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June 2023

Was Your Ancestor an Internal Refugee in France?

Alsace girl

We recently attended a most interesting talk, hosted by one of those highly recommended local history associations. The presenters were François and Catherine Schunck, who spoke about the internal refugees who fled Alsace at the beginning of World War Two. 

There were two separate waves of Alsatian refugees, the Evacuees of 1939 and 1940 and the Expelled of 1940.

The Evacuation of 1939 - At least two years prior to the evacuation, a plan had been devised to evacuate people of the region in the event of an invasion by Germany. The plan concentrated on evacuating the people living in the narrow band between the Maginot Line and the border. When Germany invaded Poland, the plan was implemented and some 600,000 people were evacuated from Alsace and Moselle in September 1939. The evacuees were allowed thirty kilos of baggage and four days' worth of food. All else, including animals, had to be left behind. They were sent by train, in all types of cars, from passenger to cattle to freight, to the interior of France. Concurrent with the Battle of France in May and June of 1940 (which we touched on in this post), thousands more were evacuated.

Those Alsatians from the department of Bas-Rhin were sent southwest to the departments of:

  • Charente
  • Charente-Maritime
  • Dordogne
  • Vienne
  • Haute-Vienne
  • Landes

Those Alsatians from the department of Haut-Rhin were to the departments of:

  • Corrèze
  • Gers
  • Landes
  • Hautes-Pyrénées
  • Lot-et-Garonne

Those from Moselle were sent to the departments of:

  • Charente
  • Charente-Maritime
  • Dordogne
  • Vienne

The entire University of Strasbourg was evacuated and set up in Clermont-Ferrand.

The Expulsions of 1940 -After the Fall of France, in June of 1940, Germany annexed the Alsace region (yet again), and expelled some 87,000 people considered "undesirable". There was no plan for how to help them or where to send them.

In both waves of refugees, there was little order or plan for settling them when they arrived. There were a number of initial difficulties.

  • Language - Most of the Alsatians, especially the older generation, spoke German with little French. Not only did those in the departments where they arrived speak French, with  no German, but they viewed the refugees as highly suspect, speaking the language of the enemy.
  • Food - No one had prepared or gathered enough for the thousands arriving, tired and hungry, on the incessant trains. Later, on a more cultural level, the Alsatians did not like the local fare and missed their sausages. In time, some opened shops selling Alsatian foods that they made locally.
  • Housing - In the recipient cities, the refugees were placed in houses and apartments. In the countryside, however, they had to live in barns and farmhouses. At that time, the rural southwest could be quite primitive, without electricity or indoor plumbing. Many of the refugees were appalled.

And it was all for naught as, by 1942, all of France was occupied and there was nowhere else to go.

How would you research an ancestor who was such a refugee? Firstly, read through the superb finding aid produced by the Departmental Archives of Bas-Rhin, which lists every record series concerning the topic in the department. Secondly, if you know the town to which your ancestor was sent, check the 1946 census. Even though the war was over by then, it took time for people to return to Alsace after the war (and a few chose not to do so), so there is a good chance of finding them in hat census. For those who appear in the 1946 census, the place of birth, in Alsace, will be given. This will allow you to research in the pre-war records for that town. This will also show those who married local people, which will allow you to request the marriage register entry from the mairie, or town hall.

Further reading:

Williams, Maude. To Protect, Defend and Inform: The evacuation of the German-French border region during the Second World War'


Catherine and François Schunck. D'Alsace en Périgord

©2023 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Help in Working With the Paris Census Returns

Paris census

The Paris census returns are online on the website of the Archives de Paris. They have there the census returns for the years 1926 (the earliest), 1931 and 1936. They are only partially indexed on Filae. Thus, you may have to do a long slog through many pages yourself. Since Paris has thousands of rues, boulevards, avenues, places, passages, etc., it could be a very long slog, indeed. As ever in online genealogy, you can save a lot of time if you look before you leap.

For a bit of background, we explain a fair amount about the history of Paris geography in this post. It will help you to understand some of the many changes over the years. We explain about the French census generally here. We recently looked at the 1946, post-war census here.

When you are ready to take the plunge, by all means, begin with Filae. Using the link above, narrow your search to just the censuses. Target your search by giving the spouse's first name.  Be sure to change the event being searched from Filae's default of just deaths to "All". Recall that the indexing is not complete so, if your search brings no results, that is not a definitive answer. You simply must work harder.

To search the census returns on the website of the Archives de Paris, you must know the address of the person you are seeking, for on this website the census is indexed by geography, not by names. How to find the address? Generally, people who are searching the census returns have already gathered some genealogical information, such as birth, marriage or death register entries, all of which, if French, give the addresses of the people who are the subjects of the events. If the person you are researching were a member of a professional association, its directory may be online and may have an address.

Armed with an address, go to the website of the Archives de Paris, click on "Sources généalogiques complémentaires", and then on Recensement de population. There, they explain that the 1946 census is not online yet, for reasons of privacy protection (which Europeans take much more seriously than Americans). They also explain that each of the three censuses that are online have three parts:

  1. Census of people according to their usual residence (the section most familiar to genealogists) This is Part A
  2. Census of people in group residences separate from normal homes, such as prisons, hospitals, monasteries, boarding schools, etc. This is Part B in 1926 and 1936, and Part C in 1931.
  3. Census of people in hotels, hostels, guest houses and other places of short term residency. This is Part C in 1926 and 1936 and Part B in 1931. (This is where you will find migrant workers, newly arrived immigrants, foreign students, visiting artists and such.)

The search selections are five, all with drop-down menus:

  1. Category of person, based on the three types in the Parts above
  2. Year of the census
  3. Arrondissement
  4. Quarter
  5. Whether or not you also wish the pages of statistics

Options three and four are geographical, and to make the correct selection, you need to know where your Parisian rue is. If you already have a birth, marriage or death register entry, the arrondissement will be indicated, as it will if you have the post code on a letter. The quarter, however, is not usually known. For anything about the location of the street, the Archives have a wonderful aid, the Official Nomenclature of the Streets of Paris

In the upper right hand search box, type in the name of a street. To the left, from the selection of centuries, in Roman numerals, select one. The search result will give all the information you need about the street, including the quarter, which will allow you to narrow your search of the Paris census returns to a manageable size. Wikipedia also has a nice list of the quarters of Paris, with maps; you also could look up the street on Wikipedia, to get the quarter and arrondissement, but the Official Nomenclature is altogether better.

We do hope this will help you to find your ancestor in Paris. If not, enjoy reading the hôtes de passage section of the Jazz Age 1926 Paris census. We found here, on page four, one Fernando "Sonny" Jones, a dancer from Chicago.

©2023 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy



When Genealogy Hurts

Genealogy Hurts 2

Few genealogists will tell you this but there can be times, Dear Readers, when you may regret ever having begun to research your family. We all like to take pride in our heritage; it becomes a part of our identity and self-image. This was something of a weakness in some of our more recent ancestors, those living in the late nineteenth century, during the first years of the genealogy craze in the United States. That was the era of all sorts of nonsensical claims to being of the nobility, even royalty, with many of those fabricated stories being published in barely researched "family histories".

Most of us, when we do solid research and learn the truth about our forebears, enjoy the research activity and can laugh off the fact that we will not inherit crown jewels. Sometimes, however, a discovery can shatter our image of our family. Sometimes, we may discover a truth that can make us despise our ancestor. Sometimes, genealogy is heart breaking.

When the news is bad, very bad, especially if it is about a person in the recent past, someone we may have known, it can be particularly upsetting. Illegitimacy, incest, murder, suicide, bigamy, betrayal, imprisonment, abandonment, homicidal madness, true evil, any of these can turn up and, in French archives, can be very well documented indeed. Where, in all of the genealogy manuals and guides, is the advice for how to cope with something that could be very, even traumatically, shocking?

There are often obvious danger signs, warnings. When everyone in the family refuses to discuss a topic or person, when there is layer upon layer of deliberate blurring and obscuring of facts, when papers and letters are burnt, in short, it is obvious that someone is trying to hide something. To the some researchers, that can be an irresistible bait causing a lunge into obsessive research and a determination to know the secret.


Ask yourself why the family might wish to hide something. Ask yourself if you really are ready to know the truth, whatever it may be. Imagine all possible scenarios and ask yourself how you would cope with that knowledge if it were to be your family's truth. If, at some point, you think you would rather not know, then stop your research there. Perhaps, in six months, you may be ready to know whatever you may discover. Perhaps you will not. Leave it for the next generation of your family's historians. No harm will come from a part of the past waiting a bit longer to be known by someone in the present.

To the professional genealogist, we suggest a great deal of sensitivity and caution. Should you, in researching for a client, come across something shocking, do not be so blinded by your research success that you triumphantly throw it in your client's face. Tell them that you have found something that may be a shock and disturbing for them. Suggest that they take the time to ask themselves the same questions above and to discuss amongst themselves whether they really want to uncover this darkness. Give them all the time in the world; it may take months. Offer the option of ignorance; if they feel that they do not want to know, then you will never send the research results.

Most of the time, genealogy is an entertaining hobby but it can, ,in some circumstances, become painful. Look for the warning signs, reflect on what they might mean, ask yourself if you want to know the truth, even should it be very ugly, and do not fret about it should you decide not to know. Pick one of your many other ancestors to research instead and carry on enjoying genealogy.


©2023 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy