Alsace-Lorraine Genealogy

The Republican Calendar in German...and Dutch

Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 14.23.02

For those researching the civil registrations for their ancestors in German-speaking towns within France during the years when the Republican Calendar was in effect (1792-1806), understanding the months can be a bit of torture. So, we thought to share this nifty translated list that we have found:

Republican Calendar         German month name 

Vendémiaire                           Weinmonat

Brumaire                                 Nebelmonat

Frimaire                                  Reifmonat

Nivôse                                     Schneemonat

Pluviôse                                  Regenmonat

Ventôse                                   Windmonat

Germinal                                Keimmonat

Floréal                                    Blütenmonat

Prairial                                   Weisenmonat

Messidor                                Erntemonat

Thermidor                             Hitzemonat

Fructidor                                Fruchtmonat


 Short and sweet today, but useful, we hope!

En plus:

FGB Reader, Monsieur V has very kindly sent this:

Here are the names for your Dutch readers:

Autumn: Wijnmaand, Mistmaand, Koudemaand

Winter: Sneeuwmaand, Regenmaand, Windmaand

Spring: Kiemmaand, Bloemmaand. Weidemaand

Summer: Oogstmaand, Hittemaand, Fruitmaand



©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Lorraine Genealogy - The Departmental Archives of Meurthe and Moselle


Our last day in Nancy was dedicated to the Departmental Archives of Meurthe and Moselle. The rumour is that the facility is preparing for a move. The staff are busing organising all for the transfer and so, the archives are open only two days per week. On the day that we visited, it seemed as if the entire staff were all there in the tiny reading room, keen to be of service.

Before we were allowed into the reading room, we had to register, as is usual, and it was free, also usual. What was unusual was the somewhat crazed and obsessive amount of procedures to get in the door:

  • Entry is free but the door is kept locked and one must ring to enter.
  • Free lockers were provided, but we had to sign a log book, giving our name, the hour that we entered, the number of our locker; then we had to sign an oath that we would take care of the key.
  • We were presented with a leaflet of five pages (A5 size) of rules and regulations for anyone wishing to be admitted to the archives and to use them.
  • We had to sign another document in order to receive our user's card.
  • When we went for lunch, we had to hand in our locker key and sign the locker register with the time of going out and that of coming back in and again when leaving at the end of the day.

All of this, mind you, in a space of about nine square meters and most of that filled by a huge desk behind which sat a person who observed quite closely -- nay, intimately -- all registers, lockers and doors. We persevered and were graciously granted entry to the tiny library and reading room, all lovely old wooden shelves, warmth and cramped, crowded closeness. Sadly, for we love the charm of a curved wooden staircase, we had to admit that the proposed move was probably necessary, even urgent.

The limit of items one could view in a day was ten, and the staff were so speedy and efficient, sweeping in and out of doorways in flowing lab coats, that we reached our limit by mid-afternoon. The archivist at the main desk within the reading room very kindly allowed us to view a couple more sets of records, beyond the limit.

Some of what we were researching involved hunting in military records from between the two World Wars. These may be viewed once they are fifty years old (or, if they contain medical details, one hundred twenty years old)*. Yet, here we hit something of a roadblock, in the person of a very self-important junior archivist, who insisted that we could not view more than one person's military dossier, and then only if we could prove to her that we already knew what was in it. She held each file clutched tightly against her chest and peered into a corner. Then she quizzed us:

    "When was he born?"

    "That is one of the things to learn from the file," we attempted to explain.

    "Non! If you do not know his date of birth, you have no right to view his file." Down went the file into the "Returns" basket. She picked up the next one and asked. "Where was he posted?"

    "Um, Brazil?"

    "Non! Mexico!" Down went another file, just out of our reach. As our ability to guess the contents of the files was abysmal, we were not allowed to view a single one. 

What to do?

We went for a mug of hot, spiced apple juice, a specialty of Nancy, then packed our bags and returned home in time for the holidays.

We wish you all may be home with your loved ones during the holidays.

Bonnes fêtes!


©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


 *Heiser, Sandrine and Mollet, Vincent, Vos Ancêtres à travers les archives militaires, Service Historique de la Défense, 2013, p111.

The Genealogy Group of Nancy - Le Cercle Généalogique de Nancy


Continuing to report on our genealogy junket to Nancy, we take you now to the truly ancient and dilapidated building of the MJC Lillebonne in the centre of old Nancy.  Our time in Nancy was not as abundant as we might have wished so, when we missed the regular opening of the Cercle Généalogique de Nancy on Thursday afternoon, the staff most kindly agreed, on Friday evening, to sacrifice a Saturday morning to meet with us. It was not just any Saturday morning, but the annual festival of Saint Nicholas that was missed, in part, in order to discuss French genealogy.

We were grateful to be met at the door, for we should never have found our way along that labyrinthine route through corridors that surely have not been painted since the building was constructed in 1578, across miniature courtyards, up terrifyingly rickety and slanting stairs, down another corridor that made us feel -- for the first time in our long life -- that our shoulders were too broad, to a somewhat cramped office, the meeting room being in use.

Office 1

Once our palpitations were calmed, we listened to Monsieur Blaché, the President of the Cercle tell of the work of the group. The great treasure shared by the various genealogy groups of Lorraine is their lovingly created database, GENLOR, once of Minitel renown, and now known merely as "la base de l'U.C.G.L.". The database now has over ten million elements extracted from all kinds of documents relating to the people of Lorraine and can be searched via (previously Géné

In addition to the database, the Cercle offers classes in the rather specialised genealogical research of the region, what with its having been bounced back and forth between France and Germany. Membership brings not only a lot of very helpful advice, but the newsletter, "Bergamote et Macaron". We signed up on the spot. For those of you who cannot travel to Nancy to research your family, we suggest that you, too, join the Cercle Généalogique de Nancy, not only to support their fine work, but to receive the newsletter and, especially, to be able to request advice and research help in hunting your ancestors from Lorraine.

After this most interesting discussion with such dedicated genealogists, we sauntered to the Saint Nicholas festival, where we caught sight of one of those monster circus animal creations of Paris-Bénarès

Sacred Cows

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Lorraine Genealogy - The Municipal Archives of Nancy

Nancy 5

We have been to the Municipal Archives of Nancy and have found them to  be most pleasant. We were already familiar with their excellent website on which one may view the parish and civil registers of the city, but thought we might make a deeper investigation.


Nancy is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but to get to the Municipal Archives is not a particularly pretty stroll. In a drab street, one finds the drab door opening onto a drab entry. Up the stairs, or perhaps using the battered lift with a quite funny recording, in both French and fractured English, announcing the floor, one arrived in a drab corridor with a coat rail and a stack of tin lockers and the door to the reading room. There, thank heavens, the drabness ends. Comparatively.


Nancy 1


The reading room is large and very well lighted, with grand tables on which to spread out massive ledgers. When we were there, students of architecture had covered those tables with historic drawings of the city’s glorious buildings that they were assiduously copying. Very interesting to observe.


The staff were for the most part quite professional and thoroughly familiar with the archives collections in their care. They were polite and keen to be of help (even allowing us to view an original document when the microfilm seemed dubious), but for one surly fellow who would bang onto the desk each huge register we requested and forcefully shove it across at us as if it were a bowling ball and we were the last pin standing. 


As in most municipal archives, document requests are made via a computer and an internal request system. The requested items arrived quickly, in ten minutes or so. The Municipal Archives of Nancy have been continuing to microfilm their civil registrations, census returns and other records, which can be viewed on three – all working! – microfilm readers. Civil registrations of births through 1914 now have been filmed, while marriages and deaths have been filmed through 1939.


Nancy 3


The usual rules apply:

  • one must register and receive a reader's card, but there is no charge;
  • a limited number of documents or items per day may be viewed;
  • photography is permitted, without flash;
  • bags and coats must be left outside, but the lockers provided are free;
  • only pencils - not any sort of pen -- may be used.

 If your ancestors are from this beautiful part of Lorraine, you will receive great help in researching them here.


Address :


3 rue Henri Bazin

54000 Nancy


Opening hours are 8.30 to 16.30


Read about our visits to other Municipal Archives in our booklet here.


©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Genealogy Circle Reincarnated in Alsace

Reincarnated Circle

Pertinent to our recent post on dying genealogy circles and good news for those researching Alsatian ancestors, the Centre Départemental d'Histoire des Familles (CDHF), which we reported as being on its last legs here, has been born anew as the Centre de Recherches sur l’Histoire des Familles (CRHF) and will reopen its doors on the 12th of February.

How did this come about? How did they find a way to survive, when their funding from the department was stopped? Is there something to be learned here by other genealogy circles and associations? As the CRHF tell it:

  • They have had to reduce their opening hours, but will be open to the public from 1.00pm to 6.00pm on Fridays and from 9.00am to 5.00pm on Saturdays. Staffing will be by volunteers.
  • Publications may again be ordered by post. The list is on the old website. For the time being, payment may be by cheque (in euros, on a French bank) only.
  • The CRHF will do some research in Parish and civil registrations -- on request and for a fee. They will no longer be able to transcribe or explain them.
  • The old CDHF website remains accessible to all, though some databases are for members only. Access codes are sent to members by post.
  • Money is still urgently needed. If anyone knows of a person or organisation that might be able to contribute, please contact them and encourage them to empty their pockets! The new incarnation has received its charitable status and donations are, thus, tax deductible.*
  • Membership form is here.

 Excellent news!

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

*Probably not for Americans, as the IRS does not recognise French charities.

The Workers' Convoys to Algeria

Barbary Lion

The year 1848 was one of uprisings across Europe and there were two in France. In February, after a period too long of unemployment, financial crises, bad harvests and a constitutional monarch quashing freedoms in an effort to roll back history and bring back an absolute monarchy to France, people lost patience and took to the streets. The streets of Paris were barricaded, there were fights, the Prime Minister resigned. Outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, soldiers fired into the crowd, killing fifty-two people. The king abdicated and moved to Britain (where else?).

The Second Republic was formed, pleasing no one. At first, jobs and workshops were created for the unemployed. One of the rebels was made a sort of consultant or token worker in government. Radicals wanted more democracy, opportunity and freedom. Conservatives, as ever, wanted the same things but only for themselves. Mobs took to the streets again in June. Karl Marx was in Paris at the time and was most hopeful. However, the revolution was crushed.  It took over 120,000 soldiers to overpower armed workers and their families. Afterward, the government became more repressive and somewhat vengeful. 

Even before the June Days uprising, the mayor of the First arondissement of Paris had been promoting the idea of sending the unemployed and their families to colonize Algeria. By September, it was a plan, approved by the Ministry for War and by the Senate. Money was approved for the establishment of agricultural colonies and the offer to the poor was made.

Only volunteers were accepted, and they had to be workers. They and their families had to be French citizens. They had to complete a form, produce a certification of "good morals" (presumably from their local mayor) and a doctor's certificate of good health. They were promised land and financial support. The land was to become theirs after they had successfully farmed it for a few years. The number of people to be accepted as colonists was set at 12,500 but there were many, many more applicants, so it was raised to 13,500. In the end, the numbers of those who went were 13,903 adults and 391 children.

The first convoy left from Bercy in October,  165 years ago. Over the next six months, there would be sixteen more convoys of workers turned colonists, the majority from Alsace and Lorraine. It took them about two weeks to get to Marseilles, travelling on inland rivers and then by train, then about three or four days to sail the Mediterranean to Algeria. Their colonies in Algeria were named:

  • Saint-Cloud
  • Saint-Leu
  • Rivoli
  • El-Affroun
  • Castiglione
  • Tefeschoun
  • Bou Haroun
  • Robertville
  • Gastonville
  • Fleurus
  • Saint-Louis
  • Damiette
  • Lodi
  • Montenotte
  • Pontéba
  • La Ferme
  • Jemmapes
  • Mondovi
  • Marengo
  • Novi
  • Zurich
  • Argonne
  • Héliopolis
  • Aboukir
  • Millesimo

There were successes and catastrophes. Most of the colonists and then their descendants stayed until the Algerian War for independence began in the 1950s. Then, though many came to France, many others went elsewhere in this wide world.

If you find that your family history travels this very strange path of being starved into rebellion, suppressed, then packed off to a colony, there are some blogs and websites dedicated to documenting these people:

  • Emigration Algérie covers the Alsatians who went on the convoys.
  • Algérie Migrants - by the same people as the above, lists all of the villages from which the Alsatian colonists came.
  • Généalogie Algérie Maroc Tunisie - is the genealogy association concerned with the French of North Africa. They have a number of well-written publications and a search box for surnames on their website, which is excellent.
  • The website of the Archives nationales d'Outre-Mer, about which we have written before, have the civil registrations of Algeria online.

Bonne chasse!

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Upper Alsace and an Index to the Census of 1836


Little Alsatian girl

In earlier posts, we have explained the French census, or recensement, which began for the most part in 1836. As  is the case elsewhere, census returns in France can be wonderful for genealogical discoveries. There is but one caveat: if indexed. French census returns have no index, not at the local level nor the departmental level, and certainly not at the national level. In the United States, the recent, uncontrolled enthusiasm with which volunteers raced to index the 1940 census is explained by the need to turn a confusing heap of information into an efficiently accessible tool. This is not the case in France. Hence, les recensements are a brilliant genealogical resource that it is mighty hard to use, being still at the confusing heap stage. Except for those of Upper Alsace.

Upper Alsace corresponds roughly to the department of Lower Rhine (Bas-Rhin), "upper" in the former referring to its being further north than Lower Alsace while "lower" in the latter referring to its being further down the Rhine than Upper Rhine (Haut-Rhin). Isn't geography a delight?

The 1836 census returns for Bas-Rhin are all freely available on the website of the Departmental Archives of Bas-Rhin. Unusually, there is also an index to this particular census, but it is not with the Departmental Archives. The ever-busy volunteers of the Centre Départemental d'Histoire des Familles (CDHF), one of the best and most productive genealogy associations in France (these are the same people who have made the  Optants booklets and website), have created an excellent index, which can be searched by:

  • Surname
  • Forename(s)
  • Civil status
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Profession
  • Family relationship
  • Age
  • Village name
  • Census-taker's comments

Along with doing superb work, the folk at CDHF are no fools when it comes to making a sou or two. The index cannot be viewed or fully searched online. It is for sale on six separate CDs, ranging in price from US $ 55 to US $ 85. Knowing their market, CDHF have made a set in English and the website also has English pages. The search programme is compatible with Windows ONLY, Mac users please note. 

Being so costly, this index will be best appreciated by those who have many ancestors from the region. For those who think their ancestors are from "someplace in Alsace-Lorraine", but are not sure of where, or who have only Macs, we think you might as well save your money and spend the rest of your life trawling the free censuses on the website of the Departmental Archives of Bas-Rhin.

Think about it.

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy



Jewish Genealogy in Alsace and Lorraine


Mortes en deportation en 1944

This year, the Day of Remembrance of the victims of the Shoah, Yom HaShoah, falls on the 8th of April. As before, at the Mémorial de la Shoah in Paris, the names of all French Jewish victims will be read aloud.  The abomination that is human brutality when expressed as genocide is chilling and, it seems, will not go away any time soon.

All that any of us can do in the face of evil is good. There are times when we think that the search for our ancestors, and our need to find them and remember them, springs from not only obsessive research, but from a deep feeling of sympathy with and for those who are gone and cannot ever again speak for themselves. To be sure, genealogy is not charity but perhaps thoughts of kindness for the dead do lead to acts of kindness for the living.

One of the most important websites dedicated to the preservation of the culture and memory of France's Jewish people was the site du Judaïsme d'Alsace et de Lorraine. Founded by Michel Rothé, one of the co-authors of the seminal book "The Synagogues of Alsace and Their History" (now found only at used book dealers), the site is no longer but once had many articles.

Sadly, there seems to have been no replacement website.

©2013 Anne Morddel

updated 2018

French Genealogy

Alsace-Lorraine Genealogy Basics

Alsace-Lorraine crest

Changes are happening quickly in terms of Alsace-Lorraine research. Even so, we continue to receive communications that indicate a lack of understanding as to just what Alsace-Lorraine is. We have all ready given a brief, oh so brief, history of the region, and numerous discussions of the Optants. (For a much fuller history, see the wikipedia article.) Now, a bit of geography seems to be in order.

Alsace and Lorraine are two areas in eastern France that have often been in western Germany and before that, the Holy Roman Empire.  Being border territories, when the border shifts, so does their legal nationality.  Together, they cover just under 14,500 square kilometers and contain thousands of villages, towns and cities, the largest being Strasbourg, Mulhouse, Metz, Thionville-Hayange and Colmar. The eastern border of the region is formed by the Rhine, a river which locals crossed constantly, for love or money. Much of the other side, during the nineteenth century, was the Grand Duchy of Baden. 

Eight different dialects are spoken in Alsace-Lorraine:


  • Two of  French roots:

Lorrain, in all of the west

       Franc-comtois, in a very limited area of the southwest 

  • Francique méridonal palatin, which is close to High-German, in the northeast
  • Two of  High-German roots:

Alsacien, in all of the east

     Haut-alémanique, in the southeast 

  • Three of  Middle-German roots:

 Francique luxembourgeois, in the northwest

Francique mosellan,  in the north

      Francique rhénan, in the central north

This is a part of the world where French and German identities intermingle. Thus, when researching ancestors from this region, one must recognize this fluidity and expect that documents on the same person could say that he was French or German, came from Alsace or France or Germany or maybe Baden, and that all would be true. Ancestors who said they were French could have spoken a variation of German, and vice versa.


There are no French départements named Alsace or Lorraine, nor are those the names of any villages or towns. Elsass-Lothringen was the German name for the territory after the 1871 annexation. The departments that cover Alsace are Haut-Rhin and Bas-Rhin. The department that covers Lorraine is la Moselle

Lists of communes can be very helpful in locating an ancestral village:

A few days ago, Haut-Rhin put some of their civil registrations and ten-year indices online. Bas-Rhin is expected to have theirs up some time this month. There seems to be some competition between these two departments, or so the rumours go. Thus, Haut-Rhin, in a rush to be the first of the region, may have not been quite ready to open the database when they did, for it does not work very well. (Competition does not always work in the consumers' favour. Sigh.) Bas-Rhin keeps issuing notices that they are checking, checking, checking, to make sure all is correct before they make their registrations available. The more cautious Moselle is aiming for 2012. The links are in the panel to the left.

Get a map; get some dictionaries; get to work. Enjoy!

Update: the Bas-Rhin parish and civil registers are up, and the site is a joy to use. Well done.

©2010 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Optants Updates

Postcard Alsace small

Probably belatedly, it has come to our attention that various indices to the Optants have appeared online. These little cards are not particularly useful on their own. We  explain here how to get the best out of this new availability.

Recall, please that the Optants were those born but NOT living in the Alsace-Lorraine territory lost by France in the Franco-Prussian War who opted in 1872 to remain French. Had they done nothing, as their homeland became German, so would have done their nationality, which was the case for all who continued to reside in the region. For a native of the region to keep French nationality, he or she had to get out of the region AND file an option. The options were published in supplements of the Bulletin des Lois.


B des L Optants 


 Various organisations have made index cards from the information. The best, of course, is that made from the original forms held at the Archives nationales.  These original forms, completed by the people opting to remain French, were the source of the listing in the Bulletin des Lois. (There were also those outside the region at the time who opted to be German. There is no card index for them, but there is a 184-page list of their names on The forms themselves are fragile and access to them is strictly limited. 

The Archives' set of index cards  based on them are on microfilm that can be viewed in the Archives nationales only.  Geneaservice has another set of index cards that they made, which can be viewed on their site and which is now available on Ancestry, both charging a fee. Finally, the genealogists of Alsace and Moselle (C.O.D.A.M.) have published booklets with names of Optants, and have put more than 470,000 in a database that can be searched online. The database leads one to purchase one or more of their booklets.

In the case of Geneaservice and Ancestry, a key part of the usefulness of the information is not mentioned or available. In the Bulletin des Lois,  the family is shown together. It also gives the full name, date and place of birth, place of residence and the date of the declaration for each person. 


B des Lois Optant headings 


(Click on the image above to see the large version.) 

 N.B.: Married women will be found not with their family, but under their maiden names, with a note afterward saying "femme" (wife of) or "veuve" (widow of) . It is important to remember that, in official documentation, a married woman will always appear under her maiden name. In all other aspects of life, she will be Mme. Nom-de-son-époux.


Both sets of the index cards give the birth and locations information and refer to where in the Bulletin des Lois the entry can be found. Geneaservice and Ancestry have the cards indexed only by name, so a search by place of birth and place of residence is not possible. That seems a wasted opportunity.  Neither site presents a copy of the Optants supplements to the Bulletin des Lois, so it is not possible with their index cards alone to regroup a family.

The online site of scanned books from the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Gallica, has all years of the Bulletin des Lois, but not the supplements. The C.O.D.A.M. booklets are lists of Optants taken not only from the Bulletin des Lois but supplemented with information from the Departmental Archives and the National Archives. The names are not grouped alphabetically, but by town. 

Thus, the best way to use the Optants information to its fullest is to have access to the following:

  • To find an individual: An alphabetical index, such as the microfilmed cards at the Archives nationales, or online at Geneaservice, Ancestry or, and
  • To see the individual's family (minus married women): the Optants supplements to the Bulletin des Lois or the booklets produced by C.O.D.A.M.

Someone please pester Ancestry to cross reference the Optant cards by birthplace and residence, and then to film and upload the Optants volumes of the Bulletin des Lois. Then they would be providing a great resource about a particularly mobile, emigration-oriented group of people.

©2010 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy