Document Examples

French Inheritance Law in the News


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

The Municipal Archives of Dieppe

Dieppe mediatheque

We have been working on our own research of late. It took us back to the Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime and, for the first time, to the Municipal Archives of Dieppe. These are not easy to find. They have no website and most of the entries on genealogy websites refer to a facility that no longer has the archives in it. There seems to be no telephone or e-mail address specifically for these archives either.

Dieppe has been an important port for centuries, home to many immigrants from Britain and a few from the United States. Dramatic stories of daring privateers pepper its history. We had an intense yen to see those archives, so we determined to try what looked the most likely place: a médiathèque. Médiathèques are libraries with mixed media in that along with books to loan, they have compact disks, videos, computer games and such items to loan as well.

The Médiathèque Jean Renoir seemed our best hope, so we took the train from Rouen to Dieppe and walked five minutes to the most unprepossessing entry we have encountered in quite a long time (see above). Ugly it may be but we were pleased to learn that somewhere in the building were the archives, entitled the Fonds anciens. After a pleasant wander through the library section, we found in a back corner the entry to the archives.

AM Dieppe entry

We sensed a lack of proper respect for and appreciation of local history, perhaps. Down the stairs, we at last came upon the long-sought archives. Notice the pipes overhead?

Dieppe archives

Some municipal archives have more than others. As we have written often, the Allied bombing of Normandy and Brittany damaged, even obliterated some archives. One never knows what one will find, or not. We found that the Dieppe archives are a little treasure trove, maintained and managed by keen staff.

The archivist was a kindly gentleman with a nicotine addiction that caused frequent disappearances. When he was in the room he explained to us the finding aids then dashed out to search for the cartons we requested as soon as we had written down the requests. He returned carrying in his arms a stack of cartons so high that it surely blocked his vision. He could not bring us enough. Barely had a query left our lips before he was off again to bring another pile of cartons. Never before have we had archival access with such abandon.

As ever, it is in municipal archives where one finds the internal passport registers of the early nineteenth century.


We find these to be particularly wonderful for their descriptions of an individual, such as this of Captain John Skinner, Junior of Boston, aged thirty-five, about six feet tall, and who had light brown hair, a low forehead, light blue eyes, a long nose, a big mouth, round face, and an oval chin with a scar.



Municipal archives also will have any local census that may have been taken. We found one for Dieppe from the Republican year An XIII, 1805 to 1806, some thirty years before the first French national census. Happily, we found the family we were researching, living on the street around the corner from the médiathèque. Additionally, these archives hold a superb collection of early nineteenth vessel accounts, with the names of each of the crew and what they were paid, and lists of the licensed fishermen from the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries. 


©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Italian Refugees in Marseille

Marseille 8

Sometimes, as we spend a day or twelve luxuriating in the archives of France, mulling over the history so clearly in evidence in the documents we read, we really are taken aback. Of course, we should not be; history is repetitive, as they say. Still, when we came across a list of refugees in a Mediterranean port city, we did have a frisson and a sense that what we were holding was not a nineteenth century ministry document but a modern electronic screen with a page of the day's news.

What we held was a handwritten list, dated 27 ventôse An IX in the Republican Calendar, being the 18th of March 1801. It was a list of names of people who had entered the port of Marseille, coming from Naples or Rome and who were so destitute that they had received some government aid. After three days of such aid, they had to agree to move on to Milan, it seems.

Marseille list

There are 169 Neapolitans and 22 Romans. Some are as young as six months; some are as old as seventy.* The Kingdom of Italy under the Napoleonic First Empire was four years off, but war had been raging across the Italian peninsula between the French and the European coalitions. These people, one can imagine, would have looked very similar to today's Syrian refugees. We are always baffled by people we meet who are so proud of their ancestors who were refugees from religious persecution, such as the Huguenots, or from invasion, such as the Alsatians, but who show no sympathy for anyone today desperately struggling to make the same kind of escape. 

This blog, however, is about research and not politics. Though this list was the only one of its type in the archives box, one can be sure that the people on it were not the only Italian refugees who passed through Marseille. Tracing them will be difficult, for refugees were less documented then than they are now, and wars have a way of destroying records and archives. (Recall as well that, in 1801, all Italian registers of baptism, marriages and burials, were parish and not civil registers.) In addition to the records of the Marseille outpost of the Ministry of Foreign Affaires -- the source of this document -- you might also try the civil registrations of port cities (such as Toulon or Nice) through which your Italian ancestor may have arrived in France. 

A suggestion: be sure when looking at the registers online, that you go to the end pages. Occasionally, a mayor took it into his head to perform a census. Sometimes it is a census of survivors after a battle or natural disaster; sometimes of newcomers, refugees, or displaced persons of one nationality or another. These are not listed anywhere as a source. Just look; you could get lucky.

Further to searching Italian ancestors who passed through France, we suggest the following:

 We believe that there are many more. If you, Dear Readers, wish to suggest some, we shall gladly add them to the list above.

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 *If you would like us to check the list for a particular name, send an e-mail message, please.

Did Your Ancestor Take Another's Place in the Army?


At the beginning of the summer, which seems so long ago, almost an age of innocence from this perspective, we wrote of the harsh demands of the French military during the nineteenth century. One of the ways for some to avoid serving was, of course, to emigrate. Another way was to pay someone to serve in one's place, to hire a remplaçant.

During the period from 1800 to 1872, the French Army permitted those called up for service to find  -- or "buy" -- a replacement. The replacement had to be of the same age and he had to be approved by the recruitment bureau. If he were approved, the man being replaced had to pay something toward the replacement's uniform and equipment. 

A formal approval of replacement might have been filed with the prefecture. If so, that would be found in Series Q in the Departmental Archives. Registers of replacements may be found in Series R. If a formal contract happened to have been made, that would be in the notarial archives in Series E (except for those of Paris, which are held in the National Archives.) Unless you have the name of the notaire, finding this last could be a long hunt through each notaire's chronological list of acts written, his répertoire. It could, however, be worth it, in terms of rewards for your genealogical research, particularly if in Paris, where few of the military lists survive.

Remplacement 1


We came across a replacement contract of 1822 in the National Archives in Paris (carton no. MC/ET/960) in the notarial acts of Maître Grenier. It tells a tale:

Jean-Baptiste Amam (or Hanant), a gardener, contracted to pay Pierre Lablanche, a mason, to replace the former's son, Guillaume, in the army. Both young men were in the same recruitment list of 1821, but Lablanche had been released, while Amam's number was called. They said that there were friends. It was agreed that Monsieur Lablanche was to serve the full term -- with honour, no less -- that the army required of him. In return, said Lablanche would receive 1700 francs, in instalments, from Amam's father. There follow three pages explaining when and how the money was to be paid. Payment was to be made by "metal money only".

The contract does not name other family members, but it does give the addresses of Amam/Hannant and Lablanche. The call-up age was twenty, so it can be estimated that both young men were born in about 1801 and probably in Paris.

The different spellings of the gardener's name are an interesting secondary topic. Throughout the document, the notaire spelt the name Amam, while the man whose name it was signed it, Hanant. Neither version is at all common in France today. Why did the notaire insist on such a variant? Was it arrogance? Did the gardener have to present a document and, if so, was that the spelling on the document?

Hanant et Lablanche

That 1700 francs was quite a sum. Calculating monetary values across eras is tricky, but we have given it a shot using the website of Professor Rodney Evinsson, of Stockholm University, which converts based on the value of gold. According to his site's calculations, 1700 francs of 1822 have the value of nearly 17,500 euros today. That would have been the full payment for six to eight years of military duty. Is that a fair price, do you think?


©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


The Livret de Famille



UPDATE: We are not sure how we have misrepresented the document described in this post, but some Readers are misunderstanding. A Livret de Famille is issued by the mayor to a couple upon their marriage. It is an official document, as much as is a driver's license. It is not a souvenir book about families. It is not a genealogical presentation. It is not something that may be purchased as desired. It is not something that The French Genealogy Blog is selling. Many apologies for the confusion.


Casually, we have mentioned the livret de famille, or family book, previously, when we told of our personal trials and when we mused on French genealogy. Let us expound a bit.

Politicians are creatures of reaction and rarely of action, as much in France as elsewhere. When the Paris Commune burned the Hôtel de Ville, or Paris City Hall, in 1871, all birth, marriage and death records were destroyed. The livret de famille was inaugurated in 1877 to give people the official, documentary proofs of their civil status that they needed. It seems to us that only Parisians needed this and only for a few years, until a new generation should be fully documented in a new procedure. Not so. The leaders did not consider this book to be a replacement of documentation for those who had lost theirs in the fire, but a sort of third storage place for the data (after the registers of the town or city where a birth, marriage or death took place, and the clerk's duplicate registers). Thus, everyone in the country needed to be in a livret de famille.

Livret 1

It is issued to a couple upon their marriage. In it are then recorded the births of all children, their deaths if before adulthood, and the deaths of the parents.

Livret 2


Family life being as mutable as every other aspect of life, the livret de famille has moved with the times. It also records divorces. It is not issued to couples joined by civil union unless there be a child; and it is now issued to single parents of either sex, upon the birth of a child.

New terminology was required with new family formations, with livret de famille being replaced by livret unique for the recording of children of "the same mother and the same father". Children of other unions will not be in that book but in another book. A parent with four children from four different unions will have four different livrets uniques. (Really, it begins to seem less like a family book and more like a biological identity book.) With the legalization of same-sex marriages, the speed of change in modern life finally outpaced the bureaucrats who -- perhaps weeping in despair and frustration --  tossed out the window the words father/père, mother/mère, husband/époux, wife/épouse, and replaced them with the digits 1 and 2.

Livret Back

©2015 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Brozer Flips French Genealogy

So much information!

Imagine if, instead of building a family tree based on traditions, stories, gossip, and other peoples' online trees and then trying to find the documentation to prove it, you could reverse the process and start with the documents that concern your family. This really would not work with the often quite scanty birth, marriage and death records of many countries, but it would work very well with the French records that are so often lushly bedecked with detail. (Click on the example above to wallow in that wealth.)

This is the premise for the start-up (yes, Virginia, there are start-ups in France) Brozer. Essentially it is based on the same concept of document-based genealogy versus person-based genealogy as is Clooz, but the Brozer software was written by Nicolas Lawriw specifically for French documentation. The goal of Lawriw's Brozer is to have on the site a single, universal family tree, built collaboratively by volunteers who index documents that have been uploaded on Brozer's TéléArchives site. Thus, no one uploads a personal family tree. Instead, users upload their documents and enter all the details and the software works to identify the persons named and match them with other references to them from other records. An indisputable, perfectly sourced, single family tree is envisioned.

Will it work? It is such early days yet that the collaborative part is not yet operating. It will not be cheap to join this human genealogy tree project; the annual charge is to be twenty-five euros. An extravagant number shall have to join and work with energy and proper diligence to enter enough detail for the tree to take shape enough so that others will wish to join and contribute as well. 

We suspect that this glorious cooperative effort flies in the face of many people who pursue genealogy precisely because it is something that they can do on their own, and precisely because they hope to beat others to some discovery or other. What fun would they have if research were not necessary and all of their ancestors were indubitably presented on Brozer's tree?

Monsieur Lawriw may be the man who transforms genealogy from an art to a science, but there are those who have their doubts that this approach will be able to resolve the conundrums that come about when there are many people of the same name at the same time in the same place and all have claim to being one's ancestor. Brigitte, of Chroniques d'Antan et d'Ailleurs, discusses just this point on her blog. Dominique Chadal thinks things will only become more confused.

However Brozer may fare, TéléArchives is off to a rip-roaring start and there is no debate as to its usefulness. Not only have a number of genealogy cercles and associations uploaded images of documents, but the city of Nîmes has uploaded images of all of its civil registrations from 1793 to 1910 and its census returns from 1813 to 1911, basically using TéléArchives rather than bothering to maintain its own website, and gaining the possibility of indexing in the bargain. Brozer has uploaded a large number of records for the department of Gard (and many, many thanks to our Dear Reader, Madame F, in Australia for bringing this to our attention).

One must register to use TéléArchives, but they are free and fascinating. We suggest following Brozer on Twitter, as it is there that they announce new uploads and developments. Seeing just how Brozer develops will be very interesting, indeed.

©2014 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


A Vichy Régime Identity Card

1943 Carte d'identité 3
But for a few cases that were of brief duration, France did not have identity cards until the Second World War when, for the first time, everyone over the age of sixteen was required to have one. In Occupied France, these were issued by the German authorities. In the so-called Free Zone, they were issued by the Vichy government. 
Above is a card from the Vichy régime, issued in 1943. It contains every possible way known at the time of identifying a person: a photograph, a detailed description, and fingerprints. Additionally, it gives the bearer's profession, date and place of birth, and her parents' names.
Things have not changed much. The war is over but the card still is required for all citizens and children usually get theirs when they start school. As to appearance, the modern carte d'identité has dispensed with the physical description and the fingerprints. These still exist, but in a database. Our own identity card shows our grim mug, gives our name, date and place of birth, and our address. There is an odd, computer-forged signature that is supposed to be ours. We would never be able to use it to cash a cheque. The rest of the card is a dizzying array of codes and holograms and colourful microprinting.
It looks much more jolly than the one above, as if bright colours would cheer us into forgetting that an identity card exists for an authority to keep track of a person. In France now, as it probably was during the war, no one leaves home without his or her carte d'identité. It is one of the first things young French children learn when they begin to go outside on their own: they must carry their carte d'identité with them. This is because, should anyone be stopped by the police, they must provide identification. Other forms of identification will do, but a person who cannot provide his or her identity card is immediately suspect, so everyone carries theirs.
Sadly but perhaps rightly, the identity dossiers are not available in any of the archives for genealogical research. 
©2012 Anne Morddel
French Genealogy

Military Documents - The Congé de Libération

Conge de liberation


We have picked up a military discharge certificate, un congé de libération, on one of our acquisitive junkets, and we find it most instructive. It was delivered at Privas on the thirty-first of December, 1860, and presents a goodly amount of information about its recipient, Sergeant Henry Joseph Beaumel. 

  1. He was born on the thirtieth of September, 1833, in l'Argentière, Ardèche
  2. His parents were Antoine [Beaumel] and the late Victoire Blachère
  3. He served in the Twelfth Infantry of the Line
  4. His physical appearance is fully described
  5. His profession was that of hairdresser
  6. He lived in Lyon
  7. He married Adèle Poreau on the twelfth of November 1860 in l'Argentière
  8. His military inscription number was 4715 and he enlisted on the sixteenth of October, 1854

Congé - personal data

(click on the image to see a larger version)

But for his personal description (no. 4) and the fact that he was a hairdresser (no. 5) , each of the points listed above can lead to further research. 

Knowing his date and place of birth (no.1), you can go to the online website of the Department of Ardèche (the link is in the list to the left of this page) to find his birth registration, or acte de naissance. While there, you can look for the death registration of his late mother (no.2), most likely in l'Argentière, between the years of 1833 (his birth) and 1860 (the date of the congé), for the banns and possibly marriage of his parents prior to 1833, and for his own marriage (no. 7) in 1860.

On the same website, you can see if his mother left an estate. The Bureaux de Succession appear in an online map which you can search to find the one for l'Argentière, now Largentière. (Best to line it up with a Google map of the region.) With the bureau identified (fortunately, Largentière had its own office) you can then search the list of names by year. Recall that you must search by his mother's legal name, Blachère.

Unfortunately, you cannot search for his enlistment record (no. 8) online, for at the moment the records for 1854 are not up. However, should you have the opportunity to visit the Departmental Archives, retrieving the information would be quick, as you already have the date and his enlistment number.  

Should you wish to pursue his military career -- perhaps even researching the files of his regiment at the military archives in Vincennes -- enough information is given in the lower right hand corner:


Congé corner

 Much is possible in terms of research from this one document. Should you find yourself in possession of a congé de libération for an ancestor, your only disappointment might be that you would find the subsequent research to be too easy.


©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

An Internal Passport from the First Empire

1807 Passeport

We wrote about passe-ports in a previous post. We described an internal passport but were not able to display any of our many photographs of them, due to the high fees required by the Departmental Archives for the use of images of their holdings (fair enough for them to charge fees but as this blog charges none, we attempt to keep our costs low). A few days ago, on our trundlings through the premises of various brocantes, we found a passport for sale, à vendre, and happily snapped it up. But for a couple of creases, it is in rather good condition, enabling you to read it easily.

As we described before, the French passport of the 19th century was a sheet of paper that separated into two parts along a curved line. One part was kept by the voyager and constituted the passport. The other part was kept by the issuing authority. The issuer for an internal passport, such as this one, was the adminitrative centre, the chef-lieu, closest to where the person lived, in this case, Belloc in Haute-Vienne. Its copy of the above passport, if it has survived, would be found in the Departmental Archives of Haute-Vienne.

The genealogical value of such a document is basic. One might learn a full name, and a date and place of birth that were not yet known. Then, it would be possible to go to the archives or to write to the commune to obtain a copy of the birth registration, which would reveal a bit more. We find the true value of an internal passport to be in that it provides personal details about the individual, revealing more of the human being than even the largest collection of administratively required data can do. 

In this case, a rather short, illiterate (his passport shows that he could not sign his name) sixteen-year-old boy who has a big nose, grey eyes, a wide forehead and a scar over his right eye-brow is on his way from the town of his birth to Crecy. He would be travelling from a village of about 2000 people, where a dialect of Occitan would have been spoken, far north to Crécy. Why?  It was 1807, during the Premier Empire and the Napoleonic Wars and he was of an age for military service. Perhaps he was going north to join a unit. Perhaps he was going north to escape the service. Perhaps to visit relatives or to find work. The passport does not give a reason for travel, but it does give an image of the boy, making him not just another name in an ever-growing genealogy data-base, but a person.

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

A French Family's Ration Cards and What They Reveal About Names

Aliment 1

As we wrote earlier, we have been attending various vide-greniers, sales of old or unwanted items, and picking up examples of family documents to show you, our Dear Readers. Our most recent find is one family's ration cards. Most come from the Second World War and the years of austerity that followed it. One, however, shown above, comes from the previous World War and its aftermath. They illustrate not only a bit of history but also how even a simple document can help clarify an identity.

The enemy occupation of France during World War II gave rise to an almost immediate rationing of food, clothing and other essentials. The population received the minimum possible, while the maximum was sent to feed and clothe the victor's army. Each individual was issued with a ration card for food, termed la carte individuelle d'alimentation. There were two main categories: adults and children or jeunes , which were refined over the years. This family lived in Périgueux in the department of Dordogne and -- for reasons unknown -- saved their ration cards of three generations of people. 

Two are for a woman and a child. The first, shown below, was issued in 1946 to a woman named Marie, born in 1909. 

Alimen 1


Alimen 2

The second was issued on the same day in the same place to a child of thirteen, Colette, who had the same surname.

Alimentation 1

Another type of ration card, for clothing and textiles, la carte de vêtements et d'articles textiles, was also issued during the war years. The one below was issued to Jean Francois, born in 1900.

Vetements 1


Vetements 2

There are a total of four cards, for those who appear to be four different members of the same family, for they all have the same surname, Lajoinie, and they all live at no. 21 avenue Bertrand de Born in Périgueux. It would appear that Elie was the eldest, being aged fifty-four in 1919. Jean François may have been his son, married to Marie and they seem to have been the parents of Colette. Some of the information on the cards can be confirmed on the websites of the archives of the two relevant departments, Dordogne and Corrèze. Some, occurring later, cannot, for most Departmental Archives have not put online the civil registrations dating later than 1902. 

The value of documents such as these is in that they provide:

  • Name
  • Address of residence
  • Date and place of birth, which may be more recent than such information that can be found on the websites of Departmental Archives

Unfortunately, they can also contain mistakes, as in the date of birth of Elie. The year put is what was the current year. However, his age was given as fifty-four, and his birthday as the twenty-ninth of December, so his birth registration could be found in the 1864 civil register online for Objat, on the website of the Departmental Archives of Corrèze. The birth of Jean François is given on his ration card as the twenty-fifth of August 1900 and this can be confirmed in the civil register online for Périgueux, on the website of the Departmental Archives of Dordogne. 

Their names on the birth registrations are quite diferent from those on their ration cards. This brings us to a number of questions we have received from some of our Dear Readers, most recently from Monsieur E, who is researching an ancestor with the names Jean Charles Thibeau on documents after immigration, but he can only find documents matching date and place of birth for a Jean Thiebaud. Could Jean Thiebaud be Jean Charles Thibeau? The answer is maybe.

The first of the ration cards shows an Elie but the birth registration that matches the date, place and surname gives the forenames as Jean Baptiste Hélie. The marriage registration for the same person was not very difficult to find and it gives his names as Jean Baptiste Elie. The ration card for his son gives the names Jean François. The birth registration for him gives the forenames François Louis Elie Jean Baptiste.

We have often come across the use of just one of a person's many given names, as in the case of Elie, but not so often have we seen such a rearrangement of names as made by Jean François. Then again, given the kind of error with the date on Elie's card, we cannot rule out the possibility that the ration card for Jean François also may contain mistakes. Monsieur E's ancestor was a near contemporary of Elie's, though from a different region of France. His case is not the use of just one forename or the radical rearrangement of forenames but the addition of a forename, Charles. 

In truth, in all three cases, while the identities and relationships seem likely, they cannot be said to be certain without more documentation. Carry on, carry on. The hunt never ends.


©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy