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


Just Who Benefits In This?

Langue au chat

 You may recall, Dear Readers, that the Fond Coutot, being the largest private archives in France, were the creation of a professional genealogist, Amédée Coutot. He opened up business a bit over twenty years after the fires set by the Paris Commune destroyed the parish and civil registrations of the city. A lack of any birth, death or marriage records would have made his task of finding a family's heirs most trying. Using all that he could find among the records that survived and from many other sources, he and his son after him eventually built an archive of over ten million life events. These are available to the public, for a fee, online at GeneaService.

No expense was spent at all to make this a decent website and, surely, no cost, however great, or however small, was deemed necessary to convert an antiquated index card system into a database with a clear structure and a rational search facility. But for those who have a penchant for neon lime green, no thought of design or presentation was considered necessary. Nevertheless, the data is there and you can access it, eventually.

Now, Geneaservice offers a new option to its weary and exhausted users: that of uploading their family tree on their "Ma Famille" page. Here, you are encouraged to enter details from your family tree, up to your relations of the sixth degree. The enticement is that you may be discovered as an heir to a fortune. How can that be? Because the data you enter will also be available to professional probate genealogists to view in their search for heirs to estates.

We find this to be somewhat abusive, as well as a rather feeble effort at data mining. In our last post, we pointed out that French probate genealogists are heir hunters who demand a cut of the inheritance before they will put an heir in contact with the notaire in charge of the estate. We also pointed out that many such businesses are struggling to make ends meet. What better way to reduce research costs and increase the pool of patsies than to get family historians to provide their research at no cost? And there is the chance to doubly hit the dupes by charging them a percentage of a possible inheritance based on their own research.

We are a strong supporter of the superb volunteer community of French genealogists and we encourage our readers to be aware of the enormous amount of free websites and information available thanks to these thousands of volunteers' work, and we encourage you all to repay their efforts by sharing your genealogy work in return and by joining their societies or cercles. This GeneaService caper, however, is something to avoid; as the French say, ce n'est pas correct, ce n'est pas bon.

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Is French Probate Genealogy on the Skids*?

Death in France

The eminent genealogy professor, Stéphane Cosson, has written an interesting blog post about the difficulties currently being experienced by French probate genealogists. He informs us that quite a few of them are going broke and his purpose in writing is to suggest a different business model.

Companies and individuals engaging in probate genealogy, (la généalogie successorale,) have, Monsieur Cosson explains, two basic types of projects:

  1. Documenting all heirs to an estate, with appropriate birth, marriage and death registrations, as well as any other relevant documents . These projects are carried out at the request of a notaire who is handling the estate. The fees are set and are rather low. If an heir be missed out by the genealogist, his or her insurance covers the payout due to that heir. This type of project consumes about 60% of a probate genealogist's work, but brings in much less than half the income, often not even covering costs.
  2. Hunting unknown heirs to an estate, which involves finding people related to the deceased but whom no one in the family knows exists. These are the big money projects as, before the genealogist will reveal to the heir the way to collect the inheritance, he or she requires that a contractual agreement be signed, giving over a hefty percentage of the inheritance. 

We have never quite been able to work out the legality of the second type of project for, if by law an heir has a right to an inheritance, surely then anyone who knows of it has an obligation to inform him or her of that inheritance. Placing an obstacle such as a contract that must be signed in the way of that obligation to inform seems to us to be the private medicine approach to the process, or comparable to refusing to tell a person who has the right to vote where he or she may do so until a contract be signed and a fee agreed. Nevertheless, that is how things are here but now, after some two hundred years, it is no longer working so well.

We would like to propose two additional causes of the probate genealogists' troubles to add to Monsieur Cosson's list.

  1. The increasing popularity of family research as a hobby in France means that people now are much more aware of who their relatives are and of any relationship to a person who might leave a tidy sum. Though battles have been fought between knowledgeable heirs and the larger probate genealogy research companies, it seems pretty clear that family historians will probably inform one another of legal procedures to follow to ensure that they will not have to sign contracts and pay fees.
  2. With the increasing influence of North American genealogy practices and styles (note the increased presence of French genealogists at RootsTech and the increasing number of liaisons between FamilySearch and French archives) views of this somewhat parasitic form of genealogy may be changing in France. If one reads the Standards of Practice and Conduct on the website of the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy, the first two points specifically prohibit the most lucrative and desirable type of research project of French probate genealogists:
    1. "Not take a forensic genealogy case on a speculative, contingent, percentage, or outcome-based fee agreement as many jurisdictions have found this constitutes a conflict of interest; 
    2. Not recruit beneficiaries or heirs for my own business, for other firms, or for attorneys..."

Because of the legal requirements concerning the distribution of an estate in France, notaires will always need probate genealogists to document fully all heirs to an estate, as in the first type of project described above. However, the second type of project may be, we posit, on its way out. Some genealogists would have to adapt to avoid suffering, but all heirs would be much better off.

 

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

*For our French readers, translation websites interpret this phrase to mean "sur les patins" ("on skates"); non! non! non! non! "On the skids" translates most closely to "être sur le déclin" or "battre de l'aile".

 

 


Listen to a Radio Programme About Genealogy in Poitou

Poitou ladies

As many of our Dear Readers have ancestors who hailed from Poitou, we think you may enjoy listening to this radio programme on France Bleu about  genealogy there. 

Read our older posts about Poitou:

 

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

 


They're Up! Paris Bonanza on Family Search!

Paris Bookshop

No slackers on this project. Barely had we announced that the City Council of Paris had approved an agreement between FamilySearch and the Paris Archives than the project was accomplished. Really, we are rather impressed.

Recall that this concerns the roughly two million replaced parish and civil registrations (l'état civil reconstitué) of the more than eight million that were lost in the Paris Communards' incendiary rampage. (They did not only burn down the City Hall and numerous other buildings where power was centred, they placed dynamite in Notre Dame and nearly blew that up.) The period covered by these two million replacements is 1500 to 1860. (Though the fire was in 1871, register books from 1861 and later had not yet been transferred to the central registry but were still in the individual city halls of the arrondissements and so, were not burnt, except for some of the 12th arrondissement.)

The index cards have been available online for years but to see the full registrations, one had to go to the Paris Archives to view the microfilm. Now, that no longer is necessary. The presentation on FamilySearch is, to our mind, utterly baffling and with no explanation whatsoever, nor do they seem to be indexed on FamilySearch. (The negative aspect of a rushed job is a lack of planning and preparation.) Thus, one must follow exactly the procedure one had to use in the archives.

Step One: Search the index cards (fichiers alphabetiques). They are arranged first by type, e.g. baptism/birth, marriage, burial/death. Within the type, they are arranged alphabetically by surname. Within the surname, they are arranged chronologically. Thus for the birth of a Maron, you first choose births (naissances), then type in Maron and, in the results, start reading through the years. Once you have found the person you seek, note the full name and the date of birth. For example: Caroline Maron, born the 29th of September 1844.

  • Use the website of the Paris Archives or FamilySearch to look at the index cards. (We really do suggest that you check both, for there are some old mistakes that seem never to have been corrected.)

Step Two: Look up the microfilm number in the catalogue. These are arranged by type (again, baptism/birth, marriage, burial/death being naissances, mariages, décès), then chronologically. Find the date span that includes yours, so, births of 29th September 1844 will be on microfilm number 5Mi 1/565. The microfilm catalogues are partially on the Paris Archives website and partially on that of FamilySearch:

Step Three: On FamilySearch, find the correct microfilm and start looking for your document. They are filmed chronologically, then by surname so, in our example, we read along to the 29th of September 1844 and then through the birth registrations arranged alphabetically by surname to Maron, Caroline. The links to the microfilm on FamilySearch are below, but now it gets annoying as some fool at FamilySearch decided to alter the system in the middle and give the titles of the rolls as dates rather than the Paris microfilm numbers (as any archivist or librarian will know, it is NOT a good idea to make partial changes to an established system) :

No, it is not a breeze, but it certainly easier than booking a voyage to the Paris Archives, superb though they may be.

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


A Boost to Alsace Research

Alsace Grandfather

Recall that ancestors from Alsace were quite mobile and that this makes them difficult to research. For a long time, French genealogy societies, called cercles, have been heroically going through, town by town, all of the parish and civil registrations and extracting names and dates. It is painstaking work, as anyone who has looked through the registers on the Departmental Archives websites will know.

The extracted names then are put in alphabetical order and listed in booklets sold by the societies, by town name and type of registration, e.g. "Commune X - Naissances". Thus, one could buy a booklet for all of the births for a town dating from, for example, 1669 to 1870. It would list the names of the children, the parents, any godparents and give the date of the baptism or birth registration. Armed with that, the researcher could then find the registration at the Departmental Archives or on their website and make a copy.

Over the years, the formats changed. From booklets, the extracts, called relevés, were then put on France's early internet, Minitel, now defunct. With the demise of that, the various societies slowly set up their own websites and struggled to convert their often idiosyncratic databases and programmes to something that could be used online and that would also bring them some income. The large, commercial genealogy websites posed a very real threat with their own indexing, until the two began working together to provide quite a boost to the researcher.

Geneanet has worked extensively with the societies and has just announced that it will now have access to the extracts made by the Cercle généalogique d'Alsace (discussed here). This will be an incredible help for all of those who cannot easily read the writing or who would rather not peruse thousands of registers seeking their ancestors.

As explained on the Geneanet blog, the most direct way to search just the Alsace collection is to go to the search page entitled Genealogy Society Indexes. As their global searches produce quite messy results, this is the recommended way to conduct a focused search. You must have a "Premium" subscription to Geneanet to view the results. This costs forty euros per year, while joining the cercle costs fifty-eight euros, although you would receive their Bulletin as well.

This new avenue should be of great help to many of you, Dear Readers!

©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

 


Everyone Wants a French Noble Among Their Ancestors

Aristocratic French

We cannot fathom why, but it would seem to be true that a large number of our readers are seeking a noble among their French ancestors. On the whole, they were not nice people. After the Restoration, about a thousand of them wrote their memoires and, after reading a few of these, no one can dispute that the Revolution brought them great suffering, loss of loved ones, and enormous trauma. Yet, even some of them agree that they brought it upon themselves. Madame de la Tour du Pin, whose memoires are among the most readable, wrote:

Never had people been so pleasure-seeking as in the spring of 1789, before the meeting of the States-General. For the poor, the winter had been very hard, but there was no concern for the misery of the people.

Looking back at our blindness, I can understand it in young people like myself, but find it inexplicable in men of the world, in Ministers and above all, in the King.

(de la Tour du Pin, Henriette-Lucie Dillon, Memoires of Madame de la Tour du Pin, trans. Felice Harcourt, London : Century Publishing, 1985, pp. 103-105.)

Many noble families were obliterated, but the requests that we receive from our Dear Readers to help to find a connection to one of them are on the increase. Thus, we write yet again about researching French noble connections and the likelihood of finding any living cousin, even though he or she, once found, would almost certainly refuse to have anything to do with you.

Historians estimate, according to the great Gildas Bernard in his Guide de Recherche sur l'Histoire des Familles, that of the noble families in 1789, there remain now somewhere between three thousand and three thousand five hundred. One adds to that the second batch of nobility, that created during the nineteenth century, which included another five hundred or so.

Let it be known that the members of each batch sneer at one another; those of the pre-Revolutionary batch consider that their antiquity and royal authority are indications of a genetic superiority, while those of the post-Revolutionary batch consider that titles conferred by Napoleon or later rulers and which were based on merit are indications of a moral superiority that can be inherited. The first step in your hunt is to know to which group your noble ancestor belonged. If of the latter, read no further.

Of the pre-Revolutionary nobility, the oldest families together form the group known as the noblesse immémoriale, and their membership to the club is incontestable. A few facts about their number:

  • Besides the royal Capetiens, only three families can be traced with certainty to the eleventh century
  • Only three hundred families can be traced to the fourteenth century
  • Only one thousand families can be traced to the mid-sixteenth century

Few of our Dear Readers (most of whom are in Britain, Australia or North America) have presented evidence tracing their immigrant ancestor to one of the families among the noblesse immémoriale

Before assuming that your ancestors were of the nobility, we must eliminate a couple of misconceptions:

  • The particle "de" in a name is not a sign of nobility. More non-noble French names have the particle than do noble names. 
  • Having a coat of arms, a blason, also is not a sign of nobility. Peasants could have them, bourgeois could have them, and not all of the nobility had them. Bernard quotes that, in the seventeenth century, the going rate for a coat of arms was twenty livres, well within the means of a modest budget. Hozier pointed out that plenty of nobles chose not to maintain a coat of arms as they did not wish to pay the tax on it.
  • We would add that we have seen, especially among the dreaded DAR applications, quite a lot of nonsense about noble French ancestors but little documentary evidence and so, the claims in those applications cannot be considered as evidence.

Thus, even if your ancestors had the particle "de" in their name and had a coat of arms and were touted as noble in a DAR application, these alone do not mean that they were of the nobility. Even knowing this, many of you Dear Readers, remain undeterred and plan to conduct research in the archives among such things as the Lettres d'anoblissement dating from 1308 to 1499 or the Lettres  de noblesse dating from 1364 to 1703 or the dozens of other manuscript sources around the country. We fear that one could become impoverished and disappointed by the effort.

We propose an alternative avenue of research, based on a simple assumption: if you are truly a descendant of a French noble, it is unlikely that you are the only one. Why not research among known descendants and their lineages for your ancestor?

The surviving noble families are referred to as the noblesse française subsistante. The lot of them have been listed in thirty-two volumes Etat de la noblesse française subsistante by Alain Galbrun. These thirty-two large volumes are not online, to our knowledge, but the family names are listed alphabetically on two Wikipedia pages, one for letters A to K and one for letters L to Z . Look there first to see if your noble family still exists.

Then, if you can find it and can prove your link to it, why not join the Association d'Entraide de la Noblesse Française, a society established to aid distressed nobles, formed apparently after some nobles at a train station once discovered one of their own working as a porter. Quelle horreur! Surely, there you will find your noble distant cousins, though we doubt that they would condescend to dance with you at their ball.

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

See also our previous posts on nobility:

Nobles on the Net

 The Beleaguered Nobility of Brittany

The Cabinet des Titres