French Jewish Genealogy - Online Guides

Jewish Marriages

We have written a number of posts on French Jewish genealogy (to find them all, click on that category toward the end of the column on the left of this page) but in preparing for our recent talk on the subject, we discovered some very fine guides have been put online. 

Not yet the best source of all, that being "Les Familles juives en France, XVIe siècle - 1815 : Guide des Recherches biographiques et généalogiques" by Gildas Bernard. That superb work details all of the holdings in all of the archives and libraries in France relating to Jewish people. When you search on the websites of those various archives and libraries, you will find what is digitized easily. Possibly, what has not been digitized will be mentioned in the nether regions of a finding aid. With Bernard's book, you can have the full listing. It also contains superb essays by local archivists about the history and archives in the main regions of France of Jewish history:

  • Alsace
  • Lorraine
  • Avignon and the Comtat Venaissin
  • The Southwest

Unfortunately, this book has not yet been digitized. However, an updated version of his earlier work has been put online by the Archives nationales and can be downloaded as a PDF here. We plan to keep checking, in the hope that they will do the same with Les Familles juives soon.

In the mean time, here are links to a number of very good guides to researching Jewish genealogy in France:

  • The Departmental Archives of Vaucluse have four very brief guides to their important holdings on the Jewish families of the Papal States:
  • The Departmental Archives of Bas-Rhin have produced two guides relating specifically to their resources on Jewish families in Alsace. They can be downloaded here.
  • JewishGen has a very clear, if a bit outdated, summary of the basics of French Jewish research, in English, here.
  • GenAmi - The Jewish Genealogical Association, has excellent guides by region, and in English.
  • The Jewish Virtual Library probably has the best page on French Jewish history, which will help you with your genealogical research:
    • in Paris, here
    • in Alsace here,
    • in Lorraine here
    • in Avignon here
    • in Bordeaux here
    • check the blue banner on the left of their pages for other cities in France; note that the important city of Saint-Esprit is within the article on Bayonne.

We plan to write more posts on the subject, but the above will keep you going until we do.

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Research Your Ancestor Through Archives on the Town

French village

A nice tool is gradually being added to the websites of various Departmental Archives. It can be of great help to you in tracing your family if you know where they lived in France. The tool is usually within the section entitled Archives en ligne (Archives online) or Archives numérisés (digitized archives), and it is usually called something like Recherche par commune (Search by town).

Click on that, then enter your ancestor's town or village name and voilà, you are presented with, in the best versions, an array of information about the town and of what the archives hold concerning it and its people:

  • A history of the town
  • Its location and neighbouring towns
  • Links to useful administrative websites
  • Parish and civil registers
  • Indices to them
  • Census returns
  • Military enlistment registers
  • Maps
  • Probate records
  • Tax records
  • Postcards

It is a wonderful way to know in an instant what is available and to target your research.

Not all of the Departmental Archives websites have this facility. One of the best we have found in on that of Pas-de-Calais. Saône-et-Loire has a less attractive but still useful version. Check the Departmental Archives websites you use to see if they have this option and give it a go. (You can also try searching these terms on Google: the department name and "recherche par commune" "archives départementales".) You may discover a resource missed when you were searching only by a family name.

Bonne chance!

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Pure Envy

Family archive

Generally, Dear Readers, we are not the envious type but this week we fell prey to that character flaw.  We had the opportunity to join a private visit to one of those small, perfect chateaux that dot France like an abundance of wildflowers in a meadow.

For most people, a chateau is a very dear proposition and those who buy them now do not, as in the past, also acquire an army of unpaid labourers to work the land and fork over the crops for the owner to sell for a tidy sum. Nor are chateaux tax-free, as all life once was for the nobility who owned them. They require deep pockets indeed and most chatelains clearly do not have them. So many of the chateaux that we have visited are crumbling ruins exuding the rank odours of damp and rot, the stone walls long ago having lost all mortar, so that stones drop out of the walls and towers alarmingly. Most of these places were emptied of their treasures over two hundred years ago by rampaging, revolutionary peasants. What was not destroyed on the spot was sold off or, if of precious metal, melted down and then sold. Visiting a chateau is often a lesson in gloom.

The chateau in question, however, was a world away from those sad shells. Its residents claim to be direct descendants of the builder and that the family have lived there for over a thousand years. The rooms are cluttered with enough ancient riches and portraits to induce one to believe the claim. All is beautifully maintained, with not a hint of rot or mould to be smelt, the plaster not cracked, the drapery not moth-eaten. 

We assure you, Dear Readers, we were not swooning with longing for any of the shiny detritus of the ages, lovely though some of it was, until we were shown the room pictured above. At that point, envy, in all its intensity, swept over and enveloped us like the molten lava of Vesuvius swept over and enveloped the souls of Pompeii before they could kneel and say a prayer. We had come upon the family archive, a room, we were informed, that was filled with archive boxes containing over three thousand documents about the family and the chateau, dating back to the year 1055. "Oh please," our heart begged, "Let us see, let us read. Open just one carton..." Alas, no. The guide urged the group to move along and out into the extravagantly beautiful courtyard, never to see that wondrous family archive room again.

 

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Can You Find the Record of an Italian Ancestor in Napoleon's Army of Italy?

Grenadier Italien

Briefly, in answer to the question we pose in the title of this post, yes, but it is not easy and not always possible. As with any French military research, the amount of archival material is so great that it is hard to find one's way through it. If you are new to this, the Archives nationales has a nice explanation of how to start. In English, you have our own explanation on "Researching a Conscript".

We begin this search, as ever, with history. Originally, the French Army of Italy was not an army of Italians, but an army to protect France's borders with Italy. It became something quite different and impressive when Napoleon, in the 1790s, made significant changes. As this excellent article by Professor Francesco Frasca explains, when Napoleon formed "sister republics" to France from the old Italian principalities, the Lombard Legion also was created. The other republics had legions and regiments as well. It is crucial, in this historical research phase, to look for the regiments in which Italians served because the archives are arranged such that one must know a soldier's regiment in order to be able to search for him in muster lists and registers.

On Wikipedia, a detailed listing of the composition of the Army of Italy from 1792 to 1793 can be found. Those years are too early to include Italians; one would have to determine which regiments remained in the Army of Italy (later the Army of the Realm of Italy) until 1796 and later, then which ones might include the ancestor in question. This article, by Ricky Gomez and Zbynio Olszewski, is on Napoleon's Foreign Infantry, and contains a very useful section on the Italian regiments of infantry. This article, by Paul L. Dawson, "Napoleon's Foreign Troops in 1815", is our last suggestion. While reading it may revive thoughts of serious discipline for the inventor of "auto-correct" (a grave misnomer), it is nevertheless useful for its explanation of how foreigners were scattered throughout the French Army and not strictly grouped together by nationality. By the time you finish with these, you will understand how important it is to know the regiment before beginning the hunt.

The online hunt is limited, for the time being, to infantry regiments, imperial guards, royal guards and consular guards, all held in Series 20 and 21 YC in the Service Historique de la Défense, the only series of regimental registers of the First Empire to be digitized so far on their website Mémoire des Hommes. (For a deeper understanding of them, the military archives of SHD are brilliantly explained on Geneawiki) Not to worry, there is plenty of work there. Taking a look at the Gomez article, for example, it mentions that the 113th Regiment of Infantry of the Line was formed of troops from Tuscany. Going to the site Mémoire des Hommes, selecting Recrutement et Parcours Individuels from the menu, then selecting Rechercher dans les instruments de recherche and, finally, using the filters (in pink, on the right in the image below), we come to six filmed registers of  the 113th Regiment of Infantry of the Line.

 

113e regiment

We selected the first, showing the formation of the regiment on the 1st of January 1810. There are over three thousand pages, full of Italians. The pages are not fully indexed. (Read more about the ongoing indexing project here and here.) However, the genealogical findings are a reward, as this entry shows:

 

Becastrini and Gateschi

The 113th regiment is identified at the top of the screen as previously having been known as the "Tuscan Regiment". A few others with such Italian names or composition are:

  • The 111th Regiment of Infantry of the Line was formed of many men from Piedmont
  • The 32nd Light Infantry Regiment was primarily Tuscan
  • The 133rd Regiment of Infantry of the Line, the "Mediterranean Regiment" contained Italians from different regions
  • The 6th Regiment of Infantry of the Line, the "Napoli Regiment" contained some men from the Neapolitan municipal guards
  • The 8th Regiment of Infantry of the Line also contained some Neapolitans, beginning in 1811

Should you have more energy that we do, you can read through all of the regimental histories provided by the links here. (Many German, Irish, Dutch, Swiss and Polish regiments are identified on that page, but not the Italian, sad to say.)

Not digitized are the correspondence records of the Army of Italy in Service Historique de la Défense, in Series GR C. You can read through the finding aid here, on pages 96 to 107. If you are certain of a folder, you can then request a researcher to examine it for you in the archives.

If your Italian ancestor lived long enough, he could turn up in the list of recipients of the Medal of Saint Helena, as we explain here.

Many thanks to Monsieur N for inspiring this post.

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


A Small Point on the Use of Capital Letters in French Documents

BtoE

In a comment recently received, a reader complained about the many words in upper case letters in French records and, consequently, in search results on Filae and Geneanet.  We thought our explanation might be of interest to you all (comments do not get the attention they deserve, it seems).

Generally, in all French documents, surnames are in upper case letters. This helps to make it very clear what is a surname and what is not, because there are many surnames that could be first names, e.g. MARIE, HENRY, GEORGES, MARTIN, etc. So, if you see a name written as "MARTIN", you know it is a surname; if you see it written as "Martin", you know it is one of the first names. 

The title to this post may be longer than the content, but life is full of grandiose façades billowing in front of titchy realities. We do hope this small fact will not be as disappointing as they can be.

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Do You Dare to Try to Research Your Alsace Ancestors Online - in French?

Alsace plate

We have had a missive from Christine and Laure, who write the wonderful blog Généalogie Alsace. They have put together a brief series of instructional posts for those who live far from that pretty region of France and must research their Alsatian ancestors online. The posts are in French but are very clear and easy to understand (or to translate)

The first, "For Those of You Who Are Far From Alsace", explains the basics of Alsatian emigration in the nineteenth century and gives some understanding of the region's geography, especially the two departments, Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin.

The second, "How to Research an Ancestor from Bas-Rhin Using the Internet", explains just that. It lists and explains the most useful archives and, where websites exists, gives links. 

The third does the same for the department of Haut-Rhin. This may be your best hope if your ancestors come from Haut-Rhin, as the notoriously unhelpful archivists of that department's archives will never provide any service by post or e-mail.

The last may be a bit much, for it explains how to transcribe and then translate Alsatian German records....into French. Why not try it even if it does seem preposterously difficult?

You have, in the posts linked above, a complete beginner's course in Alsace genealogical research.

Many thanks to Christine and Laure.

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


GUEST POST - News From the State Archives of Geneva - AEG

Dear Readers, our good friend, the excellent genealogist,  Isabelle Haemmerle, sends exciting news from Geneva:

We are pleased to forward good news from Geneva. Last February the State Archives of Geneva (AEG) announced that the parish and vital records from 1542 to 1880 have been fully digitalized and are accessible on the Adhemar database. It represents 449,000 pictures from 2,200 record books.

Up to 1798, we can find mention of a baptism or marriage in the parish books recorded by ministers in the City of Geneva. Deaths were recorded in the « Book of the Dead ( le Livre des morts) » by the « Visitors of the Dead (visiteurs des morts) » who were employed by the Hospital and were given training. In the countryside, ministers were in charge of the recording, or registering. In 1798, Geneva became part of France and, from then, the vital records - birth, marriage and death - were registered by officials of each commune.

AEG - EC Morts 5 - Livre des Morts 3 june 1562AEG - EC Morts 5 - Livre des Morts 3 June 1562

In a presentation of the State Archives of Geneva – AEG - that was posted here a few years ago, we explained you how to find a family name on the website of the Swiss family names repertory, which enumerates the families who held the citizenship of a Swiss commune in 1962. It provides:

    • the commune of origin or bourgeoisie
    • the date of bourgeoisie acquisition
    • the place of origin location ( France or other location, ex. NE for Neuchatel)

In the AEG parish and vital records, you will find only events located in the Canton of Geneva :

    • birth records until 31 December 1899
    • marriage records until 31 December 1929
    • death records until 31 December 1959

As mentioned above,  these are online only up to 1880. After that year, the search can only be done in the reading room of the AEG.

If you do not know the exact date of the events, you can review alphabetical indexes - répertoires or tables : the volumes cover a period of 4 to 10 years and indicate the dates of birth, marriage or death along with the vital record number where the original certificate is registered.
Geneva archives give also access to some Protestant parish record books of towns in the neighborhood of Geneva that are now within French territory in the Pays de Gex : Cessy, Segny, Sauverny, Collonges, Farges, Divonne, Grilly, Crassier, Moëns et Lyon (on microfilm).

«Communes réunies» Index (1599-1877)

As Geneva was historically a Protestant land, the Catholic parishes flourished on its borders and were called « communes réunies » (towns that were transferred by France in 1815 and by the Kingdom of Sardinia in 1816). A special index is used as birth, marriage and death tables for events having taken place in those towns before the end of 18th century (1599-1798). Three more tables online complete the period of 1792 to 1877.

The «Communes réunies» are:

    • Aire-la-Ville
    • Anières
    • Avusy
    • Bardonnex
    • Bernex
    • Bellevue
    • Carouge
    • Chêne-Thônex
    • Choulex
    • Collex-Bossy
    • Collonge-Bellerive
    • Compesières
    • Confignon
    • Corsier
    • Grand-Saconnex
    • Hermance
    • Laconnex
    • Lancy
    • Meinier
    • Meyrin
    • Onex
    • Perly-Certoux
    • Plan-les-Ouates
    • Pregny
    • Presinge
    • Puplinge
    • Soral
    • Troinex
    • Vernier
    • Versoix
    • Veyrier

AEG - EC rép 1.87.4 Image 65 - Communes Réunies Index - Birth of Daniel Duby in Collex on 12 may 1688AEG - EC rép 1.87.4 Image 65 - Communes Réunies Index - Birth of Daniel Duby in Collex on 12 May 1688

 

An extra help: nominative lists 1939-1945 of civilian or military refugees and Swiss expatriates back home

If you look for a person who might have been a refugee in Switzerland during WWII, you can check an interesting source given through the nominative lists of civilian or military refugees. They contain the surname, first name, date of birth and nationality of over 25,000 people checked at the Franco-Genevan border during the Second World War. Scroll down and read the detailed information about the lists translated in English.

New building site for the State Archives of Geneva in 2025

In spring 2025, the Archives de l’État de Genève currently located in the old Arsenal building in the old town and other departments spread across Geneva will all move to a new Hotel des Archives site to be built in the conservation area of Arsenal, rue de l’Ecole de Medecine in the cultural Plainpalais district. Thirty linear kilometers of archives will be transferred during two years to the two-storey basement. The work started in December 2020 and the plans show a reading room looking onto a renovated and landscaped yard. We are looking forward to present it to you, dear Readers!

Image new AEG building

 

New AEG Reading Room

Not to be missed if you come to Geneva this year : an exhibition « Zigzag archivistique» presents a photographic tour through the current storage facility to keep an «archive of archives» before the moving.


Where: Archives d’État de Genève, 1, rue de l'Hôtel-de-Ville
When : 25 March 2022 - 30 Avril 2023 - Monday to Friday 8am to 5pm - July and August: 9am -5pm

 

20220324-aeg-zz-visuel


Passenger Lists From Morlaix - Crossing the English Channel During the Napoleonic Wars

ADM 480:103 cover

We have been extremely busy, Dear Readers, working with a wonderful set of passenger lists from the early nineteenth century. Though England and France were at war from 1803 to 1815 (with a small break for a tenuous victory), travel between the two countries did not cease, not at all. There was a fairly steady stream of people moving in both directions, including:

  • Released British prisoners returning home
  • Released French prisoners arriving from Britain
  • American diplomats and merchants voyaging between Paris and London
  • Wives and children of British détenus returning to Britain
  • French civilians going to and returning from Britain

They all had to travel via Morlaix, the only port in the French Empire from which it was permitted to sail for or arrive from England. The set of passenger lists with which we are working are the original departing passenger lists from Morlaix (arrival lists seem not to have survived), signed by the port officer, the Commissaire de la Marine à Morlaix, a Monsieur Dusaussois, and countersigned by the British port authority on arrival, usually at Dartmouth. We have not finished with them but they appear to cover the years from 1810 to 1814, and give some very interesting and useful details for the genealogist and for the historian. For each passenger, is given the:

  • Name
  • Place of origin - this can be just a country but is usually a city
  • Age
  • Profession or status, e.g. seaman, captain, passenger, etc.
  • If a prisoner of war returning to Britain, where they had been captured
  • Details and dates of their passports, which often reveal where they had been in France

ADM 103:480 sample 2

Here, we have a passenger list from July of 1812. (War against Great Britain had just been declared by the United States but these passengers may not yet have had the news.)

1. John WASTON [possibly WATSON], of Ireland, aged 11, Student, Passport of 15 June 1812, delivered by the Commandant of the Depot of Prisoners of War at Verdun on the decision of His Excellency the Minister of War of 19 March preceding. 

2. Allen CASE, of New Bedford, United States , aged 34, ship captain, Taken by the privateer, ESPADON, from the ship, MASSACHUSETTS, which he commanded. Passport from the Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States of America at Paris on 10 June 1812, no. 250, visa given by the Minister of External Relations and by the Police General on 12 and 19 of the same month. To embark at Morlaix.

3. Lazarus LEBARON, of Rochester, [Massachusetts]  aged 23, Mate, Included on the same passport.

4. William MILES, of Montgomery, aged 24, Seaman

5. Isaac STEWARD, black, of Philadelphia , aged 25, Seaman

6. John HERRIGTON, of Chatham, America, aged 21, Seaman

7. Samuel SKILDING, of Stramford [Stamford?], aged 20, Seaman

8. Eliza TUCKER, Mrs. HICKMAN, English, aged 24, Passenger, Road pass, dated 24 June 1812, no. 330, delivered by the Commandant of arms at Longwy, following the order of His Excellency the Minister of War.

9. Caroline HICKMAN, English, aged 20 months,Within the same Passport.

10. Mrs. Eliza HOLMES, widow of William ARNOLD, Lieut. R.N., of Mortonhall, aged 24, Passport dated 8 June 1812, no. 426, delivered by the Mayor of the City of Verdun, visa given by the prefecture of Police at Paris on the 30th of the month of June, no. 36738.

So, above, you have a young Irish boy, the crew of a captured American vessel, the MASSACHUSETTS, travelling to Britain, presumably expecting it to be easier there to find a vessel going to the United States, and three British women passengers coming from the prison depots at Longwy and Verdun.

These French documents have not survived in French archives but, remarkably, in the National Archives of Great Britain at Kew, in the Admiralty series ADM 103/480. Joyously for those of you, Dear Readers, who wish to see them, they are online on FindMyPast.co.uk, where the quality of indexing is, as we see so often on these commercial websites, abysmal. (For example Mme., the abbreviation for Madame, is repeatedly indexed as a first name. This sort of shabby work hinders rather than helps research.) We are profoundly indebted to Monsieur B.C. for helping us to find this series.

Further to the same pursuit, we recently embarked upon our first research voyage since the beginning of the pandemic, and visited the Municipal Archives of Morlaix. For years, it has been on our list of important archives that must be seen. It was in the Town Hall of Morlaix, facing the viaduct, in a lovely room of tall book cases.

AM Morlaix 1

AM Morlaix 2

These archives are open only on Thursdays and visits must be booked in advance. The archivist, when we booked, warned us that there was not much from the First Empire. He did not lie; there was next to nothing from that period. Our hopes of significant discoveries were dashed. 

However, we did come across a very pertinent government publication of instructions concerning passports for French citizens and for foreigners, that goes a long way to explaining the passport notes on the Morlaix passenger lists, above.

Finistere Passport Instructions 1a

Finistere Passport Instructions 2a

Finistere Passport Instructions 3a

Finistere Passport Instructions 4a

Finistere Passport Instructions 5a

For those of you researching an ancestor of this period, particularly but not exclusively a British prisoner of war in France, these passenger lists may be most useful.

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


The FGB Is Back!

Hard at Work

 

Well, Dear Readers, have we ever left you for so long? A thousand apologies. You have not been abandoned, we assure you and we thank those of you who wrote to ask if all has been well (it has) and to tell of how our blog has helped you in your research (very kind of Madame MBT, especially).

Where have we been of late? Working on a number of projects:

  • An online talk on Researching French Jewish Ancestors for the Center for Jewish History in June
  • A talk for the Board for Certification of Genealogists on Legacy Family Tree Webinars in December on French Migration

We will be putting up more information about those as the times approach.

We have also been on the road once again and will write soon of our visits to regional archives.

Again, many, many thanks to all of you who have written with your concern about our well being and that of the French Genealogy Blog.

Anne Morddel


Indexing Napoleon's Army - a Progress Report

Garde imperialeOfficer and soldier of the Garde Imperiale from "Collection des types de tous les corps et des uniformes militaires de la république et de l'empire d'après les dessins de M. Hippolyte Bellangé", J.-J. Dubochet et Cie, Paris, 1844. BNF Gallica.

Dear Readers, we do not usually accept puff pieces but, in this case, we agree that there is quite a lot to puff about. And we are keen on all things First Empire. We have written previously about French military records and about researching the men who served in Napoleon's army. The latter has become much easier thanks to two events: the completed digitization of the registers of the men and the indexing of them by an army of volunteers, as explained in the following by Geneanet's Sean Daly. Read on.

At Geneanet, we are really excited about a major milestone: our community of genealogists has just topped 1 million indexed Napoléon's soldiers! Like all data contributed by members, this dataset is free and available to all.

This has been a long-running project. In late 2013, France's Ministère des Armées published a first batch of 1,191 carefully digitized registres matricules - military muster roll registers - covering the period 1802-1815 for the gardes consulaire, impériale et royale (Consular, Imperial and Royal Guards) and l'infanterie de ligne - the line infantry. This was exciting, but there was a major problem: without an index, it was nearly impossible to locate a soldier unless the unit was already known, and even then a page-by-page inspection of the register was required.

Geneanet members Claude Valleron and Alain Brugeat, the project coordinator these past few years, stepped up to help other volunteers index the archive. As the project has advanced, we have celebrated milestones along the way with round numbers: 100,000; 400,000; 850,000. We feel reaching 1,000,000 indexed soldiers, thanks to the work of volunteers, is worthy of recognition.

Every record has a treasure trove of information for the genealogist; more information can be found in our blog post. Use the link on each record to inspect the original scan hosted by the Ministère des Armées, which often has even more information such as rank, injuries, or decorations.

The soldiers of Napoléon's Grande Armée were, of course, mostly French. But under the Empire, "French" soldiers joined from Belgium, Italy, today's Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, and Switzerland. The Geneanet indexers have made every effort to add today's département to each French record to facilitate cross searching in the archives départementales.

Historians will no doubt wish to refer to the French Archives de la Défense finding aid, and compare it to the list of registers fully or partially indexed or awaiting indexing.

So, is the project finished? Not at all! Estimates vary, but there may be from 400,000 to 800,000 soldiers left to index. If you speak French and are interested in participating in this project, please visit the project page and also our forum thread. And take a look at our other collaborative projects!

For those researching the military of the First Empire, and we are legion, this is grand news, indeed. Many thanks to Sean for the guest post.

(All puns intended)

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy