Guest Posts

Guest Post - A Very Challenging Brick Wall

Missing parents

We have been sent a case of missing parents by the eminent genealogy researcher, Monsieur B., whose expertise is in Acadian, Canadian and French research. His brick wall is a true conundrum.

Zacharie Viel, Where Are You?

Not only is it important to share one’s genealogical success stories, but it is also important to share one’s frustrations and failures, and the latter certainly characterizes my research into the past of Madelinot ancestor Zacharie Viel. Having found the majority of the ancestries of the various men from France who settled at the Islands, despite my search in over 200+ parish and civil registers in the departments of Manche, Calvados and Orne, France, including the Island of Jersey just off the coast, and various seaport parishes in neighboring Ille-et-Vilaine and Côte d’Armor departments, I have yet to find a birth record for Zacharie, his parents’ marriage record, or the births of any of his siblings. It’s like the man came from France, set sail for Canada, married here, and had a handful of children, before his passing into the annals of history at the supposedly advanced age of 94 years old. One will ask what exactly do we know about him? Other than the following facts, not much else.

From his marriage at Havre-Aubert on 16 May 1842, he stated that he was from Coutances, the son of Pierre Viel and Marie Mière (or LeMière), both of these families being found in abundance in that region of Manche. His father’s occupation is given as a mason. Zacharie’s wife was Bathilde Chiasson, the daughter of Jean Chiasson and Esther Hébert, and of their marriage were born four sons and a daughter. Of their sons, only Honoré, a surveyor by trade, lived into his thirties, dying unmarried. Honoré’s sister, Esther, married in 1885 to Léoni Jomphe, by whom she had seven children, assuring a descendance from her father. Esther died in Bassin on 30 Jun 1949, and with her passing came the end of the Viel surname at the Magdalen Islands.

According to his death record dated 19 Apr 1887 at the undoubtedly exaggerated age of 94 years old, Zacharie was born in France, presumably at Coutances as we have noted, between 1793 (based on that age) and 1812 (based on the ages given by him in the various Canadian censuses of 1861, 1871 and 1881). At his marriage in 1842 to Bathilde, among the witnesses to their wedding appears another French compatriot, Joseph (-Guillaume) Châtel, originally from St-Pair-sur-Mer in the same French department of Manche, and who had two years previously also married at Havre-Aubert on 22 June 1840 the widow of Jean Bourgeois: Marie Deveau, the daughter of Jacques Deveau and Théotiste Lapierre. Undoubtedly, the two men became friends, Joseph having arrived before Zacharie, and thus, Zacharie asked him to be a witness to this important event in his life. Both men lived and died at Bassin.

The census records are likewise not that reliable to pin down his year of birth. In 1861, Zacharie’s age is given as 50 years old (thus born about 1810 or 1811). In 1871, he is given as 59 years of age (thus born about 1812). And finally in 1881, his age jumps to an exaggerated 84 year old (thus born in 1797).

Another fact that makes this search so complicated is that the Viel family also went by the surname LeViel, yet despite all these families which I also inspected, nothing has turned up among them either. Even the name of Zacharie is a rare name in that region, and in my research, I have encountered only a handful of records with that first name contained therein. In fact, the only Zacharie born in Coutances during the timeframe indicated above was an orphaned child (un “enfant trouvé”) left on the steps of the city hospice, born in the city on 21 April 1806. Could this have been him, later adopted by a Pierre and Marie Viel? If so, there are no records to support such an adoption or reclamation “reconnaissance” by his parents.

Another curve thrown into the record by the transcriber is the fact that when they reexamined the child, he was found to be of “feminine” gender (sic), about three days old. So was this child a male or female, or was the gender incorrectly recorded? In addition, other close-sounding surnames from this department have also complicated the search results: Néel and Piel, in particular. At his death at Bassin, Zacharie’s surname was recorded as “Miel”, the husband of Mathilde Bourgeois (rather than Bathilde Chiasson), by Father Henri Thériault, pastor of the parish… another clerical error.

When speaking of “Coutances”, does this mean the city, canton or diocese of that name? Each geographic area grows in size as one moves from one distinction to another, and this has been the fundamental guide for the research I have conducted, and why the number of parish and civil registers consulted has grown extensively. I have searched through and written to the Archives of the Marine in Cherbourg, who had no record of him either. All my posts on the various France message boards have gone unanswered as well. Meanwhile, my search throughout all of Normandy continues.

I am becoming convinced that this Viel family did not live in Coutances but actually arrived there from somewhere else. In my estimation, Zacharie was merely “passing through” the city from some other rural location on his way to North America. The sad part is that he is one of only two French ancestors whose roots I have yet to discover, containing both an exciting as well as frustrating search throughout the entire Normand countryside and seacoast. Finding his connections are the ultimate Madelinot brick wall.

Our hope is that some of you may have solved a similar problem or may be an expert on the name Viel or on the deceptive records of Coutances and that you will help to solve this puzzle. If you should be the one to find the answer, you may write to Monsieur B. directly at: "madelinot22 at". This is a call to arms, Dear Readers!

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy



Further to Gallipolis and "The French 500" - a Guest Post

Monsieur C. who is very modest, indeed, writes that he followed the suggestions in our previous post on this subject and purchased the book we there recommended,   Gallipolis : Histoire d'un mirage américain au XVIIIe siècle, by Jocelyne Moreau-Zanelli. He then tested the website of the Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime and has this to contribute:

Let me offer some advice for non-French-speaking researchers attempting to glean the maximum benefits from the suggestions you provided concerning the French sources:

A.  Starting from a higher level view, the online archives for the department of Normandy named Seine-Maritime are found here:

B.  At this writing, their main page has a link entitled "Inscription Maritime" which will take you where we want to go.  However, the business of maintaining interesting web pages being what it is, it may be that by the time you want to go there, they will have re-organized the navigation of their web presence and that convenient link may have become obscure.  If you don't see it, try this.

The upper right corner -- across traditions and writing styles of many types worldwide -- usually provides a search facility of some sort.  In this case, the magnifying glass is your language-independent iconic friend.  Enter the phrase [without the quotes] "inscription maritime" and you should find what you are looking for in the list that will be returned.  For lazy folks too used to Google, do not expect google-like interpretation of your desires -- spell each word correctly and you will be happy, otherwise you will remain lost.

On that page, the link reading "click here to access the Inscription Maritime listings" will keep its promise.

C.  Now, at least with today's user experience design interface, you will have two drop-down lists from which to hone your request for relevant information.  The top one [Quartier] will let you select as between the two key ports present in the department.  The first is for the port activities at Le Havre, the second is for the activities at Rouen.

Let me interject that in my hours of browsing, I have looked at activities for both ports.  My simplistic, non-informed conclusion is that you get about what you would expect.  Le Havre is the major port handling sailings around the world.  If you need to make a trans-oceanic sailing, you would like the harbor best suited to ships of that size and the administrative support infrastructure to go with international trade and commerce.  If, on the other hand, you mostly want to move smaller amounts of cargo and passengers from port to port within France, or the ports of its [at that moment in time] friendly neighbors, Rouen might be more convenient.  The bottom line, for our limited purposes, is that the likelihood of stumbling upon persons involved in emigration to the anticipated Northwest Territory paradise, is several orders of magnitude more likely for the Le Havre listings than those for Rouen.

D.  The next drop-down lets you select the type of source material you wish to browse.  Here I would truly love it if our hostess, Ms. Morddel, might find a moment to update and expand upon the information she gave us in July, 2016, when we celebrated the first availability of this online gold mine.  The number of, and the nomenclature for, the different alternatives do not line up simply with what you will find present in the drop down lists at this point in time.  If she does not have the time to do an update, you ought to find that Google Translate is at least 95% reliable, and can perform the task very well, but the problem is that translating something like d’armement et de désarmement to arming and disarming is really sort of an anachronistic thing that we would really need Peter Seller's Inspector Clouseau reincarnated to perform with appropriate charm.

As an ex naval officer, I can handle the military basis of the terminology, but our relatives heading to Gallipolis were not soldiers and sailors and they were not carrying munitions to stave off the nasty Brits they might have met at sea, so I, for one, would appreciate definitions more representative of the arrivals and departures characteristic of immigration travel.  So, until that may be accomplished, here's what I think I have learned:

     a.  The "finding aid" that a répertoire may well represent does not seem to have come into general use until after the period of time in which we are searching.  There is, as far as I can see, no nice, brief list give the names of vessels which entered or left Le Havre in the 1790 time-frame.  The materials elsewhere found under "Matricules" provided some names of some vessels, but my non-French-reading-eye was unable to extract any really useful information from the summary of voyages found therein.

     b.  The following summarizes voyage/passenger factoids that I hope will turn out to be a part of Ms. Moreau-Zanelli's research and analysis.  The two voyages of Le Patriote and La Liberté are clearly the most important, and form the basis, as best I can tell, of the work of the Gallia County Genealogical Society.

      • Quartier du Havre (6P)
      • Roles des batiments de commerce
      • Long cours, cabotage, bornage et grand pêche
      • 1790 (910)
      • désarmement n° 002-201
          • The most interesting passenger lists relate to Martinique. I have seen not a single sailing to New Orleans -- should I be surprised, or should I know the historical situation seemingly preventing them from going there. I found nothing relating to America.
      • 1791 (938)
      • désarmement n° 001-200
        • 156-173 Le Patriote
        • 280-304 La Liberté
        • 507-517  Le Navire Les Citoyens de Paris
          • Seems to have sailed from Bordeaux to La Havre in July, 1791, but this document says nothing about sailing to America.
      • 1792 (894)
      • désarmement n° 001-193
        • 232-235 Le Jeune Cole
          • Just 3 passengers -- with some connection to Britain -- destined for Philadelphie en Virginie.
        • 387-389 La Gracieuse
          • To Richmond en Virginie.  This item has a note from Vice Consul Oster explaining that some returning cargo has been sent via another ship on another route. There is no information concerning passengers.
        • 447-450  La Victoire
          • To Baltimore en Virginie.  Third footprint of Vice Consul Oster, but no useful passenger facts.
        • 505-508 L'amiable Antoinette
          • Outbound there is an American citizen named John Stuart, but embarking in Alexandria for the return to le Havres du Grace are ten passengers presumed to be French.
        • 575-578 Le Prince Royal
          • To Petersburg en Virginie.  Another Oster footprint, again no useful passenger facts.
        • 652-658 L'Alexandrine
          • To Petterbourg en Virginie.  Another Oster footprint, again no useful passenger facts.
        • 688-692 Le Ferier
          • To Norfolk from St. Valery sur Somme, Department De Dunkerque.  No passenger facts.
        • 826-829 La Mouche
          • To Philadelphie en Virginie came Michel Ange Bernard Mangourit to be Consul General at Charleston. He would be crucial to Genet's plans. There are quite a few other legible names on this list of passengers.
      • 1793 (448)
      • désarmement n° 001-163
        • 118-120 L'Aigle
          • To Hampton en Virginie. No passenger facts.
        • 167-170 L'Aimable Antoinette
          • James Cole Mountflorence is aboard the vessel heading for Alexandrie, leading the way for Genet.
        • 204-207 L'Adelaide
          • Two citizens to Newiorck en Virginie.
        • 334-337 La Jeune Alexandrine
          • Sailed from St. Valery sur Somme to Fredericksbourg en Virginie. There is no passenger data.
      • 1794-5 (103)
      • désarmement n° 003-043
          • Almost all voyages internal, few external, none U.S. related.
      • 1795-6 (133)
      • désarmement n° 001-035
          • The nomenclature of the Republique has arrived in force. The sailings take place in the 2nd and 3rd years of the Republique and are to/from the Arrondissement du Havre-Marat; the Department du Normandie is passe and America is off their radar entirely.

NOTA BENE:  The two 3-digit numbers separated by a dash give you the page number of the listing where the voyage of the named ship will be found.  This should save you hours of work in repeating my effort in culling the listings.  Native French readers, and more, those trained to more easily identify the forms of abbreviation and style of composition of that era, ought to be able to quickly navigate directly to the pages noted and could summarize the welter of in-line as well as the marginal notes found there.

Well! Dear Readers, we do hope that you will find the hard work of Monsieur C to be helpful to you in searching through the passenger lists. We extend our heartfelt thanks to Monsieur C for this contribution.

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Guest Post - a Grand Genealogy Fair in the South of France

Mauguio 1

We could not get to the south of France for this wonderful genealogy event, much as we longed to be there, so we are very pleased and grateful to be able to give you a full and complete report on it from Marie-Luce Lauer.



Mauguio - 23-24. March 2019

Spring seems to be a good season for genealogy events. This weekend the Journées Généalogiques et Historiques de Mauguio took place for the 18th time in the Espace Morastel : not an official building but something very typical of the southern wine-producing Languedoc, the old, converted winegrower’s cooperative. Initiated in 2002 by 2 members of the substantial Cercle Généalogique de Languedoc (CGL - created in 1978 and now with about 1000 members) and a passionate Cultural Attaché of the municipality, this fair cannot be missed by the genealogists and local historians.


Mauguio 2

Friday is children's day: the local schools organize with the CGL a reflexion about family and roots and the results can be seen in the very creative family trees on display during the Salon.


Mauguio 3

Saturday 9 AM, the exhibitors are almost ready: of course all the southern associations have answered the call, coffee and some cakes are kindly waiting for them at the refreshment bar and local radios or TV channels start interviewing the organizers.

Mauguio 4

Outside, no sign of the crowd as you could see in Paris one week ago… OK, the weather was suddenly summery (20°C at 9 AM) and people hesitated between a day on the beach (6 kilometers from the exhibition) and a picnic in the fragrant pine forests. But on Sunday afternoon a lot of them realized that they no longer had time left and hurried to Mauguio,

Inside, the Cercle Généalogique de Languedoc occupy an important space, divided between their local sections of Montpellier, Haute Garonne, Gard and Paris, their databank, their thematic space and their local history research section.

More than 40 other exhibitors are present. Most of them stand for a well-defined region, and most of them are old acquaintances, sometimes also even old friends, meeting in all genealogical exhibitions and with friendly cooperation in their common passion, genealogy… Really? Yes, would you like an example? Last year, the Cercle Généalogique du Pays Cannois came to us Généalogie Algérie Maroc Tunisie, and explained that it would be possible to select in their data bank all people who were related to those in our data bank and asked if we would be interested; as we left, we had got three files kindly offered by them.


Mauguio 5

It could be the touchstone for the difference between two Salons that are so close in the calendar and so dissimilar in their nature: the commercial aspect here is not so significant. As a proof, the great flagships of the French genealogy world are not to be found here. Of course Archives et Culture are present, with all their new publications: where else could you have the possibility to verify if a new book will help you in your research and to decide to buy it or not? But you can walk along all of the aisles, and you cannot find the commercial genealogy companies of FILAE, Geneanet or even Heredis, the “local hero”;  they are notable by their absence.

This familiar aspect can also be noticed in the apéritif dinatoire that takes place on Saturday evening: the exhibitors don’t escape; they all stay for this convivial moment (admittedly, it’s easier here than in the capital city). After the welcome speeches of the CGL, the Mayor and the cultural attaché reaffirmed their support of the Salon. In this nice atmosphere we all shared the specialities brought by all the members.

Mauguio 6

Another important point to pick up. The Archives Départementales de l’Hérault take a very active part in this Salon. Some five people from the archives attended the Salon the whole weekend, including their Director. If you ask her about their motivation for coming to the Salon for what is now the eighth time, she says "There’s no better occasion for us to meet and know our “clients”". Of the four talks, two were given by the Archives Départementales. One related to their current work, their projects or improvements, and the other one to a specifically genealogical theme: this year “How to find the history of a house through time”.

It’s not impossible that the people at the Salon de la Généalogie Paris 15° who answered you “It’s Paris” would comment about Mauguio that “It’s the provinces” with a slightly disdainful tone, but do they forget that almost all the Parisians were, not so long ago, provincials themselves?


Photo credits : * Michel Manilève - Cercle Généalogique de Languedoc

Guest post author: ◊ Marie-Luce Lauer - Généalogie Algérie Maroc Tunisie


Guest Post - Preserving and Restoring Your Old Photographs

Photograph restoration

We were contacted by people from a company in Germany called InstaRestoration, asking if they might submit a guest post. Normally, we refuse all such promotional efforts, but this submission does give some useful advice, so we decided to accept it. Please be aware that we do not know any of the company's employees and have never used its services but that we do think that the advice given below might help you, Dear Readers, to preserve your photographs (by not, for example, spilling  pasta sauce all over such treasures, as we once did).


I am Peter Rosenkranz from a professional online photo restoration service with instant quotes. We are able to repair all kinds of damages such as watermarks, scratches, cracks or even photos torn into pieces. The image above was sent to us by a French Lady. She found the photo in an old box after her mother had passed away. Although she is not certain who that man is, she strongly believes this could be her father, who she has never met or seen before. We digitally restored the only photograph of her parents to its original state.

About 80% of all our restoration works are old family photos. An estimate of 60% of these photographs have suffered severe damage because of improper storing or displaying. In this tutorial, I would like to explain to you how to properly archive your old photographs and thereby save your family history.

First of all, you have to understand that the process of deterioration is very very slow. Most things that harm your photograph won't become visible today or tomorrow but eventually, they will. Keep in mind that the way you store your prints affects them day by day, year by year.

Here are some simple guidelines you should apply to guarantee proper archiving of your family photos.

1. Use acid free and bleach free materials.
When buying boxes or archiving sleeves to store your prints make sure that they are approved for archiving. Although paper sounds pretty natural it's often produced by using acid and bleach.

2. Temperature and humidity
This one is the most important one. Make sure that your photographs are stored in a dry and cool place. Most people store them either on the attic, which is too hot, or in the basement, which is too humid. High humidity causes mold and fungus and high temperatures bleach your photographs.

3. Photos only!
We literally have seen it hundreds of times. People storing their photos in boxes full of stuff that doesn't belong there. Every time you move the box the objects inside scratch the sensitive surface of the photographs, slowly worsening the damages. Put photographs in a photograph only box. No necklaces, no rings or any keepsakes. If you want to make things as safe as possible put each photograph in a single archive sleeve.

4. Ultraviolet light
The number one reason for faded and bleached out photographs. As much as sunlight hurts our skin it hurts photographs. Always try to hide your family photos form direct sunlight. If you display them in your living room or office make sure to use frames with UV blocking glass. The safest way is to only display a copy of the photo and store the original.

5. Adhesives
Most of us are guilty of this one. They might come in handy and are easy to use but those sticky strips and other adhesives often include chemicals that will slowly deteriorate the quality of your prints. Never use those things on one of your original photos.

6. Air pollutants
This one might sound silly but don't store your photos next to paint thinners or aggressive cleaning agents. What makes you dizzy makes your photographs dizzy as well.

7. Framing
When framing your images make sure to buy good quality frames. Quite often humidity and temperature cause your photograph to stick to the frame's glass. This is pretty much the worst thing to happen. To prevent that from happening buy either frames with a distance between picture and glass or use a special transparent plastic sheet in between glass and print.

8. Create digital copies
Always create digital copies of your images.

Apply these simple steps and you're good to go.
If any of your images are already damaged and you'd love to get them repaired check out our website.



©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Guest Post - Researching a French Ancestor of Berlin

Sad lady

We have received a wonderful guest post from Loyal FGB Reader, Monsieur C, detailing his research of French ancestors in Berlin and Mainz.


My success story for today: I have an ancestor Peter Franz Nicolas Bello (1743-1821), who lived in Berlin, married twice, had eight children, and died, all in Berlin.  But, his origins were not known.  No baptism could be found for him in Berlin.  His marriage records did not mention his parents’ names.   A few of his records, including his burial, used French forms of his names, Pierre or Francois, so I suspected he might have been French. 

Another cousin and I have been working on this problem for nearly 50 years.  We both hired separate researchers in Berlin, but no one could find anything.  Most of the French in Germany at that time seem to be Huguenots, but most of them arrived closer to 1685, so his baptism should be in Germany, right?  What to think or do?

I don’t usually subscribe to at the International level, as for so long they were so limited for the extra money.  But, every few years I get tempted to try again, to see if anything new turns up which is of value in my research.  

Subscribing anew, I saw that Ancestry now has a lot of pertinent Berlin records to this case, so I thought I would try to find them all and look them over for any possible clues which might point to new research.  

After successfully finding the records for his two marriages, baptisms for his eight children and his burial, one thing among them drew my attention: in the 1802 baptism for his eighth child, there was a witness, Catherine Mathee, born Bello.  Aha!  Perhaps an aunt or a sister.  Another witness was Joseph Mathee of Mainz.  Perhaps her husband or son?  Perhaps researching Catherine might reveal new information. 

1802 baptism

Searching for Catherine Mathee in Mainz, I was pleasantly surprised to find an 1806 Mainz death record for Catherine Matheo.  Better, it was linked to the actual record.  Better yet, the record was in French (Napoleon’s France controlled Mainz from 1795-1814, which they called Mayence), so I could mostly read it. 

1806 death

It said she was 65 (so born about 1740/41, so probably Pierre’s sister), she was born in Metz, Dept. of Moselle, and that her parents were Francois Bello and Catherine ___. 

Finally, I had a new place to look for Pierre’s baptism, records were available on-line, and possible parents’ names.  OK, maybe they weren’t Huguenots, but they were French.

Metz had 15 parishes, and it took me more than a week of paging through 1740-1743 records, looking for Pierre and Catherine, and I finally found Pierre’s baptism in the 14th parish, Saint Simplice (his mother’s name was not Catherine, though it turns out that was his paternal grandmother’s name).   

It is so pleasing to finally know his name as baptized was Pierre Nicolas François Bello, to know his birthplace of Metz, his birthdate of Dec. 8, 1743, and his parents’ names: Nicolas François Bello and Elisabeth Evrard. 

1743 baptism

After a concerted effort, I also found sister Catherine Bello’s baptism in 1741, born Jan. 7, even though it had eluded me and a later-discovered previously-published work on because the extracted “margin” name was wrong (Catherine Francois instead of Catherine Bello).  It would have saved me a many hours if I had had this reference before.  I also found via that there were also two later children not mentioned, Joseph and Pierre, who were baptized some distance from Metz. 

1741 Baptism

This case also included an interesting scenario where Pierre’s father Nicolas Francois also had a 13-years younger brother with the same name, Nicolas Francois. I have found that usually when another child in a family is given a name previously used, it is because the earlier child died. But, this is my second case where an elder child was given the responsibility of being the godparent, so the new infant received the same name.  Luckily, his younger brother had a different profession, and married three times with the record always giving either his age or his previous wife’s name, so I could distinguish them. 

I also found that Pierre’s father, Nicolas Francois Bello the elder, referenced in Catherine Bello’s death record above, also died in Mainz in 1801.  I am still working on what happened to his mother Elisabeth Evrard.  Maybe the entire family left France, perhaps during the French Revolution, I don’t know.

I used both and, especially the former with mostly original registers and it being a little easier for me to navigate.  Lovely that they have color images of originals, and not scanned poor b/w microfilm images.  Image resolution on is limited but quality is still usually OK. 

I have since spent many more hours paging through some of the Metz registers and the 2 Protestant registers, with occasional help from indexes, I have managed to build his tree back another 4 to 6 generations, with more work that can be done. 

Once again, patience and persistence paid off.  Fifty years of. 

This break-through in this story is another example of why I like to see actual records myself, to see if maybe someone else misread or ignored something which might turn out to be important.

 Other: without any good indexes yet (filae has an extremely limited number for Metz from CG Moselle), the register scanning process (which I have done in about 12 French cities now), usually seems to involve some degree of looking at the same register pages repeatedly as one learns of more family names to keep track of, it becoming necessary to repeat the review process to find the records which were not noted during the first pass.  Many times, I have been tempted to try to make some sort index of all names in order to greatly facilitate locating any of them again, though I haven’t thought of an efficient method which might turn out to be worth the effort.  Thoughts welcome! :-)

I have also thought of trying to organize the various parish registers in a city (and nearby) by years, maybe in a spreadsheet or table, with links, but again, I see no clear elegant path, especially as some registers are B only, some are BM, some are BMS, some are MS, some are S only.  As it is, I gradually compile pages of cheat sheets as to what vue (image) number each year begins for each parish or the rare yearly index, which often turn out to be very handy in saving time later, here and there.


Monsieur C has shared with us a good example of cluster research, (what Elizabeth Shown Mills calls the FAN club principle) here and we are most indebted. Read the comments below to see that we are not alone in saying :Merci!

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Guest Post - Success With Signatures

Signatures 1

Over the years, we have had recourse to signatures as supporting evidence for French genealogy proofs rather often. There have been some most interesting cases in which a French immigrant left precious few genealogical details, but he or she may have signed a single document, such as a will or land purchase before leaving this vale of tears. France being a land that treasures documentation, if that immigrant were to have reached adulthood before leaving, he or she may well have signed something in France, such as a civil registration or a notarial act.

We do not use handwriting analysis to compare these signatures, for we are not attempting a charlatan's glimpse into the personality of the signer. Instead, we follow the guidelines on signature comparison of criminologists who specialise in forged signatures. (And anyway, their examples are much more fun to read than those of the handwriting analysts.)

Before we could write a post on this subject, we received a message from Monsieur C. on his research into a related topic. With his kind permission, we give it here, as a guest post.

Recently, I found for the first time the signature of my earliest known ancestor, Pierre Chastain. This was exciting enough, but then I noticed something curious at the end. At first I thought it was just a fancy way to terminate the signature, then I realized it looked rather like the number '98'. 

This signature (above) is for a marriage contract in which Pierre was a witness. It took place in Schwabendorf, Germany in 1695. Being a Huguenot, Pierre had fled to Germany from his hometown of Vesc, France in 1685. 

In trying to discover Pierre's parents and family group back in France, I've been combing through the notarial records for Vesc in the Drôme Departmental Archives. Vesc had quite a few Chastains and Chastans at this time, and I noticed that their signatures all have that same '98' that Pierre uses in his. Here are three Chastain signatures from Vesc circa 1680.

Signatures 2

I noticed that other families also have numbers next to their signatures, though they are occasionally lost in the ornamental nature of the handwriting. 

Signatures 3

They all look like '98' to me. [Monsieur C wondered:] Could this be in reference to 1598 when the Edict of Nantes was signed by King Henry IV giving Huguenots freedom? Perhaps everyone that does this is identifying themselves as a Protestant? 

[Later,] I was able to discover the meaning of the symbol in the signatures. They are not the number 98. They are specimens of a practice known as ruches. These were the most basic form—three interlocking loops—which simply stand for "the undersigned". In English, ruches translates literally to "hives", which isn't that helpful. But the word "ruches" itself, like many French words, made its way into the English language. In the Oxford English Dictionary, ruches is defined as "a frill or pleat of fabric as decoration on a garment or soft furnishing." This makes sense once you see more elaborate examples since they can look quite decorative.

Ruches first appeared in France in the 7th century as the use of signet rings gave way to manual signatures for the authentication of documents. They could be personalized however the signer deemed fit and were also a way of demonstrating skill with a feather pen. This practice, which vanished by the 19th century, would have been most prominent among those whose work required the signing of documents on a regular basis, solicitors and notaries being two obvious examples.

Manuel de Diplomatique by Arthur Giry is the authoritative work on this subject. A digital copy is available at Gallica, the digital library run by the National Library of France

Here are some more elaborate examples that go well beyond the basic three interlocking loops that I originally sent you. Let me know if you get the images below. I didn't attach them but embedded them directly in the email. Even these are fairly simple compared to a few others I've seen! Anyway, I was excited to discover the answer and thought I'd share with you.

Signatures 4


Signatures 5



Many thank, Monsieur C, for this fine small study!

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy 



FGB Free Clinic - Case no. 8 follow-up - Uniformologie - Success!

Band Practice

After our Case Study on Uniformologie, in which we reported an expert's view that the uniform in question was no French Army uniform and his speculations on what it could be (all wrong, by the way, but we are still grateful to him for his expertise) Monsieur R had no intention of giving up on the quest. Indeed no, he continued with heroic amounts of energy and determination and solved the riddle. With his kind permission, we give his account of the research below and hope that you may be inspired, even find new courage and ideas, to carry on your own research.

First, I would like to thank you, and tell you how much my wife (Madame R) and I enjoyed your "Uniformologie" Article, and your interest following our "needle in the haystack" search for the uniform identification and the ultimate confirmation of the identity of the man in the photo.

We were hoping to fulfill a dying wish of my wife's mother to learn about and tell her anything we could learn regarding her biological father. You see, due to the reasons unknown, my wife's mother, born in 1924, in Germany, was not told who her biological father was until well after she and her family had migrated to America in the 1930s. In fact, her mother was much older when her own mother (Madame R's grandmother) finally revealed who her biological father was. It was the handsome French man in uniform, in the old photo. The photo in question was always in my wife's grandmother's box of photos that she brought with her to America. They left their family village, located near the French Border, in search of work and a new life. We believe my wife's grandmother had met this man while across the border in France in search of work(?) Growing up in the Midwest, my wife had always been told by her grandmother that the man in the photo was a special friend. Eventually, my wife was told that the man in the photo was named Jules Martin, and that her grandmother had met him while in Sarrebourg, France.

So, in the last months of my wife's mother's life we began a search in earnest to confirm the identity of Jules Martin and perhaps of his life back in France. Unfortunately, to blur our endeavor, the name "Jules Martin" is about like Robert Smith in the USA. I always believed that the path to confirm the identity of Mr. Martin was along the route of first identifying the uniform, especially since it bore officer stripes. As you explained in your "Uniformologie" our search for the uniform identification was nearly in vain, even after exhaustive internet research. As a part of the search, my goal was to get this photo out on as many sites as possible, and to get the photo showing up in Google image pages as often and as early as possible-hoping someone may see it and know the man. We knew the photo was taken in Sarrebourg, France, by the photographer's imprint on the image. We also knew that the photo had to be taken in the early 1920s. We assumed the man, Jules Martin, to be about 20-25 years in age. We also searched under the assumption he was from that Alsace-Lorraine Region. At this time we were never able to confirm his existence through any mandatory military registration records, even though we reviewed many from Classes 1918-1924, in several "Departments." Nor, could any of the historical military forums I posted in, identify the uniform or insignia. Therefore, I began launching strategic darts, by way of emails containing the photo along with an explanation to civic officials in Sarrebourg and other Alsace-Lorraine Region Communes.

Finally, I received an email from a helpful director of tourism in Sarrebourg, whom I had contacted. She had distributed it to some folks in the Community, including the President of the Organization, "les Amis du Vieux Sarrebourg", translated as the “Friends of Old Sarrebourg.” And, thus, the needle was found! Through this Group, they identified the uniform as the "band uniform" of one of the local civic associations, known as the "Bengeles." (I suspect, that perhaps the uniform was from military surplus, because I had recently found that his uniform was remarkably similar to the Saint Maixent Military Academy uniform in the early 1900s.) One of the men of the "Friends of Old Sarrebourg" showed the photo to another friend in Sarrebourg, and this man identified the man in the photo, as indeed Jules Martin (aka Julius Martin)-his grandfather! He initially offered some sketchy information that his grandfather was born in 1899, and that he was a farmer, grocer and musician. Interestingly enough, the grandson has the exact same photo that was in my wife's old family box of photos.

With much pleasure, I shared this discovery with my wife and she listened with great emotion. Sadly, her mother had passed away earlier in the summer. Before we could tell her what we had finally learned of her biological father, Jules. My wife, Madame R, gave much consideration, thought, and prayer on how to take the next step. The dilemma of making contact with the living grandson, in France; considering the possible delicate situation arising from the relationship of my wife's grandmother and Jules Martin, long ago, in France, resulting in the birth of my wife's mother. Recently, my wife did send the email with an attached letter to Jules’s grandson. A letter she spent much time composing trying to be sensitive to the reader. After many rewrites, she finally had a friend, who could write and speak in fluent French, write a translation. We have now received a reply from the grandson still living in Sarrebourg, France. Though he was quite surprised, he offered more information regarding their common biological grandfather, Jules Martin. At this time, my wife does not know where this new relationship is headed. However, should they become friends, she hopes to visit Sarrebourg and so they may better share their stories of life and family.

A Happy Ending!

Note also how generous with their time and how interested in and willing to help with French genealogy puzzles the local official and history/genealogy buffs were. We have found this to be the case very, very often. There may be the odd over-worked official fed up with genealogy requests who will send a letter of rebuff to you, but most are keen to be of help and to connect with distant cousins in far-off lands. This post tells how you may find more about each department's local history associations. This website can be used to find the address of every town hall (mairie) in France, should you wish to emulate Monsieur R and write to one.

Monsieur and Madame R, thank you so much for sharing this research journey with us. (Suggestions for how to prepare are given here.) We look forward to a report on the discovery of Sarrebourg and family there.

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Genealogical Research in Luxembourg - A Guest Post


Bryna O’Sullivan, the author of this post, is a US based professional genealogist and translator of French to English, specialising in U.S.-Canada, Luxembourg-American, and Connecticut genealogy, and in the translation of historic French documents. You can reach her online at For a brief period, what is now Luxembourg was a part of the French First Empire. Should you ancestors have been there, the following suggestions from Ms. O'Sullivan may help you in your research.


5 Ways Your Experience Researching French Ancestors Can Help You Find Your Family in Luxembourg

  1. France and Luxembourg used the same system for recording births, deaths, and marriages: France invaded Luxembourg in 1795 and made it part of the Department des Forets1. As a result, it fell under the Decree of 20 September 1792 and was required to keep civil registration (birth, death and marriage records).2 The system for keeping records in Luxembourg came directly from France. And even better, Luxembourg’s records have been digitized on FamilySearch at
  2. Early Luxembourg records also used the Republican Calendar. Record keeping was established under the Republican Calendar, so that calendar was used until the calendar was ended in 1805.3 Use the calendar information on to calculate the date in the modern Gregorian Calendar (
  3. The census plays the same role in Luxembourg research as it does in the French: In the U.S., we tell people to start with the census. Because it’s usually searchable, you can trace your family member over time and figure out when and perhaps where he or she was born, married, had children, and died. While Luxembourg’s census can still help you find out more about your family, it isn’t an easy starting point – because it is hasn’t been completely (or even partially) indexed. To search the census, you have to know exactly where your family was living and when. It’s sorted by location and then by year on FamilySearch at The first census enumeration is in 1843, and enumerations occur about every three years after. If you can find your family, you will get helpful hints on their family structure, occupation, marital status, and possibly date of birth.
  4. Notarial records are incredibly important: The notary doesn’t even exist in American research. The closest equivalent would be combining a recorder or clerk’s office with a probate court. The notary’s work includes everything from guardianship papers to land sales.4 Luxembourg and France both have incredible collections of notarial records. You can access Luxembourg records from 1621 to 1821, the originals of which are at the National Archives of Luxembourg, on FamilySearch at
  5. The language is (sometimes) the same: Although Luxembourg was granted independence by the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and eventually ended up in a German principality, local clerks continued to use French in record keeping. The 1843 census of Niederanven was recorded in French.


Many thanks, Ms. O’Sullivan!


Anne Morddel

French Genealogy



[1] Richard Brookes, The General Gazetter. N.p.: J. Johnson, Clarks: 1809. Now on Google Books at

[2] “What was the Decree of 20 September 1792, and why do I care?” Researching Luxembourg Genealogy ( 25 May 2016.)

[3] “The Republican Calendar,” ( accessed 25 May 2016.)

[4] “Array of Notarial Records,” The French Genealogy Blog ( accessed 25 May 2016.)

The Departmental Archives of Haute-Savoie - A Guest Post


Our good friend based in Geneva, the genealogist, Isabelle Haemmerle, who wrote here about the Archives d'Etat de Genève, the State Archives of Geneva, and about the International Museum of the Reformation, has sent us so kindly this on the Departmental Archives of Haute-Savoie:


How beautiful are our sun-bathed mountains surrounding Geneva on a lovely spring day. We have the feeling that a short 40 km drive through France to the Departmental Archives of Haute-Savoie in Annecy would be very pleasant for us and helpful to you, Dear Readers.


Bordered by Switzerland and Italy, Haute-Savoie (74) is one of the two departments with Savoie (73) which have been created after the attachment of the Savoie Duché to France in 1860 following the Turin treaty. Previously this territory was part of Maison de Savoie which ruled the Piemont-Sardaigne kingdom. King Victor Emmanuel II of Savoie gave it away to France in exchange of the support of the French emperor Napoleon III for the unification of Italy. The Savoie people were for the most in favor of the change seduced by the political and economical reforms of Napoleon III in France. From 1793 to 1814, the Savoie Duché had already been integrated with France following the Napoleanic wars and the first Empire in what is now called the first French period.

Due to this historical background, the Departmental Archives in Haute-Savoie are more recent than others in the rest of the country but offer various amazing resources such as their jewel : the Sardinian Maps (Mappes Sardes), a land register from 1728-1738.

The Archives facility is located at the entrance of the city not far from the Annecy-Nord highway exit in a very bright and modern building opened in 2000. Easy to find, and you can park for free in the private parking dedicated to visitors. For our dear friend Anne, it will be a 25 mn walk form the train station or the bus 4!

Orientated towards the magnificent Aravis mountains, the entrance gives way to the reception where you can have your visitor card issued in a few minutes with code bar. The clerk gives you a key for your locker and a little board with the same number for your seat at the tables. If you wish to take pictures, it will be proposed that you be placed closer to the high windows. Warning : before spending one day there, we would advise you to bring some snacks as the facility is not so close to shops. Drinks are for sale though.

When we first entered, we were impressed by the light and the space of the reading room. However it was very welcoming and we leisurely discovered the various displays. The Guide to the Archives of Haute-Savoie , R. Gabion, 1976 is a really useful tool and available on the spot. At the back of the room are a set of books with a focus on Genealogy in the region and on one shelf at the entrance a few guide booklets :

  • Do research in the Archives of Enregistrement
  • Do research in the land register (cadastre)
  • Do research in the Hypothèques
  • Do research on the web site
  • Visualize pictures from a code



To order a document -- three are permitted at one time (from 9am-12:15pm and 1:30pm-4:05pm) -- we found it quite simple once we had been instructed by the pleasant archivist. We used an available computer, placed our newly issued card under the bar code scanner and entered the code. After 10 to 15 minutes, a small red light lit on our table and we could pick up our order one by one at the main counter. Disappointing is the lack of WIFI access if you bring your laptop as we did. But internet access is possible on computers at our disposal.


The archives of Haute-Savoie present special series due to a few historical originalities (equally found in departments of Savoie and Alpes-Maritimes) :

  • Ancient archives : a significant amount of documents from the funds of the archives of Duché de Savoie were handed over in 1951 by the archives of State of Turin and formed the SA series (ecclesiastic funds, archives of Geneva comté (13th -14th) and Genevois apanage (15th-17th))
  • Modern archives : as the region was again part of the Piemont-Sardaigne kingdom between 1815 and 1860, the relevant archives are compiled in a special fund called the Sardinian fund (FS series)
  • Sardinian maps ( Mappes sardes) : jewel of the departmental Archives of Haute-Savoie, the famous maps represent one of the oldest cadastres of Europe as it goes back to the beginning of the 18th century when Sardinian cartography was much more advanced. Now on line -- a great job has been achieved -- it allows the searcher to find the properties of an owner in each village ( Cadastre > Utiliser le formulaire de recherche> Commune - make sure to choose the actual name and select the maps of the village you are searching), the status of the owner (bourgeois, communier, noble, forain, ecclesiastic etc.., ) which crop, etc... and you can visualize any plot on Google maps.
  • Tabellion : the tabellion of Ancien regime is on line but not the Sardinian one. Some tabellions such as St Julien en Genevois's one is at the AEG ( Archives of State of Geneva) as the records were done in Carouge which is now in canton de Genève. So you may need to go to visit Geneva !
  • On line : Etat Civil, Recensement, registres militaires, tabellion, cadastres, documents iconographiques


If you need some information about a native of Annecy in the 19th century, I would finally suggest that you have a look at the series 15 J which gathers a lot of resources about the Cotton Mill of Annecy, the main employer of the city at that time.

Departmental archives of Haute-Savoie

37bis, avenue de la Plaine

74 000 ANNECY email :

tel : 04 50 33 20 80

fax : 04 50 66 70 49


Thank you, Isabelle!

Those who wish to contact Isabelle to know more about genealogy in Haute-Savoie and Geneva may do so by writing to her at: genhaemm (AT) gmail (DOT) com. She also is an expert on the history of the Cotton Mill at Annecy and on researching its employees.

©2015 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Guest Post - One FGB Reader's Huguenot Research


Protestant town door



We received the following from one of our Dear Readers, Monsieur C, which describes his research on a Protestant ancestor:

First, I wanted to thank you for your lovely site! I just discovered it the other day. I've been going back and reading every single post. Even if they have nothing to do with my research, they are still a joy to read. I especially love the little flavor you add with Le Roy's descriptions of the months used during the French Republic.

Second, I wanted to thank you for helping me with a big discovery, which I'll get to momentarily. Here's a little background first. 

Last summer, I started researching my family history. My grandfather had died the previous fall, and I had been thinking frequently about him and where the Chastains had come from. His name was Peter Alexander Chastain IV. His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were Peter Alexander Chastain the III, II, and I, respectively. Now they're all buried next to each other in the ancient dirt of the Appalachian Plateau.

Peter I was the first of my Chastain line to come to America. He traveled here in 1860 with his family. He was born in Schwabendorf, Germany in 1820. His father's name was Christian Chastain. This was all the information we had. So, knowing this much, I started doing some digging online. I soon discovered that Schwabendorf was a colony formed by Huguenot refugees from France in 1687 after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. (Now I knew why a family with a French last name had come from Germany.)

After doing a little more research, I found the Schwabendorf site. It looked like some sort of historical society. Surely they'd be able to help me or at least point me in the right direction. I emailed them. The next day I received a reply. They could trace my family back to a Pierre Chastain, a doctor, who moved to Schwabendorf in 1717 from another Huguenot colony, Louisendorf, Germany. Well, that was easy. In just one day I had extended my family's knowledge of its origins by over a hundred years.

I purchased one of the family books that the historical society offers. It contains details of every family that lived in Schwabendorf from 1687 to 1925 (taken from church records). The book also lists where each family came from in France. Everyone had a town listed except for two families. Of course mine was one of them. Chastain - unknown. This has been a source of frustration for a while now. However, it did at least mention the province of France where the Chastain family came from—the Dauphiné. Armed with this new knowledge, I began researching Louisdendorf, Germany as well as the Dauphiné Province in France.

My research then hit a wall for a while. I realized how lucky I had been to strike gold so early in my efforts. Not knowing what else to do, I began reading every book about Huguenots I could get my greedy little hands on. I found one book titled "A History of the Huguenots of the Dispersion at the Recall of the Edict of Nantes" by Reginald Lane Poole. In it, there was a chapter about Huguenot refugees who had settled in the Hesse Province of Germany. This is where both Schwabendorf and Louisendorf reside. He mentioned that most of the families that settled in this area of Germany had passed through Switzerland first and had come from the Dauphiné Province in France, with most of these coming from the town of Die. Well, I thought. Every bit of new information should help.

Soon, I learned about the existence of the Swiss charity registers which recorded assistance given to the refugees while in Switzerland. I did some searching, but was unable to find them. In the meantime, I found a book that was extremely helpful—"Hugenotten und Waldenser in Hessen-Kassel". It's in German, but has an index of names. Chastain had several entries. From this book, I learned that Pierre Chastain was recorded as arriving in the Hesse Province of Germany in July of 1687. Now I had pushed back even further, from 1717 to 1687. But again, it only mentioned that he came from the Dauphiné Province, no specific town, and I was coming up empty researching from the other end in France.

Now I can finally get to how your blog helped me. One of your recent posts on the International Museum of the Reformation linked to a database that holds those Swiss charity registers that I've been looking for for so long. Excitedly, I navigated to the site and searched for Chastain. Nine results popped up. Three of them were for a Pierre Chastain. The province listed as his place of origin? Dauphiné. His occupation? Doctor. This all matched so far. Now to the dates. On 11/22/1686 he applied for assistance in Neuchâtel, Switerland. Two days later he applied for assistance in nearby Neuveville, Switzerland. Then in February of 1687, a few months before he was known to be in Hesse, Germany, he applied for assistance in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, right next to the German border. Each time he was closer to Germany, and the dates match with what I had already known. If you are familiar with the Huguenot trail from France to Germany, these towns in Switzerland are all on it.

I'm 99% certain that this is the very same Pierre Chastain who is currently my earliest known ancestor. And the big discovery? The assistance registers also list the home town of those applying for help. Pierre was from Vesc, France. I was beyond excited to discover this, and it's all because of your blog. I now know the exact town where my family came from in France. Thank you.

I'm now hoping to use this information to see if I can find out more and dig back further. I know that Vesc resides in the Department of Drôme so I've started doing a bit of research already.

Sorry this was so long-winded. I knew I would get carried away. I love researching and discussing my family history as I'm sure you understand. So here is my final thank you for your lovely blog and specifically for the post that led me to this wonderful discovery.


Merci ! We are very pleased that the FGB is of help and we know that Isabelle will be pleased that it was her post that guided someone to new discoveries. You can read more about Monsieur C's research on his blog.


©2015 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy