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November 2012

Remembering the French Children Who Were Deported


Deported children small

In the barbarity described in the plaque photographed above, 6200 Parisian Jewish children were taken from their homes and sent to camps to be killed. There were no death registrations and no funerals and so, almost no record of their disappearance. For those seeking relatives, it has been difficult to find answers. 

The Mémorial de la Shoah has many of their names, but Serge Klarsfeld (who was cared for after the deportation of his own father by the Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants) has created an online memorial specific to the children of Paris. It may also be of help to genealogists.

Les enfants juifs de Paris déportés de juillet 1942 à août 1944 is a map showing where each of the children lived in Paris. One can click on dots to learn the addresses indicated, and the names and ages of the children who were deported from there. 

Screen Shot 2012-11-27 at 23.50.05

It is also possible to search by the child's name or by an address. Spelling can be unfamiliar, so we recommend that you also read the index of names if you are having trouble finding someone. Addresses for about a dozen children have not been determined, and some streets no longer exist. Klarsfeld is asking for people to submit any photographs they may have of the children and to correct any errors.

It makes for sad reading, but discovery of family may bring comfort.

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Lost Holidays

Late autumn


We left the homeland more than thirty years ago. We were young and adventurous and happy to go. We were abandoning the New World and its slightly stale raw energy, giving up America's global bullying that was the sad result of a previous generation's heroism. We moved in the opposite direction from that of our European ancestors, going to instead of from the Old World, to London, literature, theatre, affordable opera and, most of all, history. It was supposed to be for a year or two, not life. It was supposed to be an extended vacation, not emigration. Many years ago, a wise woman whom we shamefully wronged said to us that life cannot be planned. How very right she was.

Like many people who wake up one day and are surprised to discover that they will probably never go home again, we have tried to make the best of it. There have been enough grand moments to ensure that it was not always very difficult to do so. We did not always miss the homeland so much. Oh, we miss family and the lake, but not really the homeland as itself. Except on Thanksgiving, and on that day, every year, our heart breaks.

Some expatriated Americans can create Thanksgiving wherever they go. But for us, the food, when transplanted, tastes dry as dust and the feast seems unreal. True ritual loses its beauty and meaning when dislocated and becomes nothing more than a ragged troupe of costumed folk dancers on tour. Humanity's deepest, dearest traditions cannot live outside of native climes. 

Over the years, we have tried alternatives, American style restaurants in London or Paris or São Paulo that put on a special menu for Thanksgiving. Perhaps it was the local ingredient substitutes, but those meals tasted about as much like a Thanksgiving meal as a singing e-card sounds like real music. One year we invited a group of French friends who had all lived in the U.S. and liked Thanksgiving. Well, when we prepared the feast, it turned out that they detested corn bread and cranberries and pumpkin and yams. That meal turned into a French event and became a very serious competition of guess-the-wine that lasted over two hours. All we are good for is telling red from white. These French feasters were way beyond that, and none of this guessing the varietal namby-pamby either. The winner of each round had to name the wine by region, the chateau, and the year. And they could. It was impressive. It was not Thanksgiving.

Nor did it feel like Thanksgiving when we tried to cook the traditional meal in November in Brazil, when it was too hot to breathe and everyone is at the beach. In every place we have lived, it is just an ordinary school and work day. There is no festivity in the air, no one is sharing the excitement. Is that what it was like for your immigrant French ancestors? Were they generally happy in their new lives, but broke down or become sad at Toussaint, or could not adjust to Christmas on the morning of the twenty-fifth instead of midnight on the twenty-fourth? For us, we gave up long ago and have settled into our own, we suppose bizarre, outside of America, Thanksgiving tradition: we order Chinese take-away and watch "Broadway Danny Rose" and cry.

Usually, the crying starts early and lasts most of the day, as we try and fail to push away memories of loud and happy Thanksgivings around a big table when it is snowing outside. The homesickness is overwhelming on that day and on that day we are very American. We know that much of the world hates our country. Much of the time, half of the country itself seems to hate the other half, but not on Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving, we are one. Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Id, various New Years, are all exclusive in one way or another, but every single soul in America can celebrate Thanksgiving. Whatever religion or tradition or culture people have, they can join together for Thanksgiving, since it is pretty easy for everyone to have a moment of gratitude for food. It is the all-inclusiveness of the day that makes it so wonderful. There was always more than family at the table during our childhood Thanksgivings. The day is not about family; it is not tribal and closed; it is about sharing openly. On that day, once a year, we open our arms to invite and welcome others with old-fashioned generosity.
Now, as we sit through Woody Allen's mediocre film, our mind is full of memories of the many Thanksgivings of our childhood when we had the classic meal as best our mother could afford (there were great years and not so great) and of the many people we invited. Sometimes they were foreigners, students, new people in town, exhausted new parents, the isolated elderly, and many, many old friends. There is a need that we all feel to make sure that no one is alone on Thanksgiving that we find so beautiful in our people. We will knock on the door of new neighbours who may be total strangers to invite them for Thanksgiving, as it is unthinkable that anyone should be alone on that day. 
We have seen a group of homeless people celebrate the day together, each contributing a sandwich or bread or an apple, surely each holding a precious memory in his or her head, sharing. We recall being with a group of students who could not get home for the day and who made a grand table of odd dishes together. We remember the glowing joy in the face of an elderly woman we knew in the 1960s as she told of Connecticut Thanksgivings with her huge family in the 1880s. They welcomed friends and strangers then, as well.

It is the last scene of the film that is the clincher. I think that this scene, more than any other version of the holiday on film, epitomizes the sharing and community that are Thanksgiving.  In a grubby room, some lonely old men with take-away food come together to share and be thankful, because that is what you do, that is what everyone does, on Thanksgiving.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all, wherever you may be, Dear Readers.

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy



Claire fontaine pic

We have discovered Microtoponymie! No, the word is not a fictional Faulkner locale; it is the study of the place names of the minute spot, the lieu-dit. Those whose ancestors were city dwellers need read no further. This post is for those whose ancestors were country folk who, bafflingly, frustratingly, confusingly, gave on documents as their place of birth not a town, village or even hamlet, but the name of a small cluster of structures or just of their tiny patch on the planet.

When we wrote of our walk in l'Hérault, we told of how every centimeter of land in France has been known deeply and thoroughly to humans for millenia. Not only known, we now realize, but named. Whether named with an endearing intimacy with it or a block-headed hatred for it, every little bit of France has been given a name. These names were not noms de fantaisie - Idylwild, Valhalla, Bosun's Snug -- the sort of thing with which you shame your summer cottage or your boat, but were generally derived in some way from the local geography, or a person, or an event. We like the poetry of old place names. In our native California, such names as Calpella (the shell-fish bearer), Jacumba (hut by the water), or Moro Cojo (the lame Moor) enchant.

Our fine neighbour, Professeur B., recently gave a lecture on the Microtoponymie of Périgord to the history association: Hautefort Notre Patrimoine, in the nether regions of the realm and possessions of Eleanor of Aquitaine. He has kindly given us permission to present here a summary of his findings which, though he was quick to say he is no expert on the subject (which in France means that he does not have three doctorates on Microtoponymie specifically and does not pontificate about it on television) we find nevertheless to be most enlightening.

He divided the types of place names, lieux-dits, into categories based on probable linguistic origin:

  • Pre-Celtic names, such as Var (a ravine)
  • Celtic names, such as Les Vergnes (elm trees)
  • Latin names, such as Les Fayes (a place planted with beech trees, fagus in Latin)
  • Occitan names, such as La Bessade (from the Occitan Beçeda)
  • "Frenchified" names ( le francisation), such as Le Maine (the hamlet)

And divided them again into groups of meaning:

  • Simple geography, such as Beausoleil (a sunny spot); Le Champ (a field); Le Cros (a ravine)
  • Vegetation, such as Les Acacias, Les Grands Bois (the large wood)
  • Water, such as La Beuze (a stream)
  • Agriculture, such as La Chaumière (from the Limousin word, chauméro, a shady place where sheep gather)
  • Human activity or constructions, such as l'Aqueduc
  • People, such as La Baronie
  • Religious significance, such as Les Chapelots (the little chapel)
  • Mysteries, such as La Jalovie

As you look through the Napoleonic maps and the Cassini maps, you will come across many such lieux-dits, each reflecting local language and history. To know more, Professeur B. suggests the following books:

The above are works that apply to most of France. Be sure to look among the many others for those that apply to the region and patois of  your specific interest.

Merci Professeur B.!

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

In the Archives diplomatiques - The Overseas Census

Census of French Overseas
A basher of brick walls par excellence, this.  Periodically, during the nineteenth century, the government of France ordered its embassies and consulates to take a census of French citizens living abroad. They complied, albeit in their own sweet time, it seems, so that the years are somewhat irregular. London performed a census in 1833, Texas and Mexico in 1849, Mexico again in 1851. World wide, most posts did submit a census some time between 1848 and 1850 (perhaps linked to the 1848 Revolution), and again between 1872 and 1873 (perhaps linked to the Franco-Prussian War).
The detail of the returns varies widely in usefulness to the genealogist. For the 1872-3 census, Brazil responded with the simple statement that there were 114 French adults and 42 French minors in the country. Point. But Los Angeles (see below), Antwerp, Beijing, Rome, Mexico City and many others sent in detailed forms that give:
  • Surname and first name
  • Place of birth in France, giving the town and department
  • Age
  • Profession
  • Marital Status
  • Residence


Some also give a spouse's name and list children, exactly as in a national census in France.


Overseas Census LA


The index to these census returns is not online. The series is entitled "Etats des Français à l'étranger" and it is a sub-series of the series "Affaires diverses politiques (1815-1896)".   Within the Salle de Lecture, or Reading Room,  of the Archives diplomatiques at La Courneuve, the listing of the fourteen volumes of census returns is in a binder on the archivist's desk. They are arranged alphabetically, by city. The originals may not be consulted, but they have been microfilmed and the microfilm is freely accessible in the same room. They are, as follows:


  • Roll no. 18201 contains volumes 1 and 2
  • Roll no. 18202 contains volumes 3 and 4
  • Roll no. 18203 contains volumes 5, 6 and 7
  • Roll no. 18204 contains volume 8
  • Roll no. 18205 contains volumes 9 and 10
  • Roll no. 18206 contains volumes 11 through 14


If you know your French ancestor was in a certain foreign city during the nineteenth century and you are having trouble learning more, hot-foot it out to La Courneuve and start checking those census returns!


©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

In the Archives diplomatiques - Overseas Civil Registrations


Death Certificate Jean Dubarry

 In our first post on the Archives diplomatiques, we mentioned the overseas civil registrations, the actes d'état civil étrangers, but we did not give much discussion of them. We address and redress that omission now.

French citizens overseas retained their nationality through thick and thin, as the tussle given in the three posts on the Citizenship Dispute during the American Civil War exhibits. They were able to register their overseas marriages, the births of their children  -- who would have had French nationality -- and their relatives' deaths with the nearest French embassy or consulate. They often presented supporting documentation, such as local birth, marriage and death certificates or letters from local officials. The officier d'état civil in the embassy or consulate then wrote up a French civil registration, an acte d'état civil, for the event.

The registrations and supporting documentation were eventually sent to Nantes. Copies were sent to Paris. It is these copies that are available, on microfilm only, in the Archives diplomatiques. They are not online at the moment. The finding aid for them, however, is, as a series entitled ETAT CIVIL DEPARTEMENT CARTONS.

They date from the various starting dates of different embassies and consulates and go to 1884. On the microfilm, the documentation is given chronologically, within the name of the post. Again, beware the article: La Nouvelle Orléans and La Mobile are under the letter "L".

Another location hint is to know that the documentation of many events which occurred in what were at the time British colonies may have been sent to the French embassy in London. Thus, the documents about the wreck of a French ship off of New Zealand, which list the names of all who drowned, appear in the état civil carton for London.

The supporting documents, as per the examples above and below -- the death certificates in New Orleans of one Jean Dubarry and one Jules Guiot --  can be of great value to the genealogist.

Death Certificate Jules Guiot

 Again, you have to go there, and it is a gloomy ride on the RER. Yet, you could be one of the lucky ones and find such a certificate for your ancestor.

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy