départemental Breton in Quimper. Though we are a dedicated devotée of Worth, we must admit that some of these are very pretty indeed.

Monsieur B. is one of our most loyal and generous of Readers and we are indebted to him for telling us of this National Geographic Magazine article on the coiffes of Bretagne. With the ever beautiful photographs for which that magazine is so noted, shown are women wearing Breton coiffes, the captions identifying the very village with which each style is associated. Maybe one will be that of your ancestress! Merci Monsieur B.

Rainy Day Activity Time : Failing a positive identification, you might use the above cut-outs to ensnare a little one for the cause of French Genealogy. 

©2014 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


A Free Genealogy E-Book



As we write, we assume that most of our Dear Readers are paying no attention whatsoever, but are busy with pie crusts, large dead birds and shopping for Thanksgiving. For those who never did and never will celebrate the day and for those who could or should but would rather not, we write on.

We have in the past made a mention or two of the French blogger, Jérémie Bourillon, who writes the blog Généalogie facile, which translates as "Easy Genealogy". He covers pretty much the same territory as we do here, minus the Identity Wars and other such personal trivia. Monsieur Bourillon has just produced an e-book (PDF download) of advice and guidance which he is offering free to anyone who will subscribe to his blog.

It begins with a number of reasons for pursuing genealogy, such as curiosity, the desire to identify people in old photographs, or to know why someone was awarded that old medal in the sugar tin, or why an ancestor had an atypical (for the family) profession. The list is quite long. He then explains the first steps to gathering one's French family history and documents. This is followed by explanations which cover finding the civil and parish registrations in the Departmental Archives and researching in military records and railway employment records. It runs to about fifty pages or so.

If you have already finished our book,  you may wish to read his, keeping yourselves industrious over the long weekend.

We wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving and a bon appétit!

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

French Jewish Genealogy - La Revue des Etudes Juives


Arabesque 2

You know how it is when the research bug bites and it is impossible to stop. More, when the discoveries come thick and fast, you think you have struck some sort of gold, as indeed it can be -- a lovely, golden flow of discovery of history and ideas and family connection. In short, we have found a gem we wish to share about French Jewish genealogical research: La Revue des études juives, begun in Paris by the Société des Etudes Juives in 1880 and still going strong. Long  articles, scholarly and erudite -- especially in the earlier volumes -- provide abundant information that is not only historical but often genealogical. We give examples of titles:

  • Les Juifs en Bretagne au XVIIIe Siècle 
  • Les Juifs de Montpellier au XVIIIe Siècle
  • Les Juifs dans les Colonies Françaises au XVIIIe Siècle
  • Le Trèsor des Juifs Sephardim - notes sur les familles françaises isréalites du rit portugais
  • Inscriptions Hèbraïques d'Arles
  • Jacob Backofen, rabbin de Metz
  • La douane de Lyon et les juifs
  • Marchands juifs en 1670
  • Concile d'Orléans et les relations entre juifs et chrétiens (mariages)

 Some articles continue through many issues and really are books. All quote their sources and, if the sources are in the archives, give the facility and the code. Articles are not only in French. Many are in German, some in English, some in Hebrew, some in Italian. Nor is the subject matter limited to France. It is those that are in French, however, that seem to contain more information that can help the genealogist. Correspondence and many other documents are copied in full. In at least one article a complete list of names from a census is given. Individual court cases are described. People's lives are explored in detail. For those who cannot travel to France to use her many archives to research their French Jewish genealogy, this publication can be a gift indeed.

The Revue can be found around the Internet. For ease of use, we prefer to use the Index to the first fifty volumes via the Internet Archive. It is an excellent index, with headings for both authors and subjects. Thus, just looking up a city, such as Bordeaux or Lyon, or a region, such as Lorraine, will give a list of articles. Then, we go to Scribd, where the wonderful folks at Patrologia, bless them, have uploaded all the early volumes of the Revue.


©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Books - Documents on the Jewish Community of 18th Century Paris


Louvre Lamp


In 1913, the Society of the History of Paris and of the Ile de France brought out a book by Paul Hildenfinger, Documents sur les Juifs à Paris au XVIIIe Siècle : Actes d'Inhumation et Scellés. This is doubly a treasure, since pre-1871 Paris genealogy and pre-Revolutionary French Jewish genealogy are both very difficult areas of research.

The author, who spent months researching the documentation of the deaths of Jewish people in Paris in the eighteenth century, did not live to see the publication. Originally from Lille, he trained at the Ecole des Chartes as an archivist and paleographer, then worked at the Bibliothèque Nationale.  The research for this book did not come from his work but from his personal interest.

As Hildenfinger explains in his Introduction, eighteenth century French law stated that priests or curates were required to maintain registers of births, marriages and burials of every member of their parish. The law did not extend to non-Catholics, who were refused burial in Catholic cemeteries. While many Protestant pastors kept near-identical registers, the leaders of other religions often did not, or those records have not survived.

However, it was also required by law that the police were not to allow any burial without some sort of record of death. This particular law, enacted in 1736, was primarily intended for the documentation of Protestants and stated that, where there was no Catholic parish record of burial, an affidavit concerning the deceased was required before burial could take place. It ended up being applied to those of other religions, including Greek Orthodox and Jewish, as well as to a variety of foreigners, duellists and suicides.

It was the local police superintendent, of whom there were about twenty in Paris, who went to the home of the deceased and wrote the necessary documentation. Those documents that remain are in the Y series of the Archives nationales and it is these that Mr. Hildenfinger abstracted. Generally, he tells, the documentation includes:

  1. The declaration of death, by witnesses, neighbours or friends, whether Christian or Jewish, with their full names, the places of origin, their addresses in Paris. Sometime there may also be their professions and their relationship to the deceased. They signed, in French or Hebrew.
  2. The death report and identification of the corpse, with the full name, age, address, religion, and place of origin of the deceased.
  3. After 1737, comments by the Attorney General of Châtelet, to whom the report had to be submitted, giving the name of the deceased and the place of burial.
  4. The police authorisation for burial.

The scellé refers to the documentation concerning the sealing off by law of the deceased's property in order to protect the heirs and/or creditors. Often, it was used by the state to take possession of the property.

In all, Hildenfinger found 176 documents about 171 Jewish persons who died and describes them fully. The index is excellent. The Introduction could be used as a research guide to the subject on its own. Read it on Gallica:

Documents sur les juifs à Paris au XVIIIe siècle : actes d

Documents sur les juifs à Paris au XVIIIe siècle : actes d'inhumation et scellés / recueillis par P. Hildenfinger ; [publié par Alexandre Vidier]

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy