Your Isle de France Ancestors
XXIIe Congrès national de Généalogie - Marseilles 2013

Did Your Ancestor Die a French Prisoner of Napoleon's Enemies?


Grenadier blessé


Oh, Dear Readers, we have had a good six weeks of rain, wind and cold, cold storms. It is a sodden spring, one that has people hauling out those tired refrains along the lines of "this is the wettest spring in sixty years!" It may or may not be, but it is wet enough. This has been good for the seriously depleted water tables that were so low last year that many departments were on water rationing last summer. This rain has also been excellent for vegetation, which currently makes much of France look quite like a jungle. It has, however, been hard on the humans who, trapped indoors for more than forty days and forty nights, have begun to feel like the prisoners about whom we write again today.

Conversely to the subject of the last post, your ancestor may have been in the Corsican's Grande Armée and been taken prisoner by one of France's enemies during the First Empire. He may have died while imprisoned. Finding out when and where he died can be a hopeless task. If, however, you know the department in which your soldier was born, there may be a hope after all.

The annotation in the margins of civil birth registrations did not begin until the late nineteenth century, so any death documentation will not be found on the birth registration of the soldier who died during the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815). However, in the relevant Departmental Archives, there will be series R, Affaires militaires, (military affairs), which cover not only conscription and administration, but prisoners of war. In some departments, local officials made a list, as best they could, of their citizens who had died as prisoners of war in an enemy country, or in hospital. The structure of the list varies from one location to another, but they all give basic information:

  • Name
  • Place of birth or residence in the department
  • Rank and regiment
  • Date of death
  • Place of death

Click on the example below to see the names of men from the arrondissement of Bellac in Haute-Vienne who died in Mannheim, Salzburg, Castalla, Zamora, Colmar, Neuf Brisack (Neuf-Brisach), Dargun, Metz, and the close to home city of Limoges.

Prisoners and Wounded Dead

Without such a list, discovering the time and place of death for these men, so far from home, would be very difficult. From this list it is also possible, using the details about rank and regiment, to then locate the soldier's military service record and conscription list entry. Using the birth date and place, you can then locate the the civil birth registration.

These lists -- where they exist --  are held in the Departmental Archives, in Series 2R. We have not yet encountered any online, but it is only a matter of time.

May you find your man!

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy