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May 2016

A 1786 Directory for La Rochelle

Liste Generale

We continue with our discussion of little delights discovered in the Municipal Archives of La Rochelle, which really is turning out to be a revelation of what sorts of things may be found in communal and municipal archives generally. Each city's or town's holdings are different (read a survey of some of our visits here), they collected different types of information, and their collections survived differently the tricky and unpredictable selection process of centuries of war, relocation, hoarders and zealous cleaners.

A beautiful survivor in La Rochelle is a sort of early directory or annuaire, the Liste Générale of 1786. As La Rochelle had about twenty thousand people at the time, in five or six quarters, this list of ten or so pages is clearly not an effort to list all persons who might belong under its categories. Nevertheless, we found it to be useful as it did contain some names of Acadians who had arrived twenty-five years earlier.

The categories include:

  • Ecclesiastics
  • Nobility
  • Military
  • Notaires
  • Doctors and Surgeons
  • Ship outfitters and Traders


Liste 2

 The only information given is a name and a street, which may be a home address or a commercial address or both; it is not clear. Yet, combined with other resources, this may help to expand knowledge of a person's life. On its own, it can place a person in the town with some certainty for at least some part of 1786, which could be the very thing needed to clarify a research problem.

This document was labelled as "Population Statistics" and was filed with Police records, in Series FF (see the classification system for municipal and communal archives here). We are quite fond of the Police archives and, whenever we have the time on an archives visit, we make a point of requesting those cartons. Throughout all time, it would seem, those who go into the policing line of work tend also to be those with a passion for noting down and listing names, any names, not necessarily criminals' names. We cannot recommend highly enough that the Police files in both municipal and departmental archives be examined for you may find that one of your ancestors was the target of the interest and listing of a spying and secretarial police officer of yore.

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

La Rochelle Municipal Archives - More Refugee and Deportee Lists


Further to our ecstasies in the Municipal Archives of La Rochelle, there are more lists of people living in La Rochelle who were refugees or deportees from Canada or, later, Saint Domingue and who were receiving government allowances. The list discussed in the previous post was made in 1791 and included only those who were "Acadiens et Canadiens" and their families. Another list for the same purpose -- accounting -- was made in 1792, and we show part of the last page below.

Refugees 1792

There is less detail about the people than in the first list. This one is more expedient and notes only the payments. Possibly, such a list and accounting was made every year, but the next that appears in the archives collection is some time after the spring of the Republican Calendar year An 7, which was 1798-1799.


This one is a two-page spread, lavishly strewn with details about each person, as seen in this sample, showing just the left-hand side of the first page:

R&D list

It melts the researcher's heart:

  • Name, including "dit" names
  • Age
  • Place of birth
  • Marital status
  • Residence in the colonies
  • Whether a refugee (from Saint Domingue) or a deportee (from Quebec)
  • The port where they arrived in France and when they arrived there
  • If married before coming to France, whether they arrived with families
  • If married in France since arriving
  • If the spouse was also a refugee or deportee
  • Profession in the colony
  • Profession in France
  • Amount of assistance received

Really, all that is missing is an oil portrait of each person!

The last list in the collection is dated 1817 and it gives not as much detail as that above. By then, the famines of the early Revolutionary years had passed, many Acadians had left France, the long wars of the First Empire with the stagnating coastal blockade by the British had finally ended, the Bourbons had returned and France had a king again. Many of the refugees and deportees were elderly and quite a few were "indigent", as the first page of the list shows:

1817 list

 We do hope some of our Dear Readers will be able to sojourn to the La Rochelle Municipal Archives and have great success in discovering an ancestor or two on these lists. So much fun!

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Acadian Treasure in the Municipal Archives of La Rochelle

List 18 Nov 1791-cover

Recently, we had occasion to return to the lovely little city of La Rochelle, which is graced with two excellent archives facilities -- Departmental and Municipal -- and another  -- naval -- not far away in Rochefort. On our previous visit to the Municipal Archives, things were a bit fraught within but, whatever the trouble was then, it has been resolved. Service was much improved, staff were cheerful and helpful. There was a slight sense of thrill in the air, perhaps because a move is planned, though the new location has not yet been determined.

We were on the hunt for an Acadian voyager, a person who had been among the French Canadian deportees from Nova Scotia after the British conquest in 1759.  We knew our subject was in La Rochelle in the 1760s and that was about all. Having exhausted all that the archives had online, it was time for us to go and page through original documents in the archives. This we did, coming across a wonderful census of part of the community of Acadian refugees who were still there in 1791.

When the refugees had first arrived in France, in Saint Malô, Cherbourg, La Rochelle and elsewhere, the king decreed that they should receive some aid, as many were destitute. After the Revolution, the government wanted to know how many of those refugees were still receiving aid, some thirty years later. Presumably, each town did such a census and reported back to Paris. The one in La Rochelle is truly a treasure.

List 18 Nov 1791-first page

However, it contains the names of only those deportees who required assistance. Others, who had relatives, business interests or money in La Rochelle, are not on the list. Thus, though not a complete census of all those who were in La Rochelle, it is a superb source of detail on some of them. The lawyer, Claudy Valin, has written an excellent study on the group, using this census, entitled: Les réfugiés de l'Acadie et du Canada à la Rochelle, which can be downloaded.

Our subject was not on the list, but we had a lot of fun reading this and other documents, some of which we will discuss anon. We were so happy requesting all possible interesting cartons of documents that we wore out our welcome with the newly friendly archives assistant. "How much more of this are you going to do?" she snapped.

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

A French Gold Miner Ancestor in California?


We have been contacted by a Dear Reader seeking research suggestions on hunting French prospectors of gold in California. Our own ancestor, a cantankerous and surly fellow by all accounts, was one of a group of enthusiasts from Virginia who bought a ship, sailed it to San Francisco, sold it there and dispersed to the gold fields to find their fortunes. He did well enough to buy a ranch in the Central Valley. Did your French ancestor do the same and, if so, how to trace him or her?

No point in our reinventing any wheels here, so we will point you to the best resource, online or off, which is A.P. Nasatir's "French Activities in California: An Archival Calendar-Guide".




Nasatir gives an excellent introduction that gives a brief but thorough discussion of the French in the Americas. He tells of Balguerie's commercial venture in 1816, sending the Bordelais to Valparaiso, San Francisco and onwards. He tells of the important publication about the beauties of California by de Morineau, Notice sur la Nouvelle Californie. He discusses, with some humour, the few French ships that went to California just before the discovery of gold, and those that went there afterward. He then goes on to give every possible resource to be used in researching the early French arrivals in California, including a discussion of what may be found in the Diplomatic Archives, or Archives diplomatiques. A good example of such research, which may be helpful, is Jean-Nicolas Perlot's Goldseeker:


Nasatir's book was written in 1945 and published by Stanford University Press. It was probably read by about four people pursuing their studies during the war. Since then, it has been quoted widely in other academic sources, but was most likely of use only to academics wth travel grants. The Internet being the new gold rush, you may now, Dear Readers, use this book* to find much to help with your research of that gold miner ancestor.


©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

*Nasatir wisely renewed the copyright, which is why some pages of the book are not online.

Some rather helpful comments have been added below.

Did Your Ancestors Lose a Child to Killer Wet-nurses?

Beloved children

There are babies who are well cared for and there are those who are not. There seems to be quite a lot of interest at the moment among French bloggers about children who died when with wet-nurses, nourrices in French.

Le blog d'une généalogiste wrote a post entitled "The massacre of foundlings and suckling babes".  He quotes a doctor writing in the mid-nineteenth century who wrote that he was certain that certain bad wet-nurses killed intentionally the babies in their care, that mothers knowingly placed their children with women who had a reputation for letting babies die. The doctor called it a form of infanticide not punishable by law, while abandonment of a baby was.

On the blog of Histoire-Généalogie, Serge Bouvart contributed an article entitled "A wet-nursing village, or the tragic destiny of Paris's foundlings". During the eighteenth century, he writes, the village of Esquéheries in Aisne subtly slaughtered dozens of children. One family managed to kill thirty-four babies and no one seemed to bat an eye.

To be sure, in our research, we have come across the telltale sign of a child who may have died at a wet-nurse's. In trawling the parish and civil registrations as we follow a family, we will find the baptism or the birth registration of a child and then no trace of him or her again. If this were after the first French census, in 1836, we check the family in the census returns but still do not find the child, the next step is to look for a death in the region. Almost always, we will find that the child died in early infancy in a town not very far away in the home of a wet-nurse.

But were they killed? Did the parents send them off hoping never to see them again? Perhaps, but we would very strongly dispute that. In truth, we suspect filth and disease to have been the more likely culprits. Long before antibiotics or Dr. Snow's discovery of the benefits of hygiene, when half the population had tuberculosis, when there were regular epidemics of cholera, small pox, diphtheria, scarlet fever and so many more, it was quite a miracle that a baby survived, not a surprise that he or she died.

In the Archives nationales, there is a letter* written by the mayor of the small town of La Villeneuve-lès-Charleville, requesting aid for one of the citizens, one Marie Claire Renard, wife of Jean François Jacquier. At the age of thirty-eight, being of robust health, she went to Paris in 1806 seeking work as a wet-nurse. She went to a home for foundlings and was assigned a child. However, the child was syphilitic and Madame Jacquier, ignorant of the disease, was infected. The child died and the disease progressed horribly in the poor wet-nurse. Treatments failed. Monsieur Jacquier contracted the malady as well and could no longer work to support his sick wife and their own three children. The good mayor pleaded for them and thought (well before his time) that the home for foundlings bore some responsibility.

It is very easy to forget how difficult, unsanitary and ignorant life was two hundred or more years ago and how very different it was from modern life. When doing genealogical research, it is important to be on guard against our assumptions which may be based not only in our culture, religion or education, but in our modernity.


Three years ago, we wrote here of wet-nurses and a Dear Reader contributed an excellent post about researching an ancestor put out to a wet-nurse (and who survived!) As another suggestion for researching a child who may have died at the home of a wet-nurse prior to 1790, we propose that you try searching the Inventaire Sommaire for the relevant Departmental Archive on the Internet Archive or Gallica. Use the surname of the child and the words en nourrice in the search box.

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


* F/15/1937

French Genealogy's First Scam Alert


Our childhood in California was sprinkled with our father's get rich quick enthusiasms. We can recollect playing with toys on the floor when he would burst in through the front door bellowing (honestly, we are not joking) "This is it! We're gonna be on Easy Street!" At times, he fell for other people's scams; at times, he was the fraudster. Selling phony insurance, building slums, patenting crazy inventions such as paper water purifiers, buying air rights in order to build a mile or two up above state jurisdiction, these were the crooked pipe dreams and sales pitches that filled the adults' talk of our early years. The result for our father was bankruptcy and some near misses of being sent to the slammer; the result for us was a profound cynicism bordering on hostile suspicion whenever someone approaches us with a sure-fire, can't lose promise of riches. We are inclined to consider shoving their promises down their lying throats.

Sadly, not enough people share our suspicions and scam artists abound. The latest here in France is pertinent to our writing for the victims are those who have been told they will inherit a fortune from a distant relative and the crooks are pretending to be probate genealogists. Playing on people's hopes and ignorance, as such people always do, the so-called genealogists have been telling their victims that they are beneficiaries of a foreign (non-French) life insurance policy. They then demand a part of the money promised up front, for which they will then reveal the details of how to collect. They even give the name of a (fraudulent) lawyer with whom the victim can check the story. Unfortunately, people are falling for this and handing over their money, never to see any insurance payout or the crooks again.

The professional organization of Généalogistes de France warns that:

  • A genealogist working under the authority of a notaire to find heirs will never request money from an heir
  • Once the genealogist informs an insurance company of the identity of the heirs, it is the insurance company that will contact them further and with whom they must deal, not the genealogist
  • Should you be contacted with such a story: check that the person is a member of the above association, contact the notaire in charge of the case or contact directly Généalogistes de France about it and they will verify it for you

What with the ever-growing enthusiasm for genealogy here in France, and with the difficult economic situation for many, it was only a matter of time, wasn't it?

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy