French Jewish Genealogy

Sephardim Proofs for a Spanish Passport


In the past two or three years, we have been contacted by numerous people who have become quite excited by the announcement of the government of Spain that it would award Spanish citizenship to anyone who could prove descent from one or more of the Jewish people expelled from that country in 1492, and who could demonstrate a knowledge of Spain's culture, heritage and geography. The hopeful applicants who have contacted us tend to have no knowledge of the language or country and to have had an inexpensive DNA test which indicated that they may have had ancestors from the Iberian peninsula in the fifteenth century. 

A few have had good reason to contact us, as they did have French ancestors, but why most of them came to us is a mystery. They were lacking a good 350 years of documentation and what they did have gave no indication that France was a good place to begin their research. In our mystification, we have referred them to others and now, we give a link to an article about the first person to succeed at this most difficult of genealogical endeavors, with details of the organisation that helped him to do so. We will be referring all future comers to this post. Thank you.

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

French Jewish Genealogy - La Revue des Etudes Juives


Arabesque 2

You know how it is when the research bug bites and it is impossible to stop. More, when the discoveries come thick and fast, you think you have struck some sort of gold, as indeed it can be -- a lovely, golden flow of discovery of history and ideas and family connection. In short, we have found a gem we wish to share about French Jewish genealogical research: La Revue des études juives, begun in Paris by the Société des Etudes Juives in 1880 and still going strong. Long  articles, scholarly and erudite -- especially in the earlier volumes -- provide abundant information that is not only historical but often genealogical. We give examples of titles:

  • Les Juifs en Bretagne au XVIIIe Siècle 
  • Les Juifs de Montpellier au XVIIIe Siècle
  • Les Juifs dans les Colonies Françaises au XVIIIe Siècle
  • Le Trèsor des Juifs Sephardim - notes sur les familles françaises isréalites du rit portugais
  • Inscriptions Hèbraïques d'Arles
  • Jacob Backofen, rabbin de Metz
  • La douane de Lyon et les juifs
  • Marchands juifs en 1670
  • Concile d'Orléans et les relations entre juifs et chrétiens (mariages)

 Some articles continue through many issues and really are books. All quote their sources and, if the sources are in the archives, give the facility and the code. Articles are not only in French. Many are in German, some in English, some in Hebrew, some in Italian. Nor is the subject matter limited to France. It is those that are in French, however, that seem to contain more information that can help the genealogist. Correspondence and many other documents are copied in full. In at least one article a complete list of names from a census is given. Individual court cases are described. People's lives are explored in detail. For those who cannot travel to France to use her many archives to research their French Jewish genealogy, this publication can be a gift indeed.

The Revue can be found around the Internet. For ease of use, we prefer to use the Index to the first fifty volumes via the Internet Archive. It is an excellent index, with headings for both authors and subjects. Thus, just looking up a city, such as Bordeaux or Lyon, or a region, such as Lorraine, will give a list of articles. Then, we go to Scribd, where the wonderful folks at Patrologia, bless them, have uploaded all the early volumes of the Revue.


©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Books - Documents on the Jewish Community of 18th Century Paris


Louvre Lamp


In 1913, the Society of the History of Paris and of the Ile de France brought out a book by Paul Hildenfinger, Documents sur les Juifs à Paris au XVIIIe Siècle : Actes d'Inhumation et Scellés. This is doubly a treasure, since pre-1871 Paris genealogy and pre-Revolutionary French Jewish genealogy are both very difficult areas of research.

The author, who spent months researching the documentation of the deaths of Jewish people in Paris in the eighteenth century, did not live to see the publication. Originally from Lille, he trained at the Ecole des Chartes as an archivist and paleographer, then worked at the Bibliothèque Nationale.  The research for this book did not come from his work but from his personal interest.

As Hildenfinger explains in his Introduction, eighteenth century French law stated that priests or curates were required to maintain registers of births, marriages and burials of every member of their parish. The law did not extend to non-Catholics, who were refused burial in Catholic cemeteries. While many Protestant pastors kept near-identical registers, the leaders of other religions often did not, or those records have not survived.

However, it was also required by law that the police were not to allow any burial without some sort of record of death. This particular law, enacted in 1736, was primarily intended for the documentation of Protestants and stated that, where there was no Catholic parish record of burial, an affidavit concerning the deceased was required before burial could take place. It ended up being applied to those of other religions, including Greek Orthodox and Jewish, as well as to a variety of foreigners, duellists and suicides.

It was the local police superintendent, of whom there were about twenty in Paris, who went to the home of the deceased and wrote the necessary documentation. Those documents that remain are in the Y series of the Archives nationales and it is these that Mr. Hildenfinger abstracted. Generally, he tells, the documentation includes:

  1. The declaration of death, by witnesses, neighbours or friends, whether Christian or Jewish, with their full names, the places of origin, their addresses in Paris. Sometime there may also be their professions and their relationship to the deceased. They signed, in French or Hebrew.
  2. The death report and identification of the corpse, with the full name, age, address, religion, and place of origin of the deceased.
  3. After 1737, comments by the Attorney General of Châtelet, to whom the report had to be submitted, giving the name of the deceased and the place of burial.
  4. The police authorisation for burial.

The scellé refers to the documentation concerning the sealing off by law of the deceased's property in order to protect the heirs and/or creditors. Often, it was used by the state to take possession of the property.

In all, Hildenfinger found 176 documents about 171 Jewish persons who died and describes them fully. The index is excellent. The Introduction could be used as a research guide to the subject on its own. Read it on Gallica:

Documents sur les juifs à Paris au XVIIIe siècle : actes d

Documents sur les juifs à Paris au XVIIIe siècle : actes d'inhumation et scellés / recueillis par P. Hildenfinger ; [publié par Alexandre Vidier]

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Jewish Genealogy in Alsace and Lorraine


Mortes en deportation en 1944

This year, the Day of Remembrance of the victims of the Shoah, Yom HaShoah, falls on the 8th of April. As before, at the Mémorial de la Shoah in Paris, the names of all French Jewish victims will be read aloud.  The abomination that is human brutality when expressed as genocide is chilling and, it seems, will not go away any time soon.

All that any of us can do in the face of evil is good. There are times when we think that the search for our ancestors, and our need to find them and remember them, springs from not only obsessive research, but from a deep feeling of sympathy with and for those who are gone and cannot ever again speak for themselves. To be sure, genealogy is not charity but perhaps thoughts of kindness for the dead do lead to acts of kindness for the living.

One of the most important websites dedicated to the preservation of the culture and memory of France's Jewish people was the site du Judaïsme d'Alsace et de Lorraine. Founded by Michel Rothé, one of the co-authors of the seminal book "The Synagogues of Alsace and Their History" (now found only at used book dealers), the site is no longer but once had many articles.

Sadly, there seems to have been no replacement website.

©2013 Anne Morddel

updated 2018

French Genealogy

Changing Names to Assimilate...and Back Again

Door with studs

As individuals within a species, we are all pretty much identical; no one would mistake any of us for an elephant or a spider or a barracuda. Yet, how we focus on the differences of our fellow humans, blinding ourselves to the similarities and thus, to the possibility of unity. Dividing ourselves into groups based upon minute differences, our larger and dominant groups make life hell for the smaller groups, who in turn, make life hell for groups smaller than they. One would laugh, if only not to weep.

French Jewish people, in an effort to assimilate, have often changed their surnames to sound more French. After the Second World War, government officials, at the local level most often, urged Jewish residents and immigrants to change their surnames. About five per cent did so. Many of their descendants now wish to change their names back to those of their grandfathers, even though they are sympathetic to those who made the changes. As one descendant said of his grandfather to a Los Angeles Times reporter: "He never complained [about being encouraged to change his name]. Remember these were people who, after what they had been through, just wanted to live in peace. They would do anything to blend in." 

At the time of the changes, some were told that their children could, on reaching the age of majority, choose to take back the family's previous surname. This was simply not true. One must apply for a court order -- something not lightly given in France -- and have a very good reason to change one's name. In a 2010 article for Libération, three people explain why their "Frenchified" names make them feel cut off from their roots. 

One such descendant, the psychoanalyst Cécile Masson, has formed an organisation for those who wish to take back their family's earlier names, La Force du Nom. A discussion of the issues with her and others can be heard on the internet radio site of France Culture on the presentation entitled "Du changement de nom au re-nom". Ms. Masson has produced a documentary on the subject, of an hour and a bit, based on interviews with some Jewish families of Ashkenaz origin. It has been shown at various venues and will be shown at the 32nd International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies Conference in Paris this month. For those who cannot attend, the DVD may be purchased from the bookshop of the Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme. (Two other films planned for the conference have excerpts online: "Le Premier du Nom" and "A Little Family Conversation".)

Should your research into Jewish ancestry in France have run aground, a name change may be why.

Update: in April, 2013, the courts granted French Jewish people the right to change their names back to earlier names used by the families, as reported in the Times of Israel. 

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Cimetière parisien de Pantin - The Pantin Cemetery


We read on the very fine blog of Janice Sellers, Ancestral Discoveries, that the Pantin cemetery was embarking on a rash of reclamations of plots. We thought we should investigate. We dragged our weary self out to the near end of Line Seven on the Métro and hiked a long, traffic-blasted and gusty avenue to the entry. It looks rather battered but elegant in the photo above. Here is what one truly sees on approaching the entry:

Grubby entry

Four or five disembowelled sofas, rubbish bins, and a wide selection of empty beer bottles make for a different sort of depression from that usual to cemetery visits. Cross the threshold, however, and one is transported from grim poverty to grand avenues of beautiful gardens and mature trees. There are more than eight thousand trees, and the air is correspondingly cleaner than out on the road. A very nice place to spend eternity.

Grand street small

The Pantin cemetery is outside of the city of Paris, on the border between Pantin and Bobigny. Administratively, however, it is one of the Paris cemeteries. It is the largest cemetery in France and in Europe. It opened on the 15th of November, 1886, and has over 200,000 graves in 180 divisions, of which many are designated as Jewish divisions. When we asked about the threatened graves, we were told that in no case is an entire division or even a section threatened, but only individual graves. These include Jewish, gentile and other religions among them.

Jewish section

Graves and tombs in France are considered inviolable, except as concerns the bureaucrats, who can do as they please with the dead as well as with the living. The space in cemeteries could once have been bought as concessions à perpétuité, e.g. forever. Descendants merely had to keep up the tombs (they have a tendency to cave in if not maintained, and can be quite dangerous).

Untended grave

The population explosion having effected the cemeteries along with everything else involving humanity, the problem of overcrowded cemeteries has become urgent. In 2002, it was announced that all of the Paris cemeteries were full; there was absolutely no place for anyone to be buried. The press was full of comic headlines saying such things as "Death in Paris is Forbidden".

The solution has been to review the maintenance and condition of all of the graves taken as concessions à perpétuité, and there are reportedly some 1,157,533 in Paris, and reclaim those that have clearly been forgotten. There are rules: 

  • the grave has to have been abandoned for a minimum of thirty years
  • there must be an effort to find the family lasting at least four years
  • there must be a public notice that the grave is planned to be reclaimed unless family come forward
  • if the family do come forward, they have up to three years to make repairs; if they fail to do so, the bones will be exhumed and sent to the ossuary, as we have explained here previously

As repairs can cost up to 10,000 euros, one can be sympathetic to the families that have let the graves fall into disrepair. Nevertheless, there is a waiting list of dead, we read, though we cannot work out just where they are waiting, and the pressure on the cemetery administrators is intense. Many Jewish families want plots in the Jewish sections, many Muslim families want plots facing Mecca, many Christian families want plots in the Christian sections. Everyone wants plots near to relatives. Consequently, efforts to reclaim space have increased significantly. Hence, the blog post by Ms. Sellers and other notices in the press.

Pantin is run as are the other cemeteries. The summer and winter hours correspond to the hours of daylight. To find a grave, you must have the full name of the deceased and the date of burial or at least that of death. With that information, you can go to the office, just at the entry, and request directions to the grave. The guards wait outside and in a most kind and unParisian way will offer to drive you to the correct section, if you feel it may be too far to walk. The cemetery is so large that cars are permitted, should you wish to take one.

There is no online list of all those buried at Pantin, but Ms. Sellers's post does give a list of the names on those Jewish graves that are at risk of reclamation. If you think that your ancestor may be at Pantin, and you wish to plunk the small fortune to protect his or her grave for a bit longer, you can write to or ring the administration:


Bureau d'administration

Cimetière parisien de Pantin

164, avenue Jean-Jaurès

93   Pantin


(+33) 1 40 33 85 89 (general number)

(+33) 1 48 10 81 00 (Pantin office number)

©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Bulletin de l'Alliance Israélite Universelle


The Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) is an international organisation founded in France in 1860, after a period of nasty anti-Semitism and a celebrated case of the forced conversion of a child to Christianity. The goal of the founder, Adolphe Crémieux, was to encourage education -- with an emphasis on the idealism of the French Revolution -- for all Jewish people. The AIU has been building schools for Jewish children all over the world -- particularly in North Africa --  for the past 150 years, more than twenty years longer than the Alliance Française. It was the first international Jewish organisation and has had significant influence. A history of the AIU, edited by André Kaspi, entitled plainly Histoire de l'Alliance israélite universelle de 1860 à nos jours, was published last year. (See an interview with the Kaspi here.)

From its beginning until the First World War, the AIU published the Bulletin de l'Alliance Israélite Universelle which, because it listed so many of its members and their contributions, is of enormous value in French Jewish genealogy, as described by the National Library of Israel:

"The Bulletin is also a rich source of information on the inner lives of the Jewish communities. Every issue contains detailed lists of AIU members in every city, continuous information reported from local committees spread over five continents, lists of donors or people who contributed to solidarity activities initiated by the Alliance for the benefit of Jews who had fallen victim to misfortune or violence, and more. Statistical data on the AIU schools provide accurate information about the number of schools in each city, the number of students, the make-up of the teaching staff, and the schools’ budgets." 

Until recently, the only way to read the Bulletin was to visit the library of the AIU in Paris, one of its schools around the world, or a library that has maintained a collection of it. Now, it is available online at the above mentioned National Library of Israel under its category Historical Jewish Press. The description and search pages are in Hebrew, English or French. The indexing is quite good. As there are so many lists of names, the results are usually many and some search refinement is required. Even so, it will be a slog through many pages, but could be a happy one for the genealogist.

Go for it!


©2011 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


French Jewish Genealogy - Pick a Name - Le Décret de Bayonne

IMG_0007 cropped

IMG_0008 cropped


The Revolution brought full citizenship to Jewish French on the 27th of September, 1791. Napoleon did not retract it (as he retracted the abolition of slavery) but he did issue an edict that has proved invaluable for genealogists (given above in the Bulletin des lois). With the Décret de Bayonne, issued on the 20th of July, 1808, he ordered that all Jewish people in France or immigrating permanently to France who did not have a fixed and hereditary surname be required to choose one.

These registres d'options de noms 1808 became a de facto census of the Jewish people of France (to be followed in some places by a real census a year later). The numbers are interesting. According to a list in the Archives nationales (code F19 11010) there were 46,054 Jewish people in France who chose permanent names. The majority were in the departments of  Bas-Rhin, Haut-Rhin (with some very legible examples for the city of Mulhouse), and Moselle. In each, the head of a family, usually the husband and father, gives for each family member his or her name, date and place of birth, and the surname and forenames chosen. The registrations have the appearance and structure of any other acte d'état civil in 1808.

The originals are in the communal or the departmental archives of the region where they were first recorded. Summaries and reports on these options are in the Archives nationales. As with any such documentation, not all have survived. Those in Strasbourg were burned in the bombing during the Franco-Prussian War, for example, and those of Moselle were destroyed during the Second World War.  

The excellent Cercle de Généalogie Juive offers for sale from their (bilingual!) site volumes by the late Pierre Katz, an expert on Alsatian Jewry,  of extracts of the data from the registres d'options de noms for the departments of Bas-Rhin, Haut-Rhin, Moselle, and Meurthe-et-Moselle. Most helpfully, they also have an alphabetical list on the website of all the surnames for Bas-Rhin, showing the villages where they were declared.

According to many, the registres d'options de noms 1808  are where French Jewish genealogy begins.

©2010 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


French Jewish Genealogy - Œuvre de Secours aux Enfants

Ose visit 2 small

The Œuvre de Secours aux Enfants, (literally, Work in the Aid of Children, but also known in English as the Society for Rescuing Children), is not originally a French organisation. It was formed in Saint Petersburg in 1912 to help Jewish children whose health had suffered because of persecution. The organisation itself was persecuted and moved first to Berlin, then to France, just before the Second World War.

With the German occupation and the beginning of killings and deportations, OSE expanded its efforts to save children, including two hundred German Jewish children who arrived between March and May, 1939. As the situation became more desperate, every effort was made to try to equip the children with the skills to survive. Many were also given new names and placed with families. There is a quite powerful documentary about one of the OSE orphanages, "The Children of Chabannes", which tells the story.

We visited the headquarters of the OSE in Paris to speak to the archivist for a woman who was rescued as a child, and who now lives in North America. She wanted to trace her brothers, if possible. She had tried searching the records at the Mémorial de la Shoah but, because her brothers were not deported, their names were not in that database. She did not know if they may not have been deported under different names -- perhaps those given by OSE -- or if they had survived. The archivist was able to find their records.

To find someone in the OSE records, write to the Archivist, giving as much information as possible:


  • The child's birth name
  • Date of birth
  • Parents' names
  • Siblings names
  • An address
  • Which orphanage the child was in

It is understood that it may not be possible to provide all of this information  and the archivist encourages the inclusion of any memories about people or places, for this may help identify the orphanage. As their goal is to reunite families, there is a certain flexibility in allowing relatives to have access to the records.

The OSE continues as a very active charity providing help to many: the elderly, the handicapped, the homeless. It is possible to make a donation on their website. Click on "Dons".



117, rue du Faubourg-du-Temple

75010 Paris

telephone: (+33) 01 53 38 20 20


©2010 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


French Jewish Genealogy - Mémorial de la Shoah

Mem Shoah Paris

A few days ago, we received an e-mail from the noted expert in French genealogy, Earl F. Charvet, thanking us for the post about the Consistoire de Paris. He then went on to tell about research he had done at the Mémorial de la Shoah which is described as "the largest research centre on the history of the genocide of the Jews during the Second World War". We found what he wrote to be so powerful that we asked permission to put it up here on the blog. He very kindly not only assented, but sent the photo above. 



I would like to add a mention about the archive at the Mémorial de la Shoah in the 4th arrondissement of Paris, just in case you have not worked there. In May, I spent a couple of days doing research in their library. Everyone on the staff was extremely helpful to me. 
On this occasion, I was looking for any information about the 83-year-old French grandfather of an American living in Tucson. Upon entering the courtyard of the memorial, I immediately found his name etched into the walls among the 76,000 victims of the Holocaust from France so I knew more information would lie ahead. Within 90-minutes in the research library, I found that her grandfather first had been sent to the internment camp in Drancy (two miles south of today’s Roissy-Charles De Gaulle Airport), kept there several months, then loaded in a convoy (boxcar) a few days after the infamous « Rafle du Vel' d'Hiv » (Vel' d'Hiv Round-Up/Raid, 16-17 July 1942), and sent to Auschwitz.  
I was stunned to find that unlike nearly all of the first French victims who were inhumanely shipped from Drancy - arriving dead at Auschwitz due to suffocation and lack of food or water in their convoys - her elderly grandfather had arrived there alive due to an unusual circumstance. Amazingly, the archive had microfilms of actual records showing him "checked-in" to Drancy, a list of everyone in the convoy in which he was transported, and most surprisingly, the German receiving records from Auschwitz that recorded his arrival. Other records showed he had died in the gas chambers only days later.
Beyond this soul shaking evidence, the library has a massive collection of digitized photos of the Nazi occupation of France searchable on their computers. I was particularly interested in photos of Drancy, and found hundreds. Scores of propaganda pictures by Nazi photographers of supposed daily life showed a shockingly twisted normalcy. The victims were caged inside of a barbed wire complex of ultra-modern apartment buildings and towers, originally part of a development called « Les Muettes » suggesting “quiet places,” which had the horrifying double-meaning of “mute women,” the irony of which could not have been missed by anyone. I was riveted to my computer screen, looking at photos for hours on end. Archivists graciously printed a few photos that I found particularly relevant to my research which I took with me at the end of the day. 
The strikingly modern Mémorial de la Shoah opened in January 2005. It has handsome, informative displays about ordinary life before and during the Nazi occupation, and about the Shoah on several floors that are worth a visit in-and-of-themselves for anyone. The bookstore contains all types of works for sale in several languages.


Another place for researchers...


Mémorial de la Shoah

17, rue Geoffroy l'Asnier

75004 PARIS

Téléphone: (+33) 1 42 77 44 72

Métro: Saint Paul or Hôtel de Ville



Mémorial de la Shoah: Guide to archive sources in France (English):


After receiving Mr. Charvet's message, we decided to visit the Mémorial de la Shoah and to look at the databases. The research room and library are on the fourth floor and are free to use. In addition to the collection of photos Mr. Charvet mentions, one can search on separate data bases: 

  • Victims
  • Those named on the Wall of Remembrance
  • Those Who Fought in the Résistance
  • Companies and Associations owned by the victims
  • Posters and Public Notices put up during the war
  • From every departmental archive in the country, any and all documents relating to the victims and/or to the process of their rounding up and murder

Where possible, for every person, as much information is given and may include:

  • Full name
  • Family members
  • Date of birth
  • Place of birth 
  • Where interned and when
  • Address before internment
  • Profession


We are most grateful for this contribution. Thank you, Mr. Charvet.

©2009 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy