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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