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March 2017

Excellent Blog on The French Military in World War I

WWI Sources blog

We remain firm in our commitment never knowingly to reinvent the wheel and to share with you, Dear Readers, such fine blogs by others as we may find which we hope may be of use to you in your French genealogical research. Not very long ago, we discovered just such a one in a blog written only and purely on the subject of resources for those researching the Great War,  entitled Sources de La Grande Guerre.

The stated intention of its authors, Michaël Bourlet and Gwladys Longeard, is to create a central resource for all those writing the history of the First World War, thus it is more for historians than genealogists. However, as those serious about genealogy know, while good history may not always be genealogy, of course, good genealogy will always contain the best possible historical research and  writing skills. (Let none of us ever again call forth the dreaded ghost of Gustave Anjou!)

Many of the sources described and explained in Sources de la Grande Guerre will be of interest to anyone researching an ancestor who fought for France in the Great War. A sampling of article titles  of interest:

  • Retrouver un soldat algérien dans les archives françaises (How to find an Algerian soldier in French archives)
  • Faire des recherches sur un poilu d'Orient (Researching a soldier in the Army of the East)
  • L'état civil des régiments (Regimental death registrations)
  • La Recherche des disparus (Seeking those missing in action)
  • Mettre en ligne des dossiers des fusillés (online files of military executions)

There are also brief biographies of individuals, book reviews and a goodly amount of interesting readers' comments.

Highly recommended.


©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


The Jewish Registers of Bayonne

Circumcision register Bayonne

Pre-1808 documentation of French Jewish families is rare and not easy to find. While legally required parish registrations in France began, more or less, in 1539, these pertained to Catholics only. Protestants maintained their own registrations as best they could. Yet, there was no general law across the country that required that Jewish people also register their births, marriages and burials. Additionally, before the Revolution, Jewish people were often considered as nationals of the region or country of origin and so, in documentation they are referred to as a type of foreign resident, even though this was not their actual legal status.

In the south of France, the assumed place of origin of much of the local Jewish population often was Iberia. In Bayonne, in the department of Pyrénées-Atlantiques, the Jewish quarter of the eighteenth century was within the parish of Saint-Esprit, where some registers refer to les juifs while others to les portugais. Still others use the more common French name of Israélites. Whatever the term, these registers are a rare and precious resource and it is quite nice indeed to find some of them online on the website of the Departmental Archives of Pyrénées-Atlantiques. More difficult to search but also very useful are certain tax and notarial records. A few of the records on Jewish people that may be found on the AD Pyrénées-Atlantiques at the moment are:

  • Etat des charges et modérations accordées par Mgr. l'intendant....sur le l'industrie des juifs du Bourg-Saint-Esprit pour l'année 1784 (a business tax list that contains some Jewish names)
  • Rôle de vingtième 1787 - another tax list for all who had to pay their "twentieth", which includes some Jewish names.
  • The registers of the parish of Saint-Etienne d'Arribe-Labourd at Bayonne - a single microfilm roll which contains a number of Jewish registers, some of them in Spanish, concerning births, circumcisions, marriages and burials. The typed contents list at the beginning of the roll is most helpful. 

For those who wish to dig deeper, try using any of the terms juif/juifs, portugais, espagnoles, Israélite/Israélites in the Recherche Simple box and pore over each and every one of the results. If your French Jewish ancestors were in Bayonne for a significant number of generations, the finest resource is Léon's Histoire des Juifs de Bayonne, which may be downloaded in its entirety here, or read online here.

Nice research opportunities, especially for those hoping for a Spanish passport.

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


CEGFC - The Tireless Genealogy Volunteers of Franche-Comté


While on our junket to Montbéliard, we visited the offices of the genealogy volunteers association, Centre d'entraide généalogique de Franche-Comté. This is a quite large group with a number of specialised sections for the areas of:

  • Belfort
  • Besançon
  • Dole
  • Gray
  • Lons-le-Saunier
  • Montbéliard
  • Morteau
  • Paris (pertaining to Franc-comtois who went there)
  • Pontarlier

We were so impressed that we paid our dues and joined immediately. The office is in the same building as Montbéliard's Municipal Archives and was, on the day of our visit, a busy little hive of enthusiasts and the genealogy ingenues they were helping. It was, as these places ever are, somewhat cramped. Two formica-topped tables that brought to our mind the school cafeteria in the mountain village of our youth, numerous laptops (which did not exist in our youth), and every wall lined with bookshelves that were chock-a-block with books on local history and genealogy and with the group's own publications.

The majority of these publications are booklets of relevés, or extracts, of the parish and civil registers of each village in the region. The extracting has been done by the group's members, on a volunteer basis, working ceaselessly since it was founded in the 1980s. This is the main activity of most of France's genealogy cercles and it is these extracts that appear on the Filae website, and on the websites of Bigenet and Généabank. CEGFC does not maintain the database of the extracts  on its website (though it can be consulted in its offices) but most of its contents can be searched on both Bigenet and Généabank. Members received five hundred Généabank points annually as a part of the membership packet, which we find is, compared to other associations, very generous.

The assistance that we have received from the volunteers has been speedy and amazingly thorough. One or two questions brought a steady stream of e-mails of useful information and suggestions.

The website of the group continues to grow and be developed. We note that there are efforts to match details of known migrants with what can be found on Find-a-Grave, which is a rather interesting marriage. Other databases on the site include:

  • A complete list of towns and villages for which extracts have been or are being done, showing progress
  • Links to other genealogy associations 
  • Some census transcriptions
  • Italian immigrants to the region
  • Migrants out of the region (very tiny this is)
  • Watchmakers and clockmakers (a local expertise)

As we ever do, if this association covers your area of research, we urge you to join and to take advantage of their wonderful energy and generosity.

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

French Settlers Speaking the Same Dialect

Hanging out

Because much of the popular history of immigration to the United States concerns immigrants fleeing religious persecution, it is tempting to look at the reasons for all French immigrants' departures as being due to the same cause, but they certainly were not. Many people were economic migrants; impoverished in France, they left all that they had known to try for a better life elsewhere. This may especially be true of those who left France during the great wave after the 1848 Revolution and economic crisis, which peaked in 1851, when over twenty thousand French emigrated to the United States. (1)

By the same token, their choices of where to settle and whom to marry often had little or nothing to do with religion. Other influences on some of the French immigrants, which may have been at least as strong as religious preferences, need to be considered. The most important of these may be language.

It is worthwhile to bear in mind that, though many people stated in United States Federal Census returns of the nineteenth century that they were from France, that does not mean that they would have spoken French as their mother tongue. Many would have spoken a regional dialect that may have had a quite different vocabulary and grammatical structure from French. This map shows the "regional languages" of France, with greater refinement than those that divide France into two halves where either langue d'oïl or langue d'oc is spoken:

Carte des langues

The comfort and familiarity of one's native language is very important to most people. Immigrants suffer when they experience extended periods of not being able to speak in their own language with another person.(2) Often, more than for religious familiarity, people seem to have settled near one another because of language familiarity. They may have encountered their future spouses in the new land because they were the people with whom they could communicate in their own language.

The group of French settlers in the early and mid-nineteenth century in Mowrystown, Ohio are a case in point. Many of them were from the Montbéliard region, where Franc-comtois was spoken. The dialect, or patois, is heavily influenced by German and has a vocabulary quite distinct from French, as is graphically demonstrated here. We have been reading the series of online articles about Mowrystown's French immigrants by the late Monsieur Jerry Pruitt on the website of the Highland County Press, entitled "Mowrystown Recollections".

Many of the French settlers can be traced to the department of Doubs, in the region of Franche-Comtois. While Monsieur Pruitt discussed church affiliation at length, we have not yet found any mention of the dialect many would have spoken, yet language surely played a part. Mr. Pruitt mentioned that some of the families came from the same town in France but not that, especially upon arrival and before they had learned English, the only people with whom they could associate were those with whom they could communicate.

Conversely to looking at language to understand why some of your ancestors made certain choices in their new homes, you might look closely at their language to know where they originated in France. If you are lucky enough to have any heirloom with writing in the dialect, or family proverbs that do not sound like true French, we suggest that you research those to identify in which dialect they may be. That, in turn, may help to find a long-sought place of origin.

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


(1) Fohlen, Claude, "Perspectives historiques sur l'immigration française aux États-Unis", Revue européenne des migrations internationales, 6 (1990): 29-43, accessed 5 March 2017, DOI : 10.3406/remi.1990.1225.


Hammill, Pete and Miyamoto, Michiko, "The Japanning of New York", New York Magazine, (17 August 1981) p23: "Yes, I get homesick, mostly for the Japanese language....I miss my language. Yes, I miss that."


Putre, Laura, "Trail of Broken Dreams", Cleveland Scene, (23 November 2000) : accessed 5 March 2017: "I missed my family. I missed a lot.....And I miss speaking my language."


"I'm Icelandic and I miss speaking my language" was an advertisement placed in The McGill Daily, vol 75, no 50, 30 Jan 1986, p. 11, ( : accessed 1 March 2017)


Kassabova, Kapka, Street Without a Name: Childhood And Other Misadventures in Bulgaria, (Skyhorse Publishing, 2009), ( : accessed 3 March 2017): " 'I have been successful here,' muses a bespectacled [Bulgarian] scientist in America or Australia, 'but I miss my language.' He chokes on his words."


Countless comments to the same effect among friends and acquaintances in our long years of living in non-English-speaking locales.


The Republican Calendar in German...and Dutch

Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 14.23.02

For those researching the civil registrations for their ancestors in German-speaking towns within France during the years when the Republican Calendar was in effect (1792-1806), understanding the months can be a bit of torture. So, we thought to share this nifty translated list that we have found:

Republican Calendar         German month name 

Vendémiaire                           Weinmonat

Brumaire                                 Nebelmonat

Frimaire                                  Reifmonat

Nivôse                                     Schneemonat

Pluviôse                                  Regenmonat

Ventôse                                   Windmonat

Germinal                                Keimmonat

Floréal                                    Blütenmonat

Prairial                                   Weisenmonat

Messidor                                Erntemonat

Thermidor                             Hitzemonat

Fructidor                                Fruchtmonat


 Short and sweet today, but useful, we hope!

En plus:

FGB Reader, Monsieur V has very kindly sent this:

Here are the names for your Dutch readers:

Autumn: Wijnmaand, Mistmaand, Koudemaand

Winter: Sneeuwmaand, Regenmaand, Windmaand

Spring: Kiemmaand, Bloemmaand. Weidemaand

Summer: Oogstmaand, Hittemaand, Fruitmaand



©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


The Future Mennonite Archives of France

Eglise de la Prairie

Further to our research on the Swiss Mennonites in the Pays de Montbéliard, we visited the small and sweetly anachronistic La Prairie Mennonite Church of Montbéliard. The excellent Madame Boilaux had arranged for us to be met by Monsieur and Madame N, who were most generous with their time. They gave us a tour of the church and explained its history.

The first Mennonites arrived in the region in 1710 and they seem to have had their first meeting house and cemetery by 1751, at nearby Mont-Chevis. In 1775, the church was moved to a farm called Les Gouttes, then again in 1832 to Le Canal Chapel. The Franco-Prussian War and the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine resulted in the arrival of many Mennonite refugees from those regions. The congregation quickly outgrew its space and, in 1927, yet another church was built (that shown above) on the La Prairie Farm. Now, it is surrounded by large, modern administrative buildings, a busy road, a massive automobile factory not far and a doomed green field at the back. It is so countrified in comparison with its rather brutal surroundings that one recalls the dread-inducing sight of a young hedgehog attempting to traverse a motorway. 

Plans are afoot and donations are solicited for an expansion to the church, allowing not only for the ever-growing congregation, but also for office space for other activities such as publishing the church newsletter, temporary housing for people in need and, of great interest to genealogists, the creation of a centre for the Mennonite archives of France.

Madame N. had arrived with a large book under her arm. "Notre trésor", she had called it, "Our treasure". It was indeed. It was the original register of the church, its earliest entry dated 1750, its spine in tatters.


Register 2

We were quite thrilled to have been permitted to peruse the register, though we thought it really did deserve its new home with better protection so that it might last another two hundred sixty years. Its extracted contents may be viewed on the website of the Municipal Archives of Montbéliard.

For those who wish to contribute to the fund for the archives (pots of money are called for), read more here or contact Pierre Schott at

For those who wish to be given a tour of the Mennonite Church, its buildings and other historic sites in the area, write to

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy