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September 2021

French Commercial Genealogy Loses Its Independence - and It's a Pity

Paris pont mask

We used to praise the high quality of the indexing at Filae. No more. The last few weeks have seen the addition of indexing as messy, lazy and idiotic as the sort of thing one finds on Ancestry or in the infamous indexing of the Drouin collection. It is most disheartening. Now, one finds birth register entries for which the indexer said the daughter was the father, marriages with the wife named as the mother-in-law and, where the indexer was in doubt, everyone named as every relationship.

What possible use is wrong information to anyone? How will users who cannot read the original French document (as in the case of the indexer, apparently) be able to correct these mistakes? The money-grubbers will always say that speed is more important than efficiency, that it is more important to get the material online, even riddled with mistakes, than it is to take the time to do it well, but they are wrong. For every hour that incorrect information is available, people who are researching their family histories are incorporating and perpetuating wrong information in their genealogies. Such commercial cynicism makes a mockery of every genealogist's efforts to find a document the historical truth about a family, and risks dragging the reputation of genealogy as a discipline back down to where it was in the 1920s, when fabricated evidence was rife and family vanity, not family history, was the goal.

That Filae let this happen is almost certainly because its founder, Toussaint Roze, has completed the sale of the company to MyHeritage. The collapse of quality at Filae would seem to indicate that he lost interest in the company a few weeks ago, when the sale became inevitable, as we discussed here. In his announcement of the sale, he boasts that new and greater things are to come at Filae from the MyHeritage takeover. Barring an extensive metamorphosis at MyHeritage and a complicated and expensive programme to correct the mistakes at Filae such as we described above, Roze's promises are blather.

Once again, Dear Readers, the paying customer is merely the punter, the fool to be parted from his money with the cheapest product possible. We strongly and sadly recommend that you NOT renew your Filae subscription for more than a month at a time, as you watch what was a great little company go down the tubes and its services become next to worthless.

Rumours are that Roze is betting that the French law prohibiting DNA testing for the purpose of genealogy will change soon and, when it does, he will be in place with MyHeritage ready and able to take advantage of the new opportunity. We wonder just how big that new opportunity will be. One likely reason for the French lawmakers' opposition to the tests stems from the Civil Code which, from 1804, has expressly forbidden a person to search (just to search, mind you) for the identity of his or her biological father. (Ponder, for a moment, Dear Readers, just what this means.) That law and all that relates to it must change before any anti-DNA genealogy test law can change. We suspect that, if these change, it will be by very small degrees.

We also wonder just how big the market will be, just how many French people will want to have such DNA tests. It is currently something of a fad to take the tests illegally, as we reported here, but the interest is only rarely in genealogy. It is more of a party game to see who is "more French", with distinctly racist overtones.

Left in the dust after the sale of Filae to MyHeritage was Geneanet, which owned forty per cent of Filae and which had hoped to form a single, Francophone genealogy powerhouse from the two. That, actually, could have been something quite wonderful for French genealogists, but it is not to be. Its dreams in tatters, Geneanet announced, in what is surely one of the saddest of such announcements ever written, that it has been purchased by Ancestry. We have made our complaints about Geneanet's messy website in the past, and have praised the efforts to improve it, though it still has some way to go. Merging with Ancestry, the behemoth of indexing disasters and indifference to them, will be no improvement for the quality of Geneanet.

These two sales are very sad events indeed, for neither will bring improved service or quality to those of us researching French genealogy. 

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


FGB Free Clinic - Case no. 9 - Marie Fouyol, Parisian wife of Thomas Mansell, part 8 - Next Steps - Know the Sources

Marie Fouyol

To summarize, Dear Readers, we have looked at our few records in a number of ways  in an effort to find the origins of Marie Fouyol:

  • We have analyzed the Paris baptisms of three of her children, the burial record of one of them, and some Canadian records concerning her life after emigration.
  • We have looked at the French prisoner of war records concerning her English husband, Thomas Mansell
  • We have studied various contexts concerning the couple while they were in Paris: historical, geographical, social
  • We have analyzed signatures
  • We have studied various Parisian families with variations of the name of Fouyol

To no avail. No other record or document could be found to give even a hint as to the origins of Marie Fouyol. Most frustrating. We would have expected to have found, at the very least, one of the following:

  • One of her reputed two marriages. The Canadian obituary of her daughter stated that Marie was the widow of a French officer when she married Thomas Mansell. Given that it was war time, the marriage and death of an officer is plausible. Not to be able to find one marriage is frustrating, but not to be able to find either is most curious.
  • A death or burial record for the child Pierre George Alphonse. We found the burial record for the baby, Jeanne Richard, but not for Pierre. Did he die in England? In Canada? Did he die in France, at the home of a wet-nurse, as was the case with one of the daughters of the Cartier-Thomassin couple? (Recall that Joséphine Thomassin was the godmother of Françoise Mansell.)

There is another puzzle. Marie Fouyol was probably Catholic, for it seems likely that she, and not her English Protestant husband, insisted on baptizing the children in the Catholic Church. Why was their first child not baptized until she was two years old? Were they away? Perhaps in England? (As odd as it may seem, travel between the two warring countries was still possible.) 

However, it is possible that the failure to find all of the records: the two marriages, the three birth register entries, the two children's death register entries, the death register entry for an officer whose widow was Marie Fouyol, can be explained by the destruction of the Paris Town Hall archives during the Paris Commune, if and only if every single one of those events, including the officer's death, took place in Paris. It is possible, but a bit unlikely.

In no way can this be termed a "brick wall", a complete lack of information on a person and a complete inability to identify the person. We have exhausted only what documentation and archives are available online, with the addition of a couple of prisoner of war files seen in the archives; we still have to get through a plethora of material that has never seen the lens of a camera.

Where to look next? We propose pursuing the following lines of enquiry:

  • Thomas Mansell was a prisoner of war on work release, more or less. We know from his prisoner of war file that he reported that he had lost his papers in 1809 and that he was permitted to remain and work in Paris but under surveillance. 
    • The archives of the Paris Police contain records of just such reports in Series AA, as can be seen here on the Geneawiki page, which links to images of many of them. Unfortunately, they do not go up to the year of 1809, though they probably should be searched anyway.
    • The Archives nationales contain the police surveillance files of the period, as well as any surviving passport requests by foreigners, as explained here. Either could contain something on Thomas Mansell, which might also mention his wife and her origins.
    • There are a number of other possibilities in the Archives nationales but it is not entirely clear from the series descriptions if they would have something on Thomas Mansell:
      • Dossiers des détenus des prisons de la Seine. (Files on those held in prisons of the Seine department) It is not clear if this is purely criminals or also the foreigners briefly held in prison, as was Thomas Mansell at Fontainebleau, nor are the dates given.
      • Demandes de résidence à Paris. Dossiers individuels (an IV-an XI) (Requests to reside in Paris, individual files, 1795/6 to 1802/3) Thomas Mansell certainly requested to remain in Paris, and his employer probably made a request in his name in about 1802. It is not clear if this collection includes foreigners or not.
  • Neither a civil nor a religious record has been found for the Mansell-Fouyol marriage, so the precise dates of the marriages are not known. Marie Fouyol Mansell had her first known child, Françoise, in 1811. If she were single while pregnant, between her two marriages, it is possible that she may have had to make a pregnancy declaration, even though these were almost outdated.
    • Again, the archives of the Paris Police contain records of some of the declarations in Series AA, and Geneawiki has arranged the digitization of some of them. Unfortunately, not all arrondissements of Paris are included and most do not go as late as 1811.
  • Michel Fouyol of rue de la Tabletterie, who is a reasonable candidate to have been the father of Marie Fouyol, is slightly documented.
    • The Archives nationales have the originals of the cartes de sûreté, or security cards, which contain the subject's signatures. Some of these have been digitized by Geneawiki volunteers, but they have not yet reached the number of his card, 142296. Obtaining a copy of his signature for future comparison would be very useful, should we be so lucky as to find more documents concerning him.
  • Many other weavers and machinists were held prisoner with Thomas Mansell at Fontainebleau. There are prisoner of war files on some of them:
    • George Archer
    • John, Thomas and Charles Callon
    • John Dean
    • James Flint
    • William Fleming

These files should be read to see if, as often happened, a mention or even a page about Thomas Mansell did not end up in someone else's file.

  • Looking much more broadly:
    • British records could be searched for the death of Pierre Mansell and even the Mansell-Fouyol marriage
    • All Marie Fouyols born in 1782 or 1783 outside of Paris could be identified, with each being followed through civil registers until she can be ruled out as a possibility. Special attention should be paid to those in towns known to have been the origins of some of the Fouyols of all spellings identified in Paris.
    • The lives of the godparents could be pursued further, especially to see if any of them emigrated to Canada.
    • The Fouyol-Ackermann couple who had the one promising marriage in Paris in 1780 cold be researched thoroughly, to see if they had children.

Any other ideas, Dear Readers? If so, please let us know.

SUGGESTIONS SENT BY READERS:

  • Madame T wrote: "...regarding the death of the child Pierre George Alphonse , he may have died aboard ship and his burial was at sea. If Marie Fouyol was going to and from Canada to France/England, she would have been on a ship. Are there any passenger lists that document her or her husbands travels?"

With this post, we will pause this case study to give Madame J time to pursue some of the avenues above.

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


FGB Free Clinic - Case no. 9 - Marie Fouyol, Parisian wife of Thomas Mansell, part 7 - Name Study

Marie Fouyol

So, Dear Readers, to date, we have had little luck in our search for the identity of Marie Fouyol prior to her marriage to Thomas Mansell, her place of origin, her parents' names, her supposed first husband, and so forth. Bearing in mind that two thirds of the burned Paris archives have never been replaced, we will sort through what does exist, examining occurrences of her far too changeable name. We found people living in Paris at the time as she with the following variations of the name:

  1. Fouillolle
  2. Fouillol
  3. Fouyolle
  4. Fouyol
  5. Foulliol
  6. Fouyeul
  7. Fouieul
  8. Fouilleul

There are slight differences in the pronunciation. Numbers one through four are all pronounced the same, with the last "o" similar to that in the word "no" in English. Numbers six through eight are pronounced the same, with the ending "eul" sounding, to an English speaker, pretty close to the way Peter Sellers says "bump" in this scene. Number five is in a class of its own but is more like the first four than the last three. Spoken in a crowded marketplace, they all would have sounded pretty much the same. 

Marie would seem to have pronounced her own name with more of an "o" sound in the second syllable, as the spelling versions used for her name in the baptisms of her children are numbers two, three and four. She was not the only person to spell the name in more than one way. Many of the individuals used two or three of the above spellings.

Looking at the website Géopatronyme, it can be seen that none of the first four spellings survived to the late nineteenth century; number seven also does not survive. There is only one case of number five and a few cases of number six. It is number eight, Fouilleul, that dominated. It is found predominantly in the west of France, in Mayenne, and less so in Manche. The name means, by the way, "leafy" or "shady", which could occur anywhere, including a spot in Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe.

In Paris during the period of roughly 1770, when the parents of Marie might have married, through 1830, some ten years after she left, all but one of the above names is found on the Right Bank, clustered around Les Halles, the vast warren of shops and markets, in the parishes of Saint Eustache, Saint Merri and Saint Germain l'Auxerrois. The Foulliol family, number five, lived to the west, near Invalides, where they also worked. The Invalides Foulliols were studied to some extent, through baptism, marriage and death register entries, as well as through probate inventories until, eventually, it became clear that Marie could not have been a member of this family. The remaining couples of interest are:

  • Michel Fouyeul, a widower from Saint Maurice du Désert in Orne, who married a second time in Saint Eustache in 1786.
  • Michel Fouieul, of rue du Poirier, who married Marie Jeanne LeLièvre in Saint Merri in 1807. They had a son, Michel Victor, in 1808.
  • A man named Baratte, whose wife was Françoise Fouillol. Their son, born in 1805, married in Saint Merri in 1831.
  • Michel Fouilleul, who married Jeanne Ackermann in Saint Germain l'Auxerrois in 1780.

Recall that there could have been a dozen or more couples of equal interest of whom all trace was lost in the burnt archives. Nevertheless, working with what we have, Michel Fouieul and Françoise Fouillol Baratte may have been of an age to have been siblings of Marie Fouyol. The two remaining Michels each could have been the father of Marie Fouyol, the widower from his first marriage, in 1778, to Margueritte Pinson, and the Michel Fouilleul who married Jeanne Ackermann in 1780, two or three years before Marie was born.

There is also a lone man of interest, Michel Fouyol. His carte de sûreté, issued in Paris on the 23rd of May 1793, on which his surname was entered as "Fouyolle" but his signature was "Fouyol", gave his address as number 103, rue de la Tabletterie, near Les Halles. He was aged fifty-three, a cleaner of animal skins and furs, and had lived in Paris for twenty years. He had been born in Le Teilleul, Manche. Apparently, he was a keen revolutionary, perhaps a true sans-culotte, for the author Darlene Gay Levy, in her book Women in Revolutionary Paris, 1789-1795, cites archival documentation showing that he denounced a neighbour who did not support the Revolution. It took little time to find the birth on the 25th of July 1740, in Le Teilleul, of a Michel Foüilleul, son of Julien and his wife, Jeanne Geffroy. Is this the same person? Did he go to Paris, marry and have children there? Could he be the same man who married Jeanne Ackermann in 1780 and could they have been Marie's parents? That would be tidy, indeed, but, Oh! Dear Readers! what a lot of work  and luck would be needed to prove all of that.

In our next post, we will look at further avenues of research Madame J can pursue and how to determine the most likely resources to use.

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy