Book and Magazine Reviews

Last of the Summer Reading: Mutinous Women

Mutinous Women

Years ago, when we were enjoying a lazy afternoon in the Arsenal branch of the Bibliothèque nationale, we came across some remarkable and fascinating lists of women prisoners sent to Louisiana in the early eighteenth century.

Genevieve Hurault

We knew there was a story there to be told, and in the newly published Mutinous Women: How French Convicts Became Founding Mothers of the Gulf Coast, Joan DeJean tells it very well and very passionately. Essentially, women were rounded up in Paris by the police and imprisoned on false charges, then marched to the coast and loaded onto vessels and banished to Louisiana, where the descendants of those who survived live today. DeJean does more than tell their individual stories. She places them and their fates within the context of the histories of France and Louisiana to explain why they were sent there. The French economy at the time, the rise of the charlatan John Law and his Louisiana project, the French Indies Company (Compagnie des Indes), the wicked prison matron at Salpêtrière, the hopeless colonial administration, etc. are fully described so that the reader can understand the social, economic, legal and political forces that ruled these women's lives, (almost certainly something that they themselves never understood).

DeJean has "taught courses on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France at Yale, Princeton, and the University of Pennsylvania, where she is Trustee Professor. She has done research in French archives since 1974, primarily in the archives of Parisian prisons held in Paris’s Arsenal Library. It was in the Arsenal that, a decade ago, she came across the earliest documentation describing the arrests and deportations of the Mutinous Women who helped found and build New Orleans." (as per the University of Pennsylvania page about the book.) The depth and breadth of the research is most impressive. To piece together the stories, DeJean had to traipse back and forth across Paris, west to the coastal archives and down to the south of France. She had the help of many researchers in many locations, according to her acknowledgements. Yet, even with help, it would not have been easy, as we know from our own visits to many of the archives facilities on her impressive list. Another reviewer called this DeJean's "archival virtuosity" and we cannot improve upon that exquisite term.

As a history of early Louisiana, as a history of forgotten women, this is a fascinating tale told with excellence, but perhaps the reader is clubbed with the hammer of indignant outrage at injustice a bit too often and a bit too hard? At times, DeJean seems not to be writing as a historian but as a crusader. Her intention seems to be not only to cleanse the reputations of these women of calumny but nearly to canonize them. As she tells it, they all were victims of injustice, none of them committed a serious crime, none was a prostitute. Yet, by her own account, one of them, Anne Françoise Rolland, looks to have lived a suspiciously greedy and dishonest life in Louisiana (see p. 349). She implies that the initial "seditious revolt", e.g. something along the lines of a prison riot, in Salpêtrière, never took place or at least was exaggerated, when, in fact, there was a rebellious event during which the women prisoners took to shrieking en masse, long and loud, attempting to drive their jailers mad. DeJean tells the story of suffering and injustice so well and thoroughly that she does not need to remind us, on nearly every page, that this was wrong; it induces in the reader a sense of being patronized by the author.

Nor, surely, is it necessary to overstate, in every case possible, that some of the women rose higher in status in Louisiana than the people who had denounced them in France could ever have hoped to do. She does this so often that it ceases to point out the very real stamina, intelligence, creativity, diplomacy and diligence of these women but seems to be taunting some snob whose presence is not evident to the reader.

Concerning those women whose own parents asked the police to lock them up because they were recalcitrant, while DeJean expresses the natural shock and disgust that any modern person would sense at such parental cruelty, she fails to state that this was a common practice in France at the time, used by parents against children of both sexes, relatives against one another, neighbours against each other, and anyone else who had a grudge against someone. The entire system of Lettres de cachet was monstrous, and not at all uniquely applied to these women. Why leave that out when she explains so much else so well?

Small but niggling points indicate the publisher's failure to provide a decent editor and proofreader:

  • a bourgeois de Paris was not a financier, and Amboise Jean Baptiste Rolland, the father of the Anne François Rolland above, may have had the right to use the term (p. 115)
  • Jeanne Mahou's husband Laurent Laurent died on 14 August 1737 (p. 230); though she remarried quickly, it could not have been on 27 January 1737 (p. 231)
  •  two or three times, paragraphs are repeated

Do not be put off by these stylistic oddities. On the whole, Mutinous Women is a wonderful work of scholarship that expunges three hundred years of lies from these women's life stories.

 

A PDF list of women who sailed on the Mutine can be seen on the website Mémoire des Hommes here.

A very nice map of early New Orleans, showing where some of the women  lived, can be seen here.

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Summer Reading - Books to Help You Find Your French Mariner Ancestor's Vessel

Vessel

In our little book, American Merchant Seamen of the Early Nineteenth Century : a Researcher's Guide, we explain that, in researching a mariner, one must follow the vessel to find the man. It is just as true when researching French mariners. However, it is not easy, for two reasons in particular:

  1. It is difficult to know on which vessel, or more likely vessels, a mariner sailed, and
  2. It is not easy to track the movements of that vessel

For French vessels of the Revolutionary and First Empire period, there is the added difficulty of a lack of records. This is partly because much was lost in the chaos of the Revolution and, at the end of the First Empire, much was destroyed to prevent retaliation by the returning Bourbon king and his supporters.

 

In addition to the research possibilities we outline in that chapter, there are a couple of books that are especially helpful in tracking French naval vessels.

Dictionnaire

Dictionnaire des bâtiments de la flotte de guerre française de Colbert à nos jours (The dictionary of french naval fighting ships), by Jean-Michel Roche, is a whopper of an achievement. Naval enthusiasts will thrill at the many facts given in each little essay concerning a vessel: where and when she was built, how many guns she carried, in what battles she fought, what was her demise. The value for those researching a single man on board is that, where possible, each essay also gives the vessel's whereabouts in certain years. Sailors were boarding and leaving vessels all the time. If you have traced an ancestor to a vessel but then lost him, the list of places where she was (admittedly, a very short list, usually) can help you to pick up his trail again.

French Warships

French Warships in the Age of Sail 1786 - 1862 : Design, Construction, Careers and Fates. The title says it all. This is a prettier book than the Dictionnaire des bâtiments, with illustrations, ship plans, a nicer typeface and better layout altogether and resembles Winfield's other books, on Royal Navy vessels. And, of course, it is in English. French Warships covers a much shorter time period than does Dictionnaire des bâtiments, eighty years as opposed to well over three hundred years. The essays about each vessel cover the same material in both books. French Warships has the vessels arranged by class, a vast category that we, Dear Readers, have not memorized,  so one spends a lot of time with the index. Dictionnaire des bâtiments, is purely alphabetical, and so, much easier to use.

For some time, we have been researching a particular vessel, the French naval frigate of the Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, Incorruptible. Apparently, there were at least five American seamen serving on her, and we would like to verify that. Here is the essay on her in French Warships :

Incorruptible - Winfield

This is what Dictionnaire des bâtiments has to say about her:

Incorruptible - Roche

So, the French work gives more detail of her career. From this, we surmise that our American seamen boarded her at Flushing. 

A third useful work, found all over the Internet is Troude's Batailles navales de la France, written in the 1860s. The charming, literary style and lack of an index make "Find" options a god-send. From this, we learned a bit more about the Incorruptible's battles against Royal Navy vessels and, crucially, the name of one of her captains: Billiet.

Knowing a captain's name is incredibly helpful when searching for a vessel online. Typing "Incorruptible" will bring a load of nonsense results. Adding words such as French navy vessel, or those words in French, is not much better. Typing, "Incorruptible" and "Billiet" however, gets very precise results.

Lastly, the archival finding aid on Naval Campaigns:

  Download FONDS MARINE CAMPAGNES. Inventaire de la sous-série Marine BB 4. Tome premier AVERTISSEMENT

which came up in those last results, gives many more captain's names and more of the Incorruptible's career and locations. We now have many more avenues for researching our mariners, and more places to seek a crew list that might show their names.

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Summer Reading - Two Books for Those Researching a French Naval Ancestor

Les Marins Fr

The pandemic was a horror and the lock-downs around the world caused suffering to many; about this there can be no dispute. Yet, amongst those fortunate enough not to fall ill, some turned to creativity and productivity while confined. Les marins français, 1789 - 1830 : Étude du corps social et de ses uniformes is such a lock-down creation. It  is a treasure of a book, with lovely illustrations of uniforms and weapons, and a remarkably clear explanation of the changes in French naval uniforms during a most fraught period in French history. The author, Eric Shérer, is a Vice-Admiral in the Navy and a life-long collector of all things naval. He came to writing history through his collecting and this is his third book.

Shérer 's structure is logical, giving two chapters to each time period, the first on naval ranks and responsibilities, and the second on the uniforms of those ranks during that period. We translate the chapter titles:

  • Sailors at the End of the Ancien régime (with a very good explanation of naval conscription)
  • Uniforms of Sailors at the End of the Ancien régime
  • Sailors During the Revolution
  • Uniforms of Sailors During the Revolution
  • Sailors During the Consulate and First Empire
  • Uniforms of Sailors During the Consulate and First Empire
  • Life on Board Ships in the Fleet for the Marines and for the Crew
  • Naval Staff at the Arsenals
  • Sailors of the Coast Guard
  • Uniforms of Sailors of the Coast Guard During the Consulate and First Empire
  • Sailors During the Restoration
  • Uniforms of Sailors During the Restoration
  • Naval Uniform Buttons from 1786 to 1830
  • Bibliography and Archival Sources

Even if you cannot read French, the charts and illustrations are incredibly useful. It is a thorough study and will greatly inform your research into your French naval ancestor.

Les Marins français 1789-1830 : Etude de corps social et de ses uniformes. Eric Schérer. 2022. 50€, ISBN: 978-2-7587-0241-2

 

 

Dictionnaire

France really excels at biographical dictionaries. They are well-researched, well-sourced, well-structured (straight-forward alphabetical listing by surname) and very useful. This one, Dictionnaire des Marins français,  runs to five hundred forty pages and covers documented naval personalities of note from as early as 1341 to 1931. The biographical essays give the date and place of birth, career details, and date and place of death. If you are lucky enough to have an illustrious naval ancestor, the essay on him will delight you and possibly aid your research. For the rest of us, the real use of this book is in helping to follow the career of an ancestor who served in the French Navy, for here, you may find your ancestor's commanding officers and, through the essays about their careers and movements, work out where your ancestor was as well.

Dictionnaire des marins françaisEtienne Taillemite. 2002. ISBN: 978-2847340082

 

Using these two books, with our highly recommended further reading, could break down your brick wall concerning your French Navy ancestor.  In our next post, we tell how you can track the vessel on which he or she may have served.

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Reflections on Genealogy and "That New Yorker Article"

King and Queen

A few weeks ago, a New Yorker article by Maya Jasanoff, entitled "Our Obsession With Ancestry Has Some Twisted Roots" drove some in the world of genealogy into quite a tizzy. The title is misleading, having the air of being a copy editor's creation and, though the author is a distinguished historian who has been awarded prizes for her writing, in this case she is not terribly coherent or clear. It is obvious that the she does not know much about the techniques of genealogical research, or establishing genealogical proof or kinship determination, but that does not diminish the validity of her concern. She is worried about how genealogy is used not, as Elizabeth Shown Mills, herself a historian, brilliantly showed on facebook in response to this article, to understand how one's family fits into history, but for power, injustice and exclusion.

"The truth is, all genealogies are selective, often by design" she writes. Her concern here is exclusion. Her wording is imprecise, we believe, in that it is not genealogies that are exclusive, (or inclusive, for that matter). Genealogies attempt to show all familial connections in the most factual, documented and verifiable manner possible. It is when we place values on those families, their extended families, their tribes, and say that one is good while another bad and establish that belonging to one gives rights while to another deprives one of rights, that we are misusing, even abusing genealogy. Every hereditary genealogy society requiring a lineage proof for membership commits this type of abuse. Every immigration law based on a person's heredity commits this type of abuse. Dr. Jasanoff is right to raise the issue and to be concerned.

She does not dispute the pleasure that family history can give to us, that "Genealogy as a technique may bring individual rewards, but," she adds, "as a historical paradigm it has tended to serve those in power, and such effects are not diminishing." Her point is that those in power use genealogical research and techniques, including DNA research, to legalize injustices toward certain people based upon their heredity. This is a legitimate and important question which Dr. Jasanoff is asking us to examine: "We know that “race” is a social construct. We need to acknowledge the ways in which “ancestry” is, too."

Perhaps we genealogists and family historians should participate in, even lead this examination. There certainly has not yet been much written by genealogists asking just what "ancestry" is and what it means. Surely, the many times that we have seen how DNA evidence can contradict documented identity should have opened such a discussion amongst us by now. Additionally, so much of our focus in our work has been on good research and sound reasoning that we have not looked at just how our reports and studies might be used by the unscrupulous. 

The Code of Ethics of the Board for Certification of Genealogists makes no mention of how genealogy might be misused or of what a genealogist could or should do to prevent it. In fact, helping people with their applications to lineage societies is such a staple of most genealogists' work that it is unlikely that any professional genealogists' organization has questioned if it is desirable to help anyone to join a club that expressly keeps out others who do not have the same or a similar lineage. Maybe it is time for us to do so. Maybe it is time for us to add to our Codes of Ethics clauses to the effect that we will not contribute our research to activities that use genealogy as a basis for exclusion or injustice. Going further, we might add clauses to the effect that, in order to protect the honour of our profession, we will make every effort to stop such abuse.

It is sad and even somewhat horrifying that these abuses, that the nonsensical idea of superiority or inferiority based upon bloodlines, heredity or genealogy, are again a worry, when we should have thought all modern societies would have most vigourously crushed such idiocy by now. Dr. Jasanoff's essay may be a bit muddled but her points are most valid and we would suggest that those whose first reaction was to sense an attack on their profession and/or pastime and to retaliate pause to give it another reading.

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

In response to the above, we have had this e-mail from Monsieur W:

"Dear Anne,

There are very few propositions that have universal application. The only one of which I am aware is René Descartes’ “Je pense, donc je suis” (or, if you prefer, “cogito, ergo sum”), which is both universal and irrefutable, even though it may be only momentarily true.

Your proposition that genealogy should not be used to establish exclusivity or defend exclusions does, I believe, require some limitations. To apply it universally may have unintended consequences.

Australia’s recognition of Aboriginal land rights arises from a principle that Aboriginal nations existed before European settlement, and that they were peopled by indigenous language groups whose members have living descendants, comprising at least 4 percent of Australia’s current population. To meet the requirements of Aboriginality, you must satisfy three genealogy-based measures:

· The person must identify as Aboriginal.

· The relevant Aboriginal community must recognise the person as Aboriginal.

· The person must be Aboriginal by way of descent.

A member of an Aboriginal language group may enjoy exclusive benefits. He or she may live on land that others would require a permit to enter. He or she might share exclusively in royalties from mining companies extracting resources from that land.He of she

These hereditary rights have been established in Australian law through a recognition that they embody rights and laws that were not extinguished by colonisation.

I am in full agreement with you that lineage societies, and their ilk, need to be put under an ethical microscope, but I would suggest this is a complex problem that needs to be approached cautiously. What is the intent of the society? Does its manifest cause harm to those who cannot meet its criteria? Has it crossed the line between fellowship and snobbish superiority? Do its members gain advantages that should be equally available to others? Are there actually people who want to be taken into a genealogical family, even though they have no genealogical connection with that family? Would such a demand, in itself, be legitimate?

Your blog will, I hope, stimulate this debate, and I’m sure many of your readers will be interested in following its development."


The Men of the Gardes Mobiles Who Joined the California Gold Rush

Garde Mobile to California

Dear Readers, we are quite chuffed to be able to tell you that our article about the men of the Gardes mobiles who went to California to find gold has appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of The California Nugget the journal of the California Genealogical Society. As some of you may recall, we have been working on this subject for quite a while, writing about passenger lists of the California-bound here, and writing reviews of books on the subject here and here. It was in the last that we read the essay, Une émigration insolite au XIXe siècle, Les soldats des barricades en Californie (1848-1853), by Madeleine Bourset, and learned for the first time of the men who had fought in Paris during the Revolution of 1848 and who were sent to California afterward. 

Who were they? Their names could be found nowhere, had been published nowhere. What was their story? It took many years, many visits to archives and even more e-mails and letters to archivists before we, at long last, had the complete list of all the names of the Gardes mobiles who went to California. We cannot take full credit for finding it; the last hunt was done by a superbly diligent and generous archivist in the naval archives at Toulon, Madame Boucon, under the auspices of Monsieur Triboux,* but we shall take credit for persevering, even pestering, in the quest. 

We are grateful to the editors at The California Nugget for accepting our article, with the entire passenger list of the guards' names, for publication. They then did some very impressive further research to discover the stories and descendants of as many of the men as possible, producing biographical sketches on the following men:

  • Deligne
  • Ducroquet
  • Dulac
  • Gaillard
  • Lucien
  • Mené
  • Pelissier
  • Sauffrignon
  • Souillié
  • Tridon

With this issue, the editors have created what we believe to be the definitive study to date on the Californian Gardes mobiles and we are quite honoured to have been a contributor to it. Should you have an ancestor  amongst this fascinating and hitherto unnamed group, we hope that you will find this issue of The California Nugget to be of aid to your genealogical research.

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

* Read here of other generous acts of research on the part of French archivists.


From Our Library - Tracing Your Huguenot Ancestors

Tracing Your Huguenot Ancestors - Chater

Ah, Dear Readers, in genealogy, one must do one's homework. We cannot begin to tell you the number of times that someone has written to us with some long, rambling, historically incorrect account of a French ancestor and closed with "he was a Huguenot, find him". As we have said here before and seem to need to repeat yet again, not all French who left the country were Huguenots, or aristocrat émigrés or from Alsace-Lorraine.

Writers of those cumbersome, nineteenth century town histories appear to be the worst offenders in making these crass generalizations. We recently read one written either as a joke or in a drunken stupor in which the author said that an early French arrival in a town was "fleeing the Reign of Terror, when Catholics massacred Huguenots on Saint Bartholomew's Day." The Terror was in 1793; the Saint Bartholomew's Day murders were in 1572. Manglings of history such as this can make a mockery of your research efforts and (beware!) results.

French immigrants to other countries were as varied as are their descendants today: male and female, young and old, rich and poor, of many different religions, from different parts of the country which they left for many different reasons. To find your French ancestors' origins, start reading French history. If you know the region of origin, start reading that region's history. If you know the town of origin, read the town's history. If you know that your ancestors were French Catholics, start reading about French Catholicism, or about French Protestants, if you know that they were Huguenots. Without a basic understanding of French history, you cannot possibly hope to identify properly your French ancestors. You must do your homework.

Once the history homework is done, before you can trace your ancestor in France, you must fully research every possible source of information about him or her in your own country, combing every document or mention for all details. One of the best guides that we have found for this stage of research when the ancestor was a Huguenot who went to or through (as did many, on their way elsewhere) Great Britain is Kathy Chater's Tracing Your Huguenot Ancestors : a Guide for Family Historians.

The book is one of the Pen & Sword Family History publications, all of which focus on research in Great Britain. Quite properly, Chater's first chapter is on the history of the Huguenots. She then gives a very good, if pithy, summary of where in Britain Huguenot refugees settled. Chapter Three begins with a comment that not all French ancestors were Huguenot that exhibits much more patience than do we above. Her discussion of assimilation and of how French names changed is very useful and is a unique approach to preparing a research plan. The following two chapters explain the British genealogical sources available. She ends with a brief discussion of researching Huguenots in Europe and on other continents.

First published in 2012, it is still quite relevant. We read one Amazon reviewer's baffling comment that some of the information could be found on the Internet. Is a book supposed to replace the Internet? If one can indeed find some of the websites mentioned by Chater, how many hours of searching would it require? With what expertise would the novice evaluate a website in order to avoid the kind of nonsense history we mentioned above? The purpose of a guide book by an expert is specifically to guide the novice through the maze of excess to what is of value. Whether we are new to a type of research or to a foreign city, the experience will be improved by a decent guide.

Dear Readers, this is the book with which to begin to research your Huguenot ancestors who went to Britain. If your ancestors went to Jersey or Kent or another British locale before sailing to another land, this book will help you to document their time in Britain. Only once you have done so should you then try to research them in France. 

 

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


French Noble Emigrés in Bath and Jersey

Nantes

Those of you who have been reading The French Genealogy Blog for a while may have discovered that we despise the principle of aristocracy, the premise that those born to privilege, power and vast swathes of property are somehow superior human beings. It is an illogical premise promoted only by its beneficiaries, and one that almost daily evidence disproves; generations of power and wealth have not produced people of superior intelligence or beauty or prowess or morality. Rather, there would seem to be some evidence to indicate that numerous generations of people who delude themselves that they are better than others and that those they consider to be inferior are somehow sub-human have produced a disproportionate number of psychopaths.

Nevertheless, if you have them among your ancestors, we see no reason not to research them and we remind you that we have written about such research a number of times:

Today's topic is an interesting aspect of researching those nobles known as émigrés for having left France, their heads on their shoulders, during the French Revolution, specifically, researching those who went to England. The émigré period, when people of the nobility went abroad to escape both the Revolution and the First Empire but, with the First Restoration, felt it was safe to return, is generally given as being from 1795 to 1814.

Family life did not freeze while they were away; some died, some married and many were born, events which were recorded in notebooks of the local Catholic churches in their places of exile. Gildas Bernard wrote that these notebooks were produced in "various chapels in London and others in Southampton, Winchester, Bath, Jersey, Guernesey".1 They contain a great deal more than the usual detail, for the nobles involved were keen to assert their identities. However, the notebooks were not discovered until 1949, in the French Embassy in London. Before that, diligent researchers of a different kind of nobility went to Jersey and to Bath and conducted original research in the records of the churches there, publishing their work in :

  • Les Familles françaises à Jersey pendant la Révolution, by the Comte Régis de l'Estourbeillon in 1889. This is a massive work of more than six hundred pages. Families are listed alphabetically but really, as the names have so many articles and extensions, that is not much more help in finding them than one has with the correct Arabic names given alphabetically in Brill's Encyclopaedia of Islam. For each family, a brief history is given, then major alliances are listed, then the heraldic escutcheon is described. After this, the events that were recorded in the church during the family's exile are listed in full.
  • "Les Emigrés Bretons réfugiés à Bath pendant la Révolution", by Charles Robert in Revue de Bretagne, de Vendée et d'Anjou, June 1898. A much smaller work because there were fewer refugees in Bath, this simply reproduces, verbatim, the baptism, marriage and burial entries from the church register.

One of our Dear Readers showed us a rather delightful way in which some of the information given in the works above can be verified. When they returned, the émigrés went to work reclaiming their property and re-establishing themselves. Some, wanting to be sure that all was in order, went to the local courts with all of their documents, including their certificates of baptism, marriage or a relative's death abroad, to have all of them legally accepted in France. Some then went to the town hall with the court approval and all of the documents and had all of the births, marriages and deaths entered into the civil registers.

Thus, the family of the Marquis de Kermel de Kermesen were living in Bath when a number of children were born. Charles Robert in his article confirms this in his lists of births there. In the Guingamp civil register of births for 1833, the births, and a very great deal more about the family, are entered, as can be seen in these pages from the website of the Departmental Archives of Côtes-d'Armor. It took eight pages.

P72

P73

P74

P75

If this happened more than once, which seems likely, then you, Dear and Noble Readers, could try starting at the end of the trail to trace your returned émigré ancestors. Try searching in the civil registers of the towns where one of them was living, examining the pages through a number of years after their possible return. Try searching in the Jersey or Bath publications mentioned above. You may get lucky and find them in both!

UPDATE: Dear Reader Monsieur O sent via e-mail the link to the Bath Burial Index, which you may search for French ancestors who may have died there during their self-imposed exile.

 

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

 

1Bernard, Gildas. Guide des Recherches sur l'Histoire des Familles. Paris : Archives nationales, 1981, p. 306


Gallipolis and "The French 500"

Wilderness

One of you, Dear Readers, has written, asking us to write about the poor French dupes of some early American scam artists. Known in Ohio as 'The French 500", they were a group of people, some of the nobility, some artisans, and their families who thought that they might have a better future anywhere else than in revolutionary France. A glib Yale man who spoke French, Joel Barlow, and who had more passion than integrity, took advantage of their fears and hopes and sold them land that neither he nor the company he represented, the Scioto Company, actually owned. The Wikipedia article on Barlow states that "Scholars believe that he did not know the transactions were fraudulent."

Oh, yes he did, and the superb, definitive study on Gallipolis, proves it, using French notarial records, beyond any doubt. Gallipolis : Histoire d'un mirage américain au XVIIIe siècle, by Jocelyne Moreau-Zanelli, is the book published from her thesis and it is a masterpiece of historical research clearly presented. She explains first the background to land speculation in America, and then describes that shady character, William Duer, and his creation of the Scioto Company. We like that she sees, in this context, the American Dream as the American Mirage, and property speculation as a uniquely American tradition, (reminding us of our father, a very unsuccessful realtor who truly believed that every next deal would put us on Easy Street). She digs deep into notarial records of the sales, examines the economic, social and historical reasons that people might quit Paris for the wilderness of the Northwest Territory, and reveals the types of people who went.

For most of you, Dear Readers, language throws up its proverbial barrier, for the book is in French. We really do think there is a call for it to be translated into English for there are many who would appreciate it, so please do urge your friends in publishing to consider it. We will here extract what is perhaps the most genealogically useful information.

With very impressive sleuthing, Ms. Moreau-Zanelli has identified seven vessels that carried French emigrants:

  • Recovery
  • Pennsylvania
  • Patriote
  • Liberté
  • Mary
  • Lady Washington
  • Nautilus of Scarborough
  • Union
  • Citoyenne de Paris

Not all of their ports of departure are known but she discovered their three ports of arrival as Amboy, Alexandria and Philadelphia. For two of the vessels, the Patriote and the Liberté, departing passenger lists survive in the Le Havre passenger lists on the website of the Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime. (Both are on roll number 6P6/19) They have been transcribed by  the "Gallia County Genealogical Society OGS Chapter, Inc." reached via their page on The French 500.  Beware that these are partial transcriptions and that some names have been missed. For example, on the Patriote, there were André Joseph Villard, his wife, Noel Agathe Sophie Demeaux, and their two daughters, Constance Eugenie Etiennette and Félicité, along with two domestic servants. The transcription misses out six-year-old Félicité.

It will never be possible to compile a list of all of the passengers' names, for the documents have not survived. Additionally, many of the aristocrats, not wishing to voyage with the hoi polloi, booked their own passages, often by way of Saint-Domingue. However, Ms. Moreau-Zanelli has compiled a superbly helpful list, entitled "Tableau de Ventes", with over three hundred names of people who bought land from the Scioto Company through Barlow. In the table, she gives about each purchaser his or her:

  • Name
  • Profession
  • Sex
  • Place of origin
  • Amount of land purchased
  • Amount paid

This table, along with the two surviving passenger lists, will probably be the the most complete list of names of The French 500 that will ever be possible. We hope that you will be able to find your ancestor among them.

Please, we beg of you, if you have an interest in this subject, to buy Ms. Moreau-Zanelli's book and to encourage others to do so; do not steal her hard work and put it on some Rootsweb list. That is the sort of thing that brings scorn upon all of us who are genealogists.

Gallipolis : histoire d'un mirage américain au XVIIIe siècle

Jocelyne Moreau-Zanelli

published by l'Harmattan in 2000

ISBN-13: 978-2738489173

458 pages

 

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Article Review - Women in the French Military Archives

Military Woman

Some years back, we reviewed here the stellar tome on genealogical research using France's military archives, written by the archivists at the Service Historique de la Défense,  (SHD) Sandrine Heiser and Vincent Mollet. Inexplicably, when we listed some of the chapter headings in that review, we neglected one on a subject for which we have, of course, a rather natural affinity: women in the French military. We may have missed "Votre ancêtre était ...une femme" ("Your ancestor was a woman") because it is only three pages long, with half of those pages filled with photographs, or we may have to confess that we missed it because our work was not up to standard that day, for which we apologize with bow and scrape. Happily, Madame Heiser expanded on that chapter in an article written for the Revue Historique des Armées (it may be downloaded as a PDF). For those who cannot read French but have women to research, we give here a summary. 

Madame Heiser divides her subject into nine categories:

  • Femmes militaires et filles débauchées - "Military Women and Debauched Girls", are covered by a small group of archives, just one carton, from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and concerns mostly women who were spies or who served in the army disguised as men. This carton also includes cases against those camp followers who were prostitutes, the "debauched girls".
  • Cantinières, vivandières et blanchisseuses - "Canteen-keepers, sutlers and laundresses", including not only the women who did these jobs but the wives of any men who did them, from 1791 to 1900. There is no index to the names of the women included, so a researcher would have to spend some time reading the files.
  • Les femmes « pensionnées » ou « décorées » - "Women Who Received Pensions or Military Decorations". Those in the category above, as well as widows of men in the military, often had to petition for a pension and the records of those petitions are in this group. 
  • Mères et épouses de militaires - "Mothers and Wives of Men in the Military". Would it not be grand if this were an archive of all such women, and with an index as well? It would, indeed, but it is not. Madame Heiser explains here that these women may be discovered by reading a soldier's individual service record. It is true, as she says, that the details are rich and there are often, in a man's file surprise bonus documents, but in no way is there such a collection about these women; they are incidental in the information about the men.
  • Les femmes « personnel civil » - "Women Who Were Army Civilians", a large group of many thousands of women, mostly employed during the two World Wars. The archives of all Army civilian personnel are held at a facility in Châtellerault, described here.
  • Agents secrets et espionnes  - "Secret Agents and Spies", a series dating from the eighteenth century and including the file on the infamous and unlucky Mata Hari.
  • Vers un statut militaire - "Toward a Military Status". Here, Madame Heiser explains that women could not join the Army in any capacity until 1940 and that their files are held along with the men's, divided only according to the branch of the military in which they served.
  • Des femmes militaires témoignent - "Women in the Military Bear Witness". Within the archives oral history collection are many accounts by women, especially of but not exclusively of their service in the Air Force.
  • À Pau, 100 000 dossiers de femmes - "At Pau, 100,000 Files on Women". In the city of Pau is the Central archives concerning modern military personnel (CAPM), all those born before 1983, and many of them are women. 

Most of these archives are not online but the finding aids, increasingly, are. By studying those, you may be able to narrow your search enough to request copies from the SHD. Otherwise, you may have to hire a researcher. Unfortunately, now is not the time. The SHD at Vincennes is closed for the month of August and the website is down, yet again, for maintenance. Plan to tackle this in the autumn.

There is a pair of battered, blue binders filled with old, typed finding aids at the SHD in Vincennes that are probably our favourite books in the whole place. They cover the series in GR Y, all of the oddities that fit nowhere else in the vast system. Many of the archives described above are in GR Y, containing the stories of remarkable women. We do hope one of them is an ancestor of yours.

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

 


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