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September 2010

Genealogy Event at the National Archives - Géné@2010


There has been much touting over the past few weeks of this weekend's event at the national archives,   le forum national de généalogie or Géné@2010, as the organiser, the Fédération Française de Généalogie (FFG) named it.  Ads were on the back of every genealogy magazine for the past two months, French bloggers on genealogy all have given it a mention. We dared not miss it and so, on a prematurely chilly Saturday morning, we rode three different métro lines to get to the big event. As can be seen in the photo above, the courtyard of the Hôtel de Soubise, which backs on to the archives, is a balanced and beautiful place to be, no matter what the event or how unpleasant the weather.

 The forum was really more of a fair, a gathering of almost all of the genealogy circles of France. There were no talks, seminars, free cheese or cocktail parties. Each circle had a table, a computer, leaflets and enthusiasts. Each was offering to do free searches of their databases of birth, marriage and death data which their volunteers have painstakingly extracted from parish and civil registrations in their departments. Each table had people lining up for the service and help that the generally jolly volunteers provided so willingly.

Additionally, tables were in place for La Librairie de la Voûte, selling books and magazines, and for Bigenet, the online database of the FFG. The staff of the national archives took full advantage of a weekend posse of dedicated customers. They offered tours and detailed explanations of how to access their collections. Some took the opportunity to ask people to sign a petition to prevent the plan of President Sarkozy to use archives space for a museum of French history. (No space, they claim, rightly.)

However, the high point of the day for us was the opportunity to meet for the first time with the illustrious genealogist and supportive reader of this blog, Monsieur C. He gave us much of his valuable time. We may have learned more about French genealogy during our conversation with him over lunch at La Terrasse des Archives than from all the circles' tables that day.


©2010 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

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Minute Books - Les Délibérations municipales

Local government

Before the French Revolution, local government was in many cases a function of the parish assembly and its decisions were recorded in notebooks or sometimes in the parish registers by the curate. Just before the Revolution, in 1787, the election of officers for local government was permitted, and their decisions also were recorded in the délibérations municipales, the minute books of council meetings.

Many Departmental  and Municipal Archives have digitized their délibérations municipales and put them on-line. Some that have done so are the departments of Loire-atlantique, la Vendée, Calvados and the cities of  Grenoble, Lyon (from 1416!), Romans-sur-Isère. 

They are quite the gold mine, particularly those of the past two hundred years. They have not only the decisions and laws announced by the central government, but plenty for the diligent genealogist, such as: 

  • Names of local officials
  • Names of those applying for internal passports
  • Names of the men enrolled in the military
  • Names of criminals arrested
  • Discussions of what to do with orphans
  • Tax collections, giving names, addresses, and some descriptions of the property
  • Deliberations over disputes between citizens
  • Reports on suspect citizens

They are not always easy reading. The information is, obviously, entered chronologically. Some have a Table chronologique, or chronological index, written afterward.

If you know the town where your ancestor lived and when he or she lived there, reading the relevant délibérations municipales can provide a wonderful view on life at the time, and maybe more genealogical detail as well.

©2010 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Hidden Marriages During the Revolution


During the years of the National Convention (1792-1795) and the Directory (1795-1799), the National Assembly's new laws were flying about like a swarm of gnats on a summer's eve. Many of them affected how people were permitted to enter into marriage. Some of them made it difficult for modern genealogists to find the record of a marriage. In brief, as we ever are:

  • The Loi du 20 septembre, 1792 - created the civil status. The authority for performing a marriage was taken from the church and assigned to local officials. This is also the law that created those wonderful annual and ten-yearly tables to the registrations, and set the marriageable ages at thirteen for girls and fifteen for boys (one can hardly write that they were women and men) and, thank heaven, the age until which parental consent was required as twenty-one.
  • The Loi du 4 frimaire, An II  (1793) - required that the Republican Calendar be used in all civil registrations.
  • The Loi du 13 fructidor An VI (1798) - bizarrely ordered that marriages could take place only on the day of the week called décadi AND only in the town hall of the canton (the electoral district), not in the local town or village mairie.
  • The Loi du 9 octobre, 1792 and the loi du 8 mai, 1816, established and abolished, respectively, divorce.
  • The Loi du 28 pluvoise An VIII (1801) - Revoked the loi du 13 fructidor AnVI and allowed marriages to be performed locally again.
  • The Loi du 1er germinal An XII (1803) - Raised the marriageable ages to fifteen for women and eighteen for men; the ages requiring parental consent remained at twenty-one for women and were raised to twenty-five for men.
  • The Loi du 22 fructidor An XIII (1805) - signed by Napoleon, ended the official use of the Republican Calendar, referred to by some as the son of Satan, at midnight on the last day of the Gregorian Calendar's year 1805.

Thus, when seeking the record of a marriage:

  • If it occurred after 1792, it will be a civil registration (though there may also have been a religious marriage).
  • If it occurred from 1793 through 1805, it will have been recorded according to the dates of the Republican Calendar.
  • If it occurred between An VI and An VIII (roughly 1798 to 1801) it would have occurred and been recorded in the canton to which the village or town belonged. Beware! The cantons of today are not always the same as those of the Revolutionary period. There are over fifty eliminated cantons.
  • If it occurred any time up to May, 1816, it may have ended in a divorce that would also have been recorded, usually at the end of the register of marriages.

Those must have been very confusing times during which to live.

©2010 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Banns are not Marriages

Two doves

On occasion, we have shared with French friends the fact that, in America, a person can move from one state to another and begin a new life with very little documentation. One can marry showing only a driver's license from another state, for example. This little detail just about always prompts the same response: 

"Incroyable!  If you do not check his records, a man could have many wives at the same time."

"Well, it's possible," we say slowly, "But most people do not want to do that." This invariably brings smugly arched eyebrows and an exchange of knowing nods at what simpletons Americans are about human nature. In order to marry in France, one must present a copy of the birth registration, which will show any previous marriages and divorces in the margin. One must also post banns.

Increasingly,  the online subscription data bases for genealogy in France (which we have discussed in a previous post),  are adding searchable collections of banns as well as of marriages. Now, we are seeing family genealogies based on research on those sites giving the date of one of the banns postings as that of a marriage, and confusing the banns with the marriage. Thus, an explanation.

The posting of marriage banns (according to French sources, the word's origin is the germanic bannjan -- a gloriously chantable word which means "proclamation"; according to English sources it comes from the Middle English word bane, meaning "summons") in France has been required since the twenty-fifth session of the Council of Trent in 1563. Banns ensure that the community be notified of a couple's intention to marry, giving anyone who opposes the marriage an opportunity to do so before the event.  Originally, they had to be posted  in the natal parishes of both persons of the couple. Added to this later was the requirement that they also be posted in the parishes where they lived, if different from where they were born.

The procedure was to set the date for the marriage first. Then, the banns - the proclamation of the intention to marry -- were announced at mass in the parish church on the three Sundays before the planned wedding. A notice to the same effect may also have been posted on the church door for the three previous Sundays. After the Revolution, the banns were posted at the town hall, the Mairie. According to the chatterboxes we have interviewed, the sole purpose of banns is to curtail the supposedly indubitable urge of every Frenchman to have a cross-departmental harem.

Lest we think this was archaic and no longer applies, be informed that marriage banns are still required to be posted at the town hall, though only once, not three times. As the couple are permitted to marry only in the town where at least one of them resides, the banns still perform their original function. The marriage can take place no sooner than ten days and no later than one year after the posting.

In genealogical research, banns are useful for finding the acte de mariage. They give the names of the couple and sometimes their parents' names, a date, possibly a residence. However, banns cannot be taken as proof of marriage. There could have been banns; there even could have been a marriage contract signed, and yet, for any number of reasons, the marriage might not have taken place. 

©2010 Anne Morddel

French genealogy


La France Généalogique - A Mutual Aid Society

Sink small

L'Association La France Généalogique, Centre d'Entraide Généalogique de France, (CEGF) is a mutual aid society for French genealogy. It once had grand quarters but now is in a rather small room on the first floor of a building surrounded by Chinese restaurants near the Opéra. When they made the move, they had to give up a large part of their unique library, which is a pity for they had been collecting for a very long time.

The CEGF is essentially a national genealogy group or cercle généalogique, operating solely as a volunteer organisation. We have not been in France long enough to know if there may not be some tension between the CEGF, which publishes summaries of all of the publications of all of the genealogy groups of France, and the FFG (Fédération Française de Généalogie) which is the umbrella organisation for the genealogy groups and which also organises a big get together every two years, and runs We will never be in France long enough to understand just where rivalry does or does not occur. Until it is too late.

The CEGF open their library to visitors, and the volunteers truly try to be helpful, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, from two  to five o'clock in the afternoon. Sad to say, the portly may not be able to fit into the room. nevertheless, all are welcome and the enthusiasm for genealogy is high. For those who cannot visit in person, the website is quite useful. Go to the page entitled Numéric


Once there, click on fichiers patronymiques et catalogues



This brings you to all that the CEGF have indexed:


  • An alphabetical list of all families on which they have information, and the department number for that family
  • A list of all the families for which they have a genealogy tree on file - this is by far what we find most useful, for the collection is built from genealogy trees donated by members from all over the world
  • A list of names collected by one of the association's prior presidents - generally of noble families
  • An extract of the names of those who died in Paris from 1788 to 1859, made before the Paris departmental archives went online and quite a lot easier to read
  • A list of all the names that appear in the notarial records of Paris (held at the Archives nationales) from 1780 to 1790. We wish they would expand on this as even the archives have no such index to names
  • Their library catalogue
  • An alphabetical listing of the titles of all articles which have appeared in their publication "La Revue".

For certain uses, a very handy site. Should you wish to thank them for all that they offer for free, send a copy of your French family genealogy trees or reports, that they might add them to their collection.


La France Généalogique

12 rue Chabanais

75002 Paris

Métro: Pyramides or 4 Septembre

telephone: (+33) 01 40 41 99 09



12 rue Vivienne lot 3 - 75002 Paris

Also at: La Fédération Française de Généalogie

Porte de Pantin - Tour Essor - 22nd floor

Tuesdays from 14.00 to 17.00 and Thursdays by appointment

E-mail :

©2010 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Help in Transcribing and Translating Old Documents

Old Documents - U

Truth to tell, we are indolent. Excuses come with a glibness that is itself speedy but in all honesty, we have the energy level of a hibernating bear. Thus, we lean weightily on that part of the economy referred to as its tertiary sector, i.e. the people who do your homework for you. 

As we have written before, paleography is not our strong point, so we were relieved when, not long ago, we were contacted by Linda Watson of Transcription Services Ltd. on the Isle of Man, the flag of which is too good to pass up:

Isle of Man Flag wikipedia

TSL provide quite a range of services, including some genealogical research in the UK. Until recently, their transcription of old documents was limited to those in English. "We have done some work transcribing diaries from the American Civil War for Harvard University, and many, many wills for clients from as far afield as New Zealand," Linda writes.

Now, they also provide a service of interest to the French genealogist. "Within the last 12 months we have been able to add a service transcribing Latin and French documents, which has been particularly useful to a lady in Scotland who is researching for a book about a 16th century gentleman who was a frequent visitor to the French court." Ms. Watson has just begun a blog about her work on old documents, which she began after she took a course from Liverpool University entitled "Reading Old Manuscripts".  Her French documents specialist, Kristina, writes interestingly about her work:

"Working with old documents can be alternately fascinating and frustrating – it's often both at the same time, for the very same reasons – and their highs and lows are intensified when interpreting manuscripts penned in a foreign language. For me, as a native English-speaker, this means French as well as Latin, though neither would have seemed quite so foreign to, say, a high status English ancestor with a court appointment, since they were the international idioms for law, government, and diplomacy not only before the Reformation but beyond. This may be why researchers of 'capital H' History frequently have a much easier time of it than the family historian; such records tend to be neatly copied out before being entered into the public record – settle yourself with your arsenal of old language dictionaries, put the one listing abbreviations top of the pile, and you're away. Though the individual MS may be damaged, and you are constantly called on to decide which of several possible letters is staring opaquely up at you (to ensure the surrounding word is accurately expanded), at least the physical appearance of your cipher tends to be clear, the document having been stored with some care. But such high status ancestors are few, and early documents unearthed by inspired genealogists are generally local in scope and execution, requiring the idiosyncrasies of an individual shorthand – not included in any code-book – to be cracked and factored in. When researching one's own ancestry, background knowledge of names and places (notoriously the most difficult words to transcribe correctly) speeds up the task significantly, as does a general sense of the document's context. Working on assignment, one is limited to the information supplied on the parchment itself, which may be an incomplete working draft, with the writer intending to fill in details – as well as clean up his penmanship – at the fair-copy stage.

This was the case with the sample 16th c. French text viewable on the TSL website. In life, the paper itself bears only minor damage (fraying, an internal tear, some discolouration), but the ink has faded to illegibility – the first low that I encountered. Fortunately, digital photography has not only made palæographic work more convenient and accessible, its use of ultra-violet light resurrects faded ink, is safe (without flash) for parchment, which is happily all the safer for not being handled during the process of transcription. First high, then, came on viewing the digital image, in which the ink appeared a crisp, dark sepia – easily legible, if not for the slap-dash, idiosyncratic, inconsistent penmanship, and the elliptical content, as its writer failed to spell out exactly what it was he was writing about. It is exactly the kind of working draft mentioned above, though Serjeant Boudet seems to have devoted some energy to signing his name with elaborate fair-copy flourish. Second and third lows, first smile. The highs which came with cracking each initially impenetrable abbreviated word and phrase were higher than if the job had been an easier one, giving the same satisfaction I expect cryptic crossword and sudoku solvers take in their respective puzzles. But my main enjoyment stemmed from travelling to a time and place I knew nothing about when I began my assignment, provincial France in 1585, the writer Pierre Boudet being a King's Sergeant, but "under (the) League", the extremist Catholic Union challenging Henri III's tolerance toward Protestants with an increasing violence that would soon result in the Huguenots' exodus to England. A gripping history lesson, then, courtesy of a low-level local official, paid one and one third ecu, who took pleasure in his signature, writing in haste to report the advertisement of a forced auction outside the church of Bazoges. If only he'd taken an extra moment to record what it was that he auctioned!"

The entire TSL service operates via the internet:

  • send a digital photo of the document
  • include a description of it, where it is from, any information relating to its contents.
  • Terms agreed by e-mail
  • Results returned as a PDF or Word file (or in the post, if preferred)

We have not yet used TSL, but we very much like the idea of those most difficult documents being made clear as day via the internet while we continue to snore in our cave. Should any of our dear readers have been so fortunate as to obtain family records from the Sixteenth Century and which they still cannot decipher, they may wish to consider the TSL. If so, please write to tell about it.


Transcription Services Ltd.

3 Hilary Road


Isle of Man  IM2 3EG

United Kingdom

telephone: (+44) 1624 671591

fax : (+44) 870 8381142




©2010 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy 

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French Jewish Genealogy - Œuvre de Secours aux Enfants

Ose visit 2 small

The Œuvre de Secours aux Enfants, (literally, Work in the Aid of Children, but also known in English as the Society for Rescuing Children), is not originally a French organisation. It was formed in Saint Petersburg in 1912 to help Jewish children whose health had suffered because of persecution. The organisation itself was persecuted and moved first to Berlin, then to France, just before the Second World War.

With the German occupation and the beginning of killings and deportations, OSE expanded its efforts to save children, including two hundred German Jewish children who arrived between March and May, 1939. As the situation became more desperate, every effort was made to try to equip the children with the skills to survive. Many were also given new names and placed with families. There is a quite powerful documentary about one of the OSE orphanages, "The Children of Chabannes", which tells the story.

We visited the headquarters of the OSE in Paris to speak to the archivist for a woman who was rescued as a child, and who now lives in North America. She wanted to trace her brothers, if possible. She had tried searching the records at the Mémorial de la Shoah but, because her brothers were not deported, their names were not in that database. She did not know if they may not have been deported under different names -- perhaps those given by OSE -- or if they had survived. The archivist was able to find their records.

To find someone in the OSE records, write to the Archivist, giving as much information as possible:


  • The child's birth name
  • Date of birth
  • Parents' names
  • Siblings names
  • An address
  • Which orphanage the child was in

It is understood that it may not be possible to provide all of this information  and the archivist encourages the inclusion of any memories about people or places, for this may help identify the orphanage. As their goal is to reunite families, there is a certain flexibility in allowing relatives to have access to the records.

The OSE continues as a very active charity providing help to many: the elderly, the handicapped, the homeless. It is possible to make a donation on their website. Click on "Dons".



117, rue du Faubourg-du-Temple

75010 Paris

telephone: (+33) 01 53 38 20 20


©2010 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy