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November 2011

Catherine de Medici and the French Thanksgiving

Renaissance Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a non-event in France, which is sad for us. So, we were pleasantly surprised when our childhood playmate, the brilliant San Francisco chef, Claude Garbarino, sent us the news that the bane of French Protestants' troubled lives, Catherine de Medici, served a Renaissance feast of turkeys. We share here in its entirety, Claude's informative article and wish all who celebrate it the happiest of Thanksgivings.



Much of the food from the early Renaissance period was left over from the Middle Ages until Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas in 1492.  Soon, trade brought in new and rare delectables into the Renaissance kitchens like oranges, corn, sugar and chocolate that started with the nobility and trickled down to the farmers and peasants.  It took considerable time for these victuals to catch on in Europe, but one exception was the turkey. About 30 years after Columbus, Cortez discovered the American turkey in Mexico around the 1520s. At that time, turkey was known as "Indian Chicken" and this bird gained popularity very quickly. In addition to being delicious, turkey made a flamboyant centerpiece for banquets when dressed in all its feathers and plumes.

In 1549, Catherine de Medici hosted a feast that featured 70 "Indian Chickens" on the menu. Other notable fowl served up during the Renaissance period included peacocks, swans and cranes. Smaller game bird might have been pheasant and herons which were typical menu fare as well.  It was a common custom to serve pork alongside fried chestnuts  which were abundant and easy to cultivate and store. Fruit was always a celebrated Renaissance food and was served as a last course. We would call this "dessert" today.   


We are very grateful to Claude for allowing us to share this with our readers. Visit her website to know more.

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Ministry of Culture Approves Genealogy

Restaurant Ternes 3 small

We find there to be something rather endearing about the arrogance and pomposity of a troupe of government officials crying Plaudite cives! after one of their tiny performances, in this case giving official recognition of the practice of genealogy as "an important  cultural activity" by the Ministry of Culture and Communication. To be fair, such recognition means cash on the line for genealogy so, why not?

For researchers, though the avenues may be more twisted than Norman lace, the destination provided by the Ministry, in cooperation with the Archives nationales, is yet another useful website and collection of databases. From the look of it, it would seem that some archivists and/or bureaucrats may be toying with the idea of coming up with their own -- free -- unification of the nation's departmental archives and other collections as an alternative to the growing commercial genealogy websites. Keep your seats; it is early days yet.

We write of the website for the Ministry,, which tells of events in all areas of cultural activity financed by the government, from architecture to music, from films to dance. Our newly recognised genealogy does not show up on the initial page, but click on "collections" and it is then in the magenta menu bar. Along with a short list of suggestions for how to begin researching one's family and  an online course in paleography, there is the option to search eight or nine databases, which include:

  • the Morts pour la France, those who died in the First World War, of the Service Historique de la Défense
  • the civil registrations of Europeans in Algeria from the Archives nationales d'outre-mer
  • the files of the Legion of Honour database, LEONORE
  • the military recruitment list of the department of Mayenne
  • the civil registrations of the departmental archives of Ain and the city archives of Vendôme and the censuses of the former
  • the extracts made by the genealogy society of Lyonnais and Beaujolais, by the genealogy association of Hautes-Alpes and by the genealogy centre of provençale Drôme, furnished by Bigenet

All of these exist on other websites which have been discussed on The French Genealogy Blog. What is interesting here is that they are very different types of collections being amalgamated with one search box for all. Additionally, the search results are beautiful, giving a wealth of information in the initial list. Even nicer is the panel to the left that allows a refinement of the search, not by vague type of collection, but by a number of criteria within the results: date, department, specific record type, versions of the surname and by the database. Compared with the ghastly refinement options on the "new" search in, this is exponentially superior.

Please use this many times a day, to encourage further development.

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Connect Yourself to French Celebrities

Media takes over


What is it? What on earth is it that makes people want to claim kinship to a celebrity? Half of them are morons; many are downright amoral. The few who seem to be accidentally decent would most likely recoil from an army of glinty-eyed, limelight-lusting, would-be cousins, which should bring a sense of shame to said cousins.

Is this an equivalent to or parallel of the desire to prove a link, however remote, to nobility? Is this a mercenary desire to profit from the relationship, in which case a celebrity is probably a better bet than a noble, these days? Do we blame THE MEDIA for turning us all into voyeurs, who once bought newspapers and gossip magazines to know more; and who now throw away our privacy with every mouse click on a lascivious onscreen headline with a well-known name? Is the hugely popular and -- we admit -- intriguing "Who Do You Think You Are", which takes celebs on a genealogy jaunt, more of the same?

We are baffled by the endless requests we receive to help people prove their relationship to some famous French name or other. We want to take the poor soul by the shoulders and utter encouragements along the lines of "Be proud of your own accomplishments and leave those rotters to their tawdry fame!" Alas, it falls on deaf ears.

Thus, we give you today the website entitled GeneaStar. Dreamt up by the French duo Jérôme Galichon and Emmanuelle Visseaux, based on an idea by Frédéric Thebault, it is what it says it is: a website with the genealogy trees of famous people. Available in English, French, Dutch and Swedish, the website currently lists over 1200 famous people and gives their trees. There are, of course, Hollywood movie stars. There are also popes, missionaries, nuns, athletes, politicians, inventors, authors, crooks, mathematicians (but not Pierre de Fermat, the most famous French mathematician of them all) and Adam. Most of them are French.  Each entry has an image of the subject, a brief biography (the English versions can be quite entertaining in some cases) and a pedigree. There are a search box and alphabetical pages. The names are grouped by the initial letter of the surname but are not in alphabetical order under that letter, which is a bit of a bore. The site is hosted by and in some cases reverts to GeneaNet.

Increasingly, we refer those hunters of celebrity cousins to GeneaStar. You have been warned.

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

More on Franco-Belgian Genealogy - with a success story

Two faces of genealogy

Probably one of the best websites we have seen on cross-border genealogy betweeen France and Belgium is that run by a fellow from Roubaix named André Vanderlynden. His website,, is a wiki, and his aim is to pursue the genealogies of all those of western Flanders and Ardennes. He has single-handedly gathered an enormous amount of information, garnering him a write-up in the local newspaper.

Among the best aspects of his website are to be found:

  • Pages  on the villages of Flanders and the villages of Ardennes, which have charts showing which are in France and which in Belgium.
  • Lists of families from each region
  • Studies of about a dozen families
  • a few photographs of faire-parts
  • a forum where people can exchange information

Mr. Vanderlynden was the key to one American's genealogical success story. Gene Spanneut of New York had been researching his family from the towns of Hondeghem, Hazebrouck and Lille. His ancestor, Charles Benoît Alexis Spanneut was born in France, went to the United States in about 1860 and fought in the American Civil War. Finding his roots proved very difficult, even though the name was relatively rare. The name appeared in the database of and Mr. Spanneut wrote to Mr. Vanderlynden for help. He provided a great deal of assistance and research, finding out why Charles Spanneut left Flanders for America -- an illegitimate son who remained in France. The immigrant wrote to his son, whose descendants kept the letters. Some of those descendants welcomed Gene Spanneut and his sister on their visit to France and Belgium last August. "The experience was very rewarding and very emotional," Mr. Spanneut told me. "The family we met were so very good to use and made us feel so welcomed.  I look forward to returning."

Mighty fine work, Monsieur Vanderlynden!

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

A Toe Over the Border into Belgium

Brabant Chronicles

Image courtesy of BibliOdyssey

Not very long ago, we had the opportunity to witness a tri-lingual wedding in the stunningly gilt cathedral of Ghent in Belgium. We offer here a clip of a gifted young actor delivering a speech in English in which you can see some of the choir and altar in the background. (The video seems not to appear in the subscribers' e-mails, but it is on the blog post's page.)


We are often asked to do genealogical research in Belgium, for the borders between that country and France were not always as they now are. Flanders and Hainault, provinces in the north of France, were not part of the country until annexed by Louis XIV.  Many families have members living on both sides and a few, as a speaker at a conference claimed, have engaged in happy-go-lucky smuggling across the border. Belgian genealogy is not really our territory, but for those coming from such a cross-border family, we hope that these suggestions will be of use.

Within France:

  • In Flanders and Hainault, duplicates of the parish registers for the region prior to 1737 are not in the Departmental Archives of Nord and Pas-de-Calais. The only copies are in the parishes (except for some early ones for the city of Lille.) Writing to the local parish archives could be more useful for earlier records than struggling with the Departmental Archives.
  • The local genealogy association for both Nord and Pas-de-Calais, GenNPdC, has a very useful website.

Within Belgium:

  •  For Brussels - the city archives have parish registrations going back to 1482. The staff will respond to letters in English and can be written to at this address: Archives de la Ville de Bruxelles. 65 rue des Tanneurs. 1000 Bruxelles. Belgium.
  • For the Belgian province of Hainaut - the local  genealogy and history association, the AGHB,  is very active. It can be contacted by writing  to: AGHB - section du Hainaut occidental. Rue de Marvais 82. 7500 Tournai. Belgium.
  • For the region around Dinant, try the association, Génédinant, who have a site with plenty of information.
  • For the city of Comines-Warneton and many of its surrounding villages, both Flemish-speaking and Francophone, you have the website of the Société d'Histoire de Comines-Warneton et de la Région. It has a surname search facility that could be helpful.
  • An excellent website that is full of links to sites for genealogy on Flemish Belgium and the Netherlands is geneaknowhow.

Belgian archives, also, it seems, have been the target of efforts to commercialize their holdings. The Archives Publiques Libres folks are up in arms about this, as it looks as if Belgium may join the Battle Royal.

Best of Luck!

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Archives Battle Royal Update

Battle Royal


For those who have been waiting patiently for a single database, neatly indexed, with all of the French national censuses, à la in the U.S., keep waiting. As has been reported many times here, the censuses are, in many cases, available on the websites of the Departmental Archives, but not all such have websites and the censuses have no name index at all.  We have also reported on the fierce determination of the company NotreFamille, owners of the online genealogy database,, to get their hands on those censuses. We told of how they sent an intimidating letter to the archivists, and of the government's report about this possibly constituting a privacy violation.

In an intensification of the battle, the Departmental Archives of Cantal and NotreFamille went to court over the latter's intention to put the images of the department's censuses on its website, index them, and charge a fee for users to search the index and view the pages. The Archives flatly refused to allow this. It was the Archives who lost the case, last July, and they were even ordered to pay 1000 euros in court costs to NotreFamille. 

NotreFamille tried to soften the blow by saying that they, by doing the indexing, would be providing a service to the Archives. The Archives responded that they are all ready doing their own indexing in collaboration with users and they do not need such help, thank you very much. "A partner works hand-in-hand and does not put his hand in your pocket," asserted the director of the Cantal archives, Edouard Bouyé.* He begins to look a bit quixotic, putting principle before cash, for he has not given up the fight. The archives have lodged an appeal against the decision.

This is no tempest in a teacup. This is a test case that could directly affect all of the Departmental Archives of the country and all of their holdings. Up to now, they have been developing, each at its own pace to be sure, websites and services aimed at providing access and services to users free of charge. For most, it is this last qualification that is of paramount importance: the various collections in the Archives, as a part of the nation's history, are accessed for free.

The elephant in the room is the looming giant of a market of descendants of French immigrants to North America, all of whom would gladly pay to be able to search French records, indexed and gathered together, online. Will satisfying their hunger alter French law and principles concerning France's patrimony? If the Archives lose this case, will they also all eventually lose their clientèle, as people turn to the ease of online searching, resulting in the Archives becoming de facto service providers (paid for by the tax payer) to NotreFamille? 

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

* as reported by Guillaume de Morant