Fire at the Bordeaux City Hall - the Municipal Archives Are Safe

Singed signPhoto ©SudOuest


By now, Dear Readers, you may have noticed that things are somewhat disruptive here in France. In case you are not aware, we are experiencing many days of strikes called by many unions in protest against two things:

  1. A new law to change the age of retirement from sixty-two to sixty-four. It also will change how pensions are calculated and will reduce the pensions of many, especially women.
  2. The way that the law was passed, without a vote in the National Assembly, but by using an article in the Constitution that empowers the Prime Minister to declare the law passed. When this article, known as 49.3, is used, it is automatically permitted for the National Assembly to request a vote of no confidence in the government. Two such requests were made and neither was passed. So the law was.

The protests and strikes have been going on for a number of weeks. Perhaps the most tedious aspect for those in Paris is that the rubbish has not been collected. Not only are the mountains of bin bags high and most odoriferous, but the rat population has joyously exploded, with exultant and grateful rats visible in parks, on roads, in the Mètro tunnels and scrambling over the rubbish mountains.

Then things got more violent, and this is probably what you may have seen in news reports. Protestors throwing molotov cocktails and corrosive acid at police, police beating protestors with batons and worse. In France, one never witnesses such things without immediately thinking of the Revolution and the Paris Commune. In the latter, as we have explained here often, the Paris City Hall, with all of the city's hundreds of years of parish registers, was torched and completely destroyed.

Hotel de VillePhoto © Archives de Paris

Bordeaux has had her own loss of records, when the port archives, which could have been so useful to researchers of passenger lists, were destroyed by a fire, as we wrote here. In the protests this week, the people of Bordeaux and those researching their Bordeaux ancestors nearly missed another such loss. As the marchers chanted their rage at the government in front of the City Hall, some of them were seen to place wooden pallets and bags of rubbish against the grand eighteenth century doors and set them alight. The flames raged very high. For the genealogists amongst us who know that the building houses the more recent civil registers of the city (not the older archives, which are in the Municipal Archives of Bordeaux,) this was a moment of dread. 

Be reassured, Dear Readers, it was only the doors to the courtyard that were damaged, and the fire was extinguished within fifteen minutes, so they were not utterly destroyed. No part of the archives was damaged. Arrests have been made; the perpetrators appear to have been teen-aged boys. The City Council are considering bringing charges against the mayor for not having provided better security. The next day of strikes and protest marches is planned for Tuesday. Let us hope that there will be no violence or fires.


A Reader Asks for Help

Alt Strasburg

We have received an unusual plea, Dear Readers. Perhaps one of you may wish to respond. If so, contact us and we will relay your interest. 

"My brother did extensive genealogical research on our family, concentrating on the branch from Alsace Lorraine, especially Saint Quirin. He died recently and I am investigating whether his research could be useful to others. His records are hand-written and include at least 2000 pages, all unindexed. We suspect that much of his work may have been done before so many archives and records became available on the Internet. This part of the collection, perhaps thirty per cent, would be obsolete. He also wrote many articles about his research findings, and had, on his numerous visits to France, copied documents that are not available online. This part of the collection is what we would like to share with other researchers.

We are hoping to find someone with significant knowledge of Alsace Lorraine genealogy and genealogical resources to go through this material. We would like an analysis of what to make available to other researchers and how to do so. We would like the material to be indexed and put in a logical order so that it may be easily used by others. As it would be impossible to scan this entire archive for online work, it is essential that this person be based in or near New York City and able to work with the physical archive. "

Having Trouble With the Côtes-d'Armor Departmental Archives Website?

Bad Day

We have heard from Madame T and a couple of others that the website of the Departmental Archives of Côtes-d'Armor are not working properly, nay, are blocked, for users outside of France. She reports that, from this screen, showing links to all digitized, online records of the archives:


C d A

when she selects parish records, she repeatedly is taken to this Screen of Torment:


C d A blocked

This does not happen when we use the site from our computer here in the nether regions of France. The intrepid Madame T managed to contact the Archives départementales des Côtes-d'Armor and received a reply (quite an achievement, that). They explained that they have locked online access to parish records from outside France for security reasons. This is the first that we have heard of such a xenophobic blockage. Madame T, never one to accept defeat, writes that she found the necessary parish registers on FamilySearch.

Have any of you, Dear Readers, found this on other websites of Departmental Archives? If so, were the records then found on FamilySearch?

Do let us know.

Many thanks to Madame T for this report.

©2023 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Black History Month - The 1807 census of People of Colour in France

1794 Abolition of SlaveryImage credit*


France, like other countries, does not have a stellar past in its relationship to slavery and people of colour. In 1794, during the heady days of the Revolution, the law of 16 pluviôse An II, abolished slavery throughout the French colonies. In 1802, when Napoleon, described by some historians as a "nègrophobe",  was First Consul, he reinstated slavery with a series of decrees. Further laws concerning people of colour were increasingly restrictive.

On the 2nd of July 1802, the Consulate passed the order of 13 messidor An X, which said that no foreign people of colour ("noir, mulâtre, ou autre gens de couleur") could enter France under any circumstances; additionally, except for those in the service of France, no people of colour from the colonies could enter continental France without specific permission from the authorities; finally, any people of colour who entered France in violation of this decree would be detained and deported. This began a new phase of documenting people of colour in France.

13 messidor An XLa Gazette nationale ou le Moniteur universel, 1 October 1802, p. 2, Retronews

(We touched on this in an older post but have since learned more of the history, especially the 1807 census of Black people in France.)

At the same time, the order of 29 May 1802 (9 prairial An 10) was passed, establishing three auxiliary companies of Black men, under white officers, in the French Army, one to be based in the south and two on the Atlantic coast.

9 prairial An X

La Gazette nationale ou le Moniteur universel, 1 October 1802, p. 2, Retronews

By 1807, what with all of Napoleon's campaigns, more men were needed for the army, many more. In part to find more Black men for the auxiliary companies, in part to identify and maintain surveillance of all people of colour in France, something of a census of people of colour within France was ordered. All of the prefects throughout the country made lists of the people of colour within their jurisdictions, such as this that we found in the Departmental Archives of Gironde.

1807 census in LibourneArchives départementales de la Gironde

1807 LibourneArchives départementales de la Gironde

The census was completed by October of 1807 and the prefects' lists sent to Paris. They survive in the Archives nationales, in series F7 8075. A few studies of them have been written, especially by Erick Noël, Julie Duprat and Olivier Caudron. We have not seen this collection but, if the prefects' lists are all like the one shown above, and the collection is as substantial as reported, representing a true census of people of colour in First Empire France, surely they are an important resource and need to be made available online. We hope that the reproduction department at the archives will take note. Perhaps this could be one of the projects to be sponsored by the Foundation for the Remembrance of Slavery.

Should we be able to get there ourself one day, we promise to report on it here.

© 2023, Anne Morddel

French Genealogy





Image credit: 

Image credit


FGB Free Clinic - Case no. 9 - Marie Fouyol, Parisian wife of Thomas Mansell, part 11 - Fanny Mansell's Sampler


From Monsieur E, we have received the most astonishing of responses to our series attempting to identify Marie Fouyol. He sends us a beautifully told and well-researched study of a lovely sampler by Marie Fouyol's daughter. Read on.

Fanny Mansell’s sampler of 1818

Recently I followed a link to Anne Morddel’s wonderfully helpful French Genealogy Blog and soon came upon her ten-part series of blogposts on her quest for records of Thomas Mansell, the Yorkshire weaver detained at Fontainebleau and then in Paris when renewed conflict between England and France erupted in 1803, and his French wife Marie Fouyol.

I was greatly excited by this because, some years ago, I purchased at an antiques show in Canada a textile sampler (marquoir) made in France by Joséphine Fanny Mansels (sic) in 1818 at the age of seven. The dealer thought it was French Canadian, and somewhat unusual for that reason. [Salahub] But upon doing some research I soon identified Fanny as Thomas Mansell’s daughter, the later Mrs. Greig, and realized her story was a lot more complicated. The wording on the sampler records, in French, the day they left Paris, which she evidently added later. This is the only sampler I have seen that records an act of migration. As it was produced in Paris under French influence it differs from English samplers in a number of respects. And it introduces some new hints about the family’s life in France.

Samplers originated as exemplars: oblong pieces of cloth bearing sample stitches as teaching and memory aids for young seamstresses. Over the course of the eighteenth century they became more ornamental: a demonstration of a young girl’s accomplishments and something to be framed rather than kept in a drawer for reference. Sometimes a series of samplers was produced as a girl gained in knowledge and experience [Mouillefarine 88]; usually only the last was retained once her training was complete. As many were produced in schools and female academies, they reflect standardized motifs typical of their time and place as well as occasional unique elements specific to the maker.

Some scholars view samplers as a form of life writing or autobiography. This viewpoint has been popularized by a spate of articles about an unusually introspective English sampler from the 1830s consisting of the textual lamentations of a servant girl who had been abused by an employer. [e.g. Flower, Pezzoli-Olgiati] Samplers in the English tradition tend to be more didactic than introspective. Many contain moralistic verses derived from books of instruction for children, but most are personalized to the extent of naming the maker of the textile, and stating her age and the date it was made. A location is also fairly standard, and less often the name of the school or instructor under whose direction the child produced the item. Samplers reveal or at least suggest information about the creator’s education and values: or at least the values which the instructor sought to inculcate.

Typically of early 19th century French examples, Fanny Mansell’s sampler was worked in silk threads on linen using cross-stitch. [Pouchelon 5, 108] Her sampler tells us nothing overtly about its creation – she names no school or teacher – but as is typical it gives her name and age and the year. But the text is in French, and the conventions of the sampler are culturally more French than English. Though French samplers are less likely to include moralistic or religious verses than English ones, they are more likely to include religious symbols. Fanny’s resembles other French samplers from the First Empire and Restoration in using an alphabet based on the Encylopédie of Diderot and d’Alembert and featuring discreet Catholic religious symbols and naïve flowers and animals, [Mouillefarine 48] with about 80% of the space devoted to the motifs. [Pouchelon 108]

The top row begins with the monogram of Jesus in blue: IHS with a cross atop the crossbar of the H, but with the S reversed. To the left of the alphabet is an outlined cross atop a stepped base. The alphabet commences, as in most French samplers, with a small cross with equal arms called the Croix de par Dieu:  Sampler historian Catherine Pouchelon explains that a French child reciting the alphabet began by making the sign of the cross and, following the Encyclopédie, model alphabets included the symbol as a reminder to the student. [Pouchelon 91-94]

While many French samplers from this period feature a centrally-placed altar, Fanny’s centres a monstrance (a stand incorporating a glazed shrine for displaying the host) below the alphabet but omits the altar. Above it two birds face a crown, as in an example from c.1814 [Pouchelon 110]. An 1819 example [Mouillefarine 66] similarly shows a crown above the monstrance but flanked by lions instead of birds. Even lacking the lions the crown may reference the Bourbon restoration of 1814. The monstrance in Fanny’s sampler is smaller than many of the other motifs. To the right below her name are five small tools. The third may be an arrow, the fifth a pair of tongs or pincers. If these are intended to represent the instruments of the Passion, a common set of symbols on French samplers, they are given a fairly token presence. Various potted plants dominate, with a few small birds and animals and in the bottom row a windmill, ship, and table-and-chairs, common motifs in samplers of the era.

The alphabet is in blue, with only a few letters having both capital and lower-case letters: Aa, Cc, Mm Nn Qq. The capital Q interestingly is in English form but with the tail pointing left, rather than resembling a backwards P following the Encyclopédie. As in most French alphabets there is no W. Z is followed by an ampersand and the numbers 1 through 10. In the texts toward the bottom of the sampler Fanny employs mostly lower case letters in recording her name and age (also in blue) but with upper case D and G (the lower case letters for which are lacking from her alphabet). But she makes liberal use of the lower case e despite not recording an exemplar in her alphabet. And again we find a reversed capital S. She is careful to include the accent on the “e” where appropriate, something her teacher may have emphasized. In recording her departure from Paris, in red, she employs all capitals apart from in the opening word “quiter”. Her arrival in England is added in white using mixed characters, omitting an “r” from “ARIVé” and abbreviating the month “Juillet” to “Jet”.

Despite the muted Catholic symbolism and the attempt at an anglo capital Q, Fanny’s sampler suggests she was raised in the Parisian cultural milieu of her mother – French and Catholic – rather than in a self-isolating English émigré community. In the 1901 census of Carleton Place, Ontario, Fanny stated her mother tongue as French, again suggesting she was raised and educated in a French Catholic environment. As her father seems to have been illiterate, this should not surprise.

Needlework was an integral part of girls’ education whatever their social rank, whether that education was formal or informal, though the formal education of girls in France lagged behind that in England. From practical exemplar to demonstration of accomplishment, learning this dexterous manual work was integrated with other types of knowledge. While some girls may have been instructed by their mothers, the samplers resulting would likely be less elaborate than those that were worked under the tutelage of a skilled needlewoman.

We have a clue to the possible identity of her instructor. Fanny’s godmother at the time of her baptism in 1814 at the age of two years and two months was Joséphine Thomassin, Mme. Cartier, a chamareuse [Morddel parts 2 and 6], one who decorates clothing with trimmings, lace, and braid. [Reymond n.p.] This implies that Thomassin made her living through sewing rather than embroidery and indeed chamareuse was accounted a humble occupation. But Mme Cartier was able to sign her name capably, and she may have worked below her skill level. Anne has traced Thomassin’s background, found record of her marrying Jean Baptiste Joseph Cartier in 1802, living in rue du Petit Lion Saint Sauveur, and having children in 1810 and 1812. While she has not tracked her beyond 1813 when she stood godmother to Françoise Joséphine Mansell (who likely took her middle name from her), the fact that her death has not turned up makes it plausible that she was still living in 1818 when Fanny made her sampler.

It is interesting that though she was baptized as Françoise Joséphine, she stitched her name as Joséphine Fanny Mansels, including the proper accent on the e but giving the name by which she was known, Fanny rather than Françoise. That she spelled Mansels with an s adds another spelling to the list of variants associated with documents relating to her English father, who was stated in French baptismal records as unable to sign.

The sampler includes an unusual biographical element in recording the date Fanny left Paris (April 1, 1819) and the day she reached her destination (July 20), presumably where members of the wider family were then living in Yorkshire. This was perhaps Strensall just northeast of York, where Thomas’s brother Robert lived in 1809, and where his brother John married in 1817. More likely Thomas joined his mother at Nunnington, in Ryedale, 21 km north. Here his father George had acquired a freehold by 1807 (having returned to his parish of birth) and had died in 1816. His widow Frances died there in 1829.

The information about the return from Paris appears to have been added later. The move is dated a year after the sampler itself, and the text breaks the symmetry, as for that matter does Fanny’s signature, which intrudes into the bottom tier of motifs. It is as if the idea of signing the sampler occurred as it was nearing completion, and even later the details of her travels were inserted in a small space remaining to the left.

Fanny understood the significance of leaving France, and gave it a permanent record here, and thus far this is the only record discovered of the precise dates of the family’s departure and arrival. She did not record their destination, but she did not have the space, and perhaps she thought they would be remaining there. Later changes to samplers are not unknown but they are unusual. Several authors refer to samplers in which the age or year have been unpicked later in life in an attempt to conceal a woman’s age. [Scott 47] Leaving Paris, journeying to England, and settling in rural Canada was also a major cultural shift for Marie Fouyol. Living in an Anglophone milieu, in localities where the Catholic minority was mostly Irish, she became Mary and appears to have made no attempt to retain her Catholicism. (Though recorded as Church of England in 1861 and in her death certificate, in the 1871 census the space for her religion was left blank: her son Alfred was Anglican but his wife was a Scot and she and the children were Presbyterians.) Did Fanny’s sampler move with her to Carleton Place, or 120 km north to Westmeath where Mary lived with Alfred? Hanging in either parlour, as it likely did, it was a tangible reminder of an earlier and very different life.

The story was not forgotten as Fanny’s gravemarker in the Auld Kirk Cemetery near Almonte, Ontario, records her birth in Paris, and the story is recounted in somewhat more detail in her newspaper obituary.[Morddel part 1] There are one or two factual errors due to the story being recounted by one of her children rather than by Fanny herself. Her younger brother Alfred was not born in England, as her obituary suggests, but rather in Elizabethtown Township near the St Lawrence River before the family relocated 90 km north to Ramsay. In the 1901 census Alfred gave his birthdate as April 28, 1821, and his death certificate states his place of birth as Elizabethtown. [Ont. d. cert. 1907/027101] This is consistent with Fanny’s obituary stating that the family lived at first near Brockville, though they may not have resided there all of the four years it claims.

Select bibliography

    • Flower, Chloe. “Wilful Design: The Sample in Nineteenth-Century Britain”, Journal of Victorian Culture 21, no. 3 (2016): 301-21
    • Lukacher, Joanne Martin. Imitation and Improvement: The Norfolk Sampler Tradition. Redmond, WA: In the Company of Friends, 2013
    • Morddel, Anne. French Genealogy Blog, Free Clinic, Case no. 9: Marie Fouyol, Parisian wife of Thomas Mansell (10 parts).
    • Mouillefarine, Laurence. Les Marquoirs Anciens de Catherine Pouchelon. Éditions Mango Pratique, Cahier du Collectionneur, 2005
    • Pezzoli-Olgiati, “’As i cannot write I put this down simply and freely’: Samplers as a Religious Material Practice,” Journal for religion, film, media 7, no. 1 (2021): 95-122
    • Pouchelon, Catherine. Abécédaires Brodés du Modèle a l’ouvrage. Paris: Les Éditions de l’Amateur, 2001
    • Reymond, Paul. Dictionnaire des Vieux Métiers. Paris: Brocéliande
    • Salahub, Jennifer E. Quebec Samplers: ABCs of embroidery. Montreal: McCord Museum of Canadian History, 1994
    • Scott, Rebecca. Samplers. Botley, Oxford: Shire Publications, 2009


Thank you so much Monsieur E!

©2023 Monsieur E

French Genealogy

Online Studies for French Genealogy

Seine lady

Well, Dear Readers, after a long period of convalescence from a variety of complaints, we have returned. During our inactivity, we attempted to use our time wisely and the Internet heavily to further our genealogy education.* What we first learned, to our distress, is that there is a lot of rubbish out there. We listened to the beginnings of a number of online lectures, talks, webinars and such, but had to stop most of them before the end because we could not endure another minute of bad grammar or downright inaccuracy.

We did find a few odds and ends that were useful and we share them with you here:

  • One of the very best talks on Huguenots is by Justine Berlière: "Comment suivre un ancêtre huguenot hors de France après 1685". For those of you who do not speak French, do not feel daunted by the fact that the talk is entirely in that language, nor by the fact that the sound quality is not of the best. The charts presented and websites suggested are very easy to understand and we found that this talk proposed a number of hitherto not discussed avenues of French research into Protestants and Huguenots.
  • For pithy and cheerful blog posts on the French Revolution and the eighteenth century in France, we suggest the blog Rodama. The writing is clear and the facts are correct. At times, the authors cover topics useful to genealogical research, relating to the documentation produced, such as the post on cartes de surêté, which we mentioned briefly here.
  • There is a large amount of unpublished, superb research on French history and on some families in doctoral theses. If you read French, it is well worth studying the catalogue of them all on the website of the National Centre for the Reproduction of PhD Theses. Reproductions can be ordered. Irritatingly, most reproductions are in the archaic form of microfiche, but there are many companies that can digitize the microfiche for you.
  • Continuing with theses, the Ecole nationale des Chartes has published many of their students' theses online. That school is one of the grandes écoles, which we explained here.
  • For lighter reading and a quite entertaining discussion of genealogical research, we recommend Dan Leeson's little essay.

*Continuing education is an important part of maintaining one's BCG certification, something we usually hope to be able to do. One can find an excellent page on general genealogy education on the BCG website here. Recall that for courses specific to French genealogy it is possible to purchase our own here.

The next post is to be a rather exciting guest post resulting from our very long Free Clinic search for the identity of Marie Fouyol. As we continue our slow recovery, we welcome submissions of guest posts from you, Dear Readers.

©2023 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy



Secret Mother? Friend? Midwife? Who Is That Woman On the Birth Record?

Inverted women

If you have been researching your French ancestors for quite some time, you almost certainly will have come across a birth register entry on which the father was not named, père non dénommé. The father may have been present when his child was born, may have wanted to acknowledge it and give it his surname but, if he were married to a woman who was not the mother of the child, he was forbidden, by law, to acknowledge a child born to an adulterous relationship. This then becomes a possible clue. An unmarried, unnamed father could later claim or legitimate the child and your research would reveal this. An unnamed father who never legally claimed the child might possibly have been a married man, and that possibility can inform your research.

At times, the mother may also be unnamed, mère non dénommée. When it occurred that both parents were not named, the child was given two or three first names. The last could serve as a surname if the child were never adopted or as a middle name if they were. Such children were immediately put into care or given up for adoption. (We have only ever seen one case in which the mother was not named but the father was; highly unusual.) Here is an example of such a birth register entry for a child named Emile Léon Marcel, born in Paris in 1900, on which we have marked the key phrase, son of unnamed (or not identified) father and mother*:

1900 Emile Leon Marcel

Naturally, as a genealogist, you want to try to identify the father and mother. There rarely will be clues, just a few names. In the above, the names are:

  • Henri Jules Bourrelier, the officer in the city hall of the 6th arrondissement of Paris, who is writing out the entry
  • Marie Brunot, married name Romieu, the midwife (sage-femme) who made the birth declaration
  • Séraphin Brunot, a mechanic, who may well have been the midwife's son or some other type of relation, present as a witness
  • Louis Delevallé a printer who was also a witness

Before jumping to the conclusion that the printer, an extra witness, may have had a connection to the child, read through a few pages of the register to see if Louis Delevallé does not appear again and again as a witness, indicating that he was one of those people who made a bit of extra money by waiting around the City Hall and volunteering as a witness whenever one was needed. This same task can prove useful with the following example, the October 1905 birth of Draga Madeleine:

1905 Draga Madeleine


We have marked for you these details concerning the declaration:

  • The baby was born at Avenue d'Italie, number 50, in the 13th arrondissement, to an unnamed father and mother
  • The declarant was Emilie Prévost, married name Martin, aged forty, a seamstress, who lived at the same address and who was present at the birth.
  • The first witness was Louise Anken, married name Calmon, aged thirty-eight, a hairdresser, living at Avenue d'Italie, number 11.
  • The second witness was Louise Dumur, aged fifty, the concierge at the building of Avenue d'Italie, number 50.

None of the three women, the declarant and the two witnesses, is identified as a midwife. Two lived at the same address as where the baby was born. It is very tempting to wonder if one of them may not actually be the mother of the child, but beware ! Do not make such an assumption without doing a bit more work.

Firstly, check through the register, looking at other entries. Doing this, we found that they did reappear. The next day, Lucien Victor Wagner, a legitimate child whose parents were both named, was born at rue Nationale, no. 117. The declarant and witnesses were:

  • Emilie Prévost, married name Martin, aged forty, a seamstress, who lived at avenur d"Italie, no. 50, and who was present at the birth.
  • The first witness was Louise Anken, married name Calmon, aged thirty-four, a hairdresser, living at Avenue d'Italie, number 11.
  • The second witness was Louise Dumur, aged fifty, the concierge at the building of Avenue d'Italie, number 50.

1905 Wagner


On the 12th of October, Marie Alice Guénot was born at the home of her parents in rue Albert. The same three women made the declaration and were witnesses:

1905 Guenot

We found two more birth register entries in the same month with the same three women as declarants and witnesses. Clearly, none of them is the mother of Draga Madeleine. They are not identified as midwives but would seem to have been operating as such.

Secondly, check to see if your women are registered as midwives. The Paris Police published regularly a list of doctors, health officers, midwives, dentists and pharmacists who were licensed to practice in Paris, Liste des docteurs en médecine, officiers de santé, sages-femmes, chirurgiens-dentistes et pharmaciens : exerçant dans le ressort de la Préfecture de police, of which many issues may be found here on Gallica. There is no issue for 1905; the closest year is for 1897. None of the women appear in the list of midwives. However, at avenue d'Italie, no. 11, the address of Louise Anken, there was a doctor, Emile Laurent. He was still there in 1913, the year of the next available issue of the publication. Perhaps Anken and Dr. Laurent had some sort of association or perhaps not. None of the women appears in the 1913 issue as a midwife.

So, even though the women in the birth register entry are not identified as midwives and though they are not registered as such, they were obviously performing that function, as evidenced by their repeated appearance in the birth register, and by the many children born at the address of two of them, avenue d'Italie, no. 50. None of them was the mother of any of the children they registered. As for little Draga Madeleine, the only clue as to the identity of her parents may be her highly unusual name, Draga, which could indicate that at least one parent was Serbian and that they had requested the midwife give that name to her.

The lesson here is to read more of the register than just the entry that interests you. Much can be learned and mistaken assumptions may be prevented.

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy



*All of the images used in this post come from the website of the Archives de Paris: 

The Finistère Convicts Register - Was Your Ancestor an Escaped Convict or Prisoner of War in Napoleonic France?

Finistère Forçats 1800-1815

Earlier this year, we went on a marvelous archives junket to Bretagne. One of the most important things on our list was to examine much more carefully and thoroughly this superb register of recaptured escapees of all sorts during the Napoleonic era.

To describe it properly, this register is an Alphabetical List of recaptured French and foreign prisoners who had been released or who had escaped and who subsequently were held in various prisons in the department of Finistère (Forçats français, étrangers : liste alphabetique des détenus, libérés, ou évadés de differentes prisons, Code 1Y88 in the Brest Annex of the Departmental Archives of Finistère) On the cover is written that it spans the years 1800 to 1815 but it seems to be more from the middle years of that period. It has about two hundred pages, with roughly twenty-five to thirty-five names per page. That makes for something between five and seven thousand names of convicts and escapees.

The presentation within is tidy enough. One finds the prisoner's surname and first names, their status and the prisons from which they escaped. There are many types of status or descriptions, but the most common are:

  • forçat libéré - released convict
  • forçat évadé - escaped convict
  • condamné et évadé - convicted and escaped
  • prisonnier de guerre évadé - escaped prisoner of war

Here is a sample page:

Forçats 1800-1815 - Letter B

As you can see, the columns to the left of the names refer to lists and dossiers that should have provided more detail. Frustratingly, these would seem to have been lost.

Nevertheless, there is some interesting information to be found in this register. On just this one page, we find that:

  • There seems to have been a mass break-out at Rham, in Luxembourg, with  many men recaptured.
  • François Bureau escaped from prison at Brest
  • Claude Breugnot was held on suspicion of the kidnapping of Charlotte Seure
  • Ralph Billings was a prisoner of war escaped from the depot at Verdun, as were William Brown and Thomas Benninck

The book is filled with convicts who came to the west of France from all over the territory of the French Empire. It sometimes gives a small detail of their conviction, such as that a man was condemned to years in irons or that he had escaped during the march to a prison. Most of the entries, of course, are  escaped criminals and those suspected of every type of crime, including murder, rape, fraud, theft. Quite a few managed their escapes from hospitals. The escaped prisoners of war were of all nationalities: Spanish and English especially, but also Italian, Polish and Austrian. Many in the list were conscripts and deserters from Napoleon's army. There are a small number of women and a few runaway children. They had made their way to the coast, hoping to find a boat to make their escape from France. Each of them, somehow, in some way, was nabbed.

This register is a wonderful view on a particular part of French society at a very particular time in French history. Combined with other archival resources, it could help to enhance your research on an ancestor. As just a couple of examples:

  • For those of you with a convict ancestor who escaped from the Bagne de Brest, you could compare his entries in the two registers. (The registers of the other port forced labour prisons of Rochefort, Toulon, Lorient and Cherbourg, from which there were many escapes,  are not online and would have to be examined in the archives.)
  • For those of you with an ancestor whose military records show that he deserted, you might find evidence of his capture here.


The escaped prisoners of war form an interesting group. We are not informed as to the accounts and archives concerning the prisoners of war of Spanish, Italian, Polish, Austrian or other nationalities, but we do know a bit about some of the British prisoners of war in Napoleonic France. We have discussed the civilian British prisoners here and, briefly, the prisoners of war here. They are listed in Admiralty records digitized on FindMyPast. Additionally, those who were still being held in 1812 can be found listed in the "Report from the Committee for the Relief of the British Prisoners in France; with a list of the prisoners". After the wars, a number of British ex-prisoners published accounts of their experiences, including their "escapes".

We counted in this register just under 880 names of escaped British prisoners of war who were recaptured and held in Finistère, amongst them:

  • Beaumont Dixie, escaped from Verdun
  • Edward Boys, escaped from Valenciennes
  • Joshua Done, escaped from Verdun
  • Phillip Levesconte, escaped from Verdun
  • Hugh Falconer Macfarland, escaped from Verdun
  • Two Thomas Mains, father and son, escaped from Valenciennes
  • Edward Montagu, escaped from Verdun
  • John Moore, escaped from Bitche
  • Denis OBrien, escaped from Bitche
  • Sidney Smith, escaped from Verdun
  • Charles Sturt, escaped from Meaux

In the accounts written by some of the above, there is no mention of recapture, which does call into question the rest of what they wrote. On the other hand, some of the above most certainly did escape France, most notably Charles Sturt, which could indicate that at least one prison guard was not above accepting a bribe, or that, after being returned to prison, they had to escape all over again. Indeed, a few of them did just that.

Recall our recent post about a trove of letters from British prisoners of war held at the harsher prisons of Bitche and Sarrelibre. Men usually were sent there from other prisons if they were troublesome or if they had attempted to escape. Comparing those letters with this register, we can see from the recaptures the probable reason for a man's having been sent to a "punishment prison".

  • David Absalon appears in the Finistère Convicts register as having escaped from Verdun; a letter from him appears in the Bitche-Sarrelibre cache
  • Thomas Nazeby, appears in the Finistère Convicts register as having escaped from Arras;; he had three letters in the Bitche-Sarrelibre cache
  • James Ord appears in the Finistère Convicts register as having escaped from Auxonne; a letter from him appears in the Bitche-Sarrelibre cache
  • William Tullidge or Tullage appears in the Finistère Convicts register as having escaped from Cambrai; one letter from him appears in the Bitche-Sarrelibre cache

This lone register is, we believe, a treasure of a find and we hope that it may be digitized soon, along with the registers of the other port bagnes, please.

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


French Seamen's Records Digitizing Project - an Update

Memoire des Hommes 3

At the beginning of last year, we shared here the happy news of a project to digitize all surviving French seamen's registration and conscription records. (Best to re-read that first so that you understand the quite unique French system of conscripting some seamen for the navy and registering others for the merchant and fishing fleets.)

Earlier this month, the Service Historique de la Défense announced in their blog that they have completed digitizing the registers of the reporting offices in the seven naval quarters of southern Bretagne, covering the departments of Ille-et-Vilaine, Finistère and Morbihan. They are:

  • Auray
  • Belle-Ile
  • Concarneau
  • Groix
  • Lorient
  • Redon
  • Vannes

These registers date from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries and, as with army service records, provide valuable genealogical details, as well as the man's career as a seaman. In some cases, the career can be quite long, up to fifty years. There are approximately 187,000 images; not all have been uploaded to the website and they are not yet searchable on the main search facility of Mémoire des hommes. They are indexed, however, and the indices can be viewed and downloaded as PDFs.

If your ancestor came from southern Bretagne and went to sea, you can begin searching the registers here. If you do not find the register you seek, keep checking the website every few weeks as they continue uploading. For those of you with ancestors from northern Bretagne, Normandy, Seine-Maritime, Charente-Maritime, further south or the Mediterranean region, you must wait quite a while longer.

Do let us know what you find!

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

French Jewish Genealogy - Certificates of Good Character from Consistoires

Consistoire Certificate

The network of consistories in France, which serve as the liaison between Jewish law and French law, was created in 1808. The Consistoire Central is at the head of the network and is based in Paris. Their archives, as with those of all the consistories in France, are private and are not open to the public.  We have described our mighty effort to access just a bit of them in a post here. Their holdings that one may be permitted to see are often limited to very basic registers, which give less information than can be found in French civil registers. (The one exception being that the death registers can give the place of burial, which civil registers do not give.)

So, we were quite delighted to come across a small collection of letters emanating from the Paris Consistory in 1808. They were letters of good character, much like the certificats de bonne vie et moeurs requested from a mayor about recently arrived Jewish residents of his city. The requests clearly followed the requirement that the mayors record the mandated selection of hereditary surnames by Jewish people, explained in this post. These character references were not required by law and so one would not expect to find them in every municipal or departmental archive but we now think that, having found them once, we will look for them on every visit.

These were found in the Departmental Archives of Finistère and were gathered by the city of Brest. They had been placed in the series 3V - "Cultes", which meant any religion that was not Catholic, and relate to the Jewish, Protestant and "New Catholic" communities.

Cultes non Catholiques


One example of these consistory certificates is above. Below is another.

Lion Caen 1

As records relating to individual Jewish people of this period are often hard to find, we consider this a bit of a treasure. In our next post, we shall tell of even more discoveries in that series.
©2022 Anne Morddel
French Genealogy