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December 2023

Did Your French Ancestor Serve in a Foreign Army?

French in Foreign Armies

This was a happy discovery and could be of help to those of you whose ancestor left France during the Revolution and First Empire, or even before, to serve in a foreign army. Some of you have written of the difficulty of finding an ancestor's military record for such service, or even of knowing in which army, of which country he may have served. You are not alone; Napoleon wanted to know the same thing. So he issued a decree requiring all such men to report such service to the police générale, bringing us to our favourite series in the Archives nationales, the F/7 series, in the building in Pierrefitte-sur-Seine. There, in cartons beginning with the number F/7/6127, one can find numerous lists of men, both those who declared their service and those who did not,  made by the police, as well as many complete declaration or investigation dossiers.

Officers in the service of Austria

Each department's police had to submit a list. Recall that, during the First Empire, parts of Italy and Belgium, as well as Germany were departments of France.

1810 list of Blegian officers in Austria

They can be simple, with only a name, as here:

Belgian officers in Austria

They can be quite a bit more informative, as this list of French officers serving Austria, Spain or Prussia, which gives a little bit of service history:

French officers in Austria  Spain  Prussia

If you are lucky, there will be a dossier on your ancestor, with much more, such as this one on Ambrozy (or Ambrosis or Abroise), an Italian serving England and who was condemned for it.

Ambrozy Ambrosis Ambroise serving England

Or this, a dossier on Louis Charles Beaufort, born in Paris, a retired major who had served in the Austrian army.

Louis Charles Beaufort serving Austria

These are not digitized, nor have the names in the alphabetic cartons of dossiers been listed anywhere. Here is how they appear in the finding aid:

Finding Aid

If you have reason to suspect that there may be a dossier on your ancestor, you can write to the archives and ask them to copy it, giving the correct code from the list above. They will either tell you there is no such file or send you a bill to pay in order to receive the copy. Unfortunately, they will not search through the lists for you.

A story in every dossier - nice find!

©2023 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy