From Our Library - Tracing Your Huguenot Ancestors

Tracing Your Huguenot Ancestors - Chater

Ah, Dear Readers, in genealogy, one must do one's homework. We cannot begin to tell you the number of times that someone has written to us with some long, rambling, historically incorrect account of a French ancestor and closed with "he was a Huguenot, find him". As we have said here before and seem to need to repeat yet again, not all French who left the country were Huguenots, or aristocrat émigrés or from Alsace-Lorraine.

Writers of those cumbersome, nineteenth century town histories appear to be the worst offenders in making these crass generalizations. We recently read one written either as a joke or in a drunken stupor in which the author said that an early French arrival in a town was "fleeing the Reign of Terror, when Catholics massacred Huguenots on Saint Bartholomew's Day." The Terror was in 1793; the Saint Bartholomew's Day murders were in 1572. Manglings of history such as this can make a mockery of your research efforts and (beware!) results.

French immigrants to other countries were as varied as are their descendants today: male and female, young and old, rich and poor, of many different religions, from different parts of the country which they left for many different reasons. To find your French ancestors' origins, start reading French history. If you know the region of origin, start reading that region's history. If you know the town of origin, read the town's history. If you know that your ancestors were French Catholics, start reading about French Catholicism, or about French Protestants, if you know that they were Huguenots. Without a basic understanding of French history, you cannot possibly hope to identify properly your French ancestors. You must do your homework.

Once the history homework is done, before you can trace your ancestor in France, you must fully research every possible source of information about him or her in your own country, combing every document or mention for all details. One of the best guides that we have found for this stage of research when the ancestor was a Huguenot who went to or through (as did many, on their way elsewhere) Great Britain is Kathy Chater's Tracing Your Huguenot Ancestors : a Guide for Family Historians.

The book is one of the Pen & Sword Family History publications, all of which focus on research in Great Britain. Quite properly, Chater's first chapter is on the history of the Huguenots. She then gives a very good, if pithy, summary of where in Britain Huguenot refugees settled. Chapter Three begins with a comment that not all French ancestors were Huguenot that exhibits much more patience than do we above. Her discussion of assimilation and of how French names changed is very useful and is a unique approach to preparing a research plan. The following two chapters explain the British genealogical sources available. She ends with a brief discussion of researching Huguenots in Europe and on other continents.

First published in 2012, it is still quite relevant. We read one Amazon reviewer's baffling comment that some of the information could be found on the Internet. Is a book supposed to replace the Internet? If one can indeed find some of the websites mentioned by Chater, how many hours of searching would it require? With what expertise would the novice evaluate a website in order to avoid the kind of nonsense history we mentioned above? The purpose of a guide book by an expert is specifically to guide the novice through the maze of excess to what is of value. Whether we are new to a type of research or to a foreign city, the experience will be improved by a decent guide.

Dear Readers, this is the book with which to begin to research your Huguenot ancestors who went to Britain. If your ancestors went to Jersey or Kent or another British locale before sailing to another land, this book will help you to document their time in Britain. Only once you have done so should you then try to research them in France. 

 

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Did Your French Ancestor Receive a Military Medal?

French Military Medals

Our father claimed to have been a captain in the United States Marine Corps. There hung on the wall in the corridor a box frame with a tastefully mounted display of the medals he said he had been awarded for his heroic service. However, he also was a con man, a perpetrator of insurance scams and a property developer of shoddy houses that collapsed. He was not very successful at it and was easily duped by con men of superior skill, so he bought air rights over road intersections that were never built and made high-interest loans of money that was never repaid. He managed to elude jail and the riches he so coveted managed to elude him. Given his civilian lifestyle of alternating boasting with cravenly hiding from the law, we had grave doubts about the authenticity of his medals for courage and bravery. We suspected they may have been a hodgepodge of dodgy coins and ribbons he picked up in pawn shops but, by the time we were tall enough to see into the box frame and read them properly, we had long flown that turbulent nest, so we will never know.

In the course of researching a French fellow of the same stamp as our father, we came across a nice little website that may be of interest to the many of our Dear Readers who send photographs of medals with questions as to what they were. How to tell an agricultural medal from school medal from a military one? Medailles Militaires, the website of one Sylvain Metivier, may be of some use in solving your puzzle. He has created two data bases that can be searched:

  • Military medals awarded from 1852 to 1870, the information being taken from lists published in the Moniteur Universel during those years, to which he has added the Légion d'honneur recipients and others found in archives. This has well over 58,000 names.
  • Commemorative medals awarded during the Second Empire, including the Crimean and other wars of the period. This has close to 36,000 names.

Type in a surname to either and you will receive some very useful details that could help to further your research, most precious being the regiment in which a person served. The full list of results possible is:

  • The medal
  • Date of the decree awarding it
  • Ministry awarding it
  • Regiment in which the person served
  • Surname
  • First names (all of them)
  • Rank
  • Reasons for the award
  • Notes

Monsieur Metivier welcomes contributions to the data bases. 

Very nice.

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Alternative Avenues to Seek a French Birth or Baptism

Antique French tools in Lalinde

The French equivalent for "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" is a phrase first written by Nicolas Boileau in 1674: "Hâtez-vous lentement et, sans perdre courage, vingt fois sur le métier remettez votre ouvrage" ("Make haste slowly and, without becoming discouraged,  set to work on the job twenty times.") Finding a French birth or baptism register entry is generally quite straightforward if one has :

  • The correct name
  • The town of birth
  • The decade of birth

A quick search in the ten-year indices for births in the town on the website of the Departmental Archives (links to them on the left) will give the full name and the precise date. One can then find the entry in the digitized birth register. Usually, that is, but not always. Bad things can happen to archives over the years. In France, as in most countries, some have burnt, some have been bombed, some have been flooded. Where to look when the birth or baptism registers concerning your ancestors have been lost? There are a few possibilities.

  • If the ancestor married, the marriage register entry will have the date and place of birth, as well as the parents' names.
  • If your ancestor married someone from a different town, check the marriage banns for that town that the couple should have posted. The marriage banns also contain the date and place of birth, as well as the parents' names.
  • If the ancestral couple had a marriage contract and you know the name of the notaire in order to find it, that too, with give the date and place of birth, as well as the parents' names of the prospective bride and groom.
  • If your ancestor served in the military, the conscription registers will have the birth details. In some large indices, such as that for the Resistance dossiers, or that for the naval officer personnel files, the date and place of birth are given.
  • If your ancestor were a member of the Légion d'Honneur, the dossier on him or her may well contain a certified copy of the birth or baptism register entry. These are now best accessed through the search facility of the Archives nationales.

Try, try again, even twenty times!

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Bad News for Those Who Use Filae

Bad news face

Ah, Dear Readers, disaster looms. In its usual, myopic fashion, the anglophone world of genealogists writes of the "Big Four" genealogy websites:

  • Ancestry
  • FamilySearch
  • FindMyPast
  • MyHeritage

In terms of using them for French genealogy, we give them the following marks: Ancestry is mediocre to poor; FamilySearch is limited but can have some nice surprises; FindMyPast is irrelevant; MyHeritage is the worst, with next to useless search results, a lack of sufficient search criteria and a catalogue of French records and archives that seems to be empty. Of course, France has two excellent genealogy websites of its own, about which we have written often:

  • Geneanet
  • Filae

The Ancestry and FamilySearch liaison is mirrored by the links between Geneanet and Filae in that the former owns about forty-two per cent of the shares of the latter. We find both to be quite good but in different areas. We prefer Geneanet when searching family trees and original documents that have been filmed. We prefer Filae when doing a quick search based a a few details known about a person. Geneanet is a bit better for eighteenth century records, while Filae is quite strong in nineteenth century records. Filae's great strength is its indexing and its large catalogue of records and archives. Both are exponentially better for French genealogy than any of the so-called "Big Four". Now, the worst of the Big Four, in terms of French research, MyHeritage, is set to take over Filae.

From January, the press has reported that the founder of Filae is keen to sell to MyHeritage but that Geneanet is not at all keen about the deal and made a counter-offer. MyHeritage raised their offer. Last month, Filae accepted the offer from MyHeritage, to be approved at the next annual general meeting later this month. Geneanet still hopes to block the move.

Why would we oppose Filae becoming a part of MyHeritage? We wonder how a company that is so bad at French genealogy can help but debase the smaller one that is so good at it, as it is extremely unlikely, almost unnatural, for a smaller and better organization to improve the larger one that consumed it. In essence, we suspect that MyHeritage will want Filae not to continue as it is but to blend in more with the MyHeritage style. That, Dear Readers, will make Filae, or the catalogue and access to it, much, much worse to use for research. Additionally, in February, MyHeritage itself was purchased by a San Francisco private equity firm, Francisco Partners, that just likes to acquire tech companies. As is ever the case with such entities, it will be interested in profit over quality and will be unlikely to exert any influence to preserve the excellence of a small French company in its vast stable. 

No one could dispute that the founder of Filae, Toussaint Roze, who worked long and hard to create a company with the best search function and indexing of French records, may be tired and of an age to sell up and take the money, or that he has the right to do so. Nevertheless, we gloomily anticipate a rapid deterioration of what was a great French genealogy website.

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Notre Douzième Anniversaire! The FGB's Twelfth Birthday!

12th Blog Birthday

We are still in a partial lockdown, here in France. All the more reason to celebrate our blog's twelfth birthday, here at the screen, as usual, but in glittering attire. We never could have imagined that we would carry The FGB on so long but you, Dear Readers, have been abundantly encouraging. Our achievements over the past twelve years include:

  • Over eight hundred posts dedicated exclusively to French genealogy (we have subtracted those early posts on our Identity Wars) And they are all free and without advertisements (donations accepted nevertheless)
  • Over 750 comments from you, Dear Readers (we have subtracted our own replies)
  • A beginner's guide to French genealogy based on our posts was published
  • Nine booklets on specific French genealogy topics have been published
  • Two French genealogy calendars have been published
  • Eight Free Clinic Case Studies have been resolved (we still accept  cases; why not send in your French genealogy puzzle for consideration?)
  • Twelve glorious gowns!
  • Over 910,000 hits (tell others about The FGB and help us get one million)

We cannot thank you enough, Dear Readers, and especially wish to thank our most loyal Patreon supporters. We also would like to thank some of the many fine people who have given space on their websites and blogs to recommend The FGB (we are not including the plagiarists):

Don your own elegant attire and join us in raising a glass of Veuve to celebrate. Let us hope that these dark times will end soon and that The FGB will go on for another twelve years!

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


The Best Posts for the Letters B-E in the 2020 Challenge A-Z

BtoE

Ah, Dear Readers, little did we imagine the enormity of the task we set ourselves of presenting to you the best of the posts submitted for the 2020 Challenge A-Z. It is rather like panning for gold. We have never participated in the Challenge because the rules are quite strict: one must be a blogger, writing in French, and the posts must all appear, Monday through Saturday, in a single month. We would feel faint after the first week. It would appear that it is all as overwhelming for some of the participants as it would be for us. Having to choose a subject beginning with a letter of the alphabet must be perversely limiting, and the resultant titles either lean heavily on names or involve some painful to read contortions of grammar and reason to make a word fit. Nevertheless, the following are those that we think might be of greatest interest to you, our most Dear and Loyal Readers.

 

Once again, Catherine Livet's blog, Becklivet, has come up with a very interesting post, this one on the subject of bigamy. With careful explanation of documents, she explores how one of her nineteenth century female ancestors appears to have been married to one man but lived as the wife of another. Of particular interest is how she refuses to make assumptions or assertions that cannot be proved by the documentation but, instead, presents, describes and documents the conundrum and lets it stand.

 

Geneafinder is a non-collaborative, subscription website built around the subscribers' uploaded family trees. It has links to the websites of the Departmental Archives and to many other free genealogy resources online. It has a regular blog that is rather interesting and that usually covers privacy issues as they arise in relation to online genealogy research. Geneafinder's submission for the letter B used the word Brexit (for anyone who has been completely without global news for the past five years, the word indicates Britain's exit from the European Union) to give a quite brief history of migrants between Britain and France, and then to discuss how to research them in British records online.

 

Sandrine Heiser writes about genealogy in Lorraine on "Lorraine...et au-delà!" Her contribution for the letters C and E introduced an archive hitherto unknown to us, the Centre des Archives industrielles et techniques de la Moselle. She describes how the archives can help with research on the people evacuated behind the Maginot line at the beginning of the Second World War. We learned that companies helped their employees and their families to evacuate separately from the rest of the population and that the documentation for this survives. Very interesting.

 

The coy Jean-François writes Aieux sur le plat which, for the letter E, discussed endogamy. He provides a procedure for compiling statistics on the geographic locations of his ancestors who married only people from within their locale. This is very much an approach to genealogy through the lens of French social history, with its emphasis on statistics and averages as a means to understand group behaviour. The errant individual who had an idea of his or her own to break away from the group (often the type who left and became an immigrant ancestor to many of you, Dear Readers) has no place in such a study (or such a weltanschauung, for that matter) but could be useful to those of you studying the ancestors who did not leave.

 

Sébastien Dellinger is the author of Marques Ordinaires, Généalogie de Moselle et d'ailleurs. His post for the letter E is on Emigrés of the Revolution from Moselle, an unusual and quite specific area of émigré research. Some of his research suggestions are of a more general nature, but it remains an intriguing post.

 

We do hope you will enjoy reading these posts. More letters to follow. One day.

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


How Your French Immigrant Ancestor Remained French

Saintonge

People of many nationalities, when they emigrated from one country to another, retained their cultural identity but often cut their legal ties with the country of origin. They kept their songs, their recipes, their religions and festivals, but let slide their continuing documentation back at home. This may have been to escape a past or it may have been too difficult to maintain contact in the days before the Pony Express or airmail or e-mail. The French, however, stand out as emigrants who often could not let go of being documented, and this is most useful to the genealogist researching them.

After the chaos and upheaval of the French Revolution, the Code Civil, first published in 1804, provided order to civil life. To this day, it represents more than law to many French; it seems also to provide the psychological comfort and security of  structure and boundary. The civil register entries that replaced the pre-Revolutionary parish register entries are used over and over again to document and confirm a person's legal existence. One must show a recent and certified copy of one's birth register entry for any number of aspects of civil life: to marry, to attend school, to get a job, to take a driving test, to get a passport, to get an identity card, to buy property, to sell property, to open a bank account, to take out a loan and, especially, to prove one's parentage when the time comes to inherit.

The Code Civil took in to account that some few French might wish to leave the blessèd hexagon but never that they would cease to be French. Article 48 of the Code Civil (Book1, Title 1) states that any civil register entry of a French citizen in a foreign land shall be legal, were it to have been entered according to French law by diplomatic agents or consuls. The consular registers were to be maintained in duplicate, with one copy to be sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the end of the year. With slight changes and updates, the law and procedures are the same today and are prominently displayed on the website of the Ministry of Europe and of Foreign Affairs, as it is now known. 

Both copies of the consular registers of the nineteenth century are held at the Archives diplomatiques  at the Ministry's branch at Nantes, for that is where all such foreign registrations of French citizenry are maintained. One copy has been microfilmed and that may be viewed also at the Ministry's main archives centre of the Archives diplomatiques at La Courneuve, outside of Paris. To date, no copies are available online. If you know some details as to name, parents' names, date and place, you may request a copy of the register entry, at no charge, online. This link is to the version that is almost in English.

For the researcher, especially one seeking the origins of a French immigrant ancestor, these register entries can be invaluable. We have reviewed here, the book written by the archivists at the Archives diplomatiques that explains, in French, how to use the archives. We give our own discussion of how to use them, in English, here

However, it is important to note that this registration could not be enforced. There were many French emigrants who did not register their marriages or the births of their children in the new country. We have encountered:

  • A French gold miner who went to California and seems never to have registered his marriage or his children at the French consulate.
  • A deserter from the French Army after the fall of Napoleon who went to New York, (which was at that time filled with such deserters and also with French monarchists determined to hunt them down,) who lived a long life there, married and had a number of children, and who chose not to register these events with the French consul in New York.

At the same time, we have found, among those who chose to register:

  • A man from the southwest of France who registered his marriage in New York and who insisted that it be entered in the marriage register of his home town in France, which it was. Once that was done, however, he chose not to register the births of his many children.
  •  A couple from Alsace-Lorraine who had migrated to Saint Petersburg in Russia registered the births of all of their children (two of whom later emigrated to the United States) with the French consul there.

The primary (though certainly not the only) reason for registering seems to have been to ensure one's inheritance to any property in France, followed by, as in the case of the couple from Alsace-Lorraine, the desire to protect one's French citizenship when the emigration was exile. Those who did not register could have been anything from bridge burners, to crooks on the lam, to political refugees, to people who simply forgot.

In such research, you may end up with more questions than you had when you began. 

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

 


Only in France

Poisson d'avril Collage

We have always maintained good relations with our numerous step-fathers. Recently, one was musing about the history of mayonnaise. Just the mention of the word history sent us on the hunt and we found, to our joy and delight, that the French take the history of mayonnaise seriously, indeed. It is taken so seriously that the best discussion of the sauce's origins is on the website of the Ministry of Defense. It is not that the Army need defend mayonnaise, but that the claim is that it owes its birth to French military moments.

Either the sauce was created and named in 1756, to celebrate the capture of Mahon, capitol of Menorca, during the Seven Years War, and the name originally was "mahonnaise", or, as the Irish prefer, it was named for Général Mac-Mahon. In any case, a dollop of such silliness will go well with your poisson d'avril.

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


The Paris Commune 150 Years Later

Sacre Coeur

As with many great cities in relation to their nations, Paris is not France. Every once in a while, certain Parisians rise up and rebel against oppression and poverty and, then, the rest of France reacts, with equal excess, with a show of disunity with and disavowal of the rebels. Even today, for almost every demonstration, there will be a counter-demonstration. Perhaps the greatest of these rebellion/counter-rebellion events in French history was the Paris Commune, which was linked to the Franco-Prussian War, both of which were linked to the reaction of the rest of France that was the construction of Sacré Coeur in Paris.

It is one hundred fifty years since the Paris Commune and the press is taking note. We have written about its disastrous effects on Parisian genealogical research:

Should you be interested to read some of the retrospective reports,

Sacré Coeur

 

An absolutely crucial moment in French history to understand.

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


French West Indies Research - Les Antilles français

Saint Martin

While many of you, Dear Readers, have been vaccinated, we in Europe are still waiting. Supplies are low and tempers are short. We remain convinced that, had the European purchasing department hired a few French notaires skilled at writing French marriage contracts, not a company in the world would have had the tiniest bit of wiggle room or would have been able to renege on a single delivery. Those marriage contracts constitute an undervalued weapon, we opine.

While awaiting a vaccination and also a proper springtime, we have been deeply and intensely concentrated on researching families of the French West Indies, in particular, the minuscule island of Saint Martin. As ever, with French overseas research, one begins with the Archives nationales d'outre-mer (ANOM). On their website's map showing the locations for which they have digitized parish and civil registrations, one can quickly navigate to Saint Martin.

Navigate

Once a selection is made, one is presented with a brief history of the territory in relation to the administration and documentation. Here, we learn that Saint Martin was divided between The Netherlands (who call it Sint Maarten) and France in 1648 and its administration placed under that of Guadeloupe in 1723, forming a part of that department until 2007, when it became a French Territorial Collectivity. We see that the online parish and civil registrations for Saint Martin date from 1773 to 1907, and we are invited to select a town, of which there are not many.

Select a town

It quickly becomes clear that the delightful range of years applies only partially and to only two towns. Marigot records range from 1773 to 1861 and Saint Matin town records range from 1860 to 1907. The other towns have very few records indeed.

Quite serious problems in tracing a family arise from the obvious reality of life at the time: few in their daily lives paid attention to the boundary between the French and Dutch sides of the island. The French register entries are filled with mentions that a person who was married was "born on the Dutch side" or his father "died on the Dutch side". For the researcher, since the French and Dutch bureaucrats seem not to have shared copies of registers with one another, this means that people disappear from and reappear in the records. 

For help with Dutch records, we turned to the excellent blog on Dutch genealogy by Yvette Hoitink, to find her post, "Netherlands Antilles data available online", with a link that still works and instructions. (Most helpful as we do not read Dutch well at all.) Researching here helped greatly to piece together a family that lived and registered itself on both sides of the island.

Another great help is the remarkable work of a Dutch fellow calling himself "Archives Man", Bert van der Saag. Mr. van der Saag has many more interests than genealogy or archives and they are all on display in an overabundant employment of the deceased software, Flash. We marvel at a mind that can work amongst blinking, brightly coloured images of dancers and soldiers, type fonts of all sizes in all colours with all kinds of highlights, with a few news stories and photographs added, yet his does, and very well. He has extracted data from the registers of the Dutch Antilles and typed it all, in detail, producing PDFs for Births/baptisms, Marriages, and Deaths. These he generously shares at no charge. One can search for a name in a PDF in a way that one cannot on digitized microfilm. Using Mr. van der Saag's extracts together with the online images, much can be achieved. His most recent PDF covers Saint Martin deaths from 1909 to 1937, taking us later than the records on ANOM. He also sells books.

To further one's knowledge and to ask specific questions, one needs to read more and to connect with others researching the same region, even island. Some years ago, Augusta Elmwood left the helpful comment:

"Anyone looking for Saint-Domingue information (or any French colony anywhere in the world) should check the website of the Généalogie et Historie de la Caraïbe, guided by the tireless Philippe and Bernadette Rossignol and their equally dedicated 'equipe'."

It is, indeed, a fine resource for this research, with articles, links, advice and, so precious, surname lists for their website and articles. They have a small but useful amount on the French West Indies and Saint Martin, including transcriptions of early census returns and a fabulous set of photographs of the entire finding aid to passenger lists to and from the colonies during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Lastly, the website (which is ghastly) of the Museum of Saint Martin has a few hidden treasures, the most useful of which are scans of notarial records from the études (offices) of the notaires of Saint Martin. Here can be found wills, death inventories, long lists of slaves giving their names and ages, and many more civil contracts. Excellent resources here.

This is not an easy part of the world to research. The library and archives of Saint Martin do exist but have no website. The link in the list to the left on this blog takes one directly to the ANOM website. The archives of Guadeloupe have a website but no digitized records are on it. The above methods described may be the only way to find the documentation of a family who lived there. Of course, if cruising can ever again be done safely, a cruise ship that stopped at all of the French Caribbean archives towns might not be a bad idea. Let us look forward to that.

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy