In earlier posts, we have explained the French census, or recensement, which began for the most part in 1836. As is the case elsewhere, census returns in France can be wonderful for genealogical discoveries. There is but one caveat: if indexed. French census returns have no index, not at the local level nor the departmental level, and certainly not at the national level. In the United States, the recent, uncontrolled enthusiasm with which volunteers raced to index the 1940 census is explained by the need to turn a confusing heap of information into an efficiently accessible tool. This is not the case in France. Hence, les recensements are a brilliant genealogical resource that it is mighty hard to use, being still at the confusing heap stage. Except for those of Upper Alsace.
Upper Alsace corresponds roughly to the department of Lower Rhine (Bas-Rhin), "upper" in the former referring to its being further north than Lower Alsace while "lower" in the latter referring to its being further down the Rhine than Upper Rhine (Haut-Rhin). Isn't geography a delight?
The 1836 census returns for Bas-Rhin are all freely available on the website of the Departmental Archives of Bas-Rhin. Unusually, there is also an index to this particular census, but it is not with the Departmental Archives. The ever-busy volunteers of the Centre Départemental d'Histoire des Familles (CDHF), one of the best and most productive genealogy associations in France (these are the same people who have made the Optants booklets and website), have created an excellent index, which can be searched by:
- Civil status
- Family relationship
- Village name
- Census-taker's comments
Along with doing superb work, the folk at CDHF are no fools when it comes to making a sou or two. The index cannot be viewed or fully searched online. It is for sale on six separate CDs, ranging in price from US $ 55 to US $ 85. Knowing their market, CDHF have made a set in English and the website also has English pages. The search programme is compatible with Windows ONLY, Mac users please note.
Being so costly, this index will be best appreciated by those who have many ancestors from the region. For those who think their ancestors are from "someplace in Alsace-Lorraine", but are not sure of where, or who have only Macs, we think you might as well save your money and spend the rest of your life trawling the free censuses on the website of the Departmental Archives of Bas-Rhin.
Think about it.
©2013 Anne Morddel