Book and Magazine Reviews

Book Review - Revolution in the French Navy


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 (click on the cover for the link) or via Amazon.


©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

Book Review - "The Terror - Civil War in the French Revolution" - Did Your Ancestor Take Part?

Terror cover


Understanding the French Revolution requires a lifetime of study and we feel that we have barely begun. Many of you, Dear Readers, have written to say that you are descended from people who left France during or just after the Revolution. We will ignore for the time being the inordinate and irrational need of many people to link themselves to the historically powerful, arrogant and wealthy abusers of other people, namely the aristocracy -- this is not another post on helping anyone to prove that he is really the true Louis XX --  and focus instead on what reading French history tells us about our ancestors that French genealogy cannot, which is, possibly, why. Why an ancestor left, why he or she left at a particular time, why he or she went to a certain place. Only by digging deeper and deeper into the history of the time and place can one learn enough to hazard a guess.

Andress's book was first published in 2005, so no one can accuse us of winning or even entering the race to review it. Nevertheless, we do so now, as it is the best book on the subject in English that we have found. In twelve chapters, he covers with great clarity the collapse of order, the fierce revolutionary fervour, even madness, in Paris that was countered by desperate, pro-religion and anti-Revolution forces in many, many locations around the country. Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux and, especially, the Vendée, fought against the Revolution with all that they had. At the same time as this civil war, there were also food shortages while much of Europe allied with Great Britain were attacking France's borders and helping the counter-Revolutionaries.

Slaughter -- the Terror -- was the Revolutionary government's solution. Prisoners were killed in the September Massacres and, over the next year, all suspected counter-Revolutionaries were guillotined.  Lyon was destroyed and the civil war in the Vendée crushed, with hundreds of children and adults killed and villages burned. Unending levées drafted every young man into the army and the attackers were pushed back from the borders.

Andress describes the progression without tones of drama or horror, letting the facts tell the story. He is a British historian and so, tends to concentrate on how and why things happened, as opposed to the French historical style of concentration on statistics to give a general view and following the rules of methodology for a dissertation, which can be tedious reading  for those taught to view the subject of history as an art rather than a science. Yet all the facts are there. We finished the book with a much greater understanding of the time, of the issues and of the enormous power of that foreign country within France that is Paris.

Victor Hugo wrote in his novel about the War in the Vendée, "Ninety-three", which we read in tandem with Andress's "The Terror" that "93 was the war of Europe against France and of France against Paris. And what was the Revolution? It was the victory of France over Europe and of Paris over France." 



 Was your ancestor involved -- like Hugo's father -- in fighting the War in the Vendée? You may be able to find him among the military records concerning that conflict. The Departmental Archives of the Vendée have digitised and put online the entirety of the military records on the War in the Vendée that are held in the Service Historique de la Défense at Vincennes, and they can be viewed here. Correspondence and pension records, reports and strategy papers are all there concerning the different armies:

  • The Army of the Coast of La Rochelle
  • The Army of the West
  • The Army of the Coast of Brest
  • The Army f the Coasts of the Ocean
  • The Army of the Interior
  • The Army of the Coasts of Cherbourg

Should you find your ancestor there, or even if not, we highly recommend both the Andress and the Hugo.

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

French Orphans and Wards of the Nation - a Book Review - Part 2


We continue with our review of the book and wonderful talk given by Marie-Odile Mergnac on the subject of orphans and wards of the nation. Orphans and their welfare have been as much of a concern in France as everywhere else in the world. In France, a child under the age of majority and without a father or either parent is considered an orphan. Children abandoned at birth are orphans with no identifiable family at all and become the responsibility of the state, while children who became orphans because one or both parents died usually have a family who are legally responsible for the child.

Madame Mergnac traces the history of orphanages, from their beginnings as religious institutions to being run by the state, to their being shut down by policy changes. This and the subject of orphans with no family touch on the subjects of other of our posts:

Children who lost one or both of their parents but still had family were under the care of a family council, conseil de famille, which was comprised of an equal number of members from the paternal and maternal sides of the family. The members of the family council voted for one person to be the guardian of the child or children. That person carried out the council's decisions as to the children's education and possible apprenticeships, as well as maintaining strict accounts about the cost of their upkeep and expenses against their inheritance. 

The family council also made decisions concerning the rentals or sales of property that had been inherited by the orphans. If an orphan under the age of majority wished to marry, permission had to be granted by the family council. When all children became adults, the guardian was required to turn in the final accounts and the adult children to sign them, if they approved them. Often, the decisions and accounts of family councils were submitted as affidavits to the justice of the peace. Many such records may still be found, such as these we discovered in the Municipal Archives of Marseille.

Madame Mergnac's book goes on to discuss children taken into care and made wards of the state, children in correctional institutions and adults made wards of the state. In each section of this short but most useful book, she explains how and where to research such people who may appear in your family tree.

Quite highly recommended.

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

French Orphans and Wards of the Nation - a Book Review - Part 1


One of the talks that we attended at the GENCO 2016 event was that given by the prolific Marie-Odile Mergnac about the subject of her new book, Orphelins et pupilles de la nation. The lecture space was not a room exactly but a space marked off from the exhibition hall with a few panels and a bank of chairs rolled into place. Pretty clever really, but the noise from the chatty folks at the exhibition stands was an annoying distraction. Madame Mergnac is much respected as an author and speaker, so the wobbly little tower of seats was packed.

She began by explaining the quite important difference between children who are wards of the state, pupilles de l'état, and children who are wards of the nation, pupilles de la nation. Children who are wards of the state are those who have been abandoned or who have been rescued from wicked or incompetent parents or families. Children who are wards of the nation are children who have a parent who was killed or severely wounded  while defending the nation. The wards of the nation are not taken into care, but remain at home with, usually, their mothers.

Wards of the nation, as a concept, is fairly recent. Though, in the early nineteenth century, Napoleon had arranged for the children of the men who died at the Battle of Austerlitz to be adopted by the nation, this was a single act and not a continuous policy. That policy was created in 1917, during the First World War, when France lost many, many men.

The programme gave to the children the financial help that the family needed because its breadwinner had been killed or incapacitated. Though each child's needs were assessed, generally the assistance included the paying of school fees and ensuring basic health care. There were summer camps, colonies de vacance, established for the children, which they could attend for free. When they were older, they might have received help in obtaining an apprenticeship. In some cases, employment was found for the mother. Each child was supposed to be seen once a year. Even with all of this aid, Madame Mergnac pointed out, life could be very tough for such children, especially if their mother also died.

It was not automatic for a child to become a ward of the nation. The mother had to make a formal request and provide documentary proof as to the father's service, wounds and/or death. If her husband had survived but become handicapped, she had to provide details and proof of this as well as details about each child. A decision would than be made and recorded. If it were in the affirmative, the child would be adopted formally by the nation. This new status would then be added as a marginal note to the child's birth registration.

The administrative department that did and still does handle wards of the nation is the National Office for Veterans and Victims of War, Office national des anciens combattants et victimes de guerre, known as ONACVG (originally as ONAC). A potential ward of the nation must be under the age of twenty-one and have lost his or her father or mother or other person who was the main support of the family. In addition to adopting the children of those who gave their lives in France's wars, the nation will also adopt the children of:

  • Victims of terrorist attacks committed in France (whatever their nationality);
  • Those who suffer from crippling diseases contracted while in service to the nation;
  • Those who were killed or died while in the line of duty of ensuring public safety in certain non-military professions, such as magistrates, gendarmes, police and customs officers;
  • Elected officials killed while in office;
  • Health professionals killed by their patients;
  • Those killed or incapacitated by pirates on the high seas.

Of course, children who themselves have been incapacitated by wounds received or diseases contracted in the same way as above can be made wards of the nation.

Next: orphans.

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy




France to Argentina - An Emigrant's Tale


We were pacing the espace d'attente, or waiting area, of our bank the other day, up and down in front of four uncomfortable plastic chairs. We picked up each of the tattered magazines and each of the shiny brochures encouraging us to mortgage our heart and soul, flipping the pages, trying so hard not to show impatience, for that begins the wicked French game of "Torment the Client, (who is the enemy, always in the wrong and must be ignored or humiliated)". Also on the table was a thick book about local vintners and another book, not quite so thick, left there by a local history society. We snapped through the pages of beaming vintners, dropped back that tome and picked up the local history volume. We began flipping through those pages as well, then slowed, then read, then were pulled in by the compelling story of a young man who emigrated to Buenos Aires.

In the 1880s, Martial Eynard was a poor young man from the countryside, trying to make his way in Paris. He had been born in Cherveix-Cubas, in Dordogne, in 1866, to an extremely poor farming family struggling with debt. Though he was recognised as being quite bright, he received only the most basic, rural education. Many years later, he looked back upon his childhood as a time of suffering. Misère in French is usually translated as "misery" but in modern usage, it means not unhappiness but "grinding poverty" (recall Hugo), and this was the state of young Mr. Eynard's life until he was sixteen. Then, it got worse.

He worked in a fabric shop, some forty kilometres from Cherveix-Cubas, in Périgueux. This would have meant that he left home and probably lived above the shop. We have seen the grim boxes in which lived shop workers and apprentices of nineteenth century France. They were in the attics above the shops. Up, under the eaves, with no ceiling to hide the underside of the slate or clay roof tiles and certainly no insulation, were dozens of tiny cubicles with higgledy-piggledy walls made of unpainted scrap wood, each cubicle no more than six or eight meters square. The inhabitants pasted newspapers to the walls, possibly for insulation, possibly for monotonous erudition. Furniture was a bed and a box. Light was a single candle. Martial Eynard endured that life for a year, then left for Paris when he was seventeen.

There, he found work in a wholesale fabric shop. Life was still hard, but he was in Paris, which his letters home showed that he enjoyed as much as he could afford to do so. He was a tireless correspondent, writing to his parents and to his younger sister. They saved every one of his letters, the marvellous primary source of the article. He attempted to enter a training programme but failed the entrance exam. Then, in 1886, at the age of twenty, he was conscripted. He was selected for "long service". He was still quite poor, his belovèd grandmother had recently died, his employers -- knowing of his conscription -- had let him go months before he was due to report for service. Indeed, he was very low. He got himself to Marseille and, under an assumed name for he was evading his compulsory military service, worked his passage to Argentina, sending letters home from every port.

There, he stayed, becoming Marcelino Eynard. He had many ups and downs but eventually did become financially successful. He built a company, learned Spanish, German and English, voyaged back to Europe and then to New York, but most enjoyed long stays in Paris. He was a misanthropic and solitary man -- in his letters -- who married late in life, without telling his long suffering sister, Marceline, whose many offers to come live with him were sadly refused. It would seem that, when he died in 1921, she had told all the village that she would be rich. She sailed to Buenos Aires to collect her fortune, only to discover that she had a sister-in-law and infant niece to whom her brother had left all. Perhaps Marceline's remaining years were vengeful and after she returned home she sat by the ancestral fire and cursed the shade of her brother or perhaps not. In any case, the chronicler must say with gratitude, she did not burn his numerous letters. 

This is a tale that, at least in its beginnings, cannot be very different from that of many young men who left France during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, seeking to escape poverty and compulsory military service. How many others wrote home as did Señor Eynard? Perhaps your ancestor's story appears in some obscure local history publication on a waiting room table in France. To find it, look not only at Gallica, the website of the Bibliothèque nationale, but at the websites of Departmental Archives (listed in the column to the left on this blog), where some local history publications have been put online. We note that the website of Cherveix-Cubas has uploaded a number of texts relating to local history, and surely other towns may have done the same. Check also the list of Associations for the relevant department to find the websites of all those relating to local history and genealogy.

The wonderful article on which this post is based is entitled:

"Marcelino, émigrant périgourdin en Argentine: quarante années de témoinage 1889-1921" by Pascale Laguionie-Lagauterie in Recueil de documents sur l'histoire locale, collectés et présentés par l'Association Hautefort, Notre Patrimoine, tome 6, April 2016, pp. 125-169. 

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


A French Gold Miner Ancestor in California?


We have been contacted by a Dear Reader seeking research suggestions on hunting French prospectors of gold in California. Our own ancestor, a cantankerous and surly fellow by all accounts, was one of a group of enthusiasts from Virginia who bought a ship, sailed it to San Francisco, sold it there and dispersed to the gold fields to find their fortunes. He did well enough to buy a ranch in the Central Valley. Did your French ancestor do the same and, if so, how to trace him or her?

No point in our reinventing any wheels here, so we will point you to the best resource, online or off, which is A.P. Nasatir's "French Activities in California: An Archival Calendar-Guide".




Nasatir gives an excellent introduction that gives a brief but thorough discussion of the French in the Americas. He tells of Balguerie's commercial venture in 1816, sending the Bordelais to Valparaiso, San Francisco and onwards. He tells of the important publication about the beauties of California by de Morineau, Notice sur la Nouvelle Californie. He discusses, with some humour, the few French ships that went to California just before the discovery of gold, and those that went there afterward. He then goes on to give every possible resource to be used in researching the early French arrivals in California, including a discussion of what may be found in the Diplomatic Archives, or Archives diplomatiques. A good example of such research, which may be helpful, is Jean-Nicolas Perlot's Goldseeker:


Nasatir's book was written in 1945 and published by Stanford University Press. It was probably read by about four people pursuing their studies during the war. Since then, it has been quoted widely in other academic sources, but was most likely of use only to academics wth travel grants. The Internet being the new gold rush, you may now, Dear Readers, use this book* to find much to help with your research of that gold miner ancestor.


©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

*Nasatir wisely renewed the copyright, which is why some pages of the book are not online.

Some rather helpful comments have been added below.

FGB Free Clinic - Case no. 3 - Pierre Jacob Gaubert - at the XXIII Congrès national de Généalogie


As we have written, the 2015 Congrès national de Généalogie seemed a subdued affair. The word going round was that the villain was the Internet, that people are now doing all of their research online and are no longer joining or purchasing from the many genealogy associations and that, as a consequence, the associations are struggling to keep going. If this be the case, it is a great pity, for these associations are invaluable. Clearly, the Internet is a boon to genealogical research, but it is a complement to and not a replacement of the accumulation of expertise to be found in the membership of the genealogy associations. Just as no library cataloguing system will ever take the place of the brain of an experienced reference librarian, so the Internet, which is a generalist, cannot replace the expertise of the genealogy specialists who populate the associations.

One of the things we most like to do at these conferences is to take our research bugbears to these experts and see what they can find in their own collections and among their colleagues. Just before leaving for the conference, we had this request from Mademoiselle G.:

My ancestor Pierre Jacob Gaubert was born in Nantes and left sometime between 1772 (b.) and around 1800 to come to Louisiana.  I have no idea if he made stops along the way.  I have kind of done a "hit and miss" search for him but nothing methodical and I don't know the sources to research.  Also, I know very little French so I'm at a disadvantage there.

We strolled up to the stand of the Centre Généalogique de Loire Atlantique when there was a rare moment of it not being crowded with visitors. We presented the above puzzle and the kindly lady started searching the private databases of the CGLA. (It is worth noting here that all of the cercles and associations have numerous databases from many sources, not only parish and civil registrations, and not all of these have been rented to the commercial genealogy companies. Usually, with membership to the specific association, some may be searched on their own websites. Not all; it may still be necessary to write a query.) She found nothing. Then, she rummaged in the heaps of books and cartons on the floor behind her, et voilà!


She hauled out a very battered copy of Les Acadiens en France : Nantes et Paimboeuf 1775-1785 by Gérard-Marc Braud. (ISBN 2-908261-47-2) On page 117 she found a very large amount of information on Pierre Jacob Gaubert and his family, listed under the name of his father, Guillaume, which we give here in part:

As family no. 173 in the book: Gaubert, Guillaume (s), born abt. 1742 in Eparsac, Tarn-et-Garonne, son of Jacques Gaubert and of Françoise Perier, a doctor, in the parish registers for St.-Similien, Nantes. He was married to 1) Marie-Modeste Gaudet, in La Rochelle, in the parish of Saint-Nicolas and 2) Marie Gaudet in Nantes. Pierre-Jacob Gaubert was his first child from his first marriage, baptised on the 21st of January 1777 in St.-Similien, Nantes. 

There is a great deal more information, running to two pages on the families concerned. It gives the names of the seven ships on which each individual travelled to Louisiana in 1785 as well as references to various other types of documentation in which they appear. The book is in both French and English, which will be of use to those who, like Mademoiselle G. have little French. Eventually, we would have come across it via the Internet, but it would have taken some time. Here, it took five minutes, because the expert knew where to look. 

Keep these associations going; join one, please.

©2015 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Summer Reading - The Short Chronicle

St Clare

We are a bit late with this post and apologize, but we have been enthralled by a first-hand account of the takeover of Geneva by the Huguenots, beginning in 1529, "The Short Chronicle : a Poor Clare's Account of the Reformation in Geneva". It is told by a Catholic nun, Jeanne de Jussie, writing from within the not very secure walls of the Convent of Saint Clare in Geneva.

Many of our readers write to tell us that they are descended from Huguenots and tell a tale of their ancestors' persecution and suffering. This account shows that the viciousness could be on the other side as well. Brutal killings, mutilations, rapes, beheading children, destruction of religious artifacts, burnings of homes, churches, livestock and crops - all these crimes and worse were perpetrated by the Huguenots against the Catholics of Geneva. Jeanne and other women in religious communities lived in terror of their convent walls being smashed, their bodies violated, their lives cruelly and abruptly ended.

In spite of being terrified, Jeanne never becomes hysterical. Her writing is clear-headed throughout. She is an intelligent observer of the destruction of her world and reports not only on the acts of terrorism but on the political negotiations and machinations of those in power on both sides. She does, however, allow herself the luxury of some quite creative insulting of the enemy. Not only do "scoundrels", "profaners", "sinners" and "vile bodies" fill the ranks of the Huguenots, but the Swiss Germans are "disloyal, heretical dogs", and Martin Luther is  "the pestiferous dragon with the venomous tail".

The editor and translator, Carrie F. Klaus, has provided informative but unobtrusive notes. Though many people of Geneva and the surrounding towns are named, this is not a book on genealogy. As a contemporary account of the Protestant Reformation in Geneva, it may be of interest to anyone researching Huguenot ancestors and wishing to understand better what they may have experienced. To students of history, whether of the sixteenth or the twenty-first century, it will prove yet again, that there are never any good guys in religious wars.

©2015 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy