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November 2009

The Identity Wars - Part Two



Soon after I had made the decision to have a name all my own, I lost my nanny job. The patriarch was busted for drug dealing and was sent to a federal penitentiary somewhere in Nevada. His gorgeous wife, the ex-model, vowed to go to Hawaii with her innocent angel of a son and purge her veins of poison. I never heard from them again.

I moved back home. Unable to find another job, I decided to become an Amway millionaire. I could be seen pedalling my old-fashioned, lady's bicycle from village to village along the West Shore selling pillows and cleaning products from my bike basket. It was a lark but not very successful. Around this time, I decided to return to university, which I thought might improve my employment prospects somewhat. I filled out the application forms as Anne Morddel and sent them off. I cannot recall with certainty, but I think this was my first official use of my new name.

After that, I decided to tell my parents. I made an announcement one evening to my mother that I was changing my name. She poured more Jack Daniel's into her old fashioned and took a gulp. 

"To what?" she demanded in her hoarse, smoker's voice.

"Anne Morddel" I smiled. She took another gulp and gave me that stern look some parents have when in that condition.

"Well, I don't care what the hell you call yourself, you'll always be my Annie." She hugged me. Done. Sighs of relief all round.

That night, I wrote to the Social Security office, returning my card:

"Dear Sirs, I have changed my name and want to keep this number. Please send me a new card. " A few weeks later they did. Just like that. It was all so straightforward and easy.

Then, I wrote a cheerful letter to my father, who lived in the Bay Area, to tell him of my delightful new name. Surely, no one was less prepared for a storm of rage than I. A vicious letter, cataloguing all of my sins since the age of two arrived, with my own letter torn to shreds, in an envelope addressed to "Anne Whoever". My, he was cross. I was flabbergasted at his reaction, that he saw it as something negative against him and not as something positive I was doing for myself. An exchange of letters went on for a while.

"What possible difference can it make to you if I have a new surname because I made one up or because of marriage?" I asked. "Either way, I won't be using your name anymore. Why does one upset you but not the other?" He answered with things about tradition and family honour, things that made no sense to a young person in the early 1970s in California. In the end, he threatened to disinherit me if I did not take back his surname.

"Not on your tintype. Go ahead and disinherit me," I wrote. "You haven't got anything not to leave me anyway." I was that kind of daughter.

So he did. He was that kind of father.


©2009 Anne Morddel


Protestant Genealogy in Alsace

Picture 5


As always, the case in Alsace is different. The region has been bandied between Gauls and Germans, and French and Germans since the beginning of time it seems. (See this handy timeline.) It has effected religious practices and the documentation of generations differently from in the rest of France.

In 1529, when it was part of what would become Germany, the senate of Strasbourg, the city of Martin Luther,  voted to end Catholicism in the city and that "culte" was banned. Alsace eventually became about 10% Protestant. For all of the 16th century, when Protestants were battling it out against Catholics in France, Alsace was not in France. Part of it was annexed to France in the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, when Alsatians believed they would not be persecuted, for the Edict of Nantes was still in effect. The rest of the region was annexed in 1674, just a few years before the Edict of Nantes would be revoked. However, imposing absolute adherence to Catholicism was impossible and the existing Protestant traditions and structures continued.

This means that Protestant parish registers were maintained by pastors since the inception of Protestantism and most are preserved in the Archives Départementales. In almost every case, they are in Latin or German, with Gothic script if the latter. The genealogy society of Alsace, the Cercle Généalogique d'Alsace, has transcribed a number of the registers. They have a small data base on their website. They also sell publications containing the transcriptions. Lastly, they have placed some on Géné, a site one must pay to use.

It also means that one rarely hears the term "Huguenot" in reference to Protestants from Alsace, for they did not generally flee religious persecutions. They fled war.


© 2009 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

The picture above comes from a depressingly jingoistic book for tots, Le Paradis tricolore, by Hansi and published in Paris by Fleury in 1918.

Huguenot Genealogy in English


Thousands of Huguenots went to England to escape persecution and the English, that nation of curators, have been studying them ever since. The Huguenot Society in London has a website full of historical information about the history of the Huguenots, their arrival in Britain and Ireland, and their influence on society and commerce there. The site has many links and a superb bibliography.  It also links to the site for The French Hospital in Kent, a residence for anyone of Huguenot or French Protestant descent in need. In Britain's over-priced property market, getting one of these charming flats based on one's Huguenot ancestors would be the all-time coup of genealogy, in our opinion. 

The Society's Proceedings contain full-length, scholarly articles on the Huguenots and are sent to members.  Many volumes are available for free on the Internet Archive; make the search on the previous name of The Huguenot Society of London . (By the way, as we often recommend books and journals from the Internet Archive, we would like also to recommend that, to read them more comfortably, you download the free Adobe Digital Editions.) The Society's excellent library (in the photo below) is open to non-members if they book in advance. (telephone +44 207 679 5199)

Huguenot Society Library


Others in English:

The Huguenot Foundation of South Africa 

In both English and Afrikaans, this site is a central point for the Society, the Museum and the Monument.

Huguenot Memorial Museum in South Africa

Just thought we would add this, for they say on the website that they will research certain Huguenot families. A list is given.

The Huguenot Society of Australia

Again, the history and a list of names of Huguenot families in Australia.

The National Huguenot Society

In the United States, this site gives plenty of history, and many lists of names of Huguenots, including those who went to other countries. There is a list of chapters in various states.


A very fine survey of  Huguenot church records is included in a larger wiki page on French Church Records in general at FamilySearch.



Huguenot Tourism in London


Certain parts of London are associated with the Huguenots historically. We visited some of them in August. The Picture above is of the church in Soho Square. Click on it to get the larger version and read the inscription.

Behind the National Gallery, in a remarkably quiet street, considering its location, is the Orange Street Church. On its site in 1693, a Huguenot chapel was established. 


IMG_0008  Orange Street Church notice 


Down in the bowels of Wandsworth is the Huguenot Burial Ground, all that remains of the community that settled there long ago. It is surrounded by wide, busy roads in a grim neighbourhood. Go by taxi, not the Tube, and have the taxi wait.


Burial ground 3 Burial ground 2 


Spitalfields was once the smelliest market in London, being the meat market. In that area, many Huguenots settled. The market has been closed and converted to a very la-di-da shopping  site. Just a street away is a row of 18th century houses that once were Huguenot homes and now cost so much that only celebrities can afford them.


Fournier Street


Lastly, one can visit the home of Dennis Sever, a transplanted Californian like ourself, who has preserved the original structure and décor of his house and recreated the Huguenot life within. One tours the house and glimpses the life of a family of 18th century Huguenot weavers. The detail is astonishing.

All in all, there is quite a lot available in English about the Huguenots. Further submissions from our readers would be most welcome.


© 2009 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

L'Abjuration - One Huguenot's Forced Conversion


Picture 3

We have been reading lately the parish registers of one of the Huguenot strongholds. The period just after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 is full of just what the history books tell us. Dozens of Protestant children baptized as Catholics by law and, if their parents did not marry in the Catholic church, those children were entered in the register as illegitimate. This was more than stigma, for illegitimate children were not allowed to inherit. We also came across what we consider to be a fine example of a conversion which does seem to have been rather forced, an abjuration


It is not very easy to read or to understand, as if the curé doing the writing were nervous. The gist of it is that in April of 1706, a farmwife named Anne, aged about 31 years, after a great deal of teaching in the faith of her king and advice from the Catholic church, has agreed to condemn and reject those beliefs that the Catholic church also condemns and rejects. Placing her hands between those of the curé, she stated "As God is my helper, on the Sainted Evangelists I swear to live and die in the Catholic belief."

Even three hundred year old intolerance outrages us.


©2009 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Huguenot Genealogy - Where To Look


In the Archives


Battered shutter 2 


A fair amount of Protestant documentation can be found in the National Archives, in series TT, but the bulk, such as it is can be found in the Departmental Archives and the communal archives, generally in series B, E, or U. 

They are treated rather like the shutters above. In this time of great interest in archives and records for genealogical research, those in charge are, quite amazingly, still showing a tad of prejudice from centuries ago. We have spoken with a number of researchers who have asked to see the Protestant archives and have been told:


  • there are none
  • they are not catalogued or listed
  • they have no ten-year indices or annual indices
  • they have not been scanned and are certainly are not online
  • they are in a box under a dripping pipe at the bottom of the stairs (honestly!)

This extends beyond the archives. A recent special number of Généalogie on religion from the 16th to the 19th centuries had in its 68 pages a single paragraph on Protestantism, Judaism and Islam. In France,  La Religion is synonymous with catholicité.


On the Internet



Huguenots de France et d'ailleurs

In four languages, including English, this is the starting point for any Huguenot research. It was created and is maintained by the Association Généalogique Huguenots de France. It contains guidelines, sections on many regions, lists of names, explanations of events. The site is almost exclusively the work of one soft-spoken man, M. Roland Gennerat, whom we met at the conference earlier this year. He also created and maintains the following databases:


  • Les pasteurs des Églises Protestantes de France a list of all known Protestant pastors in France. It is a work in progress but there are all ready nearly 12,000 names.
  • Les temples protestants de France, a list of all protestant churches in France, including those that were destroyed, giving the address, the architect, whether there is an organ. (To correct a common misunderstanding: "temple" in French refers to a non-Catholic church, not to a synagogue, which is called a "synagogue".)
  • Les cimetières protestants de France - a list of all Protestant cemeteries, their addresses, histories and, where possible, an index of the graves.
  • The pages on La Rochelle are especially interesting. 
  • Biographies of well-known (to the French anyway) Protestants

Société de l'histoire du protestantisme français

This is a site more purely historical, but it runs a genealogy centre and its journal carries a number of articles on genealogy. It also maintains a list of museums devoted to the Huguenots. Theirs is probably the best library in France on the Huguenots.



Without question, the single most authoritative text on Huguenot genealogy in France is by Gildas Bernard and is entitled Les Protestants en France du XVIème siècle à 1792, guide des recherches biographiques et généalogiques. Les familles protestantes en France  ). It was published in 1987, but nothing has bettered it.

Really, we must add here that there dozens of books in English on Huguenot history and Huguenot genealogy on the Internet Archive. In the search box, type either Huguenot or French Protestant and read the list.



As you begin your Huguenot research, it may be confusing if you do not know the following:

Protestant churches in French are referred to as temples.

Protestant faiths are all referred to as cultes.

"Protestant" is used much more often than "Huguenot".


Bonne chance!


© 2009 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Huguenot Genealogy - Documenting in Secret

Rue des eaux 1 


Being Protestant in the early days was not easy and documenting the basic events in life -- a baptism, a marriage, a death -- often had to be done secretly, in hidden places,through small doors, down steep, dark stairways. As laws and freedoms changed constantly, so did the kinds of documentation. The types of documentation concerning Huguenots in France falls into four basic time periods: 

The Beginning - From the first Synod to the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes - 1559-1685

There are some lists of members of churches and of baptisms. Too often, in the ups and downs of persecution, these lists could be confiscated and be used to identify those to be persecuted, so there are not many. Yet, without legal documentation, even in the 16th century, one did not legally exist and could not function in society, so many little tricks were tried. Some Protestants had their children baptized in the Catholic church in order to get the necessary documentation, and then re-baptised as Protestant. Many who could afford it went outside of France to marry since foreign Protestant marriages were recognized by French law when internal ones were not. Others waited for the rare visit from an itinerant Protestant pastor.  This means that it is quite difficult to find a trace of Protestants in the very early years.

The Years of Extreme Persecution - 

From the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes to the Edict of Tolerance - 1685 - 1787

These were the worst years with many instances of horrific persecution. By law,  Protestant children were baptized by priests and so, will appear in the parish registers in many cases. A few brave Protestant pastors kept baptism registers and a small number of those remain. Deaths of Protestants were written in the Catholic parish registers with the added note saying that they had died heretics. Those who were lucky enough to live close to the border could cross into Switzerland to marry or have a child baptized according to their Protestant faith. The notary files may have quite a lot, as people sold their property rather than have it confiscated, or arranged false sales for the same reason.

Many records that remain tend to be those that document Protestants as criminals or as forced Catholics. Lists of those who converted but whose faith was in doubt, lists of children taken from Protestant parents to be reared as Catholics, lists of confiscated goods, lists of men forced into the galleys, of women sent to prison, of fugitives.

The Years of Tolerance - From the Edict of Tolerance to the Revolution - 1787-1792

The Edict of Tolerance in 1787 decriminalized Protestantism, allowing people to profess the faith,  to practice their trades, marry, have their children's births registered by a judge, and so on. It was a time of limited acceptance. Protestant registers for births, marriages and deaths were created. Special registers for legalizing the marriages and children that were all ready in existence were created, called "rehabilitation registers". As always, the notarial files can be rich with detail.

After the Revolution - post 1792

After the Revolution, Protestants, like everyone else, have their births, marriages and deaths registered in the civil registers.

This gives some idea of the hurdles to be encountered when tracing Huguenot ancestors. In the next post, we will write about where to find these records.



© 2009 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Huguenot Genealogy - A Bit of Background



Very briefly, we give here an explanation of the Huguenot story  -- with many links to articles on Wikipedia, for those who want a fuller account -- as a background to Huguenot genealogy. It is not a pretty page in French history.

 The man in the picture is John Calvin, a sixteenth century French Protestant who led the Reformed Church in Geneva. It is his teachings which dominated French Protestantism, much more so than the teachings of Luther. Initially, under the kings François I and Henri II, the Protestants were tolerated. They grew more numerous and powerful and then were not tolerated anymore. 

The next king, François II, persecuted them pretty regularly. His mother, Catherine d'Medicis, tried playing power games with both the Protestants and Catholics, but that only created civil war. Soon after, on Saint Bartholomew's Day, 1572, Catholics started a three day slaughter of Protestants. Depending upon who tells the story, between 2,000 and 70,000 Protestants were killed. A couple of years later the king, Henri III, had some powerful Catholics assassinated, then a cardinal. This did not go down well, so it was the king's turn to be assassinated, in 1589. 

The next king, Henri IV, was Protestant, but converted to Catholicism the night of the massacre, which saved his life. It was he who, in 1598, issued the Edict of Nantes. This finally gave the Protestants some legal rights and some places of safety, which they fortified. One of the most important of these, in terms of future emigrants from France, was La Rochelle. 

The Edict was just a breather. Henri Quatre, as he was known, was a much loved and respected king, but not by everyone. He was assassinated in 1610 by a Catholic. His son, Louis XIII, followed and, with his minister, Cardinal Richelieu, began to chip away at the rights and freedoms his father had granted to the Protestants. 

His son, Louis XIV, after taking away many Protestant rights and imposing many hardships, finally revoked the Edict all together in 1685. Protestant worship was banned, pastors were banished, churches destroyed, and emigration prohibited, which did nothing to stop the great migration to The Netherlands, England, Germany and America that led to so many descendants far from France now trying to trace their Huguenot ancestors.



A nifty little book that gives the whole history from the point of view of La Rochelle can be downloaded in its entirety from the Internet Archive: The Huguenots of La Rochelle .



©2009 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


 Cem 2 


It is late autumn in France now. Most of the leaves have fallen from the plane trees and horse chestnut trees that line the streets of Paris. The few that remain seem so languidly resigned to their fate that when the time comes they seem not so much to fall to the ground as simply to sigh and let go. In nature, autumn is not death but a beginning of hibernation and dormancy.

How appropriate then, to put the time of paying attention to ancestors in the autumn. By placing blooming flowers, a sign of spring, on a grave in autumn, we show our adherence to the cycles of the year and our teachings from nature: that after winter comes spring. We express our profound need to see ourselves as a part of that cycle.

The First of November in the Catholic calendar in France is All Saints Day -- Toussaint -- an important high holy day and always a national holiday. The Second of November is All Souls Day.  The two days are when by long-standing tradition all French return home to place flowers on the graves of their parents and loved ones. There are almost two weeks off of school to allow everyone to travel to the villages of the family's roots, and most still do. The holiday has the family-oriented warmth of our American Thanksgiving. 

When I first became interested in genealogy, I thought the passion so many have for it came from New World rootlessness. My ancestors go back to the Great Migration and to Jamestown in America so really, rootlessness should not be much of an issue, at least as far as nationally. They go back five generations in California, which seems to make me pretty rooted on a state level, and three generations in the Bay Area, which should be enough roots on the local level. Yet I certainly do not have the sense of many Europeans who were born and reared in a village which had a cemetery (like the one in the photo above) containing ten generations of their family. That is rooted!

I have been reading Alice Munro's The View From Castle Rock  in which she has many beautiful meditations on the meaning of our search for our ancestors, of her search for her own.  When my mother was dying and I was thousands of miles away and unable to be with her, my obsession with genealogy reached a feverish level, as if with every new ancestor name I found I could hold on to the generation that was slipping away and even bring back those all ready lost and still missed so. I notice that many, many people come to genealogy by way of grief.

I imagine that another possible source of the passion for genealogy may be that, as everything becomes global, people actually lose their place and become a bit lost. By finding our ancestors we can place ourselves a bit better in the  global as well as in our own history. By learning their stories, we give ourselves a fuller identity in a time when we all begin to look pretty much the same.

In ancient China, ancestors were revered as a sort of link between the living and the gods, as "representatives of humanity in the higher regions."*  They were not worshiped but  remembered and called upon to intercede, rather like a guardian angel. Somehow, as much as in China five thousand years ago, as much as in France for the past fifteen hundred years, we still need our ancestors. By remembering those who are gone, we create  -- perhaps self-centeredly, perhaps not -- a tradition whereby we in turn may be remembered. We may not entreat them as our ancestors did but in much the same way that a good book can become a good friend, so can an ancestor's story be not only a friend, but family.


©2009 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

*The quote above comes from the Willhelm/Baynes double translation of the I Ching.  Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1965, p.69