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August 2017

New Possibilities in Marseille Research


Interesting developments in Marseille online that may possibly be of use to the genealogist.

Firstly, a new website, Marius, is dedicated primarily to images taken from a number of local institutions: the municipal library, the museum, and the municipal archives, among others.The categories for the images are:

  • Images, (mainly postcards, but also photographs and paintings)
  • Books and manuscripts
  • Maps
  • Newspapers
  • Objects

It is the category of books and manuscripts from the municipal archives that is of most interest here. It is a tiny collection at the moment, but destined, we do hope, to grow. If one clicks on "Livres et manuscrits", then on "Manuscrits", one is taken to sixty-one images of death registrations ranging from the seventeenth to the twentieth century.

These seem to have been selected for their oddity or celebrity. We came across the 1890 death registration of Featherman, a Native American born in Dakota, and an employee of the "troupe Buffalo Bill":

Feather Man Death

Feather Man

These are the early stages, but keep an eye on this site, for it may become quite useful for finding not only documents but images of ancestors from or who passed through Marseille.

 Secondly, for those searching the resting place in Marseille of a recently departed relative, the city last year put on their website a facility for searching among burials. It only goes back to the mid-1990s but one can hope that they may be inspired to add details from older records. On the cemetery map page of the city's website, in the right hand column, click on "carte des cimetières". This brings a pop-up guide and, in the upper right corner of the map, the rubric "recherche de defunts"; click on this to type in the surname and first name of the deceased, then click "OK". If your person be there, the resultant screen will show the:

  • Full name (especially useful as it shows married women's maiden names)
  • Date of death
  • Date of cremation or burial
  • Name of the cemetery where buried
  • Exact location within the cemetery of the grave


If only every city would do this and for all of their burials!

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy 


Play With RetroNews and Find an Ancestor


This is fun and could be useful to genealogists as well. The Bibliothèque nationale has launched a newspaper site called RetroNews, separate from its wonderful book and journals site, Gallica, and it is grand. It boasts of having three centuries of newspapers scanned and of having an intelligent search facility. (Really, the many gadgets that are marketed as "intelligent" do reveal the very low standard of interpretation that some people have for that term.)

The site is beautifully laid out and differs widely from other such newspaper websites as or or  The British Newspaper Archive all of which require payment before viewing anything. With RetroNews, quite a lot may be seen at no charge. We did sample searches on the words Anabaptiste and Mennonites and got hundreds of results. Some, of course, were not what we sought at all -- we now know there are French theatrical plays about Anabaptists -- but we reduced the results by half centuries and type of publication and found articles that will certainly help with our research on those subjects.

For the serious and full-time researcher, RetroNews charges more than any newspaper site we have ever seen. Four hundred fifty euros per year will allow up to five users to access all material and to use the more sophisticated search facility. It will also make it much easier to purchase publication permissions, to insert extracts into your blogs and to get a weekly newsletter. We shall pass on this glorious offer, even though this means we cannot print or download articles.

A serious flaw is that there seems to be no prepared source data for the publications. One has to go back to the first page to find out the full title. Clearly, the service is intended for libraries, research organisations and institutions, and the availability to the general public is meant as a teaser. Nevertheless, it is there for ordinary folk and it can be put to good use, especially if you may be searching on an unusual name or if you are hoping to learn more about the time and place where your ancestors lived.

We particularly are lulled by the lovely articles put together on a variety of subjects, highlighting interesting articles, giving a bit of historical context, all with lush illustrations. If you were not a French history buff before, RetroNews might yet make one of you.

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy



Death Announcement Cards for Genealogy

Death 1 r

We explained here some time ago the meanings and types of Faire-parts, invitations or announcements of deaths, marriages or births, but mostly of deaths. We would make the death cards something of a sub-category of the faire-part as they do not invite one to a funeral but merely inform of a death and ask for prayers, as in the card above.

For genealogical purposes, they are a bit less useful than a funeral announcement, as they usually do not name relatives. They do, however, give:


  • The deceased's full name
  • A photograph or drawing of the deceased
  • The date of death
  • The place of death
  • In some cases, the deceased's profession

In the case of the card above, Louis Charles Joseph d'Halluin was the mayor of Quesnoy-sur-Deûle, in the department of Nord, where he died on the 12th of June 1884.

The reverse of the card is usually religious in nature, as can be seen here:

Death 1 v

Where to find these cards? Well, we picked up ours at various vide-greniers. Dozens are available for almost nothing on the French document vendors' website Delcampe. To search that website for a death card with your French ancestor's surname, scroll down the main page to the rubric Vieux papiers and click on it.

Screen Shot 2017-08-13 at 17.50.13

Then, scroll down the categories list to Faire-part and click on décès:

Screen Shot 2017-08-13 at 17.51.56

Then, type the surname you seek in the search box:

Screen Shot 2017-08-13 at 17.53.48

We typed in the name Richelme, with the result of one card, for sale for two euros:

Screen Shot 2017-08-13 at 17.57.36

Happy hunting!

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

French Archives Opt for Openness!

Celebrate French Archives

This really is very big news! The Archives nationales de France have made a choice for openness and have changed the rules for publishing images of items that they hold. We just spent six months corresponding and nagging to obtain permission to use our own photographs of a couple of pages from a file in the archives, hoping that they will enhance an article we hope to publish soon. Six months.

This new decision is a reinterpretation of an existing law and it has its limits. It applies only to those archives that are not covered by someone's copyright and that have passed the time limitations on access to protect privacy and so are open, or librement communicable. Actually, most of what interests genealogists is librement communicable.

What this means is that you may now put on your website and publish in your family genealogies images of archival records that you take from any of the Archives nationales locations or websites. You need not ask permission. There is nothing to pay. As to masking medical details (should you come across any, which is most unlikely) or contacting those who have claims of intellectual property on what you choose to publish, it is now your responsibility to comply with the relevant laws and to obtain the relevant permissions. You must also give the source information for each document shown.

To our knowledge, this does NOT apply to the archives of the individual departments found on the Departmental Archives' websites. Naturally, one hopes that they will follow suit pronto.

You may read the full announcement on the website of the National Archives here. The Ministry of Culture has a similar announcement here. For entertainment, you can read the latter's loopy automatic translation into English, calling the data wanton, as in hussy, here, but you will be thoroughly baffled by the time you get to the end.

This is good news!

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

New Uploads to Help Find an Orphaned Heir in Paris

Deep Mourning Collage

The symbiotic partnership that exists between Geneanet and Familles Parisiennes continues to bring good things for anyone researching Parisian ancestors. The latest contribution, almost all made by a single person, one Monique Drouhin, who must be a dynamo as well as remarkable, consists of images of very early nineteenth century court records from the Parisian justice of the peace courts, including guardianship records.

There are a few key facts you must know before tackling these new delights:

  1. The courts of the Justice of the Peace in France were set up in 1790 and lasted until 1958. They were established to be a local court where people could take their family disputes and small cases, something of a small claims court and family court combined. With these courts, poorer people did not have to travel great distances and stay at inns in order to prosecute their claims. There was one justice of the peace court for each canton. In Paris, there was one for each arrondissement or borough.
  2. Paris now has twenty arrondissements but in 1790 and until 1860, there were twelve, and their boundaries were completely different from what they are today. The Paris Archives give an excellent concordance for the old and new arrondissements. This will be needed if you wish to find the correct court used by your ancestors. If you have their address, you can find the current arrondissement for that road and then with the concordance, the old arrondissement number. (Most Paris streets and their history now have a page on Wikipedia and the current arrondissement is given there. This is easier than Google maps for this purpose.)
  3. Geneanet has improved enormously since we last disparaged it here, many years ago. The nasty advertisements are gone, the searches are much, much better and it really has the best collection of family trees in France now. (So good are they that Clément Becle, a young cardiologist who writes a very interesting family history blog has written a long post about why he has moved his data and tree from Heredis Online to Geneanet.) Geneanet is not free and charges a fee for just about everything EXCEPT for the images uploaded by Projet Familles Parisiennes. Thus, the uploads that are the subject of this post are free to view.
  4. While Projet Familles Parisiennes has an alphabetical index of all family names that appear in the thousands of pages uploaded, not all pages have been indexed. Thus, documents concerning the name you are researching may be available but you will not know it as they are not yet indexed. If you know an address or a related name, however, you might have some luck. 

This group of documents are most easily accessed -- until they will be fully indexed -- via the page of links on Geneawiki. There, the documents are arranged firstly by the old arrondissement numbers and then by the new ones, in chronological order. The date range of what has been filmed so far is 1791 through 1813, but is different for each arrondissement.

These come from a deep and not easy to understand part of the Paris Archives and are a wonderful addition to Paris resources online. Do let us know if you have some success!

To learn more about researching Parisian ancestors, see our booklet on the subject.

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Solving Riddles With Géopatronyme

Nancy blue

Sometimes, things are not as they should be. We have been researching some distant cousins, miscreants who spelt the name with only one d. Mostly, they appear on various genealogy databases as in the west of France, which is indeed where they seem to have originated. We knew that they had spread to other parts of the country and we were hunting those born in the twentieth century.

As many e-mails from you, Dear Readers, have indicated quite a lot of you are hunting relations who, like those I sought, were born in the twentieth century. You will have found that, while more and more civil registrations and the indices to them are being put online at a galloping pace (Paris has just added birth registrations to 1912 and marriage registrations to 1940) most of what Departmental Archives have online stops at 1902. This is not due to indifference, laziness or malcontent but to limited funds.

One way to advance your research into twentieth century births is with clunky old Géopatronyme, which we covered long ago here and then, shame on us, left to languish without our attention. Really, for this area of research, it is quite helpful, as the following two examples illustrate.

In the first example, we were searching a member of the Mordel clan born in Paris in the 1970s. We did not know the exact year or which arrondissement. The Paris archives have put online the indices to birth registrations (table annuelles and table décennales) through 1932. So, we had no way of finding our Mordel on that website. We could have requested the registration online from each of the twenty Paris arrondissements, but that would have been the kind of time-consuming, indirect and messy search that we do not like at all. So, we went back to Géopatronyme which, recall, presents a map of some births in France for any given surname in the following date ranges:

  • 1891-1915
  • 1916-1940
  • 1941-1965
  • 1966-1990

 Searching there for Mordel and clicking on the last date range showed that fifty-six people were born with the name in France during that period:

Screen Shot 2017-08-03 at 17.06.16

One was born in Paris. By clicking on Paris in that list, we were shown that the birth was in the thirteenth arrondissement. So, that is where we directed our research and found the birth registration that we sought.

The second example again concerns Paris, and a mistake in the index. We knew the name for the birth registration we sought and the parents' names, as well as the exact date in 1919. We checked the tables décennales on the Paris Archives website covering that year for every arrondissement in Paris, with no luck. We checked again under the mother's surname, again finding nothing.

It is never a good idea in genealogical research to assume, without good reason, that people lied about their basic facts. All documents we had concerning this person were consistent as to the birth being in 1919 in Paris. We also do not like to jump to the conclusion that the normally near-perfect French records could be flawed but it seemed to be the case here.

So we tried Géopatronyme for the period covering 1916 to 1940. It showed that thirteen people with the surname were born in Paris during those years, but they were in only three arrondissements, the fourteenth, the thirteenth and the sixth. With the births of those with the surname already found in the previous research in the tables décennales, we were able to rule out those born in the thirteenth and fourteenth arrondissements, leaving only the sixth.

Thus, we had the contradiction of the tables on the Paris Archives website showing no birth of a child with that surname in the sixth arrondissement but Géopatronyme showing at least one. We wrote to the town hall of the sixth arrondissement, asking for a copy of the birth registration and stating that the birth was not in the tables. Sure enough, they found it.

It is by no means infallible, but Géopatronyme can be most useful in this narrow area of twentieth century births. If that be where your brick wall lurks, perhaps Géopatronyme will have the answer. 

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy