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


New Developments in the World of Citation

How to cite?

This is very interesting, indeed. We often visit the National Archives of Britain in Kew in order to research the genealogy of French people who have gone to or through Britain. It is a superb, hyper-modern facility, though too far a walk from the Tube station, in our opinion. Yet, in spite of all that modernity, some of the archival codes can be as baffling and as confused as the French codes we have come across in our research and pictured above.

It would appear that the archivists there may have come across the citation Bible, Evidence Explained, by Elizabeth Shown Mills or, perhaps, British genealogists are making increased demand for citation advice. Last month, TNA, as it is known, launched a "major research project", entitled Citation Capture. This project will "explore the nature of academic citations to archival, library, and other heritage collections, otherwise known as Unique and Distinctive Collections (UDC)." Surely, this sounds familiar to those of us who have been studying Ms. Shown Mills's monumental and recently revised work.

TNA will be working with Research Libraries UK and Jisc on this project. "As leaders in our respective fields, The National Archives, Research Libraries UK, and Jisc are well positioned to undertake this work. We would like to invite all interested parties to tender for this exciting work which will provide an invaluable overview of how academic citation practice to UDC collections and the published outputs based on UDC research," says Matt Greenhall, of TNA.

How wonderful that the entire British academic community is working together to determine how to cite non-book sources. We wonder if they have contacted Ms. Shown Mills? How, if at all, will this have an impact upon the recommendations in Evidence Explained for citing British materials? We also wonder when the French archives and libraries will do the same.* Oh! How we wish it would be sooner rather than later.

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

*Recall our discussion of French citation last year here and here.

Bonne Année 2018

Bonne Anee 2018

Many apologies, Dear Readers, for our extended silence. We should love to be able to say that it is the result of celebratory high jinks. Alas, it is not so. Somehow, in the dead of winter, we have managed to trod upon a wasp in our bare feet. And we are allergic. Fortunately, our local pharmacienne flings the necessary medications with abandon and without prescription so we are well-stocked and on the mend.

Please bear with us; the next post is already in the works. 

Wishing you all a Happy New Year and Bonne Année!

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Notarial Records Online

Frieze Ile de Re

We belong to a group about French genealogy in the godforsaken world of so-called social media, a group in which there has recently been some discussion and confusion concerning the presence or not of notarial records online. Time for clarification, we opine.

Our booklet on the subject explains much about notarial records and we do not intend to repeat it all in this post, but differentiation seems to be required; specifically, differentiation between a minute and a répertoire. Understanding the process a notaire and his or her clerk followed makes this quite simple.

For a client, a notaire wrote an acte, such as a will or a marriage contract or a contract of a sale of property, etc. The clerk made copies of the acte for each of the parties and, in some cases, for registration with a government bureau that may, at the time, have required copies of certain actes. The clerk also copied the acte into the notaire's minute book, this copy being termed a minute. (Later, the minute book gave way to the notaire's copy being a separate document in a folder or with a cover, but it was still termed a minute.) Like the other original copies, the minute was signed by all parties. Because this was done as the work occurred, the minutes were written chronologically, which makes them very hard to locate again for those without total recall. Thus, the clerk also wrote, in the last pages of the minute book or in a separate book, the briefest of summaries of each acte, giving the type of acte, the names of the parties (often written larger than the rest of the summary), the date and, in some cases, the page number, into a répertoire. Thus, the répertoire is not an index, as it is still chronological, but is more a sort of table of contents.

Quite a few of the Departmental Archives (and, for Parisian notaires, the National Archives) have digitised the répertoires and put these on their websites. Members of the group on social media were confused and thought that these short summaries were the minutes but they are not. In your research, the online répertoires are a tremendous help but they are far from ideal as they are not indexed.

Thus, to find a minute, you must know the notaire your ancestors used. This is not always the one closest to their home. The notaire for a marriage contract, for example, may have been the one preferred by the bride's parents. A notaire who was a relative of one of the parties may have been preferred -- or avoided -- regardless of location. We have found that some people used one notaire for family documents, such as wills or probate inventories, and another for business dealings. If you do know the name of the notaire and the approximate date of the acte, you can then hope for some success in searching the répertoires online. Once you find the summary of the acte, you must discover from the website how to request a copy of the full document. Given the correct code and the details of the acte, most of the archives will, for a fee, copy the minute and send it to you. 

Excitingly, a very few Departmental Archives have also begun to digitise the complete minutes. For Paris, those online tend to be minutes concerning persons of historical interest. For Pyrénées-Atlantiques and, most recently, Vienne, those online tend to be the oldest and most fragile documents. Even more exciting, once digitised, these are being indexed, though only by the notaire's name, location and type of acte, not by the names of the parties. (No discussion of notarial records online can be complete without mention of the fabulous work of Odile Halbert, which we discussed in this post.)

So, the key is to know what it is your are seeing when you begin researching on a website: is it a répertoire or is it a minute? And then...commencez!

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Aristocracy Comes and Goes


Our grandmother (pictured above) used to remind us that "the only life worth living is the life of the mind" and that "the only aristocrat worth knowing is an aristocrat of the intellect". She was always a tad disappointed in us but she would have applauded France this week for financing the relocation to this country of some very fine aristocrats of the intellect indeed. Eighteen scientists from around the world, including thirteen from the United States, will be leaving their de-funded research departments and bringing their brains, research and discoveries to France. Will they stay, the author of the article at the link above wonders, or will they finish their projects and then go?

Two hundred years ago, France lost rather a lot of the more traditional type of aristocrat when the Revolution and Terror, having made life very precarious, prompted thousands of them to make a run for it. As a group, they became known as the émigrés (literally translated as emigrant, but for that meaning in English the French use migrant, which in English means migrant, but for the same meaning of that word the French use migrant économique, which, at last! means the same thing in English). Some managed to take money or valuables out of the country with them; very few had the prescience to sell their property before 1789; most simply abandoned all in their dash for safety. After a while, the motherland missed her émigrés and, in an invitation not unlike that to the scientists, began a campaign to lure them back home.

The Archives nationales estimate that there were roughly 150,000 émigrés, in two waves:  those who left before 1792 (ruled as traitors and their names listed by the police) and those who left during the Terror (this fleeing mob included people of all classes). In 1802, they were offered a general amnesty and many returned. However, they were not offered the opportunity to try to get their property back until 1825, ten years after the fall of the First Empire.

For those of you with a French aristocrat among your ancestors, the documentation of the émigrés has recently become much more accessible. When they began to return, they submitted requests to the police asking that their names be removed from the lists of those who were traitors and that the confiscation of their property be annulled. The files of these requests of returning émigrés, dossiers nominatifs des demandes de radiation et de main-levée de séquestre, are what are now possible to search on the system of the Archives nationales known as SIV. They are arranged -- like so much in France -- by department. However, the entire finding aid may be searched for a name. A few of the dossiers, those on people of historical importance, have been digitised and may be searched and viewed at no charge here, a search yielding a result looking like this:


If you find the search facility, with its results seeming always to be either zero or in the hundreds, to be difficult or frustrating, it is also possible to see the entire PDF list of names here, and find the name you seek using the time-honoured Command-F on your keyboard.

This really is a very exciting new availability of an old resource. Should you have an émigré among your ancestors it may be that you will be able to find him or her here. If so, you may then request a copy of the file from the archives and discover, we fervently hope, that he or she was neither dolt nor duffer but an aristocrat of intellect or talent who brought as much to France as those eighteen scientists may do.

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Win a Prize for Your Genealogy Write-Up

Genealogy writing prize

We have had the pleasure of reading many of the excellent family histories written by you, Dear Readers. Some of them have been so good that we urge you to submit them for the top genealogy literary prize in France, the 2018 PRIX FLOUCAUD DE LA PÉNARDILLE - Dr DU CHALARD. Entry requirements are that:

  • The work be in French
  • It be your first work of genealogical or family history writing
  • It's length be at least one hundred pages, of which at least seventy pages must be of the body of the work
  • It must contain at least one genealogical tree

The value of the prize is 1500€. Is there anything nearly as large in the Anglophone genealogical world, we wonder?

Judgement criteria are based upon:

  • The quality of reference works and sources
  • The quality, placement, use and relevance of illustrations
  • The quality of the genealogical tree or trees
  • The correctness and completeness of any heraldic emblems (a common stumbling block for many in the Americas, but not of you, Dear Readers!)
  • The precision of the name index

The competition is open to all. To enter:

  • Send two typed or printed copies of your manuscript or publication, by post (one copy will be for the judges and one for the library of La France Généalogique)
  • Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for acknowledgement of receipt (you can buy French stamps online and print them at home here.)
  • You must agree, if you win, to the publication of a chapter on the sponsor's website

The deadline is the 18th of March 2018.

The postal address is: 12 rue Vivienne, Lot 3, 75002 Paris

The e-mail address is:

We urge you to give it a shot!


La France Généalogique is the sponsor of this prize so we thought we would give an update on their website, which is dismal in design but useful as to content. Please read our earlier post on the website, for not much has changed in the last seven years. The website where there is much to help you with your research is called Numéric

Those sections that we find have been improved or new are:

  • Courses and talks offered
  • Much more assistance and help via the question and answer service
  • Links to what they have shared with FamilySearch
  • A members' service helping with palaeography
  • A list of agnatic (male line) names in their database, with a list of all names of spouses linked to each agnatic name. Very useful.
  • A members' service to look up and copy parish and civil registrations in the Archives de Paris.

So, if you have ancestors who lived in Paris, we strongly suggest that you join to take advantage of their excellent genealogical help. If any of you is an expert website designer in France, you might like to offer your services.


2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Book Review - Revolution in the French Navy


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

Exciting News About Parisian Genealogy

La Parisienne-Collage

Very exciting news has been announced by the City Council of Paris yesterday. After deliberating the proposal, the mayor has signed the approval of a project for FamilySearch to digitise the very weary microfilm of the "reconstituted" parish and civil registrations of pre-1860 Paris. 

As dedicated readers of this blog will know, the Paris archives, along with quite a lot more, were torched by the Paris Communards in 1871. (Read that story here.) Something between five and eight million records, dating as far back as the 16th century, were destroyed. If your ancestors were from Paris and lived there any time from 1515-1860, their records – in some 5,000 bound registers - were destroyed.

Immediately after the fire, a group of researchers was formed and given the job of finding ways to recreate the information. They worked for 25 years. Copying parish and religious records, they managed to make a nearly complete reconstruction of the information for the years from 1802 to 1860. Working backward, it became much more difficult to find alternatives to copy. Roughly, 2.7 million registrations, or actes, were copied, in this breakdown:
  • 1802-1860 2.4 million actes
  • 1700-1801 2.4 million actes
  • 1600-1699 5000 actes
  • 1550-1599 5 actes
In the middle of war, 1941, the Paris archives began another reconstitution effort to find all available information on all Paris citizens since the Middle Ages not all ready found by the first reconstitution. This brought 200,000 mentions of people, mostly from lawsuits and other judicial records. As people who went to court tended to be those with money, these records preserve the identities of the wealthy and noble more than of everyday folk.
For a while now, it has been possible to search online the index cards to these reconstituted registers on the website of the Paris Archives, as in this example:
Sample reconstituted acte index card
However, it is not possible to see the actual document without going to the Paris Archives and looking at the microfilm. These microfilm rolls, we assure you, are getting exceedingly tattered and the images murky, as you can see:
Sample reconstituted acte
So, this news is exciting in that the images on the microfilm will be preserved for longer via digitising and they will be accessible online on both the FamilySearch website and the website of the Paris Archives. A boon for those researching Parisian ancestors. (Now, this must be something of a black eye for Filae, who are very keen to expand their offerings, and for Geneanet, who host the images of hundreds of Parisian court records. We suspect that the former will work out an indexing deal with the Paris Archives.) Sadly, we have no idea when this will take place but it is terrific news!
©2017 Anne Morddel
French Genealogy