(01) Ain Capital: Bourg-en-Bresse.
Archives Numériques Départementales de l'Ain. Online: parish registers, civil registers, censuses. Wonderfully they also have put up the Tables de Succession, (lists of those who died and whether or not they left a will) and the Matricules, (military recruitment documents) for some communes. Being added in stages are the all-important notarial document registers.
(02) Aisne Capital: Laon.
On a very nice site that works well: parish and civil registrations, land records and maps, and many images of historical and genealogical value. There is a nice section on genealogy to help one get started. Additionally, it is possible via a different search page to see all documentation relating to a particular commune.
(03) Allier Capital : Moulins
The parish and civil registrations for over 300 communes are now online and free. One must click an agreement form before access is allowed. Nice site.
(04) Alpes-de-Haute-Provence Capital: Digne-les-Bains
Online: parish and civil registers, annual indices, ten-year indices, censuses, land records.
(05) Hautes-Alpes Capital: Gap.
Online: parish and civil registers, marriage banns, ten-year indices. Incredibly helpful people when contacted by e-mail; they really go out of their way to help further one's research.
(07) Ardèche Capital: Privas. Online: parish and civil registers, ten-year indices, land records, Protestant registrations, military registers, and censuses.
(08) Ardennes Capital: Charleville-Mézières. Online: the ten-year indices with a list of all communes, land records, parish registers and civil registers from the 16th century to 1890. Military conscription lists from 1867 to 1921.
(09) Ariège Capital: Foix. Currently not online. After two years of preparation, parish and civil registrations may be online by the end of 2014.
(10) Aube Capital: Troyes. Online: ten-year indices, post cards of various towns and villages, land records. NEW! Parish and civil registrations from 1552 to 1892 are now online. EXCELLENT ADDITION: a surname index to the registrations -- with some 200,000 names!
(11) Aude Capital: Carcassonne. NEW! Online: parish and civil registrations from 1547 to 1872 and some ten-year indices.
(12) Aveyron Capital: Rodez. New!!! Online: parish and civil registrations from the 16th to the end of the 19th century.
(13) Bouches-du-Rhône Capital: Marseille. Online: parish and civil registers, land records, censuses from 1836-1931, old post cards. NEW! Military recruitment registers from 1872 to 1912.
(14) Calvados Capital: Caen. DIRE! DIRE! DIRE news: all of the parish and civil records and the ten-year indices and annual indices have just been put online BUT there is a charge to see them. It is not much, but it still is there and we consider this to be very bad form. The site has left some interesting pictures of the Normandy invasion free to view.
(15) Cantal Capital: Aurillac. Online: parish and civil registers, ten-year indices, censuses, alphabetic indices to military enlistments, photographs, AND notarial records and Holocaust records that relate to Cantal! In 2010, the website won a prize for the way it is possible for users to index collaboratively the civil registrations.
(16) Charente Capital: Angoulême. Online: census records for 1842 to 1872, land records, teachers' notebooks, church inventories, old post cards of local towns, villages and sites. NEW! Parish and civil registrations are now online, but there is a charge to view them.
(17) Charente-Maritime Capital: La Rochelle. Online: parish, Protestant and civil registers; post cards; photographs of the Second World War; Notarial records of Jonzac. Getting better every day!
(18) Cher Capital: Bourges. As with many, but not all, you must create an account. This will gain you access to parish and civil registrations, censuses, maps, military enlistment registers and indices to them.
(19) Corrèze Capital: Tulle. Online: ten-year indices from 1802 to 1902, parish and civil registrations for all communes from their beginnings to 1902, EXCEPT for Brive-la-Gaillarde (see their own website: http://archives.brive.fr), census returns from 1906 to 1936, military recruitment lists, alphabetic death and will registrations to 1940, maps.
(2A) Corse-du-Sud Capital: Ajaccio. Goofy website. You will have to do some copy-paste work. For the military conscription lists from 1859 to 1918, those of the Garde Mobile from 1865 to 1870: http://www1.arkhenum.fr/
For the newly up census returns: http://www1.arkhenum.fr/
There is also a very nice surname list. Ten-year indices and parish registrations are expected to be online by September 2014. The archives of the city of Bonifacio, dating from 1682, are now online at
(2B) Haute-Corse Capital: Bastia. Online: Maps, civil registrations from 1792 to 1902.
(21) Côte-d'Or Capital: Dijon. Online: parish and civil registers, ten-year indices, censuses 1800 to 1936, indices to the military recruitment lists, court and judicial records, administrative records,maps, tables to notarial records, and much more.
(22) Côtes-d'Armor Capital: Saint-Brieuc. Online: land records, parish and civil registrations, census records to 1906, will indices, post cards, posters, photograph collections. Just up: military recruitment lists from 1867 to 1909.
(23) Creuse Capital: Guéret. New website! Online: Parish and civil registrations, maps, posters from the Second World War, census returns, military recruitment lists, and -- very nice -- alphabetic indices to inheritances.
(24) Dordogne Capital: Périgueux. Online: land records, ten-year indices, and now, all parish and civil registrations.
(25) Doubs Capital: Besançon. Online: Ten-year indices. To use the search facility, one must register, but there is no charge.
(26) Drôme Capital: Valence. Online: parish registers, ten-year indices, civil registers up to 1852, notarial archives, land records.
(27) Eure Capital: Évreux. Online: parish and civil registers, military recruitment lists, censuses, old postcards.
(28) Eure-et-Loir Capital: Chartres. Online: Parish registers, civil registers, land records, censuses, church plans.
(29) Finistère Capital: Quimper. Online: Maps, parish and civil registrations census returns, military recruitment lists, all a bit awkward to use. Very helpful staff.
(30) Gard Capital: Nîmes. Difficulties abound. After being closed to the public for a year, the new location is now open. Online: No genealogical records are online as yet, but a website is planned for the end of 2014. It will start with the military conscription lists. Parish and civil registrations are not expected to be online before 2017! However, the municipal archives of Nîmes have placed some indices online:
(31) Haute-Garonne Capital: Toulouse. Online: Land records, parish and civil registers, military recruitment lists, marriage contracts from Toulouse from 1501 to 1739, censuses, insinuations from 1693 to 1790. The site is maddening in that images cannot be adjusted; there is no possibility to zoom in or out.
(32) Gers Capital: Auch. Online: Finding aids and maps only at the moment. Expected by the end of 2014: census returns and military conscription lists. Parish and civil registrations are not expected to be online before late 2015, if then.
(33) Gironde Capital: Bordeaux. Online: Transcriptions of parish registers, 182 registers of the Admiralty of Guyenne, a list of communes for which the records are being scanned. Expected date when the civil registers will be online: 2010. The ten-year indices are online now.
(34) Hérault Capital: Montpellier. Online: Military recruitment registers, parish and civil registers, censuses, land records, notarial records.
(35) Ille-et-Vilaine Capital: Rennes. Online: Land records, parish and civil registrations for most but not quite yet all locations. For Rennes see the Archives municipales de Rennes.
(36) Indre Capital: Châteauroux. Online: Finding aids, maps, parish and civil registrations, ten-year indices, census returns. The site is much improved recently.
(37) Indre-et-Loire Capital: Tours. Online: Parish registers have just gone up! Also : Ten-year indices, land records, old post cards and records of wills filed (Tables de successions - very useful, these), military conscription lists.
(38) Isère Capital: Grenoble. Online: Ten-year indices, and just up: parish and civil registrations.
(39) Jura Capital: Lons-le-Saunier. This has to be one of the most helpful archives in the country. Online: maps, postcards and historic photographs. Parish and civil registrations are scheduled for 2016.
(40) Landes Capital: Mont-de-Marsan. Lots of problems with this site, and many efforts to repair them, finally leading to a new site. Online: Parish and civil registrations, military recruitment lists, maps, town meeting minute books.
(41) Loir-et-Cher Capital: Blois. Online: parish and civil registrations, census returns, indices to military recruitment lists, maps.
(42) Loire Capital: Saint-Étienne. Just put online: Ten-year indices, parish and civil registers.
(43) Haute-Loire Capital: Le Puy-en-Velay. Online: Nice new website which has parish and civil registrations, ten-year indices to same, and the beautiful documents of the Chaise-Dieu Abbey.
(44) Loire-Atlantique Capital: Nantes. Online: Parish registers, civil registers, censuses, land records, maps, old post cards, notarial records, military enlistment registers, WITH a surname index to them! Do not waste your time contacting by post or e-mail, as they brusquely refuse to be of any help at all.
(45) Loiret Capital: Orléans. Online: Civil registrations from 1833 to 1902 are gradually being put online. About one third of all communes have been added. However, there are some that will never be online, for they were destroyed during the Second World War. Many communes have their own websites with their parish and civil registrations found online there.
(46) Lot Capital: Cahors. Online: Parish and civil registrations to 1902, including clerk's copies, census records, succession tables, military registers. This site has had some trouble but seems to be working properly as of November 2012.
(47) Lot-et-Garonne Capital: Agen. Much improved! Online now: civil registrations of the 19th century, census returns, many maps and land records, photographs, old post cards, unique funds of local history and customs, and the recordings of the accounts of some Spanish refugees.
(48) Lozère Capital: Mende. An all new website! Online: the parish and civil registers from the 17th century to 1902, photographs, maps, post cards, town histories, insinuations. Unusually, the municipal archives of the capitol city are at the same site. Nice little bit of cooperation, that.
(49) Maine-et-Loire Capital: Angers. Online: Parish and civil registrations, land records, ten-year indices. NEW! Military recruitment lists, cahiers de doléances and more.
(50) Manche Capital: Saint-Lô. Just up Online: Land records, parish and civil registrations and ten-year indices. Click on moteur de recherche, then on état civil. There is a nifty little video explaining how to use the search engine. NEW! Military conscription lists are being added.
(51) Marne Capital: Châlons-en-Champagne. New! Online: parish and civil registrations, maps, censuses, and land records.
(52) Haute-Marne Capital: Chaumont. Online: finding aids and land records are online. Gradually being added are: parish and civil registers, ten-year indices, and notarial records. Here, one can also read the interesting "Notes généalogiques du Baron de l'Horme".
(53) Mayenne Capital: Laval. Online: parish and civil registers from the 16th century to 1882, ten-year indices, a data base created by volunteers of the details from the marriages of the 19th century, military registers, census lists from 1836 to 1906, land records, transcriptions of marginal notes from the parish registers. Mayenne is acknowledged as the gold standard of departmental archives online.
(54) Meurthe-et-Moselle Capital: Nancy. Online: parish and civil registers up to 1882, land records. There is a warning that records for Toul are incomplete, owing to a fire there in 1939.
(55) Meuse Capital: Bar-le-Duc. Online: The parish and civil registers are now online, as are military conscription lists and some censuses.
(56) Morbihan Capital: Vannes. Online: parish and civil registers, ten-year indices, military conscription lists, maps, photos, 19th century local newspapers.
(57) Moselle Capital: Metz. Online: an extensive site. The first phase of putting records online has begun with the parish registrations prior to 1793 for about 500 towns and villages. Civil registrations will not be online before 2015.
(58) Nièvre Capital: Nevers. Online: finding aids, list of communes, old post cards, cahiers de doléances, pregnancy declarations, censuses, military conscriptions, parish registrations and civil registrations are completed. Unusually organised that is very helpful to the genealogist.
(59) Nord Capital: Lille. Online: Ten-year indices, parish and civil registrations, military recruitment lists, land records, 1906 census. The archives are relocating. Check the website before visiting the facility.
(60) Oise Capital: Beauvais. Online: old post cards, parish maps, parish and civil registers, censuses, military registers. It is necessary to register with the site; this is free.
(61) Orne Capital: Alençon. Online: parish and civil registers to 1902, ten-year indices.
(62) Pas-de-Calais Capital: Arras. Online: Lots of advice, plus ten-year indices to parish and civil registrations up to 1912, census records from 1820 to 1886, military recruitment records through 1921, land records.
(63) Puy-de-Dôme Capital: Clermont-Ferrand. Online: All parish and civil records, a wonderful collection of notarial files, images of clerical seals and finding aids. Nicely done.
(64) Pyrénées-Atlantiques Capital: Pau. Now online: land records, finding aids, parish and civil registrations, notarial records. One must complete a short registration form, but the site is free to use.
(65) Haute-Pyrénées Capital: Tarbes. Online: no genealogical records are online. However, the city of Tarbes has put up its parish and civil registers from 1611 to 1909 on www.archives.tarbes.fr
(66) Pyrénées-Orientales Capital: Perpignan. Online : finding aids, civil registrations, military conscription lists through 1921 with alphabetic indices through 1935, census returns.
(67) Bas-Rhin Capital: Strasbourg. Online: parish and civil registrations and census records, now up to 1912. Also a very interesting discussion of an early 19th century manuscript of a history of Jews in Alsace, by Jacob Meyer. A new website has just been launched.
(68) Haut-Rhin Capital: Colmar. Online: the heraldic devices for each commune, a list of those who died in the two World Wars, a list of all of the mairies (town halls). NEW! Civil registrations from 1798 are now up. Also, ten-year indices and lists of Jewish names. Serious teething problems abound; the site is incredibly slow and often does not work. We predict a crash.
(69) Rhône Capital: Lyon. Online: Censuses from 1836, parish and civil registrations from 1527, military recruitment registers, maps, indices to notarial records, a very large collection on orphans. Collaborative indexing of both registrations and censuses is making this site incredibly useful. Rhône is the first department to allow the images of their ten-year indices and of their parish and civil registrations to appear on www.genealogie.com, though why you would pay there when you can get it free here is a mystery.
(70) Haute-Saône Capital: Vesoul. Online: Land records, census records, civil and parish registrations, conscription registers, bureaux de succession registers. Exceedingly helpful staff. Ten-year indices for many communes can be found on the website of the local genealogy group, Serv@nc'nautes :
(71) Saône-et-Loire Capital: Mâcon. Online: land records, ten-year indices, parish and civil registers to 1902, censuses from 1836 to 1901, cahiers de doléances, post cards, and a nice facility to see all that is available for each town.
(72) Sarthe Capital: Le Mans. Online: land records, parish and civil records to 1850, military registers.
(73) Savoie Capital: Chambéry. Online : maps, some ten-year indices, census records from the 16th to 20th centuries, parish and civil registers from 1501 to 1793 and from 1815 to 1860. Also: some old newspapers, indices to maps, posters, etc.
(74) Haute-Savoie Capital: Annecy. Online: NEW! Parish and civil registrations, censuses and military conscriptions from 1860 to 1940, and maps.
(75) Paris Online: the existing and reconstructed parish and civil registers are online, with the identical system to that used in the archives, which is not the easiest. New!: The military recruitment registers from 1875-1909 and the long, long lists of the first names of children accepted into care from 1742-1909.
(76) Seine-Maritime Capital: Rouen. Parish and civil registrations up to 1912 and in some cases up to 1935. Promised soon are maps. Fingers crossed for passenger lists of ships sailing from Le Havre!
(77) Seine-et-Marne Capital: Melun. Online: Censuses, ten-year indices, notarial records, parish and civil registrations. NEW! Marriage banns, military conscription lists, World War One photographs.
(78) Yvelines and the old Seine et Oise Capital: Versailles. Online: ten-year indices, parish and civil registrations, military recruitment, censuses, land records, cahiers de doléances, community monographs (histories). A very nice site, but as of mid-2011, it does not work with Safari.
(79) Deux-Sèvres Capital: Niort. Online: parish and civil registers, land records and census records. Nice, clean site. NEW: military conscription registers are now online.
(80) Somme Capital: Amiens. Online: old post cards, seals. NEW! with a new website: parish and civil registrations, censuses, land records, local histories, seals, photographs of WWI, and.....(drum roll) a user's guide in English.
(81) Tarn Capital: Albi. Online: some parish registers, civil registers, ten-year indices, land records. It is necessary to register to use the site.
(82) Tarn-et-Garonne Capital: Montauban. Online: Ten-year indices, civil and parish registrations dating back to 1590. New! The local copies of parish registrations, giving an important supplement, filling many gaps in the central administration's sets of registrations. Excellent!!!
(83) Var Capital: Toulon. Online: land records, censuses, ten-year indices, medieval notarial records, architectural records cahiers de doléances, records about the liberation of Var during WWII. The site has been recently improved and cleaned up.
(84) Vaucluse Capital: Avignon. Online: parish and civil registrations for some towns and ten-year indices for all.
(85) Vendée Capital: La-Roche-sur-Yon. Online: parish and civil registers, censuses, notarial records, land records, old post cards. New!: faire part, notarial minutes and délibérations municipales.
(86) Vienne Capital: Poitiers. Online: parish and civil registers (now up to 1912), land records, census lists. Interesting: A collection of notes on cards made during the 1950s extracting further information on Protestants, abandoned children and more. ALSO, the military registrations from 1867-1908.
(87) Haute-Vienne Capital: Limoges. Online: Land records and finding aids only. Latest word is that the parish and civil registrations could be on-line around the end of 2014. The story is that there seems to be a problem of damp and fungus on the records.
(88) Vosges Capital: Épinal. Newly online: parish registers from 1526, civil registers to 1905, the ten-year indices, and recently the censuses for the years from 1886 to 1906. Very nicely done, with easy printing.
(89) Yonne Capital: Auxerre. Online: parish and civil registers. NEW! Census records are up.
(90) Territoire de Belfort Capital: Belfort. A very nice new site with plenty online: parish and civil registrations, censuses, military registrations, and land records. Additionally, local archivists have created an excellent site of indexed data from the parish and civil registrations. It is a bilingual site:
(91) Essonne Capital: Évry. Online: Parish and civil registers, censuses, land records, and 184 village and town histories written for the 1900 Paris Expo. Just up: indices to notaires' minutes.
(92) Hauts-de-Seine Capital: Nanterre. Online: maps and the ten-year indices to the civil registrations through 1912, and now the civil registrations from 1792 to 1907.
(94) Val-de-Marne Capital: Créteil. Online: parish and civil registers, ten-year indices, land records, finding aids. Nice, easy site to use. Wonderfully interested, knowledgeable and helpful staff. NEW: census records are now online, from 1795 (!) to 1906.
(95) Val-d'Oise Capital: Cergy-Pontoise. Online: Finally! With a lovely new website: parish registrations from the 16th century to 1792, civil registrations from 1793-1900, ten-year indices, and census returns from 1917 to 1936.
(971) Guadeloupe Capital: Basse-Terre. Online: no genealogical records are online.
(972) Martinique Capital: Fort-de-France. This is actually the website of BNPM - The Banque Numérique des Patrimoines Martiniquais. Online: the actes d'individualité of freed slaves, 1848-1851.
(973) Guyane Capital: Cayenne. Online: finding aids only. Preparation to put parish and civil registrations online is under way. There is an excellent list of links to other research resources.
(974) La Réunion Capital: Saint-Denis. Online: no records are online, but there is a nice new site for the archives.
Currently, among professional genealogists, there is much grumbling about the clumsy mess that Ancestry.com has made of its search facility and the "ridiculous results" that come up. Many long for the now banished "old search" on that website. We suspect that we know what went wrong somewhere in the hinterland of Ancestry's labyrinthine corridors.
We trained as a librarian and have worked with many computer/information/programming professionals of various ilk and can verify that the emphasis of the two in aiding researchers is quite different: librarians are trained to structure every aspect of their work toward the retrieval of the specific information sought by the researcher; while the computer programmer longs to deliver the entire universe at the touch of a button. The latter sounds very cool but is useless, while the former requires quite a lot of planning but brings the desired result. In many ways, the French, with their eternally beloved logic, have done a better job, and usually offer it gratis. This is good news for those with French ancestors to research, and it has just got a bit better.
There is a beautiful new addition to websites where one can search at no cost -- and with a certainty of logical, clear, possibly relevant results -- on those who emigrated from France via the port of Bordeaux. We have written in the past about the burning of the archives of the Port of Bordeaux, a great loss indeed. We have also reported here on the easily searched passport database maintained by the Departmental Archives of La Gironde. Today, we write of a rich, new resource that complements the latter.
A group of not only dedicated but apparently literate and even intelligent genealogy enthusiasts have been indexing correctly (unlike those elsewhere, who seem to be guilty of indexing while under the influence, to judge by the ludicrous results) a number of records from the archives pertaining to Bordeaux that are not online. An emigrant leaving France had to obtain not only a passport, which would have been issued by the authorities where the emigrant-to-be resided, but then had to obtain a visa to leave and this was issued by the authorities at the place of departure, in this case, Bordeaux. Lists of visas and passports, as well as some passenger and police surveillance lists, are the sources for the information.
Emigrants, by name, but this is a very small database, taken from a few police and other records, such as we have described when discussing a passenger list
Travelling companions, by name, extracted from the documents but not specifically listed in their own right
Destinations of ships, but not all ports of call will be included, only the expected destination
The results give as much detail as was found in the documentation:
place of birth
names and ages of travelling companions
relevant archives series codes and document numbers
details of the ship, if any
If your ancestor were from or passed through the southwest of France and left the country during the nineteenth century, there is a good chance of finding him or her in this wonderful labour of love of a website.
The only word of warning necessary: the site is slow and, once discovered by the descendants of emigrants, will likely get slower still. There is also a survey, or sondage, asking how you like the site; since one does not pay, it would be only fair as well as a courtesy, to complete the form by way of thanks.
Before the most recent and somewhat fantastical wave of Brussels bashing, France was seriously looking at the genealogy tourism industry and its possibilities. Certain French folk have expressed annoyance that other member countries of the European Union -- Ireland, Poland, Germany, Greece and The Netherlands -- had received large grants to develop tourism programmes aimed at the (often Anglophone) visitor combining genealogical research with tourism. France did not apply for such a grant, but one anthropologist did write an article on the phenomenon of genealogy tours in Ireland.
Whether France be on or off the bandwagon, we have received enough missives from you, Dear Readers, to be sure that many do come to France to find their roots. We suggest the following to help you to have a better experience of it:
Do the maximum amount of research that you possibly can, using French resources online. By now, you should already have purchased our guide and be using it to find your way through the many websites. Many of the documents that have been made available online are now no longer accessible in the archives that hold them. It would be a pity for you to waste precious research time looking at microfilm in an archive facility that you could have studied on your computer at home.
Plan to visit specific archives. Do not simply plan to go to a city and expect to be able to figure out the research when you arrive, for you will waste far too much time. Find online the relevant Departmental Archives, Municipal Archives, Town Hall archives, military archives, etc. Note the addresses (and their distance from your hotel!) and opening days and hours. Most stop some services at lunch time and an hour before closing time, so you want to be there early, to have the maximum amount of research time.
For each archive facility that has its finding aids online, read through them and note the codes, notaire's names and other information. We have watched innumerable novices arrive at the Departmental Archives, be shown the finding aids, and then spend all of their research time trying to understand them and never actually being able to request documents. Do that work at home first.
Some archives state very clearly on their websites that they are open to researchers by appointment only. Make an appointment long in advance. Some require that a visit and place at a desk or table be booked online in advance. Do that booking well in advance, or you risk being turned away.
You will want to visit the ancestral village and we have written here before about how to make that a more rewarding experience for you and those you might meet.
Find cousins via the many websites. Contact them; make appointments to meet them and to visit homes in which your ancestors lived, the churches or synagogues where they worshipped and the cemeteries where they were buried.
Include in your itinerary local museums and exhibitions of traditional skills. Doing so will help to imagine your ancestors' lives.
If possible, stay in a chambre d'hôte (furnished room, bed & breakfast) rather than a hotel, for that will give you more of a flavour of local life. Every town hall maintains a list of local registered chambres d'hôtes.
Join local genealogy associations in advance so that you receive their newsletter and can plan to attend a meeting or event.
This year, quite a large number of events are planned to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War. If you ancestor fought in that war, you may want to visit battlefields and attend ceremonies. Be sure to look at the exhibits in the Departmental Archives; most of them are presenting something in relation to the War this year.
Familiarize yourself with national and local public holidays to know when archives and town halls will be closed. And beware of August! It is the month of the traditional family holiday in France and many facilities shut down for a week or two in August. Check the websites to be sure.
Lastly, should your journey take you to the southwest of the country, we shall be spending July and August in the charming city of Périgueux and would be pleased to meet with you and discuss your research.
We have a really beautiful shell of an old house that we have been trying to flog for years. It is in a village of historic preservation, so its exterior charm, as with that of every other building in the village, cannot be altered without permission from the bureau that protects the nation's architectural heritage (though one can do whatever one likes with the interior). It cannot be altered but it must be maintained. Recently, a hail storm of impressive force assaulted the village and every single roof, including ours, suffered some damage. Roofers have waiting lists of two years. For our village, not just any roofer will do; it must be one who has the skills of the old days and knows the safety standards of the new. Ideally, he would be a Compagnon de France.
The Compagnons du Tour de France began to develop in the fifteenth century as an organization with a singular structure. At that time, money was scare and life very insecure. Many masters had to let their apprentices and workers go; and many workers chose to abandon their contracts and leave their masters. Some, beginning with saddlers and cobblers, began to travel from town to town, seeking work, for years at a time. That, in itself was not so unusual, but this group created a system of aiding one another and building trust in their skills.
They created a network of inns where they lived and met to invest new Compagnons into the club. They aided members who could not work because of injury or illness; they had a sort of unemployment insurance amongst themselves. As a group they were able to insist on a decent wage for all, and they fought for decent working conditions. Getting carried away, as such groups do, they had rules, they had ceremonies and rituals, they had secret handshakes or the equivalent in order to recognize members, and they welcomed one another as fellow travellers. By the nineteenth century, they wore fancy ribbons and carried a distinctive cane.
They also tried to force masters of the trades to hire only Compagnons and even to chose which member to send to which master's workshop. In return, they guaranteed the masters that the Compagnons they employed would be honest and well-qualified. As can be imagined, they were not legal, often not tolerated and had trouble with the police.
The key element of the Compagnons du Tour de France that gave it an air of romance and differentiated it from other groups of workers was its Tour de France, the travelling from place to place, which they called their "Devoir" ("duty" or, in modern parlance, "homework"). The purpose was to work with different masters and to learn one's skill or métier very well. The travel was not done only on foot, but more often by riverboat; later it was done by train and now, obviously, by car or probably truck. The stages of the travel were roughly from thirty to forty kilometers apart. The cities that became centres for the Compagnons are Orléans, Blois, Tours, Angers, Nantes, La Rochelle, Bordeaux, Nîmes, Toulouse, Agen, Avignon, Marseilles, Lyon, Troyes and of course, Paris. Each profession in each city had a set of skills that had to be learned, tested and proved. The more one travelled, the better one's qualifications.
Examples of types of skills in the Compagnons du Tour de France, in addition to the saddlers and cobblers mentioned above are:
Finding an ancestor who was a Compagnon de France would depend on your good luck in discovering a cane in the attic and your ancestor having been in one of the professions above, or one very similar, as well as having lived in some of the cities mentioned. The Musée de Compagnonnage, in Tours, has a genealogy section on its website. The Centre de la mémoire des Compagnons du Devoir may answer certain queries. Court records of the early nineteenth century may reveal your ancestor via one of the many disputes between them at that time. Archives concerning police surveillance may also tell of your Compagnon ancestor, though, again, you would need also to know where he went on his travels.
The director of the Musée de Compagnonnage, Laurent Bastard, says, however, that the best source of information will be in your family's old documents, so check them very, very carefully. If you find you are descended from such a one, be proud, for it was and still is a qualification that commands enormous respect.
We have read that learning to look at a mass of things, to identify similarities and differences, to separate and group into categories the items that form the mass, is a process that is crucial to humans' being able to understand the world they perceive. We are not certain if our love of putting things in alphabetical order comes from our stint in library school or if that love is what directed our choice of that school in the first place, but we do like to make things tidy and comprehensible. We especially like making charts that bring reason and genealogical discoveries to the mass of information found in French civil registrations.
Each time we are working on a family, as soon as we start to find the civil registrations of births, marriages and deaths, we start a chart on which to enter all of the information. It can be made in Word, Excel, or any other programme that enables sorting on the rows and columns. The categories of information that can be found in the registrations and entered onto the chart include:
The full name of the subject(s) of the event
The event (birth, marriage bann, marriage, divorce, death)
The date of the event (year first)
The location of the event
The address of the subject
Dates given about the subject (e.g. dates of birth in marriage registrations)
The profession of the subject
The parents of the subjects
The parents' addresses
The parents' ages
The parents' professions
The parents' dates of death
Each witness of the event, listed separately
The witnesses' addresses
The witnesses' ages
The witnesses' professions
The witnesses' relationship to the subject of the event
By constantly going over this information and analysing it as it is accumulated, a great deal more can be learned about the family and about where next to search.
Marriage registrations that give a parent's date and place of death lead to that death registration
Birth registrations with marginal notes lead to the marriage and death registrations of the subject
Witnesses' relationships to the subjects can lead to the discovery of more branches of the family
Addresses of subjects, their parents, or witnesses can lead to new places to search for missing individuals
Scrutiny of witnesses' ages can help to separate individuals with the same name and profession
Taking things further, we get a map and mark all of the addresses, with the years of occupation. We use a dictionary of métiers to see how professions are similar or connected. We get a time line of local history and note the dates and places of events on the map. There are many opportunities for eureka! moments of clarity and understanding of the lives being researched.
Too often, people think of the information from such registrations in terms of what can be entered into a genealogy database, via one programme's screen. Concerning French civil registrations, these programmes are inadequate and information can be habitually overlooked or set aside for the later that never comes. Thus, we still make our own chart, tailored to the family being studied, and use every single detail we possibly can.
If you downloaded our free French Genealogy Calendar, Dear Readers, you will know that the month of Prairial is upon us. Prairie has just about the same meaning in French as it has in English, though the prairie that goes on forever in all directions of North American understanding would engulf with terrifying voraciousness the hedge-bound meadow that is a French idea of a prairie.
Our guide to the year of Republican calendar month, Eugène Le Roy, devotes his entire chapter on Prairial to hay-making. As our little place in the country is so swamped in grasses at the moment that the roof is almost invisible, we can vouch for the veracity that informs this emphasis.
Your rural French ancestors would have seen the engagement of the reaper for a tiny fee. The following day, he would begin work at the very first hint of light, long before dawn. Swinging his scythe rhythmically, steadily, and with great strength, he would work his way across a field, cutting down everything that grew, producing a heady perfume of grasses and wildflowers. Le Roy spares a few sentences of pity for those with hay-fever and none of sympathy for the moles that create the hills that knock the scythe's swinging out of sync. (Apparently "you miserable mole-boy" was a vicious bit of name-calling once.)
Finishing by eleven in the morning, the reaper went to the farmhouse for his pay and for a bowl of soup. Soup being so associated with the peasantry that, even today, no French hostess would dream of serving it, ever, at a dinner party. However, it was all a reaper could expect and perhaps all his hosts had to offer. Soup consumed, the reaper went home to sleep. His work was done.
Then, the real work began. The entire family and all farm labourers went out to the field to rake the hay to dry. For days they had to rake it and turn it to dry it. When it was dry, they had to stack it. Hay poles had been erected in the field. Branches were laid down first, then the hay stacked as high as possible, men stacking it, while women, atop the stacks, stamped it down as firmly as possible. Le Roy states that it is a hard job for all but especially for the women, "les pauvres diablesses".
Rewards were odd in days of yore, to be sure. By the end of Prairial and of the hay-making, the fields would have been filled with glow worms (while we may still have tall grasses, modern practices and products have pretty much wiped out those pretties). The evening custom, Le Roy assures, was for young men to fill a maiden's hair with glow worms, which he seems to have found charming but which calls to our imagination the poor girl being turned into a greenish Medusa.
Read some wonderful reminiscences and comments on this post here.
Ah! The efficiency of the military! We have come to one of the five locations of French port and naval archives, which are a part of the Service Historique de la Défense, based in Vincennes, to the east of Paris. Each location is responsible for a specific collection:
SHD Cherbourg - has the archives of the ports and naval departments concerned with the English Channel and the North Sea
SHD Brest - covers the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Antarctica, overseas missions and maritime activities for international organisations
SHD Lorient - covers the areas of Lorient, southern Brittany and the Compagnie des Indes
SHD Rochefort - covers the region of Rochefort and the archives of naval warfare
These hold some of the best chances of finding certain crew lists, but those to the west, especially the archives at Lorient which took a direct hit, suffered enormous damage during the Allied invasion. Brest lost quite a lot too, but there is still much on offer.
That military efficiency means that these archives have plenty of staff, all of them well-informed as to the holdings and all quick to be of help. We were concentrating on crew lists and naval administrative correspondence and found every single thing we sought, making for a successful day, indeed.
Before visiting one of the Marine archives facilities, do your homework. From the main SHD page, using the list of locations on the right of that page, or the links given above:
select the location you wish to visit
on that page, select "lire la suite"
scroll down this page to "l'état des fonds d'archives"
There, you will be able to read all of the finding aids to the archives at that location. Note down the codes and arrive at opening time ready to research.
4, rue du Commandant Malbert
(right on the water, with fairly decent restaurants nearby)
In the past, we have written on the subject of coiffes (see our jolly tome, which can now be purchased directly from Lulu) and how they may help you to find the region, if not the very village, of your ancestress. Should you be fortunate enough to have a coiffe among the treasures inherited from your ancestors, give it a close examination. Compare it with these dainty cut-outs for a match that could guide your research.
During our junket to Bretagne, we have taken a small break from genealogical research in the archives to admire the elegant exhibit of Breton dress -- including coiffes -- at the Musée Départemental Breton in Quimper. Though we are a dedicated devotée of Worth, we must admit that some of these are very pretty indeed.
Monsieur B. is one of our most loyal and generous of Readers and we are indebted to him for telling us of this National Geographic Magazine article on the coiffes of Bretagne. With the ever beautiful photographs for which that magazine is so noted, shown are women wearing Breton coiffes, the captions identifying the very village with which each style is associated. Maybe one will be that of your ancestress! Merci Monsieur B.
Rainy Day Activity Time : Failing a positive identification, you might use the above cut-outs to ensnare a little one for the cause of French Genealogy.
We continue our exploration of Brest's archives. Since so many of you, Dear Readers, have ancestors who hail from Bretagne, we are trying to make a thorough go of it and report it all.
The Municipal Archives of Brest have, as can be seen in the photo above, an imposing entrance, but it leads to a rather sad demise in progress, while the replacement pants in the offing. You know those tales of the married invalid, incurable and wasting away, while the nurse who tends is bursting with health and vigor and cannot wait for the invalid to die so that the usurpation can begin.
The Municipal Archives of Brest share their space with a branch of the Departmental Archives of Finistère. The former are a wan and forlorn affair. Because the parish and civil registrations of the Municipal Archives are online, along with the city General Council's Deliberations registers, and because the city archives do not hold much more than what is online, only a few old newspapers on microfilm and a clippings file on local notables, no one uses these archives anymore. The poor archivist, so keen to help, had no customers and absolutely nothing to do. Each time a person went to the desk, she looked up hopefully, but no one ever spoke to her.
To whom did they speak? To the archivist of the branch Departmental Archives of Finistère. All of the users in the room were there to use the Departmental Archives and the archivist, a starched and ironed bandanna covering her curls, bounded to be of assistance. None of this requests will be handled every 30 minutes business as at the main archives in Quimper; the very minute we made a request, this archivist dashed off to get the boxes. Her energy, her importance, her efficiency made for excellent service (we saw eleven boxes in under three hours, something of a record) but also made her colleague across the room -- to whom she never said a word -- wilt all the more. It seemed a matter of days before one would be out of a job and the domain would belong to the exultant other.
The value of the holdings at the Departmental Archives branch in Brest is the large amount of documentation from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries on prisoners. Brest and some surrounding coastal towns had prisoners from a number of sources:
Those from ships captured at sea and brought into the port
Those who were local criminals or runaways
Those who had escaped the law elsewhere in France and had headed to the coast hoping to flee by sea but who were nabbed instead
Many were condemned to hard labour, many were tossed into Brest's fortress dungeons, and many are listed in the archives.
Another junket! The Departmental Archives of Finistère can be found in Quimper, a town of storybook charm, most of it lost on the archives administrators, it would seem, who have a very modern building of some luxury, including odd art in the courtyard and peculiar plumbing choices.
This Departmental Archives has always given the impression of being somewhat anti-researchers. For years, they refused to have a website and rather churlishly replied to questions about it, as if users were the enemy. Finally, they succumbed to the malady of modern technology and built a website and made some parish and civil registrations accessible online.
This must have hurt until someone had the inspiration to use the website the further to discourage visitors to the archives. Swathes of the archives have become unavailable to users, for they have been determined as needing conservation work. Just in case you might think of going for a visit anyway, the website causes panic by saying that all holdings are contaminated with mould and fungus, much mould and much fungus, which could seriously damage your health, you are warned. You are advised to discuss any archival research with your doctor first.
Well, we have haunted second-hand book shops in the tropics that were so full of mould and fungus that the staff wore cloth masks over their noses and mouths and that we, on entering, felt our lungs seize up and writhe under the assault of parasitically damp air, so we thought we could cope with a spot of Breton mould. The hours are stated as beginning at 8.30, but they were at 9.00 the day we went, so we waited out in the rain with the rest of the researchers who had been fooled by the website.
This is one of the departments that suffered great losses during the Allied bombing, so the holdings are not massive. The few cartons we dared to examine (taking our life in our hands if the website is to be believed) revealed yet more destruction. Possibly an archivist took these documents home and a child with a pair of scissors got at them?
Apparently, the child was making a collection of heading designs, which are, indeed, very pretty:
In spite of the place seemingly run by a madman, the young staff at the desk were wonderfully helpful, cheerful and efficient. Is a change afoot or is this mutinous behaviour?
We request that everyone who has the slightest impulse to go to these archives do so, if only to encourage the young staff and to rattle the madman's cage.
Masson, Agnès, editor: Sur les traces de vos ancêtres à Paris Produced and published by the Archives de Paris, this is a 2007 update of the 1997 publication of the same title. It is, in our opinion, the best book available on genealogical research in Paris. ISBN 978-2-86075-011-0 (*****)
The Boleat Family 1560-1912 Research by Marc Boleat on the origins of two brothers who moved from Brittany to Jersey in the 1870s, and their descendants. It will be of particular interest to anyone researching relatives in Jersey with a French origin.
Récits et Souvenirs The mémoires of Henri Soudée and of his parents. Soldiers, Communards, and immigrants to Martinique and the United States, their tales are fascinatingly gathered by our Dear Reader, Françoise Becker.