Previous month:
August 2016
Next month:
October 2016

September 2016

The Current Turf War in French Genealogy Circles


We have observed that the modern French psyche would seem to suffer an occasionally debilitating dichotomy: on the one hand, there is a commitment to democracy, community, unity, and to the state improving society for all, while on the other, there is a profound conservatism in its simplest form of resistance to all change, particularly change that is not directed or controlled by the central authority, though even that can be resisted vociferously. The struggle between these two positions is playing out in many different aspects of French life at any one time. It was so this summer and is still an aspect of a flurry of online blog posts and tweets about genealogy cercles, (associations or clubs) in France, in particular in what is becoming a turf war over the indexing of archives.

It began in July with an interview of the new president of the Fédération Française de la Généalogie (FFG), Thierry Chestier, on Famicity and elsewhere. In it, he told of how he first became interested in genealogy, how he came to be president of the FFG, and of his vision and plan for the future of the organisation. His first goal is to campaign against the government's economising plan to stop the two hundred year old procedure of two copies of civil registers being maintained (lutter contre la suppression du 2ème exemplaire du registre de l’état civil). His second goal is to increase the value and importance, as well as the number of genealogy associations/cercles within the FFG (valoriser les associations), pointing out that now genealogy is "the third most popular pastime in France". (We cannot find his reasoning for this. Statista puts number three as "going out with friends", after "listening to music" and "watching television". Perhaps he thinks all the people going out with friends are going to genealogy association meetings? Other activities in which genealogy as a pastime might be hidden come even lower down the list: "surfing the Internet" is seventh, "cultural outings"  -- could this be archives visits? -- is tenth, "going on social networks" is even lower.) 

Then came the bone of contention:

"We are seeing a competition around [the activities of] genealogy associations from commerce and from the archives' services. There are archives that offer the opportunity for [collaborative] indexing when that is the role of the associations. Just imagine if the associations were to disappear, and genealogists having to pay for access to records. The associations are important for creating a social link."

Many interpreted this as his saying that the collaborative indexing now possible on some Departmental Archives websites should be banned and reserved as the province of the genealogy associations only.

Two days later, the ripostes began, in some very high dudgeon. Sophie Boudarel was at the forefront of the charge with "Is the French Federation of Genealogy Opposed to Collaborative Indexing?" This was quickly picked up by Roland of, who pointed out that he had done such indexing for his local genealogy association but quit in annoyance because he felt the results should be offered freely, while the association was charging a fee for people to access them. Then, Brigitte Snejkovsky of the blog "Chroniques D'Antan et D'Ailleurs" asked more threateningly : "Can Collaborative Indexing Kill Off the Genealogy Associations?". Some of these bloggers are themselves contributing their excellent skills to collaborative indexing.

For many, the discussion centres on the new, in the guise of online, collaborative indexing, as opposed to the old, being the genealogy associations and their funky little booklets of extracts that have to be ordered by post and paid for by cheque, town by town, until a researcher hits on the right one. The genealogy associations see themselves as the equivalent of a historian who sees his or her well-researched book, self-published and printed at great personal expense and representing years of unfunded research in archives, suddenly given away for free as a PDF all over the Internet because someone scanned it and uploaded it because he "believed" that "history should be free for everyone" and is too moronic to understand the difference between the information in historical documents and a reasoned, knowledgeable, historical analysis of it.

They have used the Internet -- via Bigenet and Geneabank -- not to spread their indices, but to try to ensure that they continue to receive revenue for their work. Yet, those bloggers who are outraged by the position taken by Monsieur Chestier represent the modern genealogy community that does work together to index masses of documents and to make the results available to all at no cost. They rightly see their work as a voluntary and very significant contribution to French genealogy.

These essays were followed by that of the sober Guillaume, who writes the blog of FranceGenWeb, who emphasised that there is a great difference between good and bad indexing and that this difference was the real point of the discussion. He is right but has been pretty much ignored in the shouting match.

Compare the collaborative indexing of the United States Federal Census, with its hundreds of -- at times -- preposterous mistakes. Names wrong, ages wrong, sexes wrong, with corrections, sometimes numerous, sometimes also wrong, sometimes littered with disputes, as if indexing a historical document were akin to drafting a Wikipedia article. Compare also with the indexing of the Drouin Collection by subcontractors who neither spoke nor read nor wrote French, let alone eighteenth century French, producing, again, something with hundreds of incomprehensible errors.

What those who pantingly state that speed is more important than accuracy do not understand is that certain things, indices and dictionaries among them, must be one hundred percent correct to be of any worth at all. If a user knows that an index has a ten percent error rate, then the whole thing is useless, as he or she cannot know which ten per cent is the rubbish to ignore. Are the bloggers above, all of them highly skilled and knowledgeable and surely indexers of skill and thoroughness, considering that not all are as conscientious as they? Do they consider that indexing by untrained volunteers could be worse than no indexing at all?  If collaborative indexing cannot be error free, Monsieur Chestier is correct to protest it for, by virtue of volume, it will overwhelm the indices and extracts produced by the genealogy associations, resulting in the demise not only of those associations, but of reliable indices to parish and civil registrations across France. Know with certainty that this would be a loss, not a gain.

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy



FGB Free Clinic - Case No. 7 - Gleanings From Foundling Documents



We have received an interesting case from Monsieur S., who is researching a woman who was a foundling in Paris. He had already leapt some high hurdles in acquiring from the Archives de Paris the documents relating to her as an enfant assisté, which he sent to us with this request:

I am attempting to determine who the parents of this woman were. As you will see by looking at the attached documents, which I received from the Paris Archives, Marie Thérèse Charlotte Augusta was a foundling, and a very unusual one. She was born in a well-to-do section of Paris and her parents are listed as undisclosed. Apparently, however, they were married, as there is no indication that she was illegitimate. She appears to have spent only three days in a Paris orphanage before being fostered (or adopted) by a Vertus family.

Would you know any way of determining who her parents were?

We are afraid that the birth record is not at all unusual. The first document (see above) states that the child was born at the establishment of a midwife (sage-femme), Madame Girnet or Ginet; the parents could have lived anywhere else, so the place of birth indicates nothing of their financial circumstances. From this registration, as neither parent is identified, there is no way of knowing if the father were even alive or if the mother survived childbirth.

This first document is an informal attestation, made sixty years later and signed with the initials M. Th. Fr. - could those have been of the lady herself? The original would have been destroyed in the 1871 burning of the Paris City Hall (as we have explained here) and this copy would have been one of the millions that Parisians submitted to authorities (who were pleading for such replacement documentation) to prove their identities after that fire, (though it does not appear in the index of "reconstituted" Paris registrations online, which could indicate that she did not live in Paris or need to establish her identity there.)



The second document (above) shows she was assigned the number 1120, and that a surname, Michery, has been given to her, perhaps by the hospice. This is the name of a town and is not a surname much at all in France, as you can see on Géopatronyme. It may have been the home town of someone working in the hospice, or perhaps names were given simply by looking at a map of France. It also states that she was born in the (pre-1860) twelfth arrondissement, or borough, and that her birth registration number was 472. This, as we say, would have been burnt.



The third document (above) is a hospice form showing what happened to her since her arrival. She was baptised at the receiving hospice on the eleventh, the day after she arrived and three days after her birth, so she was given up almost immediately. That she was immediately placed in care indicates that the couple probably had no intention of marrying later and recognising her, something that often happened (reconnaissance of a child is explained here). On the 13th of March, when she was five days old, she was sent to a woman, probably a wet-nurse, named Marguerite Laurent Grognet (not Vertus, read on), living in the town of Coligny in the canton of Vertus. This town was amalgamated with others in 1977 to form Val-des-Marais, as Wikipedia states here. The column to the right of that document, for "Information on the child since she arrived at the hospice" is rather hard to read, but says that on the 5th of April 1851 a certificate confirming her birth was issued to the adjunct of the commune(?), for her to marry, of the town of Vertus (Marne), about fifteen kilometres from where she was sent as an infant.



The fourth document (above) concerns her baptism, done jointly with the child received after her. The godparents were most likely employees of the hospice.





The fifth and sixth documents, a two-page spread, probably in a ledger, list the children placed with wet-nurses, giving the woman's name and town of residence. The Michery child is third from the bottom. As can be seen from the deaths shown in the columns on the sixth document, she was lucky to have survived. We have written about wet-nurses in France here.

Continuing the Search

How to proceed to learn more? Firstly, Monsieur S. should look for her marriage registration in 1851 in Vertus, if he has not already done so. The website of the Departmental Archives of Marne is excellent, free to use and has online the parish and civil registrations of its towns, including Vertus and its register of marriages from 1841 to 1851. Images 196 and 197 of that scanned register show the marriage of André Julien David and Marie Thérèse Charlotte Augusta on the sixth of May 1851. Here, Augusta is given as her surname, as it would have appeared on her birth registration, and presumably as the surname given by the hospice, Michery, was never added to her name legally. The Officer of Civil Registrations noted that he had received a copy of her birth details (most likely the one mentioned in the third document above) and that her parents were unknown. 

When a person married and his or her parents were deceased, copies of the death registrations had to be presented at the time and the details noted in the registration. This was not possible for the bride and the fact that she and her witnesses did not know where her parents lived or died is duly noted. Other details include that both of the couple were aged thirty-one, that "Marie Augusta", as she signed herself, was a resident of the town of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger at the time of her marriage, as was one of her witnesses, Jean Louis Hamé, a wine grower, aged fifty-three. It is also noted that the couple did not make a marriage contract with a notaire, which is a pity in terms of genealogical research.

The Departmental Archives of Marne also have on their website census records, from 1836 onward. We recommend that Monsieur S. look at those for Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Vertus and Coligny as they might show where Marie Thérèse lived and with whom. She would have to be sought under both possible surnames: Augusta and Michery as well as that of her witness, Hamé, and that of her original wet-nurse, Grognet or Grougnet.

Unfortunately, without further documentation, there is no way to find out who her parents were via traditional genealogical research. Hints that could, possibly, be of help are:

  • Her many names, which could relate to her parents or their friends or family
  • Any court documents concerning her, especially while she was still a minor
  • Inexplicable wealth, which could indicate that a wealthy father cared for her. As she had rather nice clothing when she arrived: a "green silk bonnet", a blue and white checked shawl, etc., it may indicate that one parent or the other wanted to show love or at least care before surrendering her to the foundling hospital.

However, each of these possibilities is nothing on its own but could, with more information, indicate a direction of research. The sad truth is that, if a parent, especially the father, did not want to be identified, he could ensure it and had the law on his side. Thus, we fear that, barring a surprise in the census returns or a lucky DNA match, the parents of Marie Thérèse Charlotte Augusta may never be identified.


N.B. - Do read the comments and our response below in the Comments to this post.

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy







French Florida In the News

Floridian treasure


Last year, we wrote a small post about the maps of French Florida. The French settlements were such a small blip in the wide-screen extravaganza that is French history that they get little attention. The subject may be dear to the hearts of the rare Francophone Floridian, but to the rest of the world is unknown. News of treasure may change all of that, for a moment, at least. Cannon, a whole monument, and who knows what more have been discovered at the bottom of the sea in a shipwreck.  Is it La Trinité? Read about it on the Archaeology News Network here.

The Swiss Mennonites of France


Of late, we have been working on a small group of Swiss Mennonites who emigrated to the Alsace and Montbéliard regions during a period when they were not French, and of whose descendants historians estimate some seven hundred to one thousand emigrated onward to North America. Known to the French as Anabaptistes, they came from the city and canton of Berne during the seventeenth century. Others had come to the region earlier but seemed to have disappeared as a separately identifiable group by the time that those from Berne began arriving. This second wave of migration first appeared in Alsace in the 1640s.

Thirty years later, as persecution in Berne intensified, they came in greater numbers, firstly to Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines in what is now the department of Haut-Rhin, and then to Montbéliard in what is now Doubs. Primarily farmers, they rented and restored some of the many properties left empty after the Thirty Years War and the deaths and migrations that conflict caused. At times, the Mennonites were persecuted or merely harassed, at times left in peace to farm their land and follow their religion. With the French Revolution and First Empire, the regions were annexed and the laws of the Republic applied to all, including Mennonites. Many adapted and many others left; today, barely two thousand practicing Mennonites remain in France. An excellent and thorough article on the history this group can be found here

Two publications are the result of extensive research into the two settlements.

Saisons d'Alsace

Issue number seventy-six of Saisons d'Alsace is dedicated to the Anabaptistes Mennonites d'Alsace, being almost entirely about the group at Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines. Articles range from the general, to discussions about the religion and culture, to comparisons with the Jewish community in Alsace, to a detailed study of a particular farm and the families that lived there.


Recherches Historiques sur les Anabaptistes de l'Ancienne Principauté de Montbéliard, d'Alsace et des Régions voisines by Ch. Mathiot was published in 1922 by the Mission Intérieure Luthérienne de Montbéliard. Most complete, it attempts to cover every detail about every family that was documented using what would seem to have been all archives in which they appear. Sources used are:

  • Archives nationales
  • Archives départementales du Doubs
  • Archives départementales de la Haute-Saône
  • Archives départementales du Haut-Rhin
  • What would now be the Archives départementales du Territoire de Belfort
  • What would now be the Archives municipales de Montbéliard

For genealogists of this group, the book is a treasure of discussion of individuals and families and their run-ins with the law. No family genealogies are given, but there is a table at the end (much reproduced on the Internet) showing:

  • Family surnames
  • Where in Berne they came from
  • Where they first arrived in the region, if known 
  • Where they settled in the region
  • The year that the name first appears in the archives

As Monsieur Mathiot identifies his sources throughout, the book can be used as a research guide to certain families.

For those who can read German, the parish registers of the Montbéliard Mennonite community are available in their entirety, with a French translation of much of it, on the website of the Archives municipales de Montbéliard. Alternatively, these same records, complete Mennonite church register of Montbéliard from 1750 to 1958, have been translated into English by Joe A. Springer and published in two volumes last year by the Mennonite Historical Society in Goshen, Indiana. Many thanks to Madame R. for our copies.

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Summer is Ended


We are very grateful to those of you who have written with concerns as to our welfare, having noticed the long silence here. After a bit of trouble with our eye, all is well again. As soon as we could see again, we jumped immediately into preparations for talks that we plan to give to genealogy groups this winter.

August being a month when Google Analytics (which are not very usefully analytical, we find) tells us that all of our Dear Readers are either the working somnambulant at worst, or somnolent in the summer's heat, or out cold at the beach at best, we thought no one would notice we had missed a few posts. But you did and many thanks for all of your kind messages.

It seems hotter now than it was in August but in spite of that we can no longer tell ourself that these are still the lazy days of summer. Nor can we hide in the ice box; we must get to work. Prepare yourselves, French Genealogy Blog posts begin again tomorrow!