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
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.
- He was born on the thirtieth of September, 1833, in l'Argentière, Ardèche
- His parents were Antoine [Beaumel] and the late Victoire Blachère
- He served in the Twelfth Infantry of the Line
- His physical appearance is fully described
- His profession was that of hairdresser
- He lived in Lyon
- He married Adèle Poreau on the twelfth of November 1860 in l'Argentière
- His military inscription number was 4715 and he enlisted on the sixteenth of October, 1854
(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:
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
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
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.
The second was issued on the same day in the same place to a child of thirteen, Colette, who had the same surname.
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.
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:
- 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
We have been reading Anna Funder's very good book, Stasiland, and are thoroughly chilled by the excesses of tyranny she describes and the nit-picky, robotic enslavement of people via dozens of little documents that a certain rigid type of mind seems to worship. In France as well as in Germany, lives have been thoroughly documented by bureaucrats for a few generations. Is it too much? Does it matter? We sit uncomfortably on the fence. As a genealogist, we are quite pleased when we come across an old document, and study its every detail; yet as an individual in the modern world, we detest that same documentation for it strips us of privacy and of the comfort of anonymity. But here, we are the genealogist, so on to personal documents.
These pages are from a mobilsation card for a Jean Faustin of Périgueux (click on each image to see a larger version). Such cards were part of a man's military papers and, as military service was compulsory for many years, there are many of these cards in existence.
It shows his date and place of birth, his profession, his parents' names. For the voyeur in us all, there is the tickle of reading his physical description: a bit under five foot two, with a pointy nose.
Every French family has a kitchen drawer or an old box under the bed with dozens of such documents. Identity cards, passports, military cards, old ration tickets, driving permits, cards for the health service, cards for school, cards for retirement. Somehow, when a relative dies, the documents get tossed in the family heap. It can be a rotting mess, eroded with glue and old crumbs, but if such a heap has survived in the papers of your French ancestors, consider yourself fortunate.
We know of no site that explains and shows them all, but many individuals in France have put photos of their own family's documents online. They can be used as a learning tool, after a fashion. A particularly good one is geneanneogie's page of vieux papiers. The dealer website, Toupapier.com, has a section of old documents with good images and some description.
Have a look.
©2012 Anne Morddel