French DNA

The Growth of Recreational DNA Testing in France

Illegitimate children

There are times when we do wish that our Internet service providers (as they so inappropriately like to term themselves) had a face, a person at a desk in an office, windowless or not, for then we should be able to place a pistol on the desk in front of said person and urge an act of honour as we leave and shut the door behind us. Alas, we will never hear that shot of honour behind the door and no provider will ever accept responsibility for the failure to provide. So, we are back at our post, posting on The FGB, but cannot say for how long.

We have worked our way though most of the presentations given at La Semaine virtuelle de la généalogie. As ever with such events, virtual or not, quality varies. We shall focus on a subject of interest not only to those outside of France, but increasingly within this country, DNA testing for genealogy. We do this in part in response to a fiery comment which Monsieur Pierre Gendreau-Hétu left on our post announcing the programme of the Semaine virtuelle de la généalogie and which we reproduce here:


"This program shows how spaced out French genealogy is. I'm sorry to break the news, but genetic genealogy has been solving longstanding problems for two decades now! The best strategy the FFG has come up with is to close the conference with guardians of the French orthodoxy regarding DNA data: attention danger! The grand guignol show is not over yet, unfortunately. (Sigh.) Pauvre France! Rich archives combine so powerfully with yDNA data, and amazing results keep coming day in day out in countries likes Scotland, Ireland, Switzerland..... What a French waste in the name of state control! Olivier Henno, commissioner to the French Senate committee on bioethics, assessed the number of tests ordered by French citizens and came up with the figure of one million kits. In 2019. Yet the FFG will still look the other way. This behavior belongs to a bird that is not the rooster. This is called denial and is unworthy of a scientific field. In the meantime, English-speaking universities (Leicester, Strathclyde, etc.) have made genetic genealogy mainstream. France, pays des Lumières? Not in genealogy at any rate. Obscurantism stole the show. France is left with good archival research nonetheless, for sure, even though one can only dream of what could be if it were enhanced with genetics. Just like looking for a treasure without using a metal detector..."


Monsieur Gendreau-Hétu certainly has a point (and he makes  some more in the comments section at the end of this post); there was but one presentation on what the French law terms "recreational DNA testing", given by Brigitte Billard, one of France's more interesting bloggers on genealogy Though the lone talk, it was very interesting. Her entire presentation, "5 questions à vous poser avant de faire un test ADN" (5 questions to ask yourself before taking a DNA test) can still be seen online. We summarize and comment here.

The overall tenor of the talk seems to be one of stern warning. Before taking a DNA test for the purpose of genealogy, one must know that :

  • Such "recreational "DNA testing is illegal in France
  • The fine for such test taking can be up to 3500 euros
  • Prosecution seems never to have occurred
  • If you are seeking a specific ancestor or person, the DNA test will not be enough; traditional genealogical research will be necessary
  • You may have to ask all of your relatives to test their DNA as well, which could lead to ethical issues
  • It could be expensive
  • The privacy of those who test will not be protected to European standards, as corporate headquarters and laboratories of the more popular DNA kit producers are not in Europe
  • All those who test must be prepared to cope with a possibly traumatic discovery of a family secret (e.g. the discovery that a male relative fathered numerous children unbeknownst to his family)

Madame Billard, after such severe and well-informed discouragement, ends on a chirpy and positive note, that DNA testing can lead to some very fun genealogy. There is probably no better explanation of the French situation concerning genetic genealogy at this time than Madame Billard's talk.

To quell Monsieur Gendreau-Hétu's fears that the French are falling behind in the DNA game, there are, as Madame Billard pointed out, many, many YouTube videos of French people taking such tests. Most are quite humourous. Most contain someone being surprised at the test results showing no "French blood". This, in turn resulted in a clip being added to one of them in which a trusted geneticist had to explain that "there is no such thing as French blood" just people who  have lived in France for a long time. Here are links to just a few:


  • A dashing young man who took a test because he wondered if his slightly narrow eyes might not mean that he had oriental ancestors.
  • A charming young pair claiming to be shocked by their test results. (Surely the use of the word is a marketing ploy or are we so jaded in this life that what shocked them seems quite inane to us?)
  • A whole troupe of journalists who took their tests and read their results at the same time. (A bit disturbing, this one, with smugness on the parts of those feeling "more French" and suppressed fury on the part of one who did not like her ethnicity one bit. Unsurprisingly, this is where the geneticist steps in.)


There are dozens more. It is, clearly, quite the fashion to break this particular law in France and to be oh, so surprised at the results. We suspect that this is a barn door that will never be locked again, whatever laws may be passed. 

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Two Virtual Lectures Up Our Alley


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


The French View on "Recreational DNA Testing"


Well, Dear Readers, CNIL is having an "I told you so" moment on the question of what they like to call "recreational DNA testing". They have published a long, explanatory post on their position since the announcement by GlaxoSmithKline that they will now be using the DNA results acquired from people by 23andMe (something WIRED says the latter planned all along, which makes us feel a right punter). Briefly, laws in France prohibit the publication of private information about other people or even about one's self if that then is also private information about others. "Private information" includes medical details (this is important here; recall that, in France, while civil registrations of birth, marriage and death are available to the public after seventy-five years, medical records are not available until they reach one hundred fifty years, as explained here). It is because your inherited health characteristics are also inherited by others and because your DNA test results can lead to the identification of others and their health problems (how this is now the case even if you have not uploaded your test results is neatly explained in the WIRED article) that the French authorities are opposed to this recreational DNA testing.

Yet, they are not Luddites or fools. The CNIL article, written by Régis Chatellier, indicates an unhappy awareness of the huge business beyond its borders in genealogy DNA testing kits. Even facing a fine of over three thousand euros for taking the test, many French have done so by post (we explain how that is done in this post). It goes on to say that maybe, just maybe, France will consider allowing such testing here, but only if the government maintains a tight control. "Organising the market allows us to control it", writes Monsieur Chatellier. This is France as we love her most, in full Xerxes at the Hellespont mode; she would love to whip and will try to tame that sea of Anglo market forces. Bonne chance.

Opposing the restrictions are numerous French genealogists campaigning fiercely to have the bioethics law relaxed so that they can take those DNA tests here legally. The bioethics law is up for review and revision this year. The Fédération Française de Généalogie had organised an important all-day conference on Genealogy and DNA for last December but this was abruptly cancelled by the authorities as part of the clamp down on public assembly in response to the Yellow Vest folks. Certainly unaware that this cancellation would happen when it went to press, the genealogy magazine "La Revue française de généalogie" opened its December 2018-January 2019 issue with a long article on the whole subject, with a prominent advertisement for the conference.

The bioethics law is the real focus. It was first passed in 1994 and has been revised regularly since then. It represents France's effort, in compliance with European law, to grapple with the terrifying collapse of ethical thought and behaviour caused by nitwits misunderstanding and crooks misusing the exponentially increasing multitude of technological advances. Never before in all our sorry history has the disparity between humans as creative geniuses and humans as mere plodding animals been more painfully obvious. This law deals with all sorts of ethical questions in biology:

  • Stem cell research
  • Genome sequencing and predictive medicine
  • Organ donation and transplants
  • Personal health data and privacy
  • Robots and artificial intelligence use in health care
  • Neuroscience and imagery techniques
  • Scientifically assisted procreation
  • Assisted death

Given the gravity of some of the issues, it may be possible to imagine that our longing to know more about our ancestry may not always come first on the lawmakers' list. Given France's history of "protecting the family" by silencing all those born outside of it, we suspect that there still may be a very large number of people who do not want to open the Pandora's Box of DNA surprises, people who view all those American television presentations (dubbed, of course) of mystery parents found with gagging horror.

Let us see what happens.

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy




XXIV Congrès national de Généalogie - de Morant on DNA

Congres 2017

Among the many lectures and workshops that we attended at the conference, the best attended, by a long shot, was that of the illustrious Guillaume de Morant. Monsieur de Morant is one of the best known figures working in French genealogy. He presents himself as a journalist and a genealogist but it is as the former writing about the subject of the latter that has brought him fame. He writes the blog for the Revue française de généalogie. He writes books. He reports on RootsTech.

We will not steal Monsieur de Morant's thunder by giving here the entire contents of his talk, but we hope that he will not mind if we cover a few of the more salient points. He began by asking how many in the room had taken a DNA test. A show of hands revealed that about five out of the fifty or so present had done so. He then launched into an encomium on the advantages for one's genealogical research of taking such a test, adding that it would also be useful for many other purposes in life, such as advance warning of inherited medical conditions, finding distant cousins, contributing to a broader pool of French data and thus helping the descendants of those Acadians figure out who their ancestors were.

Perhaps the most important point was one of very useful clarification. It is not, he said, illegal for a person in France to take a DNA test via a company that is outside of France. What the law states, he explained, is that it is illegal for a laboratory to commercialise such tests in France.  He urged everyone to take the test and to sign his petition asking the government to authorise DNA tests for genealogy. (Only 224 more signatures required.)

He proceeded to explain the three types of tests, pointing out that the procedure of getting the DNA sample is "not elegant", and to list the companies that he recommends. However, he added that one of the laws protecting privacy, loi informatique et liberté, requires that private data be masked and that includes biometric data by which an individual may be identified. Thus, an entire haplogroup cannot be put online by someone as parts of it may be shared by and could identify someone else, violating that person's privacy. 

Monsieur de Morant is an entertaining and charming speaker but he melted our heart by introducing us to a thrilling new French word when he said that some of the phrases of the law were liberticides, that is, freedom-killers.

Liberticides. Liberticides. Oh, Dear Readers, you will definitely be reading this word here again!

N.B. Be sure to read the interesting comment from Pierre Gendreau-Hétu, below.

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy



When Your Ancestors Disappear From Your DNA

Savoie Poster

Some years ago, we returned to the homeland to visit our mother. She was something of a social butterfly and her house generally was  filled with revellers every evening. On this particular visit, we greeted one evening's round of strangers with the aplomb we had acquired from an early and thorough training in graciously welcoming the latest dozen of wacky characters our mother had discovered.

On introduction, one fellow firmly refused to believe that we were our mother's daughter. Initial good humoured assurance on our part gave way to some annoyance as the man continued to assert that, not only were we not our mother's daughter, but that she had no daughters. "She has two daughters, actually," we said, our sardonic tone moving toward the acid. In the end, we failed to convince the ill-mannered dolt, but what shocked us more was our sense of outrage at having our rather obvious blood relationship negated.

So, we fear, may be, at least in part, the feeling of Monsieur B. who has written asking for advice:

"I just received my Ancestry DNA evaluation and it presents me with a puzzle.  My great-grandfather came from Thures, near Cesana Torinese, Circondario of Susa, in present-day Torino.  His ancestry goes back as far as the parish records go.  He married an English or Scottish woman and their third grandchild, my father, had a 100% French mother (verified).  My mother’s side is all Swedish Finn.  My DNA results show origins in Great Britain 44%, Scandinavia 27%, Finalnd/Russia 8%, Ireland 8%, the Iberian Peninsula 6%, Eastern Europe 3%, European Jewish 3% and Italy/Greece 2%.  Ancestry says not to put much importance in the smallest percentages.  No Western European at all, where I expected my French ancestry to appear!  So, what am I to make of this?  I wonder if my family, and perhaps many of the families in the Susa with French names, adopted a French identity centuries ago but are really from elsewhere.  I identify the Duchy of Savoy with French origins and even the Ecartons that predated Savoy in the region.  Has anyone else ever encountered similar results?  What do we really know of the origins of the French-named families found in Susa (other than the Waldensians who were a distinct population)? I have another French line, Lalange, that stayed put in Indre for centuries yet nothing shows up!"

Dear Readers, might any one of you be an expert on DNA and genealogy? Can anyone suggest the solution to this mystery? We await your response with optimism!

 The comments received to date, some of which refer to the subject of the legality of DNA testing for leisure in France, as we discussed some years ago here:

While it would seem unusual to find no trace at all of a grandparent’s ethnicity (¼ of your own genetic makeup), there is one common misconception about how genes are inheritied: although you’ll get 50% of your DNA from each parent - half of their own genes - you don’t know WHAT half you’ll get. I think most people imagine something like a circle that’s getting cut in half and handed to you, but it’s not that clean-cut. The 50% you get is speckled all over that circle, a bit here, a bit there. If your parent is half Irish and half French, you might expect you’ll get 25% of each, but you might not; maybe you just end up with all the Irish-origin genes (and a sibling could end up with a different set.)  Zeph.


One must also take into account that precious few French people have taken DNA tests for ancestry. So many more people with English, Irish, German, Polish, or Scandinavian ancestry have taken the tests, that ethnicity charts tend to skew in those directions. Unless and until many thousands of French take genealogical DNA tests, ethnicity charts for those us with French roots are little more than entertainment. Peggy


It seems there could be several factors at play.

Perhaps primarily,’s ethnicity estimates (underline estimates), even though a nice, solid-looking number is presented, should be viewed with significant skepticism. They might be somewhat correct, but they might be very wrong. These numbers are averages of their 40 current schemes of deriving a number when comparing your DNA to a reference panel of 3,000 tests (samples taken roughly within the last 10 years) which they believe are representative of 26 regions. Each of these average numbers are derived from a range, a big range (click on any region to expand the box to reveal them—a solid-looking 37% nearly crumbles away when revealing a 4%-65% range). Their Scandinavian estimates have often been singled-out as being significantly over-estimated, though yours might not be. Curiously, even though their Western Europe region is solidly France and Germany, their map of their Great Britain shows secondary and tertiary regions which include most of France and Germany.

Offering one of my questionable estimates as an example, my mother’s ethnicity estimates include 31% Irish, with a range of 17% to 45%, and she has no known Irish ancestry, at least back into the 1700s, so it seems couldn’t be more than about 3%, and possibly much less, so, what to think?

As Zeph pointed out, beyond parents, we might not receive an arithmetically perfect division of DNA from the preceding generations. Though parents are always be 50%, grandparents, from who we might expect to receive 25% each, have been observed to vary between about 17% to 33%, though it is probably a bell-shaped curve, so usually closer to 25% than the extremes. Further, chromosome recombination is chunky, there usually being 1 or 2 breaks per chromosome, but sometimes 0 or 3, so you might get 100% or 0%, or anything in-between, of any particular chromosome from each of your parents.

Of course, all genetic genealogists learn to incorporate the possibility of unexpected fathers or adoptions, low as it may be, when doing analysis and interpretation. Perhaps it should be pointed out here that paternity testing in France is currently illegal without signed consent forms to avoid the chance of revealing indiscretions which could disrupt families, almost suggesting it is a bigger concern here than elsewhere, though it may not be.

Overall, I would mostly ignore the current ethnicity estimates, unless you really suspect there’s something more there. Hopefully, these estimates will improve in the future, but they all seem to rely on the notion that people did not move around much--that current residents are representative and they all remained in the same regions for centuries or millennia--but move around many did. Human history is very messy. I suspect there is greater possibility is that broad population Autosomal DNA analysis may eventually provide better genealogically relevant information than any ethnicity estimate, but these are still very early days.   David C


It is my understanding that DNA testing in France is prohibited by law so there is a giant hole in Western European DNA results. Terri Meeks


When it comes to genealogy one cannot rely on DNA results alone. They must be supported by documentation. Apart from the important point already made. Any of the following scenarios will cause a probalem. These may have happened many generations past and the current family could be completely unaware!
• an illegitimate male child passed off as mother’s brother.
• an illegitimate male child within a marriage.
• a husband adopting his wife’s surname.
• stepchildren adopting their stepfather's surname.
• an adopted male child who takes the surname.
• a foreign name altered to resemble an existing local surname.
• a male purchaser of property adopting the seller’s surname.
• a mis-spelling at some point that switches to a new surname entirely.

Monsieur J, by e-mail


In her comment below, Roberta Estes refers us to her excellent blog post on this very subject. Highly recommended!


I had a similar issue with my Ancestry DNA report. But when I uploaded the genetic file from Ancestry to DNA LAND, I had much finer results. As I understand the process, different DNA assessments focus on different areas. DNA LAND interpretation of your genetic test results is free and is frequently updated as more data from areas are collected. It's operated by geneticists affiliated with Columbia University and the New York Genome Center. You can read about their research and purpose on the website. At first I thought my French DNA wasn't showing up, because I assumed it would be placed in Western Europe, when in fact it is described by DNA LAND as included in the area they call southwestern Europe. Most of these genetic assessments don't really assign countries, rather areas where certain results are common. My experience is that each company has its own way of describing genetic heritage as well as what they look for or focus on. It makes a difference. One surprising result to me was the affirmation of English heritage in northern France, that verified the area with my ancestors who had the surname L'Anglois. Another was the result that verified my grandmother's claim of African ancestry. At approximately 6%, that is a size that can put autosomal DNA into the right time frame for my family. and my grandmother who no one believed when she said, "We're Black." The reason many people like to use autosomal DNA is that it gives more recent time-frame stability. Professor Henry Louis Gates gives an excellent explanation in several resources on the internet. If I've made an error or left something out here, one of his articles might help clarify the issue. He has many references to follow through on, too. DNA LAND has already matched me with several Québécois cousins. Those of us who chose to connect, with one exception, found one or more common ancestors in our genealogies. The one exception is clearly related, as our genealogies show, but we haven't found the common ancestor yet. I suspect one of us might have made an error that will become clear with more work. Some of us charge ahead without the good documentation that would clarify many relationships. I'm always surprised when someone is reluctant to "give up" an ancestor who isn't one of their own.   Madame C


Goodness! This is topical. These are all incredibly helpful! Many thanks. There are more comments below than we could put here. Please do read them as well.


©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

French DNA for Genealogy

Obvious relations

We confess that we have never done the DNA thing, mitochondrial or otherwise. We have never done it for our health, never had it done to us by the crime squad, never done it for genealogy. It is a lacuna in our experience, a failing of our courage. Somehow, we are squeamish at the thought of an anonymous lab tech knowing the deepest secrets of our inner workings, of our body's ancestral memory (how very Jungian) to a greater extent than we do ourself. Yet it would seem that exactly that will happen anyway, even if we are never tested but if some of our nearest and dearest start submitting their hair follicles for analysis.

Apparently, if enough relatives have their genes sequenced, our own sequence can be deduced without us ever going near a genetic testing company. We have learned, with an increasing gloominess, that utter strangers may pounce on us to announce that they know our sequence and it means that we must be related to them. What a nightmare! To paraphrase Brad Templeton, it seems that there are so many genetic testing companies with databases to connect people via their DNA, that such messages from ersatz cousins are, for some, almost spam

The craze to have one's DNA sequenced in order to verify one's genealogy has not achieved the same intensity in France as it has done in the United States, but it is definitely on the increase. Unfortunately for them, this has been illegal in France since "the law of bioethics" was passed in 1994. Recall that we are in the region where people lived under the Nazi horrors and the thinking here is that genetic testing can edge mighty close to racial testing and the creation of a mass of data about citizens' racial backgrounds could lead to the same old trouble.

Nevertheless, those with short memories or dreams of the perfect genealogy have found a way around the law: as the test is usually via a kit sent in the post, it is easy to use a foreign company. (See this TF1 news clip.)  We give here the two companies most used by the French for any of you who wish to try this avenue to bump into one of yourFrench relatives alive today.

  • iGenea  -  is a Swiss company. Their website is multi-lingual, with a page in English. Their basic package costs 79 euros. We like that the some of the directors post their haplogroup paternal and maternal lines. The "I'll show you mine if you'll show me yours" sales pitch. They are preferred to FamilyTreeDNA (who do not produce reports in French).
  • International Biosciences are a British company but they do have a French language page. Their starter pack costs 169 euros.

Bonne chance!

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy