Previous month:
October 2017
Next month:
December 2017

November 2017

Exciting News About Parisian Genealogy

La Parisienne-Collage

Very exciting news has been announced by the City Council of Paris yesterday. After deliberating the proposal, the mayor has signed the approval of a project for FamilySearch to digitise the very weary microfilm of the "reconstituted" parish and civil registrations of pre-1860 Paris. 

As dedicated readers of this blog will know, the Paris archives, along with quite a lot more, were torched by the Paris Communards in 1871. (Read that story here.) Something between five and eight million records, dating as far back as the 16th century, were destroyed. If your ancestors were from Paris and lived there any time from 1515-1860, their records – in some 5,000 bound registers - were destroyed.

Immediately after the fire, a group of researchers was formed and given the job of finding ways to recreate the information. They worked for 25 years. Copying parish and religious records, they managed to make a nearly complete reconstruction of the information for the years from 1802 to 1860. Working backward, it became much more difficult to find alternatives to copy. Roughly, 2.7 million registrations, or actes, were copied, in this breakdown:
  • 1802-1860 2.4 million actes
  • 1700-1801 2.4 million actes
  • 1600-1699 5000 actes
  • 1550-1599 5 actes
In the middle of war, 1941, the Paris archives began another reconstitution effort to find all available information on all Paris citizens since the Middle Ages not all ready found by the first reconstitution. This brought 200,000 mentions of people, mostly from lawsuits and other judicial records. As people who went to court tended to be those with money, these records preserve the identities of the wealthy and noble more than of everyday folk.
For a while now, it has been possible to search online the index cards to these reconstituted registers on the website of the Paris Archives, as in this example:
Sample reconstituted acte index card
However, it is not possible to see the actual document without going to the Paris Archives and looking at the microfilm. These microfilm rolls, we assure you, are getting exceedingly tattered and the images murky, as you can see:
Sample reconstituted acte
So, this news is exciting in that the images on the microfilm will be preserved for longer via digitising and they will be accessible online on both the FamilySearch website and the website of the Paris Archives. A boon for those researching Parisian ancestors. (Now, this must be something of a black eye for Filae, who are very keen to expand their offerings, and for Geneanet, who host the images of hundreds of Parisian court records. We suspect that the former will work out an indexing deal with the Paris Archives.) Sadly, we have no idea when this will take place but it is terrific news!
©2017 Anne Morddel
French Genealogy

Wishing a Happy Thanksgiving to Those of Our Dear Readers Who Celebrate It



Forgive us, Dear Readers, if we repost two of our past musings on this very American of holidays (with updates in blue).

Here is the more cheerful one:

It has come to our attention that, increasingly, the French are aware of and mildly curious about the American Thanksgiving. Ever ready to compare a new cuisine to their own, which they know is the best the planet has ever had to offer, many have, on their travels to America, tried the famous fare. 

"Not bad" has been the consensus of opinion among those we know. They know turkey well and often serve it at Christmas. Many really like traditional pumpkin pie very much (even though most think it is made of almonds, not pumpkin), though some do not and prefer the "chiffon" version. Cranberry preserves are accepted and known since, for some time now, cranberry juice has been on sale in France for its healthful properties. Stuffing is frowned upon as gooey, tasteless and unnecessarily fattening. Sweet potatoes seem to be tolerated, but only if cooked as boiled potatoes, with a bit of salt, pepper, and herbs. The killer is corn bread. No one, absolutely no one with a French palate will touch the stuff.

However, one aspect of the holiday is very well understood - that of sharing. For every French person, a meal is not a meal if it is not shared. In spite of all the suffocating formality in some homes, at its core, every meal is an act of sharing and every invitation to a meal is an invitation to partake. They do it very well and consequently, appreciate that about Thanksgiving.

The superb American tour guide in Paris, Richard Nahem, has created a French Thanksgiving Vocabulary, which he has very kindly allowed us to reproduce here:

Thanksgiving - le jour de l'action de grâce
autumn, fall - l'automne
colony - une colonie
feast -   un festin, un banquet
football - le football américain
grateful (adj)  - reconnaissant
harvest  - la récolte
horn of plenty  - la corne d'abondance
native (adj)  - natif
(Native American) Indians  - les Indiens (d'Amérique)
November  - novembre
parade  - un défilé
Pilgrims  - les pèlerins
settlers  - les colons
to share  - partager
Thursday  - jeudi
tradition  - une tradition
traditional (adj)  - traditionnel
treaty  - un traité
tribe  - une tribu

For the Thanksgiving feast .... here are some traditional dishes.

food  - la nourriture
corn  - le maïs
cranberries  - les canneberges
gravy  - la sauce au jus de viande
mashed potatoes  - la purée
pumpkin pie  - la tarte à la citrouille
stuffing  - la farce
sweet potatoes  - les patates douces
turkey  - la dinde
yam  - un igname

Read Richard's delightful blog, Eye Prefer Paris,  to know more about life in Paris, and book one of his Christmas in Paris tours.

Happy Thanksgiving!


And here we are in our gloomier mood:

We left the homeland more than thirty-five years ago. We were young and adventurous and happy to go. We were abandoning the New World and its slightly stale raw energy, giving up America's global bullying that was the sad result of a previous generation's heroism. We moved in the opposite direction from that of our European ancestors, going to instead of from the Old World, to London, literature, theatre, affordable opera and, most of all, history. It was supposed to be for a year or two, not life. It was supposed to be an extended vacation, not emigration. Many years ago, a wise woman whom we shamefully wronged said to us that life cannot be planned. How very right she was.

Like many people who wake up one day and are surprised to discover that they will probably never go home again, we have tried to make the best of it. There have been enough grand moments to ensure that it was not always very difficult to do so. We did not always miss the homeland so much. Oh, we miss family and the lake, but not really the homeland as itself. Except on Thanksgiving, and on that day, every year, our heart breaks.

Some expatriated Americans can create Thanksgiving wherever they go. But for us, the food, when transplanted, tastes dry as dust and the feast seems unreal. True ritual loses its beauty and meaning when dislocated and becomes nothing more than a ragged troupe of costumed folk dancers on tour. Humanity's deepest, dearest traditions cannot live outside of native climes. 
Over the years, we have tried alternatives, American style restaurants in London or Paris or São Paulo that put on a special menu for Thanksgiving. Perhaps it was the local ingredient substitutes, but those meals tasted about as much like a Thanksgiving meal as a singing e-card sounds like real music. One year in Istanbul we invited a group of French friends who had all lived in the U.S. and liked Thanksgiving. Well, when we prepared the feast, it turned out that they detested corn bread and cranberries and pumpkin and yams. That meal turned into a French event and became a very serious competition of guess-the-wine that lasted over two hours. All we are good for is telling red from white. These French feasters were way beyond that, and none of this guessing the varietal namby-pamby either. The winner of each round had to name the wine by region, the chateau, and the year. And they could. It was impressive. It was not Thanksgiving.
Nor did it feel like Thanksgiving when we tried to cook the traditional meal in November in Brazil, when it was too hot to breathe and everyone is at the beach. In every place we have lived, it is just an ordinary school and work day. There is no festivity in the air, no one is sharing the excitement. Is that what it was like for your immigrant French ancestors? Were they generally happy in their new lives, but broke down or become sad at Toussaint, or could not adjust to Christmas on the morning of the twenty-fifth instead of midnight on the twenty-fourth? For us, we gave up long ago and have settled into our own, we suppose bizarre, outside of America, Thanksgiving tradition: we order Chinese take-away and watch "Broadway Danny Rose" and cry.
Usually, the crying starts early and lasts most of the day, as we try and fail to push away memories of loud and happy Thanksgivings around a big table when it is snowing outside. The homesickness is overwhelming on that day and on that day we are very American. We know that much of the world hates our country. Much of the time, half of the country itself seems to hate the other half, but not on Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving, we are one. Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Id, various New Years, are all exclusive in one way or another, but every single soul in America can celebrate Thanksgiving. Whatever religion or tradition or culture people have, they can join together for Thanksgiving, since it is pretty easy for everyone to have a moment of gratitude for food. It is the all-inclusiveness of the day that makes it so wonderful. There was always more than family at the table during our childhood Thanksgivings. The day is not about family; it is not tribal and closed; it is about sharing openly. On that day, once a year, we open our arms to invite and welcome others with old-fashioned generosity.
Now, as we sit through Woody Allen's mediocre film, our mind is full of memories of the many Thanksgivings of our childhood when we had the classic meal as best our mother could afford (there were great years and not so great) and of the many people we invited. Sometimes they were foreigners, students, new people in town, exhausted new parents, the isolated elderly, and many, many old friends. (Once, it was a visiting French professor who is now a member of the Académie française. We wonder occasionally if he recalls that event.)  There is a need that we all feel to make sure that no one is alone on Thanksgiving that we find so beautiful in our people. We will knock on the door of new neighbours who may be total strangers to invite them for Thanksgiving, as it is unthinkable that anyone should be alone on that day. 
We have seen a group of homeless people celebrate the day together, each contributing a sandwich or bread or an apple, surely each holding a precious memory in his or her head, sharing. We recall being with a group of students who could not get home for the day and who made a grand table of odd dishes together. We remember the glowing joy in the face of an elderly woman we knew in the 1960s as she told of Connecticut Thanksgivings with her huge family in the 1880s. They welcomed friends and strangers then, as well.
It is the last scene of the film that is the clincher. I think that this scene, more than any other version of the holiday on film, epitomizes the sharing and community that are Thanksgiving.  In a grubby room, some lonely old men with take-away food come together to share and be thankful, because that is what you do, that is what everyone does, on Thanksgiving.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all, wherever you may be, Dear Readers.
©2017 Anne Morddel

More Revolutionary Geography - Sections


In 1790, democracy marched onward in France and voting was organised by commune and, in larger cities, by section. Properly speaking, sections were electoral districts, but they were also used informally by name or number as part of an address. Section names or numbers turn up at times in early civil registrations and can be very confusing. In property records, they are maddening.


The most well-known sections are those of Paris, for they were really the berserkers of Revolutionary radicalism. There were forty-eight sections revolutionnaires in Paris. When first established in 1790, they had names that linked to local landmarks, buildings or roads, such as Section du Temple (referring to the centre of the Knights Templar) or Section de la Halle-aux-Blés (referring to the grain market). In 1795, some names were changed the better to reflect the ideals of the Revolution, and such names as Section du Contrat-Social (Section of the Social Contract) and Section des Droits-de-l'Homme (Section of the Rights of Man) appeared. By 1811, many of them had reverted to old neighbourhood, or quartier, names. Wikipedia lists the Paris Revolutionary sections, with their names in 1790, 1795 and 1811.

The difficulty is in knowing exactly where they were. Using a modern map of Paris and the 1811 column from the Wikepedia page, you can get an idea, but as the sections were so much smaller than the modern arrondissements, it will be only a vague idea. As street names and names of squares, or places, also changed (for example rue de Richelieu was rue de la Loi) it is not always possible to use street names to find the location of a section. The history website, Emerson Kent, has a map created by the wonderful Stanfords for Cambridge University Press that shows the sections, with both the 1790 and the 1795 names, on a map of the old faubourgs.

 Other Cities

Less publicised and so, more difficult, are the sections of other cities. Marseille had thirty-two sections. Though the Departmental Archives of Bouches-du-Rhône writes that they had names, we cannot find a list of them anywhere. It seems that they were most often referred to by number. A map of the Marseille sections may be seen at the moment on page 42 of Michel Vovelle's "Les Sans-Coulottes marseillais: le mouvement sectionnaire du jacobinisme au fédéralisme 1791-1793" on Google Books.

Brest began with seven sections in 1790. Like in Paris, they had names linked with local identity:

  • Pont-de-Terre
  • La Place-d'Armes
  • Champ-de-la-Fédération
  • Saint-Louis
  • La Pointe
  • La Fontaine
  • Carpont

In 1793, they were changed to:

  • Egalité
  • Liberté
  • Sans-culottes
  • Raison
  • Montagne
  • Marat
  • Le Peletier

In 1794, about forty streets were renamed, just to complicate things.1 

To find the sections of other cities will be a struggle. The best sources that we have found are scholarly tomes about a city during the Revolutionary period. Quite a lot of these were published around 1989, as part of the commemorations of the two hundredth anniversary of the storming of the Bastille. Should any of you have found the sections of other cities, do let us know!

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


1. Philippe Henwood and Edmond Monange, Brest : un Port en Révolution, 1789-1799, (Editions Ouest-France, 1989), p267.

Towns Renamed During the French Revolution

French Revolution

Geography in France during the Revolutionary period (at its briefest, 1792 to 1800; at its most extreme, 1789 to 1815), like the calendar, went through some radical changes and this can make researching your ancestors during that epoch very difficult. While it may be relatively easy to convert dates from Republican to Gregorian (we still prefer this converter), it is a bit more work to sort out the geographical changes.

All towns with religious names were changed. In some cases, such as Saint-Port to Seine-Port, the change made little difference, at least in pronunciation. When the country's administrative boundaries were altered, some communities were combined and some separated.  Of these changes, some were retained but many reverted to their old names.

If you do not know of the change, you will find it very hard to research the civil or parish registers. Thus, if you run into such a stumbling block in your research, e.g. a town that seems not to exist, it may be time to check the Revolutionary names. There are a few online lists.

  • Wikipedia's is arranged, as they all are, by department, all on the same page. Those towns highlighted in blue have retained their Revolutionary name. A third column gives a link to the commune's location on the Cassini maps.
  • Geneawiki's presents a list of the departments as links on which you must click to get to a page of just that department's towns. This makes it much harder to search them all at once, which you can do on the Wikipedia page.
  • The Internet Archive has the 1901 book, Les noms révolutionnaires des communes de France, which lists the towns by both department and in a general index. 

These lists do not agree with one another entirely. It was an unsettled time. You may have to search them all to find that, though your ancestors may not have moved a centimetre, they lived in two or three towns because of the name and/or administrative changes.

Happy searching!

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

The French Genealogy Blog 2018 Calendar is Out!

2018 FGB Calendar

After many of you, Dear Readers, requested a new calendar, this one going from January to December unlike our calendar of four years ago, which went from April to March (seemed like a good idea at the time), we have complied and announce the French Genealogy Blog 2018 calendar.  

It contains:

  • many important dates in the history of France that relate to genealogical research
  • modern French holidays
  • dates showing the months of the French Republican calendar

Instead of our stunning photographs, the illustrations are of twelve of our equally stunning collages

It may be purchased via should you wish to help keep The FGB free of ads.


©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy



The Municipal Archives of Dieppe

Dieppe mediatheque

We have been working on our own research of late. It took us back to the Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime and, for the first time, to the Municipal Archives of Dieppe. These are not easy to find. They have no website and most of the entries on genealogy websites refer to a facility that no longer has the archives in it. There seems to be no telephone or e-mail address specifically for these archives either.

Dieppe has been an important port for centuries, home to many immigrants from Britain and a few from the United States. Dramatic stories of daring privateers pepper its history. We had an intense yen to see those archives, so we determined to try what looked the most likely place: a médiathèque. Médiathèques are libraries with mixed media in that along with books to loan, they have compact disks, videos, computer games and such items to loan as well.

The Médiathèque Jean Renoir seemed our best hope, so we took the train from Rouen to Dieppe and walked five minutes to the most unprepossessing entry we have encountered in quite a long time (see above). Ugly it may be but we were pleased to learn that somewhere in the building were the archives, entitled the Fonds anciens. After a pleasant wander through the library section, we found in a back corner the entry to the archives.

AM Dieppe entry

We sensed a lack of proper respect for and appreciation of local history, perhaps. Down the stairs, we at last came upon the long-sought archives. Notice the pipes overhead?

Dieppe archives

Some municipal archives have more than others. As we have written often, the Allied bombing of Normandy and Brittany damaged, even obliterated some archives. One never knows what one will find, or not. We found that the Dieppe archives are a little treasure trove, maintained and managed by keen staff.

The archivist was a kindly gentleman with a nicotine addiction that caused frequent disappearances. When he was in the room he explained to us the finding aids then dashed out to search for the cartons we requested as soon as we had written down the requests. He returned carrying in his arms a stack of cartons so high that it surely blocked his vision. He could not bring us enough. Barely had a query left our lips before he was off again to bring another pile of cartons. Never before have we had archival access with such abandon.

As ever, it is in municipal archives where one finds the internal passport registers of the early nineteenth century.


We find these to be particularly wonderful for their descriptions of an individual, such as this of Captain John Skinner, Junior of Boston, aged thirty-five, about six feet tall, and who had light brown hair, a low forehead, light blue eyes, a long nose, a big mouth, round face, and an oval chin with a scar.



Municipal archives also will have any local census that may have been taken. We found one for Dieppe from the Republican year An XIII, 1805 to 1806, some thirty years before the first French national census. Happily, we found the family we were researching, living on the street around the corner from the médiathèque. Additionally, these archives hold a superb collection of early nineteenth vessel accounts, with the names of each of the crew and what they were paid, and lists of the licensed fishermen from the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries. 


©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Five Hundred Years of Protestantism - A Guest Post

Côté chaire  côté rue Affiche


Our good friend, the genealogist, Isabelle Haemmerle, sends this from Geneva:


The exhibition "Côté chaire côté rue" presented at the Archives of the State of Geneva is to be extended until March 2018. Held in the context of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation (1517), it presents the effects of the religious activity and the spread of Protestant ideas on the daily life of Geneva. The presentation of a digitalisation project and the restoration of the archives of the Protestant Church complete this exhibition and highlight the historical work linked to the archives.




In the XVI century, the Churches and States made concerted efforts throughout Europe to systematically register births, marriages and deaths, thereby providing the embryo of what would later become the civil state. In Geneva the series of civil registers is continuous as of the time in 1550 when cupboards were integrated in the pulpits for the pastors to keep these precious books.

These registers must not be seen as merely an administrative activity. While they effectively provided knowledge of the state of the population – in Geneva they were used very early to establish statistics on plague deaths – and if private citizens had an interest as these documents allowed them to identify their legitimate heirs – their use was primarily religious. It was not individuals who were registered as so many constituents, as the believers called upon to follow a Christian path in the community of Salvation formed by the parish. In Geneva, before the last quarter of the XVI century, it was not the date of birth that the ministers entered in these registers, but that of baptism, which marked the new-borns’ entry into the community of the parish where they would thereafter be required to attend services.

The civil register, as it was seen at the time, therefore made up a sort of collective accounting and consequently it is not surprising to read other things that our contemporaries did not expect to find: the ministers were not satisfied to just enter the names of the faithful whose lives make up the warp of this accounting, but entered many other things such as important events for the parish or instructions for their successors.

To implement the exhibition, historians have studied the sources, here the Council registers, the Church archives, criminal trials, parish registers and the ancient works in the AEG library.

This display presents the Council registers and the archives of the Protestant Church of Geneva.

1- The Council registers: they form the main source for anyone interested in the history of Geneva. They comprise the registers containing the decisions, and their annexes, from the executive and legislative authorities of the Community of Citizens and Bourgeois, then City and Republic, then Republic and Canton of Geneva. Today these would be the minutes of the Council of State. This series has been preserved constantly since 1409 up to the present day, which is quite unique in Europe, with an interruption during the French period (1798-1813).
The registers from the years 1409 to 1541 have been edited, meaning that they have been transcribed, annotated and published.

2- The Church archives: In order to prepare an exhibition on Geneva at the time of the reformation, it is obviously essential to study the archives produced by the Church itself. Since 1937 these documents have been preserved in the State Archives.

On November 20th, 1541, the General Council (the assembly of citizens) adopted the Ecclesiastical Ordinances. These Ordinances organized Church life by instituting four functions or ministries: the Pastors, Doctors, Elders and Deacons. It created two new organs: the Company of Pastors and the Consistory which were to produce documents and hence archives.

The Church archives consist of two principal collections:

1. The Consistory archives (1542-1929)

The Elders formed the Consistory: it was a chamber composed of twelve pastors and twelve members of the government, presided by one of the supreme magistrates. There was a secretary who was responsible for taking the minutes of the meetings. The Elders, according to Article 37 of the Ordinances, must be divided amongst the various neighbourhoods of the city at a rate of one Elder per thousand inhabitants, “to keep an eye on everything”. The Consistory is charged with the surveillance of the behaviour of individuals, to admonish deviant practices and beliefs, to arbitrate conflicts between individuals and to obtain their amendment in cases of indiscipline. This sort of moral and matrimonial court could only pronounce ecclesiastical sentences, meaning the denial of communion. In cases requiring criminal sanctions, the guilty party was deferred to the Small Council. The Consistory met every Thursday.

The Consistory registers provided a very rich source for studying the numerous aspects of Geneva’s history. While Consistories have been introduced in all the Reformed Churches, it is rare to find a collection with registers of this scope and continuity for the entirety of the Old Regime (more than 90 registers). Numerous affairs are to be found in them concerning beliefs and religious practices, sexuality and marriage and all matters related to them: promises of marriage, fornication, adultery and divorce; but other subjects are also to be found such as drunkenness, blasphemy, usury, begging, dance and song, healers and seers, gambling, etc. It is through these minutes that little by little a certain image of popular culture may be perceived: the Genevan social fabric and the morality of the Geneva at this time.

2. The archives of the Company of Pastors (1546-1944)

The Company of Pastors comprised all the ministers in Geneva, not only those in the city but also those in the countryside. The principle competences of the Company of Pastors were the doctrine and instruction. It keeps watch on the orthodoxy of its members, regulates worship, presents future ministers and teachers to the authorities, organizes charity, controls printed materials and maintains relations with other Reformed Churches. The Company of Pastors meets on Fridays; its deliberations and decisions are consigned in writing by a secretary. The minutes of the Company of Pastors’ meetings provide study material of great diversity, that sheds light on religious history and also on the social history of Geneva, more specifically on the elaboration of ecclesiastical discipline in the new Church, the difficulties encountered in its organisation, education and exchanges with other countries. The questions debated by the Company of Pastors were of a more international character than those discussed in the Consistory; it was there that the questions posed by the Churches of France and elsewhere were discussed and where it was decided what response should be returned to them.

The Archives of the State of Geneva maintain, restore and digitalise the documents that historians use in their work.

When digitalising old series, the original documents are of course retained. The State Archives have a digitalisation workshop. The protestant Church of Geneva deposited a first part of its historical archives with AEG in 1937. These documents, the oldest dating from 1542 and much consulted, were no longer in a condition that met with the rules governing preservation and consultation.
To address the problem, ARRCC, the Association for the restoration and digitalisation of the Consistory and the Company was created in 2012 with the goal of raising the funds necessary for the preservation of the Church’s archives. In this way, through this project led by AEG, the 182 registers of the Consistory and the Company of Pastors’ minutes are in the process of being restored and have been digitalised (XVI-XIX centuries). They can be accessed on-line at Adhemar, the AEG database.

Exhibition at The Archives of the State of Geneva(AEG)

Côté chaire, côté rue. La Réforme à Genève 1517-1617 - The Reformation in Geneva 1517-1617

Extension of the exhibition to March 1 2018
AEG - rue de l'Hôtel-de-Ville 1

Tel: + 41 022 327 93 20


Thank you, Isabelle!

Those who wish to contact Isabelle to know more about genealogy in Geneva may do so by writing to her at: genhaemm (AT) gmail (DOT) com