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July 2020

Researching a Ship's Doctor in France

Poppies

Inexplicably, we have received a number of e-missives from certain Dear Readers who all have an ancestor who claimed to be a "surgeon in the French navy" or a "naval doctor" or a "surgeon on a French frigate at Trafalgar". It is most unusual, we believe, to have a spate of surgeon's descendants surface. Yet, we are grateful for, in our attempts to give helpful replies, we have discovered some very interesting new research paths, supplemented by two well-timed talks

When researching French surgeons at sea, making the differentiation between the Navy and the Merchant Marine is as important as it is when researching sailors or seamen. The documentation and archival storage are in some way quite separate and the researcher has to bear that in mind. If you are researching a man who was a doctor, surgeon or pharmacist/chemist in the French Navy, your work has been done for you by the excellent team of archivist/authors at the Service Historique de la Défense (SHD) who produced the weighty tome, Dictionnaire des médecins, chirurgiens et pharmaciens de la Marine . The work is so thorough that, if your ancestor does not appear within, he almost certainly was not a surgeon inthe French Navy.

Thus, you must look in the scattered, incomplete, rarely online but wondrous records of the French Merchant Marine (Marine de commerce et de pêche). Recall that we wrote on a recent post about the French naval conscription:

The French Naval Class System, Le système de classes

It is clear that many outside of France are completely unaware of a key element of the French Navy, La Marine, and that is the fact that, since 1668, the Marine has had its own system of drafting men into service. As with other military draft systems, it was compulsory. Censuses were taken of all men aged eighteen or over who worked on any type of vessel or who worked with vessels or in ports in any capacity. (From this it can be seen that most of the men came from coastal areas, few were from inland regions.) Lists, called matricules, were made for each region each time the census was taken. All men listed during a particular census were in the same classe, which could be called up to serve at any time during war. The class system was devised to prevent (and is considered by the French to be infinitely superior to and more humane than) something like the British practice of impressing (or pressing) men into service in the Royal Navy. During times of peace, classes were not called up, but during times of war, many classes could be called up at the same time and the men possibly could be made to serve longer than the mandated year. In 1795, the classe system was renamed the maritime enrollment, inscription maritime, but functioned in much the same way throughout the nineteenth century.

When young men had to register, they did so within their Quartier Maritime, an administrative division under the Ministry of the Marine. Prior to the Revolution, the registration was handled by the Admiralty headquarters, les sièges d'Amirauté. These divisions or headquarters were usually in port cities such as Le Havre, Rouen, Lorient, Cherbourg, Bordeaux, Toulon, and many, many more. They handled the registration of merchant vessels and personnel, including surgeons.

Surgeons, to serve on a vessel, had to pass tests and receive certificates. Many of the register books showing this have survived and some are online. Those for Bordeaux, on the website of the Departmental Archives of Gironde include:

  • Registrations of Captains, surgeons and other officers, from 1699 to 1792 (Réceptions de capitaines de vaisseaux, chirurgiens, maîtres de barque, pilotes hauturiers, etc...)
  • Certificates delivered by approved Admiralty surgeons to new candidates, from 1711-1728 (Certificats délivrés par les chirurgiens de l'Amirauté de Guienne aux candidats chirurgiens de mer.)

Here is a screen print of one of the former, showing the entry for Pierre Lafargue, whose father trained him (a not uncommon occurrence).

Surgeons

For Le Havre and Rouen, the digitized registers are on the website of the Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime. They have so much and the search is complicated. The easiest way to get to the register and to other interesting possibilities is to go to the "Recherche simple" search box and type in "chirurgiens" and you will see this wonderful book:

Le Havre surgeons

One can have a bit more fun and, on the AD Gironde website, see a register of the contents of the surgeons' chests as they were in 1786 (code 6 B 546): 

Surgeons' chests

 

 So, now you know not to despair if your "naval surgeon" ancestor is not in the Dictionnaire des mèdecins. If he lived near Le Havre or Bordeaux, you might find him registered as a "surgeon of the sea" with the merchant marine.

A small tip: Huguenots were not permitted to be surgeons during the Ancien régime (David Garrioch, The Huguenots of Paris and the Coming of Religious Freedom, 1685-1789, p. 159.) . So, if you find your man among surgeons, he was almost certainly a Catholic. Conversely, your Huguenot ancestor may have been a doctor but almost certainly could not practice in France.

Santé!

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Will There Be More Virtual French Genealogy Conferences?

Balances

As it is for everyone on our poor, suffering planet, this time of pandemic is a struggle for French genealogists. Though the extreme lockdown, confinement, has been lightened and we can go out and about, there are many rules still. We must wear masks in public; we must maintain our distance; quite a few shops and restaurants remain shut (sadly, in some cases, forever). We all have a sense that we are living Une Grande Pause (and we do not mean a long coffee break) waiting, dreading, the Second Wave of coronavirus. After that is anyone's guess.

The French genealogy community here is justifiably proud of the success of the recent Salon Virtuel de Généalogie. Organized by  the team from GeneAgenda (who had an unusually dynamic response on, we presume, seeing all of their listings disappear when the lockdown began) aided by genealogists Isabel Canry and Philippe Christol, the online event was  very well attended, it seems. Alain Rouault now asks, on GeneAgenda's blog, if this may not be the future. Will the huge, expensive conferences and the small, regional meetings disappear and be replaced by their online versions? 

He raises some interesting points, some of them uniquely French. On the whole, he says that virtual conferences will never fully replace conferences presented in real time and real space because, basically, tough they may be efficient, they are not sociable. Virtual conferences lack "social interaction, conviviality, exchanges, sharing, ambiance, the joy of discovery...". There is an implication that this socializing around a shared interest in genealogy, along with a certain level of exclusivity, even clubbiness, on the part of regional genealogy associations, is their primary interest. Their regional conferences "are essentially based on local participation, with the vendors being just visitors and [thus they] really are not interested in virtualizing their events to gain national exposure."

So, regional genealogy groups are quite parochial, yet they complain of dwindling memberships, which could be an indication that not all members shared the view that an interest in tracing one's family history was valid only if tied to and limited to an interest in local traditions and history. One can see the danger inherent in this view, of those families with the longest presence in a place being seen as somehow superior to those with a shorter presence and of such petty snobberies perhaps polluting the conviviality of the genealogy conferences, at least for some.

We are a species of contrasts; in this case, humanity's incessant migrations confront our unadmirable xenophobic or neophobic tendencies. If the explosion in the popularity of amateur genealogy brought about by the Internet has taught us anything, it has taught us that we all are descended from a migrant or two and we all come from families that have been on this planet for a significant period of time. (Should any of you, Dear Readers know of a recent arrival, please do introduce us!) It is this increasing open-mindedness amongst people researching their families that is at odds with the antiquated motive for researching one's ancestors as a way of pandering to grandiose delusions, whether to see one's self as of a French village's oldest family or as of a Mayflower passenger's descendant.

Even when lockdowns will be a thing of the past it is likely that virtual genealogy conferences are here to stay. Rouault suggests that the smaller, local conferences could find a balance between old and new and at least film their talks and put those online, which we think would be a very good idea and helpful to all. Many of those talks are gems, representing years of in-depth research, but it seems that the genealogy associations themselves do not realize their value. They seem to believe that the only thing they have to market is their extracts of parish and civil registrations; they do not seem to recognize the value of their members' expertise or how many people around the world would be interested in their talks and presentations.

In the way that Filae has milked these associations for those extracts, perhaps GeneAgenda, as well as continuing its calendar of events activity, could expand to create a platform for those very talks and that expertise? Why not use the website format of Legacy webinars, including the library and the small subscription fee, to create a place where the many conference talks and local genealogy association presentations all can be brought together? This would be, to our mind, a vast improvement on the miserable smattering of YouTube channels that prevails at the moment. It would be an interesting development on the national level. Were they to add subtitles to talks, that would have international interest.

Monsieur Rouault and the GeneAgenda team, please take note.

 

WE HAVE RECEIVED BY E-MAIL A CAUTIONARY COMMENT ABOUT THE SALON :

"I do hope there are more of these events in the future. However, IMO, they would have to work hard to improve the technical aspects of such an event. I got up at 3 am and was able to get into some of the lectures. But a lot of the lectures simply would not come up. Others (notably the one on notaries, and one other one) had a notice “filled to capacity” when I tried to get in. That, after it was advertised as “limitless" capacity. That was hugely disappointing. Also the audio quality of many of the speakers was below par.

Anyway, I was glad to see it offered, and for free. Unless I knew they had made HUGE advances technologically, I would not pay to attend. But if offered for free, I’d definitely attend again. And if they could figure out how to clean it up, I’d pay."

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Two Virtual Lectures Up Our Alley

Vessel

Last Saturday's online French genealogy conference, the Salon Virtuel de Généalogie, was excellent as to content but, as we mentioned on the day, somewhat flawed as to microphone quality. We enjoyed a number of talks, especially that by Sandrine Roux-Morand about Alsace Moselle research, to which you can still listen for two more days here, and that by Laurence Abensur-Hazan on French Jewish genealogy resources, delivered at speed, in great clarity and without slides, to which you can still listen here.

Two  lectures were covering topics that are right up the research alley in which we find ourselves at the moment. That on resources online for researching French sailors and merchant seamen, by Christian Duic, and the utterly fascinating lecture by Marine Leclercq-Bernard on using medical archives in genealogical research

We began with Madame Leclercq-Bernard's lecture on La Généalogie Médicale. She discussed the cases of those who were identified legally as carriers of diseases and the medical protocols for identifying and notifying those with hereditary diseases. Her explanation of the archives to use was, Dear Readers, a revelation. So many series that we never knew, with possibilities for discoveries that we never imagined, were described that we now long for a poorly French ancestor to hunt down in them. Most of these series are within the Departmental Archives and are not online; many are in the Archives hospitalières, but Madame Leclercq-Bernard also suggested that one could seek in the archives concerning abandoned children and in the archives of the military hospitals. She explained how a researcher might trace a medical problem back through a number of generations using these archives. Do, do listen to this talk while there still is time.

Christian Duic's talk closely follows his book, Retrouver un ancêtre marin but, aware of our lack of mobility during these times of quarantine, he narrowed the focus to online research of sailors and merchant seamen. (As you will know from our own recent series on Researching Early American Mariners of the Napoleonic Wars, this area of research is one in which we are keenly interested.) We urge you to listen to his talk while there is time, particularly if you have been having trouble with the Le Havre passenger and crew lists on the website of the Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime, for (at about the 27th minute in the talk) he walks the viewer through it.

The French Naval Class System, Le système de classes

It is clear that many outside of France are completely unaware of a key element of the French Navy, La Marine, and that is the fact that, since 1668, the Marine has had its own system of drafting men into service. As with other military draft systems, it was compulsory. Censuses were taken of all men aged eighteen or over who worked on any type of vessel or who worked with vessels or in ports in any capacity. (From this it can be seen that most of the men came from coastal areas, few were from inland regions.) Lists, called matricules, were made for each region each time the census was taken. All men listed during a particular census were in the same class, which could be called up to serve at any time during war. The class system was devised to prevent (and is considered by the French to be infinitely superior to and more humane than) something like the British practice of impressing (or pressing) men into service in the Royal Navy. During times of peace, classes were not called up, but during times of war, many classes could be called up at the same time and the men possibly could be made to serve longer than the mandated year. Without an awareness of this naval draft and the naval matricules, one will not comprehend Monsieur Duic's lecture or his book.

Now, watch those lectures! Vite!

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy