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Genealogy in Savoie and the Comté de Nice - Part 1

Comté de Nice flag

Up to 1860, the story of Savoie (the modern departments of Savoie and Haute-Savoie) and the Comté de Nice (roughly the area between the Var river and Italy, now within the department of Alpes-Maritimes) is essentially the story of a dynasty, the House of Savoy and a country that did not make it on its own into modern times. A glance at a map could reveal why.


Both areas have been inhabited since the beginning of time, occupied by the Romans, with a royal heyday in Medieval times. From the Renaissance, when France and Spain each became much more powerful and united, to the nineteenth century unification of Italy and creation of a German identity, the Duchy of Savoy  was in the fray, but increasingly as a medieval royal family against modern nation-states. Finally, a deal was struck in 1859, followed by a vote that many said was appallingly rigged in 1860, and France took Savoie and Nice, in exchange for military aid toward the unification of Italy. (For once, we find the Wikipedias article in English on the subject to be a study in befuddlement and do not recommend them. A cleaner, if laden with regional pride, version of the history of Savoie can be found here and and encyclopaedic site on la Savoie and Haute-Savoie can be found at Sabaudia. At an odd location a good one on the Comté de Nice is here. )

Two languages -- French and Italian -- and two cultures -- mountain and seaside -- make these two ex-states of the Duchy of Savoy as distinct from one another as they are from the rest of France.  For genealogical research, the distinctions remain. 

As concerns the Comté de Nice:

  • Though Grasse was part of the Comté, it more closely followed the French style of parish and civil registrations and so, most of the practices explained on this blog apply.
  • Before 1860, when the Comté was not part of the Duchy of Savoy, it was part of the Kingdom of Sicily (for much of the 18th century and from 1814 to 1860) or of France (1793-1814)
  • Parish, and later, civil registers were kept 
    • During the years as a part of the Duchy of Savoy, from 1582, but NOT in duplicate; they were kept by the parish
    • During the French periods, the French law was followed and duplicates were made and the registers were kept by the town halls (mairies)
    • During the Sardinian years (1814-1860) the procedure reverted to single not duplicate registrations and parish not civil registers.
    • From 1837 a form was used that also allowed for the registration of Protestant, Jewish and any other non-Catholics. These were held by the religious officers of those groups as the equivalents of parish registers.
    • After 1860, all procedures followed were the same as elsewhere in France.
    • The exceptions are Menton and Roquebrune, once of the Principality of Monaco, which have followed the French procedures without break since 1793.
  • Thus, finding the parish registrations means applying to a variety of places:
    • before 1793: to either the archives of the Diocese of Nice or to the archives of the specific parish
    • for the period of 1793 to 1814, and after 1860, visit the Departmental Archives of Alpes-Maritimes or the town hall of the town where the event occurred. 
    • for the Sardinian era, one copy may be at either the archives of the Diocese of Nice or at the archives of the specific parish, but not at both; copies for registrations of that period were made (in 1860) and are at the Departmental Archives of Alpes-Maritimes.
    • Registrations from Menton and Roquebrune, having been made in duplicate since 1793, will be found in both the Departmental Aerchives of Alpes-Maritimes and in the town halls, or mairies.

Appropriate genealogy associations which could help with research are:

Genealogy always requires attention to detail and precise documentation, but even more so in this case, for dates will tell where to begin looking. Next post: Savoie.

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

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À Double Sens - For a More Successful Visit to the Ancestral Village

Arche de Triomphe small


It seems that numerous descendants of French emigrants are on the move. We have been contacted by a number of people who plan to visit ancestral villages, hamlets, chateaux and such, hoping to research ancestors and encounter cousins. A few suggestions for how to make the visit a bit happier may be in order. We will leave off those relating to cultural differences, for there are plenty of books on the subject, and we will not repeat our warnings about striking archivists, though they still hold true.

A visitor and researcher to one of the larger cities and town halls (mairies) will be treated with the same harassed, indifferent bustling as anywhere else. However, in the smaller towns, where life is slower, people will have the time to talk with a visitor and exchange with a researcher. These are some things they will appreciate:

  • Take copies of documents about your French immigrant ancestor. Some mayors may actually wish to enter the information into the existing documentation, making a marginal note on an acte d'état civil. The local genealogy association may be thrilled to  add the information to a file on that family name. 
  • Take photographs of the immigrant ancestor, spouse and children (but perhaps not the entire family down to yourself) of the place where he or she settled, etc. Not only will this help with identification, but it will encourage those you meet to bring out their own old photos. If they allow you to photograph those old photos, you can double your collection.
  • Take copies of the genealogy, with charts, that you have done so far. Offer them to the local genealogy circle for them to add to their collection. We have seen very happy reunions in a local cafe, where elders discussed a descendants chart, making many corrections, with enthusiasm.
  • If your ancestor and/or his or her descendants did things that were newsworthy, take copies of articles, books, etc. about them to donate to the local library or genealogy association's library.
  • Before leaving home, find out the name of the local paper, radio or television station and contact them to see if an interview about your visit and ancestor could be arranged. If it were to appear in the first days of your visit (or even before), that would boost the cousin-finding efforts significantly.
  • Find out the names and contacts of the local genealogy associations and circles in advance and arrange to attend one of their meetings and maybe give a talk (if you speak French or can arrange a translator) about your immigrant ancestor. If anyone can help you with furthering your research, these people can.

People descended from French emigrants besiege the town halls, archives, and genealogy associations, asking for research help but almost never giving anything in return. Research that depends so much on goodwill needs to be a two-way street -- à double sens. Sharing your own research about your immigrant French ancestor with those who have helped or who could help you is a much appreciated way of saying "thank you".

©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy