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Hunting Armenian Refugee Ancestors in 1920s France

Camp Oddo Marseille

After the 1915 genocidal attacks on Armenians, authorized and orchestrated by the Young Turks Party of the dying Ottoman Empire (disturbingly, we once lived in what had been the home of one of the Three Pashas), thousands of the survivors made their way to France in the 1920s. The largest group were to be found in Marseille where, in 1922, an old military camp, Camp Oddo, was made available for housing them. In 1923, there were four hundred people there but the number quickly rose to over three thousand. Paris also had a large community of Armenians. France welcomed them, especially men with skills who might help to replace the men lost in the First World War. Many Armenians, however, did not stay, but moved on to settle in other countries.

This makes researching them quite difficult. Without a life event, such as a marriage, birth or death, with which to begin the research, it may be daunting to try to find a person in the French civil registrations. The hunt is further complicated with the variations in the spellings of the Armenian names. (For example, a Dear Reader has written of an ancestor for whom the surname was spelt: Dalkyrians, Dalgiranis, and Dalkiranes but which the French seem to have spelt Dulguérian.) No life event and no name do make research in French records almost impossible but there are a few avenues one can try.

The first place to try is the website of the Association pour la recherche et l’archivage de la mémoire arménienne (ARAM). They have digitized three crucial lists:

  • The names of the 5541 refugees who passed through Camp Oddo, not in any order. This is like a census, with families named together, full names given, relationships to one another given. Also noted are each person's age, place of birth, sex, marital status, date of arrival in the camp and the date of departure, profession. In the notes (observations) are often given the towns where they were sent to live.
  • The list of Armenians in the Marseille region who requested a Nansen passport
  • The list of baptism certificates issued by the Armenian prelate in the south of France

Spend some time on this website as there are also various single family documents uploaded. As always with such a website that gives you so much at no charge, make a donation if you can, in money or, should you be so lucky, copies of your own family's documents.

Next, brave the obnoxious guardians at OFPRA if you think that your ancestor may have applied for a Nansen passport. Their archives begin a tad late for this research, in 1924, but they could prove very useful. They have written an explanation of how to use they fraudulently term a "service" here (in French). We do know people who have had success with them, so do not let our irritation with them put you off.

After that, and if you think that one member of the family may have taken French nationality, look up the family name on Filae, which has indexed naturalization announcements (not the actual applications, which are in the Archives nationales) from the Bulletin des Lois

Lastly, if some of the above have resulted in you finding a life event that happened in France and/or you found where the family were living, you can go to the website of the Departmental Archives of Bouches-du-Rhône or that of the Municipal Archives of Marseille to look up the event in the civil registrations and to look up the family in the 1926 census.

Many thanks to Dear Reader, Monsieur D. for setting us on this journey.

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy