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July 2017

A Bit of Geography and How Your Ancestors Travelled Around France

Navigable waterways


At a recent vide-grenier (similar to a local flea market) we purchased a school textbook. It was written in the late 1920s for children in the cinquième, which is the year for children aged about twelve and would be the seventh grade in the American system, we imagine. 

It is a treasure. It is full of maps of the world and of France. What it reflects is not that different from the France of the second half of the nineteenth century, when many emigrated. We think that some of the maps could be most useful in helping the better to understand how and why people left their homes and made their way to the ports.

The map above shows navigable waterways, including France's many canals. With it, you can see connections between cities and regions that you would not understand from a map showing only political and administrative boundaries. This map also shows the main destinations for ships sailing from the different ports. Thus, you can see that a person sailing to New York was much more likely to leave from Le Havre than from Toulon in the south, and that Marseille was the point of departure for the Far East.

The map of railways, below, is not much different from the maps of the late 1890s showing railway lines. As you can see, Paris served as the hub of the wheel. Then, as now, travel in a direction not going toward Paris was very difficult and indirect.



 A voyage by train from Limoges to Pau, for example, would be long and tedious. The major ports, however, are well served.

The next map shows industrial centres as they were on post-WWI France. It can be seen, however, that many traditional industries are included. If you know where your ancestor originated, this map could suggest possible work in which he or she engaged, or vice versa.



The map below could suggest reasons for travel to and from a particular place, as it shows imports and exports. If, for example, you have no idea of where an ancestor was from but know about his or her travels or work, this map could lead to further insights.




Perhaps these will open a new research path for one of you Dear Readers. We do hope so.

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Summer Fun - Find Your Ancestor's Region With a Fable


This is rather fun. Two sprightly researchers named Philippe Boula de Mareüil and Albert Rilliard, working at the Laboratoire d'Informatique pour la Mécanique et les Sciences de l'Ingénieur (LIMSI) have produced an interactive map of the dialects of France, the Atlas sonore des langues régionales de France. Really, it is of the dialects for which they could find living speakers, so not all are represented, but there are still a good two dozen.

Each speaker reads the same fable by Aesop, "La Bise et le Soleil", ("The Wind and the Sun").

La bise et le soleil se disputaient, chacun assurant qu'il était le plus fort, quand ils ont vu un voyageur qui s'avançait, enveloppé dans son manteau. Ils sont tombés d'accord que celui qui arriverait le premier à faire ôter son manteau au voyageur serait regardé comme le plus fort. Alors, la bise s'est mise à souffler de toute sa force mais plus elle soufflait, plus le voyageur serrait son manteau autour de lui et à la fin, la bise a renoncé à le lui faire ôter. Alors le soleil a commencé à briller et au bout d'un moment, le voyageur, réchauffé a ôté son manteau. Ainsi, la bise a du reconnaître que le soleil était le plus fort des deux.

Click on the different cities on the map to hear the story read in the local dialect and to see, at the bottom of the screen, the text spelt as read.

How will this help you find your ancestor? It will not be automatic or easy but it might be possible. Here are some suggestions:

  1. We have already discussed in a previous post how people who spoke the same dialect tended to stay together after immigration. If, for example, you know that your ancestor settled in Missouri with a group of people originally from Sablonceaux, but you can find no trace of him or her in Sablonceaux, do not let your research become blocked at the administrative borders of the department of Charente-Maritime, where Sablonceaux is located. Instead, look at this map to see the reach of the language and use that as your search area.
  2. In the same way, look at the map above of the old French provinces and compare it with the map of dialects. There are some surprises, particularly in Bourgogne, which is much larger than the area where bourguignon-morvandiau was spoken. 
  3.  Use the written version of the text on the map to compare with any letters or journals your ancestor may have left. Many in the nineteenth century had only a rudimentary education and their spelling was not ideal. This could be a boon, if they spelt as they spoke. With a bit of imagination and sounding out aloud, you may find a match between what you ancestor wrote and one of the written versions on the Atlas sonore. This would give you a linguistic search area on which to focus.
  4. We are assuming that you have no oral history recorded of the French ancestor you cannot place for, if so, it probably also contains the place of origin. The next closest thing is any song or poem or saying that has been handed down the generations. Try writing it down as it sounds to you and compare that with how the language sounds in the dialects. You could find a match!

To our ears, the dialects sound vastly different from one another, particularly those in Alsace, a tricky research locale for most. Perhaps this map can be of help.

Failing all else, it is a lot of fun to listen to the various versions and voices.


©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy



Italian Refugees in Marseille

Marseille 8

Sometimes, as we spend a day or twelve luxuriating in the archives of France, mulling over the history so clearly in evidence in the documents we read, we really are taken aback. Of course, we should not be; history is repetitive, as they say. Still, when we came across a list of refugees in a Mediterranean port city, we did have a frisson and a sense that what we were holding was not a nineteenth century ministry document but a modern electronic screen with a page of the day's news.

What we held was a handwritten list, dated 27 ventôse An IX in the Republican Calendar, being the 18th of March 1801. It was a list of names of people who had entered the port of Marseille, coming from Naples or Rome and who were so destitute that they had received some government aid. After three days of such aid, they had to agree to move on to Milan, it seems.

Marseille list

There are 169 Neapolitans and 22 Romans. Some are as young as six months; some are as old as seventy.* The Kingdom of Italy under the Napoleonic First Empire was four years off, but war had been raging across the Italian peninsula between the French and the European coalitions. These people, one can imagine, would have looked very similar to today's Syrian refugees. We are always baffled by people we meet who are so proud of their ancestors who were refugees from religious persecution, such as the Huguenots, or from invasion, such as the Alsatians, but who show no sympathy for anyone today desperately struggling to make the same kind of escape. 

This blog, however, is about research and not politics. Though this list was the only one of its type in the archives box, one can be sure that the people on it were not the only Italian refugees who passed through Marseille. Tracing them will be difficult, for refugees were less documented then than they are now, and wars have a way of destroying records and archives. (Recall as well that, in 1801, all Italian registers of baptism, marriages and burials, were parish and not civil registers.) In addition to the records of the Marseille outpost of the Ministry of Foreign Affaires -- the source of this document -- you might also try the civil registrations of port cities (such as Toulon or Nice) through which your Italian ancestor may have arrived in France. 

A suggestion: be sure when looking at the registers online, that you go to the end pages. Occasionally, a mayor took it into his head to perform a census. Sometimes it is a census of survivors after a battle or natural disaster; sometimes of newcomers, refugees, or displaced persons of one nationality or another. These are not listed anywhere as a source. Just look; you could get lucky.

Further to searching Italian ancestors who passed through France, we suggest the following:

 We believe that there are many more. If you, Dear Readers, wish to suggest some, we shall gladly add them to the list above.

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 *If you would like us to check the list for a particular name, send an e-mail message, please.

Foreign-born French in Local Civil Registrations


Some people simply do not trust the system, then blindly but in a different fashion, trust the system. So it is today -- we live in a time when people jettison logic, consistency and clarity (if they ever had it to jettison) to pick and choose only certain parts of the system they wish to follow -- and so it was a century or so ago, when some people, we have found, chose to trust one part of the system more than another. Our French examples today, however, show nothing worse than an odd, perhaps tribal, trust in the familiarity of local officialdom versus colonial or non-French officialdom. In both cases, people were living outside of France. They married and had children, events which were duly registered locally. Additionally, on returning to France, they registered the events a second time, something not at all required and rather rare.

Edouard Muller was from Alsace, born in Soultz in Haut-Rhin in 1842.1 He left the area. In 1871, when it was necessary for those from the area annexed by Prussia to opt for French nationality or lose it, he was in Paris and declared he was French.2 A year later, he posted marriage banns hoping to marry Marie Josephine Jesslen.3  Fate seems to have intervened for the couple seem not to have married right away. They went to Odessa. There, they had two children -- Léonide Amélie, in 1881,4 and Abgard Edouard,5 born in 1887 -- after which they finally married in 1890 (the groom was a widower; light dawns).6 The children were baptised in and the marriage took place in the Roman Catholic Church in Odessa. The events were duly registered with the French consul in Odessa.7 In 1892, twenty years after they first posted their banns, they were in Paris, where they had the births and marriage registered again (as transcriptions of the consular registrations), in the 4th arrondissement.

 Marie Marcellin Edouard Palmero was born in Toulon in 1819.8 He became and army engineer and worked in Reunion for many years, a point noted in all the registrations that follow. In Reunion, he married Eugénie Octavie Emma Advisse-Desrouisseaux in 1854.9 They had three children there: Emma Marie Secondine in 1855,10 Marie Celina in 186111 and Antoine Marie Jérôme in 1863.12 By the time he was granted his pension in 1868, he and his family were living in Toulon. In 1876, he died in nearby Hyères.13 Two months later, his widow presented court-approved and notarised copies of the Reunion registrations of their marriage and of their children's births to the civil registrations officer and had them entered into the register of Toulon. 

What is so interesting about these registrations is that they should not have been necessary, were not required and so, in all the genealogy books the cover such procedures, they are not mentioned. Yet, they are incredibly valuable, especially where originals may have been destroyed, as may have been the case with the church records of Odessa. The Muller family in Odessa had registered their marriage and births with the French consul in Odessa, so their French nationality was ensured. Why did they feel it necessary to do so again in Paris? The Palmero family's registrations had been in a French colony and their identities, too, were certain (though, given the death of Marie Marcellin Edouard Palmero just before the registrations, one can imagine that they may have been required by a cautious notaire handling his estate).

Finding these registrations is like any other search in civil registrations. Note that they are all transcriptions, that is, complete copies of the registrations made elsewhere into the local register. In the case of the Mullers, the transcriptions were entered into the ordinary birth and marriage registers of the 4th arrondissement of Paris. In the case of the Palmeros, Toulon maintained a separate register for transcriptions for each year. The officer would have placed the authenticated copy in the back of the register, but these have almost never been filmed and, in many cases, were discarded.

So, if you are researching a French ancestor who lived abroad and then returned to France, look at the local registers in the town where he or she lived in the years after returning to see if such transcriptions may not have been entered. They could be a very nice find, indeed.


©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

1 Haut-Rhin, "Registres d'état civil (1793-1892)" (Parish and civil registrations from 1793 to 1892), digital images, Archives départemental du Haut-Rhin, ( : accessed 13 July 2017) for Commune de Soultz, Actes de naissances 1842-1852 (archive code 5E 472), entry no. 107, Edouard MULLER, 4 June 1842, access available online.

2 "Bulletin des lois de la République française", (French National Gazette), 1872, no. 212, p3792, digital images, ( : accessed 13 July 2017), line no. 680, Option d'Edouard  MULLER (incorrectly indexed, giving his place of birth as Soultz-les-Bains, Bas-Rhin when it was Soultz, Haut-Rhin), access available online.

3 "Publications de Mariage des Paris et Banlieu" (Marriage Banns of Paris and its Suburbs), digital images, ( : accessed 13 July 2017), Paris, Edouard MULLER et Maria Jesslen, 25 August 1872, access available online.

4 Paris, "Registres d'état civil (1860-1902)" (Civil registrations from 1860 to 1902), digital images, Archives de Paris, ( : accessed 13 July 2017) for 4e arrondissement, Actes de naissances 1892 (archive code V4E 5633 ), entry no. 1318, Léonide Amélie MULLER, 23 June 1892, access available online.

5 Paris, "Registres d'état civil (1860-1902)" (Civil registrations from 1860 to 1902), digital images, Archives de Paris, ( : accessed 13 July 2017) for 4e arrondissement, Actes de naissances 1892 (archive code V4E 5632 ), entry no. 742, Abgard Edouard MULLER, 15 April 1892, access available online.

6 Paris, "Registres d'état civil (1860-1902)" (Civil registrations from 1860 to 1902), digital images, Archives de Paris, ( : accessed 13 July 2017) for 4e arrondissement, Actes de mariages 1892 (archive code V4E 5676 ), entry no. 308, MULLER-JESSLEN, 19 April 1892, access available online.

7 Ibid. As is stated in each of the registrations.

8 Var, "Registres d'état civil (1793-1892)" (Parish and civil registrations from 1793 to 1892), digital images, Archives départemental du Var, ( : accessed 13 July 2017) for Commune de Toulon, Actes de naissances 1819 (archive code 7E 146/80), entry no. 526, Marie Marcellin Edouard PALMERO, 28 June 1819, access available online.

9 Var, "Registres d'état civil (1793-1892)" (Parish and civil registrations from 1793 to 1892), digital images, Archives départemental du Var, ( : accessed 13 July 2017) for Commune de Toulon, Transcriptions des Actes 1876 (archive code 7E 146/331), entry no. 38, PALMERO-ADVISSE DESROUISSEAUX, 29 July 1876, access available online. (The index to this record on incorrectly gives the year as 1873.)

10 Var, "Registres d'état civil (1793-1892)" (Parish and civil registrations from 1793 to 1892), digital images, Archives départemental du Var, ( : accessed 13 July 2017) for Commune de Toulon, Transcriptions des Actes 1876 (archive code 7E 146/331), entry no. 33, Emma Marie Secondine PALMERO, 20 July 1876, access available online. 

11 Var, "Registres d'état civil (1793-1892)" (Parish and civil registrations from 1793 to 1892), digital images, Archives départemental du Var, ( : accessed 13 July 2017) for Commune de Toulon, Transcriptions des Actes 1876 (archive code 7E 146/331), entry no. 34, Marie Celina PALMERO, 20 July 1876, access available online. 

12 Var, "Registres d'état civil (1793-1892)" (Parish and civil registrations from 1793 to 1892), digital images, Archives départemental du Var, ( : accessed 13 July 2017) for Commune de Toulon, Transcriptions des Actes 1876 (archive code 7E 146/331), entry no. 35, Antoine Marie Jérôme PALMERO, 20 July 1876, access available online. 

13 Var, "Registres d'état civil (1793-1892)" (Parish and civil registrations from 1793 to 1892), digital images, Archives départemental du Var, ( : accessed 13 July 2017) for Commune de Hyères, Actes de décès 1876 (archive code 7E 73/60), entry no. 5, Marie Marcellin Edouard PALMERO, 29 May 1876, access available online.

2017 Challenge A-Z


Every year in June the French blogger, Sophie Boudarel, launches the genealogy writing encouragement, Le Challenge A-Z. Every year June surprises us and we wish we had been more organised, more prepared and ready to participate, but we never quite are. Those who do participate, however, are writing increasingly interesting blog posts on French genealogy. This year, the best of them all, to our mind, are those by the students on the genealogy diploma course at the University of Nîmes. 

It starts off with great pertinence to you, Dear Readers, with A Comme Amérique, and tells of the research into the life and antecedents of French immigrant to California, Sylvain Bordes. Another, P Comme Pierre Justin, du Jura à la Caroline du Sud, also discusses a French immigrant to America. Other posts discuss the course itself and its director (C comme Cosson, R comme Reprendres ses études one from the point of view of the professor and one from that of the students). There are some that discuss methodology, such as S comme Sortie du Territoire, about the Archives diplomatiques, O comme Onomastique, about the study of surnames, and H comme Hypothèques, about the land registry archives.

There are posts on priests, prostitutes, bandits and embroiderers. All are extremely well presented, with source notes where appropriate and with excellent illustrations (though they can be, at times, a bit lurid for our delicate sensitivities). Every one of them is an excellent read.


©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Those Who Fought in the French Foreign Legion During World War Two

Legion etrangere

Buried among the numerous lists on the superb website of the French military, Mémoire des Hommes, is a collection of filmed pages of names of those foreigners who rushed to fight for France during the brief period from the 1st of September 1939 to the 25th of June 1940. The lists are not complete, pages are missing, there are gaps. Nevertheless, there are many, many names of men from all over the world, including from Germany, who joined this unique legion for foreigners within the French Army.

The typed lists, entitled Listes nominatives des volontaires étrangers à servir la France entre le 1er septembre 1939 et le 25 juin 1940 cover the following military regions:

  • The First, central Seine
  • The Third, just the Rennes subdivision
  • The Fifth
  • The Sixth, which includes some from Alsace but otherwise covers northern France
  • The Seventh
  • The Eighth, covering Lyon, Grenoble, Clermont-Ferrand and others in the eastern mountains
  • The Ninth, covering Marseille, Toulon and the south, including Corsica
  • The Tenth, covering Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia

In clicking on the links above, the page that results may seem blank. You must then click on the list in the column on the left.

The French Foreign Legion was notoriously secretive, allowing people to enlist under false names. These lists provide more than just the names; they also give dates of birth and nationality, which help with identification. For those researching a parent or grandparent who said he fought for France in the French Foreign Legion, this may be a good place to begin your research.

Good luck!

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy