You May Now Purchase Recordings of Our French Genealogy Lectures

Learn French Genealogy

Many of you, Dear Readers, expressed regret at not being able to take our online French genealogy courses offered a few months ago with the Virtual Institute of Genealogical Research (which has, sadly, ceased operating). Each of those two courses consists of four lectures of an hour and a half each; to take them was rather a big commitment. Now, you can purchase the recordings* of the eight lectures separately, enabling you to learn at your own pace and to select only the lectures that you think you may need, in whatever order you prefer to hear them.

The lecture titles are:

Series 1 - First Steps in French Genealogy

  1. The History and Development of French Parish and Civil Registrations - The purpose, structure and requirements of the registration of population data changed over the centuries of the Ancien Régime, through the Revolution and into modern times. What information was written, how and why, are covered, as are the non-Catholic registrations of populations such as the Jewish and Protestant peoples.
  2. Birth and Death Registrations - While French death registrations normally provide very little information, birth registrations, particularly from the mid-nineteenth century onward, are often a rich source of detail. How to find, interpret and use this information is explained.
  3. Marriage Registrations - French marriage registrations often run to two full pages in the registers, with a wealth of information. Their format is explained and examples are examined.
  4. Online Resources and How to Use Them - There are dozens of French websites of use to the genealogist, most of which are free to use. However, most are in French. This session discusses them and gives guidelines for the non-French speaker in how to navigate them.

Series 2 - French Notarial Records

  1. History and Definitions - The course begins with an explanation and history of notaires and notarial records and with a discussion of their importance to French families. The six degrees of relationship, so important in French inheritance law, are explained. The case study family is introduced.
  2. The Death Inventory and Wills - The structure and format of the death inventory is explained and discussed, followed by a discussion of French wills. Examples from the case study are examined, showing how such documents not only reveal much about a life but can also provide much genealogical information.
  3. The Marriage Contract - Marriage contracts have been common in French families for centuries. Why this is so is explained, as are the main types of contract. The structure and format are explained and examples examined. Because an entire family is usually involved, these contracts can be of enormous genealogical value and should never be ignored. Two marriage contracts from the case study family are examined.
  4. How to Find Notarial Records Online - Finding notarial records is complicated. This session explains how they are stored, how the indices to them are structured, and how to find the record sought. The unique case of Parisian notarial archives is also explained.

The price for each recording is $15. This includes the syllabus.

The recordings are MP4 files and can be played with Quicktime and a number of other programmes.

The files are quite large (70 to 90 MB) and will be shared with you via DropBox, so you will need to be able to access DropBox.

To purchase a recording, write to us at TheFGB(AT)protonmail(DOT)com .

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

*We are most grateful to the VIGR Director and eminent genealogist, Michael Hait, for the suggestion and permission to make our lectures available in this way.


Further to Gallipolis and "The French 500" - a Guest Post

Monsieur C. who is very modest, indeed, writes that he followed the suggestions in our previous post on this subject and purchased the book we there recommended,   Gallipolis : Histoire d'un mirage américain au XVIIIe siècle, by Jocelyne Moreau-Zanelli. He then tested the website of the Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime and has this to contribute:

Let me offer some advice for non-French-speaking researchers attempting to glean the maximum benefits from the suggestions you provided concerning the French sources:

A.  Starting from a higher level view, the online archives for the department of Normandy named Seine-Maritime are found here:

http://www.archivesdepartementales76.net/

B.  At this writing, their main page has a link entitled "Inscription Maritime" which will take you where we want to go.  However, the business of maintaining interesting web pages being what it is, it may be that by the time you want to go there, they will have re-organized the navigation of their web presence and that convenient link may have become obscure.  If you don't see it, try this.

The upper right corner -- across traditions and writing styles of many types worldwide -- usually provides a search facility of some sort.  In this case, the magnifying glass is your language-independent iconic friend.  Enter the phrase [without the quotes] "inscription maritime" and you should find what you are looking for in the list that will be returned.  For lazy folks too used to Google, do not expect google-like interpretation of your desires -- spell each word correctly and you will be happy, otherwise you will remain lost.

On that page, the link reading "click here to access the Inscription Maritime listings" will keep its promise.

C.  Now, at least with today's user experience design interface, you will have two drop-down lists from which to hone your request for relevant information.  The top one [Quartier] will let you select as between the two key ports present in the department.  The first is for the port activities at Le Havre, the second is for the activities at Rouen.

Let me interject that in my hours of browsing, I have looked at activities for both ports.  My simplistic, non-informed conclusion is that you get about what you would expect.  Le Havre is the major port handling sailings around the world.  If you need to make a trans-oceanic sailing, you would like the harbor best suited to ships of that size and the administrative support infrastructure to go with international trade and commerce.  If, on the other hand, you mostly want to move smaller amounts of cargo and passengers from port to port within France, or the ports of its [at that moment in time] friendly neighbors, Rouen might be more convenient.  The bottom line, for our limited purposes, is that the likelihood of stumbling upon persons involved in emigration to the anticipated Northwest Territory paradise, is several orders of magnitude more likely for the Le Havre listings than those for Rouen.

D.  The next drop-down lets you select the type of source material you wish to browse.  Here I would truly love it if our hostess, Ms. Morddel, might find a moment to update and expand upon the information she gave us in July, 2016, when we celebrated the first availability of this online gold mine.  The number of, and the nomenclature for, the different alternatives do not line up simply with what you will find present in the drop down lists at this point in time.  If she does not have the time to do an update, you ought to find that Google Translate is at least 95% reliable, and can perform the task very well, but the problem is that translating something like d’armement et de désarmement to arming and disarming is really sort of an anachronistic thing that we would really need Peter Seller's Inspector Clouseau reincarnated to perform with appropriate charm.

As an ex naval officer, I can handle the military basis of the terminology, but our relatives heading to Gallipolis were not soldiers and sailors and they were not carrying munitions to stave off the nasty Brits they might have met at sea, so I, for one, would appreciate definitions more representative of the arrivals and departures characteristic of immigration travel.  So, until that may be accomplished, here's what I think I have learned:

     a.  The "finding aid" that a répertoire may well represent does not seem to have come into general use until after the period of time in which we are searching.  There is, as far as I can see, no nice, brief list give the names of vessels which entered or left Le Havre in the 1790 time-frame.  The materials elsewhere found under "Matricules" provided some names of some vessels, but my non-French-reading-eye was unable to extract any really useful information from the summary of voyages found therein.

     b.  The following summarizes voyage/passenger factoids that I hope will turn out to be a part of Ms. Moreau-Zanelli's research and analysis.  The two voyages of Le Patriote and La Liberté are clearly the most important, and form the basis, as best I can tell, of the work of the Gallia County Genealogical Society.

      • Quartier du Havre (6P)
      • Roles des batiments de commerce
      • Long cours, cabotage, bornage et grand pêche
      • 1790 (910)
      • désarmement n° 002-201
          • The most interesting passenger lists relate to Martinique. I have seen not a single sailing to New Orleans -- should I be surprised, or should I know the historical situation seemingly preventing them from going there. I found nothing relating to America.
      • 1791 (938)
      • désarmement n° 001-200
        • 156-173 Le Patriote
        • 280-304 La Liberté
        • 507-517  Le Navire Les Citoyens de Paris
          • Seems to have sailed from Bordeaux to La Havre in July, 1791, but this document says nothing about sailing to America.
      • 1792 (894)
      • désarmement n° 001-193
        • 232-235 Le Jeune Cole
          • Just 3 passengers -- with some connection to Britain -- destined for Philadelphie en Virginie.
        • 387-389 La Gracieuse
          • To Richmond en Virginie.  This item has a note from Vice Consul Oster explaining that some returning cargo has been sent via another ship on another route. There is no information concerning passengers.
        • 447-450  La Victoire
          • To Baltimore en Virginie.  Third footprint of Vice Consul Oster, but no useful passenger facts.
        • 505-508 L'amiable Antoinette
          • Outbound there is an American citizen named John Stuart, but embarking in Alexandria for the return to le Havres du Grace are ten passengers presumed to be French.
        • 575-578 Le Prince Royal
          • To Petersburg en Virginie.  Another Oster footprint, again no useful passenger facts.
        • 652-658 L'Alexandrine
          • To Petterbourg en Virginie.  Another Oster footprint, again no useful passenger facts.
        • 688-692 Le Ferier
          • To Norfolk from St. Valery sur Somme, Department De Dunkerque.  No passenger facts.
        • 826-829 La Mouche
          • To Philadelphie en Virginie came Michel Ange Bernard Mangourit to be Consul General at Charleston. He would be crucial to Genet's plans. There are quite a few other legible names on this list of passengers.
      • 1793 (448)
      • désarmement n° 001-163
        • 118-120 L'Aigle
          • To Hampton en Virginie. No passenger facts.
        • 167-170 L'Aimable Antoinette
          • James Cole Mountflorence is aboard the vessel heading for Alexandrie, leading the way for Genet.
        • 204-207 L'Adelaide
          • Two citizens to Newiorck en Virginie.
        • 334-337 La Jeune Alexandrine
          • Sailed from St. Valery sur Somme to Fredericksbourg en Virginie. There is no passenger data.
      • 1794-5 (103)
      • désarmement n° 003-043
          • Almost all voyages internal, few external, none U.S. related.
      • 1795-6 (133)
      • désarmement n° 001-035
          • The nomenclature of the Republique has arrived in force. The sailings take place in the 2nd and 3rd years of the Republique and are to/from the Arrondissement du Havre-Marat; the Department du Normandie is passe and America is off their radar entirely.

NOTA BENE:  The two 3-digit numbers separated by a dash give you the page number of the listing where the voyage of the named ship will be found.  This should save you hours of work in repeating my effort in culling the listings.  Native French readers, and more, those trained to more easily identify the forms of abbreviation and style of composition of that era, ought to be able to quickly navigate directly to the pages noted and could summarize the welter of in-line as well as the marginal notes found there.

Well! Dear Readers, we do hope that you will find the hard work of Monsieur C to be helpful to you in searching through the passenger lists. We extend our heartfelt thanks to Monsieur C for this contribution.

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Filae Launches an English Version

Filae languages

Sound the fanfare, Filae.com, one of the two major French commercial genealogy websites, now has pages in English. Click on the French flag in the upper right hand corner and a blended US/UK flag will drop down. Click on that and away you go.

Filae English

For those of you who have been intimidated by the French, you may now jump in and explore many, many French genealogy resources, all of them pretty well indexed.

Enjoy!

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Protestant and Huguenot Research - The TT Series

Series TT

Those sly pixies at the Archives nationales have been working diligently and without fanfare. Archivists above the fray, perhaps holding the cult of celebrity in contempt and scorning the celebrity's unseemly lust for self proclamation (a sign of a flawed personality) disguised as self promotion (a sign of a brain that spent its developmental years absorbing televised used car adverts), may have taken their modesty too far. No one noticed when they quietly slipped onto the Salle des Inventaires virtuelles, the finding aids for the TT Series, accompanied by some of their wonderfully explanatory essays. Even more excitingly, some of the original archives have been digitized and can be seen online (at no charge) on the website of the Archives nationales.

We have mentioned the TT Series before, in our post on Huguenot Genealogy. How things have progressed since we penned that essay! A large number of Departmental Archives  have digitized their Protestant registers and now have them available on their websites. 

The TT Series is the collection of records concerning the Protestants and the property confiscated from them after the 1685 revocation of the Edict of Nantes, when persecution of the Protestants, after nearly one hundred years of tolerance, began again. Specifically, the sub-series are:

  • TT//1 to TT//83 - Records concerning the management of Protestant property from 1686 to 1751. Arranged alphabetically by location.
  • TT//84 to TT//229, plus TT459 and TT460 - Queries, investigations and statements concerning Protestant property, much of which had been confiscated. Arranged alphabetically by the property owner.
  • TT//230 to TT//276B - Archives des Consistoires. All of the records and registers confiscated from the suppressed Protestant churches, (consistoires or temples,) these are thought to be "the most important part of the series concerning the history of Protestantism, both before and after the Edict of Nantes". They are fully explained in the section entitled "Description" here. There is also a complete index here. Joy of joys, some of these may be seen online. The diligent and expert people at Geneawiki have created the easiest pages of links:
    • Selected folders from TT//264 through TT//275A linking to the Archives nationales films of the documents. Keep checking the main page of Consistoires listings for new films as they are added.
    • Selected folders from TT//230 through TT//276, linking to digital photos on Geneanet taken by volunteers. Unfortunately, many are very blurred and almost impossible to read.
  • TT//277 to TT//429, plus TT//461 and TT//462 - Records concerning the management of Protestant property from 1686 to 1789. Arranged by subject, this section is a bit less clearly structured. An extremely detailed listing of TT//376 to TT//429 can be read here.
  • TT//430 to TT//464 - Miscellaneous - A few of these may also be seen as digital photos on Geneanet taken by volunteers here.

The complete and detailed listing of the above can be seen here.

The availability of these archives on the Internet will enhance Protestant and Huguenot research significantly. Really quite exciting.

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Gallipolis and "The French 500"

Wilderness

One of you, Dear Readers, has written, asking us to write about the poor French dupes of some early American scam artists. Known in Ohio as 'The French 500", they were a group of people, some of the nobility, some artisans, and their families who thought that they might have a better future anywhere else than in revolutionary France. A glib Yale man who spoke French, Joel Barlow, and who had more passion than integrity, took advantage of their fears and hopes and sold them land that neither he nor the company he represented, the Scioto Company, actually owned. The Wikipedia article on Barlow states that "Scholars believe that he did not know the transactions were fraudulent."

Oh, yes he did, and the superb, definitive study on Gallipolis, proves it, using French notarial records, beyond any doubt. Gallipolis : Histoire d'un mirage américain au XVIIIe siècle, by Jocelyne Moreau-Zanelli, is the book published from her thesis and it is a masterpiece of historical research clearly presented. She explains first the background to land speculation in America, and then describes that shady character, William Duer, and his creation of the Scioto Company. We like that she sees, in this context, the American Dream as the American Mirage, and property speculation as a uniquely American tradition, (reminding us of our father, a very unsuccessful realtor who truly believed that every next deal would put us on Easy Street). She digs deep into notarial records of the sales, examines the economic, social and historical reasons that people might quit Paris for the wilderness of the Northwest Territory, and reveals the types of people who went.

For most of you, Dear Readers, language throws up its proverbial barrier, for the book is in French. We really do think there is a call for it to be translated into English for there are many who would appreciate it, so please do urge your friends in publishing to consider it. We will here extract what is perhaps the most genealogically useful information.

With very impressive sleuthing, Ms. Moreau-Zanelli has identified seven vessels that carried French emigrants:

  • Recovery
  • Pennsylvania
  • Patriote
  • Liberté
  • Mary
  • Lady Washington
  • Nautilus of Scarborough
  • Union
  • Citoyenne de Paris

Not all of their ports of departure are known but she discovered their three ports of arrival as Amboy, Alexandria and Philadelphia. For two of the vessels, the Patriote and the Liberté, departing passenger lists survive in the Le Havre passenger lists on the website of the Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime. (Both are on roll number 6P6/19) They have been transcribed by  the "Gallia County Genealogical Society OGS Chapter, Inc." reached via their page on The French 500.  Beware that these are partial transcriptions and that some names have been missed. For example, on the Patriote, there were André Joseph Villard, his wife, Noel Agathe Sophie Demeaux, and their two daughters, Constance Eugenie Etiennette and Félicité, along with two domestic servants. The transcription misses out six-year-old Félicité.

It will never be possible to compile a list of all of the passengers' names, for the documents have not survived. Additionally, many of the aristocrats, not wishing to voyage with the hoi polloi, booked their own passages, often by way of Saint-Domingue. However, Ms. Moreau-Zanelli has compiled a superbly helpful list, entitled "Tableau de Ventes", with over three hundred names of people who bought land from the Scioto Company through Barlow. In the table, she gives about each purchaser his or her:

  • Name
  • Profession
  • Sex
  • Place of origin
  • Amount of land purchased
  • Amount paid

This table, along with the two surviving passenger lists, will probably be the the most complete list of names of The French 500 that will ever be possible. We hope that you will be able to find your ancestor among them.

Please, we beg of you, if you have an interest in this subject, to buy Ms. Moreau-Zanelli's book and to encourage others to do so; do not steal her hard work and put it on some Rootsweb list. That is the sort of thing that brings scorn upon all of us who are genealogists.

Gallipolis : histoire d'un mirage américain au XVIIIe siècle

Jocelyne Moreau-Zanelli

published by l'Harmattan in 2000

ISBN-13: 978-2738489173

458 pages

 

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Italians in Nice and Marseille

Nice

Something must be afoot among those of Italian descent who stumble upon ancestors born in southern France, particularly in Nice or Marseille. We usually receive a trickle of queries on the subject but they are increasing of late, not quite to flood level but, shall we say, to the level of a mighty river in full flow. What is the cause, Dear Readers? We cannot say but we can explain the presence of some of  these Italians in southern France that seem so bemusing to you.

Succinctly, both cities are on the Mediterranean Sea; Marseille, a major port,  has been French since the fifteenth century, while Nice, on a beautiful bay, was a part of the Duchy of Savoie from the fourteenth century and did not join France definitively until 1860. The culture and language of Nice were so Italian that, after 1860, a serious process of francisation was considered necessary by the authorities.

The Wikipedia article explaining that delightful word does not do justice to the concept; it limits it merely to language. We find that francisation is so much more than simply replacing a word with its French equivalent, something the sainted Fowler abhors; it is making someone or something French. Vessels can undergo francisation, wherein they are not merely sold but are treated as if they were built in France. We think a case can be made that the new, French, birth registrations created for naturalized citizens may be said to be a form of francisation. In the French mind, places, people and objects, can be transformed, by francisation,  into someone or something completely and originally French. We asked our friend, the scholar Monsieur B. about this. Over a glass of pinot, he explained the ever so precise French definitions of pays, état, et nation, country, state and nation. "Le pays est le territoire": a country is a geographical term, a place defined by its territory.  "L'état est l'administration": the state is the administration and institutions. "La nation est le peuple" : the nation is the people. The francisation of Nice would have been, he explained, across all three and, therefore, thorough and absolute. A century and a half ago the character of Nice changed dramatically as the city and her people became French, while Marseille, though as polyglot as any great port, has been very French for six hundred years.

Their close neighbour, now Italy, has had intertwined histories with both cities. Turin and Nice were part of the same duchy for hundreds of years, for example, trading comfortably with one another. Marseille has consistently been a place of refuge for Italians, some of whom we wrote about here. In the late nineteenth century, more than ninety thousand Italians migrated, often temporarily, to Marseille, seeking work. Thousands more spread across the region. So, many northern Italian families have branches in Nice and many migratory Italian families had one or two children born in Marseille.

To research Italian ancestors who lived in and near these cities, different procedures are necessary for each. Those of you with established skills in French genealogy will find Nice more complicated but not impossible. We have explained Nice research and given more history here and here . We have written about Marseille Marriage records online, and about our visits to the Municipal Archives of Marseille and the Departmental Archives of Bouches-du-Rhône. Should you be able to visit this last for your research, a number of different record series contain information on Italians in and around Marseille:

  • Police surveillance records
  • Census returns, including in some towns, special censuses of Italians
  • Tenement inspections by public health officials
  • For those who remained and took French nationality, they may appear in the naturalization application files

You may also want to search for a name in the naturalization files of the Archives nationales. These include refused applications. The French commercial genealogy websites, especially Filae.com, have indexed the official publication of announcements of naturalizations (so, only those granted). 

Lastly, if you lose track of them again, be aware that many Italians in France migrated on to Algeria. To research these, you will want to go to the website of the Archives nationales d'outre-mer.

The research can be very rewarding, helping to track a family's movements between France and Italy, and finding births and marriages in French records that could not be found in Italian records.

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

 


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