History Plain & Simple

Deeper Research via Family Chronicles - Livres de Raison

Livre de Raison

Many of you, Dear Readers, would seem to have been so successful in your French genealogy, that you have researched your families back to the beginning of parish registration and are keen to push further. We tell today of one way to do that.

In earlier days of this blog, we extolled the joys of reading local history as an aid to genealogical research and to understanding your French ancestors' lives. In the same vein, we suggest that you may be able to find more about your family, if you are very lucky, in livres de raison

These books were essentially family account books, usually of farms or businesses, but sometimes of shops. Often, they span centuries and can contain an extraordinary amount of detail, including:

  • Running accounts
  • Copies of bills paid for all sorts of items or services, including veterinaries
  • Copies of wills
  • Copies of baptism, birth, marriage, death and burial registrations
  • Lists of heirs
  • Maps of lands
  • Property ownership histories
  • Notes on local events and/or catastrophes
  • Pages from almanacs

They are highly personal, so the content of each is unique. Some go as far back as the fourteenth century. A few have been published. As they tend to be mostly agricultural, few come from the maritime departments. It seems that none from Finistère, Loire-Atlantique or Côtes d'Armor have survived, though there are some from the larger Seine-Maritime and Charente-Maritime. 

Where to find them? Some have been put online by Gallica, either as original manuscripts or published studies. (Click on Recherche avancée, type in the titre field "livre de raison" with the quotes, in Type de document click only manuscrit and monographie.)

The Archives nationales have published a comprehensive list of those held in Departmental Archives and in libraries throughout France here. Others have been microfilmed or have surfaced more recently, so check the online finding aids of the Archives nationales, SIV, as well.

Even if you do not find that your ancestor maintained a livre de raison that has survived, look at any for the location where your ancestor lived and you may find at least a mention. Your ancestor's name may appear in an invoice, as a witness at a marriage, as a godparent, as a customer of a cobbler.

Research at this level   -- far deeper than merely a list of births, marriages and deaths -- can be much more difficult and also more rewarding; and it will make your family genealogy much more informed.

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


More Revolutionary Geography - Sections

Tumbril

In 1790, democracy marched onward in France and voting was organised by commune and, in larger cities, by section. Properly speaking, sections were electoral districts, but they were also used informally by name or number as part of an address. Section names or numbers turn up at times in early civil registrations and can be very confusing. In property records, they are maddening.

Paris

The most well-known sections are those of Paris, for they were really the berserkers of Revolutionary radicalism. There were forty-eight sections revolutionnaires in Paris. When first established in 1790, they had names that linked to local landmarks, buildings or roads, such as Section du Temple (referring to the centre of the Knights Templar) or Section de la Halle-aux-Blés (referring to the grain market). In 1795, some names were changed the better to reflect the ideals of the Revolution, and such names as Section du Contrat-Social (Section of the Social Contract) and Section des Droits-de-l'Homme (Section of the Rights of Man) appeared. By 1811, many of them had reverted to old neighbourhood, or quartier, names. Wikipedia lists the Paris Revolutionary sections, with their names in 1790, 1795 and 1811.

The difficulty is in knowing exactly where they were. Using a modern map of Paris and the 1811 column from the Wikepedia page, you can get an idea, but as the sections were so much smaller than the modern arrondissements, it will be only a vague idea. As street names and names of squares, or places, also changed (for example rue de Richelieu was rue de la Loi) it is not always possible to use street names to find the location of a section. The history website, Emerson Kent, has a map created by the wonderful Stanfords for Cambridge University Press that shows the sections, with both the 1790 and the 1795 names, on a map of the old faubourgs.

 Other Cities

Less publicised and so, more difficult, are the sections of other cities. Marseille had thirty-two sections. Though the Departmental Archives of Bouches-du-Rhône writes that they had names, we cannot find a list of them anywhere. It seems that they were most often referred to by number. A map of the Marseille sections may be seen at the moment on page 42 of Michel Vovelle's "Les Sans-Coulottes marseillais: le mouvement sectionnaire du jacobinisme au fédéralisme 1791-1793" on Google Books.

Brest began with seven sections in 1790. Like in Paris, they had names linked with local identity:

  • Pont-de-Terre
  • La Place-d'Armes
  • Champ-de-la-Fédération
  • Saint-Louis
  • La Pointe
  • La Fontaine
  • Carpont

In 1793, they were changed to:

  • Egalité
  • Liberté
  • Sans-culottes
  • Raison
  • Montagne
  • Marat
  • Le Peletier

In 1794, about forty streets were renamed, just to complicate things.1 

To find the sections of other cities will be a struggle. The best sources that we have found are scholarly tomes about a city during the Revolutionary period. Quite a lot of these were published around 1989, as part of the commemorations of the two hundredth anniversary of the storming of the Bastille. Should any of you have found the sections of other cities, do let us know!

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

1. Philippe Henwood and Edmond Monange, Brest : un Port en Révolution, 1789-1799, (Editions Ouest-France, 1989), p267.


Towns Renamed During the French Revolution

French Revolution

Geography in France during the Revolutionary period (at its briefest, 1792 to 1800; at its most extreme, 1789 to 1815), like the calendar, went through some radical changes and this can make researching your ancestors during that epoch very difficult. While it may be relatively easy to convert dates from Republican to Gregorian (we still prefer this converter), it is a bit more work to sort out the geographical changes.

All towns with religious names were changed. In some cases, such as Saint-Port to Seine-Port, the change made little difference, at least in pronunciation. When the country's administrative boundaries were altered, some communities were combined and some separated.  Of these changes, some were retained but many reverted to their old names.

If you do not know of the change, you will find it very hard to research the civil or parish registers. Thus, if you run into such a stumbling block in your research, e.g. a town that seems not to exist, it may be time to check the Revolutionary names. There are a few online lists.

  • Wikipedia's is arranged, as they all are, by department, all on the same page. Those towns highlighted in blue have retained their Revolutionary name. A third column gives a link to the commune's location on the Cassini maps.
  • Geneawiki's presents a list of the departments as links on which you must click to get to a page of just that department's towns. This makes it much harder to search them all at once, which you can do on the Wikipedia page.
  • The Internet Archive has the 1901 book, Les noms révolutionnaires des communes de France, which lists the towns by both department and in a general index. 

These lists do not agree with one another entirely. It was an unsettled time. You may have to search them all to find that, though your ancestors may not have moved a centimetre, they lived in two or three towns because of the name and/or administrative changes.

Happy searching!

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


A Bit of Geography and How Your Ancestors Travelled Around France

Navigable waterways

 

At a recent vide-grenier (similar to a local flea market) we purchased a school textbook. It was written in the late 1920s for children in the cinquième, which is the year for children aged about twelve and would be the seventh grade in the American system, we imagine. 

It is a treasure. It is full of maps of the world and of France. What it reflects is not that different from the France of the second half of the nineteenth century, when many emigrated. We think that some of the maps could be most useful in helping the better to understand how and why people left their homes and made their way to the ports.

The map above shows navigable waterways, including France's many canals. With it, you can see connections between cities and regions that you would not understand from a map showing only political and administrative boundaries. This map also shows the main destinations for ships sailing from the different ports. Thus, you can see that a person sailing to New York was much more likely to leave from Le Havre than from Toulon in the south, and that Marseille was the point of departure for the Far East.

The map of railways, below, is not much different from the maps of the late 1890s showing railway lines. As you can see, Paris served as the hub of the wheel. Then, as now, travel in a direction not going toward Paris was very difficult and indirect.

Railways

 

 A voyage by train from Limoges to Pau, for example, would be long and tedious. The major ports, however, are well served.

The next map shows industrial centres as they were on post-WWI France. It can be seen, however, that many traditional industries are included. If you know where your ancestor originated, this map could suggest possible work in which he or she engaged, or vice versa.

Industrielle

 

The map below could suggest reasons for travel to and from a particular place, as it shows imports and exports. If, for example, you have no idea of where an ancestor was from but know about his or her travels or work, this map could lead to further insights.

 

Commerciale

 

Perhaps these will open a new research path for one of you Dear Readers. We do hope so.

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Excellent Blog on The French Military in World War I

WWI Sources blog

We remain firm in our commitment never knowingly to reinvent the wheel and to share with you, Dear Readers, such fine blogs by others as we may find which we hope may be of use to you in your French genealogical research. Not very long ago, we discovered just such a one in a blog written only and purely on the subject of resources for those researching the Great War,  entitled Sources de La Grande Guerre.

The stated intention of its authors, Michaël Bourlet and Gwladys Longeard, is to create a central resource for all those writing the history of the First World War, thus it is more for historians than genealogists. However, as those serious about genealogy know, while good history may not always be genealogy, of course, good genealogy will always contain the best possible historical research and  writing skills. (Let none of us ever again call forth the dreaded ghost of Gustave Anjou!)

Many of the sources described and explained in Sources de la Grande Guerre will be of interest to anyone researching an ancestor who fought for France in the Great War. A sampling of article titles  of interest:

  • Retrouver un soldat algérien dans les archives françaises (How to find an Algerian soldier in French archives)
  • Faire des recherches sur un poilu d'Orient (Researching a soldier in the Army of the East)
  • L'état civil des régiments (Regimental death registrations)
  • La Recherche des disparus (Seeking those missing in action)
  • Mettre en ligne des dossiers des fusillés (online files of military executions)

There are also brief biographies of individuals, book reviews and a goodly amount of interesting readers' comments.

Highly recommended.

 

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Book Review - "The Terror - Civil War in the French Revolution" - Did Your Ancestor Take Part?

Terror cover

 

Understanding the French Revolution requires a lifetime of study and we feel that we have barely begun. Many of you, Dear Readers, have written to say that you are descended from people who left France during or just after the Revolution. We will ignore for the time being the inordinate and irrational need of many people to link themselves to the historically powerful, arrogant and wealthy abusers of other people, namely the aristocracy -- this is not another post on helping anyone to prove that he is really the true Louis XX --  and focus instead on what reading French history tells us about our ancestors that French genealogy cannot, which is, possibly, why. Why an ancestor left, why he or she left at a particular time, why he or she went to a certain place. Only by digging deeper and deeper into the history of the time and place can one learn enough to hazard a guess.

Andress's book was first published in 2005, so no one can accuse us of winning or even entering the race to review it. Nevertheless, we do so now, as it is the best book on the subject in English that we have found. In twelve chapters, he covers with great clarity the collapse of order, the fierce revolutionary fervour, even madness, in Paris that was countered by desperate, pro-religion and anti-Revolution forces in many, many locations around the country. Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux and, especially, the Vendée, fought against the Revolution with all that they had. At the same time as this civil war, there were also food shortages while much of Europe allied with Great Britain were attacking France's borders and helping the counter-Revolutionaries.

Slaughter -- the Terror -- was the Revolutionary government's solution. Prisoners were killed in the September Massacres and, over the next year, all suspected counter-Revolutionaries were guillotined.  Lyon was destroyed and the civil war in the Vendée crushed, with hundreds of children and adults killed and villages burned. Unending levées drafted every young man into the army and the attackers were pushed back from the borders.

Andress describes the progression without tones of drama or horror, letting the facts tell the story. He is a British historian and so, tends to concentrate on how and why things happened, as opposed to the French historical style of concentration on statistics to give a general view and following the rules of methodology for a dissertation, which can be tedious reading  for those taught to view the subject of history as an art rather than a science. Yet all the facts are there. We finished the book with a much greater understanding of the time, of the issues and of the enormous power of that foreign country within France that is Paris.

Victor Hugo wrote in his novel about the War in the Vendée, "Ninety-three", which we read in tandem with Andress's "The Terror" that "93 was the war of Europe against France and of France against Paris. And what was the Revolution? It was the victory of France over Europe and of Paris over France." 

93

 

 Was your ancestor involved -- like Hugo's father -- in fighting the War in the Vendée? You may be able to find him among the military records concerning that conflict. The Departmental Archives of the Vendée have digitised and put online the entirety of the military records on the War in the Vendée that are held in the Service Historique de la Défense at Vincennes, and they can be viewed here. Correspondence and pension records, reports and strategy papers are all there concerning the different armies:

  • The Army of the Coast of La Rochelle
  • The Army of the West
  • The Army of the Coast of Brest
  • The Army f the Coasts of the Ocean
  • The Army of the Interior
  • The Army of the Coasts of Cherbourg

Should you find your ancestor there, or even if not, we highly recommend both the Andress and the Hugo.

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Immigrants Evading French Military Service in the 1800s - Who Can Blame Them?

Call to report

Following on from our last post about a young man who emigrated from France after he was ordered to report for his compulsory military service, we wish to explain why this was not at all uncommon.

Conscription into the modern, post-revolutionary French Army began with the Jourdan law in 1798 and continued for two hundred years until it was suspended by President Chirac in 1996. We will not discuss here the pros and cons of compulsory military service or the morality of war or nationalism; we will describe here only the length of military service from the Revolution up to the First World War. To our mind, it certainly can help to explain why a young man would kiss his country and family good bye and take his chances in a new world.

1792-1802 - French Revolutionary Wars

  • 1798 - From the age of twenty, all men were required to serve in the army for five years. At any time from the age of eighteen to thirty, a man could volunteer. In order not to strip a town of all its able young men, the tirage au sort, a kind of draw,was introduced. With this draw, every one hundred conscripts of a canton were assigned a number. The first thirty-five were called up immediately. Thus began the discussions among young men of having a "good number" or a "bad number".

1803-1815 - Napoleonic Wars

  • 1804 - It became possible for the wealthy or ennobled to pay for someone to replace them in the call-up.
  • 1813 - After the loss of nearly half a million men in the campaign in Russia, the Army called up men under the age of twenty.
  • 1818 - The Revolutionary conscription law was abolished (in 1814) and a Restoration conscription law put in its place, using the same draw or tirage au sort system. The term of service was extended to six years in the infantry, eight years in other regiments, both to be followed by six years in the territorial army.
  • 1824 - The term of service was eight years.
  • 1832 - The term of service was lowered to seven years.
  • 1855 to 1858 - For up to three thousand francs, now paid as a tax, a man could buy his way out of conscription.
  • 1868 - The term of service was five years in the active army, plus four years in the reserves.

1870-1871 - The Franco-Prussian War

  • 1872 - The Cissey law continued the draw system, with two possible terms of service: five years or between six to twelve months, depending upon one's number, to be followed by four years in the reserves, then by eleven years in the territorial army. The full length of military obligation was twenty years.
  • 1889 - By the "Law of Three Years" the term of service was reduced to three years in the active army, to be followed by seven years in the reserves and fifteen years in the territorial army. Many types of exemptions were abolished. The full length of military obligation was twenty-five years.
  • 1905 - The draw was abolished. The replacement options were abolished, as were most of the exemptions. From this point, every man had to do some sort of service to his country for two years, followed by eleven years in the reserves and fifteen years in the territorial army.
  • 1912 - The draw was reinstated, to be used as needed. The term of service was three years in the active army and seven years in the reserves. For the new Senegalese recruits, the term of service was four years.
  • 1913 - The term of service was raised to three years, for all men from the age of twenty. The draw was abolished again.

1914-1918 - World War One

There were exemptions or various sorts (not surprisingly, Napoleon was very concerned about the conscript's height). As noted, there were, at times, options to send replacements or to buy one's way out. There were variations as to how the laws were applied. Nevertheless, it can be seen that during the years from 1872 to 1889, the burden of military service was particularly onerous and a good reason to some to leave France forever.

Check your genealogies. If a male immigrant arrived from France -- especially in the second half of the nineteenth century -- and was aged twenty, he was almost certainly running from his French military service.

©2016 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

 


Slick New Site on WWI

 

G14

In November of 2013, all of the archives of France took part in the Grande Collecte, in which they asked everyone to look in their attics for letters, photographs, diaries, drawings and any other material from their ancestor's participation in the First World War. The result was a huge haul. 

The newspaper, Le Figaro, together with a group of television companies and two quite gifted film makers,  Andrés Jarach and Kévin Accart, has taken some of that material and created a very slick and attractive new website on World War One entitled Générations14 Mémoires intimes de la Grande Guerre. It links to the Mémoire des Hommes database of the some 1.3 million French who died in that conflict, which makes it repetitive for genealogical research, but it offers so much more.

Initially, one can type in a surname, then add more details to find a soldier from the Mémoire des Hommes, and to see the card on his death. Then, there is the possibility to upload documents relating to him, and to see what others have uploaded. 

G 14

There are ten beautifully made short films about people, men and women, military and civilian, using some of the family archives gathered during La Grande Collecte. A nurse, a disfigured soldier, a wife and mother, a woman who wrote letters to soldiers, an artist soldier, a photographer, etc.  -- the story of each told simply and honestly. This is not hero-worship or propaganda, it is a presentation of real lives and the cataclysmic effects the war had on them.

This site is not only collaborative, but calls itself a "participative documentary". It could help to link descendants and families, as well as serve as a growing online archive. If it lasts, and it is not clear how it will. This is, in effect, high-end marketing. Will it be gone in ten years? Will the contributions that people upload disappear? That would be a pity.

Enjoy it while it lasts.

©2015 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