Protestants & Huguenots

Five Hundred Years of Protestantism - A Guest Post

Côté chaire  côté rue Affiche


Our good friend, the genealogist, Isabelle Haemmerle, sends this from Geneva:


The exhibition "Côté chaire côté rue" presented at the Archives of the State of Geneva is to be extended until March 2018. Held in the context of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation (1517), it presents the effects of the religious activity and the spread of Protestant ideas on the daily life of Geneva. The presentation of a digitalisation project and the restoration of the archives of the Protestant Church complete this exhibition and highlight the historical work linked to the archives.




In the XVI century, the Churches and States made concerted efforts throughout Europe to systematically register births, marriages and deaths, thereby providing the embryo of what would later become the civil state. In Geneva the series of civil registers is continuous as of the time in 1550 when cupboards were integrated in the pulpits for the pastors to keep these precious books.

These registers must not be seen as merely an administrative activity. While they effectively provided knowledge of the state of the population – in Geneva they were used very early to establish statistics on plague deaths – and if private citizens had an interest as these documents allowed them to identify their legitimate heirs – their use was primarily religious. It was not individuals who were registered as so many constituents, as the believers called upon to follow a Christian path in the community of Salvation formed by the parish. In Geneva, before the last quarter of the XVI century, it was not the date of birth that the ministers entered in these registers, but that of baptism, which marked the new-borns’ entry into the community of the parish where they would thereafter be required to attend services.

The civil register, as it was seen at the time, therefore made up a sort of collective accounting and consequently it is not surprising to read other things that our contemporaries did not expect to find: the ministers were not satisfied to just enter the names of the faithful whose lives make up the warp of this accounting, but entered many other things such as important events for the parish or instructions for their successors.

To implement the exhibition, historians have studied the sources, here the Council registers, the Church archives, criminal trials, parish registers and the ancient works in the AEG library.

This display presents the Council registers and the archives of the Protestant Church of Geneva.

1- The Council registers: they form the main source for anyone interested in the history of Geneva. They comprise the registers containing the decisions, and their annexes, from the executive and legislative authorities of the Community of Citizens and Bourgeois, then City and Republic, then Republic and Canton of Geneva. Today these would be the minutes of the Council of State. This series has been preserved constantly since 1409 up to the present day, which is quite unique in Europe, with an interruption during the French period (1798-1813).
The registers from the years 1409 to 1541 have been edited, meaning that they have been transcribed, annotated and published.

2- The Church archives: In order to prepare an exhibition on Geneva at the time of the reformation, it is obviously essential to study the archives produced by the Church itself. Since 1937 these documents have been preserved in the State Archives.

On November 20th, 1541, the General Council (the assembly of citizens) adopted the Ecclesiastical Ordinances. These Ordinances organized Church life by instituting four functions or ministries: the Pastors, Doctors, Elders and Deacons. It created two new organs: the Company of Pastors and the Consistory which were to produce documents and hence archives.

The Church archives consist of two principal collections:

1. The Consistory archives (1542-1929)

The Elders formed the Consistory: it was a chamber composed of twelve pastors and twelve members of the government, presided by one of the supreme magistrates. There was a secretary who was responsible for taking the minutes of the meetings. The Elders, according to Article 37 of the Ordinances, must be divided amongst the various neighbourhoods of the city at a rate of one Elder per thousand inhabitants, “to keep an eye on everything”. The Consistory is charged with the surveillance of the behaviour of individuals, to admonish deviant practices and beliefs, to arbitrate conflicts between individuals and to obtain their amendment in cases of indiscipline. This sort of moral and matrimonial court could only pronounce ecclesiastical sentences, meaning the denial of communion. In cases requiring criminal sanctions, the guilty party was deferred to the Small Council. The Consistory met every Thursday.

The Consistory registers provided a very rich source for studying the numerous aspects of Geneva’s history. While Consistories have been introduced in all the Reformed Churches, it is rare to find a collection with registers of this scope and continuity for the entirety of the Old Regime (more than 90 registers). Numerous affairs are to be found in them concerning beliefs and religious practices, sexuality and marriage and all matters related to them: promises of marriage, fornication, adultery and divorce; but other subjects are also to be found such as drunkenness, blasphemy, usury, begging, dance and song, healers and seers, gambling, etc. It is through these minutes that little by little a certain image of popular culture may be perceived: the Genevan social fabric and the morality of the Geneva at this time.

2. The archives of the Company of Pastors (1546-1944)

The Company of Pastors comprised all the ministers in Geneva, not only those in the city but also those in the countryside. The principle competences of the Company of Pastors were the doctrine and instruction. It keeps watch on the orthodoxy of its members, regulates worship, presents future ministers and teachers to the authorities, organizes charity, controls printed materials and maintains relations with other Reformed Churches. The Company of Pastors meets on Fridays; its deliberations and decisions are consigned in writing by a secretary. The minutes of the Company of Pastors’ meetings provide study material of great diversity, that sheds light on religious history and also on the social history of Geneva, more specifically on the elaboration of ecclesiastical discipline in the new Church, the difficulties encountered in its organisation, education and exchanges with other countries. The questions debated by the Company of Pastors were of a more international character than those discussed in the Consistory; it was there that the questions posed by the Churches of France and elsewhere were discussed and where it was decided what response should be returned to them.

The Archives of the State of Geneva maintain, restore and digitalise the documents that historians use in their work.

When digitalising old series, the original documents are of course retained. The State Archives have a digitalisation workshop. The protestant Church of Geneva deposited a first part of its historical archives with AEG in 1937. These documents, the oldest dating from 1542 and much consulted, were no longer in a condition that met with the rules governing preservation and consultation.
To address the problem, ARRCC, the Association for the restoration and digitalisation of the Consistory and the Company was created in 2012 with the goal of raising the funds necessary for the preservation of the Church’s archives. In this way, through this project led by AEG, the 182 registers of the Consistory and the Company of Pastors’ minutes are in the process of being restored and have been digitalised (XVI-XIX centuries). They can be accessed on-line at Adhemar, the AEG database.

Exhibition at The Archives of the State of Geneva(AEG)

Côté chaire, côté rue. La Réforme à Genève 1517-1617 - The Reformation in Geneva 1517-1617

Extension of the exhibition to March 1 2018
AEG - rue de l'Hôtel-de-Ville 1

Tel: + 41 022 327 93 20


Thank you, Isabelle!

Those who wish to contact Isabelle to know more about genealogy in Geneva may do so by writing to her at: genhaemm (AT) gmail (DOT) com 




For Researchers of Huguenots - FamilySearch Adds Scans From the SHPF

Protestant La Rochelle

Things are in a bit of a tizzy today as all of France goes to the polls for the first round in electing a new president. Here, there is still sanity in the procedures. There are two rounds of voting. In the first one, all candidates have their name on the ballot; there are eleven this year. When the votes are counted, the winner would be whoever were to receive more than fifty per cent of the votes. As it is rare for that to happen, the two candidates with the most votes then go to the second round or run off  and the winner of that will be France's new president. 

As to publicity and marketing, that too is quite civilised. There are debates on television. The candidates tour the country and make speeches. One of them this year got quite a lot of publicity -- but no increase in support -- by giving one speech in a number of places at the same time via hologram transmission à la Princess Leia. As to posters and advertising, each town puts up a board on which each candidate's supporters may put up one, just one, poster. They are all the same size. Currently, they all have the same amount of defacing. A few days before the election, each registered voter receives an envelope that contains campaign material: for each candidate there is one, just one, A3 size sheet, folded to make two pages, printed on both sides with their slogans, claims and manifestos. No one is allowed more, all decidedly equal and fair. Such a sedate affair compared to the madness in our homeland.

Now, to genealogy. We have been asked lately and repeatedly by readers to visit for them the Bibliothèque de la Société de l'Histoire du Protestantisme français in Paris. We do adore the place, which we have described here, and we would never turn down an excuse to go there, where the staff are so kind and helpful. However, it seems that many of you, Dear Readers, are unaware that large numbers of their manuscript holdings are now online, free of charge, on FamilySearch, in a jumbled and irrationally made list. These are available digitally only and not on Family History Centre microfilms. For the large part, these are Protestant baptisms, marriages and burials from registers found all over France, including Paris.

We would never deter anyone from visiting the City of Light but it is now no longer necessary to do so to see these registers. Have at them!

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

The Future Mennonite Archives of France

Eglise de la Prairie

Further to our research on the Swiss Mennonites in the Pays de Montbéliard, we visited the small and sweetly anachronistic La Prairie Mennonite Church of Montbéliard. The excellent Madame Boilaux had arranged for us to be met by Monsieur and Madame N, who were most generous with their time. They gave us a tour of the church and explained its history.

The first Mennonites arrived in the region in 1710 and they seem to have had their first meeting house and cemetery by 1751, at nearby Mont-Chevis. In 1775, the church was moved to a farm called Les Gouttes, then again in 1832 to Le Canal Chapel. The Franco-Prussian War and the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine resulted in the arrival of many Mennonite refugees from those regions. The congregation quickly outgrew its space and, in 1927, yet another church was built (that shown above) on the La Prairie Farm. Now, it is surrounded by large, modern administrative buildings, a busy road, a massive automobile factory not far and a doomed green field at the back. It is so countrified in comparison with its rather brutal surroundings that one recalls the dread-inducing sight of a young hedgehog attempting to traverse a motorway. 

Plans are afoot and donations are solicited for an expansion to the church, allowing not only for the ever-growing congregation, but also for office space for other activities such as publishing the church newsletter, temporary housing for people in need and, of great interest to genealogists, the creation of a centre for the Mennonite archives of France.

Madame N. had arrived with a large book under her arm. "Notre trésor", she had called it, "Our treasure". It was indeed. It was the original register of the church, its earliest entry dated 1750, its spine in tatters.


Register 2

We were quite thrilled to have been permitted to peruse the register, though we thought it really did deserve its new home with better protection so that it might last another two hundred sixty years. Its extracted contents may be viewed on the website of the Municipal Archives of Montbéliard.

For those who wish to contribute to the fund for the archives (pots of money are called for), read more here or contact Pierre Schott at

For those who wish to be given a tour of the Mennonite Church, its buildings and other historic sites in the area, write to

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Best Place for Genealogy Tourism in France? Montbéliard!




Montbeliard OT

For quite some time, we have thought that certain towns and cities in France really have been missing a tourism opportunity which is to welcome and encourage those seeking to research and to discover the origins of their French ancestors. La Rochelle and Le Havre certainly could do more, if Paris did anything at all it would be a grand thing, Calais and Boulogne-sur-Mer might take note. All should be watching the innovative and trail-blazing Montbéliard.

We had read a fine thesis on Montbéliard's programme for advancing genealogy tourism, tourisme de racines, by Ms. Messane Lepape (Une stratégie marketing appliquée au tourisme des racines at It inspired us to contact the town's tourism office to learn more. Instantly, really, instantly, we received a reply from Madame Evelyne Boilaux, in excellent English, arranging a meeting. On the appointed day, she welcomed us at the Montbéliard tourism office, just in front of the train station. Petite, pixie-coiffed and energetic, Madame Boilaux offered us tea or coffee and launched, with understandable enthusiasm, into the glories of Montbéliard's mostly non-French and non-Catholic history. We then shared our lists of the many waves of emigrants from the city to other lands.

  • The French Protestants (Huguenots) who crossed the border into the then Principality of Montbéliard after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Not only was it very close to home, but it was, at that time, the only Protestant and Francophone country in the world. As hope of a safe return to France faded, many moved on to other European Protestant countries and some from there continued on to the Americas and Africa.
  • The people known as the Foreign Protestants, recruited by the British from 1749 to 1751 to repopulate Nova Scotia after the expulsion of the French Catholics at the end of the Seven Years War. Their city of prettily coloured little houses, Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Heritage site, somewhat resembles cheerily painted houses in some of the roads of Montbéliard.
  • The Swiss and French Mennonites whose great-grandparents had arrived from Switzerland at the invitation of the ruler of Montbéliard, the Duke of Wurtemberg. His land had been depopulated by wars and the departures of the above and, not only did he want more Protestants, he wanted good farmers, which the Mennonites were reputed to be. They came and stayed until, when the region became part of France at the end of the eighteenth century, a general atmosphere of secularism along with Revolutionary fervour having tipped into insanity made them feel decidedly uncomfortable. Within twenty-five years, Mennonites as well as Lutherans were emigrating from the region to continents to the west and south.
  • The skilled labourers, especially watchmakers, of the region who had trained in the Japy factory and those of other brands, were poached by American factory managers, many of them moving to Connecticut.
  • In the late nineteenth century, there was another wave of which we did not know until enlightened by Madame Boilaux. It seems that the newly wealthy barons of unregulated industry had a yen for their children to speak French and learn to peel and eat a banana with a knife and fork. Only a French governess would do and only a Protestant could be trusted not to expose their children to unwanted Catholic prayers. At the same time, wealthy Russian Orthodox aristocrats wanted the same (though they showed up the Americans by usually having two governesses for their offspring, the other being Scottish and teaching an English that was grammatically perfect but ultimately most oddly accented in the speaking of their charges).

Thus, if your ancestry includes a Foreign Protestant, a governess, watchmaker, Mennonite or Protestant from the Montbéliard region, you may be interested in what the tourism office has to offer. If you arrive on a weekend without having contacted anyone in advance and with none of your research to hand, your visit will be a failure. If, however, you prepare your family history, preferably with photographs, clearly formulate your research questions and know the places you would like to visit, then Madame Boilaux and the staff of the tourism office can help to make your visit a success, taking advantage of their well-established network within the religious, genealogical and historical communities. Given enough time to prepare, she can arrange:

  • Accommodation and transport
  • Visits to relevant churches, synagogues or temples, with the possibility of attending a service and meeting the community
  • Meetings with local genealogists and genealogy groups specialising in your particular area of research
  • Introductions to archives staff and assistance in getting started with your research there
  • Visits to or at least to drives by ancestral homes or huts that are still standing
  • English-speaking tourguides
  • Visits to cemeteries
  • Introductions, with translators, if necessary, to distant cousins, if any

The more information that you provide in advance, the better will be the tailoring of your visit to your interests. Start planning now for this summer.

Office de Tourisme du Pays de Montbéliard

1 rue Henri Mouhot

25200 Montbéliard

tel: +33  3 81 94 16 05


Madame Boilaux also allowed us to photograph this charming map of the seigneuries of the principality of Montbéliard in the sixteenth century:

Principality of Montbéliard map

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Summer Reading - The Short Chronicle

St Clare

We are a bit late with this post and apologize, but we have been enthralled by a first-hand account of the takeover of Geneva by the Huguenots, beginning in 1529, "The Short Chronicle : a Poor Clare's Account of the Reformation in Geneva". It is told by a Catholic nun, Jeanne de Jussie, writing from within the not very secure walls of the Convent of Saint Clare in Geneva.

Many of our readers write to tell us that they are descended from Huguenots and tell a tale of their ancestors' persecution and suffering. This account shows that the viciousness could be on the other side as well. Brutal killings, mutilations, rapes, beheading children, destruction of religious artifacts, burnings of homes, churches, livestock and crops - all these crimes and worse were perpetrated by the Huguenots against the Catholics of Geneva. Jeanne and other women in religious communities lived in terror of their convent walls being smashed, their bodies violated, their lives cruelly and abruptly ended.

In spite of being terrified, Jeanne never becomes hysterical. Her writing is clear-headed throughout. She is an intelligent observer of the destruction of her world and reports not only on the acts of terrorism but on the political negotiations and machinations of those in power on both sides. She does, however, allow herself the luxury of some quite creative insulting of the enemy. Not only do "scoundrels", "profaners", "sinners" and "vile bodies" fill the ranks of the Huguenots, but the Swiss Germans are "disloyal, heretical dogs", and Martin Luther is  "the pestiferous dragon with the venomous tail".

The editor and translator, Carrie F. Klaus, has provided informative but unobtrusive notes. Though many people of Geneva and the surrounding towns are named, this is not a book on genealogy. As a contemporary account of the Protestant Reformation in Geneva, it may be of interest to anyone researching Huguenot ancestors and wishing to understand better what they may have experienced. To students of history, whether of the sixteenth or the twenty-first century, it will prove yet again, that there are never any good guys in religious wars.

©2015 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Archives d'Etat de Genève - A Guest Post


Our good friend, the genealogist, Isabelle Haemmerle, has been doing more work in Geneva and sends this on the Archives d'Etat de Genève, the State Archives of Geneva:

Remember, we met a few weeks ago in the old town of Geneva while visiting the International Museum of the Reformation on rue du Cloître. From this point, our steps take us today around the historical Cathedral Saint Pierre, a regional landmark, then past the Jet d'eau, and we follow rue de la Taconnerie and turn right entering rue de l'Hôtel de Ville. At the corner with rue du Puit Saint Pierre, we arrive at the ancient Arsenal where its five canons proudly stand in memory of Geneva's fortifications - and we enthusiastically climb the stairs to the Archives d'Etat de Geneve (AEG) where are to be found the Archives of the Republic and Canton of Geneva.


The access to the consultation room is easy : while we are supposed to leave our belongings outside in the corridor, there is no control and we are pleasantly welcomed by the archivist in a cosy room full of history and not only that in the archive documents. We fill a form with a few details about our search subject and title and here we are, ready to order the registers we need and guided by a helpful archivist.

Before starting a search, it is wise to check the file of all the family names - available online - studied in :

  • The seven volumes of Notices généalogiques sur les familles genevoises by J.A. GALIFFE
  • The three volumes dedicated to Geneva in Recueil généalogique suisse, les Généalogies genevoises by A. CHOISY
  • Les Filiations protestantes by E. BUNGENER.

Manuscript genealogies – not always reliable! - are to be traced in the Fichier des Manuscrits historiques.

Very helpful also is to check the website of Swiss family names, which lists the families who held in 1962 citizenship of a Swiss commune (village, town or city). It gives for each family name the following information:

  • The commune of origin and if a member of the bourgeoisie
  • The date of bourgoisie acquisition
  • The previous place of origin ( France or other location, ex. NE for Neuchatel)

Place of origin is important in Switzerland. Even today, it is not unusual for every administrative form to ask for the person's origin, even for Swiss people. This focus on origin in documentation can help the genealogist.

A Swiss person is a bourgeois of a commune and canton (state) before being a Swiss citizen. (Read an explanation of the bourgeois status as it was applied in Paris here.) This right is transmitted by heritage and a Geneva inhabitant whose ancestors have been in Geneva for generations can still hold his origin from another commune (in Argovie or Apenzell, for example) even though his family has not been living there for a century. The Registre des Familles of this commune will indicate the birth of his children without the parent or children ever having touched its soil. Some families have more than one communes d'origine.

For Geneva genealogy, an interesting tool, the Registre unique de tous les citoyens, constitutes the basis of the citizenship rights for all families installed in Geneva (in both the city and the surrounding area) (Bourgeoisie A 15, available on line). The Genevian revolution of 1792 abolished all differences between citizens, bourgeois, natives, inhabitants of the city and subjects of the country and all categories were given full  citizenship in Geneva, provided that they were born of a Protestant father. Following the constitution of 1794, old and new citizens were to be registered in the Registre Unique which replaces the older livres de bourgeoisie and livres d'habitation.

Our discovery of AEG has only just started and you shall know more very soon about the resources available:

Birth or baptism, marriage, and death or burial records:

  • Registres des paroisses ( mid-sixteenth to eighteenth centuries) 
  • Registres d'état civil ( nineteenth and twentieth centuries) 

These registers have been digitized and are available up to the year 1885 on the AEG Adhemar database

  • Registre des familles 
  • Répertoires 
  • Communes Réunies

Further resources :

  • Notaires (contracts and other family legal documents)
  • Juridictions Civiles (civil judgements)
  • Consistoire, Compagnie de pasteurs (Protestant church records)
  • Titres et droits (Titles and the rights to use them)
  • Cadastre, registre foncier (Land records)
  • Recensements (Census records)
  • Passeports (Passport applications)
  • Etrangers (Records concerning the monitoring and registration of foreigners)
  • Bourgeoisie, Naturalisations (Citizenship rights records)
  • Militaire (Military conscription records)
  • Archives privées (Private archives)

Archives d'Etat de Genève

Rue de l'Hôtel-de-Ville 1

Case postale 3964

CH-1211 Genève 3

Tel. +41 22 327 93 20 - fax +41 22 3279321


Thank you again, Isabelle!

Those who wish to contact Isabelle to know more about genealogy in Geneva may do so by writing to her at: genhaemm (AT) gmail (DOT) com

©2014 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy