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July 2016

Celebrate! Le Havre Departing Passenger Lists Are Online!

Bateau a voiles

It used to be that, to research a person who sailed for North America or the French colonies from Le Havre, we had to go to the Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime in Rouen to look at the microfilmed passenger lists. Now, they are online and may be searched freely. Before you dash to the website, it is important to know that this collection is not simply of departing passenger lists for all vessels leaving Le Havre. 

What this collection represents are the surviving shipping documentation for FRENCH vessels registered at Le Havre and that returned to Le Havre at the end of the voyage, that is held by the Departmental Archives.* Much documentation has not survived. Much documentation is held at other archives. Many of the vessels are merely fishing boats, many vessels sailing to other French ports. Be warned that this is not a neat counterpart to the passenger arrivals lists for New York that can be found on

The proper title of the entire collection is Inscription Maritime. For Le Havre, the categories are:

  • Armement et desarmement des batiments de commerce - These are the documents of French-registered, merchant vessels filed with the ports on their return to Le Havre. Many have both crew lists and passenger lists. Within this category are many choices, including Répertoires d’armement et de désarmement des bâtiments de commerce - these are essentially finding aids, the lists that give the numbers, dates and names of ships necessary to find them in the relevant documents above.
  • Matricules des bâtiments de commerce - 1741-1929 - Filed on the vessel's return to port, this gives the same information as the rôle, but will show any changes or alterations that may have occurred during the voyage.
  • Matricules des bâtiments de commerce - 1850-1906. As above, but for pleasure craft.
  • Matricules des gens de mer - 1751-1950 - These are highly detailed crew lists, often with copies of birth registrations. There are alphabetic indices at the end of each volume.
  • Rôles des bâtiments de commerce - 1751-1816 - These are the papers required of each merchant vessel, listing stores, cargo, crew and passengers.

Take the time to become familiar with these lists. There are constantly new additions. Some of the best lists of passengers leaving France are in the documents handed over by the captain when the ship returned to Le Havre. 


As we explained in one of our lectures, the Departmental Archives websites are not genealogy websites. They are designed as links to the archival history of the department, which includes a great deal more than family history. You cannot simply type a name into a search box and expect to find an ancestor. Departmental Archives have a structure and a classification system, cadre de classement in French. Within the system, each section is described in detail in finding aids, instruments recherches in French. To get the most out of any archives website, you must locate and read the finding aids. That is particularly so when the original records are a bit chaotic, as shipping records almost always are. 

For the Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime:

The Classification System

The Inscription Maritime Finding Aids

Enjoy the hunt!

UPDATE AND EVEN MORE TO CELEBRATE! In late 2019 a website, Le désarmement Havrais, opened and it presents a completely indexed database to the passenger lists. One can search by  the name of a member of the crew, of his parents, of a passenger, of a vessel, of the owners, and more. The reference to the information gives the film number and frame on which to view the original. This is a joy!

*No matter how clearly we try to make the point, we still receive dozens of comments and messages from readers who do not seem to be reading this post with attention, or perhaps do not understand what vessel registration. A vessel flies the flag of a country and that country s where its ownership is registered. It may sail from any port but it is registered at only one port. American, British, Dutch vessels, or vessels of any other nationality, were NOT French, could not have been registered with the port of Le Havre, probably did not return to the port of Le Havre at the end of the voyage and so, their passenger lists will NOT be included in these archives.


©2016, Update ©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Early Nineteenth Century Military Records

Chef de Famille

We have recently returned from a research junket at the Departmental Archives at Doubs. Besançon remains a very pleasant small city and the archives continue to improve their service. The indomitable Yvette, resident genealogist volunteer, continues to offer assistance to any and all and the archivists clearly rely upon her extensive knowledge. 

We spent quite some time investigating military records and discovered all sorts of little treasures previously unknown to us within the series 4R. As we wrote recently here, the French military loomed large in a young man's life during the nineteenth century. As early as 1804, authorities were conducting a census of men eligible for the draft. The document shown above is an example of such a one. It was a census of heads of families and people living alone, and a list of the sons and grandsons in the household. The example is for Nicolas François Normand, a limonadier -- a type of grocer who sold the cast-offs from the kitchens of the grand -- in Besançon. He was born on the 10th of September 1749 in Avoudrey. He was married with four sons and (possibly) four daughters. He paid taxes. He was five feet and four inches tall. The comment about him and his political opinions states that he was quiet and beyond reproach. As to his four sons, all born in Besançon:

  • Victor Marie, born the 23rd of September 1762. He seems to have been a judge in "Leybak" [Laybach, now Ljubljana, then the capitol of the Illyrian Provinces, under French rule]
  • Louis Armand Desiré, born the 5th of January 1785, a farrier in the Cuirassiers.
  • Etienne Jean, born the 28th of February 1788, a limonadier, like his father, and apparently unsuitable for military service.
  • Félix , born the 16th of August 1799, a pharmacology student, planning to join up.

These forms document Napoleon's never-ending demand for men to fill his army's ranks. They are individual sheets, filling a number of cartons, in which they are placed alphabetically by surname. A hidden resource on males in family groups during the early nineteenth century.

Series 4R contains other treasures and the contents vary from one Departmental Archive to the other but all concern recruitment for the many corps of the army, even from among orphans and the elderly, as the wars wore on. Check the online finding aids, inventaires, to see what the Departmental Archives central to your research may have.

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Cart Before the Horse Department


We do feel that it is time for some reminders to those of you researching your French ancestors, for we have been contacted by people hell-bent on thundering down the wrong track. When we have refused to join you on this wild rush, it is not from indifference, secrecy or a desire to obstruct your one and only chance to find your French forebear. No, it is because we dread seeing you spend so much money, time and energy pursuing what can only be called a Lucky Dip approach to genealogy that is almost certain to bring no result other than one that you will have to fabricate. We dread seeing you work so hard to write up a family history that contains no history at all and probably very little of your family and that will require you to write many paragraphs along the lines of "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!", and will result in you becoming a humbug. Thus:

  • "Top down" genealogy is that form of research in which you have decided that some person who lived many generations ago is your ancestor. You have no proof, no documentation, no clear genetic link, not even a rumour, but you are certain. Spending a fortune to research that person's descendants, you find yourself respelling names, altering birth and death dates, fabricating twins, telling yourself "It must be so" when you know it isn't, and soldiering on to the bitter, utterly falsified end. There is a reason that this form of genealogical research is frowned upon by serious genealogists and family historians, and that is that it produces not family history but fiction.The first rule of genealogical research  -- start with yourself and work backwards in time -- applies to French genealogy as well. Follow it.
  • We have often encouraged you, Dear Readers, to learn as much as possible about French history. It is quite a tale and quite complicated. However, a little history can, with some, go down the wrong way. Knowing that an event occurred while your French ancestor lived is no reason to place him or her, like a French Forest Gump, at the centre of that and every other event. If your ancestor emigrated in 1830, that does not necessarily make him or her an intriguer in the July Revolution. The voyage may have been planned for months; someone may have suddenly fallen in love with a foreigner; a man may have been in the merchant marine and simply got fed up in the port of the moment. Knowledge of French history should inform your research but not redirect it.
  • Genealogy Tourism is booming, and we enjoy meeting with those of you who pass through France and wish to discuss your genealogy. However, it really can be quite disappointing to book a stay in a village that you think is the ancestral seat only to find no trace of your family there. Genealogical research takes time; family stories cannot be taken at face value but must be confirmed by research and documentation. Even then, the best documented research can all be disproven by DNA testing, as an English aristocrat recently discovered. Tour various parts of France, by all means, but do not hope to find the town of your ancestors simply by arriving someplace and asking folks.
  • Do not jump to conclusions based on photographs of your ancestors or Bibles that they possessed. A photograph of your ancestor in Paris can only mean that she was there at some point. Without more information, it cannot prove that she was born there. A French Bible -- without anything written within -- handed down from an ancestor means absolutely nothing except that she had a French Bible. Without more information, it does not prove that she was French, that she ever set foot in France, that she could read it, or even that she bought it. It may not even have been hers but something a friend asked her to keep safe and then never retrieved (in the same fashion, we still have the school certificates and diplomas of a friend who left them with us for safe-keeping when he moved house forty years ago;  we would find it hilarious if our great-great-grandchildren were to imagine they held genealogical significance to our family).

So, please, please, put the horse in front of the cart, do the work first, and then reap the pleasure of having discovered and knowing your French roots.

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy 

All Descendants of Pingenot or Recroix of Alsace, Please Help

Alsatian child

We have just received word from Monsieur M., who writes the excellent blog on Alsace, Elsasser Wurtzle, asking for help from our very own Dear Readers. He is researching the village of Pfaffans, once located in Alsace, from which a number of people emigrated to the United States. He would like to know what happened to them and where they lived.

He would like to hear from anyone concerning the following surnames, especially the first two, in bold: 

  • Pingenot
  • Recroix
  • Bloch
  • Borneque
  • Cayot
  • Turrillot

The above people received French passports to travel to New York in 1862. If you think your ancestor may be one of this group, Monsieur M. would like to know as much as possible about their lives as immigrants and asks that you please send him:

  • Any family stories or anecdotes
  • Press clippings such as obituaries
  • Photographs, including those of gravestones
  • Genealogies 

Please write directly to:

To be sure, you could learn a great deal more about your family of Pfaffans! 

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy