The Problematic 1831 Census
Collaborative Indexing the Contrôles des Troupes

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

 

 

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