The 20th annual National Genealogy Congress got off to a rousing start on Friday in the modern and most comfortable buildings of the university for electrical engineering. This is in the suburb of Paris, Champs-sur-Marne, about an hour out of the city on the rattling and swaying suburban train, the RER. The exhibition halls have 184 stands and the programme has an impressive line-up of 63 speakers and four workshops.
Before we attended any of the lectures, we decided to view the stands. This was a nice entry to the world of French genealogists. Only about one quarter of the stands were vendors. The large on-line databases were represented, as were the magazines and La librairie de la Voûte, along with a couple of other publishers. The majority of stands were of the regional genealogy associations, or Cercles généalogiques. Each of these was a jolly and efficiently helpful centre of enthusiasts. As well as offering their publications and expert advice, some had local fare on offer. We particularly enjoyed the mature Brie, which we tasted perhaps excessively. At this point a fellow in the traditional garb of the Cheesemakers' Guild (actually a fairly new organization set up in protest to attempts to ban cheese made with unpasteurized milk) arrived for a photo op. The headgear, he told us, is meant to resemble a round of Brie.
The folks from the land of Brie had also created a poster entitled, "Our Cousin, Hillary", which traced the ancestors of Hillary Clinton from Jacques Guerin, who lived in Louvres in 1440, to Robert Navarre, born in 1709 in Gressy and died in 1791 in Detroit.
At some of the stands, folk were in traditional garb, adding to the sense of being at a faire.
As the theme of the congress is the fairs of Champagne in the artisans' cities, this dressing in traditional clothing all seemed well orchestrated and very charming.
What was perhaps most noticeable at the first glance through the aisles of the stands was the number of publications about surnames and locations. They dominated the publications of the cercles généalogiques and were a large part of the publishers' fare. Titles such as Patronymes de l'Ain or Noms de Familles de la Normandie were repeated everywhere. The books are lists of surnames found in the département or region, listed, with numbers as to how often each of the names occur, and in which communes they occur. Some may also show the changes of occurrence of the names over time. This underlines the starting point of researching a person or family in French genealogy: one must know WHERE they lived, as all of the documents are held locally.
©2009, Anne Morddel