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September 2023

A Few British Workers Discovered in the Police Archives of Paris

Mirror making 2

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Wouldn't you know it, Dear Readers, that the moment we finish our talk on finding British prisoners of war in France during the Napoleonic Wars in French archives, we stumble upon a few more. Truly, they pop up everywhere, (which was the point of our talk).

The tiny archives of the Paris police, les Archives de la Préfecture de Police, is amongst our favourites. The collection is small but always interesting and the staff are eagerly helpful. It is in such a remote place at the end of such an awkward journey, that the few researchers who succeed in completing the marathon to get there are all quite dedicated and keen, the frivolous and mildly curious having given up many Mètro stops earlier. It is also one of the few archives that has some series organized by the Sections of Paris, which is most useful when researching people of the Revolutionary and First Empire eras.

Buttes des Moulins

Here, we found police dossiers on some British people who had been living and working in Paris. Unlike so many, they were not all in the textile trades. Living in section Invalides, John Bond, aged thirty-five, and John Farrands, aged forty, both worked in a factory making mirrors on the Ile des Cygnes. [This was not the modern Ile aux Cygnes, but was a different island, where "insalubrious trades", such as malodorous tripe shops, were permitted, and that is now partially submerged in the Seine]. The twenty-six-year-old Thomas Quine was a carpenter at the mirror factory. At the other end of the economic spectrum, in the Hôtel de la Haie, on rue Saint Dominique, lived a young English gentleman named Trench, his wife and their servants.

The police took statements from them all but did not arrest them under the law of May 1803, that required the arrest of all British males in France. We wrote about these détenus here.

John Moore, however, who was living in rue de Charenton, in section Quinze-vingts with his wife, Eliza Jane Anderson, endured a different fate. He ran a factory for making tulle. A Monsieur Terlay claimed that the tools and machines within the factory actually belonged to him. In Brumaire an XIII (October 1804) the police entered and made a very complete inventory of said tools and machines, which was signed by Moore's wife.

Eliza Jane Anderson signature

Could this possibly be the same John Moore, escaped détenu, who was arrested by the French for bigamy in 1808? That would require quite a bit more research.

These little dossiers do not contain a great many such enemy aliens in France during the Napoleonic Wars but, should one be your ancestor, it could be a great find in a somewhat obscure archive.

We do like obscure archives.

©2023 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy



We Greatly Enjoyed the AGRA 2023 Conference

AGRA - Cambridge

We have returned from quite the junket, of which the highlight may well have been the AGRA Conference this month, at Downing College in Cambridge. It began with a gala dinner and cheery talk by Sam Willis; we had the pleasure of sitting next to the dauntingly erudite Monsieur F, who was most flattering about The FGB. The following day was one of talks, presentations and panel discussions, every one of which we found to be interesting and suggestive of applicabilities to French genealogy research.

This applicability was something rather unexpected, as AGRA's focus and membership are dedicated exclusively to archives in Britain. The first talk, by the esteemed Dr. Helen Doe, was on researching shipowners, explaining that many were local businessmen and that the records of ownership could be found in different types of archives from just those concerning vessel registration. Only recently, we have been working on French owners of privateers (more on that in a future post) and Dr. Doe's explanations gave us some new ideas of where, in French archives, to try to find similar documentation.

We followed with our own talk on how to research British prisoners of Napoleon in French archives. Perhaps it contained a bit much for the time allotted. Dr. Lesley Trotter then spoke on the migratory lives of Cornish miners. The research skills that she demonstrated for following the movements of these people were most impressive and could just as easily be applied to tracing the movements of migratory French workers:

  • Studying notices from and about those abroad in the local newspapers of their home towns, including obituaries, marriages abroad and births abroad
  • Looking at census returns for those whose children were born abroad can reveal families that have returned home and where they had lived.
  • Studying newspaper notices about women receiving aid for paupers, as these often explained that their husbands had gone abroad and stopped sending money home. We are unaware of such notices in French local papers but this tactic does inspire us to look at archival records on the subject of aid to paupers, which would give the same information.

Maggie Gaffney then spoke about a single voyage of a single vessel of immigrants to New Zealand. Many of the avenues she pursued could be mirrored in researching French vessels. Lastly, Richard Atkinson spoke with intensity about his research of his ancestors and their wickedness as slave owners in the Caribbean. This ancestry clearly was quite difficult for him to absorb but he ended on a note of quite touching reconciliation. There is much in his use of Jamaican archives that could be applied to similar research in the archives of Martinique and Guadeloupe. He implied that Britain has not yet truly accepted responsibility for the evils of slavery, for the country's vast profits from it, or for the devastating consequences of it that continue today. By way of comparison, many cities in France have begun this path of admission, notably Bordeaux and Nantes. He has written a book on the research and his discoveries, Mr. Atkinson's Rum Contract, which we immediately purchased and are reading avidly. 

We participated in the discussion on the British Merchant Navy and were a bit disheartened to discover that not a soul had ever hear of American seamen being impressed by the Royal Navy, or of the mad war fought to put an end to it. Conversely, we were heartened, indeed, by the warmth and enthusiasm of the attendees for their subject. They really were the most fun group of researchers we have encountered in a very long time.

For those of you who can manage it, we do encourage you to attend AGRA's next offering.


©2023 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy