Summer Reading - Les Gardes du Corps de Louis XVI
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French Genealogy and the World Wide Phenomenon on WDYTYA


We recently learned from our children about another of the many thousands of differences in the lives and imaginations of modern children -- from Canada to Fiji to China to Malawi -- from what people of earlier generations experienced. They all now, as their eleventh birthday draws near, desperately hope for "the letter".

Our son had just turned eleven when we bought him a recently published book to read on the overnight train to Scotland. He liked it very much and said "If another one is written, please get it." Others were and we did, joining the rest of humanity in the appreciation of the world wide phenomenon that the series and its author became. We as a parent, will forever be grateful to the person who gave something more to the generation that was blighted on the brink of awareness by the nightmare imagery of airplanes flying into buildings. She gave them respect, fun, and an example of good triumphing over evil, all packaged in a terrific ride that is shared - via the books or the films -- by just about every child on the planet.

J.K. Rowling, it turns out, has French roots, and the BBC television show "Who Do You Think You Are?" explored them for her. The show can be seen on the internet by those in Britain here. We are indebted to Monsieur C for the link to the same show on YouTube here. All of the archives visited, resources used and subjects discussed have been covered by The French Genealogy Blog:

  • The Archives nationales  in Paris - Rowling goes in the museum entrance as an honoured guest, rather than by the researcher's entrance, round the corner. As she enters, it is possible to see the signs of protest that archives space is to be sacrificed for a new museum of French history, a protest for which the previous archivist was fired (that story is told here).
  • The Légion d'honneur records hold particular interest for Rowling. The narrator mistakenly says that all of the records for those awarded the medal are in the Archives nationales. More precisely, they have the files of those légionnaires named from 1802 to 1932 and who died before 1954. The rest are held by the archives of the Légion d'honneur. Missing are those destroyed in the fire of 1871 during the Paris Commune. The files are in the process of being digitised and put online and can be searched on a database named LEONORE.
  • The archives of the French military at the Service historique de la Défense at the Chateau de Vincennes - where, again, Rowling gets to go into a building off limits to the average researcher. She enters the building across the courtyard from that holding the reading rooms. There, she looks at what appears to be her ancestor's military enlistment and service record.
  • The distressing subject of communal graves and ossuaries comes up.
  • The Archives de l'Assistance publique - Hôpitaux de Paris, a wonderfully useful if tiny place, is shown exactly  as it is seen by researchers.
  • Children born to unnamed fathers and their recognition and paternity are discussed.
  • The birth records that Rowling looks at seem to be in the hospital archives but are not. They are in the Departmental Archives of Paris and can be searched online, as they are in the episode.
  • When Rowling visits the chambre de bonne (maid's rooms that are now normally rented out to students) of her great-great grandmother, the researcher shows her the cadastre, the land registry record, for 1876.
  • Alsace is visited and Rowling looks at civil registrations and census records in the mairie or town hall of an ancestral village.
  • Rowling says she is struck by the struggles of the single mothers of her family in nineteenth century France.
  • Her great-great grandmother's rental agreement shown is a copy of a notarial record.
  • The show explains the Franco-Prussian War, Bismarck and the French Optants, showing the names of those who opted to remain French as they appeared in the Bulletin des lois. Briefly mentioned is the fact that the family were Alsatian Protestants.

The episode is an entertaining example of the many, many stages and possibilities of research in French genealogy. Kudos to the Beeb!

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy