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Was Your Ancestor a French Inventor? If only....




As each of us proceeds with our family research, one of the many little temptations to sin we encounter is regret for our ancestors' failings, misjudgements or downright foolishness. The temptation is to imagine "if only..." (the sin, of course, is envy), to dream of how different our own lives might be if only they had lived theirs with a bit more foresight. Depending upon just how grand your lineage may be, the temptation of regret can be quite strong, indeed. We have no profligate princes among our ancestors, who were nearly all Quaker farmers, it seems, but there was one who owned large patches of the San Joaquin Valley during the nineteenth century. He was a rancher, but his son had little talent for ranching and sold the land piecemeal....before irrigation. If only he had hung onto it a bit longer, we would all, as our father actually used to say, be on Easy Street. 

Our father's wanderings in the search for the route to Easy Street involved shady dealings plotted, for the most part, over scotch and clam chowder at the Cape Cod House, something of a small town Hole-In-the-Wall that happened to serve seafood. Most of those schemes never made it off the bar stool and out the door and none of them exhibited a trace of invention or creativity, except perhaps for a certain ingenuity of contortion to evade the law. If your French ancestor were more creative than that and invented something, you may now, via his or her patent application, be able to learn more.

The Institut National de la propriété Industrielle (INPI) which handles trademark and patent registration and promotes French innovation, has a page with a data base of nineteenth century patent applications, named bluntly La Base de données Brevets français 19e siècle. Currently, it has online the details of patent applications from 1791 to 1855, with plans to continue adding all those dating up to 1902, the contents of over 5000 rolls of microfilm of some two and a half million images. Many applications have already been uploaded and the goal is to have all included in the data base.

The simple search, recherche rapide, is by surname of the original applicant or proxy. The more detailed search, recherche avancée, allows one to hunt via patent number (after the year 1844), a keyword or the patent title, the applicant, the applicant's address or profession, the year of the application. 

The results will have, in the first column, a simple list of essential details, called the fiche:

Brevet fiche

If the application has been added, it will include the written description:


There may also be a sketch of the invention:


If your family has a story that an ancestor invented something, this collection may help you to determine if that were true. Better yet, it may help you to gather more genealogical details and to break through your French brick wall or lay claim to a patent. If only....

Even if there were no inventors in your French background, but you read of the fracas caused by an Illinois investor who called French workers lazy, there is a spiffy little video, in English, that lists the country's good points that might appeal to investors.

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy