Many years ago, we worked in aid in East Africa. We poured our heart and soul into the projects, particularly one to train trainers, very much à la mode in the aid world at the time. We arrived after months of preparation, all notes and materials ready to give the course. At a final meeting with the Head of the Civil Service, he told us with his regrets that he would have to cancel the course. We were devastated. "It is fully booked," we pleaded. "The sponsors have paid for the facilities, materials, even for stipends for the attendees. Please reconsider." He refused, we continued begging, wheedling. He was adamant. As was our wont when younger, when we encountered grievous frustration, we lost our head, Dear Readers. Standing before the gentleman, we spoke passionately, waved our arms wildly, and threatened to stab ourself in the throat then and there with a decorative tribal knife that happened to be on his desk, "and bleed all over your carpet!" He looked very disappointed and relented, for which we thanked him profusely. We were so blind in those days. All the man wanted was a bribe. It would have saved us a near-stroke simply to have paid up.
Similarly, for months, we have been at the near-stroke stage in our frustration with the redesigned website of the French military archives, Mémoire des Hommes. Essentially, to our mind, it was launched far too soon, before much data had been entered. Our greatest complaints, however, has been that the brilliant finding aids were not accessible, denying the possibility of our much-enjoyed serendipitous discoveries. In this case of frustration, it was not a payment that was required but patience. Slowly, the site is improving and searches are yielding actual results. The "global search" allows a search for a particular name through the records of a few wars, most of them in the twentieth century. To find a person in the records of the Ancien Régime through the First Empire, from 1682 to 1815, is a bit more arduous. The contrôles des troupes, the troop lists, have been digitized but are not indexed (collaborative indexing proceeds apace but many of us, Dear Readers, will not live the decades needed to see the results). Thus, you must page through the registers. To make it easier, try to find out the regiment in which your ancestor served and the approximate dates of his service.
Take the time to explore the site. It does get better.
Ancestramil remains a superb resource that takes much of the pain out of researching in the records of the French military. They have indexed close to a million names and transcribed thousands of lists. If you have done no military research at all, Ancestramil is the place to start. Some years back, we described it here.
A couple of the following are also on Ancestramil but we give them here if you wish to use a more subject specific site.
- For a pensioned soldier housed at the Invalides in Paris from 1673 to 1796, Hôtel des Invalides
- To find names and photographs of the last survivors of Napoleon's Army, called: Grognards ; for those who lived to 1857, try the Médaille de Sainte-Hélène recipients.
- For the names of those French who fought in the American Revolution, the book, Combattants français de la guerre americaine 1778-1783, can be found on the Internet Archive; some may find the GenWeb page on Lafayette easier to search the same names.
- The files of those inducted into the Légion d'Honneur often have military service details as well as copies of birth, marriage and death information.
We hope these may help you to have a grand success during your lockdown hunting.
©2020 Anne Morddel