Previous month:
July 2012
Next month:
September 2012

August 2012

When Your Ancestors Did Not Marry

St Roche marriage 1844
Over a year ago, we wrote about the paucity of marriages in the month of May. In the comments section for that post, some of you speculated as to why May was avoided, and we hazarded our own feeble little guess. The truth, via our energetic and kindly neighbour, Aurore, has been discovered at last.
In our modern lives, our activities revolve around our work calendar. We are free to do as we wish on weekends and holidays and, if you are French, during the month of August. Those are the times when we indulge in our leisure activities and, possibly planning a honeymoon during a holiday or vacation, it is close to those times that people tend to marry nowadays. It was not always so. Most people had neither leisure activities nor leisure time. For the majority, life was in some way tied to agricultural work and thus to the seasons. All else was governed by the Church.
It was the Church that discouraged marriage in May, for May is the month of the Virgin Mary. During the month of the Virgin, connubial bliss, we presume, particularly that of enthusiastic beginners, would have been bad for the couple's spiritual development. The four-day, eight-feast party that was most weddings even up to quite recently would not have been too good for the spiritual development of the rest of the family. 
For those of you trawling the online parish and civil registrations, reading page after page of ink-splattered, spidery scrawl, knowing to read May registrations last can save the eyes. Other times to save for last, as marriages were discouraged by the Church at those times as well, are:
  • Lent
  • Advent
  • Fridays
  • Saturdays


Lent and Advent are times of self-restraint in the Catholic Church. Friday was the day of the week on which Christ was crucified, so self-restraint was again required. Saturdays were when people were supposed to be confessing their sins and not committing them, so another day  of self-restraint.  Our Sixties Californian soul is beginning to twitch at these restraints.

Aurore has also informed us that, in the past, Tuesday was the best and therefore most common day for a marriage. She could not tell us why.  

So, read the registers for January to March and then June to November, saving April, May and December for last. Unless you have savant syndrome with a specialization in calendar calculating, it really is not worth trying to work out the days of the week, which are not always noted in register entries anyway.

.©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


A Vichy Régime Identity Card

1943 Carte d'identité 3
But for a few cases that were of brief duration, France did not have identity cards until the Second World War when, for the first time, everyone over the age of sixteen was required to have one. In Occupied France, these were issued by the German authorities. In the so-called Free Zone, they were issued by the Vichy government. 
Above is a card from the Vichy régime, issued in 1943. It contains every possible way known at the time of identifying a person: a photograph, a detailed description, and fingerprints. Additionally, it gives the bearer's profession, date and place of birth, and her parents' names.
Things have not changed much. The war is over but the card still is required for all citizens and children usually get theirs when they start school. As to appearance, the modern carte d'identité has dispensed with the physical description and the fingerprints. These still exist, but in a database. Our own identity card shows our grim mug, gives our name, date and place of birth, and our address. There is an odd, computer-forged signature that is supposed to be ours. We would never be able to use it to cash a cheque. The rest of the card is a dizzying array of codes and holograms and colourful microprinting.
It looks much more jolly than the one above, as if bright colours would cheer us into forgetting that an identity card exists for an authority to keep track of a person. In France now, as it probably was during the war, no one leaves home without his or her carte d'identité. It is one of the first things young French children learn when they begin to go outside on their own: they must carry their carte d'identité with them. This is because, should anyone be stopped by the police, they must provide identification. Other forms of identification will do, but a person who cannot provide his or her identity card is immediately suspect, so everyone carries theirs.
Sadly but perhaps rightly, the identity dossiers are not available in any of the archives for genealogical research. 
©2012 Anne Morddel
French Genealogy

Military Documents - The Congé de Libération

Conge de liberation


We have picked up a military discharge certificate, un congé de libération, on one of our acquisitive junkets, and we find it most instructive. It was delivered at Privas on the thirty-first of December, 1860, and presents a goodly amount of information about its recipient, Sergeant Henry Joseph Beaumel. 

  1. He was born on the thirtieth of September, 1833, in l'Argentière, Ardèche
  2. His parents were Antoine [Beaumel] and the late Victoire Blachère
  3. He served in the Twelfth Infantry of the Line
  4. His physical appearance is fully described
  5. His profession was that of hairdresser
  6. He lived in Lyon
  7. He married Adèle Poreau on the twelfth of November 1860 in l'Argentière
  8. His military inscription number was 4715 and he enlisted on the sixteenth of October, 1854

Congé - personal data

(click on the image to see a larger version)

But for his personal description (no. 4) and the fact that he was a hairdresser (no. 5) , each of the points listed above can lead to further research. 

Knowing his date and place of birth (no.1), you can go to the online website of the Department of Ardèche (the link is in the list to the left of this page) to find his birth registration, or acte de naissance. While there, you can look for the death registration of his late mother (no.2), most likely in l'Argentière, between the years of 1833 (his birth) and 1860 (the date of the congé), for the banns and possibly marriage of his parents prior to 1833, and for his own marriage (no. 7) in 1860.

On the same website, you can see if his mother left an estate. The Bureaux de Succession appear in an online map which you can search to find the one for l'Argentière, now Largentière. (Best to line it up with a Google map of the region.) With the bureau identified (fortunately, Largentière had its own office) you can then search the list of names by year. Recall that you must search by his mother's legal name, Blachère.

Unfortunately, you cannot search for his enlistment record (no. 8) online, for at the moment the records for 1854 are not up. However, should you have the opportunity to visit the Departmental Archives, retrieving the information would be quick, as you already have the date and his enlistment number.  

Should you wish to pursue his military career -- perhaps even researching the files of his regiment at the military archives in Vincennes -- enough information is given in the lower right hand corner:


Congé corner

 Much is possible in terms of research from this one document. Should you find yourself in possession of a congé de libération for an ancestor, your only disappointment might be that you would find the subsequent research to be too easy.


©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Cattle and Emigration


We have been industrious, very industrious, putting up litres and litres of sloe gin. Sloes ripen in the summer in France, giving the gin-making a blazing hot afternoon association, rather than the cool, wet autumn days with which the activity is associated in Britain. While we have gathered the fruit from the hedgerows, we have heard the grief-stricken lowing of the neighbour's cows for their calves sent to the butcher as milk-fed veal. That neighbour has nearly gone under a number of times over the years, with every threat of la vache-folle (mad cow disease) to wipe out a herd and shut down the market. His herd was untouched, but he tells tales of others whose livelihoods were destroyed in a day, of the ones who despaired and turned to drink, of the one who killed himself, of the one who went to Tahiti.

During The Great Freeze of 2012 we wrote of hard times in the history of France that may have caused some people to up stakes and leave, emigrating and thus becoming the ancestors you seek. In that post, we listed wars, epidemics, famine and the like. Our recent musings about the neighbour and his tales of ruin brought us to consider epidemics among cattle as another possible reason for emigration. Perhaps some dates coincide with and may indicate a reason for your ancestor's departure from France. 

Rinderpest arrived in France first in Alsace in 1610. It raged throughout most of Europe during the Thirty Years War, wiping out thousands of cattle. Rinderpest epidemics occurred in:

  • 1714, when it killed 90% of all cattle in the Paris region
  • 1769 to 1770, over 60,000 cattle died in the north of France
  • 1771 in Picardie
  • 1773 over much of the northern half of France
  • 1774 infected hides from Holland took the disease to the Southwest of France
  • 1775 over 150,000 cattle died throughout the country
  • 1796, more than 11,000 cattle died in Bas-Rhin, and 130,000 in the rest of France
  • 1814-1815 - at the end of the Napoleonic Wars,  the conquering armies brought diseased cattle with them, causing another epidemic

 Foot and Mouth Disease, called cocotte in France, was often confused with other diseases, but there were epidemics of it in:

  • 1779, in Lorraine (allowing the French farmers to blame the Germans again)
  • 1809 to 1813, at the height of the Napoleonic Wars, in Haut-Rhin, Ardennes, Vosges, Corrèze and the Pyrénées
  • 1834-1835 - Vosges suffered again
  • 1838-1839, in Alsace and Lorraine
  • 1842, in Finistère

Contagious Bovine Pleuropneumonia is called murie in parts of France and was distressingly common, so much so that people simply accepted it as normal among their animals. The infection rate had to be exceptional to be noted as an epidemic, as it was in :

  • 1744, in Franche-Comté
  • 1822 in Puy-de-Dôme
  • 1840 in Cantal, Aveyron and Lozère
  • 1847 -1849, in Ardèche

Gloss-anthrax, called charbon de langue, a nasty disease that can kill a cow or horse in a couple of days, raged in:

  • 1682, in Lyon
  • 1731-1732, throughout France, but especially in Languedoc
  • 1762 and in 1787, in Normandy
  • 1763, in and around Limoges
  • 1780, in Fontainebleau
  • 1802, in Dordogne and Haute-Garonne

 Do any of these dates immediately precede your ancestor's departure? Are there tales and dark mutterings of typhus contagieux des bêtes à cornes (rinderpest), cocotte, murie, or charbon de langue in your family's background? Now, you may know why.

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

An Internal Passport from the First Empire

1807 Passeport

We wrote about passe-ports in a previous post. We described an internal passport but were not able to display any of our many photographs of them, due to the high fees required by the Departmental Archives for the use of images of their holdings (fair enough for them to charge fees but as this blog charges none, we attempt to keep our costs low). A few days ago, on our trundlings through the premises of various brocantes, we found a passport for sale, à vendre, and happily snapped it up. But for a couple of creases, it is in rather good condition, enabling you to read it easily.

As we described before, the French passport of the 19th century was a sheet of paper that separated into two parts along a curved line. One part was kept by the voyager and constituted the passport. The other part was kept by the issuing authority. The issuer for an internal passport, such as this one, was the adminitrative centre, the chef-lieu, closest to where the person lived, in this case, Belloc in Haute-Vienne. Its copy of the above passport, if it has survived, would be found in the Departmental Archives of Haute-Vienne.

The genealogical value of such a document is basic. One might learn a full name, and a date and place of birth that were not yet known. Then, it would be possible to go to the archives or to write to the commune to obtain a copy of the birth registration, which would reveal a bit more. We find the true value of an internal passport to be in that it provides personal details about the individual, revealing more of the human being than even the largest collection of administratively required data can do. 

In this case, a rather short, illiterate (his passport shows that he could not sign his name) sixteen-year-old boy who has a big nose, grey eyes, a wide forehead and a scar over his right eye-brow is on his way from the town of his birth to Crecy. He would be travelling from a village of about 2000 people, where a dialect of Occitan would have been spoken, far north to Crécy. Why?  It was 1807, during the Premier Empire and the Napoleonic Wars and he was of an age for military service. Perhaps he was going north to join a unit. Perhaps he was going north to escape the service. Perhaps to visit relatives or to find work. The passport does not give a reason for travel, but it does give an image of the boy, making him not just another name in an ever-growing genealogy data-base, but a person.

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

More on Researching Ancestors in the French Military

Medailles militaires 3 small

The association that calls itself Ancestramil has set up a nice website aimed at helping researchers find their ancestors in the French military. They cover not only genealogy but also the history of military units and French military history in general. A large amount of what can be found there is duplicated elsewhere, especially on the website of the Service Historique de la Défense, and this is freely admitted. The real benefit of the site is the association's effort to unify the many sources in one place, making initial research on an ancestor much easier.

Carte du Combattant recto small

 As they add the lists from the SHD or other archives, they enter the names into their central database. They now have close to 400,000 names. Still, when we searched (using Outils de recherches, then the search box Patronymes) for the name of the man whose card is above, only one person came up. This is suspect for it is a fairly common name. The Jean Lachaud in the search result appeared on a list of men who served in the 14th Regiment of Infantry of the Line from 1806 to 1813. He was clearly not the man in the card, who was born in 1890.

Ancestramil is stronger on the history of battles in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It also has a good beginning collection of prisoner lists and genealogies contributed by members. It remains to be seen if this site will grow into something truly useful, or if it will be one of those sites that crop up out of nowhere, seemingly the passion of a lonely soul typing in the dark, that then peter out as futility and despair creep into the site master's isolated heart.

PLEASE NOTE: The original document used on this post is for sale. Send us an e-mail at amerigen (AT) yahoo (DOT) com to know more.

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy