Congrès national de Généalogie

The Growth of Recreational DNA Testing in France

Illegitimate children

There are times when we do wish that our Internet service providers (as they so inappropriately like to term themselves) had a face, a person at a desk in an office, windowless or not, for then we should be able to place a pistol on the desk in front of said person and urge an act of honour as we leave and shut the door behind us. Alas, we will never hear that shot of honour behind the door and no provider will ever accept responsibility for the failure to provide. So, we are back at our post, posting on The FGB, but cannot say for how long.

We have worked our way though most of the presentations given at La Semaine virtuelle de la généalogie. As ever with such events, virtual or not, quality varies. We shall focus on a subject of interest not only to those outside of France, but increasingly within this country, DNA testing for genealogy. We do this in part in response to a fiery comment which Monsieur Pierre Gendreau-Hétu left on our post announcing the programme of the Semaine virtuelle de la généalogie and which we reproduce here:

 

"This program shows how spaced out French genealogy is. I'm sorry to break the news, but genetic genealogy has been solving longstanding problems for two decades now! The best strategy the FFG has come up with is to close the conference with guardians of the French orthodoxy regarding DNA data: attention danger! The grand guignol show is not over yet, unfortunately. (Sigh.) Pauvre France! Rich archives combine so powerfully with yDNA data, and amazing results keep coming day in day out in countries likes Scotland, Ireland, Switzerland..... What a French waste in the name of state control! Olivier Henno, commissioner to the French Senate committee on bioethics, assessed the number of tests ordered by French citizens and came up with the figure of one million kits. In 2019. Yet the FFG will still look the other way. This behavior belongs to a bird that is not the rooster. This is called denial and is unworthy of a scientific field. In the meantime, English-speaking universities (Leicester, Strathclyde, etc.) have made genetic genealogy mainstream. France, pays des Lumières? Not in genealogy at any rate. Obscurantism stole the show. France is left with good archival research nonetheless, for sure, even though one can only dream of what could be if it were enhanced with genetics. Just like looking for a treasure without using a metal detector..."

 

Monsieur Gendreau-Hétu certainly has a point (and he makes  some more in the comments section at the end of this post); there was but one presentation on what the French law terms "recreational DNA testing", given by Brigitte Billard, one of France's more interesting bloggers on genealogy Though the lone talk, it was very interesting. Her entire presentation, "5 questions à vous poser avant de faire un test ADN" (5 questions to ask yourself before taking a DNA test) can still be seen online. We summarize and comment here.

The overall tenor of the talk seems to be one of stern warning. Before taking a DNA test for the purpose of genealogy, one must know that :

  • Such "recreational "DNA testing is illegal in France
  • The fine for such test taking can be up to 3500 euros
  • Prosecution seems never to have occurred
  • If you are seeking a specific ancestor or person, the DNA test will not be enough; traditional genealogical research will be necessary
  • You may have to ask all of your relatives to test their DNA as well, which could lead to ethical issues
  • It could be expensive
  • The privacy of those who test will not be protected to European standards, as corporate headquarters and laboratories of the more popular DNA kit producers are not in Europe
  • All those who test must be prepared to cope with a possibly traumatic discovery of a family secret (e.g. the discovery that a male relative fathered numerous children unbeknownst to his family)

Madame Billard, after such severe and well-informed discouragement, ends on a chirpy and positive note, that DNA testing can lead to some very fun genealogy. There is probably no better explanation of the French situation concerning genetic genealogy at this time than Madame Billard's talk.

To quell Monsieur Gendreau-Hétu's fears that the French are falling behind in the DNA game, there are, as Madame Billard pointed out, many, many YouTube videos of French people taking such tests. Most are quite humourous. Most contain someone being surprised at the test results showing no "French blood". This, in turn resulted in a clip being added to one of them in which a trusted geneticist had to explain that "there is no such thing as French blood" just people who  have lived in France for a long time. Here are links to just a few:

 

  • A dashing young man who took a test because he wondered if his slightly narrow eyes might not mean that he had oriental ancestors.
  • A charming young pair claiming to be shocked by their test results. (Surely the use of the word is a marketing ploy or are we so jaded in this life that what shocked them seems quite inane to us?)
  • A whole troupe of journalists who took their tests and read their results at the same time. (A bit disturbing, this one, with smugness on the parts of those feeling "more French" and suppressed fury on the part of one who did not like her ethnicity one bit. Unsurprisingly, this is where the geneticist steps in.)

 

There are dozens more. It is, clearly, quite the fashion to break this particular law in France and to be oh, so surprised at the results. We suspect that this is a barn door that will never be locked again, whatever laws may be passed. 

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


How It's Going at the Gene@Event2020 - La Maison de Généalogie

Screen Shot 2020-09-29 at 4.43.51 PM

We write in a state of virtual breathlessness, Dear Readers, as we bounce from one video presentation to the next at this online French genealogy conference. We thought that you might appreciate a summary of the best that we have seen so far.

Generally, the presentations fall into one (very rarely, two) of three types:

  1. Those that aim to build research skill, to explain a website, to improve one's methodology, etc.
  2. Those that share the presenter's genealogical research, case studies, etc.
  3. Those that are history lectures

The following, listed according to our own classification within the above types, are those we can recommend (Be forewarned that problems with people using just their computer microphones continue. By now, they really all should know to buy a proper headset, but no.) Apologies that we are not qualified to assess the talks given in German or Spanish.

SKILL BUILDING TALKS

• “S’initier à la généalogie grâce aux associations” by Valérie Arnold-Gautier – The introductory talk by the president of the FFG. Her point is that the many genealogy associations in France have done and still do so much to further genealogy activities that one should begin one’s introduction to genealogy via such an association. Recall that the FFG is a federation of associations, not of genealogists. This will be more pertinent to points we will make in a future post.
• “Mes premiers pas en généalogie” by Isabelle Calone. Everyone has to begin at the beginning.
• “Les ressources disponibles dans FamilySearch” by Sylvain Athénour A very thorough and basic introduction to the French FamilySearch portal and collections. We consider ourselves to be rather expert at using FamilySearch, yet we learned a few new tips from this talk.
• “Comment effectuer des recherches avec FamilySearch” by Sylvain Athénour – Again very methodical, again very thorough, Monsieur Athénour explains every screen and every aspect of searching via the French screens of FamilySearch.
“Présentation du site « Le désarmement Havrais » : les différentes façons de rechercher un marin, un navire, des chantiers navals…” by the creator of the site – Perhaps the gem of the first three days, this talk presents a website that serves as a superb index to the thorny, awkward to use shipping and passenger records of Le Havre.
• “De L’archive Numérisée à la Base de Données, la Data au Service du Chercheur…” [Mémoire des Hommes] – Digging deeper into what is offered on the brilliant military archives website. This is a good thing because, since the site was redesigned, it is not very clear. 

 

CASE STUDIES

• “De Philippe Leplastre, laboureur Beauceron à Hugues Capet” by François Côme, shows how he used Capedia to trace much of his ancestry, lucky fellow.

• Sur les traces d’une famille d’origine juive polonaise - parties 1-3- par Virginie Drocourt – Part 1 could certainly go in the skills building section. Very thorough.
• “Raconter la vie de ses ancêtres (1914-1945), une Histoire ordinaire d'une famille comtoise pendant les deux conflits mondiaux” par Romain Ecarot. This case study is rather interesting, for the speaker explains how he used local administration documents to reconstruct the life of an ancestor from 1914 to 1945.

 

HISTORY LECTURES

(Note for hope: It would seem that the subject of the oppression of women in these two talks is of increasing relevance to family historians. Forcing women to have unwanted children and then depriving those children of legitimacy and/or the prostitution of women both tend to result in genealogical brick walls. Could it be that this passionate hobby of ours will help to end the oppression of women? Now, that would be cheering in these dark times.)

• “Les conséquences de l’illégitimité” par Carole Lejuez. Though primarily an academic lecture, Madame Lejuez discusses quite a lot of the relevant documentation.
• “La prostitution à Lyon au XIXe” par Alexandre Nugues. This is a very nicely done recording of a history lecture presented in the old, pre-COVUD days, to a live audience. Rather nostalgic.

 

More to come, Dear Readers, but do, if you can, listen to as may ass you can.

©2020 Anne Morddel

French  Genealogy


Two Virtual Lectures Up Our Alley

Vessel

Last Saturday's online French genealogy conference, the Salon Virtuel de Généalogie, was excellent as to content but, as we mentioned on the day, somewhat flawed as to microphone quality. We enjoyed a number of talks, especially that by Sandrine Roux-Morand about Alsace Moselle research, to which you can still listen for two more days here, and that by Laurence Abensur-Hazan on French Jewish genealogy resources, delivered at speed, in great clarity and without slides, to which you can still listen here.

Two  lectures were covering topics that are right up the research alley in which we find ourselves at the moment. That on resources online for researching French sailors and merchant seamen, by Christian Duic, and the utterly fascinating lecture by Marine Leclercq-Bernard on using medical archives in genealogical research

We began with Madame Leclercq-Bernard's lecture on La Généalogie Médicale. She discussed the cases of those who were identified legally as carriers of diseases and the medical protocols for identifying and notifying those with hereditary diseases. Her explanation of the archives to use was, Dear Readers, a revelation. So many series that we never knew, with possibilities for discoveries that we never imagined, were described that we now long for a poorly French ancestor to hunt down in them. Most of these series are within the Departmental Archives and are not online; many are in the Archives hospitalières, but Madame Leclercq-Bernard also suggested that one could seek in the archives concerning abandoned children and in the archives of the military hospitals. She explained how a researcher might trace a medical problem back through a number of generations using these archives. Do, do listen to this talk while there still is time.

Christian Duic's talk closely follows his book, Retrouver un ancêtre marin but, aware of our lack of mobility during these times of quarantine, he narrowed the focus to online research of sailors and merchant seamen. (As you will know from our own recent series on Researching Early American Mariners of the Napoleonic Wars, this area of research is one in which we are keenly interested.) We urge you to listen to his talk while there is time, particularly if you have been having trouble with the Le Havre passenger and crew lists on the website of the Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime, for (at about the 27th minute in the talk) he walks the viewer through it.

The French Naval Class System, Le système de classes

It is clear that many outside of France are completely unaware of a key element of the French Navy, La Marine, and that is the fact that, since 1668, the Marine has had its own system of drafting men into service. As with other military draft systems, it was compulsory. Censuses were taken of all men aged eighteen or over who worked on any type of vessel or who worked with vessels or in ports in any capacity. (From this it can be seen that most of the men came from coastal areas, few were from inland regions.) Lists, called matricules, were made for each region each time the census was taken. All men listed during a particular census were in the same class, which could be called up to serve at any time during war. The class system was devised to prevent (and is considered by the French to be infinitely superior to and more humane than) something like the British practice of impressing (or pressing) men into service in the Royal Navy. During times of peace, classes were not called up, but during times of war, many classes could be called up at the same time and the men possibly could be made to serve longer than the mandated year. Without an awareness of this naval draft and the naval matricules, one will not comprehend Monsieur Duic's lecture or his book.

Now, watch those lectures! Vite!

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


XXIV Congrès national de Généalogie - de Morant on DNA

Congres 2017

Among the many lectures and workshops that we attended at the conference, the best attended, by a long shot, was that of the illustrious Guillaume de Morant. Monsieur de Morant is one of the best known figures working in French genealogy. He presents himself as a journalist and a genealogist but it is as the former writing about the subject of the latter that has brought him fame. He writes the blog for the Revue française de généalogie. He writes books. He reports on RootsTech.

We will not steal Monsieur de Morant's thunder by giving here the entire contents of his talk, but we hope that he will not mind if we cover a few of the more salient points. He began by asking how many in the room had taken a DNA test. A show of hands revealed that about five out of the fifty or so present had done so. He then launched into an encomium on the advantages for one's genealogical research of taking such a test, adding that it would also be useful for many other purposes in life, such as advance warning of inherited medical conditions, finding distant cousins, contributing to a broader pool of French data and thus helping the descendants of those Acadians figure out who their ancestors were.

Perhaps the most important point was one of very useful clarification. It is not, he said, illegal for a person in France to take a DNA test via a company that is outside of France. What the law states, he explained, is that it is illegal for a laboratory to commercialise such tests in France.  He urged everyone to take the test and to sign his petition asking the government to authorise DNA tests for genealogy. (Only 224 more signatures required.)

He proceeded to explain the three types of tests, pointing out that the procedure of getting the DNA sample is "not elegant", and to list the companies that he recommends. However, he added that one of the laws protecting privacy, loi informatique et liberté, requires that private data be masked and that includes biometric data by which an individual may be identified. Thus, an entire haplogroup cannot be put online by someone as parts of it may be shared by and could identify someone else, violating that person's privacy. 

Monsieur de Morant is an entertaining and charming speaker but he melted our heart by introducing us to a thrilling new French word when he said that some of the phrases of the law were liberticides, that is, freedom-killers.

Liberticides. Liberticides. Oh, Dear Readers, you will definitely be reading this word here again!

N.B. Be sure to read the interesting comment from Pierre Gendreau-Hétu, below.

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

 


XXIV Congrès national de Généalogie - Did Your Guadeloupean Ancestor Fight in the Great War?

Congres 2017

We found quite interesting the theme at the conference of researching those from France's ex-colonies in the West Indies and so we continued to pursue the talks on that subject. It was not always an easy thing to do for the names of the conference rooms had, most mysteriously, become jumbled. There was much to-ing  and fro-ing of people seeking the right room, asking others for guidance, and becoming alarmed by the sudden popping up of officious, self-appointed guides. In the end, we all found our places.

Our speaker was Monsieur Benoît Jullien, Director of the Departmental Archives of Guadeloupe. He had much to say that was enlightening as to why research into those of Guadeloupe who served in the First World War may have been difficult. Guadeloupe, (since 1948), is one of the departments of France and, since the abolition of slavery in 1848, all Guadeloupeans, including ex-slaves, have been French citizens. That citizenship, however, was not always enjoyed to its fullest by all of Guadeloupe.

With the First World War and the catastrophic loss of life in France, the French government turned increasingly to the ex-colonies and insisted that the military service laws be enforced. Monsieur Jullien explained that this had "enormous political significance" because, by doing so, the government of France was admitting that Guadeloupeans were, indeed, fully citizens of France. Though teachers, priests and seminary students were exempted, nearly ten thousand men from Guadeloupe were mobilised, following in the footsteps of the famous Camille Mortenol.

Initially, the French policy was to withdraw troops of mainland France who had been policing in the Caribbean and send them to the war in Europe. They were to be replaced by the newly conscripted local troops. However, even before the war began, in October of 1913, Guadeloupean troops were sent to Europe. They suffered from more than war, many dying of disease and cold in the inclement French winter. Monsieur Jullien's research shows that they were assigned all types of military work but none were promoted to be officers. Their furloughs, when granted, were too short for them to be able to go home to their island. As a result, many charitable societies formed in Paris and other cities to take them in during these times. (If you have ever been young, poor, alone and an outsider in Paris during the winter, Dear Readers, you will know just how much such charities might have been appreciated.) 

In the many, many commemorations and monuments to the dead and lost after the war, none initially mentioned those from Guadeloupe. The authorities "forgot", Monsieur Jullien politely put it. A separate decree was required to correct the omission and the first Monument aux Morts in Guadeloupe was erected in the 1930s.

Research into the military service of someone from Guadeloupe proceeds in the same way as in all other departments. Using the very attractive website of the Departmental Archives of Guadeloupe, search in the military conscription lists. With the number of the person that you will obtain, you may then request a copy of the personal file from the archives.

Bonne chance et merci Monsieur Jullien!

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


XXIV Congrès national de Généalogie - Research in Guadeloupe

Congres 2017

At the genealogy conference in Le Havre last month, one of the most informative lectures that we attended was given by a dashing young fellow from Guadeloupe, Monsieur Bruno Kissoun, come all that way to talk to us. The audience was so small that he insisted we sit around a table as he felt silly standing at a podium speaking to a near-empty room. So, we had a seminar around the table, which was even better. 

Monsieur Kissoun's co-presenter was an accomplished genealogist with a specialty in Guadeloupe, and a man with such energy and enthusiasm for his subject that he did not join us at the table but bounded back and forth across the room behind Monsieur Kissoun, lunging forward toward our table to add comments, then retreating back again in what may have been a remarkable display of extreme courtesy. 

Together, the gentlemen described and explained the resources available to those researching genealogy in Guadeloupe. 

  • There are thirty-two communes, or towns, on Guadeloupe, not all of which have complete archives. Hurricanes and general humidity have taken their toll. Additionally, while some towns were scrupulous about documenting people held in slavery, not all were. The point being that the quality and amount of holdings vary greatly.
  • Three copies of records were produced. One was retained in the town as the parish and civil registers, one was sent to Versailles and can now be seen on the website of the Archives nationales d'outre-mer (ANOM); and one was given to the departmental clerk and is held in the Departmental Archives. 

It was pointed out that the copies do not always agree, that many contain errors and that those that were sent to France and can now be seen on the ANOM website do not have the marginal notes that may be on the originals held in the town. Examples of such copies not in agreement were presented and discussed.

When researching a family in a village in European France, one sees that people tended to take care of family matters in their own village, possibly for many generations. In Guadeloupe, we were told, a family quite often baptised a child in a village other than that where the child was born, at times even on another island. The researcher must be imaginative.

Much discussion concerned the documentation of those who were enslaved. Some towns had registers of slaves and most towns maintained registers of freed slaves. Working with the two is necessary to try to piece together an individual's identity and relatives. The register of those born enslaved could contain for each person:

  • only a first name and no surname for the child
  • the date of birth
  • the name of the owner
  • the first name and the age of the mother
  • the mother's place of residence (plantation, or habitation)

When slavery was abolished and a register of freed slaves was made, very little information was given as the real point was to assign surnames and list people, thus:

  • a first name and the surname given to the father, where known
  • the mother's first name and the new surname given to her

As families appeared under mothers' names, for they went to register all of their children at once, but any older children who had been sold outside of the town would not have appeared with their mother and would not have been given the same surname. The surnames given and their meanings remain a highly emotive subject for, in many places, the officials responsible were quite malicious. The law forbade the giving of any surname belonging to a free person to a freed slave, forcing officials to use words not normally seen as names. Some used a dictionary or an atlas to find the words, others gave coarse and vulgar words as names and thus proved that they had tiny, poisoned souls.

We were told that it is exceedingly rare to find all of the above types of register entires as well as civil registrations for an enslaved person. Further to complicate such research are the facts that:

  • Towns maintained complete slave registers for each habitation within their boundaries, which probably would have given great detail as to birth or date of purchase, parentage, country of origin, etc. However, though no official order was ever given to do so, every single one of those registers in every town was destroyed.
  • There were no passenger lists created for the people kidnapped in Africa and taken to Guadeloupe. (However, those immigrants who were free on arrival may appear in the Gazette Officielle or on passenger lists, by vessel name, on the ANOM website.)
  • The many natural disasters that have assaulted the island and its archives -- hurricanes, tidal waves, earthquakes -- not only destroyed some archives, but jumbled them all up and scattered them so that, for those that could be saved, all order was lost.

 Monsieur Kissoun handed each attendee a copy of the Guide de généalogie familiale en Guadeloupe, a beautifully printed leaflet which explains the above and more. It has a precious chart, listing each town, the type of archives it had that have survived, the dates those archives cover, where they are held, and if they have been microfilmed. (Click on the title to download the PDF.)

A fascinating talk on a subject that includes great sadness.

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


XXIV Congrès national de Généalogie - Shall We Say Muted?

XXIV

We have just completed our attendance at the three days of lectures and a hall full of stalls that is France's largest genealogy event, the Congrès national de Généalogie, held in Le Havre. It is held every two years in different cities around France and this is our fifth time in attendance.

Some things, such as the celebration of local costume and custom, do not change.

Conference

Lace

 There were a large number of very interesting lectures, many about the history of Le Havre, which celebrated its five hundredth anniversary this year. Many more, of course, were about genealogical research, with a particular emphasis on France's overseas departments in the Americas.

The salon, or hall of stands and stalls was a mix of commercial genealogy enterprises and regional genealogy associations, the latter being in the majority by a large margin. The mood here was at first subdued and, by the end of the second day, downright gloomy. Attendance on the part of the general public was extremely low. At no point did the aisles ever seem the least bit crowded or even full. To be sure, it was very rainy and blustery weather but that should have proved no obstacle for Le Havre is a sodden city, along with the rest of Normandy. No, there is some other cause, and it may be the same reason that there were almost no French genealogists represented in the hall. Some said there were none at all. There certainly were none at the last Who Do You Think You Are? Live show in Birmingham. Yet there were French professionals at past congresses.

It is our theory that family research (as opposed to heir hunting) genealogy is under threat in France. We have explained probate genealogy. We perhaps did not add that généalogie successorale is a very profitable business, with each heir contacted having to sign a contract to turn over a hefty percentage of the inheritance. Nor did we mention that the business is pretty much sewn up in France by just a few, big companies. The fees of these companies depend upon the fact that 1) they find heirs who would not otherwise have been found and 2) they are the first to inform the heirs of the death that will bring them money.

Clearly, the boom in genealogy as a hobby and interest in France is a threat to the généalogiste successoral. Increasingly, French people are putting online their family trees and genealogical research. Increasingly, they are finding and communicating with one another, even having family gatherings called cousinades. Increasingly, they know when a relative dies and they know their relationship to him or her. Inevitably, the fees for the probate genealogists will suffer, but they are not taking this lying down.

The press, with the indomitable Guillaume de Morant at the vanguard, has angrily reported that the largest of the probate genealogy companies has embarked on a campaign of legally challenging the claims of heirs that they already knew of a death and/or that they already knew of their relationship to the deceased. And they win. In a 2014 case, (reported here) though a family genealogy had been written and shared in 1991, because it was not one hundred per cent complete and perfect, the heir who challenged the probate research company's fee lost and had to pay 14,000 euros, plus costs. In another case, in June of this year, a woman knew of her first-cousin's death and wrote to the notaire handling the inheritance to say so; she refused to sign the contract with the probate genealogy company. They took her to court and she had to pay them 35,000 euros (reported in full here).

There are plenty of French genealogists, many of them very, very good at what they do. They would probably love to attend all possible conferences and congresses, but in a climate where their work could be challenged or obstructed by a large, domineering and litigious company or two, they may wish to pursue a less public route to their clients.

France is a country where, generally, competition is considered a bad thing and the "preservation of tradition" has sometimes crossed the boundary into being cartels and having professions as closed as medieval guilds. It is the land of big power: big companies, big unions, big families, big government. It is not a country that celebrates or encourages individual independence or small business. In spite of the truly fabulous Station F, we do not see how its creator, Xavier Niel, or Macron, or even Moses will change that.

And where does that leave France's genealogists?

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


XXIII Congrès national de Généalogie - The History of Seals

Seals

We are still working our way through our reporting on the many fascinating lectures we attended at the 23rd National Genealogy Congress in Poitiers. To be honest, the subject of this post was one we had avoided for many years. The study of seals seemed to us tedious and dull, the objects fiddly and crumbly. In all, it seemed about as thrilling as those rows upon rows of tiny coins in glass cases in the British Museum. Not as much fun as research and not as much fun as piecing together information about lives long ago. As happens more often than we are happy to confess, we were wrong.

Monsieur Daniel Da-Ponte is an engaging speaker, small, highly audible and witty, though not a dab hand with an out-dated slide projector. He had the comfortable authority that comes with mastery of one's subject and managed to communicate his enthusiasm such that, by the end of the talk, the room was full of breathless converts to sigillography.

He began by pointing out that there are seals as old as one from 777 A.D., which survives on a document relating to Charlemagne, and that 50% of the seals that are still in existence are copies or fakes.

He gave a bit of vocabulary:

  • Bulle - is a seal in metal, often silver
  • Cachet - a small seal to ensure secrecy
  • Garde des Sceaux - Today, this is the Ministry of Justice
  • Lac - the silk or other type of ribbon that attaches the seal to the document
  • Matrice - the engraved object to print the seal onto wax
  • Queues - excess lac below the wax

During the Medieval era, which was the golden age of seals, apparently, the sealing procedure was thus:

  1. A document was written
  2. Ribbon attached the pages, often sewn through them at the side, binding them
  3. Wax (or, less often, lead) is dripped onto the two ends of the ribbon, closing them together, as would a knot; the wax was not on the document itself*
  4. The seal is pressed into the hot wax

Seals had nothing to do with heraldry, Monsieur Da-Ponte shouted emphatically, though they could, especially after the twelfth century, have the image of a family's crest. Their purpose was not to show relationship but to confirm or even replace a signature. Thus, a seal was an authentication of the approval if not the authorship of a document, to the point that it had probative value. For this reason, seals were very carefully guarded, often worn as rings.

Their value, he said, is in the study of Medieval costume, art history and social history and NOT genealogy. However, for those genealogists working on family records from the twelfth or thirteenth century, a knowledge of seals will be useful in confirming the authenticity of some of those documents. He mentioned that a claim made to him by one fellow to have used seals to trace his family line to 52 B.C. is preposterous (he glared around the room at this point, daring anyone to make a similar claim; no one accepted the dare).

He closed his cheery talk with the suggestion that anyone who can should visit the Musées du Sceau et Springerlé (delightful combination of subjects, that) in La Petite Pierre, Bas-Rhin.

©2015 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

*In our photograph above, 18th century wills have been stitched shut and the seals placed over each point where the stitching pierced the document.


XXIII Congrès national de Généalogie - Encounters

Cristol

One of the pleasures of the professional conference is, as everyone knows, the opportunity to hobnob. We hobnobbed and in doing so, encountered some impressive professionals with areas of specialization which we think could be of interest to our Dear Readers. Thus, we introduce:

Monsieur Philippe Christol (pictured above), whose lecture we had attended a day or two earlier. Monsieur Christol is an expert on Polish immigrants to France and all Francophone countries (Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, etc.), including those who may not have stayed in France but gone on to other countries. He asks that we be sure to state explicitly that he does not research immigrants to countries other than France. He is fluent in English and has worked with William Fred Hoffman, author of Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings, and with Matthew Bielawa. We have found him most helpful and courteous.

 

Cappart & Hierro

Mesdames Marie Cappart and Liliane Hierro are colleagues from Belgium. Madame Liliane Hierro is an expert in using the Internet for research in Belgian genealogy. Madame Cappart, a cheerful soul, is fully trilingual in English, French and Flemish as can be seen on her blog. Both have helped a number of English speakers to research their Belgian roots.

N.B. Madame Cappart has written to ask that we disambiguate: she and Madame Hierro are friends but hold separate companies.

 

Cosson 1

We have written about Monsieur Stéphane Cosson and his excellent palaeography service previously. His fame preceded him and his stand was somewhat crowded with seekers of aid, each clutching a copy of an indecipheable document. Monsieur Cosson dealt with each with politesse and aplomb. 

 

Cosson 2

Monsieur Cosson is also very much involved with the genealogy course at Nîmes. The course is now available online and its directors are actively seeking participants. Monsieur Cosson also assured us that many of the professors are fluent in English and that the course can be adapted for English speakers. Should you wish to learn French genealogy from those who know it best, you would do well to investigate this course.

Nice people, all, and all willing to be of help.

©2015 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


XXIII Congrès national de Généalogie - Weather Disasters of Poitiers

La misère

At the conference, we attended a talk by  Monsieur Jean Hervier entitled "La météo à Poitiers sous la Révolution". It covered a broader time period, the forty years from 1776 to 1816, and every one of them interesting. Too often, Dear Readers, we look for an emotional, religious or political cause for ancestors having left France: a broken heart, a duel, a family quarrel, a staunch aristocrat during the Revolution, a staunch Communard fleeing the reprisals after the Paris Commune, the Protestant escaping persecution, but the reality is that the cause is just as often economic.

Recall that, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the world, France included, was largely agrarian and each small farm teetering on the edge of ruin at every climactic irregularity. We have written before of how disease of farm animals could bring ruin and ruin could lead to emigration. We are must indebted to Monsieur for presenting plenty of other reasons why some living in Poitiers may have given up and gone elsewhere, among them:

  • 1776 - The rivers were blocked with ice floes and did not flow, delaying spring planting. When the ice began to break up, many boats were destroyed by it.
  • 1781 - A June hail storm destroyed property and early crops
  • 1784 - There was a very hard winter, with snow for six weeks, for two weeks of which it snowed non-stop, to a place that did not normally have much snow at all. Farm birds and wild birds died of the cold, the hay ricks were ruined, houses collapsed from the weight of the snow. Markets and fairs did not take place as transport was impossible and it was too cold for many.
  • 1787 - Though not directly a weather issue, during this year there was a measles epidemic that killed many.
  • 1788 - A July hailstorm was so severe that the hail stones killed livestock. The summer storms were so heavy that there was flooding, which brought mudslides.
  • 1789 - Before the storming of the Bastille up in Paris France experienced one of her worst winters ever recorded. In Poitiers it was so harsh, with two months of temperatures below zero, that the rivers froze and farm animals died, as did fruit trees. When they thawed, the blocks of ice were so big and the water rushing so fast that the blocks smashed up bridges, watermills, boats, trees and houses.
  • 1803 - July hailstorms again killed livestock.
  • 1816 - This was "the year without a summer" around the world. On the 10th of April 1815 the volcano, Tambora, in Indonesia had erupted, filling the atmosphere with ash that blocked sunlight. In Poitiers, temperatures dropped to freezing in August, there was no harvest and almost no fruit, nothing in family vegetable plots had enough sun or warmth to ripen. 

These weather disasters were too often followed by epidemics, famine and ruin. At the same time, from 1789 to 1815, France was almost always at war. It must have seemed, to many, as if the Apocalypse had come. The only wonder is that more did not make the decision to walk to the coasts and take whatever leaky vessel they could to whatever land would offer them hope and opportunity. Most of us are proud of our migrant ancestors. If your ancestor left France during the period above, it may have been due to the bad weather, and all the consequences thereof.

©2015 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy