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XXIII Congrès national de Généalogie - Brute Force and Lucky Finds

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