"Female Ancestors Are Hard to Find", They Say, But Not If They Were French, We Assure You

Women - Bretagne (Carhaix et Huelgoat)

This year's RootsTech has launched, with many dozens of talks on more than genealogy, all of them online this year. Topics cover everything from food to folklore, costumes to customs, search strategies to scrapbooking, and the dreaded, bouncy, motivational talks. At least, we dread them. We have many failings, Dear Readers, (most shamefully, our vile, cataclysmic and near-cannibalistic rages) but lack of motivation is not one of them. Yet, for all of the choice, we could not find at first glance a presentation to captivate us, so we returned to one from last year, the very fine "Finding Your Elusive Female Ancestors" by Julie Stoddard. Ms. Stoddard makes a number of good points, and includes some research skills, such as creating timelines, always looking at original documents and analyzing them fully (here is how we do it), that should be employed in all genealogy research, but her focus  is on the difficulty of researching women in the United States.

Researching women in France is quite different, so we thought that we might give you something of a comparison between the skills proposed by Ms. Stoddard for researching your American female ancestors with those necessary for researching your French female ancestors. The fundamental difference lies in the customs concerning a married woman's surname. In America and the English tradition, when a woman married, her surname legally changed to that of her husband; in France, since 1792, it did and does not. In America, when Jane Smith married John Brown, her legal name changed to Jane Brown, or Mrs. John Brown. If John died, she became Widow Brown. In France, when Jeanne Martin married Jean Larue, her legal name remained Jeanne Martin, with the added status of "wife of Larue" (femme Larue or épouse Larue), written in full: Jeanne Martin, épouse Larue. If Jean died, her status changed but her name did not. She became Jeanne Martin, widow Larue: Jeanne Martin veuve Larue. Thus, there is no such thing as a "maiden name" in France; there is only a person's name. What of Madame Larue as one finds? This is a customary usage but not a legal name. Additionally, in France, women could and did sign documents, using their legal names.

Do not be fooled, Dear Readers. This preserving of a woman's birth name as her legal identity is not an indication that France was somehow more advanced concerning women's rights. No, it is a country as backward in that respect as any other; the female revolutionaries who fought for women's equality during the Revolution were beheaded and their writings buried; in modern times, women were not enfranchised until 1948.  The difference comes from the French (and very Latin) concept of family. A woman was part of her birth family. Any dowry she received came from the family; they may have retained rights over it; they may have expected it to be returned were she to die. Yet, she also belonged to the new family she was to create with her husband and they may have been controlling their family's assets in relation to their own children. As a widow, she might have carried on the family business in her own right (this happened especially with shipping families, it seems). Knowing her identity was essential and practical. How, in terms of genealogical research, are these differences manifested?

Ms. Stoddard lists the types of records most likely to result in a successful search for a woman's name in America, and how to use them for that purpose:

  • Vital records, being birth, marriage and death records
  • Census returns
  • Family Trees found online
  • Cemeteries
  • Probate records
  • Social Security records
  • DNA tests

Looking at their French equivalents, one can see that their usefulness in researching women is not at all the same.

  • The French equivalent of vital records are the actes d'état civil, acts of civil status. These date from 1792, when civil registration replaced church parish records as legal documentation of people. These are hugely useful in tracing a French female ancestor's life. A marriage act, acte de mariage, will give a woman's full name, both of her parents' full names, and her date and place of birth. Thus, one marriage act can reveal not only the bride's name but the names of her mother and of the groom's mother as well. Birth registrations, actes de naissance, generally give the legal names of the father and of the mother as well as their marital status. Thus, a child of the couple above would be registered as, say, Samuel Larue, born to Jean Larue and his wife, Jeanne Martin. Death registrations, actes de décès, are always in the legal name of the person, so a woman's death would be, for example registered as: Jeanne Martin, wife (or widow) of Jean Larue. If known, her parents names and the place of her birth would be included. Most commercial genealogy companies in France have structured their initial search pages to allow for exploiting all of this detail in the civil registrations.
  • Census returns are recensements (with other terms used over the years) in France. They began in 1836, except for in Paris, where they did not begin until 1926. Married women are enumerated under their legal names. Thus, one would see the Larue family listed as:
    • Larue, Jean, head of household
    • Martin, Jeanne, his wife
    • Larue, Samuel, their son
    • Larue, Jacques, their son
    • Larue Marie, their daughter
    • Boule, Louise, widow Larue, mother of the head of household

The great headache with the French census is that most are not indexed. Filae.com has indexed two, that for 1872 and that for 1906, and they are working on others. Though there is less indexing of censuses in France than in America, it is generally of a much higher quality, yielding much fewer preposterous results.

  • Family trees found online posted by French people tend to be slightly better at citing sources than those found online in America. The best source for French family trees is Geneanet.org. As Ms. Stoddard recommends, so do we: verify every single source.
  • Cemetery photographs or jaunts to view family plots are recommend by Ms. Stoddard to help you to find a female ancestor. This would not be very successful in France, especially outside of Paris and other large cities. French cemeteries tend not to have graves of individuals but family tombs. (Once again, the family is more important than the individual.) These tombs often have no more than the family surname engraved upon them. Some will have listed the names of those within, some not. Where they do, the lists may not be complete. More valuable for research than the cemetery or grave stone is the cemetery register, maintained by the town hall. Because so many cemeteries in France have been moved or destroyed and because untended graves are emptied and the plots resold, hunting through cemeteries will not yield much information. The register books of interments, however, are permanent records and might help with genealogical research. Those of  Paris are online, but this is still quite rare. Geneanet has a fair collection of photographs of  grave markers and tombs, but it is still quite small.
  • Probate records in France are increasingly online on the websites of the Departmental Archives. Again, in thse, a woman will appear under her legal name. The records online relate more to the legal transfer of title to property because of a death and the legal registration of a will. Wills are not found online. These are complicated to search and are more useful in the hunt for unknown relatives. One would not begin the search for a female ancestor here when she is so easy to find elsewhere.
  • Social Security records. Beware, here, for they are not what you think in France. La Sécurité Sociale is the term for the French national health system and those, being medical records, you will not be able to touch for love or money. In America, one's Social Security number, like it or not, functions almost as a national identity number. France does issue national identity cards, la carte d'identité, and you will not get your hands on a collection of those either.
  • The last category, finding relatives and thus, common ancestors, with DNA testing is a conundrum, fraught with difficulty, and partially illegal in France. However, so many people skirt the law, take the illegal test and put their results up on foreign genealogy websites that, if you are so inclined, you might give it a try. Where this will be extremely helpful in tracing a woman or a man is where either or both chose not to be named on a child's birth registration.

 

We are grateful to Ms. Stoddard for her excellent presentation and that it has inspired us in this discussion. Good luck finding your female ancestors!

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


The Best Posts for the Letter A in the 2020 Challenge A-Z

Letter A

As promised, we bring you what we consider to have been among the better contributions to the 2020 Challenge A-Z, beginning with those of the letter A. We base our selection not only upon quality but upon what we consider may be useful to you, Dear Readers. Thus, many quite charming but too personal essays are omitted. All are in French.

 

Catherine Livet's blog, Becklivet, is a personal blog about researching her own family's genealogy. Her submission for the letter A is entitled Androgyne and tells of a child's sex  given incorrectly on a birth registration. She exhibits the faulty registration, covered with marginal notes showing the modifications made to legally change the sex, so that the person could marry. The post is brief and very clear and covers something that could cause any of us to stumble during our research.

 

Brigitte writes the respected Chroniques d'antan et d'ailleurs - Voyages sur les traces des ancêtres de mes enfants, on which she submitted the post A comme Apothicaire (A for Apothecary). This is a long a thorough study of one apothecary. It is well-illustrated and has a list of links at the end so, even if your French is not very good, you should be able to garner some good ideas from it. Most valuable, to our mind, is her discovery of a couple of delightful, seventeenth century directories of apothecaries in Paris and Nancy. An excellent piece of genealogy writing.

 

Maïwenn Bourdic writes d'Aïeux et d'Ailleurs, généalogie et archives, with a strong emphasis on World War I research. She wrote A comme Absent militaires (A is for Away or Missing Military Personnel). She discusses in detail and with examples a specific series in the National Archives, Dossiers des absents militaires (1846-1893), the files on those military personnel who went missing during that period (which includes the Franco-Prussian War). Click on that link to see the PDF finding aid, which lists all those who were declared missing and the documentation that was submitted by their families for the declaration. With the codes, one can then request a copy of the file. Many of you, Dear Readers, have ancestors who were from Alsace-Lorraine. If they seemed to have served and disappeared, you may find them here. There are also quite a number who went missing on Napoleon's campaign in Russia in 1812. Madame Bourdic's blog is full of such discoveries that she shares. Highly recommended.

 

This year, we noticed that many more departmental and municipal archives joined in the challenge. Many of them chose to put their contributions on their facebook pages so, if you know the town or village of an ancestor's origin, look on facebook to see if the archives have a page. They often write about local citizens and history and your ancestor could be included. Some, such as the Communal Archives of Savigny-sur-Orge, even translated their posts into English!

As we read through the many fine posts, we will continue to share those we like best with you, Dear Readers.

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

 

 


Calling All Caribbean Genealogy Experts to Solve a Puzzle - and Our Own Theory

Colonies en Amerique

Dear Readers, we do hope that at least on amongst you may be able to help us with this puzzle, sent by Monsieur S.:

I am looking at records of French ancestors  from the Caribbean [specifically, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Trinidad] in the 1700s. One of the ancestors, upon marriage, adopted a second surname identical to that of his paternal grandmother. He became Francois Sellier Foucour [also Faucour], and passed this surname down to his descendants, while his brothers (and their descendants) remained simply Sellier.

In looking through the records of births, marriages, and deaths, I noticed a few other times when a marriage record shows the groom with a more complicated "double name" than his father in the same record. What I also notice is that the marriages where the name addition occurred also involved a dispensation because first cousins were marrying.

Was there some sort of practice of the groom adopting a surname that combines those of both common paternal ancestors in the case of cousin marriages in the French-speaking Caribbean (or elsewhere, for that matter)? I have tried to google to see if there are articles on this surname phenomenon, but have not found any discussion of it.

I have seen the adoption of a wife's surname in German records, where the groom was marrying the sole female heir of a farm and positioning himself to take over the farm eventually, but nothing like that is happening here. In my case, the Foucours lived nowhere near where the marriage was taking place. It's also not a surname from the wife's family. Nor is it some physical descriptor to try to distinguish individuals. And there are no other Francios Selliers in the area, creating a need to tell them apart.

What do you think is the reason for the name change from Sellier to Sellier Foucour? Any thoughts you have on the phenomenon and my guess at what is happening (but not an understanding of why) would be welcome.

 

Hitherto, we have not come across this. Have any of you done so, Dear Readers? Can you provide an explanation? Has it to do with land ownership? Has it to do with the strong Spanish influence in the region leading to the adoption of the Spanish custom of using both parents' surnames as their child's compound surname?

If you know the reason, please do write in the comments below. 

Merci bien!

 

REPLIES RECEIVED WITH SUGGESTIONS, SUSPICIONS, ETC.:

In addition to the Comment below, we have received these by e-mail:

 

From Monsieur L, a very interesting link:

Hi Anne,

I had a quick look at your query and you might be interested by the following link (Spécificités anthroponymiques antillaises : les noms de famille des Martiniquais d'ascendance servile).

 

From Monsieur S:

Dear Anne

The reason is obvious. This is a very popular coutume (custom?) among Spanish people, whereas , even today, most people in Spain have a double name , the father name and the mother's father name or "patronym. I use "father name" because , the mother, (today, officially) keeps her "patronym", even when married. In your example, you might call them, Mr and Mrs Sellier, but they remain by law Mr Sellier xxx and Mrs Faucour yyy. where xxx is Sellier' mother name and yyy FAUCOUR mother's name.

So the grandmother was called Mrs Faucour , but she was "the wife of" Mr FAUCOUR, married or not.

Very useful when dealing with genealogy!

Another potential reason to be identified is whether they had interest to be considered of Spanish origin and not french, as Sellier suggests.

Spanish ? because of local government, now, Faucour may suggest a well known family, more than a simple Sellier. ‌

I have also seen, at the end of the 19th century, 100% french people adding a 2nd name in Louisiana, only for differentiation.
I know some simple "Soulié" in New Orleans who managed to be called Soulie xxxxxx between 1890 and 1910.

The "Etat Civil " was taken on declared name at birth or death , until late; so easy to change or modify. ALL THE MORE IF YOU WERE A MIGRANT !

I hope I could help you.

PS OTHER customs in other countries, obviously.

for example : family names Russians and Polish = Romanov and Romanova
first name if the father is (say) Alexei for Alexander , his son might be Sergei Alexandrovitch Romanov and his daughter Irina Alexandrovna Romanov (or Romanova in some places)

Our Own Theory

We have read all of the comments, suggestions and linked articles to the above. Nothing quite seems to fit the situation described by Monsieur S. , at least to our mind.

  • The articles tend to be more about the names chosen by liberated slaves in Martinique, which does not seem to apply here.
  • The suggestion of Spanish influence and the well-known double surname tradition of the Spanish occurred to us as well. However, if that were the case, surely all members of the family would have followed the tradition as well. Additionally, the maternal name should have come form the groom's mother, surely, and not his paternal grandmother.
  • The proposal that the double name could be a "dit name" again does not really apply. A "dit name" is, essentially an "also known as" or, literally, "called". It is an alternate name, a custom that became a legal name. In the case of Monsieur S, the name change is clearly legal. Again, it applies only to one couple, not the siblings, whereas "dit names" tended to apply either to all branches of a family in a particular location, or each branch took a different name to differentiate itself form the others. Neither of those options happened here.
  • Monsieur S. himself mentions and rejects the German case wherein a groom may adopt his wife's name if she were the sole heir to a family farm, in order to keep that name's link with the property. 

We think this last may come closest to our own theory. Many years ago, we knew a family with quite unusual names. They explained with the story of a maternal aunt was the last in her family to carry on the family surname. It weighed on her mind that, when she would die, their line of that name would die out. When her sister's son was about to marry, she offered him a proposition: if he would change his surname to hers, so that he and his children would carry on the name, she would leave him her not inconsiderable fortune. The young man did so, and changed his surname to hers, which was Stone. He and his wife took the homage further and named their children Rocky, Pebbles, Petra and Cairn (this was California in the early 1970s). The fortune was duly inherited. The name lived on within the family. All were happy.

Could it be that, in the case of Monsieur S, the Foucour family, at the time of the marriage, had run out of sons to carry on the name?  It would be a simple thing to examine the family tree to find out if this were the case, though it would not, of course, prove a motive but merely provide a possible cause for one. The next step would be to see if, in the other cases he mentions, sons there were missing as well. This theory might also help to explain why it happened with marriages between cousins that required dispensations. Like Mr. Stone above, the groom would be of the same line as the name, through his mother, making those obsessed with its preservation a bit more comfortable about giving it to him.

Do let us know, Monsieur S., what your examination of the family tree reveals. Do the brides all have a dearth of uncles and brothers?

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Galette des Rois - French Comfort Food Can Help to Find Your Ancestor's Region

Patisserie-Boulangerie

The galette des rois, or king cake, is a French tradition that dates back to the Roman era and the end of the year Saturnalia, which was a festival at the end of the year that included religious observance, gift-giving, and some pretty wild partying. A small bean, a miserable little thing that held within it the promise of life in the spring to come, was hidden in a cake. When the cake was served, whoever found the bean in his or her slice, was granted special treatment for the day. 

The galette des rois is pretty much the same in form and function, christianized as to symbolism. A cake of flakey pastry, with a frangipane filling, has a small porcelain figurine, still called a bean or fève, hidden in it, and is served on the 6th of January, Epiphany. The person who finds the fève in his or her slice wears a crown for the day. We are well past the 6th of January, but the French so love the cake that it can still be found in the supermarkets, bakeries and pastry shops.

We, personally, find the cake to be so flat, tasteless and dry, that the hope of a prize really is the only inducement to eating it. However, our children and their French cousins love the thing, so we suspect that it is one of those foods that, like Marmite for the English, must be consumed before the age of three, when discernment begins, for it to be a taste that one can tolerate. Then, with the memory of the taste lodged deep in the subconscious, eating it becomes some sort of comfort. Apparently, king cake is such a comfort food and so easy to make that, during these interminable lockdowns, confinements, people are making them at home and consuming them all year round, as this charming presentation, "What's behind France's 'galette des rois' tradition?", complete with recipe, explains.

Perhaps the French side of your family has a recipe for king cake, or something of a similar name, with an object hidden inside, and the cake eaten around the time of the new year? If so, find it, for it may help you to identify the part of France from which your French ancestors came. Each region varied the recipe slightly, quite naturally, according to the ingredients available, or preferred. Each region claims that their recipe is for the "real" king cake.

  • In Brittany, the cake itself is not made with flakey pastry but is sablée, or shortbread, a much more solid  and buttery affair.
  • In Gascony, Provence and Languedoc, the cake is made with a brioche pastry (much less dry) and formed into a circle, approximating a crown. Even better, orange blossom extract and rum are added.
  • Around Pau, anis flavouring is added to the above recipe.
  • In Nice, the dry version with frangipane is scorned as "Parisian" and inedible. Their version uses brioche pastry and candied fruits.
  • In Bordeaux, the cake is shaped into a circle, approximating a crown, and is made with brioche pastry, with candied citron and pearl sugar sprinkled on top.
  • In Franche-Comté, around Besançon, the flakey pastry is replaced with choux pastry, that used for cream puffs, and, again, orange blossom extract is added.
  • In the far north, around Dunkirk, it is more of a layer cake. Two layers of  a "light brioche" pastry (meaning fewer eggs) have a rum-flavoured cream layer between them. 
  • In Auvergne, it is not even a cake or round. It is made with bread dough, shaped into a star. People were poor in Auvergne, so being able to add sugar may have been all that was possible.

As you  can see, just about all of France, except for Paris, dislikes that dry, tasteless and messy, flakey pastry so, if that is what your ancestor loved with a passion, you may have Parisian roots.

A French way to get through the next lockdown!

Comments are below, as well as:

COMMENTS RECEIVED BY E-MAIL:

From Madame I - "Mais moi j'adore la galette des rois !!! C'est mon gâteau d'anniversaire et ce n'est pas sec, c'est tout plein de beurre!"

This is interesting; is the king cake the birthday cake for all those born in January, we wonder?

 

From Madame L - "as an elementary school student in New Orleans in the 1960’s, king cake was a Mardi Gras treat! There were wonderful parades downtown, businesses and schools were closed that Monday through Ash Wednesday that week, and our school, C.... Elementary, had a parade around the block. The children in St ..... Catholic school next door, hung out the windows to watch us parade by. Such good memories! Thanks for reminding me!"

So! The king cake tradition extends well into February in New Orleans. 

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Collaborative Indexing the Contrôles des Troupes

1784 Chasseur Volontaire

The military archivists at the Service Historique de la Défense (SHD) really are outdoing themselves and are going from, some years ago, being quite antipathetic to all things genealogy, to, now, having undergone some sort of conversion, embracing it with an almost alarming gusto. They have gone so far as to produce a nice little bit of self-promotion on YouTube. We all, Dear Readers, are the beneficiaries of this transformation, and grateful ones, indeed.

We have previously reported on the SHD having digitized the registers of Napoleon's Imperial Guard, and having made them available on their website Memoire des Hommes. As we explained in that post, as the registers are not indexed, it is a hard slog to find a man's name. Now, the SHD have organized a collaborative indexing project with the Fédération Française de Généalogie to conquer that mammoth task. They are calling for indexers here.

An even more challenging indexing project has been launched with the commercial genealogy company, Geneanet, to index all of the 25,000 military registers of the Ancien régime, known as the contrôles des troupes. These registers, or contrôles, contain entries for every man who served, the troops, les troupes. They date as far back as 1633 and contain hundreds of thousands of entries, each one showing a fair amount of very useful genealogical information.

Controle des troupes

 

Royrand

The only aid to finding anyone's name in the contrôles des troupes have been the monumental but not very useful volumes of the "Contrôles des Troupes de l'Ancien régime", which list the companies for each regiment, the commanding officers and give the archival codes for finding the registers at the SHD in  Vincennes. Massive achievement though this may be, it covers only the period prior to the French Revolution, and does not help one to know in which regiment a man served. (However, the Introduction to that work, in French, gives what is still the best explanation of the contrôles of the Ancien régime.)

The filming has already begun. In 2019, nearly two and a half thousand Ancien régime registers were filmed, yielding well over three hundred thousand double-page images. These, too, may be viewed on the site, Mémoire des Hommes. On that site, one may participate in the collaborative indexing. Alternatively, one may do so via Geneanet's indexing portal.

This could be a useful and fascinating way to spend some of your lockdown time, non?

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Very Exciting! All Naval Conscription Registers to Be Digitized

Frigate

Earlier this month, the Service Historique de la Défense announced (on its facebook page, of all places) that they have signed a contract with FamilySearch to microfilm and digitize all of the French naval conscription registers. It cannot be overstated just what a boon this will be for French genealogists, for the collection goes back centuries and includes thousands of sailors' names, descriptions and personal details.

It may be a bit repetitive, but we give again our brief explanation of the French system of naval conscription:

The French Naval Class System, Le système de classes

It is clear that many outside of France are completely unaware of a key element of the French Navy, La Marine, and that is the fact that, since 1668, the Marine has had its own system of drafting men into service. As with other military draft systems, it was compulsory. Censuses were taken of all men aged eighteen or over who worked on any type of vessel or who worked with vessels or in ports in any capacity. (From this it can be seen that most of the men came from coastal areas, few were from inland regions.) Lists, called matricules, were made for each region each time the census was taken. All men listed during a particular census were in the same classe, which could be called up to serve at any time during war. The class system was devised to prevent (and is considered by the French to be infinitely superior to and more humane than) something like the British practice of impressing (or pressing) men into service in the Royal Navy. During times of peace, classes were not called up, but during times of war, many classes could be called up at the same time and the men possibly could be made to serve longer than the mandated year. In 1795, the classe system was renamed the maritime enrollment, inscription maritime, but functioned in much the same way throughout the nineteenth century. (Download the SHD's very thorough explanation of the system, with sample documents, here)

When young men had to register, they did so within their Quartier Maritime, an administrative division under the Ministry of the Marine. Prior to the Revolution, the registration was handled by the Admiralty headquarters, les sièges d'Amirauté. These divisions or headquarters were usually in port cities such as Le Havre, Rouen, Lorient, Cherbourg, Bordeaux, Toulon, and many, many more, but it is important to note that they are divisions unique to the Admiralty and Marine and have not the same boundaries as the cities or arrondissements with the same names.

For example, the quartiers maritimes in the department of Calvados (which are already online on that department's archives website here) are:

  • Caen
  • Honfleur
  • La Hougue and Isigny
  • Trouville

The quartiers maritimes in the department of Loire-Atlantique (online here) are:

  • Angers
  • Bourgneuf-en-Retz
  • Le Croisic
  • Ile Bouchard
  • Ingrandes
  • Nantes
  • Nevers
  • Orléans
  • Paimboeuf
  • Saint-Nazaire
  • Saumur
  • Selles-sur-Cher

The lists went by different names:

  • recensement des gens de mer
  • recensement des marins
  • inscription des gens de mer
  • inscription maritime
  • matricules maritimes

An important difference to note is not so much the varying name as where the registration was done, whether at the quartier maritime or at one of the five naval ports where a recruit reported:

N.B. The registers made at the quartier maritime were really a census of all men aged eighteen or over who worked on vessels, including pilots, fishermen, merchant seamen, etc.. They were liable to be drafted into the Navy but not all of them were. These census registers of all eligible men are what are found in the Departmental Archives of the coastal departments. Those men who were called up had to report to one of the naval ports, where they were entered into another register. It is these registers of the men who actually served in the Navy, or Marine, as sailors or officers, which are held at the SHD port archives, that are to be digitized by FamilySearch.

This difference is important as to how research is to be planned, as a man may appear in both or only one of the register sets. An officer of the Ancien régime, for example, probably would not appear in the census register, may have trained for the Navy and bought his commission and so, would appear in the port naval register. A merchant seamen who was called up would appear in both, while a merchant seaman who was not called up would be in only the census.

In these times of social distancing, FamilySearch cannot pack in the microfilmers as they were wont to do. They are beginning with one person filming in the SHD archives at Lorient and will progress from there. At this rate, it could be some years before all the registers available, but it will be grand, whenever that may be.

Just keep checking FamilySearch's French collection, which one should do regularly anyway.

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

 


The Problematic 1831 Census

Lots to Count

Not long ago, we received a message from Monsieur H:

"I'm having trouble tracking something down that I found in a Wikipedia article, and I'm beginning to wonder if it's true or just something that's gone around the internet a few times. I can't seem to find any references to it in academic works. The article for the 1831 recensement du peuple mentions a supplementary query about literacy (link here)"

We had written on this blog about the French census some time ago. We were somewhat ashamed to read, when we went back to that post, that we had given the 1831 census rather cursory treatment:

"There was an earlier census, in 1831, but it was not a success in terms of logic and organisation, and little of this census has been digitized or even, in some cases, preserved"

We resolved to improve upon that, but found, as we hunted through our library, that Monsieur H. was correct. References are few and far between. Genealogy books, genealogy magazines and genealogy websites all are silent on the 1831 census. We surmise that they all are following the complete lack of mention of it by the great Gildas Bernard in his Guide des Recherches sur l'histoire des familles. At last, we found an excellent article by Pascal Vidal (1) on the census generally with a significant portion give over to the "delicate" problem of the 1831 census.

At that time, the Ministry of the Interior was responsible for the census and it was hoped that the unsatisfactory methods of the previous census of 1826 would be avoided. Trusting to the prefectural administrators to handle the census, the Ministry sent round no basic form or list of questions, merely a form with columns for statistics. (2)

1831 census stats form

 

There was no list of questions to ask, not even a column for names, just this form for cumulative statistics. This is why the 1831 census is such a problem: each prefect, even each mayor, conducted it his own way. Some merely counted the number of people, some merely the heads of households (as in Rennes), some made their own forms and asked quite detailed questions. The result was uneven; for some towns, one can say that yes, there was a proper census, with all persons named and counted, in 1831, for others, there was not. So, one cannot generalize about it and thus, the little chart in the Wikipédia article, Tableau des renseignements recueillis de 1831 à 1891is incorrect in giving a list of details obtained for the 1831 census when that was not always the case. This sample from Rennes shows that the form, such as it was, was hand drawn in a notebook and did not note age or personal situation or, for the most part, women.

1831 Rennes

As to Monsieur H's specific question whether there was a literacy question, we can now say that the Ministry of the Interior did not give instructions for one. That did not preclude a prefect or a mayor including one. Apparently, this happened in Bretagne. 

The wonderful thesis "La pratique du breton de l'Ancien Régime à nos jours", graciously put online by its author Fañch Broudic, gives an entire chapter to the questions used the 1831 census in Bretagne. In essence, the question was not if a person could read, it was if he could read French. The local prefects or mayors were interested in the highly political issue of indigenous language or, as Monsieur H. posits: "in following Prussia in introducing universal primary education' by doing a bit of preliminary research.

Thank you, Monsieur H. for sending us on a fascinating little journey!

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

Further Reading:

 

Duchein, Michel. "Les archives des recensements", Gazette des Archives, 1961, vol.33, pp. 61-72

LeGoyt, Alfred. "Les premiers recensements de la population en France, jusqu’en 1856", Journal de la société statistique de Paris, tome 128 (1987), p. 243-257.

Le Mée, René. "La statistique démographique officielle de 1815 à 1870 en France", Annales de Démographie Historique,  1979 pp. 251-279.

Watel, Catherine. Administration Générale et Économie 1800 - 1940 Population, Archives départementales d'Indre-et-Loire.

 

(1) Vidal, Pascal. "Les Recensements en Généalogie", Généalogie Magazine, no. 369, May 2018, pp.12-25.

(2) France. Ministère de l'intérieur. Recueil des circulaires et instructions émanées du Ministère de l'Interieur et des circulaires et instructions émanées du Ministère du Commerce et des Travaux Publics. Paris. page link 

 

 


Lockdown Breeds Blogging Bonanza

Challenge a-z

As any parent will know, boredom in the infantile will lead to naughtiness, whereas boredom in the more mature will lead to creativity. During the confinements, or lockdowns, of 2020, French genealogist bloggers outdid themselves in creativity. For their 8th annual Challenge A-Z, (which we have discussed previously here and here) in which participants must write twenty-six blog posts, in alphabetical order, each on a  genealogical subject, during the month of November. Ninety bloggers participated, writing more than two thousand posts on French genealogy, quite an achievement indeed, and a significant success for the original organizer of the Challenge, Sophie Boudarel.

The contributors include professional archivists, librarians and genealogists, but most are passionate family historians and genealogists who write about their research difficulties and discoveries. We shall be reading them and presenting here some of the best over the next few weeks. Should you wish to read them in the original French, you can find links to all of them here. A bit of weeding is required, but a fabulous resource nevertheless.

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


The French Police Surveillance Dossiers of the Interwar Period - les Fonds de Moscou - Have an Index Online

Secrets

Very exciting news on the indexing front. For a vast collection of the dossiers of some 650,000 people on whom the French security police were spying, for the most part between the two World Wars, there is now online an index to all of the names contained therein. The index was created in Russian, for this collection has travelled more than many of us ever will.

During the occupation of Paris in World War Two, the Nazis collected a great many things, including artworks, books and archives, and sent them to Germany. Among the archives so taken were the private papers of the French branch of the Rothschild family, the library and archives of the Alliance Isréalite Universelle, as explained here, the Masonic archives and membership records of the Grand Orient de France, which we discussed here, and the police surveillance files of the Directorate for National Security in the Ministry of the Interior. All of these collections are called the "Fonds de Moscou", the "Moscow Collection". This is because one of the conquerors of the Nazis was the Soviet Union and, dutifully following the claim by a nineteenth century American Secretary of War that "to the victor belong the spoils", the Red Army stole from the Nazis what they had stolen from the French and took it all to Moscow, where (words not being minced) they were known as the "Trophy Archives". No one conquered the Soviet Union but itself; when it collapsed, word got out that archival treasures that France had thought lost forever were not so. It took some "discussion", but this is something at which the French are unparalleled, so the Russians bowed and the collections were returned, or mostly so.

The surveillance files part of the Fonds de Moscou are in the Archives nationales at Pierrefitte-sur-Seine and a full research guide has been published on the website. Unfortunately, it has not yet been translated into English. 

The files cover the types the police found suspect and worthy of surveillance:

  • Anarchists
  • Anti-military or war agitators
  • Communists
  • Political militants
  • Foreign residents requesting an identity card
  • Foreign spies or those suspected of aiding foreign intelligence organizations
  • Foreigners who had been in prison or expelled from their countries
  • Gamblers banned from casinos and those authorised to work in casinos
  • Foreigners whose requests to remain had been denied and who were expelled
  • Foreigners who requested to be naturalized
  • French who requested passports to travel and foreigners who requested permission to remain in France
  • Jewish people

Quelle liste!

The website warns that using the index is not easy.

  1. In essence, the first index is a partially alphabetical (through the first three letters only) listing of names, mostly but not all of them French, made by Soviet archivists in Russian, in notebooks that have been microfilmed and those images digitized. 
    1. This was made by archivists to be a simple name index to the named files or dossiers.
    2. The index of names refers to a dossier's number.
    3. There are numerous linguistic issues that require that a search for a name be tried many times in many ways:
      1. Articles are treated as the first letter of a name. All names beginning with "de" will be under D. All those beginning with "le" or "la" will be under L.
      2. All those beginning with "van" or "von" will be under V or W (see below). This presents real problems when one recalls that the names are in alphabetical order only through the third letter.
      3. "Mac" is usually seen as a middle name. Thus William MacCabe is under "Cabe, William Mac"
      4. No spaces between components of names were permitted. Thus "Le Blanc" will be treated as "Leblanc" (actually a help under the third letter limit.)
      5. The original dossiers, created by the French bureaucrats, may but not necessarily will have foreign names altered to be more French. Thus, "Karl" might have been altered to "Charles". (Clearly, the bureaucrats were not trained as genealogists.)
      6. The Cyrillic alphabet of the indexers did not accommodate the names written by the creators. Thus, V and W are often confused; Q and X come after Z.
    4. Some files were missed out in the indexing so, there being no way to insert them, there is a supplementary index that also must be searched.
  2. There is also a microfilmed and digitized card index, made by the Directorate of General Security, in French, of all of the two million names mentioned in the dossiers.
    1. This was made by the original creators for their own use in surveillance and covers all of the types of files.
    2. The cards do not always refer to a file or dossier.
    3. Some cards may refer to dossiers that were not taken to Moscow but are in the Archives nationales, such as
      1. Foreigners who were expelled between 1889 and 1906, which are in the Police series of F/7
    4. Some files were closed and destroyed but the card might remain, with the word "détruit" written on it.
    5. The cards contain some biographical information and, in a few cases, photographs.

Searching the Indices and Finding the Code In Order to Request a Dossier

 

In order to request a dossier, one needs:

  1. The number of the archival series. This is a random accession number, as is the way with archives. They all begin with 1994, followed by more numbers, then by a slash.
  2. The number of the carton comes after the slash
  3. The number of the file "dossier no. x"
  4. The name on the file

Numbers 1 through 3 can be found by entering the name, surname first, in the main "Advanced search" form  of the Salle des Inventaires Virtuelle page of the website. At the moment of writing, the search facility is down, so we cannot fully test searching a name on the main page.

One had better hope that it will be possible because the alternative of having to scroll through the images of the indices in order to find the codes is fraught with innumerable, irritating flaws. For example, one can click to see the filmed images for one code, then scroll onto those of the following code without realizing it, which the automatically presented code does not change, though now wrong, and the handwritten code at the top of the page is indecipherable.

Considering all that these archives suffered (let alone what was suffered by the poor souls who were its subjects) and all of the various indignities of shuffled provenance, perhaps we should accept the irritations and be grateful that they have survived, are available, and can be accessed at all.

Once again, we genealogists really must thank the archivists at the Archives nationales.

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Locked Down New Year Celebrations for French Genealogists

Bonne Annee

So, Dear Readers, while we sincerely hope that you may be in a virus-free land, able to welcome the new year with friends and family, we doubt that will be the case. If you are reading this blog, it is likely that you are genealogically minded, possibly have a French ancestor or two and give more than an occasional thought to how people lived long ago.

We offer up a pair of tales from our own family's mythology relevant to the current, so bizarre world situation. Our grandmother told a tale of her own mother, Margaret, when a child of thirteen in the tiny wilds of Nova Scotia, in about 1874. Diphtheria was raging. A neighbouring family were all sick with it, parents and children, so sick that they could not care for themselves. Margaret's mother sat with her to discuss offering help. "If I go there to help them, you will have to care for your younger brothers and sisters on your own." Margaret's father, a railway engineer, was away, but she felt that she could manage this. "Worse," her mother added, "I could bring the disease home to our own family. What do you think is the right thing to do?" Margaret, so the story goes, answered without hesitation "You must go and help them, for they would do the same for us." We venture that there is something to learn from our forebears about behaviour during an epidemic.

Our other grandmother told of celebrating the arrival of 1918 during a time of war and the great flu epidemic. (She became so accustomed to wearing a mask, by the way, that she continued to do so whenever she had a cold, not wishing to infect anyone, fifty years later.) In her apartment in Kansas City, she opened a bottle of champagne at the stroke of midnight and poured a glass. She did not dare to go out to join a crowd for fear of catching the flu but it was a bit lonely. Somewhat sardonically, she leant out her fourth floor window, raised her glass and shouted "Happy New Year!" to the city and sky. Below her, another person leaned out her window, a glass in hand, and shouted "And to you!" Other neighbours joined in until, looking down from her window, she saw a head leaning out of nearly every other window, all of them calling good wishes to the neighbours up and down the wall. One can find community, safely, more easily than one might believe.

Generally, in France, as elsewhere, New Year celebrations are a sort of psychological moulting. Wriggle out of, shrug off, rub away, discard the old and, with a sense of freedom and hope, welcome the new. Doing it with noise is particularly popular in France, with fireworks, drums and horns being among the favourite racket-makers. We like the drums. So, you might wish to put on a bit of the best, the Swiss-French Daniel Humair. Traditionally, many French do not say simply "Happy New Year" at the stroke of midnight, but "Bonne année et bonne santé", "Happy New Year and Good Health". How appropriate.

We shall be leaning out of our window, with Humair playing in the background, and raising a glass to you Dear Readers, wishing for you "Bonne année et bonne santé" in 2021.

Then we might settle down for a few of French genealogy and history videos online here and here

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy