Previous month:
August 2011
Next month:
October 2011

September 2011

Preserving the Monuments aux Morts

WWI dead -Strasbourg-St Denis

An April Fool joke gone viral  has rattled the cages of  a few French genealogists. As explained on the FranceGenWeb blog, the blogger of Fromageplus posted (two years ago, mind you, which is a long time for anything to go viral) that the government had decided to remove the thousands of monuments aux morts, which commemorate those who died in World War I. Some of the reasons given were that the French no longer liked the monuments, that the monuments were a blot on the current France-Germany friendship and that new citizens did not understand them. The announcement was attributed to the government's anti-discrimination office, HALDE

Monument aux Morts

The monuments are everywhere. The one at the top is in the Paris Métro station of Strasbourg-Saint-Denis and lists all of the employees who died during the Great War. (We have uploaded a very large image for you to click on and read all of the names.) Many of them are in the art déco style and are quite striking. Many others, like the one above, are simple steles in villages and towns throughout the country. All are quite beloved, in fact, and it is unlikely that they will be removed any time soon, certainly not before the 100th anniversary of the war, coming up in 2014 to 2018. The folks at HALDE finally published  a rather strange refutation that goes on to ramble about military pensions.

Whether in reaction to this false report or to challenge France's law forbidding photography in cemeteries or for their own cheerful reasons, the team at Geneanet have launched a collaborative programme urging users to upload photographs of all monuments, with lists of the names. They have named this category Monuments commémoratifs and they have, to date, a little over six thousand images of monuments and graves. 

As a way to search for France's war dead, the Ministry of Defense's Mémoire des Hommes website is much better, for it is complete and will show the death record of the person. However, to then be able to see the monument in the home town or place of work of the person, via Geneanet's new service, is a nice little illustrative addition to online resources.

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Bulletin de l'Alliance Israélite Universelle


The Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) is an international organisation founded in France in 1860, after a period of nasty anti-Semitism and a celebrated case of the forced conversion of a child to Christianity. The goal of the founder, Adolphe Crémieux, was to encourage education -- with an emphasis on the idealism of the French Revolution -- for all Jewish people. The AIU has been building schools for Jewish children all over the world -- particularly in North Africa --  for the past 150 years, more than twenty years longer than the Alliance Française. It was the first international Jewish organisation and has had significant influence. A history of the AIU, edited by André Kaspi, entitled plainly Histoire de l'Alliance israélite universelle de 1860 à nos jours, was published last year. (See an interview with the Kaspi here.)

From its beginning until the First World War, the AIU published the Bulletin de l'Alliance Israélite Universelle which, because it listed so many of its members and their contributions, is of enormous value in French Jewish genealogy, as described by the National Library of Israel:

"The Bulletin is also a rich source of information on the inner lives of the Jewish communities. Every issue contains detailed lists of AIU members in every city, continuous information reported from local committees spread over five continents, lists of donors or people who contributed to solidarity activities initiated by the Alliance for the benefit of Jews who had fallen victim to misfortune or violence, and more. Statistical data on the AIU schools provide accurate information about the number of schools in each city, the number of students, the make-up of the teaching staff, and the schools’ budgets." 

Until recently, the only way to read the Bulletin was to visit the library of the AIU in Paris, one of its schools around the world, or a library that has maintained a collection of it. Now, it is available online at the above mentioned National Library of Israel under its category Historical Jewish Press. The description and search pages are in Hebrew, English or French. The indexing is quite good. As there are so many lists of names, the results are usually many and some search refinement is required. Even so, it will be a slog through many pages, but could be a happy one for the genealogist.

Go for it!


©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Jumble Sale Genealogy

Jumble Sale

There are some online resources for French genealogical research that should be approached only by the doughty. In this category we place the website of FranceGenWeb, the French participant in the WorldGenWeb Project

Its pages remind us of a jumble sale, with its heaps of items on tables with such labels as "shoes", "coats", "toasters" and so forth.  The site has, scattered across the front page, the following:

  • A search box for a surname search in its databases (of which there are currently 19)
  • Titles of a half dozen posts on the blog of FranceGenWeb
  • Latest entries into its membership directory
  • News from surname studies in different departments
  • Latest uploads of family crests
  • Photos uploaded of anything from pictures of churches to unknown soldiers to musicians on the Titanic
  • Genealogy Tools and Guides
  • Events in the news related to genealogy, from cemetery desecration the departmental archives updates
  • Meetings of genealogy groups all over the country
  • Information on genealogy books
  • Dates for upcoming cousinades
  • Links to each of the databases mentioned above

 In its effort to create a location that provides or links to all that is freely available concerning genealogy in France, it has in truth made a shambles of it. The pages seem almost incoherent because of the overcrowding. Some of the databases are duplicated elsewhere, such as the names of soldiers on memorials or the lists of town mayors. Others seem to be unique. There is here a central place of request for entraide (volunteers who operate in a way similar to that of "random acts of genealogical kindness") for the entire country. We also very much like the database of the extracts of the six thousand marriages blessed with a dowry by Napoleon in celebration of his marriage to Marie-Louise of Austria. 

The guides for beginners are quite helpful. There is a handy little one-way converter of dates from the Republican calendar. There are links to other sources, and most of the databases above can be found on, so the overlap with other websites and resources is significant. Of course FranceGenWeb is free and Geneanet is not. It is a hard slog to get the best out of FranceGenWeb, but it can, on occasion, yield pleasant results.

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Follow the Winds


We find weather fascinating and compelling. We share the view with many that the weather we experience when young affects us, even forms us, and nothing does so as powerfully as the winds. Joan Didion wrote in Los Angeles Notebook about life in Los Angeles with the Santa Ana wind:

"Los Angeles weather is the weather of catastrophe, of apocalypse, and, just as the reliably long and bitter winters of New England determine the way life is lived there, so the violence and the unpredictability of the Santa Ana affect the entire quality of life in Los Angeles, accentuate its impermanence, its unreliability. The wind shows us how close to the edge we are."

Our own childhood was spent well to the north of Los Angeles, where a cousin of the Santa Ana, known only as the East Wind, would blow hot and dangerous off the Great Basin and down the Sierras to churn up the lake viciously. Usually, a lot of boats sank and a number of people became exceedingly tetchy.

People remember strong weather experiences. Our parent, years after relocating to the flatlands, always spoke of any dry wind that caused irritability as an "East Wind". A friend's grandfather who moved to Florida still called certain winds the Chinook, which blows in the west of North America. In the same way, your French ancestor may have had what seemed a pet word or an odd name for the wind but that could in reality have been a regional name for it. For those with no idea of where in France their ancestors may have originated (and for whom our posts on local recipes, liqueurs, and coiffes brought no revelations) , finding the name they used for the wind could provide a clue.

We give here some some names of French winds and their localities:

  • Bise is the name for a cold, dry north wind in the mountainous regions on the border of France and Switzerland.
  • In the Morvan, when the above comes in the springtime, it is called the hâle de mars.
  • In the winter, the extremely cold north wind that brings storms is called the bise noire in the Saône and the bise nègre in the Aveyron.
  • In the Drôme Valley, a rainy north wind is called a bise-brume.
  • The strong wind from the southeast that blows in Gascogne and along the upper Garonne river is called the vent d'autan. The autan blanc lasts a week, is dry and brings sunshine; the autan noir brings mist, rain or snow and lasts only a few days.
  • The well-known mistral is a wild, dry, cold wind from the northwest that blows on the Mediterranean coast. It comes in the spring and autumn, often reaching a force of over 100 kilometers per hour.
  • The labé blows in Provence from the southwest in the autumn and winter.
  • The foehn is a warm, violent wind that presages snow in the northern Alps and Switzerland.
  • The vent d'Albion blows from the plateau of that name (and not from England) in the southeast of France and is said to bring hail.

People talk about the weather and write about the weather. Vapid diarists do nothing but record the weather. Should you have writings of your French ancestor, read them and look for words on the weather. Perhaps you will find a mention of the labé or the autan blanc, and thus narrow to a region the part of this large and beautiful country you must search for your roots.

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy




Blog Review - Modes de Vie aux 16e, 17e siècles


For quite a while now, we have moseyed over to the blog of Odile Halbert,  Modes de Vie aux 16e, 17e siècles, "Ways of Life During the 16th and 17th centuries", and it is quite phenomenal, really. Madame Halbert, in the research of her own family in Haut-Anjou, has placed more than two thousand posts on her blog.

Hundreds of them are transcriptions of notarial records in their entirety. Inventories, wills, marriage contracts, rental agreements, disputes, guardianships, imprisonments, auctions, sales, etc. On and on and on, she transcribes, giving us a fabulous collection of samples of every type of notarial record. She does not post photographs of the documents, as this is usually not permitted by the archives. She is ferocious about protecting her rights and woe to the person who would lift any of her impressive work. Heisting the transcriptions would not be the point, but using them a models to aid in one's own transcriptions. Using her transcriptions, one can learn the standard language used and much more easily transcribe a similar document. It is an online archive par excellence. 

Madame Halbert's website, Histoire du Haut-Anjou avant 1789, is a treasure trove of a different sort, giving descriptions and photographs of parishes and of various aspects of daily life before the Revolution. It would be a good resource to any student of the era, and a great resource to anyone researching the same families. She also gives guidelines on how to begin genealogical research in the region.

There are dozens of family blogs and websites out there, but we have found none that gives such a monumental amount of transcribed notarial records. Very, very useful.

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Summer Reading - Abandoned Children

Abandoned Children

It is clear we have become a devotée of the works of Rachel Fuchs. This is one of her best, though it rather spells the end of the line -- as in an impassable brick wall -- for a certain path of genealogical research. 

In the days before birth control, abandonment of babies was something that occurred in numbers shocking to modern society. The causes Fuchs and others cite would seem to be many but can be simplified to two: either the mother did not want the child, or she did want it but felt she could not care for it. Almost without exception, child abandonment was practiced by the poor. Very often the abandoned child was the product of a union between a poor, single woman and a wealthier man. Though she may have committed the physical act of abandoning her child, he was also responsible if he refused to acknowledge or care for the child. "The number of abandoned children is astonishing'" Fuchs writes. "As many as one-fourth of all newborn babies and half of all illegitimate newborn babies in Paris were abandoned each year [during the nineteenth century.]" (p. xi)

The book is a fascinating read, but for the genealogist it is Fuchs's sources, again, that are of such value. As the state (instead of the church) became more involved in caring for abandoned children,  greater efforts were made to identify the parents and to properly identify the child. Prior to the nineteenth century, an abandoned child would have been left at a religious institution or in the street. If found alive and able to be cared for, no questions were asked and no identities attempted to confirm. Thus, it is almost impossible for a genealogist to find the parents of an abandoned child of the eighteenth century or earlier. It is not much better researching those abandoned a century later, for the practice of country mothers sending unwanted babies in carts to be abandoned in Paris means that there may be no way at all of finding a child's biological parents.

Some records do survive. With the state involvement, hospices and hospitals for foundlings, les enfants trouvés, were established, and they had admission registers. These would record as much of the following as possible:

  • the child's name
  • date and place of birth
  • how admitted (left on the step, brought in by a parent willing to be interviewed, etc.)
  • date and time of admission
  • any other useful information
  • the identity number issued to the child

If the child were abandoned with no identity whatsoever, a procès-verbal of the information from the admission register was placed in the City Hall and the officer of civil registrations named the baby. (p.121)

These admission registers and procès-verbaux survive in the Archives départmentales of Paris, which offers a complete page on how to research such children in their archives. It includes explanations on the admission registers and the procès-verbaux, as well as on other documentation that has survived. Of these, none are online except the annual, alphabetical indices of the names of the children admitted. To see the record itself, one must go to the archives. 

If one has such an ancestor, an abandoned child, and can trace no parents, at least be happy he or she survived to carry on the unknown line. Thousands did not, poor souls.


Abandoned Children : Foundlings and Child Welfare in Nineteenth-Century France

Rachel Ginnis Fuchs

Albany : State University of New York Press, 1984

ISBN 0-87395-748-2

357 pages


©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy