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June 2016

Immigrants Evading French Military Service in the 1800s - Who Can Blame Them?

Call to report

Following on from our last post about a young man who emigrated from France after he was ordered to report for his compulsory military service, we wish to explain why this was not at all uncommon.

Conscription into the modern, post-revolutionary French Army began with the Jourdan law in 1798 and continued for two hundred years until it was suspended by President Chirac in 1996. We will not discuss here the pros and cons of compulsory military service or the morality of war or nationalism; we will describe here only the length of military service from the Revolution up to the First World War. To our mind, it certainly can help to explain why a young man would kiss his country and family good bye and take his chances in a new world.

1792-1802 - French Revolutionary Wars

  • 1798 - From the age of twenty, all men were required to serve in the army for five years. At any time from the age of eighteen to thirty, a man could volunteer. In order not to strip a town of all its able young men, the tirage au sort, a kind of draw,was introduced. With this draw, every one hundred conscripts of a canton were assigned a number. The first thirty-five were called up immediately. Thus began the discussions among young men of having a "good number" or a "bad number".

1803-1815 - Napoleonic Wars

  • 1804 - It became possible for the wealthy or ennobled to pay for someone to replace them in the call-up.
  • 1813 - After the loss of nearly half a million men in the campaign in Russia, the Army called up men under the age of twenty.
  • 1818 - The Revolutionary conscription law was abolished (in 1814) and a Restoration conscription law put in its place, using the same draw or tirage au sort system. The term of service was extended to six years in the infantry, eight years in other regiments, both to be followed by six years in the territorial army.
  • 1824 - The term of service was eight years.
  • 1832 - The term of service was lowered to seven years.
  • 1855 to 1858 - For up to three thousand francs, now paid as a tax, a man could buy his way out of conscription.
  • 1868 - The term of service was five years in the active army, plus four years in the reserves.

1870-1871 - The Franco-Prussian War

  • 1872 - The Cissey law continued the draw system, with two possible terms of service: five years or between six to twelve months, depending upon one's number, to be followed by four years in the reserves, then by eleven years in the territorial army. The full length of military obligation was twenty years.
  • 1889 - By the "Law of Three Years" the term of service was reduced to three years in the active army, to be followed by seven years in the reserves and fifteen years in the territorial army. Many types of exemptions were abolished. The full length of military obligation was twenty-five years.
  • 1905 - The draw was abolished. The replacement options were abolished, as were most of the exemptions. From this point, every man had to do some sort of service to his country for two years, followed by eleven years in the reserves and fifteen years in the territorial army.
  • 1912 - The draw was reinstated, to be used as needed. The term of service was three years in the active army and seven years in the reserves. For the new Senegalese recruits, the term of service was four years.
  • 1913 - The term of service was raised to three years, for all men from the age of twenty. The draw was abolished again.

1914-1918 - World War One

There were exemptions or various sorts (not surprisingly, Napoleon was very concerned about the conscript's height). As noted, there were, at times, options to send replacements or to buy one's way out. There were variations as to how the laws were applied. Nevertheless, it can be seen that during the years from 1872 to 1889, the burden of military service was particularly onerous and a good reason to some to leave France forever.

Check your genealogies. If a male immigrant arrived from France -- especially in the second half of the nineteenth century -- and was aged twenty, he was almost certainly running from his French military service.

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


France to Argentina - An Emigrant's Tale


We were pacing the espace d'attente, or waiting area, of our bank the other day, up and down in front of four uncomfortable plastic chairs. We picked up each of the tattered magazines and each of the shiny brochures encouraging us to mortgage our heart and soul, flipping the pages, trying so hard not to show impatience, for that begins the wicked French game of "Torment the Client, (who is the enemy, always in the wrong and must be ignored or humiliated)". Also on the table was a thick book about local vintners and another book, not quite so thick, left there by a local history society. We snapped through the pages of beaming vintners, dropped back that tome and picked up the local history volume. We began flipping through those pages as well, then slowed, then read, then were pulled in by the compelling story of a young man who emigrated to Buenos Aires.

In the 1880s, Martial Eynard was a poor young man from the countryside, trying to make his way in Paris. He had been born in Cherveix-Cubas, in Dordogne, in 1866, to an extremely poor farming family struggling with debt. Though he was recognised as being quite bright, he received only the most basic, rural education. Many years later, he looked back upon his childhood as a time of suffering. Misère in French is usually translated as "misery" but in modern usage, it means not unhappiness but "grinding poverty" (recall Hugo), and this was the state of young Mr. Eynard's life until he was sixteen. Then, it got worse.

He worked in a fabric shop, some forty kilometres from Cherveix-Cubas, in Périgueux. This would have meant that he left home and probably lived above the shop. We have seen the grim boxes in which lived shop workers and apprentices of nineteenth century France. They were in the attics above the shops. Up, under the eaves, with no ceiling to hide the underside of the slate or clay roof tiles and certainly no insulation, were dozens of tiny cubicles with higgledy-piggledy walls made of unpainted scrap wood, each cubicle no more than six or eight meters square. The inhabitants pasted newspapers to the walls, possibly for insulation, possibly for monotonous erudition. Furniture was a bed and a box. Light was a single candle. Martial Eynard endured that life for a year, then left for Paris when he was seventeen.

There, he found work in a wholesale fabric shop. Life was still hard, but he was in Paris, which his letters home showed that he enjoyed as much as he could afford to do so. He was a tireless correspondent, writing to his parents and to his younger sister. They saved every one of his letters, the marvellous primary source of the article. He attempted to enter a training programme but failed the entrance exam. Then, in 1886, at the age of twenty, he was conscripted. He was selected for "long service". He was still quite poor, his belovèd grandmother had recently died, his employers -- knowing of his conscription -- had let him go months before he was due to report for service. Indeed, he was very low. He got himself to Marseille and, under an assumed name for he was evading his compulsory military service, worked his passage to Argentina, sending letters home from every port.

There, he stayed, becoming Marcelino Eynard. He had many ups and downs but eventually did become financially successful. He built a company, learned Spanish, German and English, voyaged back to Europe and then to New York, but most enjoyed long stays in Paris. He was a misanthropic and solitary man -- in his letters -- who married late in life, without telling his long suffering sister, Marceline, whose many offers to come live with him were sadly refused. It would seem that, when he died in 1921, she had told all the village that she would be rich. She sailed to Buenos Aires to collect her fortune, only to discover that she had a sister-in-law and infant niece to whom her brother had left all. Perhaps Marceline's remaining years were vengeful and after she returned home she sat by the ancestral fire and cursed the shade of her brother or perhaps not. In any case, the chronicler must say with gratitude, she did not burn his numerous letters. 

This is a tale that, at least in its beginnings, cannot be very different from that of many young men who left France during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, seeking to escape poverty and compulsory military service. How many others wrote home as did Señor Eynard? Perhaps your ancestor's story appears in some obscure local history publication on a waiting room table in France. To find it, look not only at Gallica, the website of the Bibliothèque nationale, but at the websites of Departmental Archives (listed in the column to the left on this blog), where some local history publications have been put online. We note that the website of Cherveix-Cubas has uploaded a number of texts relating to local history, and surely other towns may have done the same. Check also the list of Associations for the relevant department to find the websites of all those relating to local history and genealogy.

The wonderful article on which this post is based is entitled:

"Marcelino, émigrant périgourdin en Argentine: quarante années de témoinage 1889-1921" by Pascale Laguionie-Lagauterie in Recueil de documents sur l'histoire locale, collectés et présentés par l'Association Hautefort, Notre Patrimoine, tome 6, April 2016, pp. 125-169. 

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Genealogical Research in Luxembourg - A Guest Post


Bryna O’Sullivan, the author of this post, is a US based professional genealogist and translator of French to English, specialising in U.S.-Canada, Luxembourg-American, and Connecticut genealogy, and in the translation of historic French documents. You can reach her online at For a brief period, what is now Luxembourg was a part of the French First Empire. Should you ancestors have been there, the following suggestions from Ms. O'Sullivan may help you in your research.


5 Ways Your Experience Researching French Ancestors Can Help You Find Your Family in Luxembourg

  1. France and Luxembourg used the same system for recording births, deaths, and marriages: France invaded Luxembourg in 1795 and made it part of the Department des Forets1. As a result, it fell under the Decree of 20 September 1792 and was required to keep civil registration (birth, death and marriage records).2 The system for keeping records in Luxembourg came directly from France. And even better, Luxembourg’s records have been digitized on FamilySearch at
  2. Early Luxembourg records also used the Republican Calendar. Record keeping was established under the Republican Calendar, so that calendar was used until the calendar was ended in 1805.3 Use the calendar information on to calculate the date in the modern Gregorian Calendar (
  3. The census plays the same role in Luxembourg research as it does in the French: In the U.S., we tell people to start with the census. Because it’s usually searchable, you can trace your family member over time and figure out when and perhaps where he or she was born, married, had children, and died. While Luxembourg’s census can still help you find out more about your family, it isn’t an easy starting point – because it is hasn’t been completely (or even partially) indexed. To search the census, you have to know exactly where your family was living and when. It’s sorted by location and then by year on FamilySearch at The first census enumeration is in 1843, and enumerations occur about every three years after. If you can find your family, you will get helpful hints on their family structure, occupation, marital status, and possibly date of birth.
  4. Notarial records are incredibly important: The notary doesn’t even exist in American research. The closest equivalent would be combining a recorder or clerk’s office with a probate court. The notary’s work includes everything from guardianship papers to land sales.4 Luxembourg and France both have incredible collections of notarial records. You can access Luxembourg records from 1621 to 1821, the originals of which are at the National Archives of Luxembourg, on FamilySearch at
  5. The language is (sometimes) the same: Although Luxembourg was granted independence by the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and eventually ended up in a German principality, local clerks continued to use French in record keeping. The 1843 census of Niederanven was recorded in French.


Many thanks, Ms. O’Sullivan!


Anne Morddel

French Genealogy



[1] Richard Brookes, The General Gazetter. N.p.: J. Johnson, Clarks: 1809. Now on Google Books at

[2] “What was the Decree of 20 September 1792, and why do I care?” Researching Luxembourg Genealogy ( 25 May 2016.)

[3] “The Republican Calendar,” ( accessed 25 May 2016.)

[4] “Array of Notarial Records,” The French Genealogy Blog ( accessed 25 May 2016.)

The Service Historique de la Défense at Rochefort

SHD Rochefort

 It is our goal to visit all of the different locations of the archives of the Service Historique de la Défense, for they really do contain so much that is so different from what is to be found in the Departmental Archives or the National Archives. Currently, their locations are:

  • Vincennes - The central archives and library on all branches of the military
  • Cherbourg - Naval archives concerning activity in the Channel and the North Sea
  • Caen - Archives concerning the victims and dead of wars of the twentieth century
  • Brest - Naval archives concerning activity in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans
  • Lorient - Naval archives concerning  activity in the Indian Ocean, including those concerning the Compagnie des Indes
  • Le Blanc - Archives concerning the Gendarmerie nationale
  • Rochefort - Naval archives concerning activity along the Atlantic coast, from the Vendée to Spain
  • Châtellerault - Archives concerning shipbuilding as well as civilian personnel
  • Pau - Central archives concerning modern military personnel
  • Toulon - Naval archives concerning activity in the Mediterranean Sea

 It is slow work. To date, we have been to Vincennes dozens of times and to Brest a couple of times. Now, we are able to add Rochefort.

One must go up a flight of stairs to the Reading Room, which is tiny, seating no more than  a dozen people at a squeeze, but all is modern, clean and exceedingly well organized. The staff of one was a knowledgeable and helpful lady who dashed out the door every few minutes to smoke quite a lot of cigarettes in quick succession, then rushed back in to answer all questions most thoroughly, explain all equipment most patiently, display all those pertinent of the excellent finding aids most neatly and (a first) to suggest and retrieve documents relevant to our research about which we had no hint. Magnificent woman!

With her help, we were able to examine:

  • On microfilm, port correspondence from 1758 concerning the Acadians
  • Dozens of complete crew lists -- rôles d'équipages -- dating from 1691 to 1789
  • A complete section on families sent to the colonies from 1763 to 1767

 Additionally, this archive contains:

  • The archives of the naval hospital and health authority at Rochefort, and of the world's first school of naval medicine
  • Records of local shipbuilding
  • Over five thousand ship plans
  • Maritime court records, including lists of convicts sent from the port during the years from 1766 to 1852
  • Naval enlistment records and naval and commercial crew lists for all those ports on the Atlantic coast
  • A very thorough collection of papers on prizes taken by privateers

Our time was far too short, but we could not stay longer.

And then we went to see the Hermione!!!!



SHD Rochefort

4, rue du Port

17300 Rochefort

tel: (+33) 5 46 87 74 90


   Monday to Thursday - 9.00 to 12.30 and 13.30 to 17.00

   Friday - 9.00 to 12.30 and 13.30 to 16.30



©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Yet More Acadian Lists in La Rochelle and Rochefort


On this happy journey, we returned to the Departmental Archives of Charente-Maritime, which we had visited previously. The fellow who had reprimanded us for our informality on that last visit was still there, still pushing his trolley, still saying no more than a curt "Bonjour." The other staff there were, as before, most helpful, though there seemed to be an odd hierarchy: those with no status were the most willing to help, while those with more status and obviously more familiarity with the collections, were less inclined to do so. We saw one superior scolding a charming underling who had done much for our research, hissing at her "Stop answering all of her questions!" He was too late; she had given all that we sought and we a very grateful to her.

Continuing our pursuit of lists of Acadians in La Rochelle, we sought a pair of lists much earlier than the others. The first one was made in 1761 at the height of the deportations from Quebec and is entitled "Habitants de l'Ile Royale et Quebec" in La Rochelle.

1761 list

The second, of the same title, was made in November of 1762.


1762 list

As with the previous lists, the purpose was for accounting, to know who was receiving aid and how much they were receiving. Grouped according to social hierarchy, only names are given, along with amounts paid. Again, those refugees or deportees who were in La Rochelle but not in need of financial assistance will not be on the list. Also, though some deportees received an allowance for their domestic servants, those servants are not named. Thus, some of the very rich and some of the very poor may have been present but appear on no list. Some ships arrived with the passengers sick and dying of small pox and all were immediately put into hospital. Those who died are not on these lists. Our point being that the lists are incomplete but better than nothing.

The following day, we went to Rochefort to see if there might not be more lists of Acadians. It was a bit frustrating for correspondence files mentioned but did not include them. We did find one of 1775, concerning children born in France to deported persons whom the king had agreed to add to those receiving payments. We show the first and last pages here:

Liste des familles

The archivist at Rochefort (about whom more in the next post) also had numerous copies of the excellent Racines & Rameaux français d'Acadie. Probably the best source online of information about all of the original documents, whether in France or Canada, concerning Acadians is Septentrion, an excellent site with a most severe appearance for the most serious researcher.

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Passports During the Reign of Terror

Passports - 1794

As with all archives in France, those of the Municipal Archives of La Rochelle are divided into two major groups: those records created before the establishment of a new form of government after the French Revolution, the Ancien régime, and those created afterward, termed modern records. As we wrote in our previous post, we like police records in archives of  both pre and post -Revolution for their lists. In the oldest of the modern police records, we found a great haul of register books showing internal passports issued to people travelling out of La Rochelle during the Reign of Terror and the War in the Vendée, which was very close at hand.

These are simple register books, not exact copies of the internal passports. They would appear to have been made in haste, giving the impression of people rushing to leave the city in a panic or, perhaps, to join the fight to the north. There is no index, so one must simply page through them; each volume took us about an hour, for they are large, with four entries to a page. If the officer took the time to complete it (which he usually did not), each entry gives:

  • The passport number
  • The date, in the Republican Calendar
  • Name
  • Place of birth or nationality, including city, district and department
  • Age
  • Height
  • Colour of hair and eyebrows
  • Place of residence
  • Destination
  • Signature of the recipient

3 Philadelphians

As can be seen in the image of a page above, not everyone was in a panic. Passports were issued in mid-1794 to Thomas Haywood, Samuel H. Dolby and Benjamin Earle, three young Americans from Philadelphia, off on what would appear to be a mountaineering holiday. Or not - perhaps they were much more deeply involved in the events of the time, as Mistike's comment below reveals.

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy