More Pariahs of Paris - Your Auvergnat Ancestor in the Capital

Auvergnat

Well, Dear Readers, we can now confirm with unpleasant certainty that Lyme Disease is not confined to New England but is far flung with infectious abandon even to France. We hope that there may be no need for updates but be assured that, should there be, you shall receive them here. On to genealogy.

Parisians, like Londoners or New Yorkers, do seem an unwelcoming lot, treating all new arrivals as “pariahs”. There were so many such new arrivals in the nineteenth century that any modern Parisians who have no pariah antecedents are wholly imaginary. We have covered here the scorned Savoyards and the pariah Bretons, driven to Paris, like our subject of today, the Auvergnats, by need, where the starvation caused by the many failed crops in the 1840s or by the economic crises of the 1850s, or by the singularly volcanic terrain of Auvergne. All quite sad for the descendants of the fierce tribe the Arverni, known in Roman times for (once) defeating Caesar in battle.

The first time we read the term Auvergnat, oh so many years ago, was in Balzac, the only writer who could truly dissect the French soul. He referred to the people of Auvergne as the most sou-pinching of France. Balzac lived in Paris and was a dedicated drinker at a time when most bars and cafes were run by folk from Auvergne. We are tempted to suspect a barkeep’s refusal to extend credit to the great man as the seed from which this insult sprouted.

Nevertheless, it cannot be disputed that the Auvergnats, on arriving in Paris, nearly all sank to services and trades have to do with liquid, whether for bathing or drinking, and for carrying it, heating it, or serving it. This being in the days before plumbing brought running water to every home, they became water carriers, porteurs d'eau, filling jugs or pails at public fountains or straight from the Seine and carrying the water, two pails of twenty liters each on a yoke, to the homes of those who could pay. They were pioneer pariahs, for they were known as the water-carriers of Paris as early as the 1730s. Those who could do so invested in a barrel, un tonneau, on a cart. Some had the bright idea of heating the water and selling it for bathing, hauling it into a home, pouring it into the bath, waiting outdoors and then hauling away the used bathwater. Their compatriots who helped with the heating of the water often moved into the trade of charbonnier, a maker and seller of charcoal. They were despised by Parisians, who considered them coarse and rude, a type our grandmother termed disparagingly (speaking at the time of our latest step-father, mind you) a rube. Combining the words charbonnier and Auvergnat, the Parisians created a new word, Bougnat, which they considered a jibe of stellar wit.

As is the way of the world, the Auvergnat migrants integrated and assimilated, but with a peculiar insistence, they generally would not leave their attachment to liquids. They moved up socially a tad by selling milk and a tad more by selling lemonade, and quite a bit more by selling wine and a great deal more by opening a bar and selling alcoholic drinks to the likes of Balzac. We all know how, under certain conditions, a barkeep becomes a dear friend with miraculous rapidity and so it came to pass that a person was called a Bougnat not with snide superiority but with condescending affection. Successful Auvergnats even named their bars Le Bougnat; one such, in Pantin, became so belovèd a local institution that, when the authorities determined to bulldoze it, there was a bit of an outcry (to no avail; it was reduced to rubble in 2017).

Thus, in conducting your research into an Auvergnat ancestor in Paris, be alert to such professions mentioned in documents as :

  • porteur d'eau
  • charbonnier
  • limonadier
  • marchand de vin
  • garçon de café
  • cafétier

Clearly, not all those working in the above trades were Auvergnats but, in the late nineteenth century in Paris, very, very many were.  Should you suspect that your Parisian ancestor had origins in the Auvergne, research avenues to try are:

  • In the mid and late nineteenth century, the Auvergnat migrants tended to live in the eleventh arrondissement, especially on rue de Lappe, so if you must trawl the tables décennales of the birth, marriage and death registrations of Paris, you might want to begin with those of the eleventh.
  • As with Breton women, some Auvergnat women had unfortunate encounters with results that caused the desperate measure of abandoning a child. The Parisian authorities went to great lengths to find the mothers of such children. You can begin a search for such a child on the website of the Paris Archives in the records of Enfants assistés (1859-1906). You could be very lucky and find where the mother was from in Auvergne.
  • Some professions, such as water carriers who used barrels, the cleanliness of which had to be verified regularly, required registration with the police. The registration files may be searched in the archives of the Paris police, in series DA.
  • For those who opened shops and bars, the Paris Archives hold the records of the Tribunal de Commerce, the commercial courts; these are not online.

Sources and Further reading:

It may be time for all descendants of pariahs of Paris to unite to form one big Cercle généalogique des Parias parisiennes. Raise a glass to all migrant outcasts, Dear Readers, past and present, for we are they.

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Your Breton Ancestors in Paris

Breton girl

Poor Brittany. As a region, it has suffered rather more than its share of economic difficulties, prejudice and administrative neglect or misguided experimentation on the part of the government in Paris. Just now, its largest source of income, tourism, is being wiped out by tides of poisonous algae that are caused by the dumping  of the slurry from the intensive pig farming that has boomed in the region at the behest of some bureaucrat in Paris. The slurry seeps into the ground water, flows to the sea, feeds the algae that thrives in the increased warmth of our new climate and washes onto the shores, exuding so much toxic gas that people (and even a horse) have been killed and beaches must be closed. One would think that, by now, we all have learned that mass agricultural policies have been proven a very bad idea. Yet, there is sure to be a new idea and it is sure to be tested on Bretagne first.

It has always been a region separate from the others in France, with its own government for many centuries and its own language. More importantly, it seems to us, the eye of the Breton is always on the sea, while that of the rest of France, (but for Normandy) is on its fields. So much so that, for a very long time, the Navy took only men from Bretagne, apparently on the assumption that they all were by nature seamen and needed little training.

In the 1840s, when all of Europe suffered harvest failures, many people from Alsace and Lorraine emigrated to America but fewer from Bretagne did so. The Revolution of 1848, after it was quashed, brought a certain amount of emigration to the Californian gold fields as the government encouraged all subversive types to go seek their fortunes there, even paying the passage for some. (How quickly our ideals and hopes for a better society for all can crumble when that sly offer of personal wealth is slipped in, eh?) The "Hungry Forties" were followed by economic crises in the late 1850s that began in the United States and spread to Europe. Bretagne was hit hard by these crises. Additionally,  those dependent upon growing and weaving linen and hemp lost their livelihoods when cheaper cotton began to be imported.

What set people who were hungry and could not find work on the move was the opening of the Quimper-Nantes-Paris railway in 1863. Presented with a vastly safer journey to a place where there was employment and where one did not have to learn a new language, many Bretons, perhaps for the first time in the region's history, emigrated inland. Within twenty years, at least twelve thousand Bretons were living in Paris; ten years later, there were seventy-five thousand; by the 1930s some 125,000 people of Breton origins appeared in the Paris census returns.

As is always the case in such migration waves, most found no paths to wealth but they did find work, nearly always of the most difficult kind. The tunnels of the Paris Mètro were dug primarily by Bretons, wealthy and middle class children of Paris had Breton wet-nurses and nannies, and every household that could afford a maid had Breton housemaids. The Belle-Epoque was maintained, in a large part, by the migrants from Brittany (as well as from Savoie), so much so that, by 1905, the character of a Breton nanny, Bécassine, was created, soon became a huge success in many children's books, and remains a belovèd classic in France. Yet, just as the "Mammy" characterization of enslaved women belies the truth of outrageous oppression, so Bécassine gives a false impression of how Bretons were accepted and treated in Paris; Leslie Page Moch's "The Pariahs of Yesterday : Breton Migrants in Paris" gives a truer picture.

How to research a Breton ancestor who seems to have gone to Paris or, more likely in your hunt, who was in Paris but whose Breton place of origin you cannot find?

  • Firstly, check on Geopatronyme and the Public Office of the Breton Language (follow the latter's links) to become familiar with Breton surnames and to determine if your ancestor's is such a one.
  • Initially, large numbers of Breton migrants settled in the 14th arrondissement of Paris, near the train station of Montparnasse, their point of arrival from Bretagne. If you have no idea at all of where in Paris they may have lived, and if you have to search all the tables décennales (ten-year indices)  for all twenty Parisian arrondissements, start with the 14th.
  • Many Breton women had unfortunate encounters with results that caused the desperate measure of abandoning a child. The Parisian authorities went to great lengths to find the mothers of such children. You can begin a search for such a child on the website of the Paris Archives in the records of Enfants assistés (1859-1906). You could be very lucky and find where the mother was from in Bretagne.
  • Eventually, many Bretons settled outside of central Paris, in Seine-Saint-Denis, Yvelines and Hauts-de-Seine, so you might extend your search to the larger cities of those departments, especially those containing railway centres. The 1872 and 1906 census returns for some, not all, of these departments have been indexed on Filae.com. Recall that there was no census in Paris until 1936.
  • The Bretons maintained close ethnic communities in Paris and they still do. They published a directory of Bretons living and having a business in Paris, the Annuaire des Bretons de Paris, the 1911 edition of which can be seen on Gallica. You may wish to contact a branch of the Amicales des Bretons appropriate to where your ancestor settled. (See the links at the bottom of this article or simply search the association name online to get branches all over France. Searching "Breizh" and a location will bring some very interesting discoveries as well.)
  • As you dig deeper, there are genealogy manuals specific to Breton genealogy

Good luck in finding your Breton ancestor (and should you wish to help the region and are in France, you could always boycott jambon)

Sources and Further Reading:

RetroNews

The blog En Envor and the excellent essays by Thomas Perrono

"Les Bretons de Paris et Saint-Denis"

"The European subsistence crisis of 1845-1850: a comparative perspective" by Eric VANHAUTE, Richard PAPING, and Cormac Ó GRÁDA

 

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


More Letters Home to France

ChicouLetters Home

The thermometer in our poor, parched garden has gone over its top number. We do not know the precise temperature, but it is over fifty degrees Celsius (not Centigrade, merci Monsieur H.) For this, instead of traipsing the world, we could stayed in our natal California and simply moved to Needles (where, we note, some five thousand fools, madmen or rheumatics have inexplicably chosen to reside). We abhor the heat and feel most blessed to have a stone house with a ground floor that  remains cool no matter what kind raging fireball is encircling the house. Somewhat oddly, being trapped in a cool dark room hiding from a heat wave is not all that different an experience from being snowed in during a blizzard. There are those who watch a screen, those who play patience, and those who, like us, rummage about in notebooks and folders of ideas and projects that we thought were brilliant but never got around to really exploring.

We came across a small family archive we had bought a couple of years ago at brocante (flea market) for less than five euros. The little bundle of papers presents quite a family history and one feels saddened to come across it orphaned in such a way. The head of the family, Jean Chicou, was a bailiff in the department of Corrèze and there are many letters that he wrote to the court for his work as well as documents confirming him in his official post. There are a few receipts, mysteriously saved from the family accounts.  There is a collection of letters and court records from as early as 1821 and continuing through the 1860s deal with his children and their inheritance from him.

We began to search for this family, using Filae.com and the website of the Departmental Archives of Corrèze. The documents gave so much information that we soon had identified seven branches of the Chicou family.

They produced some wanderers who wrote home. in 1865, Joacem Chicou, perhaps a merchant seaman, wrote to his parents in Donzenac from Bombay, informing them that he now lived in Le Havre. It seems he had run off from a job in Paris as an apprentice for, a month earlier, he had written them that he hated his job and he hated his aunt. A daughter, Marie, married and moved to Bordeaux, then to Asnières; dutifully writing to her parents three or four times per year for thirty years. They saved many of her letters and those from her son, taught to write to his grandparents respectfully.

Another son, Jean-Baptiste Chicou, born in 1849 (his birth appears in the Donzenac registers), emigrated to California in about the 1860s or early 1870s. He lived first in San Francisco, then in Contra Costa and Alameda Counties. He married, raised a large family and died in California, apparently never having returned to France for a visit. (A quick look on Ancestry showed him with his wife, Clemence, and their many children living in Oakland for the 1900 census.) Two letters from him to his brother, from 1873 and 1874, tell of his work taking horses from San Jose to the mountain pastures. The letter from 1873 describes an attack by Native Americans and the battle that ensued, in which he was wounded by an arrow. 

Chicou 1873

In both letters, he complains that his brother does not write back. He writes that he wanted to send a thousand francs to his mother so that she could visit him in California but she never responded. Either he gave up writing or they did not save his other letters in he way that they saved Marie's, for there are no more from California.

Many of you Dear Readers, responded enthusiastically to our earlier post about a letter home to France, sharing your own epistolary discoveries. We do not come across such letters very often but when and if we do find more, we shall share them here.

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Article Review - Women in the French Military Archives

Military Woman

Some years back, we reviewed here the stellar tome on genealogical research using France's military archives, written by the archivists at the Service Historique de la Défense,  (SHD) Sandrine Heiser and Vincent Mollet. Inexplicably, when we listed some of the chapter headings in that review, we neglected one on a subject for which we have, of course, a rather natural affinity: women in the French military. We may have missed "Votre ancêtre était ...une femme" ("Your ancestor was a woman") because it is only three pages long, with half of those pages filled with photographs, or we may have to confess that we missed it because our work was not up to standard that day, for which we apologize with bow and scrape. Happily, Madame Heiser expanded on that chapter in an article written for the Revue Historique des Armées (it may be downloaded as a PDF). For those who cannot read French but have women to research, we give here a summary. 

Madame Heiser divides her subject into nine categories:

  • Femmes militaires et filles débauchées - "Military Women and Debauched Girls", are covered by a small group of archives, just one carton, from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and concerns mostly women who were spies or who served in the army disguised as men. This carton also includes cases against those camp followers who were prostitutes, the "debauched girls".
  • Cantinières, vivandières et blanchisseuses - "Canteen-keepers, sutlers and laundresses", including not only the women who did these jobs but the wives of any men who did them, from 1791 to 1900. There is no index to the names of the women included, so a researcher would have to spend some time reading the files.
  • Les femmes « pensionnées » ou « décorées » - "Women Who Received Pensions or Military Decorations". Those in the category above, as well as widows of men in the military, often had to petition for a pension and the records of those petitions are in this group. 
  • Mères et épouses de militaires - "Mothers and Wives of Men in the Military". Would it not be grand if this were an archive of all such women, and with an index as well? It would, indeed, but it is not. Madame Heiser explains here that these women may be discovered by reading a soldier's individual service record. It is true, as she says, that the details are rich and there are often, in a man's file surprise bonus documents, but in no way is there such a collection about these women; they are incidental in the information about the men.
  • Les femmes « personnel civil » - "Women Who Were Army Civilians", a large group of many thousands of women, mostly employed during the two World Wars. The archives of all Army civilian personnel are held at a facility in Châtellerault, described here.
  • Agents secrets et espionnes  - "Secret Agents and Spies", a series dating from the eighteenth century and including the file on the infamous and unlucky Mata Hari.
  • Vers un statut militaire - "Toward a Military Status". Here, Madame Heiser explains that women could not join the Army in any capacity until 1940 and that their files are held along with the men's, divided only according to the branch of the military in which they served.
  • Des femmes militaires témoignent - "Women in the Military Bear Witness". Within the archives oral history collection are many accounts by women, especially of but not exclusively of their service in the Air Force.
  • À Pau, 100 000 dossiers de femmes - "At Pau, 100,000 Files on Women". In the city of Pau is the Central archives concerning modern military personnel (CAPM), all those born before 1983, and many of them are women. 

Most of these archives are not online but the finding aids, increasingly, are. By studying those, you may be able to narrow your search enough to request copies from the SHD. Otherwise, you may have to hire a researcher. Unfortunately, now is not the time. The SHD at Vincennes is closed for the month of August and the website is down, yet again, for maintenance. Plan to tackle this in the autumn.

There is a pair of battered, blue binders filled with old, typed finding aids at the SHD in Vincennes that are probably our favourite books in the whole place. They cover the series in GR Y, all of the oddities that fit nowhere else in the vast system. Many of the archives described above are in GR Y, containing the stories of remarkable women. We do hope one of them is an ancestor of yours.

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

 


Letters Home to France

Book stall

Yesterday was the national holiday, la fête nationale, of the 14th of July, or Quatorze juillet, which English speakers like to call "Bastille Day". It is a summer's day of picnics and parades, the Marseillaise and fireworks. It is also a day of book fairs and flea markets, both of which we are quite fond. It is at these that we have found so many wonderful examples of documents to be able to exhibit for you here. On occasion, we also find letters home from those who have emigrated from France, such as this.

Letter home cousine

It had no envelope but was folded, addressed and sealed.

Madame Darius

It was written on the 16th of July 1827 and postmarked in September, from New Orleans. The writer, a Madame Porter, addresses her cousin, Madame Darius, in Toulouse, whose letter she had just received. It is not an exciting letter, Dear Readers, and it is filled with grammatical and spelling imperfections, but it is intriguing nevertheless.

Madame Porter had made a visit to Paris and writes that she had found her native country to be sad and dull outside of that beautiful city (a comment such as that leads one to suspect she could only have been a Parisian). She tells of how she wept that she had not been able to go to Toulouse to see her cousin. She had travelled to France without her children and she writes of her joyous reunion with them on her return to New Orleans. That return voyage had been becalmed for two weeks in insufferable heat off Saint Domingue, during which time there had been a case or two of yellow fever aboard and a sailor had died. Most accommodatingly, Madame Porter gives the name of her vessel when she mentions the sailor's death, the Nestor, and so, we can find her arrival in the "New Orleans, Passenger List Quarterly Abstracts, 1820-1875", on the 22nd of June 1827, where she is listed as "Madame Widow Porter", aged thirty-nine.

There was only this one letter from Madame Porter in a basket of old papers. Did her cousin, Madame Darius, save many and they were lost or does this one hold some mysterious significance we will never understand? Perhaps one of you, Dear Readers, may be a descendant of either of these ladies and can tell her story.

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


On Obsession, Genealogy and a Great Book

War

Obsession can be a deep and dark cavern into which we crawl, an emotion in which our will, normally a fairly useful aspect of our personalities, becomes crazed, over-energetic, absurdly concentrated on one point. Losing our clarity, we are dragged down and deeper into that cavern. Other of those emotions that are, at their core, pure selfishness, such as passion and desire, become distorted and subverted to obsession, until it is all that remains in our character. Like some ghastly auto-immune disease that has driven our immune systems berserk so that they destroy our health, obsession is a madness that destroys our sanity. We are blinded to all but the focus of our obsession. Worse, our perception is so distorted that we imagine that see what is not present and we fail to see what is flagrantly before us, and in our obsessive pursuit, follow the hallucination, bewitched by its imagined beauty and perfection, sometimes tripping and falling flat over the unperceived reality. In such a way can the thrill of genealogical research go a bit haywire at times, and we confess, Dear Readers, to have been in that cavern of late, avoiding all animate and inanimate diversions from our determined pursuit, aided in self-justification by the quite horrific heat wave currently toasting France.

As we hinted in our last post (written a while back now, we blush to say), we have been on the hunt for a particular employee of the Ministry of War during the Revolutionary years in France. We had found his personnel file, filled with praise and salary disputes from two hundred years ago, but we wanted more. As any genealogist will say, once we have correctly identified a person, sometimes we want to understand him or her. We want to know, for example, why an ancestor left a pretty village and embarked on an expensive and frightening journey just to struggle and die on a vast and cruel prairie or on an arid and windy stretch of Patagonia. Why did they leave? The question leads, naturally, to an exploration of the lives and worlds that they left, seeking to find the one thing, a push or a hope, a cause, a reason, that will help our minds, encased in our modernity, understand on the human emotional level, that seems not to have evolved much, who they were. In this way, genealogical research slips into historical research and in this way, our hunt for and identification of the bureaucrat took us to a remarkable book on history that, were we not somewhat obsessed, we might have found to be, as our grandmother used to say, “dry as dust” but it isn’t Dear Readers, it really is not.

War, Revolution, and the Bureaucratic State: Politics and Army Administration in France 1791-1799, by Howard G Brown, is a work of superb scholarship based on extensive archival research. It is also, thank heavens, quite easy to read. Unlike the more popular histories of the Revolutionary era, such as Simon Schama’s Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, this work studies intensely a single aspect of the complete societal inversion that was the Revolution, in this case, the struggle between one part of governmental administration, the Ministry of War, and the flailing, shifting, central authority for control of the French Army, itself in no great state of order. We stumbled upon this book because the name of our man of interest appears a couple of times in the text, and so it appeared in an Internet search via Google, (that disturbingly dangerous and excessive stimulant to obsessive research). Happy discovery.

Dr. Brown explains the background of the Ministry of War just before the Revolution and how there had already been efforts to reform it as well as the development of the central government through its various stages after the Revolution. He gives a rather thrilling account of how the sans-culottes, the extremists of Revolutionary thought in Paris, took over and dominated the Ministry of War, making it a rival to the government for power. As one might imagine, control of the Army at such a time was crucial. He explains clearly how the revolutionaries’ abolition of royal power and creation of legislative and executive powers that were separated gave the Ministry of War an opportunity to reinvent itself with “considerable independence”. The tension between the Ministry and the successive executive arms of government was extraordinary and Dr. Brown conveys it with style and clarity. This was a power struggle largely hidden from public view, which was, naturally, directed toward the guillotine or the War in the Vendée, or the invasions by foreign armies. It is astonishing to read of how the Ministry of War, during the sans-culottes phase, was more radically revolutionary than many parts of the revolutionary government. Through numerous purges and restructuring of the Ministry, the executive acquired and consolidated control of the Ministry and the Army. Then came Napoleon.

We have lived in this beautiful country of France for over fifteen years now and have exulted in its history and culture, yet we remain flummoxed by the strange French mentality that is permeated with bureaucracy. Reading this book, we have begun to apprehend how bureaucracy became the tool to control the masses, how paperwork, certificates of proof, stamps of authority, duplicates, triplicates, deadlines for submissions, and all the other bureaucratic requirements became the boulder with which to crush the violent impulse out of each and every individual. Yet, as Dr. Brown makes clear, this was not exactly the intention: “While the state élite was aware of the importance of ensuring good administration to increase legitimacy, it never openly embraced bureaucratization…as a means of stabilizing the exercise of state power.”

Many have pointed out that France’s Revolution prefigured the Russian Revolution. Perhaps France prefigures more. Some see France’s indifference to and immunity from the way in which the rest of the world’s ethics and mores are defined and daily redefined by the masses’ surges and swells of opinion swirling about the Internet as backwardness, but it could be the opposite. It may be that we will all become exhausted by the incessant change and power of popular opinion and opt for the French solution of attaining stability through bureaucracy. It may be that Vladimir Putin’s recent comment that liberalism is obsolete and populism (those surges and swells of opinion) is now what governs us omitted the third and final stage, which is that, since the chaos of populism will inevitably lead a society to a desire for political and social stability, and since France has shown how very stabilizing bureaucracy can be, a (now, technologically enhanced) bureaucracy is our future.

One learns so much from genealogy.

 

War, Revolution, and the Bureaucratic State: Politics and Army Administration in France, 1791–1799

Howard G. Brown

Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1995

 

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Civil Employee Files of the Ministry of War

Military

Ah, Dear Readers, forgive us, please for not resurfacing 'til now. We are still in a swoon after a glorious week deep in the military archives in the Service Historique de la Défense in Vincennes. We have discovered the wealth and delightful detail of genealogical information in the personnel files on civil employees of the Ministry of War. They date from 1806 to 1853 but include information about much earlier events in peoples' lives. Nearly all contain a pension calculation form with basic details such as date and place of birth, when the person joined the Ministry, positions held and salaries, spouse's name, date of death and possibly a widow's application for the pension. Additionally, they often contain copies of baptism records or birth registrations, date and place of marriage and the spouse's full name, copies of the employee's death registration, certificates of prior employment, reports about the employee, and some delightfully intriguing correspondence.

We were researching some men who began at the Ministry in the 1790s, during the Revolution, a notoriously difficult period, when people moved about a great deal, wars raged, the émigrés left, and documents were lost or destroyed. Each had, later in life, become a member of the Legion of Honour, and we had already found each man's file, so we knew some basic details. The Legion of Honour files, however, usually give just the reasons that justify the person's membership, such as service or heroism, birth and possibly but not always death dates, and proof that the member paid his or her dues.

These personnel files, however, get us very close to being able to put together a biography. The pension form shows the employee's service, his wife's name, her date and place of birth, their date of marriage, his date of death, and at the bottom, her date of death, as in these two examples.

Pension

Pension

There are, of course, many letters from the employee requesting a pay rise and describing the good work he had done to merit it. These usually have notes as to approval or rejection in the margin.  Much more revelatory are requests to borrow money and the reasons given. In this example, the employee had a large family and an elderly mother to support. He had found a job for his son in the Ministry but now that son was to marry and his father could not quite cover the wedding costs. He wrote asking to borrow money from the Ministry. Happily, his request was approved. The exchange tells the researcher the son's name, employment and approximate date of marriage.

Request to borrow

Surely, one of our most joyous of finds came from a convoluted and ever so polite attempt at nepotism in the other man's file. He had been working at the Ministry for over twenty years, through the Revolution and the First Empire, when he was contacted by a man asking if they might not be related. To back up his query, the man provided genealogical information about the family dating back to 1200! The sting came at the end, when the writer asked the Ministry employee to find a job in the Ministry of War for his nephew who really wanted to be a soldier but was extremely short and would never be accepted into the army, so a job in the Ministry of War might be as close as he could get to his dream.

Nepotism

Now, perhaps, you can appreciate our swoon?

The finding aid for these files, written by the brilliant archivists at SHD, Fadoua Tarik, Claire Menessier and Bernard Hamaïde, is in alphabetical order and gives the code for each file, making requests easy. We so hope that some of you, our Dear Readers, may have an ancestor in this group, and that you may discover an equally meaty file.

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Explaining French Cemeteries, or Why You Are Unlikely to Find Your Ancestor's Grave in France

French Cemetery

In a comment on our 2009 post about French cemeteries, Monsieur V wrote:

"In your article, you wrote "Pre-nineteenth century church graveyards in towns - all were destroyed as a public health measure". What does that mean? I am looking for family burials in small, rural French towns. It seems that when I look at Google Earth, the cemeteries now are all located outside of town, usually along the road leading into the small town. They seem to only have modern graves, certainly not all of the graves for the hundreds of farmers and families that died in these small towns over the hundreds of years. It is a big difference from rural cemeteries here in the U.S. which usually have headstones surrounded by grassy areas of those who did not or could not afford a marker."

Many of you have expressed similar bafflement or disbelief, so we think it necessary to explain, yet again, one of the many ways that France is not North America or Britain or Australia. The Enlightenment in France brought a wave of scientific and clear thinking that in turn lead to changes considered improvements. Among the clear thoughts was the realization that the dead were polluting the atmosphere and the water, especially the ground water, and that the cemeteries that held their corpses were a very serious public health problem. 

This was exacerbated by the fact that, in crowded cities, cemeteries were the only parks and were used as such. Fairs, markets, dances, parties, all were held in cemeteries. During invasions, people ran there for refuge. The Church did not like this and built walls around the cemeteries to prevent the parties, at least. The consorting in close proximity to corpses could not have been good for the health of the living.

Among the consequent improvements was a law issued by the king in 1776, la Déclaration du Roi, concernant les inhumations, requiring inner city cemeteries to be closed and the practice of burying the dead within churches to cease. Land outside of the city walls was to be purchased for new cemeteries and the corpses in old cemeteries were to be dug up and transferred. Hundreds of French cities complied. Needless to say, not all of the reburying was done with diligence. In Paris, the contents of the cemetery of the parish of Sainte-Opportune, known as the Cemetery of Holy Innocents, became the nameless bones of the Catacombs. 

The process was continued with the Napoleonic decree of 1804, which gave more precise instructions to municipalities as to where to site the new cemeteries, how deep the graves should be and how far apart. Most importantly, cemeteries were removed from the authority of the Catholic Church and became the responsibility of the municipalities. Municipal council deliberation books of the era are filled with discussions of how to empty the old cemeteries and construct the new. From these new procedures came the requirements that graves be maintained by the families of the dead; if not, they would be emptied and the bones sent to the ossuary.

All of this explains why it is rare to find an old French cemetery next to a church, filled with ancient graves, such as you might find in England. Some do exist, but very, very few. Thus, distrust all family histories that say sixteenth century graves of ancestors in France have been seen in the 1890s. Most likely, those cemeteries claimed to have been visited had already been destroyed. If France is poor in ancient cemeteries, we really do recommend that you not spend too much time seeking a grave. Instead, spend your genealogical research efforts where France is rich - on notarial records.

Further reading:

Bertrand, Régis. "Origines et caractéristiques du cimetière français contemporain". Insaniyat / إنسانيات Revue algérienne d'anthropologie et de sciences sociales, no. 68, 2015 "Espaces et rites funéraires" (30 June 2015). http://journals.openedition.org/insaniyat/15129

Ligou Daniel. "L'Evolution des cimetières". Archives de sciences sociales des religions, n°39, 1975. Évolution de l'Image de la Mort dans la Société contemporaine et le Discours religieux des Églises [ACTES DU 4e COLLOQUE DU CENTRE DE SOCIOLOGIE DU PROTESTANTISME DE L'UNIVERSITÉ DES SCIENCES HUMAINES DE STRASBOURG (3-5 OCTOBRE 1974)] pp. 61-77. https://www.persee.fr/doc/assr_0335-5985_1975_num_39_1_2767

Zeller, Olivier. "LA POLLUTION PAR LES CIMETIÈRES URBAINS Pratiques funéraires et discours médical à Lyon en 1777". Société française d'histoire urbaine, vol 1, no. 5, 2002 «Histoire urbaine»,  pp. 67-83. https://www.cairn.info/revue-histoire-urbaine-2002-1-page-67.htm

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Is It a Surname or a Place?

French names

Rural France abounds with villages (villages), hamlets (hameaux),  and properties (lieux-dits) that have charming or peculiar names, as the case may be. Most were attached to a parish before the French Revolution, then to a commune afterward. They are notoriously difficult for the researcher to locate. Some, such as La Bachellerie, occur all over France. Some, such as Bleigeat, seem to occur nowhere except in the imagination of an immigrant in Louisiana who gave it as his place of birth (though it really does exist).

We have discussed how to use the Cassini maps and the hundreds of online Napoleonic era maps to find some of them. We have shared Professeur B.'s lecture on micro-geography and lieux-dits. We have also given an example of the case of a tricky place name found on a Natchitoches document that required help from French archivists for clarification. There are numerous websites that attempt to list all such names in France that you could try.

What to do when these place names turn up as part of a surname? We are not referring to surnames that are also place names, such as Bourges, or Paris, or Loire. Nor are we referring to "dit names", which are nicknames that, over time, became family names, such as Le Bon, or Le Sage, or Le Grand. ("Dit names" exist in France but are found much more often in Québec.) We also are not discussing here aristocratic names that are compilations of titles and locations. We are referring to the recording of a place name near to a surname in a register and the confusion that it can cause the researcher.

For example, a child whose name appears to be Léonard Farge du Piager was born in Saint-Martial-de-Gimel in Corrèze in 1813.

Du PiagerArchives départementales de la Corrèze, http://www.archives.cg19.fr/recherche/archiveenligne/

 

His parents are Jean Farge and Marie Puyrobert. Is his surname Farge du Piager, and the officer simply shortened his father's version of the name, or is his surname simply Farge and he is of a place called Piager, (which must be within the boundaries of Saint-Martial-de-Gimel to appear in this birth register)? In the search for that ever elusive comfort, certainty, you might try reading a few pages of the register. In this example, you will find that the name of each child has such an extension and the words are different. This suggests that the officer is indicating in their names where they were born, as the form offers no way to do so. Seeing this practice, you could then check one of the many lists of Corrèze's lieu-dit names for the village to verify that this is what the officer is doing.

In another town, in the same department, Espagnac, the recording officer tried to solve the problem of indicating the place, La Rivière, by putting it in the margin in the birth register.

La RivièreArchives départementales de la Corrèze, http://www.archives.cg19.fr/recherche/archiveenligne/

 

This would only cause confusion to the researcher when initially reading down the margin, assuming that the place names were surnames, as those are usually what one finds in the margin. Eventually, the penny would drop and one would see that these are not surnames of a few remarkably prolific families but place names of scattered communities.

Again in Espagnac, a different approach was tried a bit later. Here, the officer put both the surname and the place name in the margin of the birth register. In this case, it is immediately clear that the children are not all with grand monikers as the name in the registration is different from that in the margin. In the margin, the child's name appears to be Antoine Borie du Coudert, but in the registration, it is simply Antoine Borie.

Borie du Couderc

Archives départementales de la Corrèze, http://www.archives.cg19.fr/recherche/archiveenligne/

To verify that the surname is not Borie du Coudert, you could check the table annuelle at the end of the register for the year. It shows that the name is Antoine Borie, tout simple.

Espagnac naissances 1818Archives départementales de la Corrèze, http://www.archives.cg19.fr/recherche/archiveenligne/

To verify that it is a place name, you would have to check maps and lists of place names for Espagnac, as well as read through more of the register to determine the officer's procedures.

We hope that this brings no disappointment, that none of you are having to let go of a name that seemed grand but is more plain and honest. If so, try to remember that some of these place names bring no glory. Du Marais, for example, means "from the swamp".

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


A French Stumbling Block on Your GPS Road

Paris-Vienne 1902

A few years ago, we attended the excellent online study session run by "Dear Myrtle" on the book "Mastering Genealogical Proof" by Thomas W. Jones. We published our own little booklet on trying to align French documentation with the Genealogical Proof Standard. After the second session, we wrote:

      • Civil, as opposed to parish or religious, documentation in America went from almost nothing in the earlier years to documents with an increasing amount of information. In many places, birth, marriage and death records were not kept until the mid-nineteenth century. Remoter places without churches or other religious establishments had no parish records either. In France, in spite of a few revolutions, there has been a steady recording of births or baptisms, marriages and deaths or burials since the sixteenth century.
      • In America, each state, once it decided to record information about individuals, determined what to record and how. There can be at least fifty different types of birth registration, and many more when the differences at the county level are taken into consideration. In France, the department is merely an administrative division, not a separate state with its own rights that is part of a federation. France is a republic with one and only one government, directed from Paris and the directives carried out at the departmental, arrondissement and communal levels throughout the country. Thus, all civil registrations at any one time follow the same format. Historically and still today, that format for a civil registration generally contains a great deal more information than a civil registration does in America.

This means that a researcher in America has to deal with a lack of civil registration that must be supplemented with other types of documentation (such as tax records, court records, etc.) and that much of the documentation, especially if it were created in a remote area with little administration,  may not be trustworthy.  Thus, much of the emphasis of the Genealogical Proof Standard is on the quality of the source and the source of the information. In France, however, civil and legal documentation tends to be more trustworthy for the simple reason that one always has had to show a document to make a document, e.g. to show an authenticated and official copy of one's birth registration or baptism registration (or now, one's identity card) to enroll in the army or to marry.

Primary, Secondary and Indeterminable Information

This requirement enhances the trustworthiness of French documentation -- by the criteria under discussion -- significantly. One panellist, Kathryn Lake Hogan, recounted a tale of a man who, on applying for a marriage license, gave an incorrect name for his parent. This would be unimaginable in France as both of the couple must present official copies of their birth registrations in order to marry, and those birth registrations give their parents' full names.

Perhaps in that last paragraph we were a bit blithe. In the past couple of years, our research has taken us down some tiny paths into the documentation of small communities and baffling families and we have come across an odd phenomenon that would seem to be rooted in some sort of grief or madness or obsession or serious cerebral limitation. What we have encountered is, essentially, a child assuming (or having forced upon it) the identity of a deceased older sibling. The procedure seems to follow something like this:

  • A child, say Antoine, is born in 1820 and dies in 1822.
  • Another child, say Léonard, is born to the same parents in 1825. He has no middle names.
  • No other male child is born to this couple.
  • Throughout his life, Léonard gives his name as Antoine but his date of birth as in 1825. He also gives his parents' names, birth dates, marriage date and death dates correctly.
  • On the census returns, Léonard appears with his family as Antoine, with his age corresponding to his birth year of 1825.

We have just come across our fifth example of this form of resurrection (of the dead child) or soul murder (of the living child) and find it quite remarkably unusual in the way that it is outside of the pattern of love of conformity that is the hallmark of the French civil servant's mind. While it may be fascinating to wonder about what was happening in those peoples' lives to drive them to this, as genealogists, this poses a serious problem with normally reliable French documentation.

It really does seem likely that Léonard born in 1825 is using the name Antoine; and we will want to assume that when Léonard marries using the name Antoine and gives his birth in 1825 and we find the birth registration in the name of Léonard, we can use it. Only we cannot, if we are going to adhere to the Genealogical Proof Standard, because we have nothing, absolutely no documentation, to say that Léonard called himself Antoine. What we must do is build a case with a great deal more research.

  • Every census return must be examined to see all possible children
  • The research must be extended to siblings and cousins of the parents to see if, actually, this may not be a cousin Antoine with the same date of birth and with parents of the same names (not at all a rarity) and, actually, that Léonard died in a different commune.
  • The saint's day for Antoine and for Léonard must be identified for the year 1825 and for 1820 to see if any logical use of the names can be discovered.
  • Church records will have to be pursued, not an easy task for post-1792 records, as they are not in archives or public records but belong to the Church. Copies of the baptisms of both children and of the burial record of the first Antoine must be requested from the local diocesan archives to see hnow the names appear.
  • The wills and death inventories of the parents of Antoine and Léonard should be requested, to see clearly the names of their surviving children.

Certainty of identification will probably be denied the researcher. In a case such as this, we suspect that a probable identification will be the best that one can achieve.

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy