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October 2011

Renegade Website in Lourdes

Naughty mermaids

Years ago, a rather risquée friend of ours accompanied an ailing gent on a pilgrimage to Lourdes. Being an outgoing, theatrical lass, she tried to cheer him up with singing and dancing and nakedly splashing about in the holy waters. The nuns on patrol issued her with -- honest -- a red card, and she was thrown out of the sanctuary. 

However strict they may be at the sanctuary, it seems they are not so at the Lourdes town hall, the mairie, where a local professional genealogist, Jean-Loup Martinet, has been photographing the parish and civil registers. We all do this. What we do not all do is photograph them in their entirety and put the images online, which is what M. Martinet is doing. On his website, he is gradually adding the images (as PDFs) of all of the pages of the register books. (Beware: they take AGES to upload.) They are in chronological order and are not indexed. He currently has put online the marriages that took place in the town from 1901 to 1905. His warning notice states that the images may not in any way be used commercially. The site is free to use.

The French press in reporting on this generally makes little "miracle!" jokes. Some press reports have added that the work of M. Martinet shows up the failure of the Departmental Archives of Hautes-Pyrénées to develop a website. They criticize the city government of Lourdes, a pretty wealthy town, for the same failure. They do not question its legality, its quality, or the practicality were others to follow suit. We find this a very interesting development. It would seem that the battle of the archives to maintain absolute control over the registers is being lost.

Nevertheless, for the time being, should you be researching your family in Lourdes, now is your chance to access some of the registrations online. We suggest that you act quickly.

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Paris Families - Projet Familles Parisiennes

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 Living in Paris has its beauties, especially architectural, and its woes, especially genealogical. As oft noted here, the rampage of the Paris Commune resulted in the burning of a number of important buildings, including the mairie. Researching Paris ancestors is thus quite tough. For long, many genealogists have been working to make it easier.

One website of great help is that of the Projet Famille Parisiennes. It is the work of dozens of dedicated contributors, who have indexed thousands of documents. While some of what they have is now available via the websites of the Archives départementales de Paris or of the Archives nationales, they also have been working on documentation that is not available elsewhere, and this is very interesting.

One section, Registres de Clôture d'inventaire apres décès du Châtelet de Paris, focuses on the inventories after death filed at the Châtelet de Paris, now a theatre complex, but once the courts and a major prison. Not only are these inventories being indexed; they are being scanned. Another section concentrates on guardianship documents filed at the Châtelet de Paris. Again, many of these have been scanned. 

Projet Familles Parisiennes works extensively through GeneaWiki, where they list their work in greater detail, and, which hosts the scanned images for them. Most useful, however, is their own search engine for surnames. If you are very lucky and they have worked on documents relating to your ancestor, the name will come up in the search, you will click on "Voir" and get an image of the original document. If you sign up to help with the indexing, you will be permitted access to even more scanned images.

Quelle tentation!

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


France's First University Diploma in Genealogy

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Continuing education in genealogy is most important, if one is serious about the quality and veracity of one's research. We recently struggled with the massive application for and are honoured to have acquired the black ribbon of certification from the Board for Certification of Genealogists. We continue to observe developments in education and professionalism in the field as well as noting interesting discussions in the tussles among the North American professionals over that aged debate: education versus experience. (Never to be resolved, since the answer is both.)

Happily, France is not to be left behind in these developments. The Université de Nîmes launched last year a programme for a Diploma in Genealogy and Family History (Diplôme de généalogie et histoire des familles). The course has been created in response to the enormous growth in the popularity of genealogy as a hobby in France. This year, it is to be offered on Fridays and Saturdays in situ, beginning in January, and lasts one year. It clearly is aimed at giving training to the hobbyist who wishes to take things further, the goals of the course being "to offer a complete practical and theoretical training in the science of genealogy for the purpose of enabling those who practice it privately to improve their efficiency and additionally, to help students of law and history to augment their job prospects."

The theoretical training includes courses in law, especially family law, paleography, heraldry and onomastics. The practical training covers archival research, the construction of a family tree of a local personality, the history of a person or family, the use of military, judicial, administrative and other archives. As it is still a new course, much of it is being developed as the course proceeds and parts will be tailored to individual students' needs. 

The fee is 900 euros. To successfully earn the diploma, students must achieve a mark of at least ten out of twenty (and be prepared for the brutality of the French grading customs!) Only 25 students (more than double last year's intake) will be accepted this year and the application deadline is the 28th of this month so, if you fancy a year in the south of France spent brushing up on your French genealogy skills, fill out and send the application form (Download Dossier candidature de généalogie) as quick as ever you can. 

 See here interviews with the professors and the first twelve students:




 ©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Ancestors Among the French Nobility

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Some of you, dear readers, may have noticed that, in the short two and a half years of this blog's life, there has been no mention of the nobility. We do not like the idea of them. A follower of Mark Twain, we are a lover of democracy and hold no truck with the so-called nobility or aristocracy. Nobility of mind, nobility of heart, nobility of soul, we yearn for and admire; but the pseudo-nobility of blood or property we scorn most heartily.

Nevertheless, many of those of the French noblesse had children, not all of whom lost their heads in the Reign of Terror, and they have descendants to this day, seeking to know their ancestry. We have decided that it would be unjust to continue to ignore the genealogy of the French nobility, even though it is probably the best documented sector, in terms of genealogy, of the population. 

The French nobility must first be considered in two groups: those ennobled before the French Revolution and those afterward, "the nineteenth century nobles", as they are known. According to Gildas Bernard in his Guide des recherches sur l'histoire des familles, the two groups combined add up to about 4000 noble families.

Excluding the royal family, only three pre-Revolutionary families could trace their lines back to the eleventh century, only three hundred could trace their lines to the fourteenth century, and about 1000 families could find their ancestors prior to 1550. These are the bluest of the blue-bloods. There were also those ennobled by lettres patentes and those given titles as reward for military or civil service. All together, these were the 4000 noble families before the Revolution. On the 19th of June, 1790, their nobility and their titles were abolished.

After the Revolution, during the nineteenth century, there were a number of governments, a restoration of the crown, more revolutions, something of a wild ride for nobles and the general citizenry alike. Some old titles were reinstated, new titles were handed out "like medals", some hereditary and some not. 

Many in the New World who are researching their French ancestors hope to find a family crest as proof of nobility. Give it up, says Bernard. Anyone could have had one, even peasants, if they coughed up twenty livres. The family crest, le blason, is no mark of nobility. The only certain way to know if one's ancestors were of the nobility is if their names appear in one of the thirteen surviving head tax lists, les registres de capitation, of the eighteenth century. These are found in the Departmental Archives.

We recommend that your research into the family's nobility begin with one of the hundreds of excellent books on the subject, a few of which we give here:

  • Abbé Bévy. Dictionnaire de la 1338 à 1515. In the Archives nationales
  • La Chenaye des Bois and Badier. Dictionnaire de la noblesse. 19 volumes.
  • Père Anselme. Histoire généalogique et chronologique de la Maison Royale de France.... Found on both Gallica and . Perhaps, like Brooke Shields, you are descended from a French king and did not know it.
  • d' Hozier, Louis Pierre. Armorial général de France. 10 volumes. Various volumes found on the Internet Archive.
  • d'Hozier, Louis Pierre. Armorial général ou registres de la noblesse de France...
  • Jougla de Morénas. Grand Armorial de France. 7 volumes.
  • A. Révérend. Titres, anoblissements et pairies de la Restauration (1814-1830). 6 volumes.

There are many, many more. The Archives nationales give a good list of books and procedures useful to researching French heraldry. The Librairie de la Voûte sells many books giving the genealogy of specific noble families.

The resources are innumerable; as are the online hucksters and purveyors of faux-noble ancestors. Good luck but beware!



It may seem odd, but some people chose to become French and when they did so, the process was termed naturalisation. One completed an application that was a demande de naturalisation, added much identifying and supporting documentation, and sent it off to the authorities. They would approve or disapprove the application and, if they did approve, send a certificate. We have come across others who requested from the authorities a certificate confirming that they had NOT taken French nationality.

The benefits of each usually had to do with one's children, especially if a father were the one becoming French or not as, for most of the nineteenth century, children born in France had the same nationality as their father. If he became French, they could inherit and have certain other advantages permitted nationals alone, such as serving in the army. Conversely, if he remained foreign, he might inherit from his non-French family, and his children were exempt from French conscription. One can imagine various scenarios where  one choice or the other would be more advantageous to a family.


The National Archives of France, les Archives nationales, have a jumbo-sized collection of the application files, or dossiers. The site in Piereefitte has those dating from about 1803 (An XI in the Republican calendar) to 1930. The site at Fontainebleau has those dating from 1931 to 1988. The information in a file can range from just about nothing (especially in the requests for proof of non-naturalisation) to :

  • the full name
  • place of birth 
  • date of birth
  • address in France
  • family members
  • a copy the birth registrations, with translation, of the applicant, spouse and children
  • proofs as to financial solvency
  • documentation of service in another nation's military, if applicable
  • proof of employment
  • a letter from the town hall confirming place and length of residency
  • a letter from the prefecture supporting the application
  • a letter from the police confirming that the applicant had no criminal record

Quite a nice snapshot of a person and a family!

These files are absolutely crucial to any research on nineteenth century Jewish families in France and on the families of the refugees from the German annexation of Alsace-Lorraine. The former were often immigrants from other parts of Europe, while the latter, if they did not claim French nationality as Optants, would have had to apply to be "reintegrated".

The dossiers des naturalisations are not online, but much of the information from them is. 

  • For the years of 1814 to 26 May 1853, there is a database with the essential information extracted, called NAT. It includes files on name changes, titles and coats of arms during those years as well. Click on "recherche simple" to get a form in which to type a name. 
  • For the years 1855 to 1918, one can search the Bulletin de lois, in the ten-year indices. This will show only the successful applicants.

Within the two sites of the Archives nationales, there are of course, facilities for searching all of the years.

In Paris:

  • For the years from An XI to 1813, the dossiers are on microfilm
  • For the years 1814 to 1858, the same database, NAT, is available in-house
  • The years 1848 to 1883 are on microfilm
  • The years 1884 to 1930 are on microfilm and on the in-house database NATNUM
  • For those from Alsace-Lorraine and for foreigners who served in the French Army during the First World War, the years 1914 through 1923 are on microfilm

In Fontainebleau:

  • For the years 1931 to 1948, one must ask the staff for assistance
  • From 1948 onward, the case will have been mentioned in the Journal Officiel or will be in an alphabetical listing held at the archives.

In this way, some families that arrived in France from elsewhere can, if they chose to stay, be traced with some rather thrilling success.

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Using Local History for Genealogical Research

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We enjoy reading history. It is one of the most pleasurable aspects of genealogical research. We find that local history books are quite useful; they often are written by people from the region, they give a much more intimate understanding of a place, and they occasionally name many local people or give lists of names, making some of them genealogical resources as well.

Usually, these works are so small and specialized that they do not appear on the Internet. They are not found via Google and they are not on Amazon, but many of them are on the websites of the Departmental Archives. They are a bit hidden, being found under the headings boutique, service éducatif, service pédagogique, or publications. Those that are most useful may be published books (livres), or they may be PDF documents prepared by the archivists for visitors or school groups (dossiers éducatifs or dossiers pédagogiques). 

We have done a trawl of the Departmental Archives websites and give a list below of those that have such local history works available. Links to each of the sites are in the column to the left on this page, entitled "Websites of the Departmental Archives". 

  • Allier - has an online boutique with works by a local historian
  • Ardèche - has the papers of local historian Albin Mazon and have put online  - as the Encyclopédie d'Ardèche - with a search facility, all those relating to the department. Anyone with nineteenth century ancestors in Ardèche should search them in this collection.
  • Aube - has a pretty large boutique. Most of the work are fairly general, but a couple are about daily life or workers, and could name names.
  • Corrèze - has a boutique with a number of books by one local historian.
  • Hérault - has one local history publication available
  • Loire - has a small boutique selling indices to the holdings
  • Lot - has a catalogue and order form that can be downloaded. There are perhaps ten local history works, including a diary and a collection of letters.
  • Manche - has a number of excellent books for sale, including local biographical dictionaries. Click on Service éducatif to find them.
  • Haute-Marne - has a boutique of publications which includes a local historical and political atlas.
  • Mayenne - under the heading Dossiers d'histoire gives the details of a number of good local history publications.
  • Morbihan - has a boutique with eleven books of local history.
  • Moselle - has a few books of local history for sale, including one on local tanners and tanneries from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century. Click on Service éducatif to find them. 
  • Nord - has a boutique, with about a dozen local history books.
  • Oise - has a few interesting works, including published war letters and memoires, often rich resources for the genealogist.
  • Pas-de-Calais - wins the prize for the most works. Click on Activités culturelles to find them.
  • Puy-de-Dôme - has works that are both online and for sale.
  • Hautes-Pyrénées - has a number of online dossiers of local history. One on migrations looks quite good.
  • Pyrénées-Orientales - has a PDF list of local history publications and prices.
  • Rhône - has a list of publications, mostly by J-F Martin.
  • Haute-Saône - has a publications list that includes local history and a biography of one of the leaders of the local watch-making industry.
  • Saône-et-Loire - has a list of local history publications and community histories.
  • Savoie - a place with a quite different history from the rest of France, has a very useful list of online dossiers du Service éducatif.
  • Haute-Savoie - has a small list of publications that can be bought via post that includes a work on Savoyards who migrated.
  • Paris - has a small list.
  • Seine-Maritime - has a few local history publications for sale.
  • Seine-et-Marne - has a boutique with mostly general works.
  • Yvelines - has a boutique with a history of the young ladies of Saint-Cyr from 1686 to 1793, among others.
  • Deux-Sèvres - has four dossiers pédagogiques for sale, one being on the schools of the department during the nineteenth century.
  • Tarn - has about twenty dossiers pédagogiques available, some online, some on paper only.
  • Var - has two local history works for sale in its publications category.
  • Vienne - has a few dossiers pédagogiques, repeated at different levels for students, that can be downloaded.
  • Haute-Vienne - also has a few dossiers pédagogiques, including one on the local porcelaine industry.
  • Yonne - has a few dossiers pédagogiques, repeated at different levels for students, that can be downloaded.
  • Essonne - has local history booklets for children for sale, as well as a number of dossiers pédagogiques about local history.
  • Val-de-Marne - has a significant list of books and dossiers pédagogiques, including the early twentieth century community histories, at just under €20 each.

 Perhaps your ancestor will be mentioned in one! 

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Huguenot Genealogy - The Fonds Pierre Georges Harmant

Val de Marne inside 



Pierre Georges Harmant was a librarian, archivist, chemist and a passionate historian of photography and of his home town Charenton-le Pont. A biographical sketch of him that was written for History of Photography tells of how he "abandoned research on the history of photography" because there was "no encouragement or help to publish." The man was a born historian nevertheless, and the discovery of a sarcophagus in his region took him to his next historical subject: Protestantism in his town.

Charenton-le-Pont was one of the most important Huguenot towns in France, one of only two in the Paris region to have had a temple. Harmant became fascinated with the town's Protestant history and began to collect information on the Protestants of the area and on their history. When he died, in 1995, his notes were donated to the Archives Départementales of Val-de-Marne, in Créteil. It is a significant, if small, collection of research notes on the history of Charenton-le-Pont, Saint-Maurice, Fronde, with the parish  records of Conflans, cemetery notes, parish registrations going back to 1686, and more, all with a care to include the Huguenots. For anyone tracing Huguenot ancestors from this area, these notes will be most valuable.

The Fonds Harmant also contain drawings of important buildings and genealogies of local families. Unfortunately, they have not been microfilmed or published. (It seems clear that this is the research for a book on the history of Charenton-le-Pont that Harmant did not live to write.) They are available on request in the archives, where the staff are most helpful. It takes about fifteen minutes for them to retrieve a requested folder or box. The archives also has a copy of the microfilm of the Haag Collection (see the post on the Bibliotèque de la Société de l'Histoire du Protestantisme Français to which Harmant refers in some of his notes.)

Though the archives have a very nice work and reading space, they are not easy to get to on public transportation, involving treks under flyovers and past forlorn burger joints that scatter rubbish to swirl in the winds about one's head. Grim, dear Readers, very grim.


©2010 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Seeking a Cause of Death

Funeral announcement


There are those family historians whose passion is to check all possible birth records to find all possible relatives. Their dream is to have the biggest family tree in the world, with many thousands of names in their files. Then, there is another type of family historian whose focus is on death records, wanting to know not only when and where each person in their tree died, but how the death occurred, where the dead are buried and if obituaries (notice nécrologiques in French) were written, to have them all. It is our experience that these two types of family history focus are rarely found in the same person, and this post is addressed to the latter.

We receive a fair number of requests to find the cause of death for a person in the French branch of someone's family tree. Not an easy or often successful task. As we have written earlier, French death registrations do not give the cause of death. Why is not clear. Perhaps to the ever practical French, the cause is irrelevant; dead is dead. (The French do not use an equivalent for the currently fashionable term "passing", which we abhor, for it gives the impression that the deceased is somehow speeding past on the motorway. There is room for the development of the metaphor here; country music lyricists take note.)

Where to look, then for a cause of death? Here are some possibilities:

  • Hospital records, if the person died in hospital, which occurred more from the beginning of the twentieth century. Records of Paris hospitals are held at the Archives de l'Assistance publique - Hôpitaux de Paris, those of many other regions of France are in various archives hospitalières
  • Notarial records may, rarely, state the cause of a person's death. A will or a guardianship agreement could have such a mention, if you are lucky. 
  • Obituaries are a modern practice in France, and only the most recent will commonly name the cause of death. Most earlier obituaries laud the deceased but are mum about the cause of the demise. Finding obituaries can be difficult, as not many newspapers are available online. One of the best sources for those that are is Gallica, the digital library of the Bibliothèque nationale
  • Those who died in battle or of their wounds may be found in the Memoire des Hommes online databsaes which have received so much discussion here.
  • Occasionally, a gravestone may state the cause of death. We have seen a few that do so, especially those erected during the 1832 cholera epidemic.

The chances of finding the cause of death are really, to be honest, quite slim, but it is not always impossible. Do tell us, dear readers, of any other successfully searched sources!

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Marked By the Scribe

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We have been spending time in the French countryside, enjoying a rather golden autumn. A red squirrel has taken to visiting an upper window, adding to our delight in nature. During our idyll, we received an exuberant post from Monsieur C, telling of having finally found an interpretation of a mysterious marginal marking seen on some parish registrations from Jura. The complete lack of artistic ability of the scribe resulted in what was intended to be a drawing of a hand appearing as possibly the letter "m" with oddly long legs.

Monsieur C found in the website of the Centre d'Entraide Généalogique de France an explanation: that squiggle is the "hand of God" and appeared in the margin of baptism registrations for children born to unmarried parents. The hands appeared in the registrations of one village over a period of five years, clearly a local and not a national custom.

A community's parish priest was usually but not always the scribe and was occastionally inclined to comment more than may have been necessary. We once came across the entries made by one in Bretagne who felt compelled to comment on the length of gestation for every child baptised, e.g. "This child was born after seven months, as were all of his mother's other children." What a busybody!

While parish priests may have been a bit judgemental in their writings (and drawings) they did not often alter information. When the job of registering births, marriages and deaths became that of the officier d'état civil, who was often the mayor, illiteracy and/or sloppy handwriting caused more serious troubles.

We learned from the charming gentlemen who dons a gardener's apron to cut our lavender for us that his numerous aunts and uncles on his father's side all have different surnames, yet all have the same parents. The mayor who recorded their births wrote an extremely bad hand. The family name was Boniess. When it came time for members of the family to present their birth registrations to the various government agencies for entry into computer systems, the data entry clerks interpreted the mayor's bad handwriting of the name as: Bonies, Bonys, Bony, Bonni, Bonnie, etc. No one of the family had bothered to go through the long process of changing the mistakes legally, however. Speaking of technology the way natives speak of temporary colonial powers, M. Bony said "It matters not what the computer thinks; we know our family name. Everyone in the community knows we are Boniess and that is what they call us." 

Bear the clumsy or malicious scribe in mind when doing genealogical research. Be sure to check similar spellings of a name of people who may be siblings, and keep your eyes open for the hand!

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy