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Book Review : Retracer le parcours d'un religieux

Contemplative life
Increasingly, genealogists are extending their research into many types of documentation and archives, in order to be able to identify correctly the individuals they are tracing. Often, this research provides a wealth of evidence that can, sometimes indirectly, lead to significant discoveries. In French research, one of the best ways to trace an ancestor is by researching a family member who had no descendants. If you have a priest, a monk or a nun in your French family tree, then researching that person could well reveal much more about the family.
Archives & Cultures have published this year a very handy guide specifically on the subject of researching the genealogy of those who chose to dedicate their lives to the Catholic Church in France: Retracer le parcours d'un religieux by Jean-Paul Duquesnoy. 
In general, we find it almost unthinkable that any book on French genealogy can improve on the 1981 classic Guide de recherches sur l'histoire des familles by Gildas Bernard, who was the Inspector General of the Archives of France. However, that laudable book's chapter on research in religious documentation is, shall we say, parsimonious and, to the non-French non-Catholic, mysterious. Retracer le parcours d'un religieux, on the other hand, is written for the utterly ignorant albeit reasonably intelligent modern researcher. Its sections are:
  • Quelques repères avant de commencer - which explains the basics of church structure and employment and gives key dates in French ecclesiastical history
  • Où faire les recherches? - which discusses the various locations of the different archival collections. While Bernard encouraged one to write to the Vatican, Duquesnoy stays in France.
  • Quels documents rechercher? - which lists and explains the key ecclesiastical documentation to seek.
  • Les actes notariés - which lists and explains the supplementary documentation created to ensure legality in many cases.
  • Les archives communales - which explains how these archives contain documents such as residence certificates, sermons, passports, etc. of members of the clergy and religious orders.
  • Les sources imprimés - which discusses printed material, such as diocesan directories, newsletters, magazines, etc., and where to seek them.
  • Annexes - which give a lexicon of French ecclesiastic terms and an explanation of clerical clothing.


The book is only eighty pages and is profusely illustrated, which may make the price of ten euros seem a bit much, but we assure you, it is worth the price. Mr. Duquesnoy, a local historian of significant repute, has given us an excellent tool.


©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy