The French View on "Recreational DNA Testing"

Child

Well, Dear Readers, CNIL is having an "I told you so" moment on the question of what they like to call "recreational DNA testing". They have published a long, explanatory post on their position since the announcement by GlaxoSmithKline that they will now be using the DNA results acquired from people by 23andMe (something WIRED says the latter planned all along, which makes us feel a right punter). Briefly, laws in France prohibit the publication of private information about other people or even about one's self if that then is also private information about others. "Private information" includes medical details (this is important here; recall that, in France, while civil registrations of birth, marriage and death are available to the public after seventy-five years, medical records are not available until they reach one hundred fifty years, as explained here). It is because your inherited health characteristics are also inherited by others and because your DNA test results can lead to the identification of others and their health problems (how this is now the case even if you have not uploaded your test results is neatly explained in the WIRED article) that the French authorities are opposed to this recreational DNA testing.

Yet, they are not Luddites or fools. The CNIL article, written by Régis Chatellier, indicates an unhappy awareness of the huge business beyond its borders in genealogy DNA testing kits. Even facing a fine of over three thousand euros for taking the test, many French have done so by post (we explain how that is done in this post). It goes on to say that maybe, just maybe, France will consider allowing such testing here, but only if the government maintains a tight control. "Organising the market allows us to control it", writes Monsieur Chatellier. This is France as we love her most, in full Xerxes at the Hellespont mode; she would love to whip and will try to tame that sea of Anglo market forces. Bonne chance.

Opposing the restrictions are numerous French genealogists campaigning fiercely to have the bioethics law relaxed so that they can take those DNA tests here legally. The bioethics law is up for review and revision this year. The Fédération Française de Généalogie had organised an important all-day conference on Genealogy and DNA for last December but this was abruptly cancelled by the authorities as part of the clamp down on public assembly in response to the Yellow Vest folks. Certainly unaware that this cancellation would happen when it went to press, the genealogy magazine "La Revue française de généalogie" opened its December 2018-January 2019 issue with a long article on the whole subject, with a prominent advertisement for the conference.

The bioethics law is the real focus. It was first passed in 1994 and has been revised regularly since then. It represents France's effort, in compliance with European law, to grapple with the terrifying collapse of ethical thought and behaviour caused by nitwits misunderstanding and crooks misusing the exponentially increasing multitude of technological advances. Never before in all our sorry history has the disparity between humans as creative geniuses and humans as mere plodding animals been more painfully obvious. This law deals with all sorts of ethical questions in biology:

  • Stem cell research
  • Genome sequencing and predictive medicine
  • Organ donation and transplants
  • Personal health data and privacy
  • Robots and artificial intelligence use in health care
  • Neuroscience and imagery techniques
  • Scientifically assisted procreation
  • Assisted death

Given the gravity of some of the issues, it may be possible to imagine that our longing to know more about our ancestry may not always come first on the lawmakers' list. Given France's history of "protecting the family" by silencing all those born outside of it, we suspect that there still may be a very large number of people who do not want to open the Pandora's Box of DNA surprises, people who view all those American television presentations (dubbed, of course) of mystery parents found with gagging horror.

Let us see what happens.

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

 

 


Sign up for Our Online Course on French Notarial Records With VIGR

Notaire sign

Many slightly belated wishes to all our Dear Readers for a good 2019 in what promises to be a roller coaster of a year here in France, it would seem.

We are putting the final touches on our upcoming course with the Virtual Institute of Genealogical Research on French Notarial Records. These are a fabulous genealogical resource and are increasingly available online or, at least, copies can be ordered online. Not only do they provide great detail on family members; they also provide a quite intimate view into the lives of the people concerned. As you may have guessed from our book on the subject of French Notaires and Notarial Records, we are increasingly enamoured of this lush and bountiful set of documents.

You can sign up for the course here.

You can order our book on notarial records here.

And, if you missed our recent course on First Steps in French Genealogy, you will soon be able to purchase recordings of the complete course here.

We look forward to starting the new year by connecting with you, Dear Readers, on this next course.

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Correspondance Consulaire et Commerciale - an Excellent Resource

CCC-New York
The proper name for this series in the Archives diplomatiques is Correspondance consulaire et commerciale (1793-1901) (CCC) and we have recently discovered that, in some cases, it is a dandy resource for researching French in foreign lands, especially:

  • Bonapartists, after 1815
  • Deserters from French naval vessels after 1815
  • Refugees from Saint Domingue

The reason for the first two is that, after the fall of Napoleon and the First Empire, the restored royal rulers pursued Bonapartists and deserters with vindictive enthusiasm. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued orders to all consuls around the world to keep an eye on any Bonapartists and other French exiles and to attempt to note the names of sailors who jumped ship, deserting from the French navy. Consuls also noted the names of some of the refugees from Saint Domingue arriving in their cities and, later, helped them with the documentation necessary to apply for compensation for their losses from the French government.

The volumes of the CCC are full of dispatches from consuls to the Minister in Paris containing lists of names and surveillance reports. These could be of help in identifying the moment of arrival of your French ancestor and in finding more detail about his or her origins. The consuls varied in their competence and efficiency. That in New York, d'Espinville, was a diligent and enthusiastic reporter. He wrote a valuable list of sixty Saint Domingue refugees who voyaged from New York to France on the Normande in 1820. Most do not appear in the lists of colonists who received compensation, so this may be the only source connecting them to New York or to Saint Domingue, or naming them at all.

SD refugees

A number of sailors deserted from the Normande and D'Espinville made more than one list of their names:

Deserters

Such ordinary and not at all illustrious people as these sailors are often quite hard to trace. A list such as this, giving the place of birth, could significantly advance one's genealogical research.

D'Espinville, an aristocrat who lost all in the Revolution, was especially keen at surveillance of Bonapartists, not all of whom were well-known and have Wikipedia articles about them.

Surveillance New York

But beware, not all consuls were as industrious or conscientious as D'Espinville. The consul at Baltimore for the same period, the early nineteenth century, wrote no consular correspondence at all from 1803 to 1838. Prior to that, he wrote a great deal about the refugees from Saint Domingue generally but almost nothing specifically. His only list is one naming the refugees who had died.

Refugee death list Baltimore

 

The CCC is partially microfilmed but, to our knowledge is not at all available online. One must visit the Archives diplomatiques in La Courneuve and use the old but very reliable finding aid.

CCC

Then, one must really hope that the consul for the city researched did his job!

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Bibliothèque historique des postes et des télécommunications

BHPT

Excellent discovery today, Dear Readers, excellent discovery. We began the day with a visit to our doctor on Avenue Paul Doumer, where last Saturday's rioters had smashed a few shop windows and burnt a car right in front of the clinic. (And many thanks to all of you who wrote messages of concern for our safety.) The clean-up was instantaneous; there was no graffiti, no trace of a burnt car, no broken glass. There was a toppled traffic light and one board covering one shop window. Clearly, the authorities intend to give the hoodlums, les casseurs, no opportunity to admire their work. Even cleaner was our bill of health and our doctor congratulated us on having taken better care of the weather beaten and badly engineered body than usual.

We left the clinic in a jaunty mood and took about four Métro trains to get from the sixteenth to the twentieth arrondissement, from the Trocadéro to east of Père Lachaise, from posh Paris to the not so. The purpose of the journey was to visit the newly reopened Bibliothèque historique des postes et des télécommunications, or BHPT. At the gate of a block of flats, one rings and the lock is released in reply. One crosses the courtyard and descends the drive to a low box of a building that looks very much like a cleaned up example of one of those old blacksmith or carpentry workshops that once existed at the backs of hundreds of Parisian courtyards. Most have been torn down but a tiny few remain. Many have been bought and converted to beautiful homes, the owners having kept the exterior in its original, grubby state to fool the taxman. We know of an exquisite, four-storey house hidden at the back of a courtyard on Avenue Mozart that looks from the outside like an empty warehouse about to fall down. This little box of barred windows that we approached today had nothing to hide.

Dear Readers, all those of you seeking or researching people who lived in France in the twentieth century, take note - this remote and obscure library is probably the last and only repository open to the public containing nearly all of the telephone directories ever published in France, her territories and her overseas departments. Almost all of them. They may be viewed on microfilm. They are particularly useful for researching the years for which the census returns are not yet available to the public.

The second precious collection of this little minx of a library is its history of the postal service. The first French postal service was created in 1576 and for the next four hundred twenty years or so, was a public service that functioned remarkably well. Why would the French genealogist care? For the maps, Dear Readers, for the maps. Long have we harped on about the value of maps showing waterways and roads used for transport in the past. They show where you might realistically expect your ancestor to have been able to travel, a valuable piece of knowledge to have in one's family research.

The BHPT has a lovely collection of maps of the post roads. The post roads were, before the railways, the most likely land routes your French ancestor would have followed. Some of the BHPT maps are digitized and may be viewed online. Whether you use these to see a possible route for your ancestor to a port of emigration or a town where work was found or where a marriage happened, they will bring a greater clarity to your understanding of your ancestors and the times in which they lived.

Good website, excellent little library -- with intelligent and helpful staff -- and superb resources. What more could one ask?

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


More and More Online - But You Have to Separate and Regroup the Sources

Strands to separate

A brief update on crucial indexing resources becoming available to you Dear Readers, albeit in the most chaotic way imaginable. Recall that we have explained many times that France's birth, marriage and death registrations, whether parish or civil, are created locally, in a commune or parish. When they reach a certain age, they are stored a little less locally, in Departmental Archives. The hold parish registrations up to 1792 and civil registrations from 1792 onward. To research your ancestor, you must know the commune or parish where the event was recorded so that you can know in which Departmental Archives the event has been stored so that you can research on that Departmental Archives' website. The trick for many, of course, is finding that parish or commune in the first place.

As we have reported here before, the race has been on between commercial genealogy websites, genealogy associations (or cercles) and a few Departmental Archives to index as many parish and civil registrations as possible in order to be seen as the best and most centralized database of French registrations and thus to win the prize of lost of paying subscribers. No one website has an nation-wide index to all registrations, but the main  contenders are:

  • Geneanet
  • Filae
  • Ancestry France (back in the game after a long snooze)
  • Bigenet (which is scheduled to shut down next month)
  • Geneabank

Where does this leave the hapless researcher? It can be very easy to search an ancestor on a website, find nothing and wrongly believe that there is nothing. They certainly will not tell you that they have indexed only a few departments' registrations and that you should also try their competitors. Once you have tried them all, how do you know that you have researched all the locations that you wanted to do? Well, the best thing to do is to check their source list before you start. Here's how:

On Geneanet, click on "Search" and, in the drop down menu, on "Genealogy Society Indexes"

Geneanet 1That takes you to a page with another drop down menu that lists all of the Genealogy Societies whose indices they present.

Geneanet 2

 

 

On Filae, scroll to the bottom of the page to "Ressources Généalogiques":Filae 1

 

If you click on "Archives départementales" you do NOT get a list of departmental archives represented on Filae, somewhat misleadingly to our mind. What you get is a page of information about each departmental archives, with the address, a link to the website and then, the names of any associations whose indices are on Filae, identified as "partenaires" (partners). Here is the page for the department of Bas-Rhin:

 

Filae 2

Going back and clicking on "Associations de généalogie" will take you to the same pages for each department as in the example above. Filae certainly seems to have the most agreements with the many departmental archives and even have managed to snag the Municipal Archives of Bordeaux ever so recently. However, the images that they show online seem to be almost exclusively civil registrations. They do have associations' indices of some parish registrations but check the page for the department to see if they have indices for the area of your research.

On Ancestry, scroll to the bottom of the page and click on "partenaires",  (they do not make it easy)

 

Ancestry France

 This brings a small but not insignificant list of associations lending their work to Ancestry:

Ancestry 2

 

On Bigenet, you have both a map and a list showing the departments covered:

 

Bigenet 1

To know what associations' indices they have, click on "associations généalogiques" at the top of the page:

 

Bigenet 2


This takes you to a complete list of all the associations having indices on Bigenet:

 

Bigenet 3
 

 Lastly, on Geneabank, scroll to the bottom of the page and click on "la page des associations":

 

Geneabank 1

This takes you to their complete list of associations:

 

Geneabank 2

 

N.B. Nearly all of these lists are in numerical order by the number assigned to the department. Use the list in the left-hand column on this page to know the numbers of the departments.

In each case, if the region or department in which you are researching is not in that website's list, neither will your ancestor result in a search on that website. Save yourself confusion, frustration and time wasted. Verify that the website covers your department or region of interest before you start researching their database.

Forewarned is forearmed.

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Guest Post - Joyous Genealogy Tourism in Montbéliard

Montbeliard tourism 1

Cherith Chapman-Flowerday read our posts about the excellent genealogy tourism offerings of Montbéliard and planned her voyage. She tells of the adventure in today's guest post.

If you have roots in Pays de Montbéliard, France, then it is the best place you could ever go for a genealogy tour! You are likely to leave with a family tree of your lineage and a deep appreciation for the rich history and culture of what was its own country for over 400 years! My mother, age 70, sister, age 43, and myself, age 45, had casually dreamt of visiting the town of our ancestors in France for many years. When we had the opportunity to go to England this summer (my first ever trip to Europe!) we decided we must add a trip to Montbéliard, France as part of our itinerary. We had two pieces of information that guided this choice. First, word of mouth that my great-great grandmother was from a town called Montbéliard, France. Second, two of my aunts had traced the history of 10 other relatives who were born in Montbéliard and passed away in the USA. This is all we had to go on but it was enough to get us to book a hotel in Montbéliard and buy train tickets to get there from London.

It then became apparent that we needed to know something about where we were going and to have a plan. I spent many evenings trying to figure this out until I stumbled upon The French Genealogy Blog. This encounter definitely led us to the trip of a lifetime. Much to my surprise there was a blog post  that said Montbéliard, France was one of the best places in France to do genealogy tourism! The post suggested we contact Evelyne Boilaux of the Montbéliard Tourism Office. I called the tourism office and was put in touch right away with Evelyne. She and the person on the phone spoke English, which was so helpful because I speak no French at all. Evelyne helped us craft a 3-hour private tour of our ancestral town, Valentigney, including a visit to the cemetery, church, museum, lunch with locals, and much more!

As part of the visit Evelyne hoped to help us find some relatives. To aid in this endeavor she encouraged me to communicate with the René Vermot-Desroches at the Genealogical Society of Montbéliard. I had never done genealogy research before, but with the 11 names I gave René and his colleague Alain Acolat they were able to trace over 400 relatives going back 500 years in the area! The genealogy office has extensive records of birth, death, and marriage. And because they worked very hard to make it digital, it is easy to track if you have somewhere to start. Our 11 relatives of whom we had birth and death info was enough for him to do a solid amount of research. Granted, there was a lot of duplication of names over the years, so you really have to carefully compare not just names, but any possible records of birth, death, and marriage. In the end Evelyne and René helped us meet with two relatives. We were able to visit with one relative at her home, which interestingly smelled like my grandmother’s home - a smell I hadn’t experienced since her passing 10 years before. And, we enjoyed a long afternoon of coffee and delicious French pastries with our other relative and his wife.

Pays de Montbéliard joined France in 1793, at the end of the French Revolution. We learned we are from a country that, prior to joining France, had been a part of Wurtemberg for four centuries, with its own castle (now a museum) and ruling family who were loved by the locals. This family brought Lutheranism, and provided education to both boys and girls of low-income families almost 300 years before it was required by the country of France. We stayed in the oldest hotel in town, the Hôtel de la Balance. It sits at the base of the castle on the first street to ever exist in town. It was built in the 1500’s and was recently beautifully restored by a local citizen. We also learned that our family is related to the Peugeot family, who’s factories and legacy still lives on locally. It seems the Peugeot family was well loved by the community and provided health care for all employees and their families well before this was a common practice.

The area has a lot to offer with delicious food, charming streets, its own breed of cow (vache montbéliarde), a famous cheese (comté), a castle, several museums full of rich local history, archives, the ruins of a Gallo-Roman theater, outdoor activities nearby, and more. The people were lovely, the hospitality exceptional, and the connection to my past both enriching and inspiring. I thought this would be my only visit to France in my lifetime, but I have to go back again. There is so much yet to be discovered! My only regret (not really) is that it was so exciting and fun that I left worn out rather than rested – but that was my fault!

I have to say a very special thank you to Anne Morddel for this blog, Evelyne Boilaux for her hospitality and friendship that was above and beyond, and to René & Alain for their wisdom, experience and extensive support in the genealogy search process. See you all again!

 

Cherith family with Evelyne

Contact Information:

Genealogical Society of Montbéliard

Aprox. $50 cost for extensive support

 

 

Evelyne BOILAUX

RP & Communication

OFFICE DE TOURISME du PAYS DE MONTBELIARD

Aprox. $150 for 3-hour tour

1 rue Henri Mouhot

25200 MONTBELIARD

Tél. 03 81 94 16 07/ 06.44.28.85.99

evelyne.boilaux@paysdemontbeliard-tourisme.com

www.paysdemontbeliard-tourisme.com

 

 

Many thanks, Cherith, for sharing this with our Dear Readers. We hope there will be more happy stories to come.

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Finding Early French Mennonites of Vosges and Haut-Rhin

 

Map compass

As those of you who have worked on this group will know already, this is a difficult patch of research territory. Briefly, because of their beliefs, their language differences (generally, they spoke German rather than French), and their separateness from the Catholic Church, documenting the Mennonites (known as Anabaptistes, and henceforward here as well) in France is difficult.[1]

  • Because they were pacifists, they do not appear in the excellent genealogical resource of military records
  • The territories were not French when they came to Montbéliard or Salm or Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; they were principalities that had to cooperate with France and that would one day be absorbed by France. Thus any archives pertaining to them in those places will be in France, but will be arranged according to the structure of the principality’s administration.
  • The Anabaptists were not keen on registration. Eventually, however, they did, in France, begin to register baptisms and marriages, especially at Montbéliard and in Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, at the Reformed German Church. These registers are not, at the time of writing, online, though extracts from the latter are beginning to appear on Filae.
  • Most Anabaptists in the principalities were not permitted to own land but only to rent it. Some rental and even some sale agreements survive but the wealth of land registry records contains little or nothing concerning them.
  • The French did not begin a formal, national and regular census until 1836, far too late for the study of this group. However, certain Anabaptist censuses of the early eighteenth century in France survive, but they give little detail, being just a list of names of the men who headed families.
  • The Anabaptists rarely used notaires to formally document and register their agreements. They did not have marriage contracts, wills or inheritance issues. Disputes were resolved amongst themselves. The result is that an extremely rich resource is unlikely to be so rich for this type of research.

Thus, researching Anabaptists in French archives is quite a specialized pursuit and is very different from research into French Catholic families of the same time period and all of the wonderful resources we have oft described on this blog are pretty much useless.

Yet, we see no reason to give up. We have struggled with them before, in Montbéliard, and we most recently have soldiered on in the archives of Vosges and Haut-Rhin.

In the Departmental Archives of Vosges can be found the archives of the Principality of Salm, one of the states that gave refuge to Anabaptists on the run from less welcoming religious climes. It is not a huge collection; the entire list is on not many pages in a single binder. In the late eighteenth century, the territory became French and all relating to the same people and places will suddenly be in French records.

A few suggestions for where to look, based on where we have found success:

  • In 1790, when the Revolutionary government sold off biens nationaux, the property taken from churches, the crown and nobility, you will occasionally find Anabaptist farmers buying the property they had been renting. Begin with the principality’s lease records, then look not only in the biens nationaux lists but in notarial records for the sale, the acte de vente.
  • Anabaptists may have been officially tolerated, but they were not always so in every corner of the principality. It seems that, if they broke laws or customs, they were very likely to have been prosecuted for it while, in the same situation, a local person might have received a warning. (Sadly, this ignorant suspicion of all persons foreign has not yet disappeared from modern humanity.) So, a trawl through the judicial records during the period when your ancestor was alive may bring some interesting discoveries.

In the Departmental Archives of Vosges, we came across no census of Anabaptists such as the well-known 1703 and 1708 listings of Anabaptists in Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines (much copied all over the Internet).

In the Departmental Archives of Haut-Rhin, the documents in Series E relating to Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines are chaotically arranged, even after a few attempts have visibly altered the finding aids, but they contain nuggets. In addition to the census returns mentioned above, we found:

  • A 1732 census of inhabitants by religion, including Anabaptists.
  • A carton full of individual requests by Anabaptists to be allowed to settle in the Seigneurie de Ribeaupierre. Each one tells a story, each is in German, and each has the same representative’s or agent’s signature at the bottom.
  • One fine family’s names and relationships all listed in a certificat de bonne meours (saying they were exemplary citizens) issued to them when due to the 1712 expulsion issued by Louis XIV being enforced in the seigneurie as well, they had to leave. The wording is quite touching; clearly, they would be missed.

Further Reading

It will be hard work but always interesting.

 

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy 

[1] Séguy, Les Assemblées, pp.15-19.


The Departmental Archives of Haut-Rhin

AD-HR

 

Oh, this is a tough one, Dear Readers, a very tough one, indeed, and through no fault of the expert archivists and their extremely busy staff. It is merely that the collections held here are from such a jumbled history of different languages and traditions, different provenance, and different administrative structures that they are difficult for anyone to sort out and use.

Certainly, they are the toughest that we have ever yet attempted. It took us a day to manage to find our way just a bit through the finding aids, which are only the first step. This, though the archives have produced numerous explanations as to how to use them. In some case, one must use four different finding aids, each referring to another, to find the code for a carton. This is because archives must be stored in the sense in which they were created; only a fool would rearrange them according to his or her modern idea of order. (We have witnessed such chaos but, thankfully, not here.)

The staff were generous with their time in helping all users to find their way, but it was often difficult for them too. In one instance, we had managed to use the finding aids successfully and had a list of codes for cartons to request, yet we could not get the system to accept those codes. We asked for help. It took the archivist, asking all the others present thirty minutes of trying various possibilities before he had success. This is not incompetence, we assure you; this is extreme complexity. Later, in conversation with other users, all agreed that the finding aids and the archives were the most complex and difficult that we had ever encountered.
 

ADHR

The interior is modern and very accommodating. The exterior needs a bit of work, shall we say. There are oddities that indicate an amateur architect did the new inside: a glass door to the Reading Room that bangs loudly, motion sensors for lights that are placed incorrectly.  These are minor details.

Instead of proper lockers, there are small, open cubicles for one's belongings, such as we called "cubbies" all those years ago in kindergarden. In fact, there is a general air of authoritarianism and elementary school about the structure. Outrageously loud buzzers go off fifteen minutes before closing time; failing that, an assistant bellows that we must prepare to leave. The entire service closes for an hour at lunch time. This is the only Departmental Archives where we have encountered this closure, and it is a significant loss of research time.

We think we may have come across the cause of the hysteria found in the municipal archives about photographs.

 

Booklet

Key articles in this document state that one must request permission to take photographs of documents (this is the same as in most archives). However, the permission to photograph is not permission to publish.

 

Reutilisation

The sentence in bold makes it very clear that the permission to photograph is not permission to publish. Additionally:

 

And more

It does not in any way grant the photographer copyright of the contents of the image. Presumably, similar rulings, with similar draconian wording,  apply in the Municipal Archives of Colmar.

In such a difficult situation, this is where you see the value of the tremendous volunteer work done by genealogy associations. There are, on shelves, dozens of bound volumes of extracts of parish and civil registrations, sorted by town and then type and name. In this case, they are those done by the Association Généalogique et héraldique du Val de Lièpvre et Environs  but they contain more than is on the website or that has been put on Filae by the same. They are a wonderful aid, though they do not exist for every single town yet.

The archivists here deserve medals for heroism and expertise. They seem to be understaffed and yet are constantly available to answer the innumerable questions necessary. We really are very grateful to them and extend our thanks here.

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


The Municipal Archives of Colmar, un vrai cauchemar

AM Colmar

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

AM Colmar reading room

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

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

AM Colmar - Purple

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

AM Colmar Index cards

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

It went from bad to worse.

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

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

Sittler

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

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

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


The Departmental Archives of Vosges

AD vosges 1

Quelle luxe!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Archives départementales des Vosges

4, rue Pierre Blanck

88050 Epinal

 

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy