The Institute of France - l'Institut de France
Compagnie des Indes Archives Are Online

Documenting a Journey Across the Atlantic - From Both Sides

Sailing ship small


Our grandmother was something of an academic at heart and always taught us to "go to the source" when researching. The burgeoning plethora of databases and websites of scanned documents is making possible some very entertaining discoveries of sources, allowing for some dotting of genealogical is . We give here a detailed example.

We have been hunting a chap named Raymond Lafon, who arrived in New Orleans in 1839. We went first to, where a broad search gave a man of that name, aged 28, arriving in 1820, which makes him too old for our man who should have been born in France in about 1817. It also brings up a Louisiana naturalisation record of 1852 for a Raymond Lafon/Lafond who arrived in June, 1839, probably our man, but no help as to his ship, passage, or port of departure. 

We did another general search on "R Lafon" and this time, he appeared, in the "New Orleans Passenger Lists, 1820-1945": 

R. Lafon 1839

 He arrive on the 28th of May, 1839 on the Avenir from Bordeaux. Looking at the original record (ALWAYS advised) :

L'Avenir May 1839

He appears last on the list and we get the added information that he is twenty-two years old and a merchant. Thank you, Ancestry. We have his time of arrival as May/June, 1839, the name of the ship as the Avenir and the port of departure as Bordeaux.

Turning to French resources, we find that the genealogy association, Amitiés Généalogiques Bordelaises, has made an index to all of the passports issued at the port of Bordeaux from 1793 to 1858. They no longer sell this index, and their site sends one to where it can be referenced online, the dreaded géné Type "Lafon" in the search box, scroll down to "Passeports-Enregistrements-Embarquements" and click on the passports of 1793-1858, and there is the reference on the third page of results. Click on "visualisez" to see the information and you hit a mini-seam of precious metal, for it gives his:

  • height (1 meter 70 cm)
  • eye colour (light brown)
  • hair colour (light brown)
  • face shape (oval)
  • nose shape (with a bump)
  • chin shape (round)
  • age (22)
  • profession (mistakenly entered as Bordeaux, but he is a baker)
  • residence (mistakenly entered as baker, but it is Bordeaux)
  • country of origin (France, the department of Gironde)
  • town of origin (Sauternes)
  • date of departure (20th March, 1839)
  • destination (New Orleans)
  • signature
  • notes (he is going there to practice his profession)

One can do better yet. The Departmental Archives of Gironde have scanned and put online all of the passports covered by this index. On their page, click on "Archives en ligne". The passports in the column on the left are from 1800 to 1889. When we type in the search boxes just 1839 and Lafon, we get nothing. No idea why. So we revert to 1839 and get all 739 passports issued that year. With the "find" command of the keyboard, we search for Lafon, and there he is, number 72. Click on that to get the actual record, which does not confuse his residence with his profession and adds the information of his

  • street address in Bordeaux (rue Ste. Catherine, no. 52)
  • forehead shape (average)
  • mouth shape (average)
  • skin colour (brown, here meaning swarthy)
  • beard (skimpy)
  • eyebrows (light brown)

  R. Lafon copy

We now know what our man looked like, what his work was and, most preciously in French genealogy, where he was from. We could then carry on to view the civil registrations for Sauternes, on the same website, and look for his birth. As to why he left that town, the name of which also graces one of the loveliest wines of France, no document will likely show.

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy