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July 2012

A French Family's Ration Cards and What They Reveal About Names

Aliment 1

As we wrote earlier, we have been attending various vide-greniers, sales of old or unwanted items, and picking up examples of family documents to show you, our Dear Readers. Our most recent find is one family's ration cards. Most come from the Second World War and the years of austerity that followed it. One, however, shown above, comes from the previous World War and its aftermath. They illustrate not only a bit of history but also how even a simple document can help clarify an identity.

The enemy occupation of France during World War II gave rise to an almost immediate rationing of food, clothing and other essentials. The population received the minimum possible, while the maximum was sent to feed and clothe the victor's army. Each individual was issued with a ration card for food, termed la carte individuelle d'alimentation. There were two main categories: adults and children or jeunes , which were refined over the years. This family lived in Périgueux in the department of Dordogne and -- for reasons unknown -- saved their ration cards of three generations of people. 

Two are for a woman and a child. The first, shown below, was issued in 1946 to a woman named Marie, born in 1909. 

Alimen 1


Alimen 2

The second was issued on the same day in the same place to a child of thirteen, Colette, who had the same surname.

Alimentation 1

Another type of ration card, for clothing and textiles, la carte de vêtements et d'articles textiles, was also issued during the war years. The one below was issued to Jean Francois, born in 1900.

Vetements 1


Vetements 2

There are a total of four cards, for those who appear to be four different members of the same family, for they all have the same surname, Lajoinie, and they all live at no. 21 avenue Bertrand de Born in Périgueux. It would appear that Elie was the eldest, being aged fifty-four in 1919. Jean François may have been his son, married to Marie and they seem to have been the parents of Colette. Some of the information on the cards can be confirmed on the websites of the archives of the two relevant departments, Dordogne and Corrèze. Some, occurring later, cannot, for most Departmental Archives have not put online the civil registrations dating later than 1902. 

The value of documents such as these is in that they provide:

  • Name
  • Address of residence
  • Date and place of birth, which may be more recent than such information that can be found on the websites of Departmental Archives

Unfortunately, they can also contain mistakes, as in the date of birth of Elie. The year put is what was the current year. However, his age was given as fifty-four, and his birthday as the twenty-ninth of December, so his birth registration could be found in the 1864 civil register online for Objat, on the website of the Departmental Archives of Corrèze. The birth of Jean François is given on his ration card as the twenty-fifth of August 1900 and this can be confirmed in the civil register online for Périgueux, on the website of the Departmental Archives of Dordogne. 

Their names on the birth registrations are quite diferent from those on their ration cards. This brings us to a number of questions we have received from some of our Dear Readers, most recently from Monsieur E, who is researching an ancestor with the names Jean Charles Thibeau on documents after immigration, but he can only find documents matching date and place of birth for a Jean Thiebaud. Could Jean Thiebaud be Jean Charles Thibeau? The answer is maybe.

The first of the ration cards shows an Elie but the birth registration that matches the date, place and surname gives the forenames as Jean Baptiste Hélie. The marriage registration for the same person was not very difficult to find and it gives his names as Jean Baptiste Elie. The ration card for his son gives the names Jean François. The birth registration for him gives the forenames François Louis Elie Jean Baptiste.

We have often come across the use of just one of a person's many given names, as in the case of Elie, but not so often have we seen such a rearrangement of names as made by Jean François. Then again, given the kind of error with the date on Elie's card, we cannot rule out the possibility that the ration card for Jean François also may contain mistakes. Monsieur E's ancestor was a near contemporary of Elie's, though from a different region of France. His case is not the use of just one forename or the radical rearrangement of forenames but the addition of a forename, Charles. 

In truth, in all three cases, while the identities and relationships seem likely, they cannot be said to be certain without more documentation. Carry on, carry on. The hunt never ends.


©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


The Municipal Archives of Marseille

Archives Municipales

After our visit to the Departmental Archives of Bouches-du-Rhône, we continued our research in the Municipal Archives of Marseille, the Archives municipales de Marseille or the Archives de la ville de Marseille (both names are used). Unlike the Departmental Archives, this facility was completely empty. We were alone with the microfilm readers, the welcome desk attendant, and two large archivists, keen to serve their sole customer.

It is a pity if no one uses these archives, for, genealogically, they contain a great deal on local families. In addition to parish and civil registrations, there are:

  • Probate records, some with case files
  • Local almanachs and newspapers
  • A good-sized library of books of detailed local history and biography
  • Tax records
  • Records concerning local Protestants or Huguenots
  • Census returns
  • Military enlistment lists
  • Land records and maps
  • Electoral lists
  • Notarial records
  • Private archives
  • A number of identity cards, passports and family books (livrets de famille
  • Sworn statements by family members allowing minors to marry

Many of the above can also be found in the Departmental Archives, but the last is a wonderful find. It is a collection of statements (procès-verbaux) from family councils (assemblées de famille, conseils de famille) permitting the marriage of a minor. Each runs to three or four pages and each gives the names of numerous members of the family, their professions, addresses, spouses names and relationships within the family. They are post-Revolutionary and were required only for those under the age of twenty-five (the age of majority at the time) wanting to marry. If those criteria fit one of your ancestors, you could get very lucky.


Archives de Marseille

10, rue Clovis-Hugues

13003 Marseille

Tel: (+33) 4 91 55 33 75


N.B. Many, many families in Marseille have Italian roots. An excellent explanation of Italian immigration into France during the late nineteenth century can be found on the blog, GénéProvence, written by Jean Marie Desbois with enormous energy and diligence.  

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

The Departmental Archives of Bouches-du-Rhône


Next spring, the twenty-second National Genealogy Conference will be held in Marseille. (Recall that we reported here on some of the presentations of the twentieth and the twenty-first of such a conference.) In anticipation of the grand event, we visited the archives to be found in that most vibrant of all France's cities.

Trip Advisor and other travel sites abound with tourists' tales of Marseille's marauders, of assaults, attacks, robberies and the like. Our offspring read them all and said "Dont' go", but we have lived in São Paulo and are quite used to thinking we are not in Kansas anymore, so go we did. It was hot, it was dusty, the fashion was more Italian than French, but we were not "aggressed" as French speakers of English say, not at all. Then again, archivists, even in Marseille, tend to be a tame lot.

AD Bouches du Rhône


The Salle de Lecture, or Reading Room, is long, well lit, cool and modern. There are more than a dozen microfilm readers and most of them are in working order. There are also many desks with computers for accessing the website and intranet system of the Departmental Archives. There is an overall air of prosperity and efficiency.

With its website (there is a link in the panel to the left on this page), the Departmental Archives of Bouches-du-Rhône have made available to the world its holdings of parish and civil registrations (registres paroissiaux and actes d'état civil), census returns, land records, and recently, prisoner lists. Genealogists on the hunt will also want what is not online, the notarial records and the private archives. Among the richest and most useful of private archives are those of the Albertas family, merchants in Provence from 1360 to the present day. They engaged in extensive commercial activity, trading in skins and salt, primarily. The archives contain not only correspondence and bills of lading but contracts and disputes with clients or other merchants. Reading through them provides a glimpse of the life of aristocratic society of Provence through the past seven hundred years. If your Provençal ancestor were a merchant, he or she may have done business with the Albertases and his or her name may appear in the archives. (If you cannot get to Marseille, you can read about the family in the work by Luc Antonini, "Les D'Albertas : une Grande Famille Provençale"; if you can get to the region, visit the family's phenomenal gardens.

As with all Departmental Archives, use is free of charge. One must present a valid identity document to receive a user's card, which is given instantly. Bags and coats must be left in a locker, which costs one euro. On leaving the archives, one may admire the view of the busy harbour and the statues of sumo wrestlers.

Sumo 2

 Archives départementales Gaston Deferre (centre de Marseille)

18, rue Mirès

B.P. 10099

13303 Marseille Cedex 03

Tel: (+33) 4 91 08 61 08


Opening hours:  Mondays 14.00 to 18.00; Tuesdays through Fridays 9.00 to 18.00; Saturdays 9.00 to 13.00

Closed to the public for much of July and August and on all public holidays.

.Read all of our posts about Departmental Archives here.

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Child Abandonment - Is It Better in France or Eastern Europe?

Mother and child

Being a parent is tough; to do it well requires pots of cash, strength of character, intelligence, stamina, the ability to endure torture by sleep deprivation without going insane, and the capacity for unconditional love. Becoming a parent is as easy as a sneeze. Not all who manage the latter have or want even part of the list in the former. There are parents who want their babies and there are those who do not. When they do not, they sometimes do ugly things, which the rest of some societies abhor and try to prevent.

We have written about how the problem of infanticide and child abandonment has been dealt with in France. Guest blogger, Pablo Briand, wrote about foundlings in France, enfants trouvés. We wrote in our post on Pregnancy Declarations of the 18th century effort on the part of the government to require every pregnant woman to register her pregnancy so that the fate of the child could be monitored (generally by the local busybody) and, with luck, its safety ensured. We have guided you, Dear Readers, to the books by Rachel Fuchs on the subject: Abandoned Children, and  Poor & Pregnant in Paris.  

For the genealogist, an abandoned child among one's ancestors is a research -- because it is an administrative -- dead end. While many adopted children may have a paper trail which could, in the rare case, lead to the discovery of the natural parents and thus, allow the research of that line to continue, for the abandoned child, there is no chance of such documentation.

The problem continues - both socially and genealogically (and of course, personally, for those involved) -- today. In France, a mother can choose to go to a hospital and deliver her child completely anonymously, giving him or her up immediately for adoption in the procedure known as Accouchement sous X. Currently on BBC News is an article about Baby Boxes in Europe, where parents can leave an unwanted baby in a box at a secluded place in a hospital wall, a practice "common in medieval Europe". There is a letter for the mother in the box, explaining how she can change her mind without fear of prosecution. It also encourages her to leave her name, "for the child".

Which system is better? Critics of the baby box point out that the mother may be forced to give up her baby, may not even be the one to put it in the box. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child oppose the baby boxes on the grounds that they encourage a parent to deprive a child of its basic right to know who its parents are. They oppose Accouchement sous X on the same grounds. The supporters of the baby boxes and anonymous parenthood say that they are saving the lives of babies who would otherwise be killed. As always, when idealism and pragmatism butt heads, the central issue, in this case a child and its mother, can be lost. A lovely French film, Brodeuses ("A Common Thread" in English), is about a young woman of seventeen who chooses Accouchement sous X; it tells the story from her point of view.

For those seeing the child's point of view, there are increasingly people and organizations who are willing to help him or her discover his biological identity. The Conseil National pour l'Accès aux Origines Personnelles (CNAOP), in the grandly named Ministry for Solidarity and Social Cohesion,  was established in 2002, essentially to undo the intended effect of Accouchement sous X, that of keeping the identity of the child's parents unknown. Its mission is to aid people to access whatever documentation may help them to determine who their parents were. There is also the Coordination des Actions pour la Droit à la Connaissance des Origines (CADCO), which was a bit more militant but seems to have gone quiet recently. 

In short,  there may be some possibilities for living people to discover their parents' identities. Unfortunately, we do not know of new possibilities for such discoveries that would aid the genealogist.


©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Changing Names to Assimilate...and Back Again

Door with studs

As individuals within a species, we are all pretty much identical; no one would mistake any of us for an elephant or a spider or a barracuda. Yet, how we focus on the differences of our fellow humans, blinding ourselves to the similarities and thus, to the possibility of unity. Dividing ourselves into groups based upon minute differences, our larger and dominant groups make life hell for the smaller groups, who in turn, make life hell for groups smaller than they. One would laugh, if only not to weep.

French Jewish people, in an effort to assimilate, have often changed their surnames to sound more French. After the Second World War, government officials, at the local level most often, urged Jewish residents and immigrants to change their surnames. About five per cent did so. Many of their descendants now wish to change their names back to those of their grandfathers, even though they are sympathetic to those who made the changes. As one descendant said of his grandfather to a Los Angeles Times reporter: "He never complained [about being encouraged to change his name]. Remember these were people who, after what they had been through, just wanted to live in peace. They would do anything to blend in." 

At the time of the changes, some were told that their children could, on reaching the age of majority, choose to take back the family's previous surname. This was simply not true. One must apply for a court order -- something not lightly given in France -- and have a very good reason to change one's name. In a 2010 article for Libération, three people explain why their "Frenchified" names make them feel cut off from their roots. 

One such descendant, the psychoanalyst Cécile Masson, has formed an organisation for those who wish to take back their family's earlier names, La Force du Nom. A discussion of the issues with her and others can be heard on the internet radio site of France Culture on the presentation entitled "Du changement de nom au re-nom". Ms. Masson has produced a documentary on the subject, of an hour and a bit, based on interviews with some Jewish families of Ashkenaz origin. It has been shown at various venues and will be shown at the 32nd International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies Conference in Paris this month. For those who cannot attend, the DVD may be purchased from the bookshop of the Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme. (Two other films planned for the conference have excerpts online: "Le Premier du Nom" and "A Little Family Conversation".)

Should your research into Jewish ancestry in France have run aground, a name change may be why.

Update: in April, 2013, the courts granted French Jewish people the right to change their names back to earlier names used by the families, as reported in the Times of Israel. 

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy