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January 2021

Galette des Rois - French Comfort Food Can Help to Find Your Ancestor's Region

Patisserie-Boulangerie

The galette des rois, or king cake, is a French tradition that dates back to the Roman era and the end of the year Saturnalia, which was a festival at the end of the year that included religious observance, gift-giving, and some pretty wild partying. A small bean, a miserable little thing that held within it the promise of life in the spring to come, was hidden in a cake. When the cake was served, whoever found the bean in his or her slice, was granted special treatment for the day. 

The galette des rois is pretty much the same in form and function, christianized as to symbolism. A cake of flakey pastry, with a frangipane filling, has a small porcelain figurine, still called a bean or fève, hidden in it, and is served on the 6th of January, Epiphany. The person who finds the fève in his or her slice wears a crown for the day. We are well past the 6th of January, but the French so love the cake that it can still be found in the supermarkets, bakeries and pastry shops.

We, personally, find the cake to be so flat, tasteless and dry, that the hope of a prize really is the only inducement to eating it. However, our children and their French cousins love the thing, so we suspect that it is one of those foods that, like Marmite for the English, must be consumed before the age of three, when discernment begins, for it to be a taste that one can tolerate. Then, with the memory of the taste lodged deep in the subconscious, eating it becomes some sort of comfort. Apparently, king cake is such a comfort food and so easy to make that, during these interminable lockdowns, confinements, people are making them at home and consuming them all year round, as this charming presentation, "What's behind France's 'galette des rois' tradition?", complete with recipe, explains.

Perhaps the French side of your family has a recipe for king cake, or something of a similar name, with an object hidden inside, and the cake eaten around the time of the new year? If so, find it, for it may help you to identify the part of France from which your French ancestors came. Each region varied the recipe slightly, quite naturally, according to the ingredients available, or preferred. Each region claims that their recipe is for the "real" king cake.

  • In Brittany, the cake itself is not made with flakey pastry but is sablée, or shortbread, a much more solid  and buttery affair.
  • In Gascony, Provence and Languedoc, the cake is made with a brioche pastry (much less dry) and formed into a circle, approximating a crown. Even better, orange blossom extract and rum are added.
  • Around Pau, anis flavouring is added to the above recipe.
  • In Nice, the dry version with frangipane is scorned as "Parisian" and inedible. Their version uses brioche pastry and candied fruits.
  • In Bordeaux, the cake is shaped into a circle, approximating a crown, and is made with brioche pastry, with candied citron and pearl sugar sprinkled on top.
  • In Franche-Comté, around Besançon, the flakey pastry is replaced with choux pastry, that used for cream puffs, and, again, orange blossom extract is added.
  • In the far north, around Dunkirk, it is more of a layer cake. Two layers of  a "light brioche" pastry (meaning fewer eggs) have a rum-flavoured cream layer between them. 
  • In Auvergne, it is not even a cake or round. It is made with bread dough, shaped into a star. People were poor in Auvergne, so being able to add sugar may have been all that was possible.

As you  can see, just about all of France, except for Paris, dislikes that dry, tasteless and messy, flakey pastry so, if that is what your ancestor loved with a passion, you may have Parisian roots.

A French way to get through the next lockdown!

Comments are below, as well as:

COMMENTS RECEIVED BY E-MAIL:

From Madame I - "Mais moi j'adore la galette des rois !!! C'est mon gâteau d'anniversaire et ce n'est pas sec, c'est tout plein de beurre!"

This is interesting; is the king cake the birthday cake for all those born in January, we wonder?

 

From Madame L - "as an elementary school student in New Orleans in the 1960’s, king cake was a Mardi Gras treat! There were wonderful parades downtown, businesses and schools were closed that Monday through Ash Wednesday that week, and our school, C.... Elementary, had a parade around the block. The children in St ..... Catholic school next door, hung out the windows to watch us parade by. Such good memories! Thanks for reminding me!"

So! The king cake tradition extends well into February in New Orleans. 

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Collaborative Indexing the Contrôles des Troupes

1784 Chasseur Volontaire

The military archivists at the Service Historique de la Défense (SHD) really are outdoing themselves and are going from, some years ago, being quite antipathetic to all things genealogy, to, now, having undergone some sort of conversion, embracing it with an almost alarming gusto. They have gone so far as to produce a nice little bit of self-promotion on YouTube. We all, Dear Readers, are the beneficiaries of this transformation, and grateful ones, indeed.

We have previously reported on the SHD having digitized the registers of Napoleon's Imperial Guard, and having made them available on their website Memoire des Hommes. As we explained in that post, as the registers are not indexed, it is a hard slog to find a man's name. Now, the SHD have organized a collaborative indexing project with the Fédération Française de Généalogie to conquer that mammoth task. They are calling for indexers here.

An even more challenging indexing project has been launched with the commercial genealogy company, Geneanet, to index all of the 25,000 military registers of the Ancien régime, known as the contrôles des troupes. These registers, or contrôles, contain entries for every man who served, the troops, les troupes. They date as far back as 1633 and contain hundreds of thousands of entries, each one showing a fair amount of very useful genealogical information.

Controle des troupes

 

Royrand

The only aid to finding anyone's name in the contrôles des troupes have been the monumental but not very useful volumes of the "Contrôles des Troupes de l'Ancien régime", which list the companies for each regiment, the commanding officers and give the archival codes for finding the registers at the SHD in  Vincennes. Massive achievement though this may be, it covers only the period prior to the French Revolution, and does not help one to know in which regiment a man served. (However, the Introduction to that work, in French, gives what is still the best explanation of the contrôles of the Ancien régime.)

The filming has already begun. In 2019, nearly two and a half thousand Ancien régime registers were filmed, yielding well over three hundred thousand double-page images. These, too, may be viewed on the site, Mémoire des Hommes. On that site, one may participate in the collaborative indexing. Alternatively, one may do so via Geneanet's indexing portal.

This could be a useful and fascinating way to spend some of your lockdown time, non?

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Very Exciting! All Naval Conscription Registers to Be Digitized

Frigate

Earlier this month, the Service Historique de la Défense announced (on its facebook page, of all places) that they have signed a contract with FamilySearch to microfilm and digitize all of the French naval conscription registers. It cannot be overstated just what a boon this will be for French genealogists, for the collection goes back centuries and includes thousands of sailors' names, descriptions and personal details.

It may be a bit repetitive, but we give again our brief explanation of the French system of 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. (Download the SHD's very thorough explanation of the system, with sample documents, here)

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, but it is important to note that they are divisions unique to the Admiralty and Marine and have not the same boundaries as the cities or arrondissements with the same names.

For example, the quartiers maritimes in the department of Calvados (which are already online on that department's archives website here) are:

  • Caen
  • Honfleur
  • La Hougue and Isigny
  • Trouville

The quartiers maritimes in the department of Loire-Atlantique (online here) are:

  • Angers
  • Bourgneuf-en-Retz
  • Le Croisic
  • Ile Bouchard
  • Ingrandes
  • Nantes
  • Nevers
  • Orléans
  • Paimboeuf
  • Saint-Nazaire
  • Saumur
  • Selles-sur-Cher

The lists went by different names:

  • recensement des gens de mer
  • recensement des marins
  • inscription des gens de mer
  • inscription maritime
  • matricules maritimes

An important difference to note is not so much the varying name as where the registration was done, whether at the quartier maritime or at one of the five naval ports where a recruit reported:

N.B. The registers made at the quartier maritime were really a census of all men aged eighteen or over who worked on vessels, including pilots, fishermen, merchant seamen, etc.. They were liable to be drafted into the Navy but not all of them were. These census registers of all eligible men are what are found in the Departmental Archives of the coastal departments. Those men who were called up had to report to one of the naval ports, where they were entered into another register. It is these registers of the men who actually served in the Navy, or Marine, as sailors or officers, which are held at the SHD port archives, that are to be digitized by FamilySearch.

This difference is important as to how research is to be planned, as a man may appear in both or only one of the register sets. An officer of the Ancien régime, for example, probably would not appear in the census register, may have trained for the Navy and bought his commission and so, would appear in the port naval register. A merchant seamen who was called up would appear in both, while a merchant seaman who was not called up would be in only the census.

In these times of social distancing, FamilySearch cannot pack in the microfilmers as they were wont to do. They are beginning with one person filming in the SHD archives at Lorient and will progress from there. At this rate, it could be some years before all the registers available, but it will be grand, whenever that may be.

Just keep checking FamilySearch's French collection, which one should do regularly anyway.

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

 


The Problematic 1831 Census

Lots to Count

Not long ago, we received a message from Monsieur H:

"I'm having trouble tracking something down that I found in a Wikipedia article, and I'm beginning to wonder if it's true or just something that's gone around the internet a few times. I can't seem to find any references to it in academic works. The article for the 1831 recensement du peuple mentions a supplementary query about literacy (link here)"

We had written on this blog about the French census some time ago. We were somewhat ashamed to read, when we went back to that post, that we had given the 1831 census rather cursory treatment:

"There was an earlier census, in 1831, but it was not a success in terms of logic and organisation, and little of this census has been digitized or even, in some cases, preserved"

We resolved to improve upon that, but found, as we hunted through our library, that Monsieur H. was correct. References are few and far between. Genealogy books, genealogy magazines and genealogy websites all are silent on the 1831 census. We surmise that they all are following the complete lack of mention of it by the great Gildas Bernard in his Guide des Recherches sur l'histoire des familles. At last, we found an excellent article by Pascal Vidal (1) on the census generally with a significant portion give over to the "delicate" problem of the 1831 census.

At that time, the Ministry of the Interior was responsible for the census and it was hoped that the unsatisfactory methods of the previous census of 1826 would be avoided. Trusting to the prefectural administrators to handle the census, the Ministry sent round no basic form or list of questions, merely a form with columns for statistics. (2)

1831 census stats form

 

There was no list of questions to ask, not even a column for names, just this form for cumulative statistics. This is why the 1831 census is such a problem: each prefect, even each mayor, conducted it his own way. Some merely counted the number of people, some merely the heads of households (as in Rennes), some made their own forms and asked quite detailed questions. The result was uneven; for some towns, one can say that yes, there was a proper census, with all persons named and counted, in 1831, for others, there was not. So, one cannot generalize about it and thus, the little chart in the Wikipédia article, Tableau des renseignements recueillis de 1831 à 1891is incorrect in giving a list of details obtained for the 1831 census when that was not always the case. This sample from Rennes shows that the form, such as it was, was hand drawn in a notebook and did not note age or personal situation or, for the most part, women.

1831 Rennes

As to Monsieur H's specific question whether there was a literacy question, we can now say that the Ministry of the Interior did not give instructions for one. That did not preclude a prefect or a mayor including one. Apparently, this happened in Bretagne. 

The wonderful thesis "La pratique du breton de l'Ancien Régime à nos jours", graciously put online by its author Fañch Broudic, gives an entire chapter to the questions used the 1831 census in Bretagne. In essence, the question was not if a person could read, it was if he could read French. The local prefects or mayors were interested in the highly political issue of indigenous language or, as Monsieur H. posits: "in following Prussia in introducing universal primary education' by doing a bit of preliminary research.

Thank you, Monsieur H. for sending us on a fascinating little journey!

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

Further Reading:

 

Duchein, Michel. "Les archives des recensements", Gazette des Archives, 1961, vol.33, pp. 61-72

LeGoyt, Alfred. "Les premiers recensements de la population en France, jusqu’en 1856", Journal de la société statistique de Paris, tome 128 (1987), p. 243-257.

Le Mée, René. "La statistique démographique officielle de 1815 à 1870 en France", Annales de Démographie Historique,  1979 pp. 251-279.

Watel, Catherine. Administration Générale et Économie 1800 - 1940 Population, Archives départementales d'Indre-et-Loire.

 

(1) Vidal, Pascal. "Les Recensements en Généalogie", Généalogie Magazine, no. 369, May 2018, pp.12-25.

(2) France. Ministère de l'intérieur. Recueil des circulaires et instructions émanées du Ministère de l'Interieur et des circulaires et instructions émanées du Ministère du Commerce et des Travaux Publics. Paris. page link 

 

 


Lockdown Breeds Blogging Bonanza

Challenge a-z

As any parent will know, boredom in the infantile will lead to naughtiness, whereas boredom in the more mature will lead to creativity. During the confinements, or lockdowns, of 2020, French genealogist bloggers outdid themselves in creativity. For their 8th annual Challenge A-Z, (which we have discussed previously here and here) in which participants must write twenty-six blog posts, in alphabetical order, each on a  genealogical subject, during the month of November. Ninety bloggers participated, writing more than two thousand posts on French genealogy, quite an achievement indeed, and a significant success for the original organizer of the Challenge, Sophie Boudarel.

The contributors include professional archivists, librarians and genealogists, but most are passionate family historians and genealogists who write about their research difficulties and discoveries. We shall be reading them and presenting here some of the best over the next few weeks. Should you wish to read them in the original French, you can find links to all of them here. A bit of weeding is required, but a fabulous resource nevertheless.

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


The French Police Surveillance Dossiers of the Interwar Period - les Fonds de Moscou - Have an Index Online

Secrets

Very exciting news on the indexing front. For a vast collection of the dossiers of some 650,000 people on whom the French security police were spying, for the most part between the two World Wars, there is now online an index to all of the names contained therein. The index was created in Russian, for this collection has travelled more than many of us ever will.

During the occupation of Paris in World War Two, the Nazis collected a great many things, including artworks, books and archives, and sent them to Germany. Among the archives so taken were the private papers of the French branch of the Rothschild family, the library and archives of the Alliance Isréalite Universelle, as explained here, the Masonic archives and membership records of the Grand Orient de France, which we discussed here, and the police surveillance files of the Directorate for National Security in the Ministry of the Interior. All of these collections are called the "Fonds de Moscou", the "Moscow Collection". This is because one of the conquerors of the Nazis was the Soviet Union and, dutifully following the claim by a nineteenth century American Secretary of War that "to the victor belong the spoils", the Red Army stole from the Nazis what they had stolen from the French and took it all to Moscow, where (words not being minced) they were known as the "Trophy Archives". No one conquered the Soviet Union but itself; when it collapsed, word got out that archival treasures that France had thought lost forever were not so. It took some "discussion", but this is something at which the French are unparalleled, so the Russians bowed and the collections were returned, or mostly so.

The surveillance files part of the Fonds de Moscou are in the Archives nationales at Pierrefitte-sur-Seine and a full research guide has been published on the website. Unfortunately, it has not yet been translated into English. 

The files cover the types the police found suspect and worthy of surveillance:

  • Anarchists
  • Anti-military or war agitators
  • Communists
  • Political militants
  • Foreign residents requesting an identity card
  • Foreign spies or those suspected of aiding foreign intelligence organizations
  • Foreigners who had been in prison or expelled from their countries
  • Gamblers banned from casinos and those authorised to work in casinos
  • Foreigners whose requests to remain had been denied and who were expelled
  • Foreigners who requested to be naturalized
  • French who requested passports to travel and foreigners who requested permission to remain in France
  • Jewish people

Quelle liste!

The website warns that using the index is not easy.

  1. In essence, the first index is a partially alphabetical (through the first three letters only) listing of names, mostly but not all of them French, made by Soviet archivists in Russian, in notebooks that have been microfilmed and those images digitized. 
    1. This was made by archivists to be a simple name index to the named files or dossiers.
    2. The index of names refers to a dossier's number.
    3. There are numerous linguistic issues that require that a search for a name be tried many times in many ways:
      1. Articles are treated as the first letter of a name. All names beginning with "de" will be under D. All those beginning with "le" or "la" will be under L.
      2. All those beginning with "van" or "von" will be under V or W (see below). This presents real problems when one recalls that the names are in alphabetical order only through the third letter.
      3. "Mac" is usually seen as a middle name. Thus William MacCabe is under "Cabe, William Mac"
      4. No spaces between components of names were permitted. Thus "Le Blanc" will be treated as "Leblanc" (actually a help under the third letter limit.)
      5. The original dossiers, created by the French bureaucrats, may but not necessarily will have foreign names altered to be more French. Thus, "Karl" might have been altered to "Charles". (Clearly, the bureaucrats were not trained as genealogists.)
      6. The Cyrillic alphabet of the indexers did not accommodate the names written by the creators. Thus, V and W are often confused; Q and X come after Z.
    4. Some files were missed out in the indexing so, there being no way to insert them, there is a supplementary index that also must be searched.
  2. There is also a microfilmed and digitized card index, made by the Directorate of General Security, in French, of all of the two million names mentioned in the dossiers.
    1. This was made by the original creators for their own use in surveillance and covers all of the types of files.
    2. The cards do not always refer to a file or dossier.
    3. Some cards may refer to dossiers that were not taken to Moscow but are in the Archives nationales, such as
      1. Foreigners who were expelled between 1889 and 1906, which are in the Police series of F/7
    4. Some files were closed and destroyed but the card might remain, with the word "détruit" written on it.
    5. The cards contain some biographical information and, in a few cases, photographs.

Searching the Indices and Finding the Code In Order to Request a Dossier

 

In order to request a dossier, one needs:

  1. The number of the archival series. This is a random accession number, as is the way with archives. They all begin with 1994, followed by more numbers, then by a slash.
  2. The number of the carton comes after the slash
  3. The number of the file "dossier no. x"
  4. The name on the file

Numbers 1 through 3 can be found by entering the name, surname first, in the main "Advanced search" form  of the Salle des Inventaires Virtuelle page of the website. At the moment of writing, the search facility is down, so we cannot fully test searching a name on the main page.

One had better hope that it will be possible because the alternative of having to scroll through the images of the indices in order to find the codes is fraught with innumerable, irritating flaws. For example, one can click to see the filmed images for one code, then scroll onto those of the following code without realizing it, which the automatically presented code does not change, though now wrong, and the handwritten code at the top of the page is indecipherable.

Considering all that these archives suffered (let alone what was suffered by the poor souls who were its subjects) and all of the various indignities of shuffled provenance, perhaps we should accept the irritations and be grateful that they have survived, are available, and can be accessed at all.

Once again, we genealogists really must thank the archivists at the Archives nationales.

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy