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March 2016

Paris Funeral Announcements - Placards de Décès - Newly Online

Placard de deces

The placard de décès (which we explain in some detail here) was an announcement of a funeral or burial posted about town and was a mostly seventeenth and eighteenth century custom, before the later custom of the faire-part, which served the same purpose but, with the advent of a postal service, could be sent to individuals. In both cases, examples that survive can be very helpful in tracing relatives and are particularly valuable for research of families in Paris, where so many important documents have been lost.

One large collection of placards of Paris is in the Departmental Archives of Paris. The other is in the National Archives collection of Parisian notarial records, called the Minutier central des notaires de Paris. This latter collection is in fifty-five cartons which contain more than six thousand placards. Hitherto, they have been inaccessible due to their fragility. Now, they are available online on the website of the Salle des Inventaires Virtuelle of the Archives nationales. This really is wonderful. 

The placards can provide:

  • The name of the deceased
  • His profession
  • His or her address
  • His or her spouse
  • The date and cemetery of the burial
  • Relatives

The system is not perfect. Results are merely highlighted in a long list to the side, which is quite awkward to scroll. There are duplicates within the collection that can give false hope to the breathless researcher when the number of results is given and one discovers that a third are copies of some already seen. Nevertheless, the images are excellent (to see them, click firstly on a highlighted name, then on Consulter les archives numérisées associées) and this new resource will be a joy to those researching Parisian families.

We look forward to hearing of what you may find.

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

FGB Free Clinic - Case no. 6 - Surname To Place Name To Surname

Petits Soins

We have been asked by a Dear Reader to help discover the origins and meaning of his surname, which is Labrunière, not a common name. We thought that the search process might be of interest to others seeking to answer the same sort of question. 

Firstly, one must be armed with a good French dictionary. We use our grandmother's Petit Larousse illustré, the pink one. The word brun, which would seem to be the core of the name, means the colour brown; in a name it meant someone with brown hair or dark colouring. We then did a trawl of surname sites and books:

  • We looked on Geopatronyme. Though the earliest date is 1891, which is not very early at all, this still gives an idea of the distribution of the name. A strong concentration in a single region would be a very good indication as to the origins of the name, even, perhaps, of it deriving from another language or dialect. The name being scattered all over France would indicate that it derives from something more universal, such as religion or Latin. In this case, the name Labrunière is exceedingly rare, with just one occurrence and that in the Marne. Separating the article (La Brunière) brought no results at all. Eliminating the article (Brunière) brought nine results in two towns in the department of Ardèche. A rare name indeed.
  • With such a paltry usage of the name, we thought to check the telephone directory  -- l'Annuaire des Particuliers -- to see its usage today, again checking the three versions. It occurs as De La Brunière just thirteen times and as plain Brunière a few more times, many of them in Ardèche, indicating the growth of that family seen above, probably. Our Dear Reader has no ancestors from Ardèche. His Labrunière ancestors come from Savoie.
  • We looked at one of the many books on the origins of French surnames, in this case, Les noms de famille en France : Histoires et anecdotes, edited by that indefatigable workaholic, Marie-Odile Mergnac. Unsurprisingly, the name does not appear, though others based on the word brun are: Brun, Bruneau, Brunel and Brunet. All of their meanings derive from that indicating a person with brown hair.

There is a castle with the name Labrunière. There is a family linking the name to the de Medicis. Both are very tempting, but our Dear Reader Labrunière has no evidence linking his family to either. As this is a quest for meaning more than extending genealogical connections, we did not pursue the castle or the Italians.

We decided to look deeper into the meaning and usage of just the suffix -ière. A number of academics seem to be dallying in supposition. Monsieur Touratier in Morphologie et morphématique: Analyse en morphèmes made something of the fact that some words with the suffix mean small thing and some mean large things and that is confusing; then he wandered off into wondering how the word lumière fit into the small versus large dichotomy. Monsieur Cassagne in Villes et Villages en pays lotois announced that the suffix -ière comes from the Latin -aria, meaning territory or around a place. This would make Labrunière to mean "the place around the brown" which is rather baffling, unless it were to mean "the place around where the brown one, e.g Brun, is or lives", which is more promising.

We are much enamoured of nineteenth century academics, not only for their erudition and expertise but also for the occasional and unintentional humour of their outlandish arrogance. So we turned to the 1851 Grammaire française: lexicologie et lexicographie: ouvrage spécialement destiné à servir de base à l'enseignement scientifique de la langue maternelle dans les collèges, gymnases, écoles moyennes et autres établissements d'instruction publique by Cyprien Ayer and there found a reassuring plethora of suffix discussion, which we summarize.

  • In essence, the suffixes -ier, -ière, -er, and -aire all have been used to make a new word, sometimes and adjective, but usually a noun or proper noun. Thus the adjective originaire from origine, and the nouns libraire from libre and antiquaire from antiquité. 
  • The development of the word has to do with habitual use or behaviour. A place where there are always wasps becomes a guêpier,   for example. The habitual aspect of the suffix use has lead to 
    • nouns indicating a person's work or métier, such as joaillier, saunier, cloutier, fromager, chevalier, maraîcher
    • nouns indicating a plant, especially trees and of those, especially those that produce a fruit: bananier, cerisier, noisietier, sorbier, mûrier, laurier, osier
    • nouns indicating a tool, especially a receptacle, that is habitually used for the same purpose: brasier, collier, soupière, théière

Monsieur Labrunière, our Dear Reader who sent us on this search, thought the name might have had to do with Saint Bruno. We are inclined to think not for names related to saints usually contain the word saint in them: Saint-Martin (the most known saint in France, for he Christianized the Gauls), Saint-Georges, Saint-Gilles, Saint-Vincent and so on. An alternative that might indicate a religious derivation could be the honourific dom as in Dommartin or Dombrun. No, we think it may have more to do with some kind of repetitive or habitual use, as explained by Monsieur Ayer.

Two websites discussing local place names shed a lovely lumière, we think:

  • That on the history of Bournezeau in the Vendée has a page by Jean-Claude Couderc on the Origines des noms de nos villages. Here, he tells us that "in the Gallo-Roman period, it was common to name a place after its owner" and that many such hamlets and villages in the area provide examples of this custom, including:
    • La Brunière owned by the Brun family
    • La Borlière owned by the Borel family
    • La Martinière owned by the Martin family
    • La Louisière owned by the Louis family
    • L'Hermitière owned by the L'Hermite family
  •  Monsieur Henry Suter's website contains a great deal of study on the Noms de Lieux de Suisse Romande, Savoie et environs. He has a large glossary of place names, many of which follow the same pattern as above. There, also (and recall that our Dear Reader's family are from Savoie) can be found places called La Martinière and Martinière, La Borlière and La Brunière, as well as Les Brunières.

It would seem to us that Labrunière the family name comes from a place -- a village or even a single house -- known as La Brunière, which in turn took its name from owners named Brun or something close to that. What do you think, Dear Readers?

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


When Your Ancestors Disappear From Your DNA

Savoie Poster

Some years ago, we returned to the homeland to visit our mother. She was something of a social butterfly and her house generally was  filled with revellers every evening. On this particular visit, we greeted one evening's round of strangers with the aplomb we had acquired from an early and thorough training in graciously welcoming the latest dozen of wacky characters our mother had discovered.

On introduction, one fellow firmly refused to believe that we were our mother's daughter. Initial good humoured assurance on our part gave way to some annoyance as the man continued to assert that, not only were we not our mother's daughter, but that she had no daughters. "She has two daughters, actually," we said, our sardonic tone moving toward the acid. In the end, we failed to convince the ill-mannered dolt, but what shocked us more was our sense of outrage at having our rather obvious blood relationship negated.

So, we fear, may be, at least in part, the feeling of Monsieur B. who has written asking for advice:

"I just received my Ancestry DNA evaluation and it presents me with a puzzle.  My great-grandfather came from Thures, near Cesana Torinese, Circondario of Susa, in present-day Torino.  His ancestry goes back as far as the parish records go.  He married an English or Scottish woman and their third grandchild, my father, had a 100% French mother (verified).  My mother’s side is all Swedish Finn.  My DNA results show origins in Great Britain 44%, Scandinavia 27%, Finalnd/Russia 8%, Ireland 8%, the Iberian Peninsula 6%, Eastern Europe 3%, European Jewish 3% and Italy/Greece 2%.  Ancestry says not to put much importance in the smallest percentages.  No Western European at all, where I expected my French ancestry to appear!  So, what am I to make of this?  I wonder if my family, and perhaps many of the families in the Susa with French names, adopted a French identity centuries ago but are really from elsewhere.  I identify the Duchy of Savoy with French origins and even the Ecartons that predated Savoy in the region.  Has anyone else ever encountered similar results?  What do we really know of the origins of the French-named families found in Susa (other than the Waldensians who were a distinct population)? I have another French line, Lalange, that stayed put in Indre for centuries yet nothing shows up!"

Dear Readers, might any one of you be an expert on DNA and genealogy? Can anyone suggest the solution to this mystery? We await your response with optimism!

 The comments received to date, some of which refer to the subject of the legality of DNA testing for leisure in France, as we discussed some years ago here:

While it would seem unusual to find no trace at all of a grandparent’s ethnicity (¼ of your own genetic makeup), there is one common misconception about how genes are inheritied: although you’ll get 50% of your DNA from each parent - half of their own genes - you don’t know WHAT half you’ll get. I think most people imagine something like a circle that’s getting cut in half and handed to you, but it’s not that clean-cut. The 50% you get is speckled all over that circle, a bit here, a bit there. If your parent is half Irish and half French, you might expect you’ll get 25% of each, but you might not; maybe you just end up with all the Irish-origin genes (and a sibling could end up with a different set.)  Zeph.


One must also take into account that precious few French people have taken DNA tests for ancestry. So many more people with English, Irish, German, Polish, or Scandinavian ancestry have taken the tests, that ethnicity charts tend to skew in those directions. Unless and until many thousands of French take genealogical DNA tests, ethnicity charts for those us with French roots are little more than entertainment. Peggy


It seems there could be several factors at play.

Perhaps primarily,’s ethnicity estimates (underline estimates), even though a nice, solid-looking number is presented, should be viewed with significant skepticism. They might be somewhat correct, but they might be very wrong. These numbers are averages of their 40 current schemes of deriving a number when comparing your DNA to a reference panel of 3,000 tests (samples taken roughly within the last 10 years) which they believe are representative of 26 regions. Each of these average numbers are derived from a range, a big range (click on any region to expand the box to reveal them—a solid-looking 37% nearly crumbles away when revealing a 4%-65% range). Their Scandinavian estimates have often been singled-out as being significantly over-estimated, though yours might not be. Curiously, even though their Western Europe region is solidly France and Germany, their map of their Great Britain shows secondary and tertiary regions which include most of France and Germany.

Offering one of my questionable estimates as an example, my mother’s ethnicity estimates include 31% Irish, with a range of 17% to 45%, and she has no known Irish ancestry, at least back into the 1700s, so it seems couldn’t be more than about 3%, and possibly much less, so, what to think?

As Zeph pointed out, beyond parents, we might not receive an arithmetically perfect division of DNA from the preceding generations. Though parents are always be 50%, grandparents, from who we might expect to receive 25% each, have been observed to vary between about 17% to 33%, though it is probably a bell-shaped curve, so usually closer to 25% than the extremes. Further, chromosome recombination is chunky, there usually being 1 or 2 breaks per chromosome, but sometimes 0 or 3, so you might get 100% or 0%, or anything in-between, of any particular chromosome from each of your parents.

Of course, all genetic genealogists learn to incorporate the possibility of unexpected fathers or adoptions, low as it may be, when doing analysis and interpretation. Perhaps it should be pointed out here that paternity testing in France is currently illegal without signed consent forms to avoid the chance of revealing indiscretions which could disrupt families, almost suggesting it is a bigger concern here than elsewhere, though it may not be.

Overall, I would mostly ignore the current ethnicity estimates, unless you really suspect there’s something more there. Hopefully, these estimates will improve in the future, but they all seem to rely on the notion that people did not move around much--that current residents are representative and they all remained in the same regions for centuries or millennia--but move around many did. Human history is very messy. I suspect there is greater possibility is that broad population Autosomal DNA analysis may eventually provide better genealogically relevant information than any ethnicity estimate, but these are still very early days.   David C


It is my understanding that DNA testing in France is prohibited by law so there is a giant hole in Western European DNA results. Terri Meeks


When it comes to genealogy one cannot rely on DNA results alone. They must be supported by documentation. Apart from the important point already made. Any of the following scenarios will cause a probalem. These may have happened many generations past and the current family could be completely unaware!
• an illegitimate male child passed off as mother’s brother.
• an illegitimate male child within a marriage.
• a husband adopting his wife’s surname.
• stepchildren adopting their stepfather's surname.
• an adopted male child who takes the surname.
• a foreign name altered to resemble an existing local surname.
• a male purchaser of property adopting the seller’s surname.
• a mis-spelling at some point that switches to a new surname entirely.

Monsieur J, by e-mail


In her comment below, Roberta Estes refers us to her excellent blog post on this very subject. Highly recommended!


I had a similar issue with my Ancestry DNA report. But when I uploaded the genetic file from Ancestry to DNA LAND, I had much finer results. As I understand the process, different DNA assessments focus on different areas. DNA LAND interpretation of your genetic test results is free and is frequently updated as more data from areas are collected. It's operated by geneticists affiliated with Columbia University and the New York Genome Center. You can read about their research and purpose on the website. At first I thought my French DNA wasn't showing up, because I assumed it would be placed in Western Europe, when in fact it is described by DNA LAND as included in the area they call southwestern Europe. Most of these genetic assessments don't really assign countries, rather areas where certain results are common. My experience is that each company has its own way of describing genetic heritage as well as what they look for or focus on. It makes a difference. One surprising result to me was the affirmation of English heritage in northern France, that verified the area with my ancestors who had the surname L'Anglois. Another was the result that verified my grandmother's claim of African ancestry. At approximately 6%, that is a size that can put autosomal DNA into the right time frame for my family. and my grandmother who no one believed when she said, "We're Black." The reason many people like to use autosomal DNA is that it gives more recent time-frame stability. Professor Henry Louis Gates gives an excellent explanation in several resources on the internet. If I've made an error or left something out here, one of his articles might help clarify the issue. He has many references to follow through on, too. DNA LAND has already matched me with several Québécois cousins. Those of us who chose to connect, with one exception, found one or more common ancestors in our genealogies. The one exception is clearly related, as our genealogies show, but we haven't found the common ancestor yet. I suspect one of us might have made an error that will become clear with more work. Some of us charge ahead without the good documentation that would clarify many relationships. I'm always surprised when someone is reluctant to "give up" an ancestor who isn't one of their own.   Madame C


Goodness! This is topical. These are all incredibly helpful! Many thanks. There are more comments below than we could put here. Please do read them as well.


©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

The French Immigrants in South America - A Labour of Love


It has been some time since we have written about the Archives Diplomatiques and explained how the French consulates and embassies registered births, marriages and deaths abroad. More recently, we described our visit to the now closed (to the public) centre at Nantes. The difficulty for researchers has been that this rich resource can only be mined on location, not on the Internet, until now, for those fortunate enough to be researching French ancestors who went to South America.

Working two days a week, every week, over a period of seven years, Ms. Josette Solan filmed the registers of French citizens made at the French embassies and consulates in Latin America. She took over 57,000 photographs, of which more than 45,000 are available online at the website, Gen Francesa (in Spanish and Portuguese). Registers for the following countries are available:

  • Argentina (numerous locations)
  • Bolivia
  • Brazil
  • Chile
  • Colombia
  • Cuba
  • Ecuador
  • Haiti
  • Mexico
  • Peru
  • Puerto Rico
  • Trinidad
  • Uruguay
  • Venezuela

For each place, there is an explanation of which volumes were filmed and the years that they cover. The types of records filmed include:

  • Civil registrations of births, marriages and deaths
  • Military records, such as responses to call-ups in France
  • Registrations with the consulates
  • Notarial records
  • General correspondence
  • Indices to some of the above

Many, many people worked on the website and to help upload the photographs taken by Ms. Solan, including one of our honoured guest contributors, Pablo Briand. However, it is clearly the heroic work of Ms. Solan that is the core of this project.

Monsieur M. and Madame I., who were researching French ancestors in Argentina, Madame W. , Monsieur M. and Monsieur H. who were researching French ancestors in Brazil, and many more who have contacted us -- take note! This is an amazing accomplishment and we are much indebted to the association, Gen&OGénéalogie et Origines en Pyrénées-Atlantiques, for bringing it to our attention.

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Post by Hot Air Balloon During the Siege of Paris


There is a lovely little bit of historical/genealogical research discussed on the BBC news pages at the moment, about a French letter sent from Paris to Normandy by hot air balloon during the Siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War, which somehow has ended up in Australia. Using research skills the same as those discussed many times here on the FGB, one Emmanuel Hamel, a pretty keen family historian in Normandy, traced the writer and the recipient of the letter.

The recipient was in a town in Eure, so he checked in the Departmental Archives of Eure. There, he found the death registration of the recipient. He then found the marriage registration of the sender, which proved to be, as they usually do, a font of information.

Of perhaps even greater interest is the story of the hot-air ballon, ballon monté, letters sent during the siege. Many of them were collected by Louis Moland and published, for they give an amazing and immediate account of those difficult times. We give the book here:


French genealogy really is a delight of discovery.
©2016 Anne Morddel
French Genealogy

Vieux Métiers, or Professions, in Latin


One of our most dedicated correspondents, Madame M, has written asking if we know of a dictionary giving professions in Latin of the 1600s. In a word, no. We know of Latin dictionaries, but not of those referencing specifically the use of that language during that century. Perhaps an incunabulum in a local library?

We have written on the subject of métiers in the past, but with no particular emphasis on Latin. Online, we have found the following, which we hope will be of help to Madame M.:

  • Généawiki's pages entitled : Les métiers en latin - choose a letter from a band on the page to be taken to a rather rudimentary list of professions and their French translations. (This reveals the problem with collaborative exercises: if people refuse to collaborate, the exercise is a dud.)
  • The rather more substantial list on the really quite personal pages of Monsieur Guy Joly. He follows the same click-on-a-letter structure and has his list in two versions: Latin to French and French to Latin, for those of you who wish to impress your friends by discussing (or at least knowing the word for) your profession in Latin.

We do hope that this will be of use to all of you, Dear Readers, as well as to Madame M., and that this may lead to another of her wonderful guest posts.

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy