The Municipal Archives of Colmar, un vrai cauchemar

AM Colmar

Well, Dear Readers, we may have met our match, being the staff of an archive facility to dampen our enthusiasm. We sauntered in to the Archives municipales de Colmar on a cold and sunny Monday afternoon. The reading room was small but easily accessible.

AM Colmar reading room

The staff were joking and making strange cat meow imitations amongst themselves, yet there was a glint of malice in the eye of one and overt suspicion in that of another (we will let off the apprentice, even though, later, when he blundered as to a carton number, he offered to forgive us the mistake.)

Procedures were as usual. We completed forms and showed our identity card. All was acceptable, it seemed. We were then handed a flimsy ticket by way of a reader's card, given with an explanation as slow as if we were a possible fool (and were we, for going there in the first place, we wonder), "This is so you will not have to fill out the forms again if you ever come back". The tone clearly implied that we had better not. Back to joking with one another and making animal sounds, no one offered to help us with finding aids; no one asked about our research or how to orient us. To be sure, these things are not required but they are a nicety one find regularly in most French archives.

AM Colmar - Purple

With real trepidation, we put our bags in the designated locker - purple again. (What attraction do the municipal archives of the region see in this ghastly shade of purple?) That done, we turned to the set of drawers that dominated the room and that had lured us from the moment we entered. They held large index cards of transcriptions of every single parish registration made in Colmar, from its earliest days, all in alphabetical order. A genealogical researcher's dream!

AM Colmar Index cards

We plunged in, looking at names in the letter Z, when the jolly animal imitator appeared from nowhere and quite forcefully slammed shut the drawer. We barely managed to save our fingers and looked at him with our own concoction of dismay and disdain. "I was afraid you might bump your head", he said, as irrationally as a madman.

It went from bad to worse.

We moved to the relative safety of a table and took out our notepad, pencil and camera. From behind a glass wall lunged a possible archivist, a woman of a certain age, in a shawl and dudgeon, scolding us from afar. "No photographs! You must ask permission before every photograph! You must write down every picture you take!" We were taken aback, not so much by the request, an extreme version of the norm, but by its somewhat frantic and hysterical delivery.

As the afternoon wore on and the staff's jokes and scoldings wore us down, we did manage to discover that this is an amazing archival collection covering hundreds of years of the city's history. Should you ever decide to visit the Municipal Archives of Colmar, wear a suit of armour and, as the staff will do nothing to help you, we show you here what we found to be one of the best of finding aids for the holdings from the beginnings to 1815.

Sittler

Accompanying this are large, green books that give a great deal more detail for each series, including complete lists of all names that appear. Additionally, for the era during the Revolutionary years, Colmar, unlike many cities, has annual census returns for the years 1790 through 1815, with only a couple of gaps.

Should your ancestors hail from Colmar, Dear Readers, you really should visit these archives but be warned, oh be warned.

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


The Departmental Archives of Vosges

AD vosges 1

Quelle luxe!

This is a wonderfully spacious facility, albeit quite far out of town (take bus number 4). There are large tables, each with electrical outlets for the fiendish tangle of chargers with which we are all now encumbered, with grand, wide windows onto a wood, currently in quite pretty autumn colour. One relaxes and works at a soothing yet productive pace in such an atmosphere of space, functionality and orderly calm. The entry contains an office where one registers as a user, a room with lockers, a coffee machine and a rather sad indoor garden (plants need air as well as light and water). There is, as yet, no wifi, but it is promised to be installed soon.

AD Vosges 5

We found the staff to be most helpful and polite. Yet, as Madame Roux-Morand informed us that she learned in an exercise with Professor Cosson, it was the magasinier, the person charged with the physical retrieval of the cartons, who often has the most knowledge. In this case, whichever archivist was at the desk when we asked a question, it was he who had the answer, while they were still struggling to look it up on the system. We saw this in our days as a librarian; there really is no electronic match for years of remembered experience. (Really, every archival and library facility should employ at least one person who truly knows the facility's holdings, with all of their quirks and idiosyncrasies, as no programmer will ever figure out how to extract that into a system.)

AD Vosges 6

Particularly helpful is the eight-page "Fiche d'aide à la recherche : Faire l'histoire de sa famille" (Research guide:  The History of Your Family). It begins with a reminder as to the délais de communication,  waiting periods before documents may be accessed; there is a minimum of fifty years where access might violate the privacy of a living person.) It then goes on to explain, specifically as to these holdings:

  • Ten-year indices, parish and civil registrations
  • The difference between parish and civil registrations
  • Explanations as to how they are organized in this facility
  • The finding aids
  • The notarial archives and their finding aids
  • The private archives that have been donated
  • Judicial archives (which we found to be particularly interesting as concerns Mennonite research)
  • Tax rolls
  • Census returns
  • Electoral rolls
  • Family archives
  • Suggestions for how to begin researching: Protestants, Catholics, Jewish people, soldiers, bureaucrats, sailors

It really is a marvelous introduction to how to use the archives and quite a generous offering to the family genealogist.

We can imagine that the city fathers of Epinal thought that they could save money by forcing their Municipal Archives into collapse and then depositing the remains in this grand, new facility. They do themselves no favours and they clearly do not understand the difference between the functions of the two types of archives. We think that they also may be showing a lack of civic pride.

Archives départementales des Vosges

4, rue Pierre Blanck

88050 Epinal

 

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Encounter With a Genealogist Who Specializes in Alsace-Lorraine

Au dela des racines

At the Lunéville salon, we had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with the genealogist, Sandrine Roux-Morand, owner of Au Delà des Racines, who specializes in Alsace-Lorraine research, especially into the Protestant and Jewish families of the region. This is a part of France in which people not only suffered from their territory changing national hands more than once but, even when all was calm, many of them chose to move from one side of the border to the other, and perhaps back again. Thus, a genealogist here really needs to be able to work in both French and German languages and archives to be able to trace the ancestry of these families. Madame Roux-Morand is fluent in both languages and has the research skills necessary.

She has a partner genealogist who will research in German archives but one imagines that she hardly requires much help as she has been selected to be the author of the upcoming book on German genealogy to be published by the ubiquitous Archives & Culture. The help will be, perhaps, in having someone on the spot to help navigate the road-blocks of German archives. As Madame Roux-Morand explains, the openness and generosity of the French archival tradition does not exist in Germany, where little is online, access is not permitted and nothing is free. There, apparently, one must pay a researcher to pull the record, then pay for a copy to be made by officials and, naturally, pay the postage for it to be sent.

A year or two ago, Madame Roux-Morand enhanced her qualifications by completing the diploma course in genealogy at the University of Nîmes, taught by Stéphane Cosson. We were very curious to hear about that course (much discussed in previous posts) from the point of view of a student. Her praise of the course was unqualified; she found it excellent. She told of class visits to archives facilities and of other exercises and studies but there was one that she described that we think, Dear Readers, could stand us all in good stead.

In this exercise, all students worked on the same family’s lineage. They were divided into four groups of four people each, and each group concentrated on a single generation of the family, gathering and transcribing all possible documentation on every individual of that generation. Then, they exchanged their work, so that fresh eyes could go over it. Think of the blunders and transcription errors that could be caught and corrected if every family’s historians tackled the research in such a fashion!

Madame Roux-Morand has another arrow in her quiver in that she also does the genealogical research for clients of psycho-généalogistes, (transgenerational psychotherapy).  Her colleagues are fully qualified therapists who, in some cases, think that their client may benefit from knowing more of their family history. It is a type of research requiring additional skills, including the ability to access and understand certain medical records. More importantly, it is clear that Madame Roux-Morand has the sensitive and intelligence to deliver and explain the research results with sensitivity. We have often wondered if this type of genealogical research, in addition to historical research, might not help to understand that mystery of why an ancestor chose to leave France and to immigrate to a new land.

Do have a look at her clean and elegant website to see the many aspects of genealogy which she pursues. 

It was a delight to meet this enthusiastic and obviously expert genealogist here in Alsace-Lorraine and we expect she will have and we do wish her many future successes.

Au Delà des Racines

Sandrine Roux-Morand

6 rue de la Charmille

67200 Strasbourg

www.audeladesracines.fr

sroux-morand@orange.fr

 

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

 


The Cercle de Généalogie Juive

CGJ

One of the main reasons that we attended the salon in Lunéville was in the hope that there might be a group dedicated to the research of the Mennonites of the region, but no. Nevertheless, the hunt for associations of specialists in research into religious groups was not at all fruitless. Alsace and Lorraine have and had a large Jewish community, so the presence of the Cercle de Généalogie Juive at the Grand Salon de Généalogie, Histoire, Patrimoine à Lunéville was most sensible and welcome. Their table with all of their publications was fascinating. Of particular interest to some of our Dear Readers will be the book on Sephardim from the Ottoman Empire (of whom there were some eight thousand) who came to France during the First World War, Destins de Séfarades Ottomans : les Israélites du Levant en France pendant la Première Guerre mondial, by Philippe Denan.

Other publications include:

  • Extracts from various sources on the Jewish communities of Lorraine
  • Books about Jewish cemeteries throughout France, with photographs of each tombstone, transcriptions of the engravings and histories of the communities
  • A regular review, Généalo-J, produced three times per year, and which has many articles that are research guides

Many of these may be purchased as PDF documents and downloaded immediately. A complete list of the many, many publications may be found here.

The group is quite dynamic, with monthly lectures at the Mémorial de la Shoah and monthly genealogy clinics to help you with your research at the Mediathèque du Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme in Paris.

The organization is perhaps the best resource for French Jewish genealogy.

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


A Genealogy Fair in Lorraine - Le Salon de Généalogie à Lunéville

Salon 10

France does not have one of those national, gigantic genealogy gatherings on the scale of a National Genealogy Society Annual Conference or a RootsTech. This is for two reasons, we posit: firstly, there is a strong opposition among family historians to the commercialization of genealogy and, secondly, France does not really do massive extravaganzas of any type (except, perhaps, those Quatorze Juillet military parades that so impressed Old Man Potter).

However, there are many regional events that are, though smaller and less commercial, perhaps more interesting and less filled with sales pitches than the larger, American events. The only commercial presence was a stand for Filae, run by very polite people.

Filae

If you attended our recent course, you will have learned that Filae has purchased access to a number of extracts of some parish but mostly civil registrations from some regional genealogy associations around France. For a fee, you can access them and search them on Filae, bearing in mind that it is only a small part of the country's many such extracts published by the genealogy associations.

Understandably, the associations that have done this work, (all voluntarily, mind you), are quite proud of their accomplishments. They are keen to share and these regional fairs are one of the main ways to benefit from that. Most of the tables or stands at these fairs are not people selling access to commercial genealogy websites, they are local genealogy associations selling their own, highly specialized publications and offering to do free searches on their impressively complete databases. So, most of the people visiting are not professionals, but keen family historians bringing their brick walls and getting free help and solutions.

Free searches

It really is rather lovely, if much slower and pokier than research online. One meets experts in local family names, local history and local variations in palaeography, as is reflected by the proper name for this event: Grand Salon de Généalogie, Histoire, Patrimoine à Lunéville.

There were, obviously, stands of local Lorraine genealogy associations, but also those from Corrèze, Saône-et-Loire, neighbouring Vosges, Côte-d'Or, Nord, and plenty of others. Each had brought their computers loaded with the databases of all of their extracts (and some associations have completed extracting and indexing ALL of their department's parish and civil registrations) and people were queuing  for free searches. You can begin to see why Filae and other commercial genealogy services might be viewed with hostility at such events. In fact, we have been told (in an interview to follow) that professional genealogists are often banned from having stands at such salons, (which, by the way, are also almost always free to attend).

Should you ever find yourself doing a bit of genealogy tourism in France, check on Geneagenda to see what is on in the areas you will be visiting. Show your support by joining a couple of associations and purchasing some publications. Perhaps you will break down some brick walls. Then, enjoy the entertainment:

Salon 7

Salon 6

 

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

 


The Sad Archives Municipales of Epinal

AM Epinal Brochure

This has to be one of the saddest and most neglected of all the archives facilities we ever have visited. It is clear that municipal archives have not yet landed on France’s golden list of improvement projects. A dozen cities or more now have fabulous tram systems. Nearly all of the Departmental Archives have received new buildings, many of them close to one of those luxurious tram stops. Public spending is something in which France glories and we really do wish that they would spend on municipal archives.

AM Epinal Entry

The sad municipal archives of Epinal are house, literally, in a garage. It is the city’s garage for its service vehicles, so there was a great, stinking rubbish truck next to the entry when we arrived. At the sight of it, we suddenly understood why our efforts by e-mail to make an appointment to visit the archives had been brusquely rebuffed.

The archives website said it was open but could be visited by appointment only. We wrote and asked for an appointment. No, we were told. We wrote again asking to see those documents pertaining to religious history in the town. No, we were told, and it was suggested that we try the Departmental Archives of Vosges. We tried one more time, asking for a series that is almost always in municipal archives and not others, the passports issued by towns during the Terror in 1793 and 1794. No, again.

We went for a walk. We looked at the town. As we walked, that unwarranted rejection niggled, so we strolled up to the garage, braved the smell and opened the door marked archives. Grim stairs were to be climbed. We arrived in a tiny, electric purple entry that was also the reading room. One desk, one chair and shocking purple walls constituted the most remarkable reading room we have yet tried.

AM Epinal reading room

Stunned at our arrival, the assistant rushed to our aid, while her superior bellowed orders from her office but did not come round the corner to see us. In this tiny space, it seemed ludicrous. Yet, when she overheard that we were asking about a specific series, she came bounding out with unexpected enthusiasm and was most helpful. We were able to book to see the cartons that afternoon.

When we returned after the lunch break, there were smiles all around. The cartons were ready, the extremely helpful assistant had gone online and printed off numerous pages related to and most helpful for our research. Her boss had retreated around the corner and was again shouting comments without coming out.

The research was not entirely without result. We took some photos and asked permission to put them here to show to you, Dear Readers, as nice nineteenth century examples of passports issued by French consulates. For the first time ever, permission was refused

“Ask at the town hall,” came the bitter shout. The assistant smiled apologetically. We thanked her and left, carrying with us the impression not that this was wilful obstruction, but that we had that day witnessed an extreme case of professional despair, one most warranted, at that.

Dear Readers, should you ever find yourselves in Epinal, do two things:

1) Visit and use the Municipal Archives, and

2) Visit the town hall (a five minutes’ walk away) and leave a written complaint at the bad treatment and housing of the archives, while praising the archivists.

Perhaps we can help to bring about an improvement.

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Alsace-Lorraine Junket

Gare de l'Est 2

 

Oh, Dear Readers, apologies all round. Has The FGB ever endured such a hiatus? We cannot recall one so long but for those of you who attended our online course, we do hope that you feel that the silence here was counterbalanced by the effort at erudition there. Many thanks to the VIGR for inviting us to give the course and to Michael Hait for hosting it so nicely. Most of all, many thanks to those of you who attended the course. The next presentation, in February, is to be on French notarial records using a single family as a case study. The types of notarial records discussed in depth will be estate inventories, marriage contracts and wills, followed by an explanation of how to find them online.

Now, Dear Readers, back to The FGB, to which we return with enthusiasm as we take you with us on a junket (how we do love our junkets) to, at long last, Alsace-Lorraine. We departed from the newly glitzy Gare de l'Est in Paris and plan to visit the Departmental Archives of Vosges and Haut-Rhin, possibly those of Bas-Rhin, as well as some municipal archives facilities and some genealogy associations. There may be a genealogy show or two on the way. It is our intention to report to you, our Dear Patient Readers, every step of the way.

Send your comments while we are on the road, please! (Next day:) Many thanks for all of your comments. One of the subjects on which we will be concentrating is the Mennonites.

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Join Our Online Course - First Steps in French Genealogy

VIGR

Our most recent long silence is due to our refining and perfecting the lectures we will be giving online via the VIGR, entitled First Steps in French Genealogy. We will explain in detail over four lectures how to begin your research into your French ancestry and how to use online resources. This is aimed at the beginning researcher but as we will have the luxury of time, we will be able to include many hints and details that will help even the most advanced researcher the better to interpret and use the registrations. Please do sign up now and join us!


Guest Post - Researching a French Ancestor of Berlin

Sad lady

We have received a wonderful guest post from Loyal FGB Reader, Monsieur C, detailing his research of French ancestors in Berlin and Mainz.

 

My success story for today: I have an ancestor Peter Franz Nicolas Bello (1743-1821), who lived in Berlin, married twice, had eight children, and died, all in Berlin.  But, his origins were not known.  No baptism could be found for him in Berlin.  His marriage records did not mention his parents’ names.   A few of his records, including his burial, used French forms of his names, Pierre or Francois, so I suspected he might have been French. 

Another cousin and I have been working on this problem for nearly 50 years.  We both hired separate researchers in Berlin, but no one could find anything.  Most of the French in Germany at that time seem to be Huguenots, but most of them arrived closer to 1685, so his baptism should be in Germany, right?  What to think or do?

I don’t usually subscribe to ancestry.com at the International level, as for so long they were so limited for the extra money.  But, every few years I get tempted to try again, to see if anything new turns up which is of value in my research.  

Subscribing anew, I saw that Ancestry now has a lot of pertinent Berlin records to this case, so I thought I would try to find them all and look them over for any possible clues which might point to new research.  

After successfully finding the records for his two marriages, baptisms for his eight children and his burial, one thing among them drew my attention: in the 1802 baptism for his eighth child, there was a witness, Catherine Mathee, born Bello.  Aha!  Perhaps an aunt or a sister.  Another witness was Joseph Mathee of Mainz.  Perhaps her husband or son?  Perhaps researching Catherine might reveal new information. 

1802 baptism

Searching ancestry.com for Catherine Mathee in Mainz, I was pleasantly surprised to find an 1806 Mainz death record for Catherine Matheo.  Better, it was linked to the actual record.  Better yet, the record was in French (Napoleon’s France controlled Mainz from 1795-1814, which they called Mayence), so I could mostly read it. 

1806 death

It said she was 65 (so born about 1740/41, so probably Pierre’s sister), she was born in Metz, Dept. of Moselle, and that her parents were Francois Bello and Catherine ___. 

Finally, I had a new place to look for Pierre’s baptism, records were available on-line, and possible parents’ names.  OK, maybe they weren’t Huguenots, but they were French.

Metz had 15 parishes, and it took me more than a week of paging through 1740-1743 records, looking for Pierre and Catherine, and I finally found Pierre’s baptism in the 14th parish, Saint Simplice (his mother’s name was not Catherine, though it turns out that was his paternal grandmother’s name).   

It is so pleasing to finally know his name as baptized was Pierre Nicolas François Bello, to know his birthplace of Metz, his birthdate of Dec. 8, 1743, and his parents’ names: Nicolas François Bello and Elisabeth Evrard. 

1743 baptism

After a concerted effort, I also found sister Catherine Bello’s baptism in 1741, born Jan. 7, even though it had eluded me and a later-discovered previously-published work on archive.org because the extracted “margin” name was wrong (Catherine Francois instead of Catherine Bello).  It would have saved me a many hours if I had had this reference before.  I also found via filae.com that there were also two later children not mentioned, Joseph and Pierre, who were baptized some distance from Metz. 

1741 Baptism

This case also included an interesting scenario where Pierre’s father Nicolas Francois also had a 13-years younger brother with the same name, Nicolas Francois. I have found that usually when another child in a family is given a name previously used, it is because the earlier child died. But, this is my second case where an elder child was given the responsibility of being the godparent, so the new infant received the same name.  Luckily, his younger brother had a different profession, and married three times with the record always giving either his age or his previous wife’s name, so I could distinguish them. 

I also found that Pierre’s father, Nicolas Francois Bello the elder, referenced in Catherine Bello’s death record above, also died in Mainz in 1801.  I am still working on what happened to his mother Elisabeth Evrard.  Maybe the entire family left France, perhaps during the French Revolution, I don’t know.

I used both archives.metz.fr and archives57.com, especially the former with mostly original registers and it being a little easier for me to navigate.  Lovely that they have color images of originals, and not scanned poor b/w microfilm images.  Image resolution on archives.metz.fr is limited but quality is still usually OK. 

I have since spent many more hours paging through some of the Metz registers and the 2 Protestant registers, with occasional help from filae.com indexes, I have managed to build his tree back another 4 to 6 generations, with more work that can be done. 

Once again, patience and persistence paid off.  Fifty years of. 

This break-through in this story is another example of why I like to see actual records myself, to see if maybe someone else misread or ignored something which might turn out to be important.

 Other: without any good indexes yet (filae has an extremely limited number for Metz from CG Moselle), the register scanning process (which I have done in about 12 French cities now), usually seems to involve some degree of looking at the same register pages repeatedly as one learns of more family names to keep track of, it becoming necessary to repeat the review process to find the records which were not noted during the first pass.  Many times, I have been tempted to try to make some sort index of all names in order to greatly facilitate locating any of them again, though I haven’t thought of an efficient method which might turn out to be worth the effort.  Thoughts welcome! :-)

I have also thought of trying to organize the various parish registers in a city (and nearby) by years, maybe in a spreadsheet or table, with links, but again, I see no clear elegant path, especially as some registers are B only, some are BM, some are BMS, some are MS, some are S only.  As it is, I gradually compile pages of cheat sheets as to what vue (image) number each year begins for each parish or the rare yearly index, which often turn out to be very handy in saving time later, here and there.

 

Monsieur C has shared with us a good example of cluster research, (what Elizabeth Shown Mills calls the FAN club principle) here and we are most indebted. Read the comments below to see that we are not alone in saying :Merci!

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Make a Suggestion for Our Course

Hard at work

Dear Readers, we have been hard at work on our planned course with the Virtual Institute of Genealogical Research entitled "First Steps in French Genealogy". Things are coming along nicely but we thought we might ask you if there are any additional points that you would like to see covered. Please do have a look at the course outline at the link above and, if there is anything more that you would like to see included, tell us in a comment on this page or in an e-mail and we will do our best to fit it in.

Many thanks!

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy