Book and Magazine Reviews

Book Review : The Huguenots

Geoffrey Treasure's hefty "The Huguenots" was published by Yale University Press earlier this year with this blurb from the publisher:
Following the Reformation, a growing number of radical Protestants came together to live and worship in Catholic France. These Huguenots survived persecution and armed conflict to win—however briefly—freedom of worship, civil rights, and unique status as a protected minority. But in 1685, the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes abolished all Huguenot rights, and more than 200,000 of the radical Calvinists were forced to flee across Europe, some even farther.   In this capstone work, Geoffrey Treasure tells the full story of the Huguenots’ rise, survival, and fall in France over the course of a century and a half. He explores what it was like to be a Huguenot living in a “state within a state,” weaving stories of ordinary citizens together with those of statesmen, feudal magnates, leaders of the Catholic revival, Henry of Navarre, Catherine de’ Medici, Louis XIV, and many others. Treasure describes the Huguenots’ disciplined community, their faith and courage, their rich achievements, and their unique place within Protestantism and European history. The Huguenot exodus represented a crucial turning point in European history, Treasure contends, and he addresses the significance of the Huguenot story—the story of a minority group with the power to resist and endure in one of early modern Europe’s strongest nations.
For a few years, now, authors -- and some readers -- have bemoaned the collapse of the infrastructure of publishing companies and Mr. Treasure's thorough history is a good example of why. Publishing companies have been doing away with employees such as editors, fact-checkers, proofreaders. In their places, they have one. 
Mr. Treasure retired from his job as senior master at Harrow School when he was sixty-two, in 1992. Since then, he has published a number of books, including a biography of Mazarin. "The Huguenots" is an extraordinarily comprehensive history of the French Protestants, placing them in the context of European Protestant beginnings and showing that they were not passive victims of religious persecution but were themselves most militant, marching into war bellowing their own Battle Psalm. He is clearly an expert on his subject, but Mr. Treasure's erudition -- and his readers -- have been sorely let down by his publisher's failings:
  • An editor would have helped Mr. Treasure clarify just what type of book he was writing, either scholarly treatise or popular history. Though the book is marketed to the general public, the author seems to assume the reader has an extensive knowledge of French history under his or her belt. We required a couple of encyclopaedias to help us along, as well as complete genealogies of the Valois and Bourbons.
  • An editor might have pointed out that end notes that refer to other pages in the book are not much help. Essentially, they say "I'll get to that later."
  • A proofreader or fact checker might have caught typos and mistaken dates, such as that concerning one of the crucial events before the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew's Day, the hanging of Philippe de Gastine, given as being in 1569 instead of 1571; or the transposition that places Achille de Harlay's petition to the king in 1589 instead of 1598.
  • An editor would have guided Mr. Treasure's style from one that reads like a bumpy ride on a bad road (often giving the sense that we are reading his notes) to a smoother prose with greater clarity. 
  • The little Glossary is a nice touch, especially as Mr. Treasure sprinkles his writing with rather a large number of French words.
  • A few maps would have helped.
  • A chronology would have helped.
  • A bit less popular psychology as an effort to explain barbarism would have helped.

In short, imperfect but essential. 

Click on the cover in the right-hand column of this page to buy it.

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Book Review : Retracer le parcours d'un religieux

Contemplative life
Increasingly, genealogists are extending their research into many types of documentation and archives, in order to be able to identify correctly the individuals they are tracing. Often, this research provides a wealth of evidence that can, sometimes indirectly, lead to significant discoveries. In French research, one of the best ways to trace an ancestor is by researching a family member who had no descendants. If you have a priest, a monk or a nun in your French family tree, then researching that person could well reveal much more about the family.
Archives & Cultures have published this year a very handy guide specifically on the subject of researching the genealogy of those who chose to dedicate their lives to the Catholic Church in France: Retracer le parcours d'un religieux by Jean-Paul Duquesnoy. 
In general, we find it almost unthinkable that any book on French genealogy can improve on the 1981 classic Guide de recherches sur l'histoire des familles by Gildas Bernard, who was the Inspector General of the Archives of France. However, that laudable book's chapter on research in religious documentation is, shall we say, parsimonious and, to the non-French non-Catholic, mysterious. Retracer le parcours d'un religieux, on the other hand, is written for the utterly ignorant albeit reasonably intelligent modern researcher. Its sections are:
  • Quelques repères avant de commencer - which explains the basics of church structure and employment and gives key dates in French ecclesiastical history
  • Où faire les recherches? - which discusses the various locations of the different archival collections. While Bernard encouraged one to write to the Vatican, Duquesnoy stays in France.
  • Quels documents rechercher? - which lists and explains the key ecclesiastical documentation to seek.
  • Les actes notariés - which lists and explains the supplementary documentation created to ensure legality in many cases.
  • Les archives communales - which explains how these archives contain documents such as residence certificates, sermons, passports, etc. of members of the clergy and religious orders.
  • Les sources imprimés - which discusses printed material, such as diocesan directories, newsletters, magazines, etc., and where to seek them.
  • Annexes - which give a lexicon of French ecclesiastic terms and an explanation of clerical clothing.


The book is only eighty pages and is profusely illustrated, which may make the price of ten euros seem a bit much, but we assure you, it is worth the price. Mr. Duquesnoy, a local historian of significant repute, has given us an excellent tool.


©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Book Review : Vos ancêtres à travers les archives militaires


Ancestres militaires

We live in a strange time, to be sure, and our pursuit of genealogy is not entirely free of that strangeness. The French government has recognized that personal data is a new resource, and it may be taxable. Our names, our addresses, our professions and preferences, our family, what we read, eat, buy, where we go on holiday, all, all is for sale. As individuals, we usually give away this data  -- and with it our privacy --  in exchange for free use of certain Internet services or for shopping discounts or other such trivia. Often, it is taken from us surreptitiously. Occasionally, it is used to commit a crime; more often it is sold in bulk. There are days when we find the whole process a little too close to cannibalism.

What remains of the personal data of our ancestors is what we, as genealogists, hunt and are willing to buy. The miners of personal data of the dead for genealogical purposes sometimes move a bit too close to that of the living. We admire greatly Kenyatta Berry, President of the Association of Professional Genealogists, for her recent editorial cautioning genealogists against letting their research enthusiasms take them too close to violating the privacy of living people. 

The technology that has turned our private lives into a commodity that is bought and sold by others is the same used by those claiming to protect some country's national security by harvesting those same private details. The recent dust-up at the Service Historique de la Défense is really a dispute between proponents of those two uses -- marketing for profit vs. hoarding for national security -- of a collection of antiquated personal data. Data that was collected about those doing their military service is now for sale, and genealogists are generally the buyers. Let's face it: in time, the data collected by the Prism programme will not pay for its own storage and, in one form or another, will be marketed for profit.

In spite of the military archives at Vincennes being currently closed and some of the websites still down, it would seem that the free market view of getting the personal data in the archives to turn a trick will prevail over national security view of keeping it in a burqa for our protection. Proof of this may be seen in last November's publication of a short and perfect guide to researching one's ancestors in France's military archives.

Vos ancêtres à travers les archives militaires is published by the Service Historique de la Défense. At 133 well-illustrated pages, it is concise but very informative. Chapter headings include:

  • Your ancestor was an officer
  • Your ancestor was a junior officer, a soldier or a seaman
  • Your ancestor was a fisherman or in the merchant marine
  • Your ancestor was in the air force
  • Your ancestor was in the national police (gendarmerie)
  • Your ancestor was a non-combatant
  • Your ancestor was wounded in action
  • Your ancestor was a prisoner of war
  • Your ancestor received a military pension
  • Your ancestor was tried by a court-martial
  • Your ancestor served overseas
  • Your ancestor served or was a victim of the Twentieth century's wars
  • Civil registrations and military burials

Each section gives a pithy and precise set of directions for how to use the archives pertaining to that category. There is a list of useful addresses and there are tables that explain military recruitment and the maritime administrative regions. As always with French publications, the index is dismal. It is a handbook that is ideal and indispensable. Since most of the SHD is inaccessible at the moment, you might study this book to hone your military research skills while you wait for the archives to reopen.

Vos ancêtres à travers les archives militarires

Sandrine Heiser and Vincent Mollet

Paris: Service Historique de la Défense, 2012

ISBN: 978 2 1112 9051 8


2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Another Chef-d'oeuvre by A Dear Reader

Reader Monsieur G. has submitted links to his long, two-part article about Basque Benedictines in Oklahoma and Los Angeles. We find it to be well researched and that it makes excellent reading. For any of you who have Basque roots and a Benedictine in your family tree, this article will be interesting and could help you to further your research.

Click on the link in the new list in the column to the right, just below that stylish "Categories" cloud list. 

Many thanks!

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

- See more at:


Chef-d'oeuvres by Our Dear Readers

 Today, we inaugurate a new list on The French Genealogy Blog: Chefs-d'oeuvres by Our Dear Readers. Some of you have written quite interesting accounts of your French anestors' lives, and some of you have published these and made them available for purchase or as something to share at no cost. We believe that your ancestors may have known those of other Dear Readers, may have mentioned them in their tales, may provide that one detail in their memoires that could break down someone's French brick wall. Thus, the new list of those works by our Dear Readers which may be of use to same.

Should you have produced such a work and would like us to include it in our list, please:

  • Reflect on its usefulness to other researchers of French genealogy - does it mention names of others, date and places or is it too personal to be of interest to any outside the immediate family?
  • Ensure that it is in a format enabling its practical use, such as a book, e-book, PDF file, etc.
  • Send us a copy
  • Explain how others may obtain a copy, whether it is free or must be purchased
  • Wait patiently for us to think about it

Our list begins with a work by a reader whose ancestors were in the Paris Commune and who were immigrants to Martinique and to the United States. Click on it in the new list in the column to the right, just below that stylish "Categories" cloud list. 

Many thanks!

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

XXIIe Congrès national de Généalogie - New Genealogy Magazine


Archives et Culture

Between talks, we stopped by the stand of Archives & Culture, the company that not only publishes the many popular genealogy works of  Marie-Odile Mergnac, but was founded by her in 1989 and is still sailing with her at the helm. Her dedicated assistant, who diligently sends us announcements each time Madame Mergnac brings forth another book, was tending the tables laden with the company's books, among them:

  • Découvrir ses ancêtres sous la Révolution
  • Retrouver ses ancêtres espagnols
  • Retrouver un ancêtre postier
  • Reconnaître les photos et cartes postales anciennes
  • Retracer l'histoire de sa commune
  • Rechercher ses ancêtres aux Pays-Bas
  • Reconnaître les uniformes 1914-1918

The list is quite long and the books are generally concise and excellent. Our interest, however, was to see a copy of  "La Revue Archives & Culture", the company's first magazine and the first new genealogy magazine in France for a couple of years. There were stacks of the first issue, which was being heavily promoted.

A & C La Revue

The magazine will have ten issues per year and intends to cover not only genealogy but history, daily life as it was in the past, surnames and their origins, regional customs and traditions.  The first issue has articles on:

  • The traditions of bridal headgear, with numerous wedding photographs of old
  • The profession of raising homing pigeons, with numerous photographs of pigeons, some of them with military accoutrements, and with a glossary of pigeon fanciers' terms
  • How to research war orphans of the First World War in France, based on a Archives & Culture book on the subject
  • The mysteries of heredity
  • Family customs of the Chinese, with a few photographs of China
  • Common Belgian first names
  • The history and origin of a selection of French surnames

The editor is, of course, Marie-Odile Mergnac. She is also the publishing director, picture researcher, and contributing author, though there are a couple of others. No problem with unity of vision here.

How does La Revue compare with other genealogy magazines on the market? It is prettier, to be sure. The paper is thicker, with a matte coating. The layout is cleaner and the type more attractive. The pages are designed to be detached and put into binders, and are marked with lines to indicate where to cut and with dots showing where to punch holes. (Bit of a job all that.) Best of all, there are no advertisements! But for a list of the company's own publications on the back cover, there is not a single advertisement in the entire issue. Thus, every page of this magazine, which sells for 4.50 euros, contains solid information for the reader. 

It is too soon to say how useful this elegant publication will continue to be. We have paid the 39 euros for a year's subscription and will write again at the end of the tenth issue, giving our opinion on a year's worth of La Revue. It can be purchased online at  the CDIP Boutique or by post from:

Archives & Culture

26 bis rue Paul-Barruel

75015 Paris

Interesting addition to the coffee table stack.

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy 

Our Fourth Birthday - Notre Quatrième Anniversaire


4th anniversary red

Well, the French Genealogy Blog is now four years old and has over 350 posts under its belt. Are we a tad weary? Not in the least. We have dozens of ideas to pursue here and many more French genealogy events on which to report. We hope that you, Dear and Loyal Readers, will stay with us. 

We celebrate our blog’s birthday this year with two events: 


French Genealogy From Afar


Firstly, a publication: French Genealogy From Afar. As so many of you have written to tell us that you are struggling to print off and tidily store our posts, we deemed a book to be in order. It is a guide – built on numerous posts from this blog -- that has as its focus the very first steps of research into French ancestry, mostly via the Internet. The Section Headings are :  

  •  Getting Ready
  •  History and Geography
  •  Location! Location!
  •  Departmental and Communal Archives
  •  Researching on the Departmental Archives’ Websites
  •  A Bit of Military History
  •  Military Records Online
  •  The National Archives Databases
  •  The Genealogy Community and Commercial Databases

Giving historical insights, keys to unlocking the French archives system, invaluable French websites, ways to develop a research methodology, problem solving advice, French Genealogy From Afar is also, of course, in our usual, pert style.

This fine paperback book of 185 pages is immediately available -- from us only -- and will be shipped directly from the printer. The price, including postage, is $26 / £18 / €22 per copy. Should you wish to purchase a copy, please send an e-mail to us at amerigen AT yahoo DOT com and we will explain the procedures.

Cottage 1 small

Secondly, we have communicated at length with so many of you, Dear Readers, that we think it might be nice to meet you. Should you plan a trip to France, we hope that you might wish to add the French Genealogy Blog's rustic stone cottage in Dordogne to your itinerary. Bookings may be via or directly with us at the e-mail above. 

One last thing: we have listened to your requests (annoyed sarcasm?) and have made our photographs available in a simple format, without borders or our own sweet words. If you do not see one that you know from the blog and that  you would like, write to us and we will add it.

In closing, une coupe de champagne, Veuve of course, with many thanks, for you all!

Right, that’s it for the festivities. Back to work.

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

French Genealogy - the Search in Reverse

Sometimes, it can be advantageous to look at things from a different angle in order the better to understand them. Thus, this book:
"Retrouver un ancêtre français parti à l'étranger : Les français à l'étranger et leur déscendance" by Guillaume de Morant. It is published by Archives & Culture, in their series, "Guides de Généalogie".
At seventy-seven pages, it is a mere slip of a thing, but very little of it is useless filler. Its readership is intended to be those whose ancestors left France. The author points out in his Introduction that many books about tracing the ancestry of migrants into France have been written but that this is the first about tracing the descendants of those who left France. The idea is good, if the presentation of the concept baffling.  The average descendant does not wish to follow an ancestral line down to himself or herself, but works from his or her parents back through ancestors, no? The average descendant of a French emigré would not be in France, buying this French book, unless the ancestor or another in the line had returned, making this book something of a cry in the dark, with a miniscule readership. Fortunately, you have us to guide you to it, and all is well.
We suspect that the convoluted sales pitch comes from a desire to avoid the words migrant and migration, which carry hefty baggage, but that is what the book is about. For those having trouble finding an ancestor's place of origin in France, this could be of some small help, for some groups from some places went only to some destinations. For others, knowing a bit more as to the cause of migration during certain eras could give a better understanding of a group of ancestors and perhaps a clue or two to aid in their identification.
De Morant gives the briefest of histories of the main waves of migration from France, beginning with the Huguenots in the mid-sixteenth century. (For those who wish to trace their French ancestors prior to 1550, he has this to say: "Oubliez!" e.g. Forget it! The documentation was required by law from 1539.) He gives the reasons for others leaving in order of importance:
  • Hunger
  • War
  • Colonization
  • Racial, religious or class persecution
  • Military, administrative or diplomatic service that became a permanent expatriation
  • Banishment and exile of criminals
  • Political opposition

His section entitled "Originaires de Toute la France" discusses where many of the migrants called home. He relates that, from 1650 to 1730, some 200,000 French Huguenots left the country. One third were from Normandy and the Ile-de-France; this group went primarily to what is now The Netherlands. Another third were from the regions of Aquitaine and Saintonge; they went primarily to the British Isles and North America. The final third were from the south and southeast of France and went mainly to Switzerland and Germany, with a smattering going all the way to South Africa. A very useful intial guide, that.

We have previously written about French nationality being retained by emigrants and passed on to their children.  Monsieur de Morant includes this among his three categories of French in foreign climes:

  • The Expatriate lives outside of France for reasons of work and intends to return, thus remaining within the French systems of documentation
  • The Permanent Resident lives outside of France and may not intend to return but is registered with the French embassy or consulate and retains French citizenship, and will appear less and less in the documentation, except that which deals specifically with this group
  • The Emigrant left France and has no intention of returning or of retaining French nationality. Obviously, this person does not appear much in French documentation after he or she emigrates.


The above is in the first third or so of the book. The rest covers how to trace these emigrants in French documentation, most of which has been described here on our humble blog:

The last section of the book covers how to research in the various countries to which these people emigrated, and is rudimentary.

Buy this little book. Sit down with it and with your notes. Comb through both looking for a hint. All you need is one.

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Book Review - Ma généalogie : Comment retrouver l'histoire de ma famille?


Ma généalogie

The above is being sold in the news agents' shops, la presse, and stationers', la papeterie. As the author is Marie-Odile Mergnac, currently the most prolific of authors on French genealogy and one of the most respected of such, we snapped it up at our corner shop. Only to be disappointed; it is a rehash and a reduction of her masterpiece, Ma généalogie : de siècle en siècle, published in 2009. 

Ma généalogie : Comment retrouver l'histoire de ma famille? at 128 pages, is half the size of its parent book and so, is sold at half the price, c'est logique. The photos are all the same, but the children in costume of the larger book have been removed from the smaller. The structure of working backward in time instead of by type of document -- by far the best aspect of the earlier book -- is retained, thank heaven. A free tree chart (six generations) to fill in is included. While the original book is a paperback, the rehash is a hardback.



We are mystified by the marketing strategy here, but imagine it must be governed by price alone. The first book costs almost 30 euros, a lot to pay for what is, for most, a hobby. The second costs 15 euros. The low price and the marketing via shops at the bottom of the book market, where one also finds not only newspapers and magazines but envelopes, rubbish plastic toys and really cheap DVDs of bad films -- things people throw away soon -- indicate not only an effort to reach those with shallower pockets but a realization that genealogical research in France has escaped the confines of the secretive offices of the professional heir seekers and is now very much a popular pursuit.

Mergnac's work is impeccable, so the book is good. If you are serious, however, plunk for the much more thorough Ma généalogie : de siècle en siècle. For mercy's sake, do not buy both!

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Book Review - La Lignée


La Lignee 1

If the English can be said to love poetry and words, the French can be said to love the visual. Surely, France has more museums and galleries containing more majestic and exquisite images than anywhere else in the world. Surely, no one loves a story as told on the cinema screen more than the French. And heaven knows there is no more stunningly beautiful city on earth than Paris. Yet, much as we know this, we remain bemused that the culture that gave Proust to the world is the same one that drools over adult comic books, known as bandes dessinées.

For forty years, the city of Angoulême has hosted a festival dedicated to the bande dessinée, where some very prestigious prizes are awarded. It is an oddity of the French to overdetermine humour, as in their reverence for the work of the slapstick comic and charity worker, Jerry Lewis. In an effort to explain this love of comic books, the BBC (weighing in for that nation of not shopkeepers, but curators) on Radio 4, has done a little study of this corner of French passion entitled Cartoon Crazy.

The genealogy press in France has been agog of late, for it believes that genealogy  has its first very own bande dessinée in the form of the "La Lignée" quartet, the first two of which have been published: "Antonin 1937" and "Marius 1954". The two anticipated titles are "Maxime 1973" and "Diane & David 1993". The books are written by a quartet as well: Olivier Berlion, Jérôme Félix, Laurent Galandon and Damien Marie. The drawings are by Olivier Berlion; the colorist is Scarlett Smulkowski. Allow us an analogy or two.

"La Lignée" is to genealogy as "Superman" is to NASA. Lignée means literally "stock" or "line" or "descendants". The plot might just barely appeal to psychogénéalogistes, for it hinges upon a curse on the men of a family that entails the first born son dying at the age of thirty-three. Since the first two died violently, this is not a medical curse. Since there is -- as yet -- no effort to identify the protagonists' forbears, this is not genealogy.

La Lignee 2

Much has been made in the press about the books being historical, which is deemed to be a good thing for this form of popular fiction. Good historical fiction has a character present at historical events; it does not have him or her replace true historical personages and/or alter historical events. That would be humour, as in Woody Allen's mock documentary, "Zelig". The first volume of "La Lignée" takes place during the Spanish Civil War, with Antonin chasing his belovèd to Spain and joining the Republicans. The second volume takes place during the Brest strike of 1954, with the priest Marius understandably fretting about the son he fathered as he aids the strikers. (Our brother in Oregon, who insists that we live in "a commie country" here, would see the historical choices as confirmation of his claim.) The former has no history lesson at the back, but the latter has one, with some old photographs and an explanation of what really happened. La Lignée has as much to do with history as the "Lucky Luke" (pronounced "looky luke") comic books have to do with the American West.

They are, however, real comic books. We like the familiar, large onomatopoeic words that blare "PAW! PAW! PAW!" (That's French for POW! POW! POW!) and BAM! and RATATTATT! The wonderful angles and close-ups and deep focus of the drawings are classic, as are the facile, tedious tales. Not for the Puritanical.

La Lignee 3

All in all, we want our money back.

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy