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August 2013

Find a Photograph of Your Ancestor


Photo Album

As the Departmental Archives put more of their collections on their websites, new delights emerge. Postcards of village squares and churches have been hitherto the only photographic fare. There is a church in every town and a nineteenth century photograph on a postcard of every single church, it seems. Looking at them all, one becomes aware of how terribly important each must have been to its community, as Proust wrote of:

"...the memory of those aspects of the steeple of Combray from the streets behind the church. Whether one saw it at five o'clock when going to call for letters at the post-office, some doors away from one, on the left, raising abruptly with its isolated peak the ridge of housetops; or whether, if one were looking in to ask of news of Mme Sazerat, one's eyes followed that ridge which had now become low again after the descent of its other slope, and one knew that it would be the second turning after the steeple; or again if, pressing further afield, one went to the station and saw it obliquely, showing in profile fresh angles and surfaces, like a solid body surprised at some unknown point in its revolution; or  if, seen from the banks of the Vivonne, the apse, crouched muscularly and heightened by the perspective, seemed to spring upwards with the effort which the steeple was making to hurl its spire-point into the heart of heaven -- it was always to the steeple that one must return, always the steeple that dominated everything else..."

Now, an interesting addition to the digitized images is that of photograph albums and photographers' archives. In some cases the photos are personal; in others, they may have been in an album created by an institution such as a hospital or school; in others an album was created to document a particular event of importance to the town; or there may have been a local photographer who snapped anything and everything and kept it all. For just a few examples:

  • The Departmental Archives of Nord have  an album commemorating the 1911 international axhibition ot Roubaix. It is full of photographs of townsfolk and visiting dignitaries, most carefully identified.
  • The Departmental Archives of Dordogne have on their website the collection of snap shots taken by the amateur photographer, Léo Laffargue-Guimard, from 1895 to 1929. Local people have contributed to the identification of the subjects of the photographs.
  • The Departmental Archives of l'Hérault have, in the Robert Valette collection, photographs of many people during the Second World War.

There are many more. You will have to check the Archives for the department in which your ancestors lived. Then, it is a long slog through the photographs, for they are not indexed in most cases. Thus, you must look at the descriptive details for every photo of interest. However, you could get lucky and, as did Jérémie Bourillon, find your great-grandfather in a photo of a group of soldiers.

Let us know what you find!

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

"Mastering Genealogical Proof" and French Genealogy - Part 7


U - Very Long climb

What with one thing and another, we have fallen a tad behind Dear Myrtle's MPG Study Group on Dr. Thomas Jones's "Mastering Genealogical Proof". They discussed Chapter Seven a couple of weeks ago and we come to it here only now.

In truth, there is little of urgency. Chapter Seven discusses how to write a Genealogical Proof Summary, giving formats so exquisitely precise and clear that one could almost call them templates. Many of those on Dear Myrtle's discussion panel and those listeners writing in their comments, as well as Dear Myrtle herself pointed out that this was not so much a lesson in genealogy or research but one in how to write clearly and communicate one's proof well. Naturally, the entire chapter also applies to a Genealogical Proof Summary using evidence taken from French sources; foreign sources are no excuse for logic and clarity to tumble by the wayside.

What we may be able to contribute by way of suggestion or assistance toward maintaining a pristine style when using French sources could come only from our own guide. We use two books, both by the inestimable Fowler (with his brother in one case and a modernising editor in another): "A Dictionary of Modern English Usage"1 and "The King's English"2. Generally, we follow him to the letter, though there are times when our native recalcitrance will send us on a little spree of stubborn adherence to a practice he disdains. His advice on French usage could be quite handy to those of you writing up a Genealogical Proof Summary based on dozens of actes d'état civil, recensements and French notarial records.

French Words: "Display of superior knowledge is as great a vulgarity as display of superior wealth -- greater indeed, inasmuch as knowledge should tend more definitely than wealth towards discretion and good manners. That is the guiding principle alike in the using and pronouncing of French words in English writing and talk. To use French words that your reader or hearer does not know or does not fully if you were one of the select few to whom French is second nature when he is not one of those few (and it is ten thousand to one that neither you nor he will be) is inconsiderate and rude. (Dictionary, p. 212)

Every writer who suspects himself [of wanting to use many French words]...should...remember that acquisitiveness and indiscriminate display are pleasing to contemplate only in birds and savages and children.  (Dictionary, p. 212)

Foreign Words: The usual protest must be made, to be treated no doubt with the usual disregard. The difficulty is that French, Latin, and other words are now also English, though the fiction that they are not is still kept up by italics and (with French words) conscientious efforts at pronunciation....To say distrait instead of absent or absent-minded, bien entendu for of course, sans for without ... quand même for anyhow, penchant for liking or fancy, premier for first, coûte que coûte for at all pretension and nothing else. (King's English, pp. 23-24)

But speaking broadly, what a writer effects by using these ornaments is to make us imagine him telling us he is a wise fellow and one that hath everything handsome about him, including a gentlemanly acquaintance with the French language.  (King's English, p. 24)


In short, do not assume that, because you are writing about your French ancestors, you must splatter their native vocabulary across your pages. If you are writing in English for English-speaking readers, then you must use French only where there is no English equivalent and when you do, especially with French genealogical sources, you would do well to define your terms.

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy 


1 Fowler, Henry Watson and Gowers, Ernest, ed.. "A Dictionary of Modern English Usage". Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965.

2 Fowler, H.W. and Fowler, F.G.. "The King's English : Abridged for School Use". Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1908.

"Mastering Genealogical Proof" and French Genealogy - Part 4 - Elizabeth Shown Mills Responds


U - Very Long climb

We are extremely grateful that Elizabeth Shown Mills, of great renown in just about every field of genealogy and author of "Evidence Explained", has taken the time out of her busy schedule to respond to our citation queries. We give her response here in full, with many thanks.


Hello, Anne, 

My apologies for the delay in answering your questions. ... I’ll intersperse comments amid your questions below . . .

1) Wouldn't it be better not to give English titles for French records, except perhaps in parentheses, if desired?

 Yes, indeed. That’s what EE recommends in Chapter 2’s basic instruction  (“Fundamentals of Citation”) at 2.23: copy the title exactly, then put an English-language translation in brackets.  EE also demonstrates that in over two dozen other sections (3.10–3.12, 6.52–6.54, 6.56–6.57, 7.16, 7.18, 7.37, 7.39–7.42, 7.44–7.45, 9.49–9.51, 9.54, 9.57, 11.61, 11.67, 11.69), using examples from France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

However, EE does not pedantically say You must. Good researchers have differing opinions on this point and most style guides offer options. EE follows the “options” school—one especially needed in the field of genealogy where so many people use relational databases with built-in templates. They can, as you have suggested, use the free-form capability in their software to create the best citations possible, but then those citations rarely convert when they change programs.  

EE’s principle exception to the “quote the title exactly” rule is census records—the category you used as an example in your blog post. Again, this respects the preferences of the majority of English-language users who organize their source lists by categories and then list censuses generically by year and country/province/etc. (as illustrated at EE 6.3). If they identify censuses by the exact titles, then those censuses end up scattered throughout their bibliographies under names such as “Listes nominatives de recensement de population, 1836–1896,” “Riveli di beni e anime,” “Padrons de veins,” and a jillion other names they can never remember.

2) French records concerning the population, such as census returns or civil registrations are organized according to the following administrative hierarchy: Département, Arrondissement, Canton, Commune. This is slightly different for large cities such as Paris and Lyon, which have  arrondissments which function as communes. I do not understand why "Evidence Explained" omits the canton in some cases.

Can you cite the section in which EE omits the canton?   [It was section 9.49, see below] You mentioned this also in your blog of 25 November 2010, but I’m having trouble finding an example that omits it.  The “France” section of EE’s census chapter (6.52) carries two examples, with the following jurisdictions shown:

1856   Orne (department), Argentan (arrondissement), Mortrée (canton), La Bellière (commune), Quartier Tetre-aux-Allains

1836   La Mayenne (department), Laval (arrondissement), Évron (canton)  

 The latter example does not include commune and quartier, but when this record was retrieved that data was not available at the website that provided the image. The QuickCheck model on p. 241 diagrams the Mayenne example; again, there, the canton is included.

The addition of the unique INSEE code for the commune would eliminate almost every possibility for mistakes. This would allow for the shorter citation to give only the commune with the INSEE code and the Département.

I can’t agree that it is better to use just an INSEE code and department name (or the equivalent in other countries), rather than explicitly naming all the relevant jurisdictions.  The INSEE code would useful as a supplement (just as U.S. researchers might add zip codes to locales), but I cannot recommend it as a shorter substitute.  My reasons are these: 

1.       Any time we type a set of numbers, we increase the “possibility for mistakes.” Over three decades of editing manuscripts and fact-checking citations—over half of those years at a scholarly journal that published this country’s best researches and writers—I found far more errors in number sets than in any other aspects of citation.

2.       Researchers need to know the full jurisdictional trail, especially those who are not experts in a specific region.

3.       Codes and abbreviations, across time, are immensely unstable. As historical researchers, we are recording information for generations to come. Shortcuts that we take now will create problems for future users of our work

3) As you know, the recording of births or baptisms, marriages and deaths or burials in France were copied or often written anew by a clerk, or greffier; this copy was contemporary and was signed by the same people who signed the parish registration. This copy was held in local administrative offices. Both copies of parish registrations recorded before 1792 were placed under the authority of the state and ordered to be sent to the newly created Departmental Archives. …  Departmental Archives are now filming the clerk's copies and putting them on their websites.

Because of this increased access to duplicate sets of registrations, I would suggest that, in citing parish and civil registrations, no standard English or French term should be used. The French title of the particular register or film seen is what should be given. … To use a generic term will only create confusion. 

I agree, always and in every situation, that the exact title is preferable. On the other hand, the ideal is not always the reality. Amid EE’s range of examples, the ones that demonstrate citations to series, by generic names, are materials that we personally received from those repositories, whose staffers cited them for us in that generic fashion.

4) I would warn against using a website page as the website identification. The ultimate home page should be, I suggest, the website cited. At times, this may be a Departmental Archives website but it may also be a general Departmental website, with the archives section having a sub-page, along with sports, libraries, taxes, and other local administrative activities.

My response has to be: It depends. With many websites, it is impossible to locate a document by citing only the homepage or root. From there, we have two options: we might cite the path  to follow in order to drill down to the record, or we might cite the URL for the actual record—presuming it’s not a dynamic URL.  In the unstable world of the Internet, both of these options pose problems.  Site administrators frequently change the paths—or they change the URL. Either change can make an online record difficult to locate from a generic citation to the website’s home page. Some online providers are now promoting what they proclaim to be stable URLs—and insist that we do use the specific URL for that document—until, of course, they discover a reason why the URL has to be changed. 

It seems to me that the only safe course we have as users is to include every detail about the record and the site that might be needed to drill down to the record itself.  But that, of course, causes others to gripe about overlong citations.

“A Sourcing Suggestion – INSEE Codes,” The French Genealogy Blog, 25 November 2010, raised two other issues:


“As each department seems to source differently, [using their preferred styles] can be thorny. … Do we respect the sourcing style of the department or do we modify it – risking their wrath, perhaps – for the sake of consistency?”

This is an issue on which virtually every style guide ends up punting. EE addresses the issue in several places, particularly 3.2. There I give basically the same advice other style guides give (but in my own words, of course):

“Because each archive has its own preferences for citing its materials, you should ask each facility whether it has a citation guide it would like you to follow. If you choose to use each facility’s recommended style, you can expect to have considerable inconsistencies within your citations. If you prefer to use a consistent style, you will still benefit by studying the format recommended by the archive whose material you have used. From it, you will learn which pieces of information the archive needs you to cite in order to relocate the material.”

And, of course, another reality exists here: The staff member who is assigned to create these citations, at one or another archive, is often a low-level staffer with minimum research experience, little enthusiasm for the chore, and limited perspective about records and citation issues outside the holdings of their own repository.

As researchers and writers, we cannot please every entity, every person who helps us, or every person who uses what we produce. All we can do is to be as informed as possible, thoughtfully weigh the factors involved, and try not to create problems for others. But, of course, if we ask editors at any press, their answer will be: “You do what our guide says.” 


Evidence Explained, in “stating that ‘Worldwide, these records are more likely to be consulted via the Family History Library microfilm’ suggests giving the FHL microfilm number as well. We suspect that users are gradually switching to the immediacy and free use of the websites of the departmental archives … in preference to the long wait for the rented FHL films.”

Your observation is on the mark, of course. That shift is inevitable and desirable. However, the section from which you’ve quoted (EE 9.49) was one that specifically addressed the issue of FHL film. It was not meant to discount the value of using online material. The preceding section (EE 9.48) deals with online records, using an English example.

Realistically, it simply is not possible for any guide to address every type of media for every type of record for every country. EE offers over 100 examples and discussions for international records, but it cannot do justice to any country touched upon in the “International ” sections of each chapter.

Ideally, what is needed is a comprehensive style guide for each individual country—one that attempts to covers all types of records created in that country for use by historical researchers. One day that will happen. I suspect Anne Morddel would be a good person to make that happen for France.[*]

I notice that you’ve promised to update your readers when I responded to your questions. If you want to publish this as a Q & A, please feel free to do so. 

Kind regards,



And there you have it. Again, many thanks Ms. Shown Mills.


©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


La Réunion Parish and Civil Registrations Are Now Online

The wonderful website of the Archives nationales d'outre-mer continues to grow. Newly added are the parish and civil registrations of La Réunion, one of France's overseas departments. 
La Réunion is just to the east of Madagascar. It has had a French presence of some sort since the early seventeenth century, though the parish registrations now online go back only as far as 1704, and up to 1907. These registrations will be of help not only to those whose ancestors went to La Réunion (or to the same place when it was known as île Bourbon or île Bonaparte) and married there or had children or died there.
They may also be of help to those connected to and trying to trace any of the Enfants de la Creuse, the Children of Creuse. These children were taken from their families and sent from La Réunion to France to repopulate rural departments during the 1960s to the 1980s. Many returned or at least found their families, but some remained in France and are struggling to reconnect with their families. Here are two accounts:




Perhaps, through the civil and parish registrations of La Réunion, many may find their roots and their families. We certainly hope so.

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


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