Current Affairs

Online Archives from the Archives Diplomatiques at Last

Arch Dip Microfilm

How long we have been awaiting this one, and it is not quite here yet, but the signs are hopeful, hopeful, indeed. For a good ten years, the Archives diplomatiques have been promising that, "very soon", the overseas civil registrations (prior to 1891) would be available online. For at least a decade, their website has held little more than a dull notice of that same promise.

No, Dear Readers, those registrations are not online (and one must still use the microfilm rolls shown above) but there is a significant new look to the website. We have noticed a new design, improved search facility and options and the beginnings of digitization of some of their wonderful archival materials.

  • Many military registration records for Tunisia are being uploaded. If you are researching an ancestor who was a French citizen, no matter where he was born, and who was living in Tunisia when he turned twenty and had to register, you have a good chance of finding him here.
  • Documents and photographs concerning the art stolen by the Nazi occupiers during the Second World War and the effort to retrieve it. Not exactly useful for your genealogical research, unless it were your family's art that was stolen.
  • Documents and photographs pertaining to the French government in exile during World War Two. Just the beginnings, here, covering a visit by Soustelle to Mexico.
  • A database of treaties signed with France. Great fun, as with this 1419 treaty between the Duke of Burgundy and the King of England. Be sure to type in the French name of your country when you search.

Ten years is a long wait, and it is not over yet. Keep checking the website and do let us know should you get lucky.

©2023 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


France's Heat Wave - La Canicule

Canicule

It seems that every summer, we are writing about hotter and hotter weather. This year, with not only heat waves but a long drought, has been catastrophic for France, with massive wildfires in numerous places blazing out of control. Our home is not close to the current fires, but it is close enough that we have had days of our skies filled with smoke. Once again, we are wearing masks, this time to be able to breathe without choking. It is heart breaking and frightening to watch new reports of forests burning and then to go outdoors and see trees and all plant life withering and dying.

It has been a long time coming. France has had disastrous forest fires caused by drought before, in Landes in the 1940s, in Charente-Maritime in the 1970s, in 1989, in 1990, in 2003, in 2009, in 2016, in 2017, last year, and now. There were droughts and heat waves before but now they come more often and are more extreme.

Hot in Paris

And they can be deadly. Not only do people die from the heat, but from disease, as the water warms and more bacteria lives in it, especially that which causes dysentery. The historian, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie has written much on the history of the climate of France and how it has affected people. It was disease from the limited, warm, filthy water that killed half a million in France in the heat wave of 1636. In 1705, another series of heat waves led to the deaths of 700,000. The drought and heat waves of 1718 and 1719 were so severe that "clouds of Saharan grasshoppers" swarmed central France. Modern water purification has ameliorated the catastrophes somewhat; still, in 1911, 40,000 people died from heat and/or disease and 15,000 in the heat wave of 2003.

Much of his research for the book On the History of the Climate of France from the 14th Century, involved looking not only at recorded temperatures but at parish registers for recorded deaths to determine the effect of climate on mortality rates. His charts are useful for the genealogist who may come across a cluster of deaths in a family, especially the babies, during a short period. Grim reading.

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


The Pandemic Takes Its Toll on French Graves

Toussaint flowers

Another Toussaint has come and gone in France and, as in every year, many thousands of pots of chrysanthemums have been placed by the graves of the departed. In this year of the coronavirus pandemic, there seem to be many more new graves and tombs in the cemeteries. As of this writing, the French government reports that more than 52,000 people in the country have died of Coronavirus. As elsewhere, a large proportion of those who have died were elderly. Where possible and where desired, their bodies have been placed in family tombs or plots of cemeteries across the country.

French cemeteries are quite different from those in North America or Great Britain, as we have explained in detail here and here. The greatest difference is surely the reclamation of the plots of untended graves. This is something that many foreigners find quite shocking but that the French find to be a purely practical matter of public health and hygiene. To repeat our earlier posts, if any grave or family tomb is left untended and should fall into disrepair, a legal procedure is begun to reclaim the space, beginning with a notice of intent being placed on the grave.

Plot reclamation notice

Roughly translated, the notice reads:

With the ravages of time, this grave has deteriorated or seems to have been abandoned. A process to reclaim it has been begun. If you wish to retain it, please go to the town hall for [instructions on] the procedure to follow.

If someone comes forward to pay for the repair and restoration of the grave, it remains; if not, it is reclaimed by the municipality and the bones are placed in an ossuary. Then, the plot is sold anew.

Now, with so very many deaths from coronavirus, the pressure on cemeteries to find more space is intense, and one sees the reclamation notices much more often than before.

Plot reclamation notices

Recently, Family Tree Magazine published a very fine online article by Sunny Jane Morton, entitled "Find a Grave: 7 Strategies for Successful Searching". Her good suggestions are not of much use when applied to French cemeteries. In a country such as France, family and society are more important than the individual and so, family tombs tend to show only the surname and not the names of the many individuals entombed within. Neither Find-a-Grave nor its more complete French counterpart, Geneanet.org, is set up to help in finding out who is buried in a family tomb. Moreover, neither website has any way to note if a grave still exists or has been reclaimed. (Geneanet, pointing out that some 200,000 graves are reclaimed every year, maintains a campaign of mass photographing, "Sauvons nos tombes", but this does not address the issue squarely. What is needed is a campaign to digitize municipal burial and cemetery registers, but this would require contracts and payments instead of volunteers with cameras.)

Sadly, with the pandemic causing this sudden increase in the reclamation of plots and, thus, the disappearance of graves and tombs, for those that have not been recorded on either of these sites, it will be difficult for a researcher to know that they ever existed.

To learn more about French cemeteries, see our booklet, "Death and Cemeteries in France".

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Salon de la généalogie Paris 15e

Salon entrance

We have intended for some time to attend this annual event but the fates colluded with one another and conspired against our innocent plan. Until now, the fifth year that it has taken place, when we have at last succeeded in attending, twice. It was most impressive.

The "Grand salon de la généalogie" takes place in the Town Hall, or Mairie, of the fifteenth arrondissement of Paris, in two rooms on two floors of that imposing building. The rooms were far too small for the crowd that was there on a Thursday afternoon, much more comfortable for the slightly smaller crowd that showed up on Saturday, when we were able to attend with Madame O. It seems obvious that new accommodation will be required sooner rather than later.

There are moments when, in our intrepid reporting for you, Dear Readers, we feel that intense scrutiny may not be the best approach. We then take another approach to studying a situation, of standing aside and observing said situation (or, room, in this case) in its entirety. We found a spot up a few stairs, giving us an excellent view. What we observed at this salon was a presence of the same exhibitors of local genealogy societies or cercles, the same offensively oversized publicity posters of the commercial genealogy companies, the same professional genealogists at their tables as are always present at the Congrès national de généalogie we have described to you so often.

Salon

Yet, here, in this salon, there was more vibrant interest, more keen participation than, sad to say, we have ever seen at the Congrès event. As we continued our observation, it became apparent to us that one individual seemed to be moving everywhere, at times with the speed of a cockroach on amphetamines, speaking to everyone, instructing those at the very long table selling the publications of Archives & Culture (the sponsor of the salon, by the way), adjusting signs, seating, and anything else that was not perfect. We have never met Marie-Odile Mergnac, doyenne of genealogy publishing and author of about half of the books produced by her company, that selfsame Archives & Culture, but there was no mistaking the fact that this dynamo could be no other than she.

Salon Archives et Culture

We were awed as we watched her manipulate and manage the presenters and salespeople, all those with stands, with a quick and quiet efficiency. It would appear that she is also able to do this with consideration and finesse for we looked closely at the faces of those she instructed to see their reactions after she walked away and saw nary a negative one. Can the obvious success of this salon, seemingly so superior to the increasingly sad Congrès national de généalogie, really be down to the impressive skills of one woman? May we dare to add that the salon's success may also have been due to an element of that impetus so despised and reviled by the French: seeking to make a profit? As a large percentage of the exhibitors were also authors of books published by Archives & Culture, this is not an unreasonable supposition.

We decided to speak to some of the people we know who had stands there in order to test our theory. "How do you find this event in comparison with the Congrès?" we asked each. A disdainful "Pfffft!" was the general reply, meaning "No comparison," accompanied by just the slightest hint of that famed, French shrug. We then asked our key question: "Why do you think this event is so much livelier and better attended?" We expected some comment about the organizer or about business versus voluntary activity, which would support our theory, but no. Each gave us the same quizzical look, as if do say "Do you really need to ask?" Then they blurted the obvious for this poor foreigner: "C'est Paris!" ("It's Paris!")

Paris, Dear Readers, depending upon what kind of French person you may be, is either the heart and soul of France, or no part of France at all. In either case, the city seems to be able to add a frisson to all that takes place within her walls.

Paris

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


The French View on "Recreational DNA Testing"

Child

Well, Dear Readers, CNIL is having an "I told you so" moment on the question of what they like to call "recreational DNA testing". They have published a long, explanatory post on their position since the announcement by GlaxoSmithKline that they will now be using the DNA results acquired from people by 23andMe (something WIRED says the latter planned all along, which makes us feel a right punter). Briefly, laws in France prohibit the publication of private information about other people or even about one's self if that then is also private information about others. "Private information" includes medical details (this is important here; recall that, in France, while civil registrations of birth, marriage and death are available to the public after seventy-five years, medical records are not available until they reach one hundred fifty years, as explained here). It is because your inherited health characteristics are also inherited by others and because your DNA test results can lead to the identification of others and their health problems (how this is now the case even if you have not uploaded your test results is neatly explained in the WIRED article) that the French authorities are opposed to this recreational DNA testing.

Yet, they are not Luddites or fools. The CNIL article, written by Régis Chatellier, indicates an unhappy awareness of the huge business beyond its borders in genealogy DNA testing kits. Even facing a fine of over three thousand euros for taking the test, many French have done so by post (we explain how that is done in this post). It goes on to say that maybe, just maybe, France will consider allowing such testing here, but only if the government maintains a tight control. "Organising the market allows us to control it", writes Monsieur Chatellier. This is France as we love her most, in full Xerxes at the Hellespont mode; she would love to whip and will try to tame that sea of Anglo market forces. Bonne chance.

Opposing the restrictions are numerous French genealogists campaigning fiercely to have the bioethics law relaxed so that they can take those DNA tests here legally. The bioethics law is up for review and revision this year. The Fédération Française de Généalogie had organised an important all-day conference on Genealogy and DNA for last December but this was abruptly cancelled by the authorities as part of the clamp down on public assembly in response to the Yellow Vest folks. Certainly unaware that this cancellation would happen when it went to press, the genealogy magazine "La Revue française de généalogie" opened its December 2018-January 2019 issue with a long article on the whole subject, with a prominent advertisement for the conference.

The bioethics law is the real focus. It was first passed in 1994 and has been revised regularly since then. It represents France's effort, in compliance with European law, to grapple with the terrifying collapse of ethical thought and behaviour caused by nitwits misunderstanding and crooks misusing the exponentially increasing multitude of technological advances. Never before in all our sorry history has the disparity between humans as creative geniuses and humans as mere plodding animals been more painfully obvious. This law deals with all sorts of ethical questions in biology:

  • Stem cell research
  • Genome sequencing and predictive medicine
  • Organ donation and transplants
  • Personal health data and privacy
  • Robots and artificial intelligence use in health care
  • Neuroscience and imagery techniques
  • Scientifically assisted procreation
  • Assisted death

Given the gravity of some of the issues, it may be possible to imagine that our longing to know more about our ancestry may not always come first on the lawmakers' list. Given France's history of "protecting the family" by silencing all those born outside of it, we suspect that there still may be a very large number of people who do not want to open the Pandora's Box of DNA surprises, people who view all those American television presentations (dubbed, of course) of mystery parents found with gagging horror.

Let us see what happens.

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

 

 


Just Who Benefits In This?

Langue au chat

 You may recall, Dear Readers, that the Fond Coutot, being the largest private archives in France, were the creation of a professional genealogist, Amédée Coutot. He opened up business a bit over twenty years after the fires set by the Paris Commune destroyed the parish and civil registrations of the city. A lack of any birth, death or marriage records would have made his task of finding a family's heirs most trying. Using all that he could find among the records that survived and from many other sources, he and his son after him eventually built an archive of over ten million life events. These are available to the public, for a fee, online at GeneaService.

No expense was spent at all to make this a decent website and, surely, no cost, however great, or however small, was deemed necessary to convert an antiquated index card system into a database with a clear structure and a rational search facility. But for those who have a penchant for neon lime green, no thought of design or presentation was considered necessary. Nevertheless, the data is there and you can access it, eventually.

Now, Geneaservice offers a new option to its weary and exhausted users: that of uploading their family tree on their "Ma Famille" page. Here, you are encouraged to enter details from your family tree, up to your relations of the sixth degree. The enticement is that you may be discovered as an heir to a fortune. How can that be? Because the data you enter will also be available to professional probate genealogists to view in their search for heirs to estates.

We find this to be somewhat abusive, as well as a rather feeble effort at data mining. In our last post, we pointed out that French probate genealogists are heir hunters who demand a cut of the inheritance before they will put an heir in contact with the notaire in charge of the estate. We also pointed out that many such businesses are struggling to make ends meet. What better way to reduce research costs and increase the pool of patsies than to get family historians to provide their research at no cost? And there is the chance to doubly hit the dupes by charging them a percentage of a possible inheritance based on their own research.

We are a strong supporter of the superb volunteer community of French genealogists and we encourage our readers to be aware of the enormous amount of free websites and information available thanks to these thousands of volunteers' work, and we encourage you all to repay their efforts by sharing your genealogy work in return and by joining their societies or cercles. This GeneaService caper, however, is something to avoid; as the French say, ce n'est pas correct, ce n'est pas bon.

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Exciting News About Parisian Genealogy

La Parisienne-Collage

Very exciting news has been announced by the City Council of Paris yesterday. After deliberating the proposal, the mayor has signed the approval of a project for FamilySearch to digitise the very weary microfilm of the "reconstituted" parish and civil registrations of pre-1860 Paris. 

As dedicated readers of this blog will know, the Paris archives, along with quite a lot more, were torched by the Paris Communards in 1871. (Read that story here.) Something between five and eight million records, dating as far back as the 16th century, were destroyed. If your ancestors were from Paris and lived there any time from 1515-1860, their records – in some 5,000 bound registers - were destroyed.

Immediately after the fire, a group of researchers was formed and given the job of finding ways to recreate the information. They worked for 25 years. Copying parish and religious records, they managed to make a nearly complete reconstruction of the information for the years from 1802 to 1860. Working backward, it became much more difficult to find alternatives to copy. Roughly, 2.7 million registrations, or actes, were copied, in this breakdown:
 
  • 1802-1860 2.4 million actes
  • 1700-1801 2.4 million actes
  • 1600-1699 5000 actes
  • 1550-1599 5 actes
In the middle of war, 1941, the Paris archives began another reconstitution effort to find all available information on all Paris citizens since the Middle Ages not all ready found by the first reconstitution. This brought 200,000 mentions of people, mostly from lawsuits and other judicial records. As people who went to court tended to be those with money, these records preserve the identities of the wealthy and noble more than of everyday folk.
 
For a while now, it has been possible to search online the index cards to these reconstituted registers on the website of the Paris Archives, as in this example:
 
Sample reconstituted acte index card
However, it is not possible to see the actual document without going to the Paris Archives and looking at the microfilm. These microfilm rolls, we assure you, are getting exceedingly tattered and the images murky, as you can see:
 
Sample reconstituted acte
 
So, this news is exciting in that the images on the microfilm will be preserved for longer via digitising and they will be accessible online on both the FamilySearch website and the website of the Paris Archives. A boon for those researching Parisian ancestors. (Now, this must be something of a black eye for Filae, who are very keen to expand their offerings, and for Geneanet, who host the images of hundreds of Parisian court records. We suspect that the former will work out an indexing deal with the Paris Archives.) Sadly, we have no idea when this will take place but it is terrific news!
 
©2017 Anne Morddel
French Genealogy

French Archives and Reuniting Families Torn Apart

Despair

Refugees from war, oppression, persecution and cruelty can wander this world for an increasingly long time before they can find kindness, acceptance and help from those who, through a twist of fate, have been more fortunate. An added cruelty to the blighted lives of refugees can be the wrenching apart of families, of parents separated from children, of husbands from wives, siblings from one another, by fenced borders, arbitrary rulings, violent invasions, resettlement policies. As if they were clinging to different bits of wreckage in the open sea, they are pulled further and further apart. 

The International Committee of the Red Cross and the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have for some time been running a programme to help such families, called Restoring Family Links (Rétablissement des Liens familiaux), using the acronym RFL. They use a variety of documents, photographs and records in their effort to help refugees and migrants reconnect with or at least know what happened to their lost relatives.

At the end of last year, the French government relented a bit in its fierce protection of individuals' privacy (which has, as we have written before, imposed a closure of birth, marriage and death records for a significant period of time to protect the privacy of all persons mentioned in them) and passed a law allowing the nation's archives to grant RFL access to the closed archives for the purpose of reuniting families. This is explained in full on the LinkedIn page of Marie Ranquet, the curator of the Archives de France. A laudable bit of humanitarianism, we find.

We are contacted fairly regularly by people seeking to find missing family members. They tend not to be the refugees or migrants of today's disasters, but older people whose families were divided by earlier events and migrations. Where their searches have required access to more recent French records, we have been unable to help. This new legislation could provide some hope and possibly some success to those of you who have presented us with such quests. 

The RFL will help anyone whose family was separated by migrations and wars  -- including World War Two -- or crises or attendant bureaucratic cruelties. Try the RFL search, which is very simple and easy to use, and is in English, French and other languages, to begin the process. We wish you the best of luck.

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


French Florida In the News

Floridian treasure
 

 

Last year, we wrote a small post about the maps of French Florida. The French settlements were such a small blip in the wide-screen extravaganza that is French history that they get little attention. The subject may be dear to the hearts of the rare Francophone Floridian, but to the rest of the world is unknown. News of treasure may change all of that, for a moment, at least. Cannon, a whole monument, and who knows what more have been discovered at the bottom of the sea in a shipwreck.  Is it La Trinité? Read about it on the Archaeology News Network here.


Paris - 13 November 2015

French flag

We wish to thank all of you Dear Readers, who wrote to ask as to our safety after the dreadful attacks in Paris last week. We and our family are all well, as are our friends, but not their friends, some of whom are among the wounded. Like everyone else, we send our sympathies to the families of those who were killed.

Glibness comes easily for us, but we can find no words to express what we think and feel about this aggression and tragedy. We give here the words of our son, which come very close to what we feel.

Today I am French.

Although I did not learn the language until I was ten years old, my father was born in Normandy in 1943, two years and a stone’s throw from D-Day. Although I still speak it with the accent of an outsider, it is how I speak to half my family. To me it is, always has been, and always will be a language of love.

Today I am Parisian.

Although Paris is but one entry in the long list of cities in which I spent my childhood, it was in Paris that I witnessed 9/11. It was Parisians who, upon hearing my American English, approached me to tell me how deeply sorry they were for the suffering my country had endured. It was Parisians who stood in solidarity by my side when I, and the world, witnessed the dawning of the modern age of terrorism.

Today I am a witness.

Although I am a child of France and Paris, last night I watched from afar. I saw horror, and then I saw love. I saw liberty, equality, and brotherhood overtake fear within minutes. I saw a city still under attack literally throw open its doors to strangers, refusing even for a moment to cower in fear. I watched‪#‎PorteOuverte‬, and my heart sang in the midst of tragedy.

Today I am human.

Although I am angry, although the rage that shakes me so that I can barely type feels like a force of nature, I will not direct that anger at innocents. The refugees who seek sanctuary in Europe are fleeing exactly this violence in their own countries. They are the victims, not the perpetrators, of these attacks. They are us, and we are them, and we must protect that knowledge in the face of our own anger.

Although the personal connection I have to Paris gives these events an immediate resonance, they are one example of myriad tragedies in the world today. Whatever action they galvanise must be on behalf of all humanity. There is no ‪#‎PeaceforParis‬ without ‪#‎PeaceforAll‬

Today I am human, because we all are.
Today I am a witness, because we all are.
Today I am Parisian, because we all are.
Today I am French, because we all are.

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.

Toujours.

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