Previous month:
September 2015
Next month:
November 2015

October 2015

XXIII Congrès national de Généalogie - Archives


Monsieur Benoît Jullien is the Director of the Departmental Archives of Vienne. His bosses at the General Council of Vienne are fiercely opposed to the commercialization of the archives and have been in a court battle with NotreFamille, who own Géné, since 2009, trying to block their commercial use of and indexing of images of parish and civil registrations and census returns taken from their website. In 2013, Vienne won a judgment handed down by the Tribunal in Poitiers, the court approving their argument that, as they had spent 230,000 euros to digitize the records, they owned the database, making it their intellectual property. The French law on intellectual property clearly states that if the product were created by an entity in the public sector, it could be used strictly and only in a way necessary to fulfill the functions of public service, (such as ensuring free access to public archives). And anyway, Vienne added, "it is indecent to make money from the work done with public funding".

Another argument has been that this commercialization, by charging a fee for access, actually infringes upon the freedom of access to the records in question, which was enshrined in a 1978 law. NotreFamille countered with a 2005 law that mandated that archives, as a part of France's national heritage, must be available to be used freely by all citizens. In February of this year, a court of appeal at Bordeaux annulled the Poitiers decision and it seemed that NotreFamille, who have fought in courts against every similar objection of Departmental Archives around the country, had won.

Tempers were high; articles appeared in the press with such titles as "Your Ancestors Will Soon Be For Sale". But the court of appeal had only annulled the Poitiers decision and then said it would issue a new decision soon. Lo and behold, that decision was that the Departmental Archives of Vienne did own the database that they had created and could limit its re-use to public service organizations, as it wished to do. It added that NotreFamille is not a public service organization. So, though the Departmental Archives of Marne, Essonne and others lost in their courts against NotreFamille and their records are appearing on Géné, Vienne did not and those records of Vienne would not be appearing on that website.

The battle continued when NotreFamille appealed to the Council of State in April and asked it to rule on the constitutionality of the Bordeaux decision. The General Council of Vienne had ten days to prepare their case. That cost the city another 6000 euros. Last month, the Council of State ruled, and confirmed that Vienne is the owner of its database and, therefore, can decide who may republish it and how. It also refused to refer the case to the Constitutional Council. Those who see the issue as one of free access to mean also financially free cheered, while those who see the issue as one of free access to mean an unqualified absolute despaired that this was a blow to open data. Almost immediately, a lawmaker (who happens to own a data management and security company) in the National Assembly proposed a bill that would remove the wording from the intellectual property law that was used by Vienne to make its case. And there we are, for the time being.

Now, as an aside, recall that there is another set of those microfilms of the parish and civil registrations whose images form the content of the Departmental Archives of Vienne's database. The owner of that set (who happens to own duplicate sets of microfilmed registrations from nearly all of France) could also create a database of the images which would, according to the above rulings, be its intellectual property, to do with as it wishes, even index it and put it online, even charge a subscription fee to use it. As that owner is a foreign company in direct competition with NotreFamille in French genealogy markets, one interpretation of the rulings might be that the courts of France have just handed an enormous opportunity to a foreign competitor by allowing it to do in France what French companies of a similar nature may not. Never accuse this country of protectionism.

As we wrote at the beginning, Monsieur Benoît Jullien is the Director of the Departmental Archives of Vienne, reporting to the General Council of Vienne, and the capitol of Vienne is Poitiers, where the Congrès national de Généalogie was being held. NotreFamille's enterprise, Géné was, by far, the largest commercial presence at the conference, with by far, the largest stand. 

Conference 5

Perhaps one felt a tension in the air, and perhaps this tension was the cause of the very subdued atmosphere at the conference to which we have referred? We certainly felt an extra awareness in the audience when Monsieur Jullien stood to give his talk about the purpose of archives and their role in society. We report on his steadily delivered, clear and interesting talk in our next post.

©2015 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

FGB Free Clinic - Case no. 3 - Pierre Jacob Gaubert - at the XXIII Congrès national de Généalogie


As we have written, the 2015 Congrès national de Généalogie seemed a subdued affair. The word going round was that the villain was the Internet, that people are now doing all of their research online and are no longer joining or purchasing from the many genealogy associations and that, as a consequence, the associations are struggling to keep going. If this be the case, it is a great pity, for these associations are invaluable. Clearly, the Internet is a boon to genealogical research, but it is a complement to and not a replacement of the accumulation of expertise to be found in the membership of the genealogy associations. Just as no library cataloguing system will ever take the place of the brain of an experienced reference librarian, so the Internet, which is a generalist, cannot replace the expertise of the genealogy specialists who populate the associations.

One of the things we most like to do at these conferences is to take our research bugbears to these experts and see what they can find in their own collections and among their colleagues. Just before leaving for the conference, we had this request from Mademoiselle G.:

My ancestor Pierre Jacob Gaubert was born in Nantes and left sometime between 1772 (b.) and around 1800 to come to Louisiana.  I have no idea if he made stops along the way.  I have kind of done a "hit and miss" search for him but nothing methodical and I don't know the sources to research.  Also, I know very little French so I'm at a disadvantage there.

We strolled up to the stand of the Centre Généalogique de Loire Atlantique when there was a rare moment of it not being crowded with visitors. We presented the above puzzle and the kindly lady started searching the private databases of the CGLA. (It is worth noting here that all of the cercles and associations have numerous databases from many sources, not only parish and civil registrations, and not all of these have been rented to the commercial genealogy companies. Usually, with membership to the specific association, some may be searched on their own websites. Not all; it may still be necessary to write a query.) She found nothing. Then, she rummaged in the heaps of books and cartons on the floor behind her, et voilà!


She hauled out a very battered copy of Les Acadiens en France : Nantes et Paimboeuf 1775-1785 by Gérard-Marc Braud. (ISBN 2-908261-47-2) On page 117 she found a very large amount of information on Pierre Jacob Gaubert and his family, listed under the name of his father, Guillaume, which we give here in part:

As family no. 173 in the book: Gaubert, Guillaume (s), born abt. 1742 in Eparsac, Tarn-et-Garonne, son of Jacques Gaubert and of Françoise Perier, a doctor, in the parish registers for St.-Similien, Nantes. He was married to 1) Marie-Modeste Gaudet, in La Rochelle, in the parish of Saint-Nicolas and 2) Marie Gaudet in Nantes. Pierre-Jacob Gaubert was his first child from his first marriage, baptised on the 21st of January 1777 in St.-Similien, Nantes. 

There is a great deal more information, running to two pages on the families concerned. It gives the names of the seven ships on which each individual travelled to Louisiana in 1785 as well as references to various other types of documentation in which they appear. The book is in both French and English, which will be of use to those who, like Mademoiselle G. have little French. Eventually, we would have come across it via the Internet, but it would have taken some time. Here, it took five minutes, because the expert knew where to look. 

Keep these associations going; join one, please.

©2015 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

XXIII Congrès national de Généalogie - Brute Force and Lucky Finds

Blunt cut

We continue with our reportage on the talks we attended and the stands we visited at the Twenty-third National Congress of Genealogy in Poitiers earlier this month with a talk whose title we shall not reveal. In translation, it surely could be considered slightly offensive to politically correct ears. The presenter was très originale, as the French say. With thick hair in a stylish blunt cut, she stood impatiently as the audience entered. Seated at the computer to be used for the presentation was a grey-haired gentleman. The presenter refused a microphone and spoke very quickly but not too loudly. The chart displayed on a screen was too high for her reach and there was no pointed, so she snatched a crutch from a person in the audience and wielded that toward the chart, as people looked at one another with some concern.

The gentleman at the computer seemed to have made a mistake was scolded roundly for it. Later, he contributed a comment, and the presenter whistled loudly at him to be quiet. The audience began to titter. He dared to speak again and received a shouted rebuke, bringing a few gasps from the audience. Not the nicest form of cabaret. Did we learn anything? Not about genealogy.

Fortunately, the next talk we attended was most interesting, quite astonishing, really. It was by Françoise-Albertine Mas and was entitled "La Vie et l'Histoire militaire d'un officier napoléonien de 1805 à 1812: Charles-Philippe Fitte de Soucy (1776-1813) - Officier de l'Etat Majeur à la Grande Armée". (Why mince words?) Mme. Mas was researching her soldier and followed the usual routes we have often detailed in this blog of seeking documentation in:

  • The Departmental Archives for the places where the person was born, married, lived and died, in this case Paris and Yvelines
  • The notarial records for that place, which would be in the Departmental Archives or, as here, in the Minutier Central des Notaires de Paris in the National Archives
  • The military archives at the Service Historique de la Défense for this man's records of military service (described in our book)

Mme. Mas gathered a deal of information and learned that Charles-Philippe Fitte de Soucy was born in Versailles to a noble family, that he married and had two children, that he served in Napoleon's armies and seemed to have died on the doomed Russian campaign in 1812. She had also come across an old photocopy of an original letter from Fitte de Soucy, then a very ill prisoner in Königsberg, to his wife, in late 1812. She knew that what was then Prussian Königsberg became Soviet Kalinengrad, and she recalled a talk she had heard about a few years earlier in Paris.

A Belarusian historian named Anatole Stébouraka had visited Paris and floored academics and archivists with the revelation that the National Library of Belarus in Minsk had an enormous collection of books and manuscripts from France thought lost. They had been among the belongings of the illustrious Reinach family of historians, archaeologists and politicians, of the Rothschilds and other Jewish families, as well as the entire Masonic archives (thought destroyed by the French to prevent the Nazis from using it to persecute people) and the Slav Library of Paris. They had been stolen by the Nazis during the Occupation, taken to Germany, then taken by the Soviets and distributed around the Soviet Union. No one knew they still existed, until Mr. Stébouraka began writing about them. Much has been in a muddle and, bit by bit, the collection is being re-catalogued and organised. Mr. Stébouraka's description of the work on the Reinach collection can be heard here. It contains an unbelievable amount of original manuscripts, letters and documents from the Napoleonic era.

Mme. Mas wrote to Mr. Stébouraka and asked if this collection might have been the source of the photocopied letter and if so, had he any more by Fitte de Soucy? He wrote back that, yes, he had ninety letters written by the dying soldier to his wife. He very kindly sent copies of them all and Mme. Mas is soon to publish a book about them, for they present a deeply personal and very informative account of the Grand Army's retreat from Russia.

Lucky finds happen. Listen carefully to Mr. Stébouraka's talk. Perhaps there is a lucky find there concerning your French ancestor as well.

©2015 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


XXIII Congrès national de Généalogie - Immigrants to France

PdeG Cher

One of the first lectures that we attended at the Congress was also one of the most interesting and, as it touches on our next book, close to our heart. Philippe Christol - an expert on Polish immigration to France, about whom more later - spoke on immigrants to France from 1795 to 1939 and how to find them: Immigrants étrangers de 1795 à 1939 - Comment les Retrouver? 

He spoke of political migration:

  • From 1792 to 1815  - the Napoleonic era - there were over 10,000 Polish military recruits or prisoners of war who remained in France
  • From 1830 to 1870, over 20,000 Poles left after insurrections in Poland
  • During the same era, there were also Italians, Prussians and British who had been prisoners or, in the case of the first two, in Napoleon's army, who remained in France after the wars
  • There were also many thousands of Spanish prisoners of war sent to France after the French retreat from Spain in 1813 and the campaign in Spain in 1824
  • During the Carlist Wars, many Spanish refugees came to France
  • The insurrections at Naples in 1820 to 1821 and the Carbonari Revolt in 1831 sent Italian refugees to France

He has written a book, (which is currently seeking a publisher), on finding an ancestor who was a prisoner of Napoleon: Un Ancêtre prisonnier de guerre de Napoléon, a subject on which we have touched here and here. In it, he points out that:

  • There were between 300,000 and 500,000 prisoners of war during the Napoleonic wars
  • Approximately 250,000 to 300,000 of those prisoners passed through or were already in France during the years 1792 to 1814
  • They were of many nationalities: Spanish, British, Austrian, Polish, Italian, Russian, Prussian, Portuguese
  • They were often used as slave labour by local businesses and farmers, who housed and fed them
  • The male prisoners were offered the opportunity to join the French army, as Napoleon had an unending need for more soldiers; about 10,000 to 20,00 prisoners accepted the offer

For those researching a prisoner of war ancestor, Christol recommends searching:

  • In the Departmental Archives:
    • series R and L, which have many types of lists of prisoners,
    • series M
  • In the Service Historique de la Défense:
    • series Yj,
    • 2C which has a lists of prisoners from the Battle of Austerlitz,
    • series XE and XL which list Spanish prisoners,
    • series B1800, which has prisoners taken by the Army of the Rhine
  • In the Archives Diplomatiques at La Courneuve:
    • Espagne 402 AMAE, lists prisoners from 1824
    • Espagne 379, which has a list of 1650 prisoners of war
  • In Municipal Archives, there are many lists concerning surveillance of foreign residents

M. Christol then went on to what he called the Great Polish Emigrations in 1831 and 1863, which resulted in 137 refugee depots across France to give temporary shelter to nearly 10,000 Polish refugees. The cost to France was high, reaching nearly 30 million francs for the decade of the 1830s. Archives concerning these people can be found in:

  • Departmental Archives
    • in series 4M, where there are lists of foreigners
    • in series 6M, especially for the year 1887, when there was a census of foreigners taken
  • Municipal Archives, some of which have lists of foreigners
  • National Archives at Pierrefitte:
    • records of police surveillance of foreigners
    • passports for foreigners
    • an alphabetic list of Spanish in France from 1822 to 1835
    • naturalisation requests

During the Great Wave of Economic Migration from 1919 to 1939 from Poland, Italy and Spain, more than three million people, or 7% of the population entered France seeking a better life. M. Christol warns that not all, especially the many women, were documented. In addition to the sources above, he recommends the following 20th century sources:

  • Departmental Archives:
    • Series 7M contains naturalisation files. These will also be in the naturalisation files at the Archives nationales at Pierrefitte, but the local files could have some important additional documentation or variations.
    • Series 10M contains records concerning work, work visas, etc.
    • Series W - the Prefecture Files, from 1940, contain cards on foreigners, identity cards, files on individuals
  • Municipal Archives contain lsits of foreigners who were mobilized for the Polish and Czech units.

We found this talk to have been very well presented and most informative. 

©2015 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy



Add a Swiss Radio Appearance to Your Travel Plans

Travel to France

For those of you planning a voyage across the Atlantic to discover the ancestral homeland, the following from Judith Chetrit may be of interest:

I'm a French radio journalist based in Paris. I'm currently producing a radio documentary for Swiss public radio show "Détours" (the radio is called RTS) on genealogy tourism, Québécois coming to France to further their research on their ancestors.

I'm looking for people/families visiting France (Normandy and Poitou are the most common regions) in the upcoming weeks/months.

We suggest contacting Ms. Chetrit even if you are not from Quebec, as your story could be interesting to he. She may be reached at: judith (dot) chetrit ( at) gmail (dot) com.

This could be a good way to advertise your search and to discover some cousins!

©2015 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy




XXIII Congrès national de Généalogie

Conference 1

We have just returned home from Poitiers, where we attended the twenty-third Congrès national de Généalogie (national genealogy conference). Lasting three days, there were over forty talks and twelve aisles of stands, a generous opportunity to wallow in French genealogy.

Conference 6

The somewhat futuristic conference centre - le Palais des Congrès - is right next to France's possibly famed science theme park, Futuroscope. We did not go, nor did we stay in one of the conference hotels conveniently located far from anything but the conference centre and theme park. We stayed in the centre of Poitiers, one of the prettiest cities in France.

We have to say that, in spite of all the stands, the conference seemed somewhat more subdued than in previous years.

Conference 2


Conference 4


Conference 8


Conference 7

There were not the usual folks who, in the past, had appeared dressed as a round of cheese, or the groups of dancers in local dress, or the air of a jolly reunion that there used to be. There was one lone, Breton bagpiper, as forlorn as a bagpiper on a hill above an empty, windswept glen in a Scott novel, and those ever-rowdy Normans kept a private party going for the whole three days at their stand. On the whole, however, most people found it a quieter and -- this said with a shudder of horror -- more businesslike than ever before.

We made new acquaintances and renewed old ones, as is done at these affairs, and were taken aback to meet people who said that they read The FGB regularly. How very nice. Naturally, we attended as many of the talks as we possibly could. Some were excellent and fascinating, some made dull by leaden speakers, some hilariously punctuated with family squabbles. We shall report on them all, and more, in the next few posts.

©2015 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy