This book is not new but we are newly discovering it, so it gets its review. We begin by not beating about the bush: it is brilliant. The contents are a collection of scholarly and very well researched and fully sourced essays on emigration from France to Algeria, Canada, and the United States. Each article covers a very specific group and era. We give here the Table of Contents, which are not easy to find on all the mentions of the book:
- Le "voyage organisé" d'émigrants parisiens vers l'Algérie
- L'Emigration française au Canada (1882-1929)
- Les milieux d'origine de l'émigration aveyronnaise vers l'Amérique dans le dernier quart du XIXe siècle
- Une émigration insolite au XIXe siècle, Les soldats des barricades en Californie (1848-1853)
- Les passeports délivrés à Bordeaux pour les Etats-Unis (1816-1889)
- Conscrits en Amérique. Le cas de l'arrondissement de Sarrebourg (Meurthe) 1829-1870
- "Comme un oiseau sur la branche..." Emigration aux Etats-Unis et retour des Basques des Baïgori
- Les voyageurs français et l'émigration française aux Etats-Unis (1870-1914)
Before jumping in with all the glee that this excites in us, we remind you that the French view history very much as a social science, science as in lots of statistics and social as in society, with never a thought of or interest in the story of history. Thus, these essays will give you a picture (with lots of charts and tables) of group behaviour but no gossipy revelation of someone's life, loves and losses that might have been discovered in the archives. Bearing that in mind, if your immigrant ancestor falls into one of the groups studied, you will receive two invaluable things: an understanding of the forces that may have influenced your ancestor to leave and, in the notes, a very good guide of where you could find the documentation about your ancestor's departure.
The two essays that we have put in blue text are concerned specifically with the poor workers of the Revolutions of 1848, discussed in the previous post. We have written about the workers' convoys to Algeria here. The essay about them in this book studies them in great detail. Pointing out that many of the workers in Paris had come from the countryside, hoping for work. The author, Yvette Katan, charts their origins. Most, it seems, came from the northern half of France. She quotes the reports of one of the doctors who accompanied the workers; he wrote that their poverty was extreme. Many had no shoes or coats. They had pawned everything they could, even their beds, in some cases. The government decree that authorized sending them had promised to each "7 to 10 hectares of land to farm, a house which the state would pay to build, free transport all the way to their new land, food for the entire family for the first three years." What starving worker would not accept such an offer?
The second essay we have marked in blue discusses those sent to California. Again, this was just after 1848. When the news of the discovery of gold in California was heard by the French authorities, they must have thought that the gods intended to smile their societal troubles away. Here was a way to get rid of even more of the Parisian malcontents and at less cost: hold lotteries, make certain that most of the winners Paris's poor, and ship them off to California. This, too, is incredibly thorough and gives a very deep understanding of these emigrants.
It does not, however, list the names of the emigrants to California, not even the lingotiers. To our knowledge, no published book gives their names. We are wondering if we should not write one ourselves. Dear Readers, do you think there could be an interest in such a list? Do let us know your thoughts.
©2019 Anne Morddel
Fouché, Nicole, ed. L'Emigration française : Etude de cas, Algérie, Canada, Etats-Unis. Série Internationale no. 24. Paris : Publications de la Sorbonne, 1985.