Previous month:
September 2013
Next month:
November 2013

October 2013

The Workers' Convoys to Algeria

Barbary Lion

The year 1848 was one of uprisings across Europe and there were two in France. In February, after a period too long of unemployment, financial crises, bad harvests and a constitutional monarch quashing freedoms in an effort to roll back history and bring back an absolute monarchy to France, people lost patience and took to the streets. The streets of Paris were barricaded, there were fights, the Prime Minister resigned. Outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, soldiers fired into the crowd, killing fifty-two people. The king abdicated and moved to Britain (where else?).

The Second Republic was formed, pleasing no one. At first, jobs and workshops were created for the unemployed. One of the rebels was made a sort of consultant or token worker in government. Radicals wanted more democracy, opportunity and freedom. Conservatives, as ever, wanted the same things but only for themselves. Mobs took to the streets again in June. Karl Marx was in Paris at the time and was most hopeful. However, the revolution was crushed.  It took over 120,000 soldiers to overpower armed workers and their families. Afterward, the government became more repressive and somewhat vengeful. 

Even before the June Days uprising, the mayor of the First arondissement of Paris had been promoting the idea of sending the unemployed and their families to colonize Algeria. By September, it was a plan, approved by the Ministry for War and by the Senate. Money was approved for the establishment of agricultural colonies and the offer to the poor was made.

Only volunteers were accepted, and they had to be workers. They and their families had to be French citizens. They had to complete a form, produce a certification of "good morals" (presumably from their local mayor) and a doctor's certificate of good health. They were promised land and financial support. The land was to become theirs after they had successfully farmed it for a few years. The number of people to be accepted as colonists was set at 12,500 but there were many, many more applicants, so it was raised to 13,500. In the end, the numbers of those who went were 13,903 adults and 391 children.

The first convoy left from Bercy in October,  165 years ago. Over the next six months, there would be sixteen more convoys of workers turned colonists, the majority from Alsace and Lorraine. It took them about two weeks to get to Marseilles, travelling on inland rivers and then by train, then about three or four days to sail the Mediterranean to Algeria. Their colonies in Algeria were named:

  • Saint-Cloud
  • Saint-Leu
  • Rivoli
  • El-Affroun
  • Castiglione
  • Tefeschoun
  • Bou Haroun
  • Robertville
  • Gastonville
  • Fleurus
  • Saint-Louis
  • Damiette
  • Lodi
  • Montenotte
  • Pontéba
  • La Ferme
  • Jemmapes
  • Mondovi
  • Marengo
  • Novi
  • Zurich
  • Argonne
  • Héliopolis
  • Aboukir
  • Millesimo

There were successes and catastrophes. Most of the colonists and then their descendants stayed until the Algerian War for independence began in the 1950s. Then, though many came to France, many others went elsewhere in this wide world.

If you find that your family history travels this very strange path of being starved into rebellion, suppressed, then packed off to a colony, there are some blogs and websites dedicated to documenting these people:

  • Emigration Algérie covers the Alsatians who went on the convoys.
  • Algérie Migrants - by the same people as the above, lists all of the villages from which the Alsatian colonists came.
  • Généalogie Algérie Maroc Tunisie - is the genealogy association concerned with the French of North Africa. They have a number of well-written publications and a search box for surnames on their website, which is excellent.
  • The website of the Archives nationales d'Outre-Mer, about which we have written before, have the civil registrations of Algeria online.

Bonne chasse!

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

French Jewish Genealogy - La Revue des Etudes Juives


Arabesque 2

You know how it is when the research bug bites and it is impossible to stop. More, when the discoveries come thick and fast, you think you have struck some sort of gold, as indeed it can be -- a lovely, golden flow of discovery of history and ideas and family connection. In short, we have found a gem we wish to share about French Jewish genealogical research: La Revue des études juives, begun in Paris by the Société des Etudes Juives in 1880 and still going strong. Long  articles, scholarly and erudite -- especially in the earlier volumes -- provide abundant information that is not only historical but often genealogical. We give examples of titles:

  • Les Juifs en Bretagne au XVIIIe Siècle 
  • Les Juifs de Montpellier au XVIIIe Siècle
  • Les Juifs dans les Colonies Françaises au XVIIIe Siècle
  • Le Trèsor des Juifs Sephardim - notes sur les familles françaises isréalites du rit portugais
  • Inscriptions Hèbraïques d'Arles
  • Jacob Backofen, rabbin de Metz
  • La douane de Lyon et les juifs
  • Marchands juifs en 1670
  • Concile d'Orléans et les relations entre juifs et chrétiens (mariages)

 Some articles continue through many issues and really are books. All quote their sources and, if the sources are in the archives, give the facility and the code. Articles are not only in French. Many are in German, some in English, some in Hebrew, some in Italian. Nor is the subject matter limited to France. It is those that are in French, however, that seem to contain more information that can help the genealogist. Correspondence and many other documents are copied in full. In at least one article a complete list of names from a census is given. Individual court cases are described. People's lives are explored in detail. For those who cannot travel to France to use her many archives to research their French Jewish genealogy, this publication can be a gift indeed.

The Revue can be found around the Internet. For ease of use, we prefer to use the Index to the first fifty volumes via the Internet Archive. It is an excellent index, with headings for both authors and subjects. Thus, just looking up a city, such as Bordeaux or Lyon, or a region, such as Lorraine, will give a list of articles. Then, we go to Scribd, where the wonderful folks at Patrologia, bless them, have uploaded all the early volumes of the Revue.


©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Books - Documents on the Jewish Community of 18th Century Paris


Louvre Lamp


In 1913, the Society of the History of Paris and of the Ile de France brought out a book by Paul Hildenfinger, Documents sur les Juifs à Paris au XVIIIe Siècle : Actes d'Inhumation et Scellés. This is doubly a treasure, since pre-1871 Paris genealogy and pre-Revolutionary French Jewish genealogy are both very difficult areas of research.

The author, who spent months researching the documentation of the deaths of Jewish people in Paris in the eighteenth century, did not live to see the publication. Originally from Lille, he trained at the Ecole des Chartes as an archivist and paleographer, then worked at the Bibliothèque Nationale.  The research for this book did not come from his work but from his personal interest.

As Hildenfinger explains in his Introduction, eighteenth century French law stated that priests or curates were required to maintain registers of births, marriages and burials of every member of their parish. The law did not extend to non-Catholics, who were refused burial in Catholic cemeteries. While many Protestant pastors kept near-identical registers, the leaders of other religions often did not, or those records have not survived.

However, it was also required by law that the police were not to allow any burial without some sort of record of death. This particular law, enacted in 1736, was primarily intended for the documentation of Protestants and stated that, where there was no Catholic parish record of burial, an affidavit concerning the deceased was required before burial could take place. It ended up being applied to those of other religions, including Greek Orthodox and Jewish, as well as to a variety of foreigners, duellists and suicides.

It was the local police superintendent, of whom there were about twenty in Paris, who went to the home of the deceased and wrote the necessary documentation. Those documents that remain are in the Y series of the Archives nationales and it is these that Mr. Hildenfinger abstracted. Generally, he tells, the documentation includes:

  1. The declaration of death, by witnesses, neighbours or friends, whether Christian or Jewish, with their full names, the places of origin, their addresses in Paris. Sometime there may also be their professions and their relationship to the deceased. They signed, in French or Hebrew.
  2. The death report and identification of the corpse, with the full name, age, address, religion, and place of origin of the deceased.
  3. After 1737, comments by the Attorney General of Châtelet, to whom the report had to be submitted, giving the name of the deceased and the place of burial.
  4. The police authorisation for burial.

The scellé refers to the documentation concerning the sealing off by law of the deceased's property in order to protect the heirs and/or creditors. Often, it was used by the state to take possession of the property.

In all, Hildenfinger found 176 documents about 171 Jewish persons who died and describes them fully. The index is excellent. The Introduction could be used as a research guide to the subject on its own. Read it on Gallica:

Documents sur les juifs à Paris au XVIIIe siècle : actes d

Documents sur les juifs à Paris au XVIIIe siècle : actes d'inhumation et scellés / recueillis par P. Hildenfinger ; [publié par Alexandre Vidier]

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Did Your Ancestor Die a Prisoner of Napoleon?

Tracing a soldier's or sailor's death that occurred during warfare is often a struggle, especially when trying to conduct the research online. The death may appear in the files of his military service, though it may at times be quite vague, understandably. If the man died in battle, there is a better chance of a death having been noted in his military file than if he died later of wounds or in a prisoner of war camp, as communications between enemies are always fraught.
During the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), many thousands of prisoners of war were taken by the French and sent to camps, called dépôts, throughout the country. We have written before of the civilian British prisoners, of whom some writers say there were over nineteen thousand, though the French records we have seen admit to only about sixteen thousand.
In addition to the civilian prisoners, there were, of course, military, naval and merchant marine prisoners. They were of many nationalities and vast numbers. There were so many Spanish that they ended up imprisoned in fifty-one departments. Seventy thousand Polish, Russian, and Austrian prisoners were taken after the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805 and twenty thousand more Austrians were taken and sent to France the following year. The archives are full of frantic missives from local mayors across France insisting that they cannot house, feed or guard the thousands of prisoners being sent to their towns.
Should you be tracing an ancestor who was not French but may have been such a prisoner who died in France, there is a good chance -- now that so many of the Departmental Archives have put their actes d'état civil online -- of finding a death registration. Firstly, however, you need to know the towns where the prison depots were. The main ones were:
  • Bitche in the department of Moselle
  • Sarrelibre or Sarrelouis, now in Germany
  • Valenciennes, Maubeuge and Cambrai, in the department of Nord
  • Arras, in the department of Pas-de-Calais
  • Auxonne, in the department of Côte-d'Or
  • Besançon, in the department of Doubs
  • Longwy, in the department of Meurthe-et-Moselle
  • Briançon and Mont-Dauphin, in the department of Hautes-Alpes
  • Givet, Charlemont and Sedan, in the department of Ardennes
  • Joux in the department of Rhône


Many of the towns above were chosen because they had fortresses built by Vauban, from which it was as difficult to escape as the defenses of which were difficult to breach. Many coastal towns with fortresses, such as Brest, Dunkirk and Marseilles, also held prisoners, as did anyplace with a big enough jail in a pinch, especially when they were being marched from one place to another.
If a prisoner died, a death registration was written. Depending on the local officials, it may have been quite simple, giving only the man's name and nationality, as in the example below showing the death of "François Kersten, prisoner of war, prussian, native of Breslo [Wroclaw], department of Sillesie [Silesia, Poland]"  aged twenty-eight, died in hospital at the prison town of Briançon in 1814.




Some give the names of parents. By reading through the death (and marriage, by the way!) registrations for the years from 1803 to 1815  in these towns, you may find your ancestor. We hope so! 

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Book Review : The Huguenots

Geoffrey Treasure's hefty "The Huguenots" was published by Yale University Press earlier this year with this blurb from the publisher:
Following the Reformation, a growing number of radical Protestants came together to live and worship in Catholic France. These Huguenots survived persecution and armed conflict to win—however briefly—freedom of worship, civil rights, and unique status as a protected minority. But in 1685, the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes abolished all Huguenot rights, and more than 200,000 of the radical Calvinists were forced to flee across Europe, some even farther.   In this capstone work, Geoffrey Treasure tells the full story of the Huguenots’ rise, survival, and fall in France over the course of a century and a half. He explores what it was like to be a Huguenot living in a “state within a state,” weaving stories of ordinary citizens together with those of statesmen, feudal magnates, leaders of the Catholic revival, Henry of Navarre, Catherine de’ Medici, Louis XIV, and many others. Treasure describes the Huguenots’ disciplined community, their faith and courage, their rich achievements, and their unique place within Protestantism and European history. The Huguenot exodus represented a crucial turning point in European history, Treasure contends, and he addresses the significance of the Huguenot story—the story of a minority group with the power to resist and endure in one of early modern Europe’s strongest nations.
For a few years, now, authors -- and some readers -- have bemoaned the collapse of the infrastructure of publishing companies and Mr. Treasure's thorough history is a good example of why. Publishing companies have been doing away with employees such as editors, fact-checkers, proofreaders. In their places, they have one. 
Mr. Treasure retired from his job as senior master at Harrow School when he was sixty-two, in 1992. Since then, he has published a number of books, including a biography of Mazarin. "The Huguenots" is an extraordinarily comprehensive history of the French Protestants, placing them in the context of European Protestant beginnings and showing that they were not passive victims of religious persecution but were themselves most militant, marching into war bellowing their own Battle Psalm. He is clearly an expert on his subject, but Mr. Treasure's erudition -- and his readers -- have been sorely let down by his publisher's failings:
  • An editor would have helped Mr. Treasure clarify just what type of book he was writing, either scholarly treatise or popular history. Though the book is marketed to the general public, the author seems to assume the reader has an extensive knowledge of French history under his or her belt. We required a couple of encyclopaedias to help us along, as well as complete genealogies of the Valois and Bourbons.
  • An editor might have pointed out that end notes that refer to other pages in the book are not much help. Essentially, they say "I'll get to that later."
  • A proofreader or fact checker might have caught typos and mistaken dates, such as that concerning one of the crucial events before the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew's Day, the hanging of Philippe de Gastine, given as being in 1569 instead of 1571; or the transposition that places Achille de Harlay's petition to the king in 1589 instead of 1598.
  • An editor would have guided Mr. Treasure's style from one that reads like a bumpy ride on a bad road (often giving the sense that we are reading his notes) to a smoother prose with greater clarity. 
  • The little Glossary is a nice touch, especially as Mr. Treasure sprinkles his writing with rather a large number of French words.
  • A few maps would have helped.
  • A chronology would have helped.
  • A bit less popular psychology as an effort to explain barbarism would have helped.

In short, imperfect but essential. 

Click on the cover in the right-hand column of this page to buy it.

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Occitan and Southern France



Many of our Dear Readers have written to say that -- since discovering their French ancestry -- they have been studiously learning French, but we say to hold your horses. If your ancestors came from the southern half of France, though they would have spoken French at school and work, but at home they would have spoken Occitan, (once known as Limousin and in the far south as Provençal). It was the language of the troubadours, such as Bertran de Born,  and of Eleanor of Aquitaine. 

The area where Occitan was and still is spoken, called Occitania, stretches across France from the Atlantic to the Alps, with the southern boundary being the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean, and the northern boundary being a bit more vague than the others but including the regions of Limousin, the Auvergne and the southern half of Rhone-Alpes, thus, almost half of modern France. All those ancestors from Albi, Toulouse, Barcelonette, Bordeaux, Montauban, Montpellier, Nice, etc. spoke French well enough, but their native tongue was Occitan. 

To know more about the history and dialects of Occitan, we recommend the pages on it at If you wish to read the most detailed and haughty description, we recommend the article from the Glorious Eleventh. If you wish to try reading the news in Occitan, there is La Setmana. For a blog in Occitan about events in Occitan, read Rubrica en òc. For a radio broadcast, there is the regular show, "Meitat chen, meitat porc" on France bleu. Type Occitan in the YouTube search box and get thousands of results, including this cutie pie singing the Occitan Hymn. (The melody sure sounds like a familiar other.) Be sure to read the comments below this video to get a feel of just how important the language still is to many.

There are almost no parish registrations and definitely no civil registrations written in Occitan, so to be sure, keep up the French lessons. If, however, your ancestors spoke Occitan, we suggest a few lessons in that as well.

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy