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November 2016

Have You Tried


This website is primarily Anglophone, primarily British, using exclusively nineteenth and twentieth century census returns...and yet.....

The premise is interesting: to enter into the website's database as many families as possible to which you are related that appear in the following censuses:

  • 1841 - England and Wales
  • 1881 - England and Wales
  • 1881 - Scotland
  • 1881 - Canada
  • 1880 - United States
  • 1911 - England and Wales
  • 1911 - Ireland

The website will match and put in touch with one another those members researching the same families, et voilà - cousins! 

We have been contacted many times by people seeking long lost French cousins. It is unlikely that Lost Cousins will put you in contact with cousins in France, but it may put you in touch with others researching a French ancestor who appears in one of the above censuses. This, in turn, could lead to sharing information with said cousins, to the breaking down of brick walls and - at last - to a French cousin or two.

Have any of you, Dear Reader, tried this? Have you found cousins? Have you found French cousins? We are curious to know.

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Further To Citation Issues


Continuing our research into how better to cite French genealogy documents and sources for our discussion with Elizabeth Shown Mills, author of "Evidence Explained: : Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace".1 (who is most generously offering her encouragement in this effort) we have been trawling the blogs of various French experts.

Roland B. writes that he gives: 

  • The type of record series or group, e.g. "BMS" for a parish registration or "état civil" for a civil registration or "acte notarié" for a notarial record.
  • The place of provenance, which he gives as the department number only and then the commune name in capitals, e.g. "28 ILLIERS" or "41 LANCE"
  • The year  the document was created
  • The specific type of document, e.g. "contrat mariage" or "décès"
  • The name(s) of the individual(s) in the document, with the surname in capitals

Thus, his list of citation examples includes:

  • Acte notarié>1822 Contrat mariage : André FALBET et Maria CASTAIGNÉ
  • BMS 28 ILLIERS>1788 mariage : CHATEAU Hilarion & GROSSET Marie Louise
  • Etat civil 41 LANCE>1895 décès : MOYER Marie Louise 2

When compared with the requirements given in "Evidence Explained", these seem not to contain enough information. Here is what Ms. Mills says is required for a citation of "Derivatives & Imaged Sources", which is what microfilms of parish and civil registers as viewed on the websites of Departmental Archives are :

  • "distinguish between image copies and other derivatives; such as abstracts, transcripts, and information extracted into databases;
  • credit properly the original creator;
  • credit properly the producer of the film or electronic publication;
  • identify clearly the nature of the material;
  • identify the film or electronic publications completely enough for others to locate it;
  • cite the specific place (page, frame, etc.) on the roll, fiche, or database at which we found the relevant detail; and
  • cite the date on which the microfilm or electronic data set was created (if that information is provided), updated, or accessed -  as well as the date of the relevant record."3

 Thus, for a full reference note on the Departmental Archive copy of a burial in a parish register, "Evidence Explained" gives:

"Saint-Nicolas Parish (Saint-Nicolas, Diocese of Coutances), Burial Register, 1769-1791, p. 339, Marie Lemiére burial (1771); microfilm 1Mi EC26, roll 11; Archives Départementales de la Manche, St.-Lo, France."4

There is an extremely long and interesting discussion of how one should cite French sources on the blog of Sophie Boudarel, "La Gazette des Ancêtres".  Each commenter has contributed his or her own personal style, many of which lean toward something that is completely in numerical codes. The discussion is exclusively on how to create what "Evidence Explained" terms a "source list entry"; there is no discussion at all on how to cite a source which is a parish or civil registration in a reference note or footnote. This makes it impossible to compare any French reference note or footnote for this type of documentation with the style recommended in "Evidence Explained". Language differences and translations aside, would French genealogists require more for the online version of the record cited above? And, if so, what exactly?

The same is true for the French Geneawiki page on the subject: there is no standard format recommended for a source list entry or its equivalent, and there is no discussion at all of crafting reference notes or footnotes for sources. There is, however, much discussion of the need to separate the idea of a source from the information it contains, which is comparable to the explanation of the primary and secondary information a source may contain in "Evidence Explained".5

We will continue this investigation with, we hope, discussions with archivists and historians, for the genealogy community here in France would seem to be addressing different issues.

©206 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


  1. Mills, Elizabeth Shown, "Evidence Explained : Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace", Baltimore : Genealogical Publishing Company, 2009.
  2. B., Roland, "Les Sources en généalogie", Web blog post,, 17 April 2012, (, accessed 21 November 2016.
  3. Mills,  "Evidence Explained", p. 47.
  4. Ibid., p.357
  5. Ibid., pp24-25.

FGB Free Clinic - Case no. 8 follow-up - Uniformologie - Success!

Band Practice

After our Case Study on Uniformologie, in which we reported an expert's view that the uniform in question was no French Army uniform and his speculations on what it could be (all wrong, by the way, but we are still grateful to him for his expertise) Monsieur R had no intention of giving up on the quest. Indeed no, he continued with heroic amounts of energy and determination and solved the riddle. With his kind permission, we give his account of the research below and hope that you may be inspired, even find new courage and ideas, to carry on your own research.

First, I would like to thank you, and tell you how much my wife (Madame R) and I enjoyed your "Uniformologie" Article, and your interest following our "needle in the haystack" search for the uniform identification and the ultimate confirmation of the identity of the man in the photo.

We were hoping to fulfill a dying wish of my wife's mother to learn about and tell her anything we could learn regarding her biological father. You see, due to the reasons unknown, my wife's mother, born in 1924, in Germany, was not told who her biological father was until well after she and her family had migrated to America in the 1930s. In fact, her mother was much older when her own mother (Madame R's grandmother) finally revealed who her biological father was. It was the handsome French man in uniform, in the old photo. The photo in question was always in my wife's grandmother's box of photos that she brought with her to America. They left their family village, located near the French Border, in search of work and a new life. We believe my wife's grandmother had met this man while across the border in France in search of work(?) Growing up in the Midwest, my wife had always been told by her grandmother that the man in the photo was a special friend. Eventually, my wife was told that the man in the photo was named Jules Martin, and that her grandmother had met him while in Sarrebourg, France.

So, in the last months of my wife's mother's life we began a search in earnest to confirm the identity of Jules Martin and perhaps of his life back in France. Unfortunately, to blur our endeavor, the name "Jules Martin" is about like Robert Smith in the USA. I always believed that the path to confirm the identity of Mr. Martin was along the route of first identifying the uniform, especially since it bore officer stripes. As you explained in your "Uniformologie" our search for the uniform identification was nearly in vain, even after exhaustive internet research. As a part of the search, my goal was to get this photo out on as many sites as possible, and to get the photo showing up in Google image pages as often and as early as possible-hoping someone may see it and know the man. We knew the photo was taken in Sarrebourg, France, by the photographer's imprint on the image. We also knew that the photo had to be taken in the early 1920s. We assumed the man, Jules Martin, to be about 20-25 years in age. We also searched under the assumption he was from that Alsace-Lorraine Region. At this time we were never able to confirm his existence through any mandatory military registration records, even though we reviewed many from Classes 1918-1924, in several "Departments." Nor, could any of the historical military forums I posted in, identify the uniform or insignia. Therefore, I began launching strategic darts, by way of emails containing the photo along with an explanation to civic officials in Sarrebourg and other Alsace-Lorraine Region Communes.

Finally, I received an email from a helpful director of tourism in Sarrebourg, whom I had contacted. She had distributed it to some folks in the Community, including the President of the Organization, "les Amis du Vieux Sarrebourg", translated as the “Friends of Old Sarrebourg.” And, thus, the needle was found! Through this Group, they identified the uniform as the "band uniform" of one of the local civic associations, known as the "Bengeles." (I suspect, that perhaps the uniform was from military surplus, because I had recently found that his uniform was remarkably similar to the Saint Maixent Military Academy uniform in the early 1900s.) One of the men of the "Friends of Old Sarrebourg" showed the photo to another friend in Sarrebourg, and this man identified the man in the photo, as indeed Jules Martin (aka Julius Martin)-his grandfather! He initially offered some sketchy information that his grandfather was born in 1899, and that he was a farmer, grocer and musician. Interestingly enough, the grandson has the exact same photo that was in my wife's old family box of photos.

With much pleasure, I shared this discovery with my wife and she listened with great emotion. Sadly, her mother had passed away earlier in the summer. Before we could tell her what we had finally learned of her biological father, Jules. My wife, Madame R, gave much consideration, thought, and prayer on how to take the next step. The dilemma of making contact with the living grandson, in France; considering the possible delicate situation arising from the relationship of my wife's grandmother and Jules Martin, long ago, in France, resulting in the birth of my wife's mother. Recently, my wife did send the email with an attached letter to Jules’s grandson. A letter she spent much time composing trying to be sensitive to the reader. After many rewrites, she finally had a friend, who could write and speak in fluent French, write a translation. We have now received a reply from the grandson still living in Sarrebourg, France. Though he was quite surprised, he offered more information regarding their common biological grandfather, Jules Martin. At this time, my wife does not know where this new relationship is headed. However, should they become friends, she hopes to visit Sarrebourg and so they may better share their stories of life and family.

A Happy Ending!

Note also how generous with their time and how interested in and willing to help with French genealogy puzzles the local official and history/genealogy buffs were. We have found this to be the case very, very often. There may be the odd over-worked official fed up with genealogy requests who will send a letter of rebuff to you, but most are keen to be of help and to connect with distant cousins in far-off lands. This post tells how you may find more about each department's local history associations. This website can be used to find the address of every town hall (mairie) in France, should you wish to emulate Monsieur R and write to one.

Monsieur and Madame R, thank you so much for sharing this research journey with us. (Suggestions for how to prepare are given here.) We look forward to a report on the discovery of Sarrebourg and family there.

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Did Your Ancestor Take Another's Place in the Army?


At the beginning of the summer, which seems so long ago, almost an age of innocence from this perspective, we wrote of the harsh demands of the French military during the nineteenth century. One of the ways for some to avoid serving was, of course, to emigrate. Another way was to pay someone to serve in one's place, to hire a remplaçant.

During the period from 1800 to 1872, the French Army permitted those called up for service to find  -- or "buy" -- a replacement. The replacement had to be of the same age and he had to be approved by the recruitment bureau. If he were approved, the man being replaced had to pay something toward the replacement's uniform and equipment. 

A formal approval of replacement might have been filed with the prefecture. If so, that would be found in Series Q in the Departmental Archives. Registers of replacements may be found in Series R. If a formal contract happened to have been made, that would be in the notarial archives in Series E (except for those of Paris, which are held in the National Archives.) Unless you have the name of the notaire, finding this last could be a long hunt through each notaire's chronological list of acts written, his répertoire. It could, however, be worth it, in terms of rewards for your genealogical research, particularly if in Paris, where few of the military lists survive.

Remplacement 1


We came across a replacement contract of 1822 in the National Archives in Paris (carton no. MC/ET/960) in the notarial acts of Maître Grenier. It tells a tale:

Jean-Baptiste Amam (or Hanant), a gardener, contracted to pay Pierre Lablanche, a mason, to replace the former's son, Guillaume, in the army. Both young men were in the same recruitment list of 1821, but Lablanche had been released, while Amam's number was called. They said that there were friends. It was agreed that Monsieur Lablanche was to serve the full term -- with honour, no less -- that the army required of him. In return, said Lablanche would receive 1700 francs, in instalments, from Amam's father. There follow three pages explaining when and how the money was to be paid. Payment was to be made by "metal money only".

The contract does not name other family members, but it does give the addresses of Amam/Hannant and Lablanche. The call-up age was twenty, so it can be estimated that both young men were born in about 1801 and probably in Paris.

The different spellings of the gardener's name are an interesting secondary topic. Throughout the document, the notaire spelt the name Amam, while the man whose name it was signed it, Hanant. Neither version is at all common in France today. Why did the notaire insist on such a variant? Was it arrogance? Did the gardener have to present a document and, if so, was that the spelling on the document?

Hanant et Lablanche

That 1700 francs was quite a sum. Calculating monetary values across eras is tricky, but we have given it a shot using the website of Professor Rodney Evinsson, of Stockholm University, which converts based on the value of gold. According to his site's calculations, 1700 francs of 1822 have the value of nearly 17,500 euros today. That would have been the full payment for six to eight years of military duty. Is that a fair price, do you think?


©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Discussion Open! - Citing French Documents As Genealogical Sources


Dear Readers, we ask your help with citation of French documents following the principles of Elizabeth Shown Mills's "Evidence Explained: : Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace".1 In our Sisyphean struggle with this, you may envision us as pretty much flattened under the stone.

As per procedure, we create for each source a source note, a full reference note and a short /subsequent reference note, trying to use the suggestions and templates for French records as given in "Evidence Explained".

Here are our difficulties:

  • All of our research involves the use of French documents and archives, whether originals or copies, viewed either on site at the repositories or on the websites that they operate. We do not have access to and therefore never use Family History Libraries. Yet many of the "Evidence Explained" notes concern only Family History Library copies of (sometimes) the same resource. The Family History Library source may be simply a microfilm number, while the Departmental Archive source in France may have a title in words and its own archives code or number. These surely should be included in the citation, but how?
  • In giving the locations not of the documents but of their creation, particularly for parish and civil registrations and for census returns, the fact that the French civil administrative structure is quite different from that in the United States means that the two -- to our mind -- really cannot follow the same format. Additionally, the former has recently been reorganised. Allow us to explain at length:  

In France, the largest administrative division is the region, the number of which were reduced in 2015 from 27 to 18. Regions are divided into departments, of which there are 101. Departments are divided into arrondissements, of which there are 342. In most cases, an arrondissement is also a chef-lieu, something like a county seat; but where it is not, the arrondissement is administered by a person with the title of sous-préfet.

Arrondissements are divided into cantons, which are not a straightforward step in the hierarchy as they were established mostly to manage services such as the local police, firemen, local elections and - please note - census taking. Confusingly, a commune that is a large city can have many cantons, while a canton in the countryside may encompass many communes. In 2013, France had 4055 cantons.

Arrondissements are also divided into communes, the primary administrative level, created in 1789 from what had been church parishes. A commune may be a city, town, or village. A commune will have a mayor, a municipal council and, crucially here, the responsibility for the civil registration of births, marriages and deaths within its boundaries. Since the re-organisation of 2015, some but not all communes have been grouped into intercommunalities, to share administrative services and responsibilities. France currently has 35,585 communes.

These hierarchical divisions of territorial administration are, in descending order:


However, for a large city like Paris, the commune of France with the highest population, it can look like this:

Region-department-metropolitan commune-arrondissement

Since 1964, Paris -- ever the oddball -- has been both a commune and a department, divided into 20 arrondissements which are also cantons, so an example of the above hierarchy might be written as:

Ile-de-France - Paris - 9th arrondissement

In Paris and other large cities, the civil registration is carried out at the arrondissement level. In this case, an arrondissement is comparable to a borough in New York City or London (but imagine that New York City also had a borough named New York). At the same time, in the more general use across the rest of the country, an arrondissement is similar to a county within an American state or to a borough or district within a British county.

Trying to make this varied administrative structure, with different terms occupying different places in the hierarchy at the same time, fit into a single and rigid citation structure has proved nearly impossible for us. Nor can we always craft a citation that can fit with the recommendations for French sources in "Evidence Explained". Dear Readers, what do you do? How do you cite the sources you have found in France or on the websites of French archives?

We would like to propose a couple of things, to begin with, at least:

  • Because of the way that a term, such as arrondissement, can indicate more than one function or administrative level, and because a level of administration, such as a canton, can be in a higher or lower position, the function of places should perhaps be stated in the full reference note, thus, instead of the location part of a census note reading:

Saint-Martin-Choquel, Desvres, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calais

it would read:

Saint-Martin-Choquel [code commune: 62759], canton de Desvres, arrondissement de Boulogne-sur-Mer, département du Pas-de-Calais

But, it has to be said that the above, though more clear, is a bit heavy. And what to do when, as with Boulogne-sur-Mer, the place is commune, canton and arrondissement all at once?

  • The code commune is something we like for two reasons:

1) It really is a lifesaver in eliminating confusion. Because France has numerous communes of the same name, such as Saint Martin, sometimes even within the same canton or arrondissement, the code commune is the only unique identifier. The code commune is not to be confused with the post/zip code, which is a different number; it is a unique number assigned to each of the 35,585 communes in the country by the National Institute of Statistics in France (which uses the acronym INSEE). The first two digits are always the number of the department, which also helps to be certain of the place. On the French pages of wikipedia, every commune is given, showing its code commune as well as what are its intercommunality, canton, arrondissement, department and region. One can type in the search box just the code and any garbled version of the commune name and, usually, the correct page will come up. The same is true of the French GeneaWiki website. So, we would like to suggest that, at least once, in one note or another, it be given in brackets.

2) The commune, not the canton or arrondissement, is the key location to know in searching for or identifying the provenance of most French civil records relating to individuals, so it, above all, has to be clearly identified. (More on this below.)

  • It is crucial that the name of the commune be given in every note. In France, few records are created or arranged at the arrondissement level in the way that US records may be arranged at the county level. EVERYTHING concerning civil registrations is organised from the commune level, as that is where the registers are created, in duplicate, and where one set is stored. So, any note that shows only an arrondissement and a department, but not the commune, leaves us profoundly uncomfortable. A short/subsequent note would more closely follow French custom if it gave the commune and department only.

Census returns also are created with the identification on the front page showing:

commune-canton-arrondissement-department (the last usually being pre-printed).

They are retrieved/arranged online by commune name as well. Again, it would make sense for a shorter note to leave out an arrondissement and/or canton name but never, ever omit the commune name.

Sample census cover 1


Sample census 2


  • Really, also, we wonder about the title used for parish and civil registrations. Instead of a generic term that seems to come from the Family History Library microfilms, ("États-civil", which is also ungrammatical) when we are using the copies on the websites of the Departmental Archives or other repositories, shouldn't we be using the series titles given there? For example:
    • "Registres paroissiaux et d'état civil" on the websites of the ADs of Pas-de-Calais, Aveyron and many others
    • "Registres paroissiaux, pastoraux et d'état civil" on the website of the AD of Charente-Maritime
    • "Etat Civil Numérisé des Origines à 1932"on the website of the AD of Cantal
    • "Registres paroissiaux et documents d'état civil"on the website of the AD of Bas-Rhin
    • "Etat civil et tables décennales (1501-1932)" on the website of the AD of Savoie


In addition to he above, which mostly applies to parish and civil registrations and census returns,  there are the military lists which can be found on almost every Departmental Archives website and which many of us use as sources.

Military recruitment lists from the 19th century onwards are something used a great deal in French genealogy as they provide many details about an individual, and as so many men emigrated from France when their 20th birthday drew near. Most are now accessible online, or at least the indices to them are. They were created in and are arranged according to recruitment bureaux.

These bureaux are in a military hierarchy of administration and geography that have little to do with the civil structure outlined in the background above. There were created, in 1874, 19 military recruitment regions, the largest category in the structure; there have been alterations since then. Their numbers have no relationship whatsoever to the numbers given to French departments, which are given in alphabetical order; but correspond to the regions covered by the different French Army corps. Each region was given 8 subdivisions of bureaux; these were located in selected but not all arrondissements or cantons, the selection having been based on population. The archives of the bureaux are stored in the Departmental Archives where the bureau was located.

We would suggest that the reference note concerning these give, in addition to the department, the bureau location which, again, could be indicated as something like "bureau de" or "bureau de recrutement de", but not attempt to follow the civil hierarchical structure.


As to French resources on the subject of citation, we have found precious few. One of the clearest is a blog by a history professor at Lille, one Emilien Ruiz, found at   entitled, "Devenir historien-ne", and specifically the post "Comment citer un document d’archives, une thèse ou un mémoire ?". About half-way down that post, under the heading "Citer un document d’archives", Professor Ruiz gives a very clear explanation of notes de bas de page (e.g. full reference notes) and notes en annexe "Sources et bibliographie" (e.g. source list entry notes). However, his examples do not include precisely the document types of concern here.

Dear Readers, Ms. Mills has written to us that she might take into consideration any discussion on these points concerning the citation of French sources, so please do write in the comments section below what difficulties or solutions you may have found. 

(Many thanks to Carine for her thoughtful and thorough contribution in Comments below.) 

 ©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy






1. Mills, Elizabeth Shown., "Evidence Explained : Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace", Baltimore : Genealogical Publishing Company, 2009.

Was Your Ancestor a Copyist at the Louvre?


Recently, we had the opportunity to learn more about copyists at the Louvre. Since the Louvre opened in 1793, those with the gift have been copying its paintings. By the mid-nineteenth century, hundreds of people were setting up their easels in the galleries of the museum and painting copies of paintings. Permission had to be obtained from the administration, stating which picture was to be copied. One supplied one's own materials and had to protect the floor.

Some copyists were students of the Ecole des Beaux Arts; many were professional copyists, who sold their paintings; and many were foreigners come to fulfil a dream. The Louvre also operated something of a copyists' sweatshop  called the Atêlier des Copies, where artists were employed to produce innumerable copies of portraits of kings and of heads of state.1 Should your ancestor have been among them, you may now be able to trace that bit of his or her life.

Last year, the Louvre transferred over one and a half kilometres of archives to the Archives nationales. This haul covers the management and history of all of France's national museums, including the Musée d'Orsay and the Luxembourg Museum, with such categories as:

  • personnel
  • collection inventories
  • accounts
  • restauration
  • the Ecole du Louvre
  • the annual salons
  • exhibitions
  • authorisations to copyists

The archivists have finished re-cataloguing the collection and it can now be searched on the general search facility of the Archives nationales, SIV. If your ancestor was employed by or made copies at one of France's national museums, his or her name will appear in the search results. Be forewarned that some years of some categories are missing but, on the whole, it is an excellent new place to hunt for your arty ancestor. Once you have found someone, you may request copies of the relevant documents from the archives. Who knows? You may be able to obtain a copy of the painting copy!

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy 

1. Duro, Paul. "Copyists in the Louvre in the Middle Decades of the Nineteenth Century", Gazette des Beaux Arts, vol. 111, 1988, pp. 249-254.