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June 2013

Chef-d'oeuvres by Our Dear Readers

 Today, we inaugurate a new list on The French Genealogy Blog: Chefs-d'oeuvres by Our Dear Readers. Some of you have written quite interesting accounts of your French anestors' lives, and some of you have published these and made them available for purchase or as something to share at no cost. We believe that your ancestors may have known those of other Dear Readers, may have mentioned them in their tales, may provide that one detail in their memoires that could break down someone's French brick wall. Thus, the new list of those works by our Dear Readers which may be of use to same.

Should you have produced such a work and would like us to include it in our list, please:

  • Reflect on its usefulness to other researchers of French genealogy - does it mention names of others, date and places or is it too personal to be of interest to any outside the immediate family?
  • Ensure that it is in a format enabling its practical use, such as a book, e-book, PDF file, etc.
  • Send us a copy
  • Explain how others may obtain a copy, whether it is free or must be purchased
  • Wait patiently for us to think about it

Our list begins with a work by a reader whose ancestors were in the Paris Commune and who were immigrants to Martinique and to the United States. Click on it in the new list in the column to the right, just below that stylish "Categories" cloud list. 

Many thanks!

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

XXIIe Congrès national de Généalogie - Dispenses de Mariage

Permission to marry
One of the most interesting talks that we attended was that by Patrick Vigan on the subject of religious marriage dispensations before the Revolution, "Dispenses religieuses de mariage sous l'Ancien Régime", and their genealogical value. There were various prohibitions to marriage:
  • Between people too closely related, e.g. consanguinity
  • Between godparents and their godchildren
  • For a priest
  • For someone descended from a couple who had had a dispensation to marry


These prohibitions were absolute for people related in a direct line (e.g. parent-child) and to the 3rd, or 4th or 7th degree (depending on the region) for people related collaterally (e.g. cousins). (Lest you think this is archaic, note here the recent story of a woman in Moselle who lives with and wishes to marry her step-son, having divorced his father, and who has been denied a modern dispensation to do so by no less a personage than the President of France.)



The consanguinity caused many requests for dispensations because familial relationships were fluid. A godparent was seen as equal to a parent so to marry one was seen as equal to incest. A brother-in-law was seen as equal to a brother and again, to marry him was seen as equal to incest. (To avoid this latter stumbling block to marriage, it was not unknown for a number of siblings of one family to marry those of another family on the same day, before the marriage of one couple would cause the others to be seen as siblings and their marriage to be prohibited. This tended to occur in small villages where the spousal pickings were slim.) 



The requests for a dispensation will show relationships and genealogies of each of the couple, often with drawings and charts, in such plenitude as to cause a researcher's heart to flutter. Where to find these little joys? They may be in the Vatican; more likely they will be in :



  • The Departmental Archives, Archives départementales, which hold the records of the relevant diocese, usually in Series G
  • The National Archives, Archives nationales, hold those made in Paris, in Series Z1o [not covered by M. Vigan are the modern dispensations: from 1789 to 1860, which are in Series BB15, those post 1860, in Series BB11, and a brief period 1801 to 1808, of dispensations for priests to marry, which are in Series AF IV]


Mr. Vigan emphasized the importance of knowing the diocese of the town or village at the time the dispensation was requested, and then to go to the current Departmental Archives for that diocese. This is not easy, and he generously referred us all to the pages of Andrée Parbelle-Marquet, to solve this problem. She has there two simple maps, one of the one hundred forty dioceses of pre-Revolutionary France and the other of the current departments of France. Mr. Vigan suggested to print both and place one over the other to know which Departmental Archives will have the records of which diocese. Yet even with this, there will be certain tricky places, for example: Creuse had no diocese and one must look to Limoges; another: the diocese of Sens covered what are now three modern departments.

It was an excellent talk, very well attended. Mr. Vigan received a deserved ovation when he finished. This brings to a conclusion our discussion of the 22nd Congress. The 23rd Congress is scheduled for the 2nd to the 4th of October, 2015, at Poitiers, with the theme being "Poitou et Nouvelle France".

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

XXIIe Congrès national de Généalogie - New Genealogy Magazine


Archives et Culture

Between talks, we stopped by the stand of Archives & Culture, the company that not only publishes the many popular genealogy works of  Marie-Odile Mergnac, but was founded by her in 1989 and is still sailing with her at the helm. Her dedicated assistant, who diligently sends us announcements each time Madame Mergnac brings forth another book, was tending the tables laden with the company's books, among them:

  • Découvrir ses ancêtres sous la Révolution
  • Retrouver ses ancêtres espagnols
  • Retrouver un ancêtre postier
  • Reconnaître les photos et cartes postales anciennes
  • Retracer l'histoire de sa commune
  • Rechercher ses ancêtres aux Pays-Bas
  • Reconnaître les uniformes 1914-1918

The list is quite long and the books are generally concise and excellent. Our interest, however, was to see a copy of  "La Revue Archives & Culture", the company's first magazine and the first new genealogy magazine in France for a couple of years. There were stacks of the first issue, which was being heavily promoted.

A & C La Revue

The magazine will have ten issues per year and intends to cover not only genealogy but history, daily life as it was in the past, surnames and their origins, regional customs and traditions.  The first issue has articles on:

  • The traditions of bridal headgear, with numerous wedding photographs of old
  • The profession of raising homing pigeons, with numerous photographs of pigeons, some of them with military accoutrements, and with a glossary of pigeon fanciers' terms
  • How to research war orphans of the First World War in France, based on a Archives & Culture book on the subject
  • The mysteries of heredity
  • Family customs of the Chinese, with a few photographs of China
  • Common Belgian first names
  • The history and origin of a selection of French surnames

The editor is, of course, Marie-Odile Mergnac. She is also the publishing director, picture researcher, and contributing author, though there are a couple of others. No problem with unity of vision here.

How does La Revue compare with other genealogy magazines on the market? It is prettier, to be sure. The paper is thicker, with a matte coating. The layout is cleaner and the type more attractive. The pages are designed to be detached and put into binders, and are marked with lines to indicate where to cut and with dots showing where to punch holes. (Bit of a job all that.) Best of all, there are no advertisements! But for a list of the company's own publications on the back cover, there is not a single advertisement in the entire issue. Thus, every page of this magazine, which sells for 4.50 euros, contains solid information for the reader. 

It is too soon to say how useful this elegant publication will continue to be. We have paid the 39 euros for a year's subscription and will write again at the end of the tenth issue, giving our opinion on a year's worth of La Revue. It can be purchased online at  the CDIP Boutique or by post from:

Archives & Culture

26 bis rue Paul-Barruel

75015 Paris

Interesting addition to the coffee table stack.

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy 

XXIIe Congrès national de Généalogie - ANOM


New Homes in New Lands


Madame Martine Cornède, who is the Director of the Archives nationales d'Outre-Mer (the National Archives of Overseas [Territories and Colonies], known by the acronym ANOM), gave one of the first lectures at the Congress, entitled "Comment aborder les recherches généalogiques sur l'Outre-Mer". Anyone whose French ancestors were born, lived, married or died in one of France's colonies or territories would be interested, so the hall was packed. In the audience were some extremely knowledgeable researchers. They often corrected Mme. Cornède, who very politely thanked them each time and allowed them to complete their responses without interruption. (We have long maintained that the nicest French people are the archivists and librarians;  Mme. Cornède's delicate and charming tolerance of theses know-it-alls confirmed us in our belief.)

She explained why this branch of the National Archives had been transferred from Paris to a tourist town in the south. As is always the case with archives, more space was required, which pretty much eliminated expensive Paris. The Director General of the National Archives at the time, André Chamson, selected Aix-en-Provence because a new cluster of universities was planned for the city. Over the past thirty years or so, ANOM have worked intensely to digitize and, since 2003, to put online their holdings, which much improves the possibilities for the armchair researcher.

ANOM contain thirty-eight kilometers of files divided into two main collections:

  • The archives of the ministries and Secretaries of State responsible for the French colonies, from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries,
  • The archives from those colonies and from Algeria which had been transferred to France before the former gained independence

 They cover every aspect of the history of the colonies:

  • Exploration
  • Establishment of a government administration
  • Colonization efforts
  • Slave trade
  • Economy
  • Politics and surveillance before and during the  wars of independence

Then, there is what ANOM do not have, which is copies of records, including parish and civil registrations, that were in the possession of the former colony at the time of independence and of which duplicates had not already been sent to France. Standard procedure with French parish or civil registrations was for a birth, marriage or death to be recorded -- in duplicate -- in the town where it happened, and for the duplicate registers (collection de greffe) to have been sent to the departmental administrative offices. In some but by no means all colonies, a third copy was made and sent to Nantes, in France. If no third copy were made and sent to France, then ANOM does not have the parish or civil registrations -- registres paroissiaux or the actes d'état civil -- for that colony. The only copies remain in the ex-colony. PLEASE NOTE: This is the case for Louisiane.

Mme. Cornède went on to detail what else in ANOM's collections are of interest to the genealogist:

  • Death registers of military hospitals located in the colonies, actes de décès militaires
  • Population censuses, recensement de la population. These are arranged by country. There is no census for Algeria
  • Lists of refugees
  • Passenger lists, listes des passagers, though they are very hard to search, for they are arranged by the port of departure, the port of arrival, chronologically, and there is no name index
  • Artisans and workers hired on contract to work for a limited period of time in a colony, concessionnaires et les engagés
  • Undesirables, such as the bagnards and "mauvais garçons", the political exiles, vagabonds, beggars, and such,  many of whose files are online
  • The Military registers,  registres matriculaires, for Martinique, Guyane, Madagascar, Nouvelle Caledonie, and other colonies
  • Personnel files, dossiers, on people who worked in the colonies, such as teachers; these are fragmentary
  • Personnel files on administrators and judges, apparently the most complete of all the collections

The website of ANOM and its search facility, IREL, are excellent and ever growing. The secret is to keep checking back with it and to keep searching not only on names, but on a military regiment or a civilian profession. However, if it is Louisiana parish registers you are after, you must look in Louisiana.

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

XXIIe Congrès national de Généalogie - Beautiful Blasons


Blason 1

Surely, the prettiest of all the stands at the genealogy congress was that of Jean Boischampion, who is a master of the rare art of painting on glass with metals as well as with colours. He combines this with his extensive knowledge of heraldry to create bright and beautiful presentations of a family's (or city's or corporation's) coat of arms. He explained to us that he works with lead, pewter, silver and gold, and applies the colours with a brush so small its number is 00.


Blason 4

Monsieur Boischampion is a raconteur of the first order and tells of a childhood spent collecting stamps in Finistère that proceeded to a youth spent collecting coins at the Charing Cross market in London under the guidance of Mr. Cream at the British Museum. He learned English from the books on rare coins loaned to him by Mr. Cream. His years in London also included developing a collection of  prints of the coats of arms of each of the City of London Livery companies, which of course took him to heraldry.

He returned to France and a variety of studies and now  has settled in Béziers, where he produces the blasons on glass. You can order one based on an existing design, or ask Monsieur Boischampion to design one. If your family does not really have thte right to one, we recommend opting for that of the city where your family originated. Every French city has a coat of arms, as in this example from the stand of the genealogy circle of Var:


Armorial de Var small


Or, take classes from Monsieur Boischampion and make your own display of your coat of arms. After all those years under Mr. Cream's tutelage, Monsieur Boischampion speaks perfect English and will cheerily discuss any project with you..

Blason 3

Jean Boischampion

5, rue d'Arsonval

34500 Béziers

tel: (+33) 6 74 33 65 61



 ©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

XXIIe Congrès national de Généalogie - French Genealogy Is About To Take Off


Take off

Dear Readers, this may be what you all have been waiting for: Mme. Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, past president of the Forum des droits sur l'internet and current president of CNIL (the Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés) has just allowed FamilySearch International to :

  • Preserve parish and civil registrations, ten-year indices to them as well as census returns, in order to publish the data online, under certain conditions, and
  • Transfer the personal data of the above, again under certain conditions, to the United States, in order to index that data

The conditions will require work, indeed:

  • Before indexing and before putting the scanned documents online, portions of the data must be blocked out: anything concerning a person's physical or mental health, religion, convictions of crimes, should the document containing this data be less than 150 years old;
  • The programme that will do the indexing will be controlled by a human and not be totally automatic;
  • The indexing of the data must be verified,(e.g. the sloppy indexing we sometimes see is not to be permitted);
  • Use of the data will be in compliance with French laws and regulations;
  • Concerning those who access the data on FamilySearch, they may be: those who have a user's account, those who help with the indexing, the general public via the Internet, or organisations not making a profit from the data;
  • FamilySearch must respect individuals' rights as defined by French law and by CNIL and will inform users in clear language of what those rights are;
  • FamilySearch must preserve the identification of the indexers for as long as they hold the data;
  • FamilySearch must put in place safeguards against users downloading large numbers of images or publishing any that they download.

The entire decision may be read on LegiFrance

But will it really come to pass? At the 22nd Genealogy Conference in Marseilles, we sauntered up to the FamilySearch desk, placed in an unusually out of the way nook. We were pleased to see that, unlike at the 2011 Congress in Lille, they took the trouble to translate their handouts into French.

FamilySearch bumf

We congratulated them on the CNIL (pronunced "kineel", by the way) decision and asked how they planned to comply with the masking and other requirements.

"We are studying it and doing costing for it, but we really want this to happen," said the rosy-cheeked young man at the desk. "It WILL happen!" he promised. Reflecting his optimism and determination, more than half of FamilySearch's space at the conference was dedicated to signing up an army of indexers.

Indexing invitation

"Do you mean that, no matter what the cost, you are determined to do it?" we pressed. "There is no chance that FamilySearch may have to drop the project?"

"That would be terrible!" he cried, then said "Well, yes, it might be too expensive, but I hope not."

We asked about the touchy situation with the Departmental Archives. He told us that FamilySearch plan to visit them all, "to be sure of their support and help," which is more wooing than Don Juan could have done. We asked finally how we might follow developments, and he pointed us to the FamilySearch blog in French.

"It has to be the French one, because that is where we tell about it. But we don't say too much because journalists read it and distort it and then the archivists get mad." (Does one interject an "oops" here?)

If the project actually carries through to concrete results, it will be momentous for those researching French genealogy online, for it will bring the longed-for indexing of all French parish and civil registrations, thus for the first time allowing them to be searched centrally. It will also pretty much render defunct the websites of many of the Departmental and Municipal Archives. Presumably, to survive, those archives will race to film records not made available to FamilySearch, which would be very nice for all of us in the long run, if costly to the point of breaking backs for the archives.

Why, after so much opposition to this has this come to be? We suspect that it may be because FamilySearch is free, while others who wanted to be allowed to do the same thing would have charged a fee to users of the index. We also suspect that CNIL believe they have created a series of hoops through which no one, not even FamilySearch, could jump.

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


XXIIe Congrès national de Généalogie - Marseilles 2013

Band 2 a

We are here in Marseilles to attend France's biggest genealogy conference, held every two years. It continues to grow in prestige and sophistication, though the jolly humour and entertaining folks in fashion of yore remain.
Band 1
This year, there seem to be more stands than ever, with the majority still being from the many local and regional genealogy associations from all around the country. There are more commercial stands than in the past, representing software companies, heraldry researchers,and  publishers. Some of the Departmental Archives sent representatives and we see, for the first time at this affair, representatives of a number of municipal archives.
The congress has, as these things do, a theme: "Retour aux sources, Marseille carrefour des cultures", which translates roughly as "Back to the roots [of] Marseilles, the crossroads of cultures." Indeed it is, having been a major Mediterranean port city for over 2000 years. Italian, Spanish and Greek genealogy groups are present, with the latter offering plaster copies of Praxiteles's finest at their stand and a soirée, complete with dancers and Retsina, for all on the first evening.
That theme, along with the upcoming anniversary of the beginning of The Great War, also informs the lectures and presentations. Topics among them covered:
  • Researching immigration in the Departmental Archives
  • Greek colonisation in Provence and Corsica
  • Corsican immigration to Marseilles

There are also workshops:

  • Genealogy in schools (a big subject this year)
  • Palaeography
  • Genealogical research on the Internet
  • Researching families of the Ottoman Empire
  • Researching Polish ancestors

Somehow, the lectures seem fewer and less dynamic than in the past, but we have more to hear, yet. Otherwise, nice conference centre, wonderous sunshine, ghastly Mistral, lovely people.

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy