Book and Magazine Reviews

On Obsession, Genealogy and a Great Book

War

Obsession can be a deep and dark cavern into which we crawl, an emotion in which our will, normally a fairly useful aspect of our personalities, becomes crazed, over-energetic, absurdly concentrated on one point. Losing our clarity, we are dragged down and deeper into that cavern. Other of those emotions that are, at their core, pure selfishness, such as passion and desire, become distorted and subverted to obsession, until it is all that remains in our character. Like some ghastly auto-immune disease that has driven our immune systems berserk so that they destroy our health, obsession is a madness that destroys our sanity. We are blinded to all but the focus of our obsession. Worse, our perception is so distorted that we imagine that see what is not present and we fail to see what is flagrantly before us, and in our obsessive pursuit, follow the hallucination, bewitched by its imagined beauty and perfection, sometimes tripping and falling flat over the unperceived reality. In such a way can the thrill of genealogical research go a bit haywire at times, and we confess, Dear Readers, to have been in that cavern of late, avoiding all animate and inanimate diversions from our determined pursuit, aided in self-justification by the quite horrific heat wave currently toasting France.

As we hinted in our last post (written a while back now, we blush to say), we have been on the hunt for a particular employee of the Ministry of War during the Revolutionary years in France. We had found his personnel file, filled with praise and salary disputes from two hundred years ago, but we wanted more. As any genealogist will say, once we have correctly identified a person, sometimes we want to understand him or her. We want to know, for example, why an ancestor left a pretty village and embarked on an expensive and frightening journey just to struggle and die on a vast and cruel prairie or on an arid and windy stretch of Patagonia. Why did they leave? The question leads, naturally, to an exploration of the lives and worlds that they left, seeking to find the one thing, a push or a hope, a cause, a reason, that will help our minds, encased in our modernity, understand on the human emotional level, that seems not to have evolved much, who they were. In this way, genealogical research slips into historical research and in this way, our hunt for and identification of the bureaucrat took us to a remarkable book on history that, were we not somewhat obsessed, we might have found to be, as our grandmother used to say, “dry as dust” but it isn’t Dear Readers, it really is not.

War, Revolution, and the Bureaucratic State: Politics and Army Administration in France 1791-1799, by Howard G Brown, is a work of superb scholarship based on extensive archival research. It is also, thank heavens, quite easy to read. Unlike the more popular histories of the Revolutionary era, such as Simon Schama’s Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, this work studies intensely a single aspect of the complete societal inversion that was the Revolution, in this case, the struggle between one part of governmental administration, the Ministry of War, and the flailing, shifting, central authority for control of the French Army, itself in no great state of order. We stumbled upon this book because the name of our man of interest appears a couple of times in the text, and so it appeared in an Internet search via Google, (that disturbingly dangerous and excessive stimulant to obsessive research). Happy discovery.

Dr. Brown explains the background of the Ministry of War just before the Revolution and how there had already been efforts to reform it as well as the development of the central government through its various stages after the Revolution. He gives a rather thrilling account of how the sans-culottes, the extremists of Revolutionary thought in Paris, took over and dominated the Ministry of War, making it a rival to the government for power. As one might imagine, control of the Army at such a time was crucial. He explains clearly how the revolutionaries’ abolition of royal power and creation of legislative and executive powers that were separated gave the Ministry of War an opportunity to reinvent itself with “considerable independence”. The tension between the Ministry and the successive executive arms of government was extraordinary and Dr. Brown conveys it with style and clarity. This was a power struggle largely hidden from public view, which was, naturally, directed toward the guillotine or the War in the Vendée, or the invasions by foreign armies. It is astonishing to read of how the Ministry of War, during the sans-culottes phase, was more radically revolutionary than many parts of the revolutionary government. Through numerous purges and restructuring of the Ministry, the executive acquired and consolidated control of the Ministry and the Army. Then came Napoleon.

We have lived in this beautiful country of France for over fifteen years now and have exulted in its history and culture, yet we remain flummoxed by the strange French mentality that is permeated with bureaucracy. Reading this book, we have begun to apprehend how bureaucracy became the tool to control the masses, how paperwork, certificates of proof, stamps of authority, duplicates, triplicates, deadlines for submissions, and all the other bureaucratic requirements became the boulder with which to crush the violent impulse out of each and every individual. Yet, as Dr. Brown makes clear, this was not exactly the intention: “While the state élite was aware of the importance of ensuring good administration to increase legitimacy, it never openly embraced bureaucratization…as a means of stabilizing the exercise of state power.”

Many have pointed out that France’s Revolution prefigured the Russian Revolution. Perhaps France prefigures more. Some see France’s indifference to and immunity from the way in which the rest of the world’s ethics and mores are defined and daily redefined by the masses’ surges and swells of opinion swirling about the Internet as backwardness, but it could be the opposite. It may be that we will all become exhausted by the incessant change and power of popular opinion and opt for the French solution of attaining stability through bureaucracy. It may be that Vladimir Putin’s recent comment that liberalism is obsolete and populism (those surges and swells of opinion) is now what governs us omitted the third and final stage, which is that, since the chaos of populism will inevitably lead a society to a desire for political and social stability, and since France has shown how very stabilizing bureaucracy can be, a (now, technologically enhanced) bureaucracy is our future.

One learns so much from genealogy.

 

War, Revolution, and the Bureaucratic State: Politics and Army Administration in France, 1791–1799

Howard G. Brown

Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1995

 

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Book Review: L'Emigration française

Emigration

This book is not new but we are newly discovering it, so it gets its review. We begin by not beating about the bush: it is brilliant. The contents are a collection of scholarly and very well researched and fully sourced essays on emigration from France to Algeria, Canada, and the United States. Each article covers a very specific group and era. We give here the Table of Contents, which are not easy to find on all the mentions of the book:

  • Le "voyage organisé" d'émigrants parisiens vers l'Algérie
  • L'Emigration française au Canada (1882-1929)
  • Les milieux d'origine de l'émigration aveyronnaise vers l'Amérique dans le dernier quart du XIXe siècle
  • Une émigration insolite au XIXe siècle, Les soldats des barricades en Californie (1848-1853)
  • Les passeports délivrés à Bordeaux pour les Etats-Unis (1816-1889)
  • Conscrits en Amérique. Le cas de l'arrondissement de Sarrebourg (Meurthe) 1829-1870
  • "Comme un oiseau sur la branche..." Emigration aux Etats-Unis et retour des Basques des Baïgori
  • Les voyageurs français et l'émigration française aux Etats-Unis (1870-1914)

Before jumping in with all the glee that this excites in us, we remind you that the French view history very much as a social science, science as in lots of statistics and social as in society, with never a thought of or interest in the story of history. Thus, these essays will give you a picture (with lots of charts and tables) of group behaviour but no gossipy revelation of someone's life, loves and losses that might have been discovered in the archives. Bearing that in mind, if your immigrant ancestor falls into one of the groups studied, you will receive two invaluable things: an understanding of the forces that may have influenced your ancestor to leave and, in the notes, a very good guide of where you could find the documentation about your ancestor's departure.

The two essays that we have put in blue text are concerned specifically with the poor workers of the Revolutions of 1848, discussed in the previous post. We have written about the workers' convoys to Algeria here. The essay about them in this book studies them in great detail. Pointing out that many of the workers in Paris had come from the countryside, hoping for work. The author, Yvette Katan, charts their origins. Most, it seems, came from the northern half of France. She quotes the reports of one of the doctors who accompanied the workers; he wrote that their poverty was extreme. Many had no shoes or coats. They had pawned everything they could, even their beds, in some cases. The government decree that authorized sending them had promised to each "7 to 10 hectares of land to farm, a house which the state would pay to build, free transport all the way to their new land, food for the entire family for the first three years." What starving worker would not accept such an offer?

The second essay we have marked in blue discusses those sent to California. Again, this was just after 1848. When the news of the discovery of gold in California was heard by the French authorities, they must have thought that the gods intended to smile their societal troubles away. Here was a way to get rid of even more of the Parisian malcontents and at less cost: hold lotteries, make certain that most of the winners Paris's poor, and ship them off to California. This, too, is incredibly thorough and gives a very deep understanding of these emigrants.

It does not, however, list the names of the emigrants to California, not even the lingotiers. To our knowledge, no published book gives their names. We are wondering if we should not write one ourselves. Dear Readers, do you think there could be an interest in such a list? Do let us know your thoughts.

 

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

 

Fouché, Nicole, ed. L'Emigration française : Etude de cas, Algérie, Canada, Etats-Unis. Série Internationale no. 24. Paris : Publications de la Sorbonne, 1985.


Book Review : Archives diplomatiques : mode d'emploi

Archives diplomatiques

The Archives Diplomatiques in La Courneuve, in spite of the ghastly travel route necessary, is one of our favourite places in which to research. There is an order and cleanliness to the place that belies the chaotic world events, the wars and migrations and occupations that fill the papers it holds.

Not only does one learn of France’s policies toward aiding the few who escaped the Battle of Culloden, for example, or the government’s instructions to France’s diplomats around the world. One can discover a great deal about the citizens of France who left for climes new, in the civil registrations, the overseas census, the consular notarial records, and in the various consuls’ reports from all over the world. We find the discoveries to be numerous and thrilling.

As we wrote in our last post, the genealogy publisher Archives & Culture is rising in dominance and prominence. One of their newest publications is a guide to using these wonderful archives, entitled Archives diplomatiques : mode d’emploi (The Diplomatic Archives; How to Use Them). It seems to have been very much of a team effort by all of the archivists, for about twenty-five of them are named, with their full job titles given. (Laudable that they want to be sure that everyone receive the credit he or she deserves, but are they aware that this serves as a directory to the archives administration and that, now, the contributors may be inundated with letters demanding help with research?)

Filled with attractive photographs and with a coloured border on each page, as is the house style, the actual content of this guide is most informative and useful. It is divided into three main parts:

  1. The history, structure, and purpose of the institution, the laws and regulations that cover it, the services provided by the archives and library
  2. The contents of the archives, the funds and collections, with each major archives series described, as is the library collection
  3. A very clear guide, with examples, of how to research in the collections

Though we know many of the series fairly well, we learned of a couple of new possibilities for genealogical research. For all those of you thinking of making a visit to the Archives diplomatiques, we suggest that you, firstly, study this book and, secondly, study the PDF finding aids of the website, in order to be fully prepared when you arrive.

This is definitely one of the better among the productions of Archives & Culture. It is thorough in its coverage, simple and clear in its writing, and practical in its explanations.

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Summer Reading - La Pitié-Salpêtrière


La Salpetriere

La Pitié and La Salpêtrière, two of the oldest hospitals in France, were combined in the twentieth century to form the "largest hospital complex in the world". In 2012, celebrating four hundred years since the earliest incarnation of the first, this surprisingly academic yet readable, commemorative tome was published. Why would this be of any interest to you, Dear Readers? Because many of you are descended from women sent from La Salpêtrière to Canada and known as "les Filles du roy", to Louisiana, to Saint-Domingue, to Martinique, and to what is now Reunion, and because some of you are descended from the officers, doctors and nurses who worked there. 

Written by Anne-Sophie Pimpaud and Gilles-Antoine Langlois, the book is beautifully produced, on fine paper, with lovely type with photographs and illustrations of a high quality. Most importantly to you, it is completely bi-lingual, with the French text in the left-hand columns and the English text in the right-hand columns. This is a history of two hospitals, their functions, their architectures, their place in the social and medical history of Paris. It is not a genealogy book and will not help you to prove your ancestry but it will give you a wonderful insight into your ancestress's life were she incarcerated in La Salpêtrière.

Langlois gives a few paragraphs to "orphan girls transported to the [North] American colonies", from 1669, on page 51. He differentiates between them and the later prisoners, "debauched women" who, from 1684, were rounded up at night and sent to the newly built prison cells of La Salpêtrière (pp. 52-53). We like the fierce defiance of some of the women in the description of their being arrested and imprisoned without charge, legal representation or trial, merely for being female and outdoor after dark. In prison, their protest took the form of shrieking en masse, long and loud, driving mad their tormentors.

The first part of the section by Pimpaud goes into great detail about the types of girls taken in as orphans and about their daily lives, from what they ate to the skills that they were taught (pp. 149-163); good for all of you writing historical novels based on your research. Through the nineteenth century, the institutions changed in function from hospice, orphanage and prison to medical hospitals, then medical training institutions, then an asylum, maternity hospital and more until they became, together, the huge medical complex that they are today. 

The book ends with eight lovely and clear drawings showing the historical development of the site from 1690 to 2012. The notes are extensive and revelatory as to sources on the subject. Sadly, there is no index. The book is out of print but it may easily be purchased à l'occasion, or second hand, (as we did ours) on the behemoth

Excellent read.

Gilles-Antoine Langlois and Anne-Sophie Pimpaud. La Pitié-Salpêtrière The Pitié-Salpêtrière. Paris : Somogy éditions, 2012.

ISBN: 978-2-7572-0527-3

 

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Summer Lessons - An Easy Way to Learn French Genealogy Terms

Mon cahier

In France, when families go on holiday during the summer, it is not all abandonment. Children are expected to dedicate an hour or so every day to school work. From June, the supermarkets and bookshops (yes, bookshops still exist in France) are full of different types of workbooks for all levels of study. Workbooks on maths, workbooks on French spelling and grammar, workbooks on history, workbooks on science at levels ranging from the earliest years of schooling to preparation for the baccalaureate. At the beach or in the mountains or in a brasserie, in summertime, one often sees a child studiously working on such a book's lessons, with a parent nearby making certain that attention does not wander.

Increasingly, there are a few on the subject of genealogy. Our example today is "Papi, Mami, raconte-moi tes souvenirs" ("Grandpa, Grandma, tell me your memories") but there are others, all similar. The structure follows the pattern of children's genealogy school assignments, mixed with puzzles and games and spaces for snapshots. We know that all of you, Dear Readers, are diligent students of French and have committed to memory our own French Genealogy Glossary in its entirety. If, however, you are just beginning your French genealogy journey, why not learn about it as the French do?

  • Look for French genealogy words in a word search puzzle
  • Read a timeline of the twentieth century that shows events important to the French
  • Learn interesting facts in the "Le sais-tu?" ("Did you know?") bubbles on each page, such as that, around the year 1000, people did not have surnames or that, until 1840, Jean and Marie were the most common given names.
  • Discover innumerable details of daily life in France

We will be giving a course on French parish and civil registrations with the Virtual Institute of Genealogical Research in October. Why not spend your summer learning a bit of French with such a workbook before you take the course?

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Book Review - Atlas historique des diocèses en France

Atlas

The one-woman powerhouse that is the publishing company Archives & Culture  has brought out another genealogy guide, or guide de généalogie. To anyone who has researched his or her French roots to earlier than the French Revolution, the thought of a book that explains at last the intricacies and geography of French Catholic dioceses would bring joy and immense relief. This book, by Jean-Paul Duquesnoy, the Atlas historique des diocèses en France, is, unfortunately, something of a disappointment.

The problem is that it is a bit deceptive. Civil registrations in France began in 1792. They became the legal documentation and proof of births, marriages and deaths. While parish registrations may have continued, they became, in the eyes of the law, informal and without legal validity. What is more, no religious ritual of baptism, marriage or funeral could take place until after the civil registration had been made. So, for the genealogist, civil registrations are much more important than parish registrations after 1792. 

Prior to 1792, however, the parish registrations of life events were the legal documentation and are of great importance in genealogical research. The difficulty is that identifying the correct geographical location of parishes mentioned by emigrants far from France is often close to impossible. There is much repetition of parish names throughout France and one really needs to know the correct diocese to continue research. At times, the diocese may be mentioned but identifying its location and boundaries, or even its correct name may also be problematic. (We tell a tale of the struggle here.) Over the centuries since the Christianisation of France, the dioceses have changed names, changed boundaries, been reorganised and in some cases merged. Thus, a book that could resolve the issues concerning the geography of dioceses and parishes prior to 1792 would be extremely helpful.

The Atlas is touted as just the ticket but it is not. It describes the modern, post-Revolutionary dioceses and bishoprics. It gives a list of bishoprics as they were at the time of the Revolution's beginning, in 1789. It gives the briefest of written histories of the ecclesiastical provinces and their dioceses as they were in 1789, with a tiny map of the dioceses. By page six of a ninety-six page book, this brief history is finished and the rest of the book is dedicated to an alphabetical list of the dioceses, with a brief historical account of each, mostly but not entirely from 1802 onwards. In truth, for the genealogist, this is not much help. (Additionally, it contains some serious flaws, as detailed by a comment on Amazon.fr by "Loïc Pilven le Sévellec", such as omitting the diocese of Strasbourg, among others.)

The longed for series of maps showing the historical developments and changes of the dioceses is not to be found in this little book. That is because it would appear not to exist, at least that was the case in 1965, when the excellent article on the subject, "La carte des diocèses de France avant la Révolution" ("The map of the French dioceses before the Revolution") by Jacques Dubois, appeared in Annales. Dubois gives a lengthy description of the problem of identifying the boundaries of the dioceses as they changed over the centuries. He also gives what are probably the best, simple maps of French dioceses at different periods:

  • Dioceses created from the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries
  • Dioceses created in the fourteenth century
  • Dioceses created from the ninth through the twelfth centuries
  • Dioceses created under Clovis
  • Ecclesiastic provinces in the eighteenth century (showing the dates when some were created)
  • Ecclesiastic provinces during the Merovingian period

Neither Dubois nor Duquesnoy attempts to list for each diocese the parishes it contained. (For locating a parish, we describe some of the tricks we have tried here.) We cannot really recommend this Atlas because it is not what its title says, unless you are building a library and are happy to put this in a corner of it. More useful would be to download Dubois's article and, where appropriate to your research, examine the sources given in his excellent footnotes.

Would someone please write the book, complete with many maps, that we need?

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Book Review - Le Guide de la Généalogie en Belgique

Cappart-Guide

We have had the pleasure of the acquaintance of the highly qualified genealogist, Marie Cappart, for a few years now and enjoy meeting with her when our paths cross at genealogy fairs, congregations and other extravaganzas. She embodies a happy combination of ebullience and expertise; she is also the author of the book we review here on Belgian genealogy, Le Guide de la Généalogie en Belgique.

This is a guide that is both thorough and succinct, both complete and clear. Unlike other guides to genealogy in French, it is not padded with an excessive number of attractive but useless photographs of dolls and documents; this guide is packed with useful information and advice.

Ms. Cappart covers the basics that one would expect to find. She explains the archives facilities and how to do genealogical research in their holdings, whether that search be on site or online. The specifics of the structure and wording of Belgian parish and civil registrations are described. The chapter entitled "Les archives coloniales : un sujet délicat" is a wonder of sensitive yet straightforward discussion of the archives of the Congo an d its years under Belgian rule, a period that is probably that darkest stain on Belgium's history.

The author shows greater patience than we have with the interminable pestering by some family historians to prove a connection with royalty. You think you have connections to Belgian  nobility or are descended from Charlemagne? Ms. Cappart gives a pithy chapter to the research of each. From military records to corporate archives, all seem to have been covered in this guide. There is even a chapter explaining who the Mormons are and why they are so important to genealogy, the necessity of which we find utterly disarming.

Following the bibliography, which includes websites, the Appendices are no afterthought, but contain more useful information in list form rather than in prose. They cover:

  • A sample of a letter you may need for archives access
  • Lists of archives and research facilities, with their addresses and websites, in Belgium, France and The Netherlands, plus Great Britain and the United States
  • A trilingual list of the most common forenames
  • A lexicon to the most common terms to be found in parish and civil registrations
  • A bilingual list, French and Dutch, of the most common of those terms
  • A very useful guide showing what data may be found in each type of document or registration

 You need no other book, guide or resource than this to begin your research in Belgian genealogy.

Brava, Marie!

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Book Review - Revolution in the French Navy

Revolution

This book was published in 1995 so not a new one in the least but it is new to us and we are mightily pleased to have discovered it. Revolution and Political Conflict in the French Navy by William S. Cormack is an expanded doctoral thesis but only just barely reads like one. Considering the subject, it is concise: ten chapters in three hundred pages, with a decent index and an excellent bibliography.

What happened to the French navy during the French Revolution and the First Empire is a history told almost exclusively from the point of view of the British or at least agreeing with that point of view. Cormack departs from that and it results in blessed clarity. Gone the comparisons of the Marine Royale with the Royal Navy or the French marin with the British tar or the Admiralty with the Ministry of Marine. Cormack looks exclusively at what happened to the French navy in the context of French history and it is enlightening.

Early chapters describe the state of the navy and its officers and seamen just before the Revolution, including their stellar contribution to the American Revolution. He covers in great detail the key disastrous events the so unsettled the French navy: The Toulon Affair of 1789, the mutiny at Brest in 1790-1791, the surrender of the Mediterranean fleet in 1793, and the Quiberon mutiny of 1793. His thesis is clear: that the new concept of the Will of the People could not be reconciled with the functional requirement of naval authority.

The works of previous historians on the subject are discussed and examined and given a fresh analysis. It is a bonus that the -- at times -- shambolic political events of the day are explained neatly and that two centuries of over-simplified characterisations are washed away. Confusion is removed from the complexities of the time; we certainly acquired a greater understanding not only of the navy but of the Revolution and Terror generally from this detailed account that is never turgid, always extremely interesting. 

We have often written here that good genealogy requires a good knowledge of history. For those of you with ancestors who were in the French navy at this incredible time, this book is essential reading. You will come away with a better idea of why an ancestor who was an officer may have deserted (and he may not have been a royalist!) or why another may have been guillotined. You will have a better understanding of the old and new ranks and of how some men moved back and forth between the merchant navy and the navy of the Republic.

An absolute must.

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


New Booklet : French Notaires and Notarial Records

Booklet Cover N

We do apologise, Dear Readers, for the long silence and thank those of you who wrote with concern. There are times when, to accomplish something, one must bury the phone in the garden, draw the curtains closed, lock the door and focus on the project at hand. So we did and are pleased to announce the publication of a new FGB Booklet "French Notaires and Notarial Records". It contains over twenty posts from this blog, plus an eleven page glossary of standard terms used in notarial records, which we compiled specifically for this booklet. We give here the Table of Contents:

  • What Is A Notaire?
  • Notarial Records - Les actes notariés
  • Array of Notarial Records
  • Old French in Old Documents
  • Two Marriage Contracts
  • Defiance - the Acte de Respect
  • A Guardianship Document Examined
  • Paris Guardianship Cases
  • Two Wills
  • Estate Inventories
  • Did Your Ancestor Take Another's Place in the Army?
  • Finding Notarial Records
  • Répertoires
  • Registers of the Bureaux des Hypothèques
  • How To Find a Modern Will
  • Marriage Contract Tables
  • Follow the Trail to the End
  • Overseas Notarial Records
  • Glossary of Notarial Terms

"French Notaires and Notarial Records" has been added to the booklets list in the right-hand column on this page and may be purchased via Lulu.com (click on the cover for the link) or via Amazon.

Whew!

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Picard on Jules Lion - A Study in an Altered Identity

LaFayette passenger list

Some time ago, we were contacted by the art historian, Sara M. Picard, to help with research into a French immigrant to Louisiana named Jules Lion. It was such a fascinating case that we were more than happy, nay, keen to be involved. We hunted through cemeteries, French passenger lists, Consistoire registers, naturalisation files, commercial directories, notarial records, and many more. Dr. Picard quite brilliantly combined the French research with her much larger amount of research into American records to prove a remarkable point -- that historians had mistaken the racial background of Jules Lion. 

Her article, "Racing Jules Lion", appeared recently in Louisiana History, the Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association. Dr. Picard very kindly has obtained permission from that publication to allow you, Dear Readers, to access and read the article in its entirety here. If you have ever been puzzled by aspects of an ancestor's identity in your research, or if you simply want to have an amazing read about one of Louisiana's earliest photographers, do read this excellent study.

Many, many thanks, Dr. Picard, for allowing us to publish the link on The FGB.

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy