Military

Grand Mémorial - One Site for All of France's World War One Soldiers



WWI men

The Ministry of Culture and the hundreds of dedicated French genealogy enthusiasts here have created something quite remarkable in the Grand Mémorial website. It is the central  research point for the military documentation on all who served France during World War I. It is not yet finished but is very impressive already.

It is a central search facility with links to each department's military recruitment lists for men of an age to have participated. It also links to the recruitment lists from colonies, held on the Archives nationales d'Outre-mer website and to the death registrations made by the army on the Mémoire des Hommes website of the Service Historique de la Défense (SHD). 

The site is in French but the search page has an English version. The results of a search are presented in a list that shows:

  • Surname
  • Forenames
  • Date - of recruitment or of birth, which is the only messy thing on the site
  • Place, showing the department first, then the town
  • The type of document

Click on a name and you are taken directly to the image. The French penchant for statistics is in evidence in the column to the side, which gives a summary of the details concerning the names in your search result. This is handy for genealogical statisticians, we suppose, and is rather cool. It shows how many of the results give the place or the date of recruitment, how many the place or date of birth. We like knowing how many were of a particular profession (four of those named Mordel were farmers, one was a baker, etc.) and how many could read or write or count (we must all say a prayer of thanks for universal education at this point).

 

A map shows which departments are covered and the status of their military recruitment registers being indexed and online.

Map of registres matricules

  • Dark blue indicates that the registers are online, indexed and included on the Grand Mémorial website
  • Orange (pink?) indicates that the registers are online on the website of that Departmental Archives and are indexed but are not included on the Grand Mémorial website
  • Light blue/grey indicates that the registers are online on the website of that Departmental Archives but are not yet indexed or included on the Grand Mémorial website
  • Yellow indicates that the registers have been digitized but are not online or indexed nor are they included on the Grand Mémorial website; they may be viewed only on site at the Departmental Archives

As can be seen, about half of the country's recruitment registers are included on the Grand Mémorial website, which we find to be really quite impressive.

Key Geographical Notes for Researchers of World War I Combatants  

On that same page are some points general to such research that bear repeating:

  • The map does not include anything on people from the departments of Alsace and Lorraine (Haut-Rhin, Bas-Rhin and Moselle) because they were not, at that time, a part of France. More, what the site does not say, is that the people of those departments were, from 1871 to 1918, German citizens. Any men conscripted served in the German Army.  The records concerning those men were held in Berlin and were all destroyed in the bombing of Berlin during World War II. Thus, it is not possible to find a military record for a man from that region during that time. 
  • There will be no military recruitment registers for departments that did not yet exist: Essonne, Hauts-de-Seine, Seine-Saint-Denis, Val-de-Marne and Yvelines.
  • The recruitment registers for the departments that existed then but that do not now exist, Seine and Seine-et-Oise, are to be found in the Departmental Archives of Yvelines.
  • As concerns registers held by the Archives nationales d'Outre-mer, those of Algeria and French Polynesia are almost all online. It is pointed out that thes registers concern only those persons who held French nationality at the time of recruitment. The registers for non-nationals are held at the SHD.
  • For recruitment registers from Morocco, they cover only French nationals born in France or Algeria and living in Morocco when they turned twenty years old;  the registers cover only the years 1913 to 1921. The recruitment registers of Moroccans are also held at the SHD at Pau.

For those researching an ancestor who fought for France in that conflict, this website would most definitely be the place to begin. 

And now, permit us, please, to present a trailer of  "The Burying Party", a film about Wilfred Owen, the British poet who died fighting in France, and in which Sid plays Siegfried Sassoon to perfection.

 

The Burying Party Official Trailer from Sine Wave Media on Vimeo.

 

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Photos of the French at War - and the French Photographers Who Took Them

ECPAD entry

For a couple of years, now, we have been following the near-invisible trail of a French World War Two photographer. Having exhausted just about every archive and genealogical possibility to earn more about this secretive man, we thought to try the archives of French military photography and cinematography, ECPAD (Etablissement de communication et de production audiovisuelle de la Défense), located south of Paris in the Fort d'Ivry.

Fort d'Ivry

We took line seven on the Métro to the end, then hiked fifteen minutes up the hill to the fort, a predictably grim structure, particularly on a cold, winter day. We went through the usual security of having our bags checked and of handing over our identity card for the duration of our visit. We were given a visitor's badge and told to walk around a grassy hill to find the entrance to ECPAD. Young soldiers in bold fatigues, berets and boots stood guard holding large black guns. We found our way and were surprised to discover the first French archive not to provide lockers for users. One and one's cumbersome belongings are welcome into the reading room, which is small but full of light.

ECPAD reading room

A couple of weeks earlier, we had e-mailed ECPAD, explaining our research hopes. This communication was completely ignored. Consequently, we had faint hope of much of a welcome or of ease of research. We entered and were greeted by an archivist whose warmth and smile were of the caliber of a professional at Disneyland. This is so out of character in French public servants that we were befuddled into a moment of silence, apparently one too long, for our greeter promptly turned away. We rallied, he returned, still all smiles and got down to the business of finding our elusive photographer.

The photographer database in ECPAD contains the names of all photographers and cinematographers who worked as such in the French military. For each, there are examples of his or her work. There are not, however, any biographical details. Nor are there any archives relating to the specific photography and film units (those are at the Service Historique de la Défense in Vincennes). We found our man in the list and found eight photographs of his that had been scanned, with limited descriptions. That was all.

Two more of the staff joined our original cheery helper and checked their own resources to see if they could not find more. Unfortunately, they could not. They could, however, locate many more photographs by our man that had not yet been scanned, and we were allowed to look at and copy some of those. We also looked at the impressive studies of various aspects of French war photography that have been produced by the staff. (They also have some lavish books and films for sale on their website.)

ECPAD publications

ECPAD really is exclusively an image archive. As such, it is unlikely to further your genealogical research by more than a tad, if that. However, if you are seeking an image of places where your ancestor was posted or fought, or perhaps an image of his or her unit, ECPAD could be just the place.

ECPAD

2-8 route du Fort

94200 Ivry-sur-Seine

tel: 01 49 60 52 00

 

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

 


World War One Wills - a Work in Progress

WWI Soldier

This could be remarkably helpful to some lucky soul or two. 

Archivists in the National Archives of France and in the Departmental Archives of the department of Yvelines write that they have stumbled upon bundles of more then three hundred wills written by World War One soldiers. Just last month, the National Archives launched a call for volunteers to help to transcribe these wills so that they may be scanned and indexed and put online.

The website, Testaments de Poilus, already has a bit under two hundred wills available. For each will, the record shows:

  • The man's full name
  • Date and place of his death
  • Date of the Will
  • Full code of the will
  • Image of the will
  • Transcription in French of the will's contents

These can be incredibly useful, not only to know more about those men who died, many of them so very young that one knows nothing of them, but also to discover unknown relationships. Many of our Dear Readers have written to ask about men born in the early 1890s who seem to have disappeared. Some of them may be found via these wills, and their relationships to others explained via their named heirs. Stay with this project as it grows and you may be on e of the lucky ones. 

Should you feel able to contribute to the project as a transcriber, join the project here and start work.

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Book Review - Revolution in the French Navy

Revolution

This book was published in 1995 so not a new one in the least but it is new to us and we are mightily pleased to have discovered it. Revolution and Political Conflict in the French Navy by William S. Cormack is an expanded doctoral thesis but only just barely reads like one. Considering the subject, it is concise: ten chapters in three hundred pages, with a decent index and an excellent bibliography.

What happened to the French navy during the French Revolution and the First Empire is a history told almost exclusively from the point of view of the British or at least agreeing with that point of view. Cormack departs from that and it results in blessed clarity. Gone the comparisons of the Marine Royale with the Royal Navy or the French marin with the British tar or the Admiralty with the Ministry of Marine. Cormack looks exclusively at what happened to the French navy in the context of French history and it is enlightening.

Early chapters describe the state of the navy and its officers and seamen just before the Revolution, including their stellar contribution to the American Revolution. He covers in great detail the key disastrous events the so unsettled the French navy: The Toulon Affair of 1789, the mutiny at Brest in 1790-1791, the surrender of the Mediterranean fleet in 1793, and the Quiberon mutiny of 1793. His thesis is clear: that the new concept of the Will of the People could not be reconciled with the functional requirement of naval authority.

The works of previous historians on the subject are discussed and examined and given a fresh analysis. It is a bonus that the -- at times -- shambolic political events of the day are explained neatly and that two centuries of over-simplified characterisations are washed away. Confusion is removed from the complexities of the time; we certainly acquired a greater understanding not only of the navy but of the Revolution and Terror generally from this detailed account that is never turgid, always extremely interesting. 

We have often written here that good genealogy requires a good knowledge of history. For those of you with ancestors who were in the French navy at this incredible time, this book is essential reading. You will come away with a better idea of why an ancestor who was an officer may have deserted (and he may not have been a royalist!) or why another may have been guillotined. You will have a better understanding of the old and new ranks and of how some men moved back and forth between the merchant navy and the navy of the Republic.

An absolute must.

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


XXIV Congrès national de Généalogie - Did Your Guadeloupean Ancestor Fight in the Great War?

Congres 2017

We found quite interesting the theme at the conference of researching those from France's ex-colonies in the West Indies and so we continued to pursue the talks on that subject. It was not always an easy thing to do for the names of the conference rooms had, most mysteriously, become jumbled. There was much to-ing  and fro-ing of people seeking the right room, asking others for guidance, and becoming alarmed by the sudden popping up of officious, self-appointed guides. In the end, we all found our places.

Our speaker was Monsieur Benoît Jullien, Director of the Departmental Archives of Guadeloupe. He had much to say that was enlightening as to why research into those of Guadeloupe who served in the First World War may have been difficult. Guadeloupe, (since 1948), is one of the departments of France and, since the abolition of slavery in 1848, all Guadeloupeans, including ex-slaves, have been French citizens. That citizenship, however, was not always enjoyed to its fullest by all of Guadeloupe.

With the First World War and the catastrophic loss of life in France, the French government turned increasingly to the ex-colonies and insisted that the military service laws be enforced. Monsieur Jullien explained that this had "enormous political significance" because, by doing so, the government of France was admitting that Guadeloupeans were, indeed, fully citizens of France. Though teachers, priests and seminary students were exempted, nearly ten thousand men from Guadeloupe were mobilised, following in the footsteps of the famous Camille Mortenol.

Initially, the French policy was to withdraw troops of mainland France who had been policing in the Caribbean and send them to the war in Europe. They were to be replaced by the newly conscripted local troops. However, even before the war began, in October of 1913, Guadeloupean troops were sent to Europe. They suffered from more than war, many dying of disease and cold in the inclement French winter. Monsieur Jullien's research shows that they were assigned all types of military work but none were promoted to be officers. Their furloughs, when granted, were too short for them to be able to go home to their island. As a result, many charitable societies formed in Paris and other cities to take them in during these times. (If you have ever been young, poor, alone and an outsider in Paris during the winter, Dear Readers, you will know just how much such charities might have been appreciated.) 

In the many, many commemorations and monuments to the dead and lost after the war, none initially mentioned those from Guadeloupe. The authorities "forgot", Monsieur Jullien politely put it. A separate decree was required to correct the omission and the first Monument aux Morts in Guadeloupe was erected in the 1930s.

Research into the military service of someone from Guadeloupe proceeds in the same way as in all other departments. Using the very attractive website of the Departmental Archives of Guadeloupe, search in the military conscription lists. With the number of the person that you will obtain, you may then request a copy of the personal file from the archives.

Bonne chance et merci Monsieur Jullien!

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


The Marine Archives at Cherbourg

Cherbourg SHD

 

Oh, we have encountered the most heavenly of archives! The Service Historique de la Défense branch at Cherbourg has one of the richest of naval collections outside of the central facility at Vincennes, as can be seen in this list that they offered at their stand at the Congrès de généalogie this year and that we give here:

Cherbourg archives treasures

In addition to that fine list, we found:

  • Innumerable crew lists from early nineteenth century merchant ships
  • A census done in 1778 of Acadians who had arrived on the Anne-Sophie and who were still living in Cherbourg
  • Passenger lists of colonists leaving Cherbourg for Saint-Domingue, Guadeloupe and Canada
  • Many pages of correspondence about French-British prisoner exchanges during the Napoleonic Wars

We had arrived on a rainy and blustery day, but the archivists were welcoming and the archives warm. We were signed in and given a key to one of the many lockers available for one's belongings. Staff were exceptionally helpful with our research. Not only did they guide us to the correct finding aids for our research, they continued to hunt for our topics in the library catalogue and in their internal data base. They were able to locate documents and dossiers that we never would have found other wise - truly exceptional assistance!

SHD Cherbourg

We hope very much to be able to return. This place is a true goldmine.

Service historique de la Défense

57 rue de l'abbaye

CC314

50115 Cherbourg Octeville Cedex

 

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

 


French Nationality Law Through the Years

To be French

One can pen an encyclopaedia on the subject of what it means to be French but for those researching their ancestors, it is the law that matters. The laws on French nationality determined whether or not a person would have been allowed to present him or her self to the world as truly French and the law changed over the years. Thus, though we glossed over this in a post some years ago, we now give a brief history of French law on nationality.

  • During the Ancien régime, the years of kings prior to 1789, only the king could confer French nationality, with a letter of naturalisation, une lettre de naturalité. This could have been granted to a foreigner living in the country,  un aubain.
  • At the beginning of the French Revolution, the rather vile concept of one being a subject of a king gave way to the marginally better one of one being a citizen of a democratically governed country. Citizenship could be granted to foreigners who may have done something fine for the Republic, (such as Thomas Paine, who had fine ideas, or as Joel Barlow, the American diplomat and conman who seemed fine at the time) and who resided in France. Citizenship rights were also granted to the children of French people who had left the country to escape the violence of the Revolution.
  • In 1804 the Civil Code allowed émigrés and their children to return to France and to be French; and for all foreigners born in France to choose, at the age of twenty-one, to acquire French nationality.
  • In 1851, double nationality was permitted, in part, for the first time. Those born in France to a foreign parent who was also born in France could be considered as French from birth; they could, on reaching majority, choose to surrender their French nationality. This right was annulled in 1889. (At that time, those born within France to a foreign father who had been born outside of France were not French. Women who married foreigners lost their French nationality.)
  • In 1889, needing more men for the army, the country changed the laws concerning foreigners born in France such that all foreigners born in France and still living in France at the time that they reached the age of majority and who had not surrendered formally their French nationality, were French and did have to do their military service. (See here and here.)
  • In 1927, after the reduction of the male working population by approximately one and a half million, with a further two million handicapped and unable to work, needs trumped exclusivity. The many working men who had come to France to fill the gap were allowed to become French more easily. Those who had lived in the country for three years could apply for nationality. Children born to French women who had married foreigners, became French; their mothers had already acquired the right to re-establish their French nationality.
  • In 1940, the Vichy government suspended all naturalisations. This was annulled in 1944 and 1945 and the possibility to become French again reappeared.

 To know more, read the excellent Ministry of the Interior publication here.

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


"Amnistié" on a Birth Registration

Infanterie de la Garde Royale 1815

 

Monsieur M. wrote in to ask what "Amnistié" meant when written as a marginal note on a birth registration. The word means "pardoned". Thus, the person was either condemned as a criminal, possibly a political prisoner, or was found guilty of desertion from the military and then was pardoned. How to find out more?

 POLITICAL PRISONERS

One must look in the Archives de justice in the Departmental Archives for the dossiers on condemned political prisoners of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The would be in the archives of the courts in Series U. They could also be in the police archives in Series M. The Archives nationales, in the Sub-Series BB/18, has a large number of dossiers on condemned anarchists, from 1890 through 1955.

CRIMINALS

Ordinary criminals' trial records will also be in Series U of the Departmental Archives, while prison records are found in the Departmental Archives in Series Y, arranged by the name of the prison. In Paris, the police archives could have more no a case.

PARDONS OF CRIMINALS and POLITICAL PRISONERS

The Archives nationales, in  Sub-Series BB/21-24, have all applications for pardons and whether they were granted or refused. They are indexed in a somewhat complicated way, which is explained in the excellent Archives nationales document here. There was a general pardon of the Counter-Revolutionaries in 1791, and another of the Communards voted on the 11th of July 1880.

DESERTERS

The military in France during the nineteenth century was hard. It was hard under Napoleon and it was hard during various conscription regimes. Desertion was common, so common that there have been occasional general pardons. When a deserter was pardoned, he received a Certificat d'Amnistie, which he then showed to mayors and officials where he was born and/or where he lived, to be accepted as an honest member of society once again. To find out if an ancestor was a deserter, start with the military conscription lists to see if he was supposed to serve, then check his record. 

 

When a full pardon is granted, the conviction is annulled and any prison term commuted, and full civil rights are restored. In most cases, a full pardon would be noted on the birth certificate. Recall that, in France, one must constantly supply copies of one's birth certificate or show the portable, official copy in the Livret de Famille. This means that the marginal note, "Amnistié" will ensure that the person will not be treated as a criminal or re-arrested.

Many thanks for this one, Monsieur M.

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

 

 


Researching an Ancestor in the Forces Françaises Libres

Free French Forces

The Battle of France took place during May and June of 1940 and ended with the fall of France. Many of the military and government escaped to London and there, on the 18th of June, Charles de Gaulle issued his famous Appeal:

"I, General de Gaulle, currently in London, invite the officers and the French soldiers who are located in British territory or who might end up here, with their weapons or without their weapons, I invite the engineers and the specialised workers of the armament industries who are located in British territory or who might end up here, to put themselves in contact with me.
"Whatever happens, the flame of the French resistance must not be extinguished and will not be extinguished."

This was the initiation of the French Resistance and of the Forces Françaises Libres, the Free French Forces, based in London. If your ancestor answered de Gaulle's Appeal, it may not be so easy to trace him or her, as descendants are discovering.

Noms de Guerre

Those working within France all had false names, noms de guerre, as did many of those working in London and elsewhere. This was necessary not only for secrecy but to protect their families still in occupied France. This was especially true for those from eastern France and the regions of Alsace and Lorraine, where many surnames are Germanic; at such a time, none wanted to appear as one of the enemy. Code names were often assigned to Resistance fighters, but many chose their own aliases, which could contain a hint as to their identity that only those who knew them well would have recognised. To complicate matters further, many retained their noms de guerre after the war, legally changing their names and giving the new surname to their children.

La Légion Etrangère

To join the Free French Forces, one was supposed to be a member of the French military and have a document to prove it. For those who did not have such, a quick way to obtain it was to join the French Foreign Legion, la Légion étrangère, in North Africa for a couple of months, and then go to London. As the French Foreign Legion required little by way of identification, this was also a path to changing a name at the same time.

 

How to document these people? It is a long and cautiously researched project. Here are some of the sites we have used with at least some level of  success:

  • Liste des Volontaires des Forces Françaises Libres on the de Gaulle website - is a labour of love and quite lengthy, but incomplete.
  • Histoire des Français libres ordinaires - a website dedicated to telling the stories of those who joined the Forces Françaises Libres.
  • Dossiers administratifs des résistants - these are the individual files on all members of the Resistance held by the Service Historique de la Défense, the French military archives. This site has an alphabetical list with the archives codes, but the files themselves are not online. Using the code and the full name, one may then request a copy of the file. Check here without fail, for many people who may seem to have spent the war in London actually also made trips to France to work with the Resistance.
  • You may write to the French Foreign Legion asking for any information on a person who joined, but you need a name, a date, and the regiment.
  • The Mémorial de la Shoah  - includes the names and information on some Resistance fighters who were executed.
  • The National Archives of Great Britain - Search here under what name you may have, though, interestingly, a file on a Resistance fighter in these archives may be closed while the French file on the same person may be available. Additionally, if you can visit the facility at Kew, it may be worthwhile to search the British files on the Free French Forces (see the photo above). Though much has been removed, these files contain correspondence on the organisation of de Gaulle's administration around the world and correspondence concerning granting British visas to those who wanted to go to London to join the FFF.

It can take quite a few months to do a search on a member of the Free French Forces, and it can be very frustrating, but you could get lucky.

Try!

©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