Previous month:
October 2020
Next month:
December 2020

November 2020

The Pandemic Takes Its Toll on French Graves

Toussaint flowers

Another Toussaint has come and gone in France and, as in every year, many thousands of pots of chrysanthemums have been placed by the graves of the departed. In this year of the coronavirus pandemic, there seem to be many more new graves and tombs in the cemeteries. As of this writing, the French government reports that more than 52,000 people in the country have died of Coronavirus. As elsewhere, a large proportion of those who have died were elderly. Where possible and where desired, their bodies have been placed in family tombs or plots of cemeteries across the country.

French cemeteries are quite different from those in North America or Great Britain, as we have explained in detail here and here. The greatest difference is surely the reclamation of the plots of untended graves. This is something that many foreigners find quite shocking but that the French find to be a purely practical matter of public health and hygiene. To repeat our earlier posts, if any grave or family tomb is left untended and should fall into disrepair, a legal procedure is begun to reclaim the space, beginning with a notice of intent being placed on the grave.

Plot reclamation notice

Roughly translated, the notice reads:

With the ravages of time, this grave has deteriorated or seems to have been abandoned. A process to reclaim it has been begun. If you wish to retain it, please go to the town hall for [instructions on] the procedure to follow.

If someone comes forward to pay for the repair and restoration of the grave, it remains; if not, it is reclaimed by the municipality and the bones are placed in an ossuary. Then, the plot is sold anew.

Now, with so very many deaths from coronavirus, the pressure on cemeteries to find more space is intense, and one sees the reclamation notices much more often than before.

Plot reclamation notices

Recently, Family Tree Magazine published a very fine online article by Sunny Jane Morton, entitled "Find a Grave: 7 Strategies for Successful Searching". Her good suggestions are not of much use when applied to French cemeteries. In a country such as France, family and society are more important than the individual and so, family tombs tend to show only the surname and not the names of the many individuals entombed within. Neither Find-a-Grave nor its more complete French counterpart, Geneanet.org, is set up to help in finding out who is buried in a family tomb. Moreover, neither website has any way to note if a grave still exists or has been reclaimed. (Geneanet, pointing out that some 200,000 graves are reclaimed every year, maintains a campaign of mass photographing, "Sauvons nos tombes", but this does not address the issue squarely. What is needed is a campaign to digitize municipal burial and cemetery registers, but this would require contracts and payments instead of volunteers with cameras.)

Sadly, with the pandemic causing this sudden increase in the reclamation of plots and, thus, the disappearance of graves and tombs, for those that have not been recorded on either of these sites, it will be difficult for a researcher to know that they ever existed.

To learn more about French cemeteries, see our booklet, "Death and Cemeteries in France".

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Guest Post - Au revoir Monsieur! - Part 4

Annecy

Episode 4: Who is Claude Marie?

You can imagine my excitement when, surfing on the website of Désarmement Havrais, my laptop screen revealed Claude Marie’s name - spelled a bit differently though. Moreover the fellow was from Annecy-le-Vieux, where Antoine D, the father of the 14 children, was born in 1821, on the hills above Annecy. For the first time, I held a tiny clue that someone from the D family had been to America and that the family story might be true. In the transcribed report I found much interesting information collected by the website’s owner from the Inscription Maritime of the port of Le Havre :

  • Name: Claude Marie D.
  • Age: 28 years old
  • From: Annecy-le-Vieux, Haute-Savoie Department, France
  • No job nor address mentioned
  • Embarkation: 1 February 1850 in Le Havre on the Robert Surcouf
  • Destination: San Francisco where he disembarked on 14 August 1850

SAN FRANCISCO in 1850: the Gold Rush. Would it be possible that Claude Marie had run to California just as many Europeans in the middle of the 19th century to look for gold?Could he be the famous and wealthy uncle of our childhood legend?! What an awesome discovery! Stay realistic and focus is my motto: many serious and dedicated researchers offer tons of indexed data on their websites but using primary information items is a basic standard in genealogy. (I am a good student!). First, I had to get confirmation of the data through original records (1) from the Inscription Maritime of port of Le Havre and (2) from the vital records in Haute-Savoie.

(1) As the name was not exactly spelled the same way, I wanted to have a look at the writing in the volume of the Archives and check the correctness of the information. I easily found the Robert Surcouf vessel file in the Inscription Maritime of Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime as the classification code was provided on the Désarment Havrais website. It was amazing to read the armement of the Robert Surcouf, that is to say, the fitting out of the ship and the list of crew (with function and salary) and passengers. Claude Marie was among the 88 passengers, with his name correctly spelled and I had no doubt now that he was from the D family. He was the only one not to have presented a passport but a visa issued by the Prefet de Police on 26 January 1850, probably because he was coming from Duchy of Savoie which was not yet part of France. I would have to find where he got it. Passengers had begun boarding on February 1 and the ship sailed off on the 17th. I was really thrilled to find the log book at the end of the file disclosing the stopovers: on March 18th Claude Marie probably set foot on land and discovered Praia in the Cape Verde archipelago (just like Darwin on his way to America in 1832!)

Archipelago archipelago

Praia

Praia roadstead in Capo Verde

Five days later, the ship headed directly to Valparaiso (Chile), one of the most important seaports in the South Pacific Ocean, and arrived on June 5th where she stayed six days.

Valparaiso

Museo Municipal de Bellas Artes de Valparaiso, Chile

Customs clearance in the center of Valparaiso

The final destination was San Francisco where Claude Marie disembarked on 14 August 1850 just a week after the arrival of the first French consul in the Californian city. He was among the first Argonauts, adventurers in the quest for gold!

Californie

Source Gallica.bnf.fr/ Bibliothèque Nationale de France

My first intention was to follow Claude Marie once he set foot in California. But I needed to validate his identity.

Yerba BuenaCalifornia Historical Society

(2) In my mind I was bathing in the beautiful cold bay of Yerba Buena – the original name for San Francisco – and feeling the Californian summer sun on my face, but I obliged myself to fly back to Europe to the tiny village of Annecy-le-Vieux and chased our gold hunter in the birth registers. According to the information given in the file of the ship, he was 28 in 1850 so born approximately in 1822. On the website of the association of Marmottes de Savoie, I spotted the births of Claude D. in 1811 and Claude-Marie D. in 1846. They could not be our golden boy but possibly from the same family as parents in the past would preferably go for a traditional first name already used in the family.

Surfing on the online archives and playing with the decennial tables and the birth, marriage, death registers, scratching tirelessly in my notebook to get a proper ascending tree, the French Revolutionary calendar making me tear my hair out, I discovered a completely new family, not a different one but one of the older generations. Claude Marie was born in 1818 and was actually 32 when he left for America. His father Claude was born in 1761 and died in 1845. From a first marriage with Marie T, Claude had one daughter Josephte born on 8 Fructidor year 3 (25 August 1795) and my ancestor Antoine born on 22 Pluviose year 6 (10 February 1798) who would become the paternal grandfather of the 14 little souls. You follow me? Claude had Antoine who had Antoine who had Hubert Michel who had Fernande, my G-grandmother…...You will not believe me if I tell you that Claude’s father was also called Antoine…
But who was Claude Marie? I finally got the clue: he was actually the half brother of my ancestor Antoine and thus the half granduncle of Hubert-Michel. Born in 1818 the last child of the second marriage of Claude who married Françoise B in 1808, he had a sister Benoîte, born in 1809, and a brother Claude who died at the age of 6 in 1817. His father had died five years before he decided to leave to San Francisco.

Naissance

Did Claude Marie make fortune in San Francisco? Did he stay there or move to another country as many poor miners did? Was he joined by one of Hubert Michel’s siblings? Did he have a family in North or South America? Claude Marie could not be the dead uncle of 1830-ish from my grandmother’s childhood. Actually I found out that most of the last born ones died at an early age. Among the boys, one remains a mystery to me, Antoine, who was born in 1847. This is another story that I will be happy to share with you in the future!

Many thanks for your interest in my Au Revoir Monsieur installments... et à bientôt!

 

We are extremely grateful to Madame S for this delightful series about her research and hope that you, Dear Readers, have found it to be both entertaining and inspiring.

©2020 Madame S

French Genealogy




Guest Post - Au revoir Monsieur! - Part 3

Annecy

"Absolutely intriguing! Am loving these installments!!" 

"It is always interesting to see how someone else pursues research."

"I see a book developing in your interesting story!"

 

Above, are some of the kind comments received about the current series of blog posts, written by Madame S. She is most gratified by your support and gives you the third installment (with some of her characteristic and delightful humour):

 

Episode 3: A typical large and deprived family of Savoie

Before internet time, a genealogical hunt would require spending most of your days in the Departmental Archives where are filed all kinds of documentation under the 1841 classification system called cadre de classement. As our dear Anne taught me, the Archives départementales were created by the law of 5 brumaire an V ( 26 October 1796), modified by many other laws and can be found nowadays in each department’s main city, all governed by the Archives de France. They all have the same indexing system for the same kinds of documentation with the same administrative structure. Any member of the public has access to any Departmental Archives in France, can register and drown for ever in the A to Z series covering the Ancien Régime, revolutionary and modern times: jurisdictions, hospitals public education, clergy, finance, notarial, military or prisons… you can dig up so much from the past…Stay realistic and focus is my moto: the basic step is to start with Series E for it contains the parish and civil registers. Happily, most of the them have been filmed and are now online along with Napoleonic maps (cadastres napoléoniens), census returns, military conscription lists and notarial records. Fantastic! I could work from home at any time of the day…and night! Get set, go!

I was on the track of an uncle – potentially a few others, even aunts - from my grandmother’s maternal side and he was supposed to have emigrated to the Americas. I had to find him - or them - by establishing the ascending tree of my grandmother. I knew the birth date and place details of her mother, my G-grandmother Fernande D. whom I had well known (my sisters and I loved her slender hand knitted dolls): 9 February 1896 in Annecy (Haute-Savoie). I remembered how as a child I was impressed that she was born in another century! It was easy to find her birth record as I had her full name, date and town of birth. In her record, I found much interesting information:

Fernande Françoise D. born on 9 February 1896 in Annecy (Haute-Savoie)

  • Father: Hubert Michel D, Court clerck, born on 30 January 1866 in Annecy
  • Mother: Franceline G. born on 8 April 1868 in Annecy
  • Address: Faubourg Ste Claire 13 in Annecy, Maison Decoux
  • Grandparent’s names: the late Antoine D. and Jeanne C.; François-Marie G and Jeanne Augustine D.

Screen Shot 2020-11-17 at 6.24.55 PM

Screen Shot 2020-11-17 at 6.25.06 PM

The striking fact that my grandmother’s maternal grandfather Hubert Michel was the last child of a family of 16 children has always been pointed out in our family but actually it was a really common situation in Savoie and other regions in the middle of 19th century as I will find out later in other family searches or reading local history books such as La fabuleuse odyssée des savoyards en Argentine by Claude Chatelain. (The fabulous odyssey of the Savoyards in Argentina)1. Strong women would give birth to countless number of babies...and most of them would die or emigrate due to lack of bread! Sad story!


I continued my search to find his elder siblings among whom was supposedly my fellow! I got ahold of my G-G-grandfather Hubert Michel’s birth record as I knew his date of birth. I knew also from Fernande’s birth record that his father was Antoine who had died before 1896 as he is declared dead on Fernande’s birth record. It will be helpful to find his death record. But for now, I had to gather new information to build the tree:

Hubert Michel D. born on 30 January 1866 in Annecy ( Haute-Savoie)

  • Father: Antoine D, cotton spinner, born on 1st December 1821 in Annecy-le-Vieux ( Haute-savoie)
  • Mother: Jeanne C. born on 17 May 1825 in Annecy
  • Address: Faubourg Ste Claire 19 in Annecy, Maison Fontaine
  • Grandparent’s names: late Antoine D. and late Marie B. C.- late François-Marie G and late Jeanne Augustine D.

Screen Shot 2020-11-17 at 6.29.51 PM

 

There appeared the dates and places of birth of the parents of the 16 children, provided these little souls have really existed. Where did Antoine and Jeanne get married? While Jeanne was born in Annecy, Antoine was coming from Annecy-le-Vieux, a farming village that lay on the hills gently rolling down to Annecy where stood the cotton manufacturing company (La manufacture de coton d’Annecy), a regional major employer in the 19th century where Antoine was working in 1866 as a spinner. I bet on Annecy as marriages usually took place in the bride’s village or town. There was a good chance that the couple would have also lived there after their union and thus I could spot their children in the birth decennial tables.

I estimated that they had married around 1845 (Jeanne would be 20 years old) and only one volume proved to be helpful for this period: the decennial table from 1838 to 1862 indexing by year birth, marriage and death. Click on, click on, click on….you remember? I had to go through the birth folios 1838 –1850 before getting to the marriage ones. When I arrived at D names in the birth columns, I had a look, just in case, and well… here they were! François in 1844, Marie in 1846, Antoine in 1847, Louise in 1850, Françoise in 1849, Jeanne in 1850. The name was not always spelled in the same way so I will need to get the confirmation with the full birth records that they were children of the same couple but I was pretty sure it was the case. I rounded the first birth table off and found easily the date of marriage of Antoine and Jeanne: 17 May 1843. In the following birth tables, I picked Claudine in 1852, Rose in 1853 ( my god! Poor mother Jeanne!!!) Louis Antoine in 1854, François Léon in 1854 (but from December and April so I had no doubt we had two mothers there!) Pierre in 1855, Jacques in 1856, Jean in 1857.

Screen Shot 2020-11-17 at 6.35.51 PM

Screen Shot 2020-11-17 at 6.35.59 PM

I carefully noted each name and birth date and looked for each record into the corresponding birth year register. At first I was unlucky and found nothing but then I realized that there were two parishes in Annecy, Notre Dame and Saint Maurice. And my little souls belonged to the second one. This was a souvenir of the Sardinian period in Savoie (1815-1860) when parish priests were in charge of the vital records. Some children were from other couples indeed but I was really gratified to draw up a list of 14 children, 8 girls and 6 boys born between 1844 and 1866. A really good job, Jeannette!

Screen Shot 2020-11-17 at 6.39.35 PM

I downloaded, filed and captioned all the birth records before wondering, Damn! How will I now find out which one(s) could have emigrated? But you are never left alone in the genealogical world: hundreds of websites give you tremendous tips but my favorite one is definitely… the FGB! It took me through the census that took place in France every five years from 1861 to 1936, which gives you by street the full name, age and sometimes job of the persons living in the same home on the year of the census. And...they are online in Series 6M of the Departmental Archives. Better than a chocolate cookie for your dopamine level!!!

Now here is the story of the D. Family based on the census records. One warning: do not mistake streets or avenues as I did. In my case there were a Faubourg Sainte Claire and a Rue Sainte Claire and I started by the wrong one. In 1861, the happy family lived on 17/19 Faubourg Sainte Claire in Annecy: there were Antoine, the cotton spinner father, Jeannette the mother and their children François (17), Marie (15), Louise (14), Franchette (12), and François Marie (3).

 

Screen Shot 2020-11-17 at 6.42.58 PM

The four elder children worked also at the cotton factory located quai des Cordeliers. It was not very far from home, just across the Thiou river, a couple of streets away. Some were weavers, others “rattacheurs”: as they were small and agile, they had to go under the looms to reattach the various ends of broken threads and clean the clogged coils. Their maternal widowed grandmother Jacqueline was helping to take care of the young François.

In the 1866 census, François the eldest one was now 21 and he has left home… or has he emigrated? Who knows? The other four children have stayed home and Jeannette has given birth once more to a now 4 month old baby Albert, my ancestor. His official name was Hubert Michel but nobody called him this way.

In the 1872 census, it was a bit gloomy at 19 Faubourg Sainte Claire. Grandmother has passed away and the girls have left home. Little Albert, now 7, was playing with his elder brother François Marie after work. Food was surely more abundant.

In the 1876 census, a sensible improvement and what I considered as great news, Albert was going to school. While his brother François Marie was a tinsmith, making and selling sheet metal objects, François the elder son was back as a cowherd and he has married Marie Louise C. They were living 8 rue Sainte Claire not very far from Antoine et Jeannette, who could easily visit her 3 year old granddaughter Louise Marie, born in Paris. Had François traveled to Paris and maybe made it a bit further?

In the 1881 census, the family has moved to 15 Faubourg Sainte Claire and Albert, now 16, was a lawyer’s clerk. How proud were his parents!

In the 1886 census, the couple had only one son home, Albert, but two little school girls had joined the family: it will never end had probably thought Jeannette! She was in charge of her two grand daughters Louise Marie now 13 and Eugénie, 8 born in Annecy. Their parents may have gone back to Paris or elsewhere to make a fortune.

In the 1891 census, the daughter Françoise ( Franchette), a domestic, has come back at her parents’ but Albert has left, Antoine was still a cotton spinner at 70 year old

In the 1896 census, the patriarch Antoine had passed away and Jeannette, his wife, now the family head, has moved to 13 Faubourg Sainte Claire with her son François Marie the tinsmith and Albert’s family. He has married Françoise G. and their daughter, my G-grandmother Fernande was 43 days old.

In the 1901 census, Albert was now the chef de famille (head of household) and he and his brother François Marie were grieving for their wonderful mother Jeanne. Albert and his wife has expanded the family with a baby boy, François, now 3 and were happy to find some help from Eugénie, a cook, their 23 year old niece.

In the 1906 census, hard times came back on 13 Faubourg Sainte Claire as Franceline, not even 38, died and  left behind her three children: Fernande Françoise, 10 years old, François Auguste, 8 years old, and a baby. Thankfully the maternal grandparents moved in and Albert would continue to work at the court as clerk.

 

Analyzing the census documentation would give me plenty of new directions to investigate.

  • Why has the elder son gone to Paris?
  • Where were the two elder daughters Louise Marie and Jeanne?
  • Where were the missing children never mentioned?

 

While following the tracks, I was reading books and articles about the emigration of Savoyards, transport, daily life in the Alps, etc.. I checked passenger lists to the Americas. I visited the Diplomatic Archives of Nantes where you can find records of French people living abroad, hoping I would find the D. name in a French consulate in Argentina, Columbia or Uruguay. I watched webinars from genealogical associations and one day, I found out the fantastic website of the Désarmement Havrais which indexed lists of sailers, boats and passengers all related to Le Havre port. I entered the first letters of my D. fellow's surname and just by chance a  Claude Marie D., born in Annecy-le-Vieux came up. But who was Claude Marie?

  1. La fabuleuse odyssée des savoyards en Argentine by Claude Chatelain. - Edition La Fontaine de Siloe

©2020 Madame S.

French Genealoggy


Guest Post - Au Revoir Monsieur! Part 2

Annecy

We are most gratified by the positive response and messages from you, Dear Readers about the first installment in this series of guest posts by the talented and experienced researcher and genealogist, Madame S.  We are confident that you will find this second installment to be equally interesting and intriguing, and that, as you follow her research story, you will discover hints and detailed knowledge that will inform your own genealogical research.

 

Episode 2: On the traces of Felix the confectioner

Genealogy search is a long-term process and as you may know very time consuming. Specially if you decide to chase a fellow who was born in a remote hamlet on the hills of the French Alps and who supposedly ended up to be a sweet tooth artist in Egyptian palaces. A new clue disperses the frustrating feelings of lengthy sessions in front of your computer screen consulting mechanically the online records to eventually find the evidence - click on, click on, click on - or waiting for answers from specialists, archivists or kin. When my grandmother suggested that Félix the confectioner had gone to Geneva for training, it was as an illumination to me, a big step forward. We kissed each other good bye, both of us pleased but for different reasons...she would not miss a Scrabble meeting!

On my way home, I planned to go the Archives d’État de Genève (Archives of State of Geneva) as soon as possible. The following day, I was climbing up the streets of the old town of Geneva towards the old Arsenal building - and its famous five canons - where the Archives were located. I entered an impressive room with high-beamed ceiling and shelves full of dated volumes. I had no idea of where to start and exposed my doubt to the pleasant archivist in charge that day: “You are looking for a foreigner so the first thing to do is to check the Permis de séjour (resident permits) records which are chronologically filed,”she explained to me. I did not know Felix’s year of arrival in Geneva but luckily she handed me an old carton box with alphabetical index cards.

 

Index card box Marie Félix

 

I was thrilled...there lay a chance to continue the search or...to hit a wall! I started to look for Felix’s name in the B cards. Fantastic! Here was his name B. so I kept going with excitement: B. Antoine, B. Claude, B. Elise Marie, B. Joseph….oh! no! I went over the F letter for Felix…. What a disappointment! It was not possible! He had to be there and suddenly it struck me that his full first names was Marie Félix. In the past the last of a person's first names was the one used and funny enough for us nowadays his first one was Marie (Mary). I got my breath back and resumed my search. Eureka! I had found him! B. Marie-Félix born in 1843, from Rumilly (Savoie).

 

Index card B. Marie-Félix

 

He had arrived in 1861 and had been registered in the Dh15 record. It was then easy to find the entrance and I delightedly discovered the following information:

 

  • N° resident permit 36247
  • Date of permission: 20 February 1861
  • Renewal of permit: 3 months by 3 months during 4 years
  • Cost: 75
  • Age : 6 9bre 1843 (I first read 9bre as September but (I had no doubt: it was him! )
  • Origin: Rumilly (Savoie)
  • Profession: pâtissier (baker)
  • Adress: Rive 201 chez Duburger
  • Departure: destination Paris on 30 March 1865

 

Etrangers Dh15 Marie Félix

 

This chart shows the old abbreviations for months:Abréviations mois

 

I had made tremendous progress: I knew now that Félix had moved to Geneva during the 1861 winter and that he had been living there four years. He was listed as a pâtissier, a baker or pastry chef. I was wondering whether the address Rive 201 would be his training place. Following the extra advice of the archivist, I checked the Annuaire général du commerce suisse et des pays étrangers, Almanach des adresses volume 1860 - a Swiss trade directory with addresses and, in the confection-er/baker section, I found Leclerc Fils, rue de Rive 201.

 

Almanach des Adresses 1860 - confiseur pâtissier - AEG

 

What a coincidence! Félix may have been working for Leclerc. I had a good feeling and I enjoyed tracking the address but there was no rue de Rive 201 in modern Geneva. Well! Nothing could stop me now and I found in “the Index of Dénominations and Changes of street names from 1814 to 1926” that the state council has ordered a change to rue de Rive on 28 December 1860 and it concerned the numbering. On an old map of Geneva published by Briquet between 1854 and 1862, I spotted rue de Rive 201 right at the corner of the old trajectory of rue de la Fontaine. And what I discovered struck me: at this exact location, rue de Rive 4 was a chocolate factory which might have been a long time ago the Leclerc fils confectionery but, moreover, it was Auer Chocolaterie, our chocolate-addict address where I frequently bought the most delicious chocolate-powdered almonds. My ancestor Félix might have worked there more than 150 years ago!!!! A damn wink from the past!

Auer

It was time to leave the AEG archives as it was closing for the day. I had now many leads to follow and the most important one was that Félix left Geneva in March 1865 to go to Paris. What did he exactly do in Geneva? How did he find a new job in Paris? How long did he stay before leaving for Egypt? Did he go with his family? I was wondering how to handle the case the most efficiently. Next time I visited my grandmother, I told her of my new findings and my doubts, She tackled my self-questioning with her usual alertness : «You’d better take care of my great-uncle who emigrated to Americas»


During our conversations my grandmother often mentioned one of her mother’s uncles who emigrated in the Americas as she used to say. As he belonged to a poor and large family of 16 children, he supposedly left Annecy and went most probably to Argentina but she was not sure. She even thought that maybe more than one of the children among the eldest had taken the same way. How many? Together? When and where exactly? So many questions she could not answer. But when she was a little girl she remembered her father coming back home with a letter from the Court and announcing to her mother: “ You know, you have an uncle who died in America” and that’s all, he had gone to America: AU RE-VOIR MONSIEUR, that’s all! To my sister she gave another version: one uncle had actually sailed back to France and died on board the ship after being robbed. I imagine her adding with her little mischievous smile: “maybe he was rich and we are related to a wealthy family in America!”


A couple of months later, we lost our grand-maman. I owed it to her to investigate the uncle and I promised myself that I will! I was facing a new adventure and I will be thrilled to share it with you in the next episode….

 

©2020 Madame S.

French Genealogy


Guest Post - Au revoir Monsieur! Part 1

Annecy

1. A story of love, ties, roots and jam...

Here is a story of love, ties, roots and jam...My grandmother passed away five years ago, one month before her 94th birthday. She was an energetic, blue-eyed, lovely lady full of life, with daughters, sons, grandchildren and G-grandchildren. Had she lived a few more months, she would have met her G-G-granddaughter born in Rio de Janeiro. I am certain that you already can visualize a beautiful descendant tree for her, extending its branches from France to Brazil.

She was an educated woman who worked her whole life as clerc de notaire in her husband’s notarial office but family was her main preoccupation. I spent countless delightful summer afternoons in her company making her famous apricot jam and climbing up and down the ladder of the generations of our family tracing a first cousin once removed who died at the age of five, the G-G-grandfather who emigrated in the Levant to be a confiseur (confectioner) or my latest new born cousin, with whom I share my four grandparents. At an early age I already had in mind my family tree and I believe that this time with my grandmother was my first step towards my interest in genealogy. Many years later our dear friend Anne became my guide.

Born in Annecy, in the French department of Haute-Savoie, close to the Swiss border and the town of Geneva, my grandmother pleasantly claimed herself to be “Savoyarde” more often than French. As a matter of fact, the duchy of Savoy, part of the kingdom of Sardinia was annexed to France in 1860,1 a pretty recent date for a woman born in the beginning of the 20th century. Our story will take us back to the Sardinian time of Annecy where my search begins and where treasure can be found in the Archives Départementales de Haute-Savoie

It is now time to open the case and to follow the fragile hints I gathered to begin my investigations.

During our conversations my grandmother often mentioned various generations not only of her family but of her husband’s as well. She had an acute vision of all members of both ascendant trees: a story was running about my dear grandfather’s family that we, his grandchildren, considered as a pure legend: that our great-grandfather had been a confectioner to Ismael Pasha, viceroy of Egypt ! In a family of notaries, lawyers or pharmacists in the conservative, peaceful, mountainous town of Annecy, this ancestor seemed an alien! While it was well known to our grandparent's generation that many young people had fled from Savoie in the 19th century due to poverty and lack of work,2 for we children, this G-Grandfather was a fanciful figure who faded away to an exotic country. Later, when our dear Anne began to tell me how genealogy searches could take us through delightful and brilliant stories, I remembered Félix the confectioner. I was now living in Switzerland so close to his homeland, I decided to chase him to know more about him and his adventures in the Levant…

What did I know about him? Felix B. was the father of my mother’s grandmother (or, my maternal grandfather's maternal grandfather) who died in La Roche sur Foron, 30 km from Annecy and he had three children. My G-grandmother Louise was the youngest, born in 1891, many years after her two brothers Laurent and Louis (1878-1889): she was a consolation to her mother Annette who lost her second son at the age of ten from rubella, my grandmother always added when talking about the deceased young boy. And it was certainly the case, as she bore the female name of her late brother. The dates I got would match: she was born 2 years after his death. There were inconsistent elements about the date of Felix’s journey to Egypt. Before or after his son’s death? It was important to get a clear idea of the chronology.

I had to dig for Félix’s birth, marriage and death certificates. Thanks to the pictures of La Roche sur Foron cemetery transcriptions that my grand mother had recorded on her birthday notebook, I knew that he was born in 1843 and died in 1914. It was a good lead but it needed to be confirmed. Félix was most probably living in La Roche Sur Foron when he died so I had sufficient elements to begin. As I did not know his exact date of death, I checked the website of the Archives Départementales de Haute-Savoie to find the alphabetical decennial tables in the death register of La Roche sur Foron but none existed for 1914. To avoid to lose too much time, I had to find that date and Geneanet gave me the clue. Searching for Félix’s name, the city and the date of 1914, I got two results and one was an obituary stating that Félix died on Sunday 11 January 1914. It was moving to read these lines and informative. It revealed that he died suddenly at the age of 71 year old - which actually implied the 1843 birth date - and showed that Félix was a public figure of the town of La Roche sur Foron..I noticed that there was an alphabetical table at the end of the 1914 volume which could have given the exact death date...I would remember to check next time. I learned by reading the death certificate that:

• his full name was Marie Félix B.
• his birth date 6 November 1843 ( just like my daughter many years later... !)
• the birth place in Saint Maurice, a village nearby
• his wife’s name was Annette C.

I easily found the birth certificate online in the birth records of Saint Maurice de Rumilly but I now needed to spot his marriage certificate as it would gather a lot of information from his adult life. Nothing was recorded under his name on the website of the local genealogical association that I joined, Les Marmottes de Savoie. But I found there some information about the village and its change of name from Saint Maurice to Saint Maurice de Rumilly to finally be attached to Saint Pierrre en Faucigny in 1965. It will be helpful to surf on the records online for further searches.

I checked the Saint Maurice de Rumilly decennial tables for the marriage period I estimated could be between 1863 (Felix would be 20) and 1878 (birth of the second child). Here they were!, Félix and Annette. Married on the 16 September 1874. It was simple to get the 3 folios record in the 1874 marriage register. Next day I visited my grandmother and discussed with her my findings. Felix was born in the Saint Maurice village in 1843, married Annette at 31 in 1874 and died in La Roche sur Foron, the town nearby in 1914. But how could I trace him as a confectioner in Egypt? I felt lost and a bit disappointed. Suddenly my grandmother added: “ You know, I remember hearing that he went to Geneva to get a training in baking and confectionery” Wouahhh! What a great new thread to follow!!! I had now my investigation agenda for the following days in the right city where I was living….

 

©2020 Madame S.

French Genealogy

1 See our post on when Savoie joined France here.

2Read about the Savoyards who went to Paris, hoping to escape poverty, here.