Departmental Archives

Understanding Overseas France for Genealogy

Commerce Musee

The coronavirus pandemic continues to work its change on all aspects of our life. We wear a face mask when we go out; voyagers have medical tests when they arrive in France; voyagers from some countries of rampant infection may not enter Europe; there is much debate and confusion about cures and vaccines. Hiding out at home, even though we are no longer confined or locked down in France, seems to be not only the safest but the most peaceful option at the moment. While hiding out, we have been continuing to listen to various podcasts, lectures, webinars, and such, all on the subject of French genealogy, and it has come to our attention that many of those given by non-French presenters do not understand at all Overseas France. The old acronym, DOM-TOM, seems to baffle them. We have heard such definitions as "France's colonies" (France no longer has colonies), "an old region of France" (wrong) or that tell-tale, indistinct mutter (normally heard in school children's presentations and something of a surprise in a "professional" webinar) that indicates that the speaker has no idea at all of what he or she is talking about and hopes that the listeners will somehow not notice the garbled noise, or will perhaps blame their own hearing for the sudden loss of coherence (for shame).

DOM-TOM stood for départements d'outre-mer - territoires d'outre-mer, (Overseas departments and overseas territories). The current terms are départements et regions d'outre-mer (ex-DOM) and collectivités d'outre-mer (ex-TOM) and the general term for all is now territoires. The new acronyms DROM-COM have not really caught on, so look for both. The people who live in Overseas France together constitute about four per cent of the population of France.

The first group are fully and completely a part of France, in the way that Hawaii and Alaska are a part of the United States, and include:

  • Guadeloupe
  • Martinique
  • Guyane
  • Réunion
  • Mayotte

The second group are territories under the ultimate authority of France, much as Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, and  includes:

  • Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon
  • Saint-Barthélemy
  • Saint-Martin
  • Wallis-et-Futuna
  • Polynésie française (French Polynesia)
  • Nouvelle Calédonie (New Caledonia)

Read more about them on Wikipedia in English and in French. Read the government's point of view on the website of the Overseas Ministry,  Ministère des outre-mer. For news coverage of all things overseas, read the excellent articles on Outremers 360˚

Begin your genealogical research with the digitized parish and civil registers on the website of the Archives nationales d'outre-mer (Overseas Archives). To go deeper, contact the geographically appropriate genealogy association.

No more indistinct muttering.

©2020 Anne Mortddel

French Genealogy


Researching a Ship's Doctor in France

Poppies

Inexplicably, we have received a number of e-missives from certain Dear Readers who all have an ancestor who claimed to be a "surgeon in the French navy" or a "naval doctor" or a "surgeon on a French frigate at Trafalgar". It is most unusual, we believe, to have a spate of surgeon's descendants surface. Yet, we are grateful for, in our attempts to give helpful replies, we have discovered some very interesting new research paths, supplemented by two well-timed talks

When researching French surgeons at sea, making the differentiation between the Navy and the Merchant Marine is as important as it is when researching sailors or seamen. The documentation and archival storage are in some way quite separate and the researcher has to bear that in mind. If you are researching a man who was a doctor, surgeon or pharmacist/chemist in the French Navy, your work has been done for you by the excellent team of archivist/authors at the Service Historique de la Défense (SHD) who produced the weighty tome, Dictionnaire des médecins, chirurgiens et pharmaciens de la Marine . The work is so thorough that, if your ancestor does not appear within, he almost certainly was not a surgeon inthe French Navy.

Thus, you must look in the scattered, incomplete, rarely online but wondrous records of the French Merchant Marine (Marine de commerce et de pêche). Recall that we wrote on a recent post about the French naval conscription:

The French Naval Class System, Le système de classes

It is clear that many outside of France are completely unaware of a key element of the French Navy, La Marine, and that is the fact that, since 1668, the Marine has had its own system of drafting men into service. As with other military draft systems, it was compulsory. Censuses were taken of all men aged eighteen or over who worked on any type of vessel or who worked with vessels or in ports in any capacity. (From this it can be seen that most of the men came from coastal areas, few were from inland regions.) Lists, called matricules, were made for each region each time the census was taken. All men listed during a particular census were in the same classe, which could be called up to serve at any time during war. The class system was devised to prevent (and is considered by the French to be infinitely superior to and more humane than) something like the British practice of impressing (or pressing) men into service in the Royal Navy. During times of peace, classes were not called up, but during times of war, many classes could be called up at the same time and the men possibly could be made to serve longer than the mandated year. In 1795, the classe system was renamed the maritime enrollment, inscription maritime, but functioned in much the same way throughout the nineteenth century.

When young men had to register, they did so within their Quartier Maritime, an administrative division under the Ministry of the Marine. Prior to the Revolution, the registration was handled by the Admiralty headquarters, les sièges d'Amirauté. These divisions or headquarters were usually in port cities such as Le Havre, Rouen, Lorient, Cherbourg, Bordeaux, Toulon, and many, many more. They handled the registration of merchant vessels and personnel, including surgeons.

Surgeons, to serve on a vessel, had to pass tests and receive certificates. Many of the register books showing this have survived and some are online. Those for Bordeaux, on the website of the Departmental Archives of Gironde include:

  • Registrations of Captains, surgeons and other officers, from 1699 to 1792 (Réceptions de capitaines de vaisseaux, chirurgiens, maîtres de barque, pilotes hauturiers, etc...)
  • Certificates delivered by approved Admiralty surgeons to new candidates, from 1711-1728 (Certificats délivrés par les chirurgiens de l'Amirauté de Guienne aux candidats chirurgiens de mer.)

Here is a screen print of one of the former, showing the entry for Pierre Lafargue, whose father trained him (a not uncommon occurrence).

Surgeons

For Le Havre and Rouen, the digitized registers are on the website of the Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime. They have so much and the search is complicated. The easiest way to get to the register and to other interesting possibilities is to go to the "Recherche simple" search box and type in "chirurgiens" and you will see this wonderful book:

Le Havre surgeons

One can have a bit more fun and, on the AD Gironde website, see a register of the contents of the surgeons' chests as they were in 1786 (code 6 B 546): 

Surgeons' chests

 

 So, now you know not to despair if your "naval surgeon" ancestor is not in the Dictionnaire des mèdecins. If he lived near Le Havre or Bordeaux, you might find him registered as a "surgeon of the sea" with the merchant marine.

A small tip: Huguenots were not permitted to be surgeons during the Ancien régime (David Garrioch, The Huguenots of Paris and the Coming of Religious Freedom, 1685-1789, p. 159.) . So, if you find your man among surgeons, he was almost certainly a Catholic. Conversely, your Huguenot ancestor may have been a doctor but almost certainly could not practice in France.

Santé!

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Two Virtual Lectures Up Our Alley

Vessel

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

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

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

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

The French Naval Class System, Le système de classes

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

Now, watch those lectures! Vite!

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Research Under Confinement or "Lock Down"

We opine, Dear Readers, that it is unfortunate that the words for our staying at home during this pandemic are all words used for imprisonment, such as "confinement" or "lock down". In truth, we are not in prison. We are not criminals who have acted against the public good in a selfish and greedy manner. We are all engaged in the largest, shared, voluntary act for the public good in the history of humanity. None of us wants to fall ill but more, none of us wants to make others ill. Billions of people are staying home, sacrificing work, education and socialization, in an unselfish determination to put the good for all above the need of the individual. Our heroism is obviously not on the level of the heroism of those risking their lives for the public good by tending the ill, but it exists. It is our view that we are witnessing an astonishing and beautiful truth about our species. It is that we can, all of us, work together for the good of all. 

Nevertheless, staying at home can be dull. Even our belovèd ninety year old uncle in California is finding it all a bit tedious, not being able to go for his long walks around town. So, back to French genealogy, in the hope that the rigours of research and a busy mind will quell the twitchings of inactive limbs. 

Continuing with a quick list of useful websites for research:

 

FRENCH WHO EMIGRATED

ASIL Europe XIX - A most interesting website of European migrants during the nineteenth century, including those who were expelled from France. It is the work of a university. We find that such sites tend to be fabulous and then (why? because someone got his or her PhD and wandered off?) they disappear, so use it quickly. We first wrote about this here.

Bagnards -  From 1853 to 1952, France sent more than 100,000 prisoners to penal colonies, primarily to French Guyana and New Caledonia. In our previous post, we already recommended the site of ANOM, but this takes to directly to the bagnards section.  Note that a new aspect is that the registers have now been digitized. For much more about the bagnards, read our post here.

Basques Who Went to Argentina - These are the registers maintained of those Basques who sailed to Argentina, of whom there are now an estimated ten million descendants. Read our original post on this here.

Via Bordeaux - As we have written, the Bordeaux port records were burned, so there are no passenger lists. However, this is a wonderful database of the passports issued to those who sailed from Bordeaux, as emigrants or not, that can be searched and the original documents viewed. Read our original post about the passports here and how to combine your research in them with Ancestry's records here.

Communards who were deported are listed in full on a blog dedicated to the subject. For more on the Paris Commune, read our post here.

Mauritius or Réunion - This has some overlap with ANOM's site, but also has information of its own, including lists of first emigrants to these islands, many names with pages of extracted information from parish registrations. See our original post on this here.

FrancoGene - a well-known and excellent website on early emigrants from France to North America.

Emigration to Algeria - If, like us, you despise flashing advertisements all over a page you are trying to read, if the ugly images are an offense to your eye, if the harping phrases an insult to your intelligence, you may wish to view this site's fine collection of information with an ad-blocker on your browser. Read our original post on the workers' convoys to Algeria here.

Passenger and Crew Lists from Le Havre and Rouen - The Departmental Archives have digitized a collection of passenger lists discovered after World War II in one of the few buildings not bombed by the Allies. The lists cover voyages from Le Havre or Rouen on French registered vessels that returned to Le Havre or Rouen in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They are not indexed and are arranged by date. Read our post explaining this site here.

 

May these websites help you to soar with a sense of freedom as your research takes you across the globe and back in time. More to come, mes amis!

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

(We had intended to put at the top of this post a picture of a fountain as we have read that donating fountains to one's community is, in certain cultures, a most-honoured act for the public good, but Typepad's image insertion is malfunctioning today.)


Our Eleventh Birthday - In Quarantine!

11th Birthday under lockdown pink

Ah, Dear Readers, many predicted this but could any of us have imagined life under quarantine? When we began our series about researching American mariners on the twenty-second of January, the press contained a few reports of an epidemic of some concern in far away China. By the time the series came to an end, a couple of weeks ago, the entire world was battling a pandemic and most of us in quarantine at home.  Like everyone else, The FGB is soldiering on as best as possible, doing French genealogical research.

In truth, much as we adore visiting the currently shut archives of France, we also take great pleasure in online research. For any of you who have been with us since the beginning, you will know that part of our mission is to explain to you, in English, how to research your French ancestors online. What better time than now to do an update on our favourite sites? 

GENERAL, BROAD RESEARCH

The index to the finding aids of the Archives nationales

Forever being updated, so always worth checking again and again, this is one of the first places to begin researching any French, especially Parisian, ancestor. It is not only for the prominent. All kinds of people from all parts of the country crop up here. Our post here explains how to log on.

Ancestry

Ancestry is not particularly useful for French research but it is excellent for tracing all possible documentation on a French ancestor who went to another country, in that country. Immigrant records of the USA, Australia and the UK about a French ancestor's new life can be excellent in finding all versions of the person's name, his or her birthdate and birth place. The same holds true for MyHeritage.

FamilySearch

The site has more and more French records scanned but the indexing than a kindergarten crafts room when the children have just left it. Use with grave caution or only when you know exactly what you seek and where it should be.

Généanet

This and the next are France's largest and most important commercial genealogy research sites. Généanet has a messy, outdated interface but is a superb resource, especially for original documents from Paris and especially for people of the eighteenth century.

Filae

Filae is better for researching people in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Of particular value are two national censuses that have been indexed, that of 1872 and that of 1906. Additionally, the French office of statistics (INSEE) death records are, in many cases, the only way to find a death that occurred after 1902. With access in English.

Geopatronyme

Check your surname here. French names were contorted, some beyond recognition, in anglophone countries. Once you start researching French records, you need to have the correct name. Playing with your variations on Geopatronyme will help you to see what is and what is not possible. Read our original post about this site here.

 

LOCATION SPECIFIC RESEARCH

Begin with the websites of the Departmental Archives relative to the department where your French ancestor lived. See the links in the column to the left. Recall that many large cities have their own websites. Marseille, Brest, Paris, Lyon and many more have digitized documentation not found on the websites of the Departmental Archives. To find the sites, search, or google, the city name and "archives municipales".

ANOM

For ancestors who lived in the French colonies, overseas territories or overseas departments, the Archives nationales d'outre-mer are the best place to begin. Read our report on a talk about this service by the archivist here.

Optants

If your ancestors said they were from Alsace-Lorraine, this website has listed the names of those who, from outside the region in 1872, claimed French nationality. Read our first post about the Optants here.

Projet Familles Parisiennes

This superb site is a treasure of documentation on eighteenth century Parisian families. The index links to digitized documents from the National Archives hosted on the website of Généanet but are free to view. Read our post about the project here.

 

 

We will list more good sites in our next post.

During this time of confinement for the public good, perhaps we all can extend our French genealogy networks. Take very good care, Dear Readers.

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


The Departmental Archives of Morbihan

AD Morbihan 1

AD morbihan 2

 

We have been attempting to visit the Departmental Archives of Morbihan for some years. Let us explain why it has been so difficult, aside from the usual obstacles to travel that the wing-clipping poltergeists of life sprinkle in our path. France is approximately the size of Texas, with a lot more coastline. We like to travel by train. All major train lines historically were separate companies that linked the cities and regions of France to Paris. Apparently, the cities and regions of France never wanted to be linked with one another. Imagine Paris as the hub of a wheel and the train lines to Marseilles or Lyon or Brest or Nancy as the spokes. What one really wants is not a structure comparable to a wheel but one comparable to a classic spider's web, with dozens of lines connecting the spokes. This, but for a couple of rare exceptions, France does not have. Our journey from La Rochelle to Vannes was a tad contorted and took far more time than it would have done had the spider's web model been followed, but we did arrive and, at long last walked through the grand doors of the Salle de Lecture of the Departmental Archives of Morbihan.

The archives are in a very modern, clean, spacious, well-lit, poorly heated building far from the centre of town. Unlike at the Departmental Archives of Charente-Maritime, there is no wifi for the users. The number of requests one may make is limited to three at a time and twenty per day. Not to worry, the service for retrieving the requested cartons is so slow that it would be impossible to have twenty requests be dealt with in a day. We encountered a system for these requests that we had never seen before. Requests are made through an internal network and the screen is clear and easy to use. Somewhere behind the scenes, small tickets are printed for each request and each put in a fashionable faux leather sleeve. These sleeves are then elegantly arranged on a display stand (see the top photo). Each user then strolls by the display stand like a shopper to see if there be a sleeve containing a ticket with his or her name upon it. Once discovered, the ticket is removed from the sleeve, signed, put back in the sleeve and presented to one of the retrieval staff who scan the bar code on the ticket and fetch the item. A rather laborious system, we thought, but it worked well enough in that we never received an incorrect carton. 

Morbihan ticket

The archivists were most professional and helpful, and had an impressive knowledge of their holdings. We had prepared a long list of codes to request, hoping to find a single file about an obscure case. On the suggestion of the archivist, we requested a different item first. Lo and behold, there, on the top of the first file that we opened, was the very case we sought. We were humbled by the archivist's expertise and had a very successful morning. Then the archivists all went away, to lunch or a meeting, perhaps. The room was abandoned to the retrieval staff, who pretty much abandoned us, the users. Personal telephones were used for obviously personal conversations, while users waited; long, gossipy conversations were had amongst staff near the request desk, their backs firmly presented to the room. Users were ignored with energetic disdain. The service slowed considerably. The remaining users were getting very annoyed. Sighs were heaved, eyes were rolled, feet were tapped. 

For weeks now, a major strike of transport workers and their sympathizers has been planned for the 5th of December. (There are two "strike seasons" in France. Strikes usually take place just before the December festival days or during the August holidays, giving the strikers the opportunity to extend their own holidays while disrupting those of the non-striking public). We wondered if this were the norm or if it were perhaps a work-to-rule afternoon in preparation for the big day? There was a musical hint that the latter could be the case. One does not expect to hear whistling in the Reading Room, ever. Yet, at the Departmental Archives of Charente-Maritime, workers were softly whistling Colonel Bogey March which may, thanks to a film, have connotations of workers and sabotage. Here, the staff were in the back room, loudly whistling the key melody from the 1812 Overture, not a piece of which the French are particularly fond, escalating our associations from sabotage by the oppressed to the burning of Moscow and the destruction of the French Army. Before this, we had been wondering if archives staff around France would be joining the strike. We now suspect that some will do so.

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

 


Return to the Departmental Archives of Charente-Maritime

La Rochelle

It's junket time again, Dear Readers, and we have returned to La Rochelle and the ever-improving Departmental Archives of Charente-Maritime. The expert staff continue to be cheerful and helpful and the research guides that are available at no charge on a stand next to the desk (and that can be downloaded here) really are superb. For all of the general knowledge that  can be acquired from basic genealogy guides and manuals, one still must discover and become familiar with the quirks and oddities of each archival collection before the research can yield successful results. These guides, specific to the collections in this facility, really are most helpful.

A happy new service since our last visit is the availability of free wifi within the Salle de Lecture, or Readers' Room. This means that, if need be, one can access Filae.com or Geneanet while looking at original documents, and that one can access DropBox and similar services. Wifi is not available in most departmental archives yet but we do hope that other will follow suit.

 

Vessel movements

Our document discovery for this visit is the lists of vessels entering and leaving the port for the nineteenth century. In the example above, for departures from La Rochelle, quite a lot of information about a vessel is given:

  • The date of departure (all in October of 1816)
  • The name and type of vessel
  • The name of the captain
  • The name or names of the owner or owners
  • The tonnage
  • The nationality of the flag (all French)
  • The number of men on the crew and their nationality (all French)
  • The destination
  • The original nationality of the vessel
  • The date when the vessel entered the port
  • A description of the cargo
  • The total amount of cargo that is merchandise
  • Notes

La Rochelle was not a major port of emigration in the nineteenth century and there are no collections of passenger lists. These vessels were cargo ships but they may have taken a few passengers. The last on this list, for example, the brig Jules Auguste, Captain Denise, was going to Boston and left on the 8th of October 1816 with a cargo of salt, wine and nails. Should your ancestor have arrived in Boston  from La Rochelle a few weeks later on a Jules Auguste, this can help to confirm the voyage and give more information about it.

La Rochelle must be acclaimed as one of the best of cities for researchers. In addition to the fine departmental archives are the interesting municipal archives, with the naval archives not far away in Rochefort. A fourth repository, the diocesan archives of La Rochelle, is to be the subject of our next post.

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Gallipolis and "The French 500"

Wilderness

One of you, Dear Readers, has written, asking us to write about the poor French dupes of some early American scam artists. Known in Ohio as 'The French 500", they were a group of people, some of the nobility, some artisans, and their families who thought that they might have a better future anywhere else than in revolutionary France. A glib Yale man who spoke French, Joel Barlow, and who had more passion than integrity, took advantage of their fears and hopes and sold them land that neither he nor the company he represented, the Scioto Company, actually owned. The Wikipedia article on Barlow states that "Scholars believe that he did not know the transactions were fraudulent."

Oh, yes he did, and the superb, definitive study on Gallipolis, proves it, using French notarial records, beyond any doubt. Gallipolis : Histoire d'un mirage américain au XVIIIe siècle, by Jocelyne Moreau-Zanelli, is the book published from her thesis and it is a masterpiece of historical research clearly presented. She explains first the background to land speculation in America, and then describes that shady character, William Duer, and his creation of the Scioto Company. We like that she sees, in this context, the American Dream as the American Mirage, and property speculation as a uniquely American tradition, (reminding us of our father, a very unsuccessful realtor who truly believed that every next deal would put us on Easy Street). She digs deep into notarial records of the sales, examines the economic, social and historical reasons that people might quit Paris for the wilderness of the Northwest Territory, and reveals the types of people who went.

For most of you, Dear Readers, language throws up its proverbial barrier, for the book is in French. We really do think there is a call for it to be translated into English for there are many who would appreciate it, so please do urge your friends in publishing to consider it. We will here extract what is perhaps the most genealogically useful information.

With very impressive sleuthing, Ms. Moreau-Zanelli has identified seven vessels that carried French emigrants:

  • Recovery
  • Pennsylvania
  • Patriote
  • Liberté
  • Mary
  • Lady Washington
  • Nautilus of Scarborough
  • Union
  • Citoyenne de Paris

Not all of their ports of departure are known but she discovered their three ports of arrival as Amboy, Alexandria and Philadelphia. For two of the vessels, the Patriote and the Liberté, departing passenger lists survive in the Le Havre passenger lists on the website of the Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime. (Both are on roll number 6P6/19) They have been transcribed by  the "Gallia County Genealogical Society OGS Chapter, Inc." reached via their page on The French 500.  Beware that these are partial transcriptions and that some names have been missed. For example, on the Patriote, there were André Joseph Villard, his wife, Noel Agathe Sophie Demeaux, and their two daughters, Constance Eugenie Etiennette and Félicité, along with two domestic servants. The transcription misses out six-year-old Félicité.

It will never be possible to compile a list of all of the passengers' names, for the documents have not survived. Additionally, many of the aristocrats, not wishing to voyage with the hoi polloi, booked their own passages, often by way of Saint-Domingue. However, Ms. Moreau-Zanelli has compiled a superbly helpful list, entitled "Tableau de Ventes", with over three hundred names of people who bought land from the Scioto Company through Barlow. In the table, she gives about each purchaser his or her:

  • Name
  • Profession
  • Sex
  • Place of origin
  • Amount of land purchased
  • Amount paid

This table, along with the two surviving passenger lists, will probably be the the most complete list of names of The French 500 that will ever be possible. We hope that you will be able to find your ancestor among them.

Please, we beg of you, if you have an interest in this subject, to buy Ms. Moreau-Zanelli's book and to encourage others to do so; do not steal her hard work and put it on some Rootsweb list. That is the sort of thing that brings scorn upon all of us who are genealogists.

Gallipolis : histoire d'un mirage américain au XVIIIe siècle

Jocelyne Moreau-Zanelli

published by l'Harmattan in 2000

ISBN-13: 978-2738489173

458 pages

 

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Is It a Surname or a Place?

French names

Rural France abounds with villages (villages), hamlets (hameaux),  and properties (lieux-dits) that have charming or peculiar names, as the case may be. Most were attached to a parish before the French Revolution, then to a commune afterward. They are notoriously difficult for the researcher to locate. Some, such as La Bachellerie, occur all over France. Some, such as Bleigeat, seem to occur nowhere except in the imagination of an immigrant in Louisiana who gave it as his place of birth (though it really does exist).

We have discussed how to use the Cassini maps and the hundreds of online Napoleonic era maps to find some of them. We have shared Professeur B.'s lecture on micro-geography and lieux-dits. We have also given an example of the case of a tricky place name found on a Natchitoches document that required help from French archivists for clarification. There are numerous websites that attempt to list all such names in France that you could try.

What to do when these place names turn up as part of a surname? We are not referring to surnames that are also place names, such as Bourges, or Paris, or Loire. Nor are we referring to "dit names", which are nicknames that, over time, became family names, such as Le Bon, or Le Sage, or Le Grand. ("Dit names" exist in France but are found much more often in Québec.) We also are not discussing here aristocratic names that are compilations of titles and locations. We are referring to the recording of a place name near to a surname in a register and the confusion that it can cause the researcher.

For example, a child whose name appears to be Léonard Farge du Piager was born in Saint-Martial-de-Gimel in Corrèze in 1813.

Du PiagerArchives départementales de la Corrèze, http://www.archives.cg19.fr/recherche/archiveenligne/

 

His parents are Jean Farge and Marie Puyrobert. Is his surname Farge du Piager, and the officer simply shortened his father's version of the name, or is his surname simply Farge and he is of a place called Piager, (which must be within the boundaries of Saint-Martial-de-Gimel to appear in this birth register)? In the search for that ever elusive comfort, certainty, you might try reading a few pages of the register. In this example, you will find that the name of each child has such an extension and the words are different. This suggests that the officer is indicating in their names where they were born, as the form offers no way to do so. Seeing this practice, you could then check one of the many lists of Corrèze's lieu-dit names for the village to verify that this is what the officer is doing.

In another town, in the same department, Espagnac, the recording officer tried to solve the problem of indicating the place, La Rivière, by putting it in the margin in the birth register.

La RivièreArchives départementales de la Corrèze, http://www.archives.cg19.fr/recherche/archiveenligne/

 

This would only cause confusion to the researcher when initially reading down the margin, assuming that the place names were surnames, as those are usually what one finds in the margin. Eventually, the penny would drop and one would see that these are not surnames of a few remarkably prolific families but place names of scattered communities.

Again in Espagnac, a different approach was tried a bit later. Here, the officer put both the surname and the place name in the margin of the birth register. In this case, it is immediately clear that the children are not all with grand monikers as the name in the registration is different from that in the margin. In the margin, the child's name appears to be Antoine Borie du Coudert, but in the registration, it is simply Antoine Borie.

Borie du Couderc

Archives départementales de la Corrèze, http://www.archives.cg19.fr/recherche/archiveenligne/

To verify that the surname is not Borie du Coudert, you could check the table annuelle at the end of the register for the year. It shows that the name is Antoine Borie, tout simple.

Espagnac naissances 1818Archives départementales de la Corrèze, http://www.archives.cg19.fr/recherche/archiveenligne/

To verify that it is a place name, you would have to check maps and lists of place names for Espagnac, as well as read through more of the register to determine the officer's procedures.

We hope that this brings no disappointment, that none of you are having to let go of a name that seemed grand but is more plain and honest. If so, try to remember that some of these place names bring no glory. Du Marais, for example, means "from the swamp".

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


The Departmental Archives of Ille-et-Vilaine

Archives Ille-et-Vilaine

 

Why, we ask ourself, did we wait so long to go to Rennes and the Departmental Archives of Ille-et-Vilaine? By train, it is an hour and a half from Paris and the archives are fifteen minutes from the station by the Mètro and bus. We finally did go and, considering that this is yet another Departmental Archives that lost so much thanks to the Allied Bombing, it was really rather successful.

The building is modern, designed by that unknown group of architects who have left their unpleasant stains on so many of France’s archives, including Pierrefitte. We suspect kickbacks occur somewhere in this history, as there can be no other explanation for a design that shows such a clear disdain for the people who use archives: massive doors too heavy to open, lockers in rolling cases that mean only one bank may be accessed at a time (causing a queue when there are only four or five people), black walls creating the gloomiest of atmospheres, poorly marked glass barriers inviting the unwary visitors to brain themselves and, lastly, a floor covering on which every type of shoe squeaks loudly with every step, repeatedly shattering concentration. We honestly feel that the bureaucrat who awards the contracts for such designed should have every aspect of his or her finances subjected to a thorough tax audit.

AD Ille-et-Vilaine

Procedures are the same as in all Departmental Archives. We enrolled as a reader, at no charge, and received a reader’s card (with our name misspelt) a key for one of those rolling lockers, and we were assigned a seat in the Reading Room. We had done our homework and studied the finding aids online and so, entered the Reading Room armed with a list of codes of cartons to request.

Staff, as we have grown to expect in all Departmental Archives, were extremely helpful. We found it touching that some wore white lab coats by way of a professional identification. Behind that threatening glass wall, we were introduced to the internal system for requesting items and had its many quirks explained, and away we went. Only three items may be in use and/or on request at a time, so once the first three are requested, one used and returned, it becomes a race against the clock to keep requesting a new item the minute one is returned. As no requests are taken for an hour and a half at lunch time, much calculating goes into this process in order to have no time wasted in that dreadful archives doldrum of having to wait for the next carton while having nothing to examine at hand.

Some of the notarial records have not been classified and the archivist went to great lengths for us to find the codes. Afterward, she kept checking back with us to see how our research was going and if we needed any more help. (Really, archivists in France are so very solicitous. Why can this skill not be taught to other professions in France, to Parisian waiters or clothing shop salespeople, for instance?) The Reading Room is quite large, with the Help Desk, where the archivists answer questions and provide guidance, at the opposite end of the room from the long desk where items are delivered and returned. Much galloping back and forth, squeaking loudly, recall, is undertaken by each and all.

Our particular hunt was for a Frenchman who had been a sailor on a privateer out of Saint Malo during the First Empire. It took most of the day but we found him on a crew pay list that not only survived the bombing but is a beautiful document.

Should any of you with Malouin ancestors be planning a trip to Paris, do remember that you can go to this archive and research your ancestors on a day trip. Very nice excursion. This is also the only Departmental Archies to give a little gift bag with a pencil, notebook and brochure.

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy