Departmental Archives

The Finistère Convicts Register - Was Your Ancestor an Escaped Convict or Prisoner of War in Napoleonic France?

Finistère Forçats 1800-1815

Earlier this year, we went on a marvelous archives junket to Bretagne. One of the most important things on our list was to examine much more carefully and thoroughly this superb register of recaptured escapees of all sorts during the Napoleonic era.

To describe it properly, this register is an Alphabetical List of recaptured French and foreign prisoners who had been released or who had escaped and who subsequently were held in various prisons in the department of Finistère (Forçats français, étrangers : liste alphabetique des détenus, libérés, ou évadés de differentes prisons, Code 1Y88 in the Brest Annex of the Departmental Archives of Finistère) On the cover is written that it spans the years 1800 to 1815 but it seems to be more from the middle years of that period. It has about two hundred pages, with roughly twenty-five to thirty-five names per page. That makes for something between five and seven thousand names of convicts and escapees.

The presentation within is tidy enough. One finds the prisoner's surname and first names, their status and the prisons from which they escaped. There are many types of status or descriptions, but the most common are:

  • forçat libéré - released convict
  • forçat évadé - escaped convict
  • condamné et évadé - convicted and escaped
  • prisonnier de guerre évadé - escaped prisoner of war

Here is a sample page:

Forçats 1800-1815 - Letter B

As you can see, the columns to the left of the names refer to lists and dossiers that should have provided more detail. Frustratingly, these would seem to have been lost.

Nevertheless, there is some interesting information to be found in this register. On just this one page, we find that:

  • There seems to have been a mass break-out at Rham, in Luxembourg, with  many men recaptured.
  • François Bureau escaped from prison at Brest
  • Claude Breugnot was held on suspicion of the kidnapping of Charlotte Seure
  • Ralph Billings was a prisoner of war escaped from the depot at Verdun, as were William Brown and Thomas Benninck

The book is filled with convicts who came to the west of France from all over the territory of the French Empire. It sometimes gives a small detail of their conviction, such as that a man was condemned to years in irons or that he had escaped during the march to a prison. Most of the entries, of course, are  escaped criminals and those suspected of every type of crime, including murder, rape, fraud, theft. Quite a few managed their escapes from hospitals. The escaped prisoners of war were of all nationalities: Spanish and English especially, but also Italian, Polish and Austrian. Many in the list were conscripts and deserters from Napoleon's army. There are a small number of women and a few runaway children. They had made their way to the coast, hoping to find a boat to make their escape from France. Each of them, somehow, in some way, was nabbed.

This register is a wonderful view on a particular part of French society at a very particular time in French history. Combined with other archival resources, it could help to enhance your research on an ancestor. As just a couple of examples:

  • For those of you with a convict ancestor who escaped from the Bagne de Brest, you could compare his entries in the two registers. (The registers of the other port forced labour prisons of Rochefort, Toulon, Lorient and Cherbourg, from which there were many escapes,  are not online and would have to be examined in the archives.)
  • For those of you with an ancestor whose military records show that he deserted, you might find evidence of his capture here.

***

The escaped prisoners of war form an interesting group. We are not informed as to the accounts and archives concerning the prisoners of war of Spanish, Italian, Polish, Austrian or other nationalities, but we do know a bit about some of the British prisoners of war in Napoleonic France. We have discussed the civilian British prisoners here and, briefly, the prisoners of war here. They are listed in Admiralty records digitized on FindMyPast. Additionally, those who were still being held in 1812 can be found listed in the "Report from the Committee for the Relief of the British Prisoners in France; with a list of the prisoners". After the wars, a number of British ex-prisoners published accounts of their experiences, including their "escapes".

We counted in this register just under 880 names of escaped British prisoners of war who were recaptured and held in Finistère, amongst them:

  • Beaumont Dixie, escaped from Verdun
  • Edward Boys, escaped from Valenciennes
  • Joshua Done, escaped from Verdun
  • Phillip Levesconte, escaped from Verdun
  • Hugh Falconer Macfarland, escaped from Verdun
  • Two Thomas Mains, father and son, escaped from Valenciennes
  • Edward Montagu, escaped from Verdun
  • John Moore, escaped from Bitche
  • Denis OBrien, escaped from Bitche
  • Sidney Smith, escaped from Verdun
  • Charles Sturt, escaped from Meaux

In the accounts written by some of the above, there is no mention of recapture, which does call into question the rest of what they wrote. On the other hand, some of the above most certainly did escape France, most notably Charles Sturt, which could indicate that at least one prison guard was not above accepting a bribe, or that, after being returned to prison, they had to escape all over again. Indeed, a few of them did just that.

Recall our recent post about a trove of letters from British prisoners of war held at the harsher prisons of Bitche and Sarrelibre. Men usually were sent there from other prisons if they were troublesome or if they had attempted to escape. Comparing those letters with this register, we can see from the recaptures the probable reason for a man's having been sent to a "punishment prison".

  • David Absalon appears in the Finistère Convicts register as having escaped from Verdun; a letter from him appears in the Bitche-Sarrelibre cache
  • Thomas Nazeby, appears in the Finistère Convicts register as having escaped from Arras;; he had three letters in the Bitche-Sarrelibre cache
  • James Ord appears in the Finistère Convicts register as having escaped from Auxonne; a letter from him appears in the Bitche-Sarrelibre cache
  • William Tullidge or Tullage appears in the Finistère Convicts register as having escaped from Cambrai; one letter from him appears in the Bitche-Sarrelibre cache

This lone register is, we believe, a treasure of a find and we hope that it may be digitized soon, along with the registers of the other port bagnes, please.

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


French Jewish Genealogy - Ancien régime Geography Is Important

Hexagon of modern France

When researching Jewish genealogy before the French Revolution, the reach back into the past is long, well into the Medieval era. Borders were different then and France looked quite different, not at all like the "Hexagon" (above) of today. Prior to the final expulsion of 1394, Jewish people were permitted to live only in specific places. These might have been certain towns, within which they may have been limited to just a few streets for residence and work. They endured long years of persecution and previous expulsions, but lived throughout France. It is important to note that, in 1394, the country looked more like this:

France in 1328

 

Quite a bit less than modern France:

France-map-1328

This makes the map below, claiming to show French Jewish communities at the time of the expulsion, quite misleading, as a significant few of those supposedly French Jewish communities were not within the France of that day.

French Jewish before expulsion of 1394

 

The expulsion, in all its horror, was successful, in that no known Jewish families remained in what was then France. However, their communities just outside of France did survive, as can be seen in this map.

France-silhouette-map-1328

If you are working with only a modern map of France, you will have the impression that the three main areas of Jewish communities:

  • The Southwest
  • Alsace-Lorraine
  • The Papal States and Provence

survived the expulsion within France. That would be wrong, because they were not within France at the time of the expulsion and so, if this is not putting too fine a point on it, were Jewish, of course, but not French. The areas in black in the map just above were controlled by other powers:

  • By the English in the far northwest and the southwest region of Aquitaine
  • A tiny bit in the south belonged to the Kingdom of Navarre
  • The Holy Roman Empire held the northeast
  • Free Burgundy, Savoy and the Papal States owned all the rest of what is now eastern France

Paris, as ever, was a special case. Though no Jewish people were supposed to be living there, most likely they were. Robert Anchell, in his fascinating article on "The Early History of the Jewish Quarters in Paris", maintains that it is unlikely that Jewish people were ever, at any time since the Medieval Era, absent from Paris. He points out that they certainly must have been very discrete, for there is almost no documentation of Jewish people in Paris for nearly 300 years after the expulsion.

For research purposes, in each of the three main regions of Jewish communities there were different laws, rules, languages, customs and attitudes, making for different search methodologies today. Firstly, the language differences:

  • The Southwest received many refugees from the expulsion of Jewish people from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1497, so many of the surviving documents of the region are in Spanish
  • Alsace was part of the Holy Roman Empire for eight hundred years, while Lorraine was an independent duchy that was then governed by Stanislas of Poland. In both regions, the documentation is as much in German and Latin as in French.
  • The Papal States or Comtat Venaissin, did not become a part of France until 1791, but Provence was annexed in 1481. The documentation can be in French or Latin

In all locations Jewish documents may also be in Hebrew.

For each of these regions, some of the best research may be done at the relevant Departmental and Municipal Archives. Some of these have been uploading onto their websites some very interesting Jewish materials. These are the departmental and municipal archives relevant to the specific regions:

  • Southwest:
    • Departmental Archives: Landes, Gironde, Pyrénées Atlantiques
    • Municipal Archives: Bayonne, Bordeaux
  • Lorraine:
    • Departmental Archives: Moselle, Meurthe-et-Moselle, Meuse, Vosges
    • Municipal Archives: Metz, Nancy
  • Alsace:
    • Departmental Archives: Bas-Rhin, Haut-Rhin
    • Municipal Archives: Strasbourg, Mulhouse, Colmar
  • Papal States / Comtat Venaissin:
    • Departmental Archives: Vaucluse
    • Municipal Archives: Nîmes

Do visit those websites and start exploring!

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


ChallengeAZ 2021 - The letters X, Y and Z

Escrime - Challenge!

Well, Dear Readers, we reach the end of this marathon with nothing but respect for the bloggers who participated and produced such consistently interesting writing on their French genealogical work. Below are our selections from the final posts.

Bravo!

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


ChallengeAZ 2021 - The letter K

Escrime - Challenge!

Really, for the letter K one would have expected many posts illuminating Breton names. Instead, we have a rash of posts on the very French képi, quite a few on kilometer or kilogram, many on words that actually begin with the letter C but that are misspelt for the sake of the Challenge (this does seem like cheating to us). A couple of bloggers were honest and confessed to not being able to think of anything for the letter. 

  • Traces et petits cailloux cleverly looked at the dozens of native language words in Acadia that begin with the letter.
  • Not even GeneaBreizh wrote about Breton names but did give an excellent explanation of the archival Series K and its use for genealogical research.
  • Généalogie Alsace came up with a fine lesson on words for child, kind in German, enfant in French, that can be found in Alsatian parish registers, enabling researchers to have a better understanding of the entries.
  • The blog of the Archives nationales d'outre-mer, (ANOM) has been writing throughout the ChallengeAZ on individuals who lived in what were the French colonies. These little vignettes do not help much with research, but at the end of each the sources in the archives are listed, which could prove inspirational for some of you, Dear Readers. For the letter K, they write on the women of Kha Lao.

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


French Genealogy Season in Full Swing!

Archives Reading Room

Autumn seems to be Genealogy Season in France these days, especially since COVID lockdowns tossed all in-situ conferences, such as the Congrès national de généalogie,  onto the Internet for a virtual incarnation. We have been labouring mightily to keep abreast of the many fine presentations.

At the beginning of October, things kicked off with the second Semaine Virtuelle de la généalogie, or Virtual Genealogy Week, under the auspices of the Fédération Française de Généalogie , (FFG). (We covered the first such event here.) This year, there are close on to seventy-five talks. What we particularly appreciate is the many presentations by archivists from Departmental Archives around the country. They are the keepers of the records in which we genealogists hunt for our ancestors. Who better to explain to us how they are arranged and how best we can use them for our research? It was a most excellent idea on the part of the FFG to go to the experts in this way. You must create an account, which is free, then you can watch the presentations, which are all in French here.

Next, beginning today, we have the Salon de généalogie, taking place in the Town Hall of the 15th arrondissement of Paris for four days. As France takes the pandemic seriously, at this, as at all such events, all of us attending will have to show at the door our Pass Sanitaire, or Health Pass, proving that we are fully vaccinated. We also will have to wear masks throughout, in the exposition hall and in the conference room. Bottles of hand sanitizer will be available at entry doors and other gathering points. We expect the talks (full list here) to be interesting as well. If so, we will report on them in the next post.

Finally, beginning next week and running to the end of November is the hugely successful Challenge AZ for French genealogy bloggers. Originated by Sophie Boudarel, it is now grown to such a size that it is managed by Geneatech. Last year, we failed in our attempt to keep up in our reporting to you, Dear and Patient Readers, on these blog posts. We promise to do better this year. 

One is quite breathless at so much French genealogy on offer.

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

 


FGB Free Clinic - Case no. 9 - Marie Fouyol, Parisian wife of Thomas Mansell, part 7 - Name Study

Marie Fouyol

So, Dear Readers, to date, we have had little luck in our search for the identity of Marie Fouyol prior to her marriage to Thomas Mansell, her place of origin, her parents' names, her supposed first husband, and so forth. Bearing in mind that two thirds of the burned Paris archives have never been replaced, we will sort through what does exist, examining occurrences of her far too changeable name. We found people living in Paris at the time as she with the following variations of the name:

  1. Fouillolle
  2. Fouillol
  3. Fouyolle
  4. Fouyol
  5. Foulliol
  6. Fouyeul
  7. Fouieul
  8. Fouilleul

There are slight differences in the pronunciation. Numbers one through four are all pronounced the same, with the last "o" similar to that in the word "no" in English. Numbers six through eight are pronounced the same, with the ending "eul" sounding, to an English speaker, pretty close to the way Peter Sellers says "bump" in this scene. Number five is in a class of its own but is more like the first four than the last three. Spoken in a crowded marketplace, they all would have sounded pretty much the same. 

Marie would seem to have pronounced her own name with more of an "o" sound in the second syllable, as the spelling versions used for her name in the baptisms of her children are numbers two, three and four. She was not the only person to spell the name in more than one way. Many of the individuals used two or three of the above spellings.

Looking at the website Géopatronyme, it can be seen that none of the first four spellings survived to the late nineteenth century; number seven also does not survive. There is only one case of number five and a few cases of number six. It is number eight, Fouilleul, that dominated. It is found predominantly in the west of France, in Mayenne, and less so in Manche. The name means, by the way, "leafy" or "shady", which could occur anywhere, including a spot in Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe.

In Paris during the period of roughly 1770, when the parents of Marie might have married, through 1830, some ten years after she left, all but one of the above names is found on the Right Bank, clustered around Les Halles, the vast warren of shops and markets, in the parishes of Saint Eustache, Saint Merri and Saint Germain l'Auxerrois. The Foulliol family, number five, lived to the west, near Invalides, where they also worked. The Invalides Foulliols were studied to some extent, through baptism, marriage and death register entries, as well as through probate inventories until, eventually, it became clear that Marie could not have been a member of this family. The remaining couples of interest are:

  • Michel Fouyeul, a widower from Saint Maurice du Désert in Orne, who married a second time in Saint Eustache in 1786.
  • Michel Fouieul, of rue du Poirier, who married Marie Jeanne LeLièvre in Saint Merri in 1807. They had a son, Michel Victor, in 1808.
  • A man named Baratte, whose wife was Françoise Fouillol. Their son, born in 1805, married in Saint Merri in 1831.
  • Michel Fouilleul, who married Jeanne Ackermann in Saint Germain l'Auxerrois in 1780.

Recall that there could have been a dozen or more couples of equal interest of whom all trace was lost in the burnt archives. Nevertheless, working with what we have, Michel Fouieul and Françoise Fouillol Baratte may have been of an age to have been siblings of Marie Fouyol. The two remaining Michels each could have been the father of Marie Fouyol, the widower from his first marriage, in 1778, to Margueritte Pinson, and the Michel Fouilleul who married Jeanne Ackermann in 1780, two or three years before Marie was born.

There is also a lone man of interest, Michel Fouyol. His carte de sûreté, issued in Paris on the 23rd of May 1793, on which his surname was entered as "Fouyolle" but his signature was "Fouyol", gave his address as number 103, rue de la Tabletterie, near Les Halles. He was aged fifty-three, a cleaner of animal skins and furs, and had lived in Paris for twenty years. He had been born in Le Teilleul, Manche. Apparently, he was a keen revolutionary, perhaps a true sans-culotte, for the author Darlene Gay Levy, in her book Women in Revolutionary Paris, 1789-1795, cites archival documentation showing that he denounced a neighbour who did not support the Revolution. It took little time to find the birth on the 25th of July 1740, in Le Teilleul, of a Michel Foüilleul, son of Julien and his wife, Jeanne Geffroy. Is this the same person? Did he go to Paris, marry and have children there? Could he be the same man who married Jeanne Ackermann in 1780 and could they have been Marie's parents? That would be tidy, indeed, but, Oh! Dear Readers! what a lot of work  and luck would be needed to prove all of that.

In our next post, we will look at further avenues of research Madame J can pursue and how to determine the most likely resources to use.

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

 

 


Alternative Avenues to Seek a French Birth or Baptism

Antique French tools in Lalinde

The French equivalent for "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" is a phrase first written by Nicolas Boileau in 1674: "Hâtez-vous lentement et, sans perdre courage, vingt fois sur le métier remettez votre ouvrage" ("Make haste slowly and, without becoming discouraged,  set to work on the job twenty times.") Finding a French birth or baptism register entry is generally quite straightforward if one has :

  • The correct name
  • The town of birth
  • The decade of birth

A quick search in the ten-year indices for births in the town on the website of the Departmental Archives (links to them on the left) will give the full name and the precise date. One can then find the entry in the digitized birth register. Usually, that is, but not always. Bad things can happen to archives over the years. In France, as in most countries, some have burnt, some have been bombed, some have been flooded. Where to look when the birth or baptism registers concerning your ancestors have been lost? There are a few possibilities.

  • If the ancestor married, the marriage register entry will have the date and place of birth, as well as the parents' names.
  • If your ancestor married someone from a different town, check the marriage banns for that town that the couple should have posted. The marriage banns also contain the date and place of birth, as well as the parents' names.
  • If the ancestral couple had a marriage contract and you know the name of the notaire in order to find it, that too, will give the date and place of birth, as well as the parents' names of the prospective bride and groom.
  • If your ancestor served in the military, the conscription registers will have the birth details. In some large indices, such as that for the Resistance dossiers, or that for the naval officer personnel files, the date and place of birth are given.
  • If your ancestor were a member of the Légion d'Honneur, the dossier on him or her may well contain a certified copy of the birth or baptism register entry. These are now best accessed through the search facility of the Archives nationales.

Try, try again, even twenty times!

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Looking More Closely at How to Use the Le Havre Passenger Lists

Swirl of Travel 1

We have been working rather intensely with the Le Havre passenger lists of late. At the same time, we have received missives of bafflement caused by them. If you are reading this post with interest, we will assume that you have encountered difficulties accessing and understanding the Le Havre passenger lists. We will also assume that you have read our post about them with its update about the wonderful index to them, Désarmements havrais. However, many, many, many of you have written in frustration, having failed to find your ancestor or even the vessel, or even really, to understand how to use the two sites. So, let us try to clarify.

NAME OF THE COLLECTION - Inscription maritime du Havre, Index par bateaux des registres de désarmement, 1750-1876

ARCHIVES CODE OF THE COLLECTION - 6 P 6

WHERE THE COLLECTION CAN BE FOUND ONLINE - on the website of the Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime (ADSM)

click on "Autre fonds numérisés"

click on "L'inscription maritime"

click on "Cliquez ici pour accéder à l’Inscription Maritime en ligne"

for Quartier, choose Le Havre

for Type de registre, choose Rôles des bâtiments de Commerce

click on Rechercher - That takes you to the collection

WHAT THE COLLECTION IS -  these passenger lists are within a collection of ships' papers, or sea letters, a notoriously messy kind of documentation, even today. Every ship has to carry papers of registration, the crew list, passenger list, insurance, details of every port visited, etc.. In France, in the 18th and 19th centuries, every time a French-registered ship returned from a voyage, all of the ship's papers, which form the administrative history of the voyage, were turned in to the port authority. That is what the surviving collection is : the papers that the vessel brought back. There were other collections. There were papers of ship registrations. There were lists made of the passengers on all outgoing and incoming vessels and these lists were held at the ports. The ports, especially Le Havre, Brest and Lorient, were bombed heavily by the Americans and British during World War II and all of these other collections of passenger lists and ships' papers were destroyed in the bombing. This single, partial, surviving collection was discovered long after the war in a part of a building that was not entirely destroyed. It is very little but it is all that we have.

WHAT THE COLLECTION IS NOT - these are not lists of all passengers who left from the port of Le Havre, only of those who left on French vessels that returned. The papers, including passenger lists, of any vessel that was not French that sailed from Le Havre whether Belgian or British or American or Dutch, etc., will not be included. The papers of any French vessel that did not return to Le Havre will not be included. (Thus, if the vessel were sold after the outward voyage, or if she returned to a different French port, such as Bordeaux or Nantes, she did not return to Le Havre.)

HOW THE COLLECTION IS ARRANGED - Chronologically, by the year and date when she returned. Thus, if your ancestor sailed from Le Havre in 1848, you will look for the ships' papers in the year of return, 1849 or 1850. They are not in alphabetical order, but in the order that they were decommissioned, or désarmé. There are hundreds for each year, each given a désarmement number for that year.

HOW TO FIND A PARTICULAR VESSEL'S PARTICULAR RETURN - carrying on from the above explanation as to where the collection can be found online.

after clicking on Rechercher and arriving at the collection

click on "Rôles des bâtiments de commerce"

click on "Ordinaire (long-cours, cabotage, pêche, plaisance, bornage)"

scroll down the list (it runs to many pages)  to find the year in which your vessel returned to Le Havre

read through the hundreds of pages to find your vessel's désarmement / decommissioning number

The minimum amount of information that you need is: the vessel's name, the year of return and the decommissioning number.

 

Mansart

 

This is where Le Désarmement havrais becomes so very helpful. Not only have they listed:

  • the names of the vessels
  • the destination of the voyage
  • the captain
  • the crew
  • the passengers

They also give, for each return from a voyage for each vessel, the date of return, the decommissioning number and, most preciously, the page number on the microfilm, so one need no longer scroll through those hundreds of pages. For the Mansard, above, that went to San Francisco in 1858, we can see that her decommissioning number is 178, that her papers can be found in the ADSM 6P6 series (which we already knew) register number 209.

Mansart

Further down the same page, the wonderful volunteers of this index give the crew and one can click on "passagers" to get the list of passengers.

Mansart Captain

Here, you see there was only a captain, Auguste Abel Gravereau. Well, of course that cannot be, Dear Reader, and this is when we recall that this index, as marvelous as it may be, is a work in progress. There must have been a crew, we imagine, and there may have been passengers. So, we want to see the original ship's papers to see if there were not more to them or if they were partially destroyed.

Knowing that she returned to Le Havre in 1858, that her decommissioning number is 178, we can go back to the ADSM website, work our way to the year 1858,  and choose the 1858 item (the second one, it turns out, numbers 96 to 190) that will include that decommissioning number:

No 178

Click on the plus sign to see more and you will see that you are at 6P6-209, which is what you know you want from the information given by Désarmement havrais.

6P6-209Click on "Cliquez ici pour consulter le document" to see the images. Then, go straight to page number 637.

Page 637

There, you will see the entire crew list and, further along, on page 642, you can see that there were four passengers.

There can be mysteries, as in the case of the Amitié, which arrived in New Orleans in 1837, and for which Ancstry.com has the full arriving passenger list but for which Désarmements havrais and ADSM have no passengers departing. With such a mystery, read the other documents, especially the last page of the ship's papers, showing all ports visited, and giving some notes, or observations. The Amitié's las page shows that, on the return voyage, she stopped at Plymouth, in England. In the "Observations" column, the note is partially obscured in the binding but it says that she was carrying dispatches, which the captain delivered to the French consul at Plymouth, along with some of the ship's papers. The entry on the right at the top shows the arrival in New Orleans on the 6th of October 1837, with "diverse merchandise" and a crew of twenty and 166 passengers. So, it would seem that Ancestry's passenger list is correct and that the French consul at Plymouth kept the vessel's passenger list, which is why they do not appear here.

Amitié

Now, you are experts!

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


"Female Ancestors Are Hard to Find", They Say, But Not If They Were French, We Assure You

Women - Bretagne (Carhaix et Huelgoat)

This year's RootsTech has launched, with many dozens of talks on more than genealogy, all of them online this year. Topics cover everything from food to folklore, costumes to customs, search strategies to scrapbooking, and the dreaded, bouncy, motivational talks. At least, we dread them. We have many failings, Dear Readers, (most shamefully, our vile, cataclysmic and near-cannibalistic rages) but lack of motivation is not one of them. Yet, for all of the choice, we could not find at first glance a presentation to captivate us, so we returned to one from last year, the very fine "Finding Your Elusive Female Ancestors" by Julie Stoddard. Ms. Stoddard makes a number of good points, and includes some research skills, such as creating timelines, always looking at original documents and analyzing them fully (here is how we do it), that should be employed in all genealogy research, but her focus  is on the difficulty of researching women in the United States.

Researching women in France is quite different, so we thought that we might give you something of a comparison between the skills proposed by Ms. Stoddard for researching your American female ancestors with those necessary for researching your French female ancestors. The fundamental difference lies in the customs concerning a married woman's surname. In America and the English tradition, when a woman married, her surname legally changed to that of her husband; in France, since 1792, it did and does not. In America, when Jane Smith married John Brown, her legal name changed to Jane Brown, or Mrs. John Brown. If John died, she became Widow Brown. In France, when Jeanne Martin married Jean Larue, her legal name remained Jeanne Martin, with the added status of "wife of Larue" (femme Larue or épouse Larue), written in full: Jeanne Martin, épouse Larue. If Jean died, her status changed but her name did not. She became Jeanne Martin, widow Larue: Jeanne Martin veuve Larue. Thus, there is no such thing as a "maiden name" in France; there is only a person's name. What of Madame Larue as one finds? This is a customary usage but not a legal name. Additionally, in France, women could and did sign documents, using their legal names.

Do not be fooled, Dear Readers. This preserving of a woman's birth name as her legal identity is not an indication that France was somehow more advanced concerning women's rights. No, it is a country as backward in that respect as any other; the female revolutionaries who fought for women's equality during the Revolution were beheaded and their writings buried; in modern times, women were not enfranchised until 1948.  The difference comes from the French (and very Latin) concept of family. A woman was part of her birth family. Any dowry she received came from the family; they may have retained rights over it; they may have expected it to be returned were she to die. Yet, she also belonged to the new family she was to create with her husband and they may have been controlling their family's assets in relation to their own children. As a widow, she might have carried on the family business in her own right (this happened especially with shipping families, it seems). Knowing her identity was essential and practical. How, in terms of genealogical research, are these differences manifested?

Ms. Stoddard lists the types of records most likely to result in a successful search for a woman's name in America, and how to use them for that purpose:

  • Vital records, being birth, marriage and death records
  • Census returns
  • Family trees found online
  • Cemeteries
  • Probate records
  • Social Security records
  • DNA tests

Looking at their French equivalents, one can see that their usefulness in researching women is not at all the same.

  • The French equivalent of vital records are the actes d'état civil, acts of civil status. These date from 1792, when civil registration replaced church parish records as legal documentation of people. These are hugely useful in tracing a French female ancestor's life. A marriage act, acte de mariage, will give a woman's full name, both of her parents' full names, and her date and place of birth. Thus, one marriage act can reveal not only the bride's name but the names of her mother and of the groom's mother as well. Birth registrations, actes de naissance, generally give the legal names of the father and of the mother as well as their marital status. Thus, a child of the couple above would be registered as, say, Samuel Larue, born to Jean Larue and his wife, Jeanne Martin. Death registrations, actes de décès, are always in the legal name of the person, so a woman's death would be, for example registered as: Jeanne Martin, wife (or widow) of Jean Larue. If known, her parents names and the place of her birth would be included. Most commercial genealogy companies in France have structured their initial search pages to allow for exploiting all of this detail in the civil registrations.
  • Census returns are recensements (with other terms used over the years) in France. They began in 1836, except for in Paris, where they did not begin until 1926. Married women are enumerated under their legal names. Thus, one would see the Larue family listed as:
    • Larue, Jean, head of household
    • Martin, Jeanne, his wife
    • Larue, Samuel, their son
    • Larue, Jacques, their son
    • Larue Marie, their daughter
    • Boule, Louise, widow Larue, mother of the head of household

The great headache with the French census is that most are not indexed. Filae.com has indexed two, that for 1872 and that for 1906, and they are working on others. Though there is less indexing of censuses in France than in America, it is generally of a much higher quality, yielding much fewer preposterous results.

  • Family trees found online posted by French people tend to be slightly better at citing sources than those found online in America. The best source for French family trees is Geneanet.org. As Ms. Stoddard recommends, so do we: verify every single source.
  • Cemetery photographs or jaunts to view family plots are recommend by Ms. Stoddard to help you to find a female ancestor. This would not be very successful in France, especially outside of Paris and other large cities. French cemeteries tend not to have graves of individuals but family tombs. (Once again, the family is more important than the individual.) These tombs often have no more than the family surname engraved upon them. Some will have listed the names of those within, some not. Where they do, the lists may not be complete. More valuable for research than the cemetery or grave stone is the cemetery register, maintained by the town hall. Because so many cemeteries in France have been moved or destroyed and because untended graves are emptied and the plots resold, hunting through cemeteries will not yield much information. The register books of interments, however, are permanent records and might help with genealogical research. Those of  Paris are online, but this is still quite rare. Geneanet has a fair collection of photographs of  grave markers and tombs, but it is still quite small.
  • Probate records in France are increasingly online on the websites of the Departmental Archives. Again, in these, a woman will appear under her legal name. The records online relate more to the legal transfer of title to property because of a death and the legal registration of a will. Wills are not found online. These are complicated to search and are more useful in the hunt for unknown relatives. One would not begin the search for a female ancestor here when she is so easy to find elsewhere.
  • Social Security records. Beware, here, for they are not what you think in France. La Sécurité Sociale is the term for the French national health system and those, being medical records, you will not be able to touch for love or money. In America, one's Social Security number, like it or not, functions almost as a national identity number. France does issue national identity cards, la carte d'identité, and you will not get your hands on a collection of those either.
  • The last category, finding relatives and thus, common ancestors, with DNA testing is a conundrum, fraught with difficulty, and partially illegal in France. However, so many people skirt the law, take the illegal test and put their results up on foreign genealogy websites that, if you are so inclined, you might give it a try. Where this will be extremely helpful in tracing a woman or a man is where either or both chose not to be named on a child's birth registration.

 

We are grateful to Ms. Stoddard for her excellent presentation and that it has inspired us in this discussion. Good luck finding your female ancestors!

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Guest Post - Au revoir Monsieur! Part 1

Annecy

1. A story of love, ties, roots and jam...

Here is a story of love, ties, roots and jam...My grandmother passed away five years ago, one month before her 94th birthday. She was an energetic, blue-eyed, lovely lady full of life, with daughters, sons, grandchildren and G-grandchildren. Had she lived a few more months, she would have met her G-G-granddaughter born in Rio de Janeiro. I am certain that you already can visualize a beautiful descendant tree for her, extending its branches from France to Brazil.

She was an educated woman who worked her whole life as clerc de notaire in her husband’s notarial office but family was her main preoccupation. I spent countless delightful summer afternoons in her company making her famous apricot jam and climbing up and down the ladder of the generations of our family tracing a first cousin once removed who died at the age of five, the G-G-grandfather who emigrated in the Levant to be a confiseur (confectioner) or my latest new born cousin, with whom I share my four grandparents. At an early age I already had in mind my family tree and I believe that this time with my grandmother was my first step towards my interest in genealogy. Many years later our dear friend Anne became my guide.

Born in Annecy, in the French department of Haute-Savoie, close to the Swiss border and the town of Geneva, my grandmother pleasantly claimed herself to be “Savoyarde” more often than French. As a matter of fact, the duchy of Savoy, part of the kingdom of Sardinia was annexed to France in 1860,1 a pretty recent date for a woman born in the beginning of the 20th century. Our story will take us back to the Sardinian time of Annecy where my search begins and where treasure can be found in the Archives Départementales de Haute-Savoie

It is now time to open the case and to follow the fragile hints I gathered to begin my investigations.

During our conversations my grandmother often mentioned various generations not only of her family but of her husband’s as well. She had an acute vision of all members of both ascendant trees: a story was running about my dear grandfather’s family that we, his grandchildren, considered as a pure legend: that our great-grandfather had been a confectioner to Ismael Pasha, viceroy of Egypt ! In a family of notaries, lawyers or pharmacists in the conservative, peaceful, mountainous town of Annecy, this ancestor seemed an alien! While it was well known to our grandparent's generation that many young people had fled from Savoie in the 19th century due to poverty and lack of work,2 for we children, this G-Grandfather was a fanciful figure who faded away to an exotic country. Later, when our dear Anne began to tell me how genealogy searches could take us through delightful and brilliant stories, I remembered Félix the confectioner. I was now living in Switzerland so close to his homeland, I decided to chase him to know more about him and his adventures in the Levant…

What did I know about him? Felix B. was the father of my mother’s grandmother (or, my maternal grandfather's maternal grandfather) who died in La Roche sur Foron, 30 km from Annecy and he had three children. My G-grandmother Louise was the youngest, born in 1891, many years after her two brothers Laurent and Louis (1878-1889): she was a consolation to her mother Annette who lost her second son at the age of ten from rubella, my grandmother always added when talking about the deceased young boy. And it was certainly the case, as she bore the female name of her late brother. The dates I got would match: she was born 2 years after his death. There were inconsistent elements about the date of Felix’s journey to Egypt. Before or after his son’s death? It was important to get a clear idea of the chronology.

I had to dig for Félix’s birth, marriage and death certificates. Thanks to the pictures of La Roche sur Foron cemetery transcriptions that my grand mother had recorded on her birthday notebook, I knew that he was born in 1843 and died in 1914. It was a good lead but it needed to be confirmed. Félix was most probably living in La Roche Sur Foron when he died so I had sufficient elements to begin. As I did not know his exact date of death, I checked the website of the Archives Départementales de Haute-Savoie to find the alphabetical decennial tables in the death register of La Roche sur Foron but none existed for 1914. To avoid to lose too much time, I had to find that date and Geneanet gave me the clue. Searching for Félix’s name, the city and the date of 1914, I got two results and one was an obituary stating that Félix died on Sunday 11 January 1914. It was moving to read these lines and informative. It revealed that he died suddenly at the age of 71 year old - which actually implied the 1843 birth date - and showed that Félix was a public figure of the town of La Roche sur Foron..I noticed that there was an alphabetical table at the end of the 1914 volume which could have given the exact death date...I would remember to check next time. I learned by reading the death certificate that:

• his full name was Marie Félix B.
• his birth date 6 November 1843 ( just like my daughter many years later... !)
• the birth place in Saint Maurice, a village nearby
• his wife’s name was Annette C.

I easily found the birth certificate online in the birth records of Saint Maurice de Rumilly but I now needed to spot his marriage certificate as it would gather a lot of information from his adult life. Nothing was recorded under his name on the website of the local genealogical association that I joined, Les Marmottes de Savoie. But I found there some information about the village and its change of name from Saint Maurice to Saint Maurice de Rumilly to finally be attached to Saint Pierrre en Faucigny in 1965. It will be helpful to surf on the records online for further searches.

I checked the Saint Maurice de Rumilly decennial tables for the marriage period I estimated could be between 1863 (Felix would be 20) and 1878 (birth of the second child). Here they were!, Félix and Annette. Married on the 16 September 1874. It was simple to get the 3 folios record in the 1874 marriage register. Next day I visited my grandmother and discussed with her my findings. Felix was born in the Saint Maurice village in 1843, married Annette at 31 in 1874 and died in La Roche sur Foron, the town nearby in 1914. But how could I trace him as a confectioner in Egypt? I felt lost and a bit disappointed. Suddenly my grandmother added: “ You know, I remember hearing that he went to Geneva to get a training in baking and confectionery” Wouahhh! What a great new thread to follow!!! I had now my investigation agenda for the following days in the right city where I was living….

 

©2020 Madame S.

French Genealogy

1 See our post on when Savoie joined France here.

2Read about the Savoyards who went to Paris, hoping to escape poverty, here.