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May 2010

The Departmental Archives of Cher


 One normally goes to Bourges for the fabulously beautiful cathedral, but we went to do research in the long-suffering Departmental Archives of Cher, which are located at the southern edge of town and which have an abnormal amount of damaged goods. We have seen some battered archives in our day, including the underground pit that was the National Archives of Uganda not long after Amin got done with that poor and beautiful country. The condition of some of the registers we requested at Cher's Departmental Archives was really no better:

Wrecked register AD Cher small

Other users gossiped and exchanged stories of waterlogged register books with pages nibbled away by mice. We were told by a beaming member of the staff:  

"Fungus, termites, mice," he said, then shrugged and, rather as the French cheerily say "c'est la vie" he added:  "That's archives!"  No. It is not.

Happy days are on the horizon, however, for the archives are being expanded greatly, the facilities improved, and a preservation and microfilming programme is going on at a galloping pace. All of these efforts mean that the service is somewhat chaotic as well as that rather a significant amount of the civil and parish records are unavailable.

Like that of Haute-Saône, Cher's is another small Departmental Archives facility, with not much money and what they do have is going to the conservation programme, it would seem. The usual registration is required and a paper card is given. The list of all holdings and their codes is on a database and there are two terminals available. Most, but not all records are requested via these terminals and delivered by trolley ever 15 minutes. There is no copier or printer for use by the patrons, so a digital camera is most necessary. Additionally, should anyone be planning a visit, it would be a good idea to allot an extra day or two, for there are a couple of odd regulations that inhibit work:


  1. The entire building is closed for an hour at lunchtime. (There are no restaurants nearby but there is a small canteen one can use, though the food is such as we had never thought to see in France.) 
  2. There is a limit of twelve items -- whether original or microfilm -- that can be requested to view per day.

These mean that an efficient researcher will spend a lot of time waiting...or knocking off early and visiting the cathedral.


Archives départementales du Cher

Rue de Mazières

18022 Bourges

telephone: (+33) 2 48 55 82 60

. Read all of our posts about Departmental Archives here.

©2010 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Foundlings - Les Enfants Trouvés

Baby with fruit


Pablo Briand is Argentinian by birth, now lives in the United States, and is of French descent.  A link to his  tri-lingual (English, Spanish, French) blog, Gen Briand, has been in the list Bloga Collectanea, to the left here, for some time. His blog is not only about his search for his ancestors, but about a great deal of French history as well. His historical articles are often lengthy and are always well researched. For some time, now, we have been planning to write a post on the foundlings, les enfants trouvés, but Pablo has stolen a march on us with an excellent post on their treatment in France. We present here his introduction, with a link to the post, which we highly recommend.  


"They might have been our ancestors. But they had neither a name nor a family. They are the enfants  trouvés, the foundlings. The heirs of oblivion. A story of love and missed encounters. The missed encounter of a society with itself, after turning its back to reality so many times. After having, whether conciously or not, created the conditions for the abandonment, and in some moments of illumination, waking up after a long nap, realizing that they have their streets plentiful with a horrendous scenario: hundreds of newborns abandoned on the sidewalks, at the thresholds of the churches, carrying a quick travel ticket to death within their swaddling clothes only few days after being born. They are that "other side" of the genealogy about coats of arms and noble ancestors. They are a real story about human beings, left to the side of civilization. We, the genealogical researchers, must not forget them. Their heritage is oblivion; their hope is the love of the society. They are the heirs of oblivion, but they shouldn't be heirs of our obliviscence.

Read more........"


Thank you, Pablo


©2010 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

French Military Uniforms

French Army 1914

 A fair number of readers of this blog have written asking for help in identifying some patch of a French uniform, or a cap, or a jacket which belonged to a French ancestor. The lucky ones have a photograph of the ancestor in uniform. They hope, rightly, that if they can identify the rank and regiment of the ancestor, they may then be able to search for a military file on him.

There are many, many books and websites out there about French military uniforms, especially about the glorious stuff-strutters of the Napoleonic era. For tracing bits and pieces or a photograph of a uniform however, the grander books, works of art often, are not very helpful. They contain beautiful drawings and sometimes thorough histories of regiments, but that is of use in genealogy only when one has all ready identified the ancestor's rank and regiment.

The book above by André Jouineau, Officers and Soldiers of the French Army 1914 is the ideal find, as explained in the first sentence:

"Infantrymen on 2 August 1914 were not very different from their elder brothers of 1870, except for a few uniform details. The kepi changed its shape but not the colours it inherited from the Second Empire........The famous garance (madder red) trousers were worn by nearly all the soldiers in the French Army...."

The uniforms shown in this book were essentially those worn by French soldiers during one of the major periods of emigration from France: the second half of the nineteenth century. Thus, this is the book with which to start trying to identify a rank and regiment from an old bit of a uniform or from a photograph.

The colours are bright, the illustrations clear and easy on the eye. The computer-generated images make the soldiers look like toys. In fact, the whole book has the look of a children's picture book, which is a bit  fun and does nothing to detract from its wonderful usefulness. Whole pages are given over to the rank markings on sleeves, caps and collars, often the very uniform bits that a descendant may still have. Even buttons that indicate a regiment are depicted. Every part of the French Army is covered:

  • Infantry
  • Cavalry
  • Artillery
  • Engineers
  • Supply Train
  • Gendarmerie
  • Services
  • Army of Africa
  • Colonial Troops
  • Sailors
  • Marines

Those madder red trousers were a disaster that Barbara Tuchman moaned about in her magnificent, clarifying account of the beginning of World War One, The Guns of August. By December, the Army had modernized its uniforms completely. Jouineau's  Officers and Soldiers of the French Army 1915, identical in format and style, covers those and would be helpful to anyone tracing a World War One soldier by his uniform. Both books are published by Histoire & Collections (and are in the books column to the right on this blog), on the website of which it can be seen that three times as many similar books have been published on those snappy uniforms of the First Empire.

Excellent, useful books.

©2010 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

The Identity Wars - Part Six



University was a blast. It was Berkeley in the Seventies. Peoples' Park was still a clear memory. Local characters such as The Naked Guy, The Bubble Lady (who is still there, I read!), Karate Man, Mad Andy, the Guy in a Skirt, the Guy Selling Moon Acreage, gave the town a carnival atmosphere. There was a saying at the time: 

"If you tipped the country, all the loose marbles would roll to California, and if you tipped California, all the loose marbles would roll to Berkeley."

It was supposed to be an insult, but we were proud of it, proud of our tolerance, proud of the fact that, when the state shut many mental institutions to save money and put a host of helpless mad people on the streets, Berkeley was perhaps the only town that did not run them out, and even went so far as to set up a clinic for them. This kindness was not only on the part of students. The gentlest arrest I ever saw was when two policemen tried to get a poor loony who had broken windows to understand what photo ID was. When they had to arrest him and he struggled violently, they lifted him and placed him in the back of their car with astounding caution, taking care lest he bump his head. Many years, countries and continents later, I can now say that there is probably no place on earth as tolerant of humanity's madnesses, weaknesses, sillinesses, eccentricities and follies as Berkeley then was. How I miss that tolerance!

The atmosphere on the campus was brainy, free and friendly. I wanted to take every course in the catalogue: Milosz teaching Dostoyevsky, Karlinsky teaching Tolstoy, classes on Milton, Shakespeare, Roman Wall Painting! Every course looked interesting, every teacher an international authority (or so it seemed). I would have been happy to stay there, studying forever.

I met a nice young man, a poor undergraduate who was terrifyingly brilliant. He supported himself by writing other people's masters' theses on a range of subjects from pure mathematics to philosophy and behavioural psychology. We married, twice; first, impulsively in one state and again, with more preparation and pomp, in another. In both states, my new California identity card and my name were accepted unquestioningly. 

So, it was a shock when, on my application in Berkeley for a new passport, it was not. The genius new husband and I had graduated from university and he had a scholarship to do a master's of philosophy in London. We were set to conquer the world, until the lady in the bright yellow bouffant, sitting behind a window with a grille in the passport office brought me to a halt.

"Not another one," she rolled her eyes and nearly yawned. I had handed her my old passport and new identity card. "You can't just change your name on your passport like that."

"But I have my state ID card. See?" I pointed at it.

"Doesn't matter," she snapped. "That's just a state document. We're talking about a federal document here. Not so easy to change." She pushed my application form back under the grille at me.

I was of an age and temperament when my blood boiled easily. I was known to reach a rage that would have me throwing things at people and shouting vicious and deeply wounding tirades. I am not at all proud of this phase of my life. (Genealogy has revealed to me that this insane fury is possibly inherited. I have found accounts going back 200 years of ancestors going ballistic and attacking people with hatchets or trying to gouge out their eyes. They showed up in court pretty often.) This dumpling in a canary-coloured postiche had dared to thwart me and I could barely see or hear for the boiling blood pounding in my temples. Yet, I was somehow aware that trying to throttle her through the grille would not lead to my getting a new passport. My rage deflated and in despair, I asked her:

"What do I have to do?"

"You have to prove that it is your identity now. You have to have been living under this name and be able to show that it is a true AKA."

"Isn't that a gun?" I was honestly confused but she took it as sarcasm and was annoyed.

"Also known as. If you cannot prove that you have been living as Morddel, you cannot change your name on your passport." 

Curious, I asked:

"What if I renewed my passport in my old name and kept my state identity in my new name? Would I have two legal identities?" I rather liked this idea.

"No. The federal government passport takes priority over any state document. What is on that is what would be your legal name, whatever the state does." This was the first I had heard of a passport being a more authoritative identity source than a state driver's license or identity card, not that I had ever considered it before. So, I was determined to have the federal government accept my new name as well.

"I'll be back with all the documents," I said. That got her first smile, more of a smirk, really.

"Good luck," she said, not meaning it at all. The following week, I returned with all of my documents: Social Security card, chequebook, university records, the rental agreement to my apartment, both marriage certificates. "Not bad," she said after checking over it all. She listed every one of them on the application, took my money, and told me to come back in a month for my new passport. I was very, very pleased when it came through as I wished, certifying that now, the State Department also accepted me as Anne Morddel.

Thinking the issue over and done with, I packed my bags and moved with my husband to London.

©2010 Anne Morddel


The Municipal Archives of Besançon

Besançon Bibliotheque

The Municipal Archives of Besançon are right in the centre of town and hold a deliciously rich collection. The books of the administration of the city go back to 1289. The parish and civil registers here include a few more parishes than those found in the departmental archives of Doubs. 

Besançon's history is that of a fortress town. Its centre is in an unusual loop of a river, the Doubs, with a steep hill closing off the land entry. On that hill, fortifications have existed for centuries, protecting the city from invasion. (The current citadel, by that master architect of citadels Vauban, is now a zoo, with baboons in the dry moat.) When Louis XIV finally took the city for France, in 1674, it required a siege of twenty-one days. Dozens of people died during the siege, and their names (including one from the family we were researching) are recorded and preserved in the municipal archives.   

It is the case here as with most municipal archives that they cannot be ignored when researching the genealogy of a family from that city. The collections are often rather small, but so thorough in local history as to be invaluable.


Archives Municipales de Besançon

1, rue de la bibliothèque

25000 Besançon

telephone: (+ 33) 3 81 87 81 40


©2010 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


The Departmental Archives of Haute-Saône


The family we were researching in the departmental archives of Doubs turned out to have spread into the neighbouring department of Haute-Saône. The departmental archives of Haute-Saône have only maps and census records online so, once again, we needed to visit the archives to do the research. (Fortunately, we like very much to visit archives.) They are based in Vesoul, a rather small city in a land of rolling green hills and late-flowering apple trees. There is a quite luxurious bus from Besançon to Vesoul that takes forty-five minutes. This meant that we were able to alternate days between the archives of the two departments while staying at one local hotel. The archives in Vesoul are a twenty minute walk through the town centre, past the church, and up a hill to the residential neighbourhood. 

As can be seen in the photo above, the archives are in a quite slick and modern facility, but this is not a wealthy department. Users must register, but no user's card is issued. There are only four microfilm readers and no printer. Staff are very helpful and certainly professional, yet apologetic for their limited means. Civil and parish registers have all been microfilmed and the microfilm is readily available for use. The original civil register books are also available for examination, and we found it easier to photograph these than the screens of the non-printing microfilm readers. There is no indexing system on a computer for patrons to use, but there are multiple copies of the index books to consult. 

On finding the correct code for a register, one fills out a card in duplicate. The archivist puts one copy into a pocket on an intriguing board of about ten centimeters by thirty, covered in green velvet. These boards, each with one card, were collected by a quiet bespectacled gentleman, who then thundered a trolley at a mad dash, disappearing down a corridor. He returned with the same wild thundering a few minutes later with the requested books and boxes of files. In spite of the racket, this delivery system was the fastest of any in all the archives we have visited. It was also the most entertaining.


Archives départementales de la Haute-Saône

148 rue Miroudot-de-Saint-Ferjeux

70000 Vesoul

telephone: (+ 33) 3 84 97 15 80


.Read all of our posts about Departmental Archives here.

©2010 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

The Departmental Archives of Doubs

Doubs AD

 Doubs is one of the four departments of the region in eastern France of Franche-Comté. The others are Jura, Haute-Saône and the Territoire de Belfort. The region has a unique history of being a part of Burgundy, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Spanish empire before, in 1678, it finally and definitively became a part of France. The archives have a very small online presence. Their parish and civil registrations are not all online so, in order to research thoroughly a family from Doubs, we went there.

The archives are in a suburb of Besançon, easily reached by the city buses. Within, one must as in all archives register and receive a user's card. The facility is quite modern, and security is good. (This was not always the case, it seems. In the past, archivists and patrons took home what they pleased, somewhat ransacking sections of the holdings.) There are about a dozen microfilm readers, four of which can print copies of images. The index to the civil and  parish registrations is available on computers and in binders on top of the microfilm cabinets. It is a small facility, but quite up to date, with knowledgeable and very kindly staff. 

Perhaps the greatest asset is the resident genealogy enthusiast, Yvette, who is most keen to answer any and every question on anything to do with local genealogy. She even offers to do record lookups and send the results via e-mail. This is one of those archives that works in complete coordination with the local genealogy cercle in an effort to provide the best service to their most numerous users. Bravo!


Archives départementales du Doubs

rue Marc Bloche



postal address:

Conseil général du Doubs

Archives départementales du Doubs


rue Marc Bloche


BP 2059

25050 Besançon Cedex


telephone: (+ 33)  03 81 25 88 00


Closed Monday mornings, in spite of what certain pages on the website say.

.Read all of our posts about Departmental Archives here.

©2010 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy