Methodolgy

Saint-Domingue Research - An Update

Tropical flowers

We have written about Saint-Domingue research before:

Much more has been made available, so we add an update today.

By far, the greatest amount that is newly available is on the ANOM website. Their digitisation programme has been going along at a snapping pace and new finds are constantly appearing. The parish and civil registers online have increased and can be searched by town, or commune, and include judgements. 

As more and more of you complete your basic fact gathering via such registrations, you have indicated that you would like to look deeper, to know more about your ancestors' lives and to find the elusive reason why they wandered the world. One of the best ways to dig deep in French archives is with notarial records. Wills, probate inventories, marriage contracts, even powers of attorney can reveal much about peoples' lives long ago. An excellent article by Robert Richard on the notarial records of Saint-Domingue may be read here. It gives a very clear explanation of notarial records in general and of those concerning Saint-Domingue held at ANOM in particular.

Having read the article, you may then go to the site of ANOM and to the page for searching the finding aids. Type in "Notaire" and select a location from the menu and all that Monsieur Richard describes is revealed. Not all of the actual notarial records have been digitised, by any means, but the finding aids are so detailed, that you would have enough information to request a copy of the file from the ANOM copying service.

Many people from Saint-Domingue conducted their business in Paris and the Archives nationales have indicated which études (notarial offices) they may have used, as in this example of Etude number thirty-one. These notes concerning études favoured by certain families or groups are incredibly helpful when one has no idea of which of the hundreds of notaires may have been used. Alternatively, search the Paris notarial records for Saint-Domingue here.

A superb bibliography and list of archival resources on Saint-Domingue has been made available online by the researcher, Dr. Oliver Gliech. On the same page, he has placed a list of the names of people who owned plantations in Saint-Domingue in 1789. Just below this is a list of heirs to plantation owners from 1826 to 1833 and of those who settled there but did not own land. 

Take the plunge!

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


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

 


Privacy Restrictions on French Documents

Town Hall

We have covered this some time ago, but recently have noticed that misinformation on the subject abounds and so, here we go again.

The French, as well as most European nationals, value and protect their privacy. The right to privacy is considered more important than the public's right to know and it is considered more important than the freedom of the press, especially where children are concerned.

Thus, in France, certain documents that contain personal details are closed to public access for a particular period of time. Since 2008, the periods of restriction on access for types of documentation have been as follows:

  • Birth registration / acte de naissance - 75 years
  • Marriage registration / acte de mariage - 75 years
  • Death registration / acte de décès - no restriction
  • Ten-year indices to the above three /  tables décennales - no restriction
  • Census returns / recensements - 75 years
  • Notarial records / actes notariés - 75 years
  • Judicial records / archives judiciaires - 75 years
  • Personnel records / dossier de personnel - 50 years
  • Medical records / secret médical - 25 years after the death of the individual or 120 years after his or her birth

Generally, these limits are calculated from the end of the year and/or the closure of the register. However, sometimes it is possible to obtain a copy of a record for which the limitation date has passed before the end of that year, if one asks nicely.

It is very important to note that public access to the record does not mean that the information may be published. This was confirmed by a court ruling recently. In that case, reported by a Le Monde journalist, a historian had researched over six thousand families, gathering thousands of birth, marriage and death registrations and published a book about them. The people who were the subjects of some of these registrations were still alive. One of the birth registrations contained a marginal note that the child had been adopted. This person was among those still alive and sued the author for having revealed the adoption in his book, which the complainant claimed was a violation of his privacy. The court ruled in his favour.

Thus, though you may request a document once it is available, you may not publish the information in it without the permission of the person it concerns, should he or she be alive. Should you be in the process of writing your French family genealogy with an eye to publishing it, beware! 

 

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


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


XXIV Congrès national de Généalogie - Research in Guadeloupe

Congres 2017

At the genealogy conference in Le Havre last month, one of the most informative lectures that we attended was given by a dashing young fellow from Guadeloupe, Monsieur Bruno Kissoun, come all that way to talk to us. The audience was so small that he insisted we sit around a table as he felt silly standing at a podium speaking to a near-empty room. So, we had a seminar around the table, which was even better. 

Monsieur Kissoun's co-presenter was an accomplished genealogist with a specialty in Guadeloupe, and a man with such energy and enthusiasm for his subject that he did not join us at the table but bounded back and forth across the room behind Monsieur Kissoun, lunging forward toward our table to add comments, then retreating back again in what may have been a remarkable display of extreme courtesy. 

Together, the gentlemen described and explained the resources available to those researching genealogy in Guadeloupe. 

  • There are thirty-two communes, or towns, on Guadeloupe, not all of which have complete archives. Hurricanes and general humidity have taken their toll. Additionally, while some towns were scrupulous about documenting people held in slavery, not all were. The point being that the quality and amount of holdings vary greatly.
  • Three copies of records were produced. One was retained in the town as the parish and civil registers, one was sent to Versailles and can now be seen on the website of the Archives nationales d'outre-mer (ANOM); and one was given to the departmental clerk and is held in the Departmental Archives. 

It was pointed out that the copies do not always agree, that many contain errors and that those that were sent to France and can now be seen on the ANOM website do not have the marginal notes that may be on the originals held in the town. Examples of such copies not in agreement were presented and discussed.

When researching a family in a village in European France, one sees that people tended to take care of family matters in their own village, possibly for many generations. In Guadeloupe, we were told, a family quite often baptised a child in a village other than that where the child was born, at times even on another island. The researcher must be imaginative.

Much discussion concerned the documentation of those who were enslaved. Some towns had registers of slaves and most towns maintained registers of freed slaves. Working with the two is necessary to try to piece together an individual's identity and relatives. The register of those born enslaved could contain for each person:

  • only a first name and no surname for the child
  • the date of birth
  • the name of the owner
  • the first name and the age of the mother
  • the mother's place of residence (plantation, or habitation)

When slavery was abolished and a register of freed slaves was made, very little information was given as the real point was to assign surnames and list people, thus:

  • a first name and the surname given to the father, where known
  • the mother's first name and the new surname given to her

As families appeared under mothers' names, for they went to register all of their children at once, but any older children who had been sold outside of the town would not have appeared with their mother and would not have been given the same surname. The surnames given and their meanings remain a highly emotive subject for, in many places, the officials responsible were quite malicious. The law forbade the giving of any surname belonging to a free person to a freed slave, forcing officials to use words not normally seen as names. Some used a dictionary or an atlas to find the words, others gave coarse and vulgar words as names and thus proved that they had tiny, poisoned souls.

We were told that it is exceedingly rare to find all of the above types of register entires as well as civil registrations for an enslaved person. Further to complicate such research are the facts that:

  • Towns maintained complete slave registers for each habitation within their boundaries, which probably would have given great detail as to birth or date of purchase, parentage, country of origin, etc. However, though no official order was ever given to do so, every single one of those registers in every town was destroyed.
  • There were no passenger lists created for the people kidnapped in Africa and taken to Guadeloupe. (However, those immigrants who were free on arrival may appear in the Gazette Officielle or on passenger lists, by vessel name, on the ANOM website.)
  • The many natural disasters that have assaulted the island and its archives -- hurricanes, tidal waves, earthquakes -- not only destroyed some archives, but jumbled them all up and scattered them so that, for those that could be saved, all order was lost.

 Monsieur Kissoun handed each attendee a copy of the Guide de généalogie familiale en Guadeloupe, a beautifully printed leaflet which explains the above and more. It has a precious chart, listing each town, the type of archives it had that have survived, the dates those archives cover, where they are held, and if they have been microfilmed. (Click on the title to download the PDF.)

A fascinating talk on a subject that includes great sadness.

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


New Possibilities in Marseille Research

Marseille

Interesting developments in Marseille online that may possibly be of use to the genealogist.

Firstly, a new website, Marius, is dedicated primarily to images taken from a number of local institutions: the municipal library, the museum, and the municipal archives, among others.The categories for the images are:

  • Images, (mainly postcards, but also photographs and paintings)
  • Books and manuscripts
  • Maps
  • Newspapers
  • Objects

It is the category of books and manuscripts from the municipal archives that is of most interest here. It is a tiny collection at the moment, but destined, we do hope, to grow. If one clicks on "Livres et manuscrits", then on "Manuscrits", one is taken to sixty-one images of death registrations ranging from the seventeenth to the twentieth century.

These seem to have been selected for their oddity or celebrity. We came across the 1890 death registration of Featherman, a Native American born in Dakota, and an employee of the "troupe Buffalo Bill":

Feather Man Death

Feather Man

These are the early stages, but keep an eye on this site, for it may become quite useful for finding not only documents but images of ancestors from or who passed through Marseille.

 Secondly, for those searching the resting place in Marseille of a recently departed relative, the city last year put on their website a facility for searching among burials. It only goes back to the mid-1990s but one can hope that they may be inspired to add details from older records. On the cemetery map page of the city's website, in the right hand column, click on "carte des cimetières". This brings a pop-up guide and, in the upper right corner of the map, the rubric "recherche de defunts"; click on this to type in the surname and first name of the deceased, then click "OK". If your person be there, the resultant screen will show the:

  • Full name (especially useful as it shows married women's maiden names)
  • Date of death
  • Date of cremation or burial
  • Name of the cemetery where buried
  • Exact location within the cemetery of the grave

 

If only every city would do this and for all of their burials!

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy 

 


Death Announcement Cards for Genealogy

Death 1 r

We explained here some time ago the meanings and types of Faire-parts, invitations or announcements of deaths, marriages or births, but mostly of deaths. We would make the death cards something of a sub-category of the faire-part as they do not invite one to a funeral but merely inform of a death and ask for prayers, as in the card above.

For genealogical purposes, they are a bit less useful than a funeral announcement, as they usually do not name relatives. They do, however, give:

 

  • The deceased's full name
  • A photograph or drawing of the deceased
  • The date of death
  • The place of death
  • In some cases, the deceased's profession

In the case of the card above, Louis Charles Joseph d'Halluin was the mayor of Quesnoy-sur-Deûle, in the department of Nord, where he died on the 12th of June 1884.

The reverse of the card is usually religious in nature, as can be seen here:

Death 1 v

Where to find these cards? Well, we picked up ours at various vide-greniers. Dozens are available for almost nothing on the French document vendors' website Delcampe. To search that website for a death card with your French ancestor's surname, scroll down the main page to the rubric Vieux papiers and click on it.

Screen Shot 2017-08-13 at 17.50.13

Then, scroll down the categories list to Faire-part and click on décès:

Screen Shot 2017-08-13 at 17.51.56

Then, type the surname you seek in the search box:

Screen Shot 2017-08-13 at 17.53.48

We typed in the name Richelme, with the result of one card, for sale for two euros:

Screen Shot 2017-08-13 at 17.57.36

Happy hunting!

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


French Archives Opt for Openness!

Celebrate French Archives

This really is very big news! The Archives nationales de France have made a choice for openness and have changed the rules for publishing images of items that they hold. We just spent six months corresponding and nagging to obtain permission to use our own photographs of a couple of pages from a file in the archives, hoping that they will enhance an article we hope to publish soon. Six months.

This new decision is a reinterpretation of an existing law and it has its limits. It applies only to those archives that are not covered by someone's copyright and that have passed the time limitations on access to protect privacy and so are open, or librement communicable. Actually, most of what interests genealogists is librement communicable.

What this means is that you may now put on your website and publish in your family genealogies images of archival records that you take from any of the Archives nationales locations or websites. You need not ask permission. There is nothing to pay. As to masking medical details (should you come across any, which is most unlikely) or contacting those who have claims of intellectual property on what you choose to publish, it is now your responsibility to comply with the relevant laws and to obtain the relevant permissions. You must also give the source information for each document shown.

To our knowledge, this does NOT apply to the archives of the individual departments found on the Departmental Archives' websites. Naturally, one hopes that they will follow suit pronto.

You may read the full announcement on the website of the National Archives here. The Ministry of Culture has a similar announcement here. For entertainment, you can read the latter's loopy automatic translation into English, calling the data wanton, as in hussy, here, but you will be thoroughly baffled by the time you get to the end.

This is good news!

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Solving Riddles With Géopatronyme

Nancy blue

Sometimes, things are not as they should be. We have been researching some distant cousins, miscreants who spelt the name with only one d. Mostly, they appear on various genealogy databases as in the west of France, which is indeed where they seem to have originated. We knew that they had spread to other parts of the country and we were hunting those born in the twentieth century.

As many e-mails from you, Dear Readers, have indicated quite a lot of you are hunting relations who, like those I sought, were born in the twentieth century. You will have found that, while more and more civil registrations and the indices to them are being put online at a galloping pace (Paris has just added birth registrations to 1912 and marriage registrations to 1940) most of what Departmental Archives have online stops at 1902. This is not due to indifference, laziness or malcontent but to limited funds.

One way to advance your research into twentieth century births is with clunky old Géopatronyme, which we covered long ago here and then, shame on us, left to languish without our attention. Really, for this area of research, it is quite helpful, as the following two examples illustrate.

In the first example, we were searching a member of the Mordel clan born in Paris in the 1970s. We did not know the exact year or which arrondissement. The Paris archives have put online the indices to birth registrations (table annuelles and table décennales) through 1932. So, we had no way of finding our Mordel on that website. We could have requested the registration online from each of the twenty Paris arrondissements, but that would have been the kind of time-consuming, indirect and messy search that we do not like at all. So, we went back to Géopatronyme which, recall, presents a map of some births in France for any given surname in the following date ranges:

  • 1891-1915
  • 1916-1940
  • 1941-1965
  • 1966-1990

 Searching there for Mordel and clicking on the last date range showed that fifty-six people were born with the name in France during that period:

Screen Shot 2017-08-03 at 17.06.16

One was born in Paris. By clicking on Paris in that list, we were shown that the birth was in the thirteenth arrondissement. So, that is where we directed our research and found the birth registration that we sought.

The second example again concerns Paris, and a mistake in the index. We knew the name for the birth registration we sought and the parents' names, as well as the exact date in 1919. We checked the tables décennales on the Paris Archives website covering that year for every arrondissement in Paris, with no luck. We checked again under the mother's surname, again finding nothing.

It is never a good idea in genealogical research to assume, without good reason, that people lied about their basic facts. All documents we had concerning this person were consistent as to the birth being in 1919 in Paris. We also do not like to jump to the conclusion that the normally near-perfect French records could be flawed but it seemed to be the case here.

So we tried Géopatronyme for the period covering 1916 to 1940. It showed that thirteen people with the surname were born in Paris during those years, but they were in only three arrondissements, the fourteenth, the thirteenth and the sixth. With the births of those with the surname already found in the previous research in the tables décennales, we were able to rule out those born in the thirteenth and fourteenth arrondissements, leaving only the sixth.

Thus, we had the contradiction of the tables on the Paris Archives website showing no birth of a child with that surname in the sixth arrondissement but Géopatronyme showing at least one. We wrote to the town hall of the sixth arrondissement, asking for a copy of the birth registration and stating that the birth was not in the tables. Sure enough, they found it.

It is by no means infallible, but Géopatronyme can be most useful in this narrow area of twentieth century births. If that be where your brick wall lurks, perhaps Géopatronyme will have the answer. 

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Italian Refugees in Marseille

Marseille 8

Sometimes, as we spend a day or twelve luxuriating in the archives of France, mulling over the history so clearly in evidence in the documents we read, we really are taken aback. Of course, we should not be; history is repetitive, as they say. Still, when we came across a list of refugees in a Mediterranean port city, we did have a frisson and a sense that what we were holding was not a nineteenth century ministry document but a modern electronic screen with a page of the day's news.

What we held was a handwritten list, dated 27 ventôse An IX in the Republican Calendar, being the 18th of March 1801. It was a list of names of people who had entered the port of Marseille, coming from Naples or Rome and who were so destitute that they had received some government aid. After three days of such aid, they had to agree to move on to Milan, it seems.

Marseille list

There are 169 Neapolitans and 22 Romans. Some are as young as six months; some are as old as seventy.* The Kingdom of Italy under the Napoleonic First Empire was four years off, but war had been raging across the Italian peninsula between the French and the European coalitions. These people, one can imagine, would have looked very similar to today's Syrian refugees. We are always baffled by people we meet who are so proud of their ancestors who were refugees from religious persecution, such as the Huguenots, or from invasion, such as the Alsatians, but who show no sympathy for anyone today desperately struggling to make the same kind of escape. 

This blog, however, is about research and not politics. Though this list was the only one of its type in the archives box, one can be sure that the people on it were not the only Italian refugees who passed through Marseille. Tracing them will be difficult, for refugees were less documented then than they are now, and wars have a way of destroying records and archives. (Recall as well that, in 1801, all Italian registers of baptism, marriages and burials, were parish and not civil registers.) In addition to the records of the Marseille outpost of the Ministry of Foreign Affaires -- the source of this document -- you might also try the civil registrations of port cities (such as Toulon or Nice) through which your Italian ancestor may have arrived in France. 

A suggestion: be sure when looking at the registers online, that you go to the end pages. Occasionally, a mayor took it into his head to perform a census. Sometimes it is a census of survivors after a battle or natural disaster; sometimes of newcomers, refugees, or displaced persons of one nationality or another. These are not listed anywhere as a source. Just look; you could get lucky.

Further to searching Italian ancestors who passed through France, we suggest the following:

 We believe that there are many more. If you, Dear Readers, wish to suggest some, we shall gladly add them to the list above.

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 *If you would like us to check the list for a particular name, send an e-mail message, please.