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January 2014

Tracing an Ancestor of Colour in Napoleonic France


Theatre ceiling

In February, 1792, France passed a law that ended slavery, though it had already been done in some colonies and was not so easy to enforce in others. Nor was it easy to change attitudes and, for various reasons, the governments of the Directoire and the First Empire made efforts to keep track of the people of African descent who were present in France. Whereas now, whenever a government wants to know something about the people under its rule, it simply goes to the computers in its spy centre, during the First Empire, the government asked the police to go and find out.  The prefect sent a message to all of the mayors and they had to send back whatever information was wanted. 

Arrete du gouvernement
Archives départementales de la Charente-Maritime. Cote: 5M7 art.1

 Many of the reports wanted were little censuses: lists of enemy nationals, especially the English, lists of traitorous sailors who might be working for the English, lists of anyone suspected of spying, and lists of people of colour, for this was also during and just after the Haitian Revolution. The lists of people of colour included everyone who was deemed to fit that description, French or not. Thus, these lists, many of which survive, could help trace an ancestor who merely travelled to France. 

Some examples:

  • In 1807, the town of Libourne in Gironde, counted thirteen people of colour and gave details about their ages, sex, employments, as well as differentiating between people who were black, mulatto or "carteron", that is, quadroon. It also says how long each person had been in France.
  • In 1810 the Minister for Marine and Colonies issued an order that he be informed of all people of colour arriving in France. He received a letter from the police prefect of Gironde informing him that an American merchant from New Orleans, a Mr. Gaillard, who was planning to live in Bordeaux for a while, brought with him a woman of colour named Rosette.
  • In Bordeaux, in 1807, a list similar to that for Libourne shows that there were  fifteen people of colour living in the city.  This also gives their places of origin: Port-au-Prince, Saint Domingue, Guadeloupe, etc.
  • Passenger lists, prisoner lists and any other type of list or census also noted if a person were of colour. Thus, a list of those requesting passports to travel from Bordeaux to the United States in 1796 contains one Rosalie, born in Martinique, who was going to accompany four-year-old Emilie Salles on a voyage to Louisiana. (The same passport list contains a number of people of colour accompanying families originally from Saint-Domingue and on their way to Louisiana.)

The above come from our continuing raid of the police records in Series M and L of Departmental Archives. They document in many different ways people of colour from all over the world who came to France and whose names were noted by this nation of list-makers. If your ancestor worked for those who may have travelled to France, it is worth checking these records, as it is if your ancestor came from the French colonies for they may have gone to their ultimate new home by way of France. 

©2014 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

A Comparison of Passenger Lists and the Delight of Detail


3-masted ship

Ages ago, we wrote here about passports and mentioned that one of the places to find them is in the police files of the Departmental Archives. Those police files, in Series M, also can contain little documentary oddments that may  -- in the way that police records tend to do -- have all sorts of information that is useless but personal and therefore entertaining to the gossipy genealogist (and who among us is not such at times?)

In hunting the origins of French emigrants to other lands, we include in our Research To Do List a search of the police files from possible ports of departure. Passenger lists are held by the ports and are sometimes incomplete, as well as often difficult to access and search. They are a vulnerable class of records and many have been damaged, lost or destroyed. Occasionally, they turn up in the police files. When both the departure and arrival  lists for a voyage are available, they make for not only confirmation of the people on the voyage but entertaining reading.

On, in the collection entitled "Philadelphia Passenger Lists, 1800-1945", there is a copy of the manifest of the Lovely Matilda, which arrived in Philadelphia on the ninth of March, 1810, from La Rochelle, a port town in the department of Charente-Maritime. In the police records of the Departmental Archives of Charente-Maritime is a  report dated the fifth of January, 1810, listing the passengers on the American ship, the Lovely Matilda, which sailed from La Rochelle, bound for Philadelphia.

A comparison of the details about each passenger is enlightening as to cultural differences: the French seem to be more interested in the identification and documentation of each person, while the Philadelphians appear to care more about their property. Taking the two sets of details together can provide a delightful picture of a brief moment of each passenger's life, and some mysteries.

  •  Joseph Gaillard was aged thirty-six, a merchant originally from Bordeaux. His passport had been issued by a French Consul General in the United States on the 17th of August, 1809. On arrival, he had three trunks of clothes and a mattress and bedding.
  • Noé Dufour was aged twenty-one, a merchant from Agen in the department of Lot-et-Garonne, where the préfet had given him his passport on the twentieth of October. He carried with him two trunks of clothing, a mattress and bedding.
  • Pierre Servan was aged thirty-three, a merchant, native of Jonzac in the department of Charente-Maritime. His passport had been issued on the thirteenth of October by the préfet of Nantes. Pierre, either a clothing merchant or a dandy, had five trunks plus a bag of clothes, a bed, two mattresses, bedding and a hat.
  • Joseph Foineret or Forneret was a watchmaker, aged twenty-three, born in Louisiana. His passport was dated the ninth of October and was issued by the commercial agent of the United States in Bordeaux. A man with different priorities, Joseph arrived with one trunk of clothes, one mattress, and two cases of wine.
  • Jean-Baptiste Isabelle was a maker of braces, forty years old and from Paris. His passport was issued the sixth of November. He changed his mind, got off the Lovely Matilda, and returned to Paris. 
  • Laurent-Nicolas Coupry also changed his mind, but not before he had given his details: he was thirty-two years old, a merchant, from St. André de Chauffour in the department of Orne and had a passport from the préfet of Orne dated the twenty-fourth of October.
  • Pierre-François Oudin, yet another merchant, thirty-two years old, was born in Sedan in northern France. His passport was issued on the seventeenth of November. He arrived with two trunks of clothes and boots, a mattress, and twelve bottles of wine.
  • Augustin Auriol was a Philadelphia man, thirty-two years old, his passport had been issued on the twenty-first of October by the Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States at Paris. He arrived with three trunks of clothing, nine boxes of sundries, a mattress and bedding.
  • Jean-Louis Sauvaire was a twenty-two year old baker, registered to serve in the army in 1807 but exempted. His passport was issued in Marseilles. He arrived with one trunk of clothes, a mattress  and a keg of wine. He was travelling with his brother:
  • Hippolyte Sauvère or Sauvaire, also a baker, aged twenty-six. He registered to serve in the army in Year twelve of the Republican calendar (abt. 1804) but was not called up. He also had a passport issued in Marseilles. On arrival in Philadelphia, he was listed as his brother's son, with no belongings of his own.
  • Jean-François Lelarge, a cannoneer of forty-one years, from Reims, with a passport issued on the sixth of November, was travelling with his unnamed, nine-year-old daughter. They do not appear on the arrival manifest.
  • Jean-Baptiste Porée, an American, was fifty-four years old and an ex-chancellor. His passport was issued by the Ministry for External Relations in Paris on the twenty-first of October. He arrived with three trunks of clothing, two boxes of sundries, two boxes of sea stores, one portmanteau, a bed and bedding.
  • Louise Lamielle or Lanielle was a lady's maid of twenty-two from Rebay near Paris. Her passport was dated the twenty-fifth of October. She arrived with one trunk of clothes and a bed and bedding.
  • Louis Dangaud was a landowner in the colonies. He was a native of Bordeaux and lived in Pointe-à-Pitre on Guadaloupe, where his passport had been issued in 1809. He was thirty-four years old. He arrived with one trunk of clothes, also one box of clothes, one mattress, a bed and bedding.
  • Esmond Guillard, aged forty-two, also lived in the colonies, but was from Fontaine, in the department of Rhône, with a passport issued in Bordeaux on the eleventh of November. He arrived in Philadelphia with a wife and son, along with five trunks of clothes, one box of china, ninety-five bottles of wine and a basket of empty bottles, two mattresses, bed and bedding. Esmond would appear to have drunk his way across the Atlantic or perhaps he was a thrifty man who hoarded the bottles of others who drank? Or perhaps an early ecologist who refused to throw his empties into the sea?
  • Reine Travers is listed in France in her own right as Mr. Guillard's twenty-eight-year-old wife. A native of Lyon, with funds of her own, her passport was issued in Bordeaux on the same day as her husband's. There is no mention of their child.
  • François Penot was a cordwainer, aged forty-four, from Angoulême, with a Bordeaux passport dated the ninth of November. He was travelling with his nine-year-old son.
  • Louise Congé, married to a Mr. Desplat, aged twenty-two. She, too, was from Angoulême. She was self-supporting and had a passport from the préfet of Gironde, issued on the fourteenth of November. On arrival, Louise, named as "Mrs. Delpla", François Penot and his son were all grouped together, with the following belongings: one trunk of clothes, two mattresses and bedding, a flask and a barrel of wine, one box with fifty more bottles of wine, six bottles of sweet wine and eighteen more in their baggage. Quite a new life was planned!
  • Henriette Curtius, just twenty years old had a passport from her native Bordeaux, issued on the twenty-sixth of November. She does not appear on the arrival manifest, though she may be the unnamed "lady" travelling with Jean-Charles Bori, below.
  • Jean-Charles Borie or Bori was a man who made liqueurs, a liqueuriste, thirty years old, from Oldenburg in Germany. His passport was issued in Bordeaux on the twenty-first of November. He and  young Henriette, if it were she, arrived with a trunk of clothes, beds and bedding, a box of provisions and a box with fifty bottles of wine in it.
  • The Widow Maupillier was born in La Rochelle and lived in Bordeaux, where her passport was issued on the ninth of December. She was a woman of thirty-eight years. She arrived with one trunk, one mattress, a bed and bedding.
  • François Baulos, a merchant from Bordeaux, was thirty-seven and had a passport from Gironde issued on the 28th of April. He arrived with the usual single trunk and bedding and two boxes of wine. 
  • William Kiddy was a fifteen-year-old sailor from New York, on his way home with a passport issued on the thirteenth of November by the U.S. commercial agent in Bordeaux. He carried one trunk of clothes, a mattress and bedding.
  • James Roche Ycard or Icard and his brother, Dracy (Darcy?), the one aged twenty-six and the other just sixteen, were Americans. James's passport was issued by the Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States at Paris on the twenty-seventh of July; Dracy's was from the Secretary of State of the United States. Together, they arrived with three trunks of clothes, two beds and bedding.
  • Isaac Butaud, an engraver from La Rochelle, aged thirty-one, had a passport issued at Saintes. He arrived with two trunks of clothes, two mattresses and bedding.
  • François Movoisin or Mauvoisin, supercargo, aged twenty-five, from St. Pierre on Martinique, carried a passport from the Town Hall of Le Havre issued on the fourth of March. He arrived with two trunks of clothes, his bed and bedding.
  • Louis François Delorme was a fifteen-year-old American whose passport, dated the tenth of November, had been issued by the commercial agent of the United States in Bordeaux. He arrived with three trunks of clothes, a bed and bedding. Do you suppose he made friends with the other young American men, William Kiddy, the sailor, and Dracy Icard? 
  • Ilher or Hiler St. Hilaire, a Creole, aged twenty-two, also from St. Pierre on Martinique, had a passport dated the twenty-sixth of November. He arrived with one trunk of clothes, his bed and bedding. He may have been travelling with François Mauvoisin.
  • Catherine Gizard, who was divorced from a Dufourg, aged thirty-six and from Bordeaux, had a passport dated the twenty-first of November. She arrived as Mrs. Dufourg, with two trunks of clothes, her bed and bedding.
  • Jean Saineric, aged sixteen, was from Lesparre in Gironde and had got his passport in Bordeaux on the eighth of November. He arrived with one trunk, one mattress and his bedding.
  • Menié Barot was eighteen, a student at the Lycée Impériale. He was from Guadeloupe and had got his passport in Paris. He arrived with two trunks of clothes, his bed and bedding.
  • John Joseph Boyreau was twelve years old and from Bordeaux, where his passport was issued on the twenty-fifth of October. He arrived with one trunk of clothes and two mattresses. He would appear to have been travelling with a relative:
  • Marie-Madeleine Boyreau, aged seventeen, also from Bordeaux and having got her passport in the same place on the same day as the above. She arrived with one trunk of clothes and a mattress.
  • Elizabeth Soullier, aged twenty-six, was from Auch in Gers. Her passport was issued on the twentieth of October. She arrived with a trunk and a box of wearing apparel, her bed and her bedding.
  • François-Etienne Magagnose or Magagnos was a native of Portsmouth in the United States. He was a student at the Ecole de Sorèze, where his passport was given on the thirtieth of December. He arrived with just a portmanteau and a mattress.
  • Louis O'Sullivan was from New York, aged twenty-six, and had a passport from Paris dated the eleventh of November.  He does not appear on the arrival list.

There are three people who are on the French departure list but who are not on the Philadelphia arrival manifest: Louis O'Sullivan, Jean-François Lelarge and his daughter, aged nine. There are three people on the arrival manifest who do not appear on the departure list: a Mr. D'ublin, a son of the Guillard couple, and a James Matafort, with what seems to be a bundle of sewing thread and mittens as his baggage. If we knew the questions, these might be the answers.

©2014 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Finding a Grave in France



Genealogists here in France have begun to lament the paucity of French content on such tomb-enumerating web sites as Find-a-Grave or Billion Graves, both of which have little more for France than military cemeteries. There is also GeneaNet, which is building a collection of cemetery photographs, which is a bit odd as it is still illegal to take photographs in French cemeteries. Perhaps they work around this by also including photographs of the monuments aux morts, commemorative plaques (of which many more have been put up recently in local cemeteries giving lists of the Jewish people killed during the Second World War) and, again, of the military cemeteries. 

In the face of the usual resistance, change is on the way, if from an unexpected corner. Groupe ELABOR, an association of geographers and cartographers who also are keen to manage cemeteries, has joined with others to get government backing to set up "Cimetières de France". In its very early days yet, the goal is to do for France -- but through qualified cemetery professionals (and none of these clumsy, amateur enthusiasts, thank you very much) -- what Find-a-Grave has been doing for the United States: provide a database of all names in all cemeteries that can be searched by name, cemetery name or location. It is very ambitious but still quite small.

Even so, it will not be of much help if what you seek is an individual's grave stone. This is because, as we have written before, except for the famous or prominent, it is not common for individuals to have their own grave or their own name on a grave marker. The tradition runs to family tombs which give only the family's surname or surnames.

Finding an individual's grave from long ago is further complicated by the fact that the ever-practical French do not preserve graves that are not maintained; the remains are removed and sent to the ossuary. The thinking seems to be that if the family cannot be bothered to maintain its graves, then the cemetery management itself certainly will not do so. (Those with Huguenot roots fare somewhat better here for some Protestants, being denied burial in Catholic cemeteries and not wanting to be lumped in with the heathen, buried their dead in the family garden -- a practice not rare in some places but pretty much unthinkable in France -- and some of these graves remain to this day.)

So, how to find where an ancestor is buried in France, if possible? Firstly, where NOT to look:

  • The civil death registration, as the place of burial is never noted on such. (However, this document is crucial for other details.)
  • The town hall, le mairie, where the person died but was not buried, for each keeps a list only on those buried in the cemeteries within its borders; if your ancestor were buried elsewhere, only the town hall of that place will have a record of it.
  • Pre-nineteenth century church graveyards in towns - all were destroyed as a public health measure.

 Where and how to look?

  • Have you found the deceased's will? The will could indicate where he or she wished to be buried -- and if money were left to pay for it. Following through to the probate could indicate if this were done. Either or both could lead to a cemetery name.
  • In the late nineteenth century, funeral announcements, a type of faire-part, were the fashion and one for your ancestor may be in one of the many collections around the country.
  • A woman might be interred with her husband, so find where he was buried and check if she may not have been placed in the same tomb.
  • Look at census returns to know where he or she was living at the time of death. Since people have taken up the practice of dying in hospitals which are often not in the same commune as their home, the death registration may be in the civil registers of a place far from where they lived and were buried. The most recent census before death may lead to a place of residence and therefore burial.
  • From the nineteenth century, professional organizations published death notices in their bulletins or newsletters. The death registration should say the deceased's profession, enabling a search of the local professional associations and their publications. 
  • Was the deceased penniless? Lucky you! The may have been a discussion of how to pay for the burial -- indicating where also -- in the minutes of the town council, les délibérations municipals.
  • Was the deceased mad? The insane were often sent to institutions and ignored by their families ever more. When they died, they were usually not reunited with the family even in the tomb but were buried by the institution. If in a city, this would have been in the municipal cemetery. Many institutions in the  countryside had their own burial grounds or used the local cemeteries, among them the psychiatric hospitals of:
    • Cadillac-sur-Garonne in the department of Gironde
    • Saint-Alban in Lozère
    • Fains in Meuse
    • Lesvelec in Morbihan
    • Leyme in Lot
    • Vauclaire at Montpon-Menesterol in Dordogne
    • Perray-Vaucluse in Essonne
    • Bailleul in Nord
    • Montfavet at Avignon in Vaucluse

It is also be possible to request the medical file from the hospital, though only if the person died 150 or more years ago.

Once you have tried all of the above, you can write to the mayor of the town to ask for the burial record. (If in Paris, write to the Bureau des Cimetières.)

Good luck!

©2014 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy 

Soon - ICRC Records of WWI Prisoners of War


Armée Prussienne

This is the year that begins the numerous events, exhibitions, memorials and commemorations of the one hundredth anniversary of the First World War. France, Germany, Belgium, Britain, the United States, Switzerland and many others will be remembering the insane slaughter in some way or other. These have been in planning and preparation for some time and are now beginning to appear. Some of them are long awaited by genealogists and historians.

One of the first series of documents expected to appear online this year is the massive collection of files on prisoners of war from the archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross. The ICRC created in Geneva the International Prisoners of War Agency on the twenty-seventh of August, 1914, the purpose of which was to put families and prisoners in touch with one another. The Agency helped families to find out where soldiers were imprisoned. Via the Agency, prisoners and families could exchange messages; by the end of the war, millions of messages had been exchanged. Since the summer of 2010, the ICRC has been filming and digitizing these archives and expect to have them available to researchers online later this year.

The archives of the International Prisoners of War Agency contain:

  • two thousand registers of lists of names of prisoners of war, with their details as given by the government under which they were held;
  • over six million cards on individuals, which were updated when the prisoner was moved, received medical care or died;
  • two hundred boxes of the International Prisoners of War Agency's administrative correspondence.

They are a record of loss and of intense suffering and a documentation of the Agency's work to alleviate prison conditions (many prisons were visited), to protect civilians who had been wrongly taken prisoner and to enable families to re-establish contact. With these archives, it is said to be possible to follow the fate of over two million prisoners of war held by German or by Allied authorities in Europe, Africa and Asia. If your family, French or not, contains someone who was taken prisoner during the First World War, this archive could be of great interest. 

©2014 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Did Your Ancestor Serve With Napoleon?

1813 Garde Impériale Garde d'Honneur 3e régiment 2

We confess that one of the periods of French history that we find most interesting is that of the First Empire, le Premier Empire, that time when the idealism of the new République was defended so brilliantly by Napoleon against the onslaughts of all the rest of Europe - determined to restore royalty -- then destroyed by the man himself as power went to his head rather spectacularly. It was a time of great hopes and beautiful dreams for the finest for humanity to come so close to being achieved, then to spin into madness, glory and a defeat so humiliating militarily that it tends to obscure the defeat of the ideals that might have changed all our lives for the better.

For those Dear Readers who have an ancestor who fought with Napoleon, and it would seem that there are many of you, there is an exciting new addition to the website of the Service Historique de la Défense, Mémoire des Hommes (finally, one hopes, back to full operation after multiple hackings). The enlistment records of the Imperial Guard and the Infantry of the Line of the First Empire (1802-1815) are now being put online gradually, under the title of Parcours Individuels. The title may seem something of a misnomer to anglophones; it does not mean that it is possible to search by an individual's surname. This, for the moment, is not possible.

What one can do is to search the 1191 register books which represent only thirty-eight per cent of the more than three thousand enlistment registers of Napoleon's soldiers, being those of the:

  • gardes consulaires
  • gardes impériales
  • gardes royales
  • régiments d'infanterie de ligne

The guards are grouped by the following categories:

  • infanterie
  • cavalerie
  • artillerie
  • génie
  • train des équipages
  • ouvriers d'administration
  • gendarmes d'ordonnance

The infantry of the line are in numerical order by the number of the regiment, from one to 156.

The search must be made by the unit in which the man served and by the date on which he enlisted, for that is how the registers are constructed. There is no name index to the entire collection, but there is, at the end of each register, an alphabetical index to the names therein. If you know that your ancestor served as a member of the Imperial Guard, then you need only search the indices of each volume for that guard. If you have no idea as to unit but are certain that he served in one of the above capacities, and you intend to search more than a thousand indices, then you must thank the French military for making this service free.

©2014 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy