Your Breton Ancestors in Paris
Italians in Nice and Marseille

More Pariahs of Paris - Your Auvergnat Ancestor in the Capital

Auvergnat

Well, Dear Readers, we can now confirm with unpleasant certainty that Lyme Disease is not confined to New England but is far flung with infectious abandon even to France. We hope that there may be no need for updates but be assured that, should there be, you shall receive them here. On to genealogy.

Parisians, like Londoners or New Yorkers, do seem an unwelcoming lot, treating all new arrivals as “pariahs”. There were so many such new arrivals in the nineteenth century that any modern Parisians who have no pariah antecedents are wholly imaginary. We have covered here the scorned Savoyards and the pariah Bretons, driven to Paris, like our subject of today, the Auvergnats, by need, where the starvation caused by the many failed crops in the 1840s or by the economic crises of the 1850s, or by the singularly volcanic terrain of Auvergne. All quite sad for the descendants of the fierce tribe the Arverni, known in Roman times for (once) defeating Caesar in battle.

The first time we read the term Auvergnat, oh so many years ago, was in Balzac, the only writer who could truly dissect the French soul. He referred to the people of Auvergne as the most sou-pinching of France. Balzac lived in Paris and was a dedicated drinker at a time when most bars and cafes were run by folk from Auvergne. We are tempted to suspect a barkeep’s refusal to extend credit to the great man as the seed from which this insult sprouted.

Nevertheless, it cannot be disputed that the Auvergnats, on arriving in Paris, nearly all sank to services and trades have to do with liquid, whether for bathing or drinking, and for carrying it, heating it, or serving it. This being in the days before plumbing brought running water to every home, they became water carriers, porteurs d'eau, filling jugs or pails at public fountains or straight from the Seine and carrying the water, two pails of twenty liters each on a yoke, to the homes of those who could pay. They were pioneer pariahs, for they were known as the water-carriers of Paris as early as the 1730s. Those who could do so invested in a barrel, un tonneau, on a cart. Some had the bright idea of heating the water and selling it for bathing, hauling it into a home, pouring it into the bath, waiting outdoors and then hauling away the used bathwater. Their compatriots who helped with the heating of the water often moved into the trade of charbonnier, a maker and seller of charcoal. They were despised by Parisians, who considered them coarse and rude, a type our grandmother termed disparagingly (speaking at the time of our latest step-father, mind you) a rube. Combining the words charbonnier and Auvergnat, the Parisians created a new word, Bougnat, which they considered a jibe of stellar wit.

As is the way of the world, the Auvergnat migrants integrated and assimilated, but with a peculiar insistence, they generally would not leave their attachment to liquids. They moved up socially a tad by selling milk and a tad more by selling lemonade, and quite a bit more by selling wine and a great deal more by opening a bar and selling alcoholic drinks to the likes of Balzac. We all know how, under certain conditions, a barkeep becomes a dear friend with miraculous rapidity and so it came to pass that a person was called a Bougnat not with snide superiority but with condescending affection. Successful Auvergnats even named their bars Le Bougnat; one such, in Pantin, became so belovèd a local institution that, when the authorities determined to bulldoze it, there was a bit of an outcry (to no avail; it was reduced to rubble in 2017).

Thus, in conducting your research into an Auvergnat ancestor in Paris, be alert to such professions mentioned in documents as :

  • porteur d'eau
  • charbonnier
  • limonadier
  • marchand de vin
  • garçon de café
  • cafétier

Clearly, not all those working in the above trades were Auvergnats but, in the late nineteenth century in Paris, very, very many were.  Should you suspect that your Parisian ancestor had origins in the Auvergne, research avenues to try are:

  • In the mid and late nineteenth century, the Auvergnat migrants tended to live in the eleventh arrondissement, especially on rue de Lappe, so if you must trawl the tables décennales of the birth, marriage and death registrations of Paris, you might want to begin with those of the eleventh.
  • As with Breton women, some Auvergnat women had unfortunate encounters with results that caused the desperate measure of abandoning a child. The Parisian authorities went to great lengths to find the mothers of such children. You can begin a search for such a child on the website of the Paris Archives in the records of Enfants assistés (1859-1906). You could be very lucky and find where the mother was from in Auvergne.
  • Some professions, such as water carriers who used barrels, the cleanliness of which had to be verified regularly, required registration with the police. The registration files may be searched in the archives of the Paris police, in series DA.
  • For those who opened shops and bars, the Paris Archives hold the records of the Tribunal de Commerce, the commercial courts; these are not online.

Sources and Further reading:

It may be time for all descendants of pariahs of Paris to unite to form one big Cercle généalogique des Parias parisiennes. Raise a glass to all migrant outcasts, Dear Readers, past and present, for we are they.

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

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