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December 2012

Bonne Année 2013

Nouvelle Année 2
If ringing in the New Year is about partying, then certainly the Parisians of the Belle Epoque could do it in a grand style. Champagne, foie gras, and waltzing with the semi-clad had to be a delight in which we hope some of your ancestors may have happily partaken. 
We have had, however, the opportunity to experience new year festivities in a couple of other lands and we must say that the prize for partying goes not to the French, of any epoch, but to the Brazilians. The satin gowns, tails and fatty foods of France are not to be seen. Neither the uniquely arch form of cynicism that is so French. In Brazil, New Year's Eve is in the height of summer and everyone goes to the beach for a midnight pic-nick and swim. It is de rigueur that all be dressed entirely in white. Local custom derives from native and Afro-Brazilian religions resulting in a beautiful tradition of each person sending onto the waves at midnight a tiny boat with a lighted candle. The sight of thousands of small candles bobbing along the shore as everyone wishes one another a happy new year is simply beautiful. Cynicism is replaced by a rather nostalgic charm.
Then, of course, everyone now blows off a load of fireworks. The old year dies. Eventually, all of the celebrants die, which brings us to our little genealogical find: Brazilians with French ties. Though this blog is in English, just this once, eu gostaria de dar uma coisa por meus amigos brasileiros, and for any of you who may have French ancestors by way of Brazil. 
Marquis de Paranaguã

There are, scattered about France and particularly in Paris, records relating to Brazilians. The above is a formal faire-part, printed and sent to acquaintances in France informing them of the death in Rio of the Marquis of Paranaguã, (Paranaguã is a port city to the south of  São Paulo). Below is an announcement of a Requiem Mass to be held for the Emperor Dom Pedro II in 1891.
Dom Pedro II
In addition, there are many Brazilians buried in the cemetery of Père Lachaise in Paris:
  • Francisco de Souza Coutinho, marquis of Maceyo
  • Joaquim d'Oliveira Alvares, a marshal of the Brazilian army (near to the grave of Manoel do Nascimento, the Portuguese poet)
  • Commander Marcellino Gonçalves
  • Comander Jose Ferreira dos Santos
  • Dr. Jose-Joaquim de Moraes-Sarmento 

Important French people to Brazilians who are also in the cemetery are Auguste Comte and Allan Kardec, an interesting combination of philosophies if ever there were one. 


Should you find yourself alone tonight, read some of Comte and Kardec, crack open a bottle of the best French bubbly, light a candle near the water and have a very happy start to 2013.

Bonne année!

Feliz Ano Novo!

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Was Your Ancestor in the French Merchant Marine?



A nice little gift for the holidays is just up and could be succour to the despairing descendants of a seaman or shipowner. The Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime have added to their filmed documents on their website a section entitled Recherche dans l'inscription maritime which contains the following treasures for the ports of Le Havre and Rouen:

  • Commissioning and de-commissioning of merchant ships, various registers - Armement et désarmament des bâtiments de commerce 
  • Registers of merchant ships and of private boats based at the port - Matricules des bâtiments de commerce et de plaisance
  • Registers of seamen based at the port, classed by rank - Matricules des gens de mer
  • Crew lists - Rôles des bâtiments de commerce

The dates covered are, at the extremes, 1730 to 1903, but the majority of the registers date from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries. There are nearly a million new images here, of beautifully readable pages, for the most part, giving histories of ships, including name changes, and details of the men who worked on them, including when and where they were born, their height, the names of their parents and wives, their addresses and, if they died in service, when and where. Most of the registers have alphabetical indices at the end, so check these first to make life easier.

How we wish the same would be done for a couple of dozen other ports of France, especially Brest!

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


A Farewell




Ten days ago, our dear friend and neighbor in the countryside, Clemence, passed away. She had endured her illness and its vile treatment with bravery and her well-known effervescence. She was a woman who adored the countryside and her farm, loved working out of doors. Born less than five kilometers from where she married, bore her children, lived all her adult life and died, she was not a simple woman who had longed to escape. She was an intelligent woman who had made a conscious choice to live and work with nature.

 Perhaps she inherited her love of the countryside from her mother, who had been a belle and city girl in Strasbourg before the Second World War. When war swept into eastern France with its terrifying, vicious suddenness, thousands ran for the train station. They forced and squeezed themselves onto any train heading south and west. Most had no idea of where they were going or even of where the trains were going; they hoped only for safety.

In that mayhem during the Fall of France in 1940, local governments in the southwest requisitioned every available structure – old barns, abandoned shops, apartments, houses, even shepherds’ shelters – ordered that the owners help to make them inhabitable, and put the refugees in them. Clemence’s mother and aunt ended up in Dordogne.

Her aunt despised the backwardness of the place and returned to Strasbourg as soon as the war was over, but Clemence’s mother wrote a post card to her father saying simply “I’m staying. I like it here.” Appalled, her father came to visit, for he was sure something dire must have taken place for his sophisticated beauty of a daughter to have sent such a missive. He found her joyously planting her potager and accepted that she was happy and had found her dream.

Clemence herself lived on her farm, tended her garden and animals with what must have been the same sort of joy as her mother’s. She reveled in the physicality of the life and the glorious Dordogne air. She was belovèd by many, who showed their loyalty and love by standing in the bitter December rain and cold to say good-bye. Her funeral swamped the small hamlet’s church. Farmers, shopkeepers and friends, people who had, like her, lived in the villages of the area all their lives, formed a crowd on the church steps that fanned out to fill the road up to the Monument aux Morts. Never before – neither for weddings nor funerals -- had we seen such numbers at the church. When her coffin was carried out the door and up the short stretch to the graveyard where her husband’s ancestors had been buried since before the Revolution, the crowd followed quietly in the freezing rain. The coffin was placed in the tomb, and a line formed, so that each mourner could pass and touch it, wishing her safely onto the next journey, before the tomb was sealed.

 Clemence’s life was remote from the cities and the mobs but vibrant, intense and perhaps loveliest of all, it was the life she had wanted. We will miss her so, but how many people can claim that they lived the life they wanted, that they fulfilled their dream every single day? We say farewell and brava to a woman who lived a long and full life, and weep for the children – everywhere -- who were denied that.


©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

French Genealogy - the Search in Reverse

Sometimes, it can be advantageous to look at things from a different angle in order the better to understand them. Thus, this book:
"Retrouver un ancêtre français parti à l'étranger : Les français à l'étranger et leur déscendance" by Guillaume de Morant. It is published by Archives & Culture, in their series, "Guides de Généalogie".
At seventy-seven pages, it is a mere slip of a thing, but very little of it is useless filler. Its readership is intended to be those whose ancestors left France. The author points out in his Introduction that many books about tracing the ancestry of migrants into France have been written but that this is the first about tracing the descendants of those who left France. The idea is good, if the presentation of the concept baffling.  The average descendant does not wish to follow an ancestral line down to himself or herself, but works from his or her parents back through ancestors, no? The average descendant of a French emigré would not be in France, buying this French book, unless the ancestor or another in the line had returned, making this book something of a cry in the dark, with a miniscule readership. Fortunately, you have us to guide you to it, and all is well.
We suspect that the convoluted sales pitch comes from a desire to avoid the words migrant and migration, which carry hefty baggage, but that is what the book is about. For those having trouble finding an ancestor's place of origin in France, this could be of some small help, for some groups from some places went only to some destinations. For others, knowing a bit more as to the cause of migration during certain eras could give a better understanding of a group of ancestors and perhaps a clue or two to aid in their identification.
De Morant gives the briefest of histories of the main waves of migration from France, beginning with the Huguenots in the mid-sixteenth century. (For those who wish to trace their French ancestors prior to 1550, he has this to say: "Oubliez!" e.g. Forget it! The documentation was required by law from 1539.) He gives the reasons for others leaving in order of importance:
  • Hunger
  • War
  • Colonization
  • Racial, religious or class persecution
  • Military, administrative or diplomatic service that became a permanent expatriation
  • Banishment and exile of criminals
  • Political opposition

His section entitled "Originaires de Toute la France" discusses where many of the migrants called home. He relates that, from 1650 to 1730, some 200,000 French Huguenots left the country. One third were from Normandy and the Ile-de-France; this group went primarily to what is now The Netherlands. Another third were from the regions of Aquitaine and Saintonge; they went primarily to the British Isles and North America. The final third were from the south and southeast of France and went mainly to Switzerland and Germany, with a smattering going all the way to South Africa. A very useful intial guide, that.

We have previously written about French nationality being retained by emigrants and passed on to their children.  Monsieur de Morant includes this among his three categories of French in foreign climes:

  • The Expatriate lives outside of France for reasons of work and intends to return, thus remaining within the French systems of documentation
  • The Permanent Resident lives outside of France and may not intend to return but is registered with the French embassy or consulate and retains French citizenship, and will appear less and less in the documentation, except that which deals specifically with this group
  • The Emigrant left France and has no intention of returning or of retaining French nationality. Obviously, this person does not appear much in French documentation after he or she emigrates.


The above is in the first third or so of the book. The rest covers how to trace these emigrants in French documentation, most of which has been described here on our humble blog:

The last section of the book covers how to research in the various countries to which these people emigrated, and is rudimentary.

Buy this little book. Sit down with it and with your notes. Comb through both looking for a hint. All you need is one.

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Book Review - Ma généalogie : Comment retrouver l'histoire de ma famille?


Ma généalogie

The above is being sold in the news agents' shops, la presse, and stationers', la papeterie. As the author is Marie-Odile Mergnac, currently the most prolific of authors on French genealogy and one of the most respected of such, we snapped it up at our corner shop. Only to be disappointed; it is a rehash and a reduction of her masterpiece, Ma généalogie : de siècle en siècle, published in 2009. 

Ma généalogie : Comment retrouver l'histoire de ma famille? at 128 pages, is half the size of its parent book and so, is sold at half the price, c'est logique. The photos are all the same, but the children in costume of the larger book have been removed from the smaller. The structure of working backward in time instead of by type of document -- by far the best aspect of the earlier book -- is retained, thank heaven. A free tree chart (six generations) to fill in is included. While the original book is a paperback, the rehash is a hardback.



We are mystified by the marketing strategy here, but imagine it must be governed by price alone. The first book costs almost 30 euros, a lot to pay for what is, for most, a hobby. The second costs 15 euros. The low price and the marketing via shops at the bottom of the book market, where one also finds not only newspapers and magazines but envelopes, rubbish plastic toys and really cheap DVDs of bad films -- things people throw away soon -- indicate not only an effort to reach those with shallower pockets but a realization that genealogical research in France has escaped the confines of the secretive offices of the professional heir seekers and is now very much a popular pursuit.

Mergnac's work is impeccable, so the book is good. If you are serious, however, plunk for the much more thorough Ma généalogie : de siècle en siècle. For mercy's sake, do not buy both!

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Book Review - La Lignée


La Lignee 1

If the English can be said to love poetry and words, the French can be said to love the visual. Surely, France has more museums and galleries containing more majestic and exquisite images than anywhere else in the world. Surely, no one loves a story as told on the cinema screen more than the French. And heaven knows there is no more stunningly beautiful city on earth than Paris. Yet, much as we know this, we remain bemused that the culture that gave Proust to the world is the same one that drools over adult comic books, known as bandes dessinées.

For forty years, the city of Angoulême has hosted a festival dedicated to the bande dessinée, where some very prestigious prizes are awarded. It is an oddity of the French to overdetermine humour, as in their reverence for the work of the slapstick comic and charity worker, Jerry Lewis. In an effort to explain this love of comic books, the BBC (weighing in for that nation of not shopkeepers, but curators) on Radio 4, has done a little study of this corner of French passion entitled Cartoon Crazy.

The genealogy press in France has been agog of late, for it believes that genealogy  has its first very own bande dessinée in the form of the "La Lignée" quartet, the first two of which have been published: "Antonin 1937" and "Marius 1954". The two anticipated titles are "Maxime 1973" and "Diane & David 1993". The books are written by a quartet as well: Olivier Berlion, Jérôme Félix, Laurent Galandon and Damien Marie. The drawings are by Olivier Berlion; the colorist is Scarlett Smulkowski. Allow us an analogy or two.

"La Lignée" is to genealogy as "Superman" is to NASA. Lignée means literally "stock" or "line" or "descendants". The plot might just barely appeal to psychogénéalogistes, for it hinges upon a curse on the men of a family that entails the first born son dying at the age of thirty-three. Since the first two died violently, this is not a medical curse. Since there is -- as yet -- no effort to identify the protagonists' forbears, this is not genealogy.

La Lignee 2

Much has been made in the press about the books being historical, which is deemed to be a good thing for this form of popular fiction. Good historical fiction has a character present at historical events; it does not have him or her replace true historical personages and/or alter historical events. That would be humour, as in Woody Allen's mock documentary, "Zelig". The first volume of "La Lignée" takes place during the Spanish Civil War, with Antonin chasing his belovèd to Spain and joining the Republicans. The second volume takes place during the Brest strike of 1954, with the priest Marius understandably fretting about the son he fathered as he aids the strikers. (Our brother in Oregon, who insists that we live in "a commie country" here, would see the historical choices as confirmation of his claim.) The former has no history lesson at the back, but the latter has one, with some old photographs and an explanation of what really happened. La Lignée has as much to do with history as the "Lucky Luke" (pronounced "looky luke") comic books have to do with the American West.

They are, however, real comic books. We like the familiar, large onomatopoeic words that blare "PAW! PAW! PAW!" (That's French for POW! POW! POW!) and BAM! and RATATTATT! The wonderful angles and close-ups and deep focus of the drawings are classic, as are the facile, tedious tales. Not for the Puritanical.

La Lignee 3

All in all, we want our money back.

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy