French Jewish Genealogy

French Jewish Genealogy - Certificates of Good Character from Consistoires

Consistoire Certificate

The network of consistories in France, which serve as the liaison between Jewish law and French law, was created in 1808. The Consistoire Central is at the head of the network and is based in Paris. Their archives, as with those of all the consistories in France, are private and are not open to the public.  We have described our mighty effort to access just a bit of them in a post here. Their holdings that one may be permitted to see are often limited to very basic registers, which give less information than can be found in French civil registers. (The one exception being that the death registers can give the place of burial, which civil registers do not give.)

So, we were quite delighted to come across a small collection of letters emanating from the Paris Consistory in 1808. They were letters of good character, much like the certificats de bonne vie et moeurs requested from a mayor about recently arrived Jewish residents of his city. The requests clearly followed the requirement that the mayors record the mandated selection of hereditary surnames by Jewish people, explained in this post. These character references were not required by law and so one would not expect to find them in every municipal or departmental archive but we now think that, having found them once, we will look for them on every visit.

These were found in the Departmental Archives of Finistère and were gathered by the city of Brest. They had been placed in the series 3V - "Cultes", which meant any religion that was not Catholic, and relate to the Jewish, Protestant and "New Catholic" communities.

Cultes non Catholiques

 

One example of these consistory certificates is above. Below is another.

Lion Caen 1

As records relating to individual Jewish people of this period are often hard to find, we consider this a bit of a treasure. In our next post, we shall tell of even more discoveries in that series.
 
©2022 Anne Morddel
French Genealogy

French Jewish Genealogy - Ancien régime Geography Is Important

Hexagon of modern France

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

France in 1328

 

Quite a bit less than modern France:

France-map-1328

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

French Jewish before expulsion of 1394

 

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

France-silhouette-map-1328

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In all locations Jewish documents may also be in Hebrew.

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

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

Do visit those websites and start exploring!

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


French Jewish Genealogy - Online Guides

Jewish Marriages

We have written a number of posts on French Jewish genealogy (to find them all, click on that category toward the end of the column on the left of this page) but in preparing for our recent talk on the subject, we discovered some very fine guides have been put online. 

Not yet the best source of all, that being "Les Familles juives en France, XVIe siècle - 1815 : Guide des Recherches biographiques et généalogiques" by Gildas Bernard. That superb work details all of the holdings in all of the archives and libraries in France relating to Jewish people. When you search on the websites of those various archives and libraries, you will find what is digitized easily. Possibly, what has not been digitized will be mentioned in the nether regions of a finding aid. With Bernard's book, you can have the full listing. It also contains superb essays by local archivists about the history and archives in the main regions of France of Jewish history:

  • Alsace
  • Lorraine
  • Avignon and the Comtat Venaissin
  • The Southwest

Unfortunately, this book has not yet been digitized. However, an updated version of his earlier work has been put online by the Archives nationales and can be downloaded as a PDF here. We plan to keep checking, in the hope that they will do the same with Les Familles juives soon.

In the mean time, here are links to a number of very good guides to researching Jewish genealogy in France:

  • The Departmental Archives of Vaucluse have four very brief guides to their important holdings on the Jewish families of the Papal States:
  • The Departmental Archives of Bas-Rhin have produced two guides relating specifically to their resources on Jewish families in Alsace. They can be downloaded here.
  • JewishGen has a very clear, if a bit outdated, summary of the basics of French Jewish research, in English, here.
  • GenAmi - The Jewish Genealogical Association, has excellent guides by region, and in English.
  • The Jewish Virtual Library probably has the best page on French Jewish history, which will help you with your genealogical research:
    • in Paris, here
    • in Alsace here,
    • in Lorraine here
    • in Avignon here
    • in Bordeaux here
    • check the blue banner on the left of their pages for other cities in France; note that the important city of Saint-Esprit is within the article on Bayonne.

We plan to write more posts on the subject, but the above will keep you going until we do.

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


ChallengeAZ 2021 - The letter R

Escrime - Challenge!

There are some very intriguing contributions for the letter R, and some that may be obvious but are also helpful.

  • Généalogie d'une famille ordinaire and Chronique familiale both write about using the French census returns for genealogical research.
  • Traces et petits cailloux gives a fascinating account of what happened to the parish registers of Acadia, telling how some were destroyed, some lost and some, astonishingly, discovered many years later. With links!
  • De Branches en branches, forgetting to cite the heavily quoted scholarly work of Catherine Denys on the subject, describes exhumation registers, unique to Lille it seems, and the wealth of information they provide of authorities' attempts to determine if a death were caused by an accident or by something sinister.
  • Sur nos traces exposes the really quite wicked criminal practice of creating false Holocaust documents to sell at auction and warns readers to beware.

©2021 Anne Morddel

Frenrch Genealogy


ChallengeAZ 2021 - The letter O

Escrime - Challenge!

We have come to the letter O in the ChallengeAZ. Only one of the submissions provides research advice, though all tell of interesting research discoveries.

  • GeneaBreizh is most useful in explaining the word ondoiement. You may have come across a mention in a parish register that a child was ondoyé. When you look up the verb ondoyer in your dictionary, you find that the first meaning is to "undulate, wave, ripple, billow". The secondary meaning is "to baptize privately in an emergency", which we find to be a rather humorous comment on how a lay person would conduct a baptism.
  • Généalogie d'une famille ordinaire muses on obéissance in marriage vows, and in the comportment of married women (obedient or not) in the past and now, with less than cheerful conclusions.
  • Des racines et des arbres and Pérégrinations ancestrales both discuss orphans. The former discusses how they were identified in parish registers and the latter looks at the types of names they were given.
  • Sur nos traces introduces us to ORT, the acronym for Organisation Reconstruction Travail, a group of practical training schools for Jewish people. Some ninety years of student register books were digitized and, if the links are ever repaired, would be a very good research tool.

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


ChallengeAZ 2021 - The letter N

Escrime - Challenge!

Moving along at a snapping pace, the ChallengeAZ has reached the letter N.

  • There are, of course, many writers who chose the subject of naissances, births. Généa79 gives an account of the records on a particular illegitimate birth. La chronologie familiale explains civil registrations of births.
  • The subject of naturalization and citizens' rights was covered by GénéaTrip, with a good explanation of the naturalization files in the National Archives (which we covered on The FGB here, with further discussions here and here, with apologies for vacillations between British and American spellings) while Auprès de mon arbre, gives an interesting account of Swiss ancestors who acquired Belgian nationality.
  • Une Colonie agricole describes, in "N comme nomads" what the state did with the abandoned children of itinerant basket makers. For any of you with French ancestors who were abandoned children cared for by the State, enfants assistés, we recommend this blog in it entirety, for it is devoted to the examination of a single "agricultural colony", or work farm for children, and some of the thousands of the children placed there. The study is a work in progress and is a fascinating work of scholarship.
  • Sur nos traces, once again, also presents a scholarly post, on the subject of Jewish burials for those who lived in Paris in the eighteenth century and the development of the cemetery at La Villette, with some excellent links to useful resources for French Jewish research.
  • Au Cour du passé explains the function of a notaire royale, accompanied by a sample document explained in detail. (See our booklet on notaires.)
  • The blog on facebook of the APHP is about the Bureau des nourrices, the State administered registration of wet-nurses, which we covered in a post here. In response to which a Dear Reader contributed this marvelous post.
  • Many chose to write about names, and we found the post of Jeunes et généalogie to be a rather thoughtful meditation on what happens to women's names after marriage.
  • Traces et petits cailloux gives a splendid historical discussion of the Acadians sent to live in the tropics.

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


ChallengeAZ 2021 - The letter H

Escrime - Challenge!

Rich pickings today, Dear Readers, with many choosing for the letter H to discuss something concerning hospitals. Quite a few explain resources to help with your French genealogical research.

  • Carole Croze writes about using the hospital registers of the Hôtel Dieu of Lyon, found in the Municipal Archives of Lyon.
  • Sur nos traces has a long a beautifully illustrated article on the very important Hôpital Rothschild in Paris, the archives of which we have found to be very useful in Parisian Jewish research.
  • GénéaBreizh makes the case, as we often have done, for you knowing your history, Dear Readers, giving a pithy but powerful set of examples showing why.
  • Sur la piste de mes ayeuls, under the guise of "H for Hispaniola", writes about Saint Domingue,  giving quite a lot of history but also discussing the research usefulness of the online passports from Bordeaux, which we discussed here.
  • Antequam... la généalogie! explains the use of the hypothèque archives, which we discussed here.
  • De Branches en branches gives a thorough example of how to use the online Legion of Honour files, which we explained in English here.
  • Archivistoires has an excellent presentation of the archival Series H in Municipal Archives, the series covering all things military.

Municipal Archives are a valuable and under-used resource for genealogists; it is nice to see them discussed in two posts on the same day.

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


ChallengeAZ 2021 - The letter C

Escrime - Challenge!

So, Dear Readers, the ChallengeAZ continues apace as people write on their themes. It being a damp and warmish time of year, the time when one can find mushrooms of exquisite taste, the glorious cèpe, the deceptively joyous trompette de la mort, two contributors have chose to write about mushrooms, champignons, in French, both giving recipes. (Our own post on the theme can be found here.)

Happy reading...and cooking!

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


The French Police Surveillance Dossiers of the Interwar Period - les Fonds de Moscou - Have an Index Online

Secrets

Very exciting news on the indexing front. For a vast collection of the dossiers of some 650,000 people on whom the French security police were spying, for the most part between the two World Wars, there is now online an index to all of the names contained therein. The index was created in Russian, for this collection has travelled more than many of us ever will.

During the occupation of Paris in World War Two, the Nazis collected a great many things, including artworks, books and archives, and sent them to Germany. Among the archives so taken were the private papers of the French branch of the Rothschild family, the library and archives of the Alliance Isréalite Universelle, as explained here, the Masonic archives and membership records of the Grand Orient de France, which we discussed here, and the police surveillance files of the Directorate for National Security in the Ministry of the Interior. All of these collections are called the "Fonds de Moscou", the "Moscow Collection". This is because one of the conquerors of the Nazis was the Soviet Union and, dutifully following the claim by a nineteenth century American Secretary of War that "to the victor belong the spoils", the Red Army stole from the Nazis what they had stolen from the French and took it all to Moscow, where (words not being minced) they were known as the "Trophy Archives". No one conquered the Soviet Union but itself; when it collapsed, word got out that archival treasures that France had thought lost forever were not so. It took some "discussion", but this is something at which the French are unparalleled, so the Russians bowed and the collections were returned, or mostly so.

The surveillance files part of the Fonds de Moscou are in the Archives nationales at Pierrefitte-sur-Seine and a full research guide has been published on the website. Unfortunately, it has not yet been translated into English. 

The files cover the types the police found suspect and worthy of surveillance:

  • Anarchists
  • Anti-military or war agitators
  • Communists
  • Political militants
  • Foreign residents requesting an identity card
  • Foreign spies or those suspected of aiding foreign intelligence organizations
  • Foreigners who had been in prison or expelled from their countries
  • Gamblers banned from casinos and those authorised to work in casinos
  • Foreigners whose requests to remain had been denied and who were expelled
  • Foreigners who requested to be naturalized
  • French who requested passports to travel and foreigners who requested permission to remain in France
  • Jewish people

Quelle liste!

The website warns that using the index is not easy.

  1. In essence, the first index is a partially alphabetical (through the first three letters only) listing of names, mostly but not all of them French, made by Soviet archivists in Russian, in notebooks that have been microfilmed and those images digitized. 
    1. This was made by archivists to be a simple name index to the named files or dossiers.
    2. The index of names refers to a dossier's number.
    3. There are numerous linguistic issues that require that a search for a name be tried many times in many ways:
      1. Articles are treated as the first letter of a name. All names beginning with "de" will be under D. All those beginning with "le" or "la" will be under L.
      2. All those beginning with "van" or "von" will be under V or W (see below). This presents real problems when one recalls that the names are in alphabetical order only through the third letter.
      3. "Mac" is usually seen as a middle name. Thus William MacCabe is under "Cabe, William Mac"
      4. No spaces between components of names were permitted. Thus "Le Blanc" will be treated as "Leblanc" (actually a help under the third letter limit.)
      5. The original dossiers, created by the French bureaucrats, may but not necessarily will have foreign names altered to be more French. Thus, "Karl" might have been altered to "Charles". (Clearly, the bureaucrats were not trained as genealogists.)
      6. The Cyrillic alphabet of the indexers did not accommodate the names written by the creators. Thus, V and W are often confused; Q and X come after Z.
    4. Some files were missed out in the indexing so, there being no way to insert them, there is a supplementary index that also must be searched.
  2. There is also a microfilmed and digitized card index, made by the Directorate of General Security, in French, of all of the two million names mentioned in the dossiers.
    1. This was made by the original creators for their own use in surveillance and covers all of the types of files.
    2. The cards do not always refer to a file or dossier.
    3. Some cards may refer to dossiers that were not taken to Moscow but are in the Archives nationales, such as
      1. Foreigners who were expelled between 1889 and 1906, which are in the Police series of F/7
    4. Some files were closed and destroyed but the card might remain, with the word "détruit" written on it.
    5. The cards contain some biographical information and, in a few cases, photographs.

Searching the Indices and Finding the Code In Order to Request a Dossier

 

In order to request a dossier, one needs:

  1. The number of the archival series. This is a random accession number, as is the way with archives. They all begin with 1994, followed by more numbers, then by a slash.
  2. The number of the carton comes after the slash
  3. The number of the file "dossier no. x"
  4. The name on the file

Numbers 1 through 3 can be found by entering the name, surname first, in the main "Advanced search" form  of the Salle des Inventaires Virtuelle page of the website. At the moment of writing, the search facility is down, so we cannot fully test searching a name on the main page.

One had better hope that it will be possible because the alternative of having to scroll through the images of the indices in order to find the codes is fraught with innumerable, irritating flaws. For example, one can click to see the filmed images for one code, then scroll onto those of the following code without realizing it, which the automatically presented code does not change, though now wrong, and the handwritten code at the top of the page is indecipherable.

Considering all that these archives suffered (let alone what was suffered by the poor souls who were its subjects) and all of the various indignities of shuffled provenance, perhaps we should accept the irritations and be grateful that they have survived, are available, and can be accessed at all.

Once again, we genealogists really must thank the archivists at the Archives nationales.

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


The Cercle de Généalogie Juive

CGJ

One of the main reasons that we attended the salon in Lunéville was in the hope that there might be a group dedicated to the research of the Mennonites of the region, but no. Nevertheless, the hunt for associations of specialists in research into religious groups was not at all fruitless. Alsace and Lorraine have and had a large Jewish community, so the presence of the Cercle de Généalogie Juive at the Grand Salon de Généalogie, Histoire, Patrimoine à Lunéville was most sensible and welcome. Their table with all of their publications was fascinating. Of particular interest to some of our Dear Readers will be the book on Sephardim from the Ottoman Empire (of whom there were some eight thousand) who came to France during the First World War, Destins de Séfarades Ottomans : les Israélites du Levant en France pendant la Première Guerre mondial, by Philippe Denan.

Other publications include:

  • Extracts from various sources on the Jewish communities of Lorraine
  • Books about Jewish cemeteries throughout France, with photographs of each tombstone, transcriptions of the engravings and histories of the communities
  • A regular review, Généalo-J, produced three times per year, and which has many articles that are research guides

Many of these may be purchased as PDF documents and downloaded immediately. A complete list of the many, many publications may be found here.

The group is quite dynamic, with monthly lectures at the Mémorial de la Shoah and monthly genealogy clinics to help you with your research at the Mediathèque du Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme in Paris.

The organization is perhaps the best resource for French Jewish genealogy.

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy