Current Affairs

Coming This Weekend - La Semaine Virtuelle de la Généalogie

Socially distanced

Not long ago, Dear Readers, in these ethereal and electronic pages, we wondered if there might not be more virtual conferences on the subject of French genealogy. Little did we know that plans were already afoot and the announcement soon made that the Fédération française de généalogie (FFG) would be presenting online an entire week of French genealogy talks and a virtual exposition hall with stands and avatars, no less, in La Semaine virtuelle de la généalogie. The announcement that went out only about two months before the event was the call for exhibitors and speakers, which was, to our mind, perhaps cutting it a bit close. At that point, there was no discussion of how, when or where attendees might register. For these reasons, we decided not to add the announcement here on The FGB  until 1) there was a way to register and 2) the talks, lectures and presentations calendar appeared. Both appeared on the website two days ago so we are, at last, pleased to share the news of this online conference with you.

When: 26th of September to the 3rd of October

Where: online, on a newly launched website, Maison de la généalogie: www.france-genealogie.org

How to register: Complete the form, currently the only page on the website above; you will receive a confirmation e-mail

What Talks on Which Subjects: The full calendar is here. The opening speech will be by the President, Madame Valérie Arnold-Gautier (and, just to give a sense of how differently the French do these things,  you can hear her warble her invitation to the conference on the FFG's facebook page, which also happens to be the best place to get updates about the event.) A couple of the talks have been presented elsewhere. A large number of talks seem to be more historical rather than genealogical. The one talk in English is by the feted Napoleon expert, Alexander Mikaberidze. Two or three talks are in Spanish and an equal number in German. Many talks are on subjects not covered before and by speakers not included before.

This looks to be quite an energetic improvement on past conferences (and we dearly hope that microphones will be of a better quality than in the past). Keeping socially distant and looking outward (as do the ladies above), see you (virtually) there.

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Will There Be More Virtual French Genealogy Conferences?

Balances

As it is for everyone on our poor, suffering planet, this time of pandemic is a struggle for French genealogists. Though the extreme lockdown, confinement, has been lightened and we can go out and about, there are many rules still. We must wear masks in public; we must maintain our distance; quite a few shops and restaurants remain shut (sadly, in some cases, forever). We all have a sense that we are living Une Grande Pause (and we do not mean a long coffee break) waiting, dreading, the Second Wave of coronavirus. After that is anyone's guess.

The French genealogy community here is justifiably proud of the success of the recent Salon Virtuel de Généalogie. Organized by  the team from GeneAgenda (who had an unusually dynamic response on, we presume, seeing all of their listings disappear when the lockdown began) aided by genealogists Isabel Canry and Philippe Christol, the online event was  very well attended, it seems. Alain Rouault now asks, on GeneAgenda's blog, if this may not be the future. Will the huge, expensive conferences and the small, regional meetings disappear and be replaced by their online versions? 

He raises some interesting points, some of them uniquely French. On the whole, he says that virtual conferences will never fully replace conferences presented in real time and real space because, basically, tough they may be efficient, they are not sociable. Virtual conferences lack "social interaction, conviviality, exchanges, sharing, ambiance, the joy of discovery...". There is an implication that this socializing around a shared interest in genealogy, along with a certain level of exclusivity, even clubbiness, on the part of regional genealogy associations, is their primary interest. Their regional conferences "are essentially based on local participation, with the vendors being just visitors and [thus they] really are not interested in virtualizing their events to gain national exposure."

So, regional genealogy groups are quite parochial, yet they complain of dwindling memberships, which could be an indication that not all members shared the view that an interest in tracing one's family history was valid only if tied to and limited to an interest in local traditions and history. One can see the danger inherent in this view, of those families with the longest presence in a place being seen as somehow superior to those with a shorter presence and of such petty snobberies perhaps polluting the conviviality of the genealogy conferences, at least for some.

We are a species of contrasts; in this case, humanity's incessant migrations confront our unadmirable xenophobic or neophobic tendencies. If the explosion in the popularity of amateur genealogy brought about by the Internet has taught us anything, it has taught us that we all are descended from a migrant or two and we all come from families that have been on this planet for a significant period of time. (Should any of you, Dear Readers know of a recent arrival, please do introduce us!) It is this increasing open-mindedness amongst people researching their families that is at odds with the antiquated motive for researching one's ancestors as a way of pandering to grandiose delusions, whether to see one's self as of a French village's oldest family or as of a Mayflower passenger's descendant.

Even when lockdowns will be a thing of the past it is likely that virtual genealogy conferences are here to stay. Rouault suggests that the smaller, local conferences could find a balance between old and new and at least film their talks and put those online, which we think would be a very good idea and helpful to all. Many of those talks are gems, representing years of in-depth research, but it seems that the genealogy associations themselves do not realize their value. They seem to believe that the only thing they have to market is their extracts of parish and civil registrations; they do not seem to recognize the value of their members' expertise or how many people around the world would be interested in their talks and presentations.

In the way that Filae has milked these associations for those extracts, perhaps GeneAgenda, as well as continuing its calendar of events activity, could expand to create a platform for those very talks and that expertise? Why not use the website format of Legacy webinars, including the library and the small subscription fee, to create a place where the many conference talks and local genealogy association presentations all can be brought together? This would be, to our mind, a vast improvement on the miserable smattering of YouTube channels that prevails at the moment. It would be an interesting development on the national level. Were they to add subtitles to talks, that would have international interest.

Monsieur Rouault and the GeneAgenda team, please take note.

 

WE HAVE RECEIVED BY E-MAIL A CAUTIONARY COMMENT ABOUT THE SALON :

"I do hope there are more of these events in the future. However, IMO, they would have to work hard to improve the technical aspects of such an event. I got up at 3 am and was able to get into some of the lectures. But a lot of the lectures simply would not come up. Others (notably the one on notaries, and one other one) had a notice “filled to capacity” when I tried to get in. That, after it was advertised as “limitless" capacity. That was hugely disappointing. Also the audio quality of many of the speakers was below par.

Anyway, I was glad to see it offered, and for free. Unless I knew they had made HUGE advances technologically, I would not pay to attend. But if offered for free, I’d definitely attend again. And if they could figure out how to clean it up, I’d pay."

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Guest Post - a Grand Genealogy Fair in the South of France

Mauguio 1

We could not get to the south of France for this wonderful genealogy event, much as we longed to be there, so we are very pleased and grateful to be able to give you a full and complete report on it from Marie-Luce Lauer.

 

 

Mauguio - 23-24. March 2019

Spring seems to be a good season for genealogy events. This weekend the Journées Généalogiques et Historiques de Mauguio took place for the 18th time in the Espace Morastel : not an official building but something very typical of the southern wine-producing Languedoc, the old, converted winegrower’s cooperative. Initiated in 2002 by 2 members of the substantial Cercle Généalogique de Languedoc (CGL - created in 1978 and now with about 1000 members) and a passionate Cultural Attaché of the municipality, this fair cannot be missed by the genealogists and local historians.

 

Mauguio 2

Friday is children's day: the local schools organize with the CGL a reflexion about family and roots and the results can be seen in the very creative family trees on display during the Salon.

 

Mauguio 3


Saturday 9 AM, the exhibitors are almost ready: of course all the southern associations have answered the call, coffee and some cakes are kindly waiting for them at the refreshment bar and local radios or TV channels start interviewing the organizers.

Mauguio 4

Outside, no sign of the crowd as you could see in Paris one week ago… OK, the weather was suddenly summery (20°C at 9 AM) and people hesitated between a day on the beach (6 kilometers from the exhibition) and a picnic in the fragrant pine forests. But on Sunday afternoon a lot of them realized that they no longer had time left and hurried to Mauguio,

Inside, the Cercle Généalogique de Languedoc occupy an important space, divided between their local sections of Montpellier, Haute Garonne, Gard and Paris, their databank, their thematic space and their local history research section.

More than 40 other exhibitors are present. Most of them stand for a well-defined region, and most of them are old acquaintances, sometimes also even old friends, meeting in all genealogical exhibitions and with friendly cooperation in their common passion, genealogy… Really? Yes, would you like an example? Last year, the Cercle Généalogique du Pays Cannois came to us Généalogie Algérie Maroc Tunisie, and explained that it would be possible to select in their data bank all people who were related to those in our data bank and asked if we would be interested; as we left, we had got three files kindly offered by them.

 

Mauguio 5

It could be the touchstone for the difference between two Salons that are so close in the calendar and so dissimilar in their nature: the commercial aspect here is not so significant. As a proof, the great flagships of the French genealogy world are not to be found here. Of course Archives et Culture are present, with all their new publications: where else could you have the possibility to verify if a new book will help you in your research and to decide to buy it or not? But you can walk along all of the aisles, and you cannot find the commercial genealogy companies of FILAE, Geneanet or even Heredis, the “local hero”;  they are notable by their absence.

This familiar aspect can also be noticed in the apéritif dinatoire that takes place on Saturday evening: the exhibitors don’t escape; they all stay for this convivial moment (admittedly, it’s easier here than in the capital city). After the welcome speeches of the CGL, the Mayor and the cultural attaché reaffirmed their support of the Salon. In this nice atmosphere we all shared the specialities brought by all the members.

Mauguio 6

Another important point to pick up. The Archives Départementales de l’Hérault take a very active part in this Salon. Some five people from the archives attended the Salon the whole weekend, including their Director. If you ask her about their motivation for coming to the Salon for what is now the eighth time, she says "There’s no better occasion for us to meet and know our “clients”". Of the four talks, two were given by the Archives Départementales. One related to their current work, their projects or improvements, and the other one to a specifically genealogical theme: this year “How to find the history of a house through time”.

It’s not impossible that the people at the Salon de la Généalogie Paris 15° who answered you “It’s Paris” would comment about Mauguio that “It’s the provinces” with a slightly disdainful tone, but do they forget that almost all the Parisians were, not so long ago, provincials themselves?

 

Photo credits : * Michel Manilève - Cercle Généalogique de Languedoc

Guest post author: ◊ Marie-Luce Lauer - Généalogie Algérie Maroc Tunisie

 


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


Bye-Bye Bigenet

No more BIgenet

Sad to report, Dear Readers, that the drab but very useful website, Bigenet, is no more. Recall that this was a website with indexing to some seventy million parish and civil registrations done by enthusiastic volunteers of nearly sixty genealogy groups across France. In November, its death throes amidst squabbles were reported by Guillaume de Morant in a way that annoyed the president of the Fédération Française de Généalogie,  who denied any squabble, implying that their meetings over what to do to save Bigenet were civil discussions. In short, the site made no money and the FFG decided not to put money into it, and that is that.

The economic struggles of genealogy associations in the face of the rapid expansion of the commercial genealogy companies, such as Filae and Geneanet were described here a couple of years ago. It is one of the many ways that the Internet is changing the economy, it seems. One can only hope that the various genealogy associations that were selling access to their work can do a good deal with Filae or Geneanet, or even Ancestry, so that they will receive enough money for their associations to survive. The real loss would be if they were to disappear.

©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

 

 

 


Obstructing Access to French Archives - an Old Problem

OFPRA

Oh, Dear Readers, we have been experiencing a series of unsuccessful moments of late. Recently, we were told that our suggestions and aids to you in your French genealogical research are "too professional for the ordinary family genealogist". Dear Readers, we take that as an insult to you and to anyone who is striving to provide the best possible history of his or her family.

We are as aware as anyone of how the initial thrill at the volume and ease of genealogical discoveries on the Internet can make us balk at anything that requires more work, and call it a "brick wall". Yet, if we build our family history on only the easy discoveries, we risk producing something so scant as to be minimalist. We are reminded, by way of comparison, of our hoydenish mother, who studied piano all her life.

She was enamoured of the difficult études and mazurkas of Chopin but was not really willing to do the work to master them. Instead, she used her considerable charm to convince her teacher to rewrite the pieces, leaving out all of the "hard notes". She then blissfully played these denuded ditties, indifferent to the fact that they sounded more like nursery rhymes than Chopin. Surely, Dear Readers, you do not wish your genealogical research to be the minimum, composed only of what was quick and easy to find? Surely, though some of the skills and procedures we explain in this blog are a struggle, some of you have found the results to have been worth it?

At the same time, we do try to help here with clear and concise explanations of how to use various French websites and archives. We make a point of testing every website before we write of it here. It was in an effort to try out a newly announced website that we ran into another unsuccessful moment. 

There have been a number of genealogy bloggers in France who have passed on the publicity concerning new access to government archives concerning refugees and stateless persons, Office français de protection des réfugiés et apatrides (OFPRA). This was and is an important part of the government for it is this office that decides who receives asylum and who is to be granted refugee status. In its early days, it was particularly involved with refugees from the Russian Revolution who found their way to France. 

Their archives are open to the public after a certain waiting period. For files concerning individuals, that wait is fifty years after the date of the last document entered into the file. The recent exciting announcement stated that the files concerning people who had been granted Nansen passports can now be seen online. With a modicum of fanfare, OFPRA's website encourages "Internet users, descendants of refugees, genealogists and historians" to apply to use the site and to participate in indexing the documents.

We applied. Receiving no response, we applied again. A few days later, we received an old-fashioned, possessive archivist's haughty rejection. Our "interest", we read, was inadequate. Our two applications were perceived as a devious effort to get round the barrier, though we had not suspected its existence, but a barrier does indeed exist. We reread the invitation to the public to apply. Can one find a broader term than "Internet user"?

We have the impression that the invitation and publicity were written by someone younger or perhaps by the senior managers of OFPRA and that the archivist, possibly someone much older, did not approve of the move and is doing all that he or she can to obfuscate it. Oh, how many times we have seen this innate desire to thwart! 

We urge any and all of you, Dear Readers, if you have an ancestor who had a Nansen Passport and was in France, not to take the lazy route but to apply to OFPRA for files concerning that ancestor. It clearly will not be easy but do not give up. When you succeed, please do write and tell us about it.

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

ADDITIONAL: A nice summary of articles from RetroNews on the creation of the Nansen Passports


French Inheritance Law in the News

Testament

Just in case our Dear Readers never, ever, for a second read any French news and do not know that the country's most beloved pop star and Elvis imitator died last year, he did. Johnny Hallyday was in his seventies and worth something over one hundred million euros. The press coverage about the dispute over his will and estate is worth following the better to understand (in an easy to read and entertaining way) how French inheritance law works and why your French ancestors followed certain legal procedures.

In particular, many of you have reported a letter to your ancestor from a French notaire concerning an inheritance. We have successfully researched notarial records and found letters from heirs who had emigrated to North America, thus determining the relationship between family members on either side of the Atlantic.

French wills and the sales of inherited property often have family genealogies written into them, with documentary proof on file. Why this is so is primarily because French law requires that all of the deceased's children and, perhaps, other heirs receive equal shares of the estate. No child can be disinherited. No child may receive a disproportionate share. This often baffles the non-French, many of whom come from cultures in which every person with money may do as he or she wishes, even after death (and they use the threat of disinheritance as a long-term tool of abuse and manipulation in life). Conversely, the French are just as ignorant of American or British inheritance law and are so baffled by the idea of trusts that these are defined in French news articles about the case.

 

Johnny Hallyday

Johnny Hallyday had, as is wont with such types, many relationships and liaisons producing a few children, two of whom he seemed no longer to appreciate. At the time of his death, he had homes in France and California, as well as elsewhere. In his will, he said he was a resident of California, lived there, and sent his two younger children to school there. In this Californian will, he left his entire estate to his wife and two younger children, with his wife as executor; the two elder children were left nothing. The management of the estate was put into a trust. It is a perfectly legal will in California but would be completely illegal in France. Not surprisingly, the elder children are contesting it in court. 

Because the estate is so large, the case is in the news quite a lot and will be so until there shall be a final ruling. We strongly urge you to read the articles about it in English and, if you can, in French as well, for it is an excellent and topical education on the subject.

 

©2018 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


Is French Probate Genealogy on the Skids*?

Death in France

The eminent genealogy professor, Stéphane Cosson, has written an interesting blog post about the difficulties currently being experienced by French probate genealogists. He informs us that quite a few of them are going broke and his purpose in writing is to suggest a different business model.

Companies and individuals engaging in probate genealogy, (la généalogie successorale,) have, Monsieur Cosson explains, two basic types of projects:

  1. Documenting all heirs to an estate, with appropriate birth, marriage and death registrations, as well as any other relevant documents . These projects are carried out at the request of a notaire who is handling the estate. The fees are set and are rather low. If an heir be missed out by the genealogist, his or her insurance covers the payout due to that heir. This type of project consumes about 60% of a probate genealogist's work, but brings in much less than half the income, often not even covering costs.
  2. Hunting unknown heirs to an estate, which involves finding people related to the deceased but whom no one in the family knows exists. These are the big money projects as, before the genealogist will reveal to the heir the way to collect the inheritance, he or she requires that a contractual agreement be signed, giving over a hefty percentage of the inheritance. 

We have never quite been able to work out the legality of the second type of project for, if by law an heir has a right to an inheritance, surely then anyone who knows of it has an obligation to inform him or her of that inheritance. Placing an obstacle such as a contract that must be signed in the way of that obligation to inform seems to us to be the private medicine approach to the process, or comparable to refusing to tell a person who has the right to vote where he or she may do so until a contract be signed and a fee agreed. Nevertheless, that is how things are here but now, after some two hundred years, it is no longer working so well.

We would like to propose two additional causes of the probate genealogists' troubles to add to Monsieur Cosson's list.

  1. The increasing popularity of family research as a hobby in France means that people now are much more aware of who their relatives are and of any relationship to a person who might leave a tidy sum. Though battles have been fought between knowledgeable heirs and the larger probate genealogy research companies, it seems pretty clear that family historians will probably inform one another of legal procedures to follow to ensure that they will not have to sign contracts and pay fees.
  2. With the increasing influence of North American genealogy practices and styles (note the increased presence of French genealogists at RootsTech and the increasing number of liaisons between FamilySearch and French archives) views of this somewhat parasitic form of genealogy may be changing in France. If one reads the Standards of Practice and Conduct on the website of the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy, the first two points specifically prohibit the most lucrative and desirable type of research project of French probate genealogists:
    1. "Not take a forensic genealogy case on a speculative, contingent, percentage, or outcome-based fee agreement as many jurisdictions have found this constitutes a conflict of interest; 
    2. Not recruit beneficiaries or heirs for my own business, for other firms, or for attorneys..."

Because of the legal requirements concerning the distribution of an estate in France, notaires will always need probate genealogists to document fully all heirs to an estate, as in the first type of project described above. However, the second type of project may be, we posit, on its way out. Some genealogists would have to adapt to avoid suffering, but all heirs would be much better off.

 

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

*For our French readers, translation websites interpret this phrase to mean "sur les patins" ("on skates"); non! non! non! non! "On the skids" translates most closely to "être sur le déclin" or "battre de l'aile".