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June 2015

Summer Reading - The Short Chronicle

St Clare

We are a bit late with this post and apologize, but we have been enthralled by a first-hand account of the takeover of Geneva by the Huguenots, beginning in 1529, "The Short Chronicle : a Poor Clare's Account of the Reformation in Geneva". It is told by a Catholic nun, Jeanne de Jussie, writing from within the not very secure walls of the Convent of Saint Clare in Geneva.

Many of our readers write to tell us that they are descended from Huguenots and tell a tale of their ancestors' persecution and suffering. This account shows that the viciousness could be on the other side as well. Brutal killings, mutilations, rapes, beheading children, destruction of religious artifacts, burnings of homes, churches, livestock and crops - all these crimes and worse were perpetrated by the Huguenots against the Catholics of Geneva. Jeanne and other women in religious communities lived in terror of their convent walls being smashed, their bodies violated, their lives cruelly and abruptly ended.

In spite of being terrified, Jeanne never becomes hysterical. Her writing is clear-headed throughout. She is an intelligent observer of the destruction of her world and reports not only on the acts of terrorism but on the political negotiations and machinations of those in power on both sides. She does, however, allow herself the luxury of some quite creative insulting of the enemy. Not only do "scoundrels", "profaners", "sinners" and "vile bodies" fill the ranks of the Huguenots, but the Swiss Germans are "disloyal, heretical dogs", and Martin Luther is  "the pestiferous dragon with the venomous tail".

The editor and translator, Carrie F. Klaus, has provided informative but unobtrusive notes. Though many people of Geneva and the surrounding towns are named, this is not a book on genealogy. As a contemporary account of the Protestant Reformation in Geneva, it may be of interest to anyone researching Huguenot ancestors and wishing to understand better what they may have experienced. To students of history, whether of the sixteenth or the twenty-first century, it will prove yet again, that there are never any good guys in religious wars.

©2015 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Gallica Does the A-Z Challenge and It Is A Treat!


Genealogy blogger, Sophie Boudarel, who writes La Gazette des Ancêtres, has been running the Challenge A-Z for a while now. We last wrote about it in 2013, when she had fifty participants. The Challenge of 2015 began earlier this month and Madame Boudarel wrote of the breathless anticipation of this year's Challenge among French bloggers: "The tension is mounting for participants and their readers as they prepare for an intense month" of genealogy writing. Perhaps idle interest more than tension. Unbounded imitation of American promotional style can lead one to writing like a pre-Internet sports journalist at a boxing match.

The Challenge is now up to seventy-five enthusiasts and they are having a bit of a struggle. French records are often so nicely structured and organized that it can be hard to find anything new to say about them. To be sure, there is a certain amount of subject repetition among the bloggers taking part, with quite a few writing on :

  • Common first names or surnames in a family
  • Actes d'état civil (civil registrations) for the letter E
  • Cousins 
  • Ancestors
  • Brief biographies of family members or histories of towns whose names begin with the next letter in the Challenge

While some of the more peculiar cover:

  • The history of the baby bottle
  • Manure
  • Dogs
  • Bicycles

A few people have given up already -- the Challenge is up to H and some have stopped at C or even A. 

Ms. Boudarel's coup was to snag the blog of the website of the Bibliothèque nationale, Gallica, as a participant in the game and their contributions are brilliant. Team Gallica have chosen to give for each letter a book or other resource useful to genealogical research that can be found on their website. To date, they have introduced:

Gallica's contributions to the Challenge should continue to be truly revelatory to the genealogist and we are keen to see the rest of the resources they will propose.

©2015 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

"Les Mormons" Take the Field

Cnil collapse

The battle over an index to French parish and civil registrations has been raging for a while, and we have reported the occasional skirmish here on The FGB. To recapitulate a few essential points:

  • Privacy protection trumps freedom of speech in French law
  • French archives' holdings are considered to be the heritage of the nation and to belong to all of the people, all of whom have a right to see and use all of the archives free of charge. To facilitate this, most Departmental Archives have websites on which many records may be seen at no cost.
  • Modern times brought the CNIL , which was established to ensure that information technology and its applications "respect human identity, human rights, privacy and freedom", but they have struggled with the pressure of demands from those wishing to do genealogical research online.
  • French commercial genealogy companies have met with enormous resistance from the Departmental Archives as they have tried to make deals to present the same parish and civil registration images on their websites, indexed, and for a fee.
  • In 2013, we reported here that CNIL had granted not a French commercial genealogy company but "les Mormons" in the United States -- who were the people who made the original microfilms of the disputed records in the first place -- to put the images online with an index; though they could do so only with many restrictions designed to protect privacy. Those opposed claimed that French heritage was being sent out of the country, attempting to lock the barn door some fifty years after the horse has gone, as copies of the microfilmed records have been in Utah since the 1960s.
  • On requests from "les Mormons" for a clearer ruling, CNIL altered their previous decision slightly, granting that FamilySearch could take the information to the United States and that the indexing could be done automatically (the previous requirement was that humans do the work). Much personal information must still be masked and FamilySearch must have an agreement or license from each and every department.

When this will finally be up and running, it should transform online French genealogical research, assuming the indexing be decent. And why FamilySearch and not NotreFamille or Geneanet? We cannot say, but we believe it may have to do with FamilySearch being free to use, which accords with the French commitment to ensuring that the people have free access to their patrimoine. 

One can make a very interesting comparison between the two countries in question and their access to public records and who solves whose problems in what way.

©2015 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy