In spite of the fine work of the many excellent Protestant and Huguenot societies and especially of the Société de l’Histoire du Protestantisme Français, it can remain a difficulty to track one's French Protestant ancestors. Persecuted, often outlawed and very stubborn, these people had trouble maintaining records of their births, marriages and burials. They kept their own records, but these were hidden at some times and, in many cases, destroyed. Along without just about everything else genealogical in Paris, thousands of Protestant registers went up in flames in 1871. During times of persecution, this left Protestants, quite literally, without civil status, without proof of identity and without any legal recourse.
One way to carry on with life and work was to find a sympathetic notaire would write actes that would document marriages, confirm parentage, record wills, confirm ownership of property, document business partnerships. In some cases, it was a notaire who safeguarded a register of baptisms, marriages and/or burials. Searching through the records of these notaires could help you to learn much more about your Protestant ancestors. As ever, you must know where your ancestors lived. If you do, perhaps they used one of the following notaires for whom the years in parentheses indicate their period of employment):
- In Tours: Charles Bertrand (1576-1603), Pierre Bertrand (1618-1639), Foucault (1633-1666), Chardon (1600), Hamard (1603-1643)
- In Grenoble: the entire office (étude) of Blanc (1597-1658) and that of Patras (1637-1681)
- In Metz: Jean Orly (before 1688)
- In Castelnau-de-Brassac, Tarn: Etienne Bruguière
- In Paris: Antoine Leal (1548-1572) and Eustache Goguier (1557-1572), P. Lemercier, Nicolas de Beaumont (1610-1613)
- In Puylaurens, Tarn, the sole étude reputedly still has the Protestant registers for that community.
There are many more in Departmental Archives around the country.
Occasionally, records of Protestants renouncing their religion or of declaring to follow it again after a forced abjuration are also with notarial records. The mass abjurations of many towns in Vaucluse and Bouches-du-Rhône were recorded by Gabriel Audisio, who seems to have spent a lot of time on the road for that very purpose.
Increasingly, the websites of the Departmental Archives list the names of all of the notaires for whom they have records and their years of operation. More and more, they are also adding the minutiers, or chronological lists of all actes and contracts written. It takes some hours of reading through these, but if you do so and find the necessary details:
- Name of the notaire
- Names of the individuals in the acte
- Date and location of the acte
- Code for the file box where the archives have stored the acte
You may then be able to request a copy of the acte from the archives, to be sent on paper or by e-mail. Getting copies is very hit-or-miss at the moment. We have had one Departmental Archives refuse to send anything, while at the other extreme, another responded to our request with an e-mail of forty pages beautifully photographed, at no cost.
Do let us know how you get on or if you have more names of Protestant notaires to add to the list above.
©2015 Anne Morddel