Those of you who have been reading The French Genealogy Blog for a while may have discovered that we despise the principle of aristocracy, the premise that those born to privilege, power and vast swathes of property are somehow superior human beings. It is an illogical premise promoted only by its beneficiaries, and one that almost daily evidence disproves; generations of power and wealth have not produced people of superior intelligence or beauty or prowess or morality. Rather, there would seem to be some evidence to indicate that numerous generations of people who delude themselves that they are better than others and that those they consider to be inferior are somehow sub-human have produced a disproportionate number of psychopaths.
Nevertheless, if you have them among your ancestors, we see no reason not to research them and we remind you that we have written about such research a number of times:
- Ancestors Among the French Nobility
- Nobles on the Net
- The Cabinet des Titres
- The Beleaguered Nobility of Brittany
- Aristocracy Comes and Goes
- Everyone Wants a French Noble Among Their Ancestors
Today's topic is an interesting aspect of researching those nobles known as émigrés for having left France, their heads on their shoulders, during the French Revolution, specifically, researching those who went to England. The émigré period, when people of the nobility went abroad to escape both the Revolution and the First Empire but, with the First Restoration, felt it was safe to return, is generally given as being from 1795 to 1814.
Family life did not freeze while they were away; some died, some married and many were born, events which were recorded in notebooks of the local Catholic churches in their places of exile. Gildas Bernard wrote that these notebooks were produced in "various chapels in London and others in Southampton, Winchester, Bath, Jersey, Guernesey".1 They contain a great deal more than the usual detail, for the nobles involved were keen to assert their identities. However, the notebooks were not discovered until 1949, in the French Embassy in London. Before that, diligent researchers of a different kind of nobility went to Jersey and to Bath and conducted original research in the records of the churches there, publishing their work in :
- Les Familles françaises à Jersey pendant la Révolution, by the Comte Régis de l'Estourbeillon in 1889. This is a massive work of more than six hundred pages. Families are listed alphabetically but really, as the names have so many articles and extensions, that is not much more help in finding them than one has with the correct Arabic names given alphabetically in Brill's Encyclopaedia of Islam. For each family, a brief history is given, then major alliances are listed, then the heraldic escutcheon is described. After this, the events that were recorded in the church during the family's exile are listed in full.
- "Les Emigrés Bretons réfugiés à Bath pendant la Révolution", by Charles Robert in Revue de Bretagne, de Vendée et d'Anjou, June 1898. A much smaller work because there were fewer refugees in Bath, this simply reproduces, verbatim, the baptism, marriage and burial entries from the church register.
One of our Dear Readers showed us a rather delightful way in which some of the information given in the works above can be verified. When they returned, the émigrés went to work reclaiming their property and re-establishing themselves. Some, wanting to be sure that all was in order, went to the local courts with all of their documents, including their certificates of baptism, marriage or a relative's death abroad, to have all of them legally accepted in France. Some then went to the town hall with the court approval and all of the documents and had all of the births, marriages and deaths entered into the civil registers.
Thus, the family of the Marquis de Kermel de Kermesen were living in Bath when a number of children were born. Charles Robert in his article confirms this in his lists of births there. In the Guingamp civil register of births for 1833, the births, and a very great deal more about the family, are entered, as can be seen in these pages from the website of the Departmental Archives of Côtes-d'Armor. It took eight pages.
If this happened more than once, which seems likely, then you, Dear and Noble Readers, could try starting at the end of the trail to trace your returned émigré ancestors. Try searching in the civil registers of the towns where one of them was living, examining the pages through a number of years after their possible return. Try searching in the Jersey or Bath publications mentioned above. You may get lucky and find them in both!
UPDATE: Dear Reader Monsieur O sent via e-mail the link to the Bath Burial Index, which you may search for French ancestors who may have died there during their self-imposed exile.
©2019 Anne Morddel
1Bernard, Gildas. Guide des Recherches sur l'Histoire des Familles. Paris : Archives nationales, 1981, p. 306