History Plain & Simple

Improve Your Knowledge of French History

Clovis

We have come upon the admirable effort of a young man keen on French history, The French History Podcast. Gary Girod, by his writing, may be the most passionate of francophiles that we have read. Having become entranced by France during some sort of school trip, he later lived in Béziers for a while (where he could have encountered Jean Boischampion, of the lovely stained glass family crests). After a brief career as chequered as our own, he would now seem to be settled in a doctorate programme during which, apparently as a hobby, he has also decided to produce podcasts covering the entirety of French history. Ambitious perhaps, but why not enjoy the dear boy's work as long as it lasts?

And we do hazard that it will bring you some enjoyment, Dear Readers, for his podcasts are both entertaining and informative. He might be a bit more enamoured of the Vercingétorix and Astérix era than we could ever hope to be, but he then expands his range to include interviews with historians and leaps to such modern subjects as women's rights in France. In all, quite fun and yet another way for you to understand the country and culture from which your French ancestors came.

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


The French in Australia

The editors of Connexion  have again given their kind permission for us to share one of their articles with our Dear Readers, not a few of whom write to us from Australia. Enjoy!

 

BAUDIN-SHIPS

It is one of the most tantalising wonders of French history: the possibility that, if events had taken a different turn, Australia could have become a French colony. Michael Delahaye plays a historical game of 'What If..?'

Nicolas Baudin was one of the great French explorers of the Age of Enlightenment.

His final expedition, from 1800 to 1804, was to the largely unknown southern landmass that the French called Nouvelle-Hollande, known today as Australia.

Funding for the expedition was personally agreed by First Consul Napoléon Bonaparte and, typical of the expeditions of the time, it was dedicated to the study and collection of zoological and botanical specimens.

Many of these – wallabies, emus and black swans – would end up in Empress Joséphine’s garden at the Château de Malmaison outside Paris.

The first Europeans to explore the Australian coast were probably the Portuguese in the 16th Century, followed by the Dutch in the 17th, but it was the British who, in the wake of Captain Cook’s expeditions, established the first permanent settlement in 1788 – the penal colony of Sydney.

Baudin’s expedition is remarkable because, while its leader’s intentions were commendably scientific, one crew member’s plan was nothing less than a land grab to dislodge England’s tenuous foothold. Had he succeeded, Australians would now be greeting each other not with a matey “G’day” but – like one in five Canadians – a more restrained “Bonjour”.

His name was François Péron. A former soldier, he was an inveterate self-promoter and social climber. Although only 25 when taken on as one of the expedition’s naturalists, he quickly rose to a position of influence to become a thorn in his commander’s side.

Following Baudin’s death on the return journey, he ended up not just writing the official account of the expedition but writing Baudin out of it.

Péron’s role in the expedition raises intriguing questions: Was he just an amateur strategist or had he been embedded by a higher authority, without Baudin’s knowledge, to conduct a covert spying mission? If so, what part was played by the man who authorised the expedition, Napoléon Bonaparte?

Central to these questions is a document that has only recently been subjected to academic scrutiny – Péron’s so-called memoir. It appears to be a draft report, hastily handwritten on his return, complete with deletions and scrawled marginalia.

It is addressed to Count Fourcroy, director of the Museum of Natural History in Paris and, more to the point, a councillor of state at the heart of government – though there is no evidence it reached him.

For two centuries, the document lay in the Baudin Expedition archive in Le Havre, largely ignored.

It was not published in full, in its original French, until 1998. Then six years ago it was translated into English by two academics at the University of Adelaide, professors Jean Fornasiero and John West-Sooby (French Designs on Colonial New South Wales, published by The Friends of the State Library of South Australia). Viewing the document from an Australian perspective, they put it into a wider, geopolitical context and highlighted Péron’s impudent proposal: that France should annex the embryonic British colony of New South Wales.

International diplomacy in Baudin’s day was conducted in a quaint, gentlemanly way.

Even countries regularly at war, like England and France, would grant passports to members of each other’s expeditions so they could use their ports for repair and revictualling.

This arrangement enabled Baudin, whose two ships had just charted Australia’s south coast, to drop anchor on the eastern seaboard at Port Jackson, the gateway to Sydney.

They stayed there, as guests of the British governor, for five months and were given remarkably free rein, considering that, only weeks before their arrival, their two countries had been officially at war.

Péron was quick to exploit the opportunity to check out the colony and its 6,000-strong population. His memoir reveals a conflicted mix of Anglophilia and Anglophobia – impressed by what the English had achieved in just 14 years but outraged by what he repeatedly calls their “invasion” and their presumption in claiming an entire continent by a unilateral act of possession.

It reads: “Milord, there is not a moment to lose: we must strike a blow at this international bogeyman at all costs, otherwise world trade will be in England’s hands. One of the cruellest blows we can deliver her is to overthrow her nascent empire in the Southern Lands…

“In 25 years, this remarkable colony will be able to defy the combined efforts of France and Spain.”

Out of these contradictory emotions arose his audacious plan: that Paris should send a fleet of frigates with a landing party of some 1,800 men, together with eight months’ supplies, to blockade Port Jackson and, counting on a spontaneous uprising by the Irish convicts within, take Sydney.

Success assumed, Péron considered the options: “Three courses of action are available: destroy the colony, grant it independence, maintain possession of it.”
He favoured the last, again with a back-handed compliment to the enemy: “…by securing this region, and particularly by adopting the English plan for administering it, we could gain almost all of the benefits from it that she herself anticipated.”

But how much of this reached Napoléon? There is no evidence he ever saw Péron’s memoir.

That said, on the expedition’s return, Péron is known to have been in contact with both Joséphine and Napoléon about the animals destined for the Empress’s garden. Then, when he came to compile the official account, Péron ensured that the accompanying atlas gave the area charted by the expedition a name: Terre Napoléon.

Further playing to the Emperor’s vanity, he added such geographical features as Golfe Bonaparte in cosy connubiality alongside the smaller Golfe Joséphine.
Napoléon would certainly have received a copy and surely at least flicked through it.

But by 1804 the Emperor’s thoughts were likely elsewhere.

Uppermost would have been his planned invasion of England – to be aborted a year later by the defeat of the combined French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar. Even so, Professor West-Sooby thinks something like Péron’s plan may have lingered in the imperial mind as late as 1810.

Baudin’s visit to Sydney certainly rattled the English.

Following it, they moved quickly to colonise Van Diemen’s Land – today’s Tasmania – and extended their grip along the southern coast, eventually assuming control of the entire continent.

Today, the Queen remains Australia’s head of state.

But though the French may have lost the Great Southern Land, time would bring a small consolation.

In 1911, a descendant of the French geographer-politician Charles Pierre Claret de Fleurieu visited Australia to ask whether some of the names Baudin had given to places might be officially reinstated.

As a result, one of the most beautiful parts of South Australia is today called the Fleurieu Peninsula.

Coincidentally, it produces some fine Cabernet Sauvignon.

 

What was France’s real interest in Australia?

 

Professor John West-Sooby of the University of Adelaide explains what evidence there is to show France’s intentions towards Australia:

What was the true nature of the French and British expeditions led by men like Baudin and Cook?
JWS: Scientific discovery was the first motivation – at least, as publicly declared. That said, given all the geopolitical rivalries, no expedition was entirely “innocent”.

Everybody understood that people going to the Pacific or to the Indian Ocean would also keep an eye out on the position of rivals and the defences of their territory, their colonies and their ports.

Do you believe Napoléon was ever made aware of Péron’s plan?
JWS: There is a document in Napoléon’s correspondence dating from 1810, which is when the French lost Mauritius to the British, and Napoléon was thinking of sending a squadron to take back the island – and there’s a kind of parenthetical comment: “Once they’ve done that, they can head south and attack the colony at Port Jackson.”

So there’s certainly a possibility that the idea, if not Péron’s memoir itself, had circulated in some way up and through the corridors of power. We just have no definitive way of confirming it.

Péron’s plan is very persuasive in its detail. Could it have worked?
JWS: I think it is plausible… I don’t know how many ships it would have taken – enough for a decent landing party and another one to patrol and protect the entrance to the port – but it sounds plausible: “We land, secure the military barracks before daybreak while they’re still asleep, free the Irish convicts who will ask nothing more than to help us overthrow their English masters…” So yes, there’s plenty that’s plausible about it.

Ultimately, there’s the issue of resources. How do you send an expedition of that capacity round the other side of the world when you don’t hold the Cape of Good Hope? In terms of realpolitik, it was a bit fanciful that France might mount that kind of expedition at that time.

Michael Delahaye, 16 August 2019


The Revolutions of 1848 and Your Immigrant Ancestor

Pantheon

 

In February 1848, after the Industrial Revolution had increased the poverty of many people, especially in Paris, where thousands were starving, an uprising of the working and non-working poor overthrew the government that had been in place for eighteen years. It had been a repressive government, prohibiting political gatherings and allowing the vote to no women and to only about one percent of the men, landowners all. Crucially, most men in the military, in various guards and police forces did not have the vote. Modern history has shown that poverty and disenfranchisement can pretty much be counted on to bring about a revolution and so it was in Paris.

It was a time when the railways were being built to connect Paris with each of the Hexagon's frontiers and when the beautiful passages, or shopping arcades, were being built while, at the same time, the areas of the Marais, around the Louvre and in the Faubourg Saint Antoine were slums. Horne describes how Paris was a public health nightmare at the time: raw sewage poured into the Seine, which was the source of drinking water for the poor and where they tried to wash their clothes, there was no rubbish collection, the stench in the City of Light was vile.

On the 22nd of February, students and workers started barricading the streets with trees they cut down and paving stones they pulled up, and with carriages they turned over. They were dispersed, without fighting, by the army and Paris Municipal Guard, made up mostly of poor, disenfranchised men, just like many of them. The next day, the revolutionaries were back in larger numbers and in a more aggressive mood. After a tense day, during which the government began to crack, a group of soldiers finally opened fire on demonstrators, killing fifty, and the Revolution of 1848, the "February Revolution", began.

On the 24th, troops were ordered to fire on demonstrators, which they did. Then, losing heart and feeling more sympathy with them than with their officers, they stopped. It is said that some even gave their guns to the workers. A few days later, the king and his family ran off to England, the government fallen. The July Monarchy (1830-1848) was over and the Second Republic took its place. Many of the day wrote that the workers’ legitimate claims had been co-opted by louder and more radical people; they urged the mobs, when victorious, to ransack the palatial private apartments of the departed royals, to the shock of many (does this bit sound similar to recent news reports?).

In April, national elections in which most men (but still no women) could vote were held. As in the French Revolution (and as it is today, some might say), Paris found itself much farther to the left than the rest of the country. Parisian radicals were distressed to see that most of the newly elected from the rest of the country were conservatives. How could the workers of Angouleme or Nice or Colmar not have voted with them? So, again, Parisians demonstrated, some 100,000 taking to the streets and (again, reflecting Parisian bullying of the legislature during the French Revolution) dissolved the Assembly. In June, outraged at the continued inequality between the rich and the poor, Parisian workers began another uprising in the Faubourg Saint Antoine quarter in eastern Paris.

Those who held opposing views, (and the power) had had enough. On the 25th of June, the government began to respond. Over 120,000 armed men from the Army, the National Guard and the Mobile Guard, in the west of the city, began to move across Paris toward the Faubourg Saint Antoine in what was called, literally, a “cleansing”. The “June Days Uprising”, les journées de juin,  was a ferocious battle every inch of the way. Houses were raided, battles were fought at barricades in the streets. When it was over, some four thousand revolutionaries and sixteen hundred guards or soldiers had died, and bloodied Paris was not pretty. The workers, of course, lost. (Read a nice summary of articles on the Revolution of 1848 and "the right to work" at RetroNews.)

Promptly, the surviving revolutionaries and their supporters were rounded up and imprisoned, eleven thousand of them. The worst offenders were transported to Guyana for fifteen years. More than four thousand were transported to Algeria. The complete files (this links to the finding aid) of their arrests and the decisions about them are held in the Service Historique de la Défense at Vincennes. Many of the soldiers, guards and others were wounded or for some other reason merited compensation, and the files (another finding aid) on their applications and awards are in the Archives nationales.

Over the next couple of years, French people were offered the opportunity to emigrate to Algeria (see our post on this revolution and the workers' convoys) or to try their chance in the California gold fields (see our post about French gold miners). Unsurprisingly, nearly all of those accepted by the various schemes were from the volatile poor of Paris.

If your ancestor left France in 1848 or quite soon thereafter, you may now have an inkling as to why, especially if he or she were from Paris. As a matter of fact, if your ancestor happened to have been a French worker or journalist who emigrated in 1848 or 1849, it is a good guess that he was from Paris.

You can do more than guess. You can look to see if your ancestor were among those prosecuted and/or deported. Two excellent websites have listed all of those arrested after the June Days Uprising, Inculpés de l’insurrection de Juin 1848 and those who were arrested for opposing the subsequent 1851 coup d'état, Poursuivis à la suite du coup d’État de décembre 1851. As with the database of French judiciary, these two were created under the auspices of Jean-Claude Farcy, and they have the same basic format. If you are seeking a particular name, the quickest way to find it is to click on "Recherches" in the menu, then on "Liste nominative" in the drop-down menu. That takes you to an alphabetical listing that is easy to navigate.

We remain in awe of Dr. Farcy's prodigious productivity, all of it most helpful to French genealogical researchers.

N.B. We are much indebted to Monsieur L.....D. for starting us on this sojourn and for introducing us to the Rohrbough book.

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

Bibliography:

Horne, Alistair. Seven Ages of Paris : Portrait of a City. London : Pan Books, 1998.

Mansel, Philip. Paris Between Empires 1814-1852 : Monarchy and Revolution. London : Phoenix Press, 2005.

Rohrbough, Malcolm J.. Rush to Gold: The French and the California Gold Rush, 1848–1854. New Haven : Yale University Press, 2013.

Numerous Wikipedia articles.


Summer Reading - La Pitié-Salpêtrière


La Salpetriere

La Pitié and La Salpêtrière, two of the oldest hospitals in France, were combined in the twentieth century to form the "largest hospital complex in the world". In 2012, celebrating four hundred years since the earliest incarnation of the first, this surprisingly academic yet readable, commemorative tome was published. Why would this be of any interest to you, Dear Readers? Because many of you are descended from women sent from La Salpêtrière to Canada and known as "les Filles du roy", to Louisiana, to Saint-Domingue, to Martinique, and to what is now Reunion, and because some of you are descended from the officers, doctors and nurses who worked there. 

Written by Anne-Sophie Pimpaud and Gilles-Antoine Langlois, the book is beautifully produced, on fine paper, with lovely type with photographs and illustrations of a high quality. Most importantly to you, it is completely bi-lingual, with the French text in the left-hand columns and the English text in the right-hand columns. This is a history of two hospitals, their functions, their architectures, their place in the social and medical history of Paris. It is not a genealogy book and will not help you to prove your ancestry but it will give you a wonderful insight into your ancestress's life were she incarcerated in La Salpêtrière.

Langlois gives a few paragraphs to "orphan girls transported to the [North] American colonies", from 1669, on page 51. He differentiates between them and the later prisoners, "debauched women" who, from 1684, were rounded up at night and sent to the newly built prison cells of La Salpêtrière (pp. 52-53). We like the fierce defiance of some of the women in the description of their being arrested and imprisoned without charge, legal representation or trial, merely for being female and outdoor after dark. In prison, their protest took the form of shrieking en masse, long and loud, driving mad their tormentors.

The first part of the section by Pimpaud goes into great detail about the types of girls taken in as orphans and about their daily lives, from what they ate to the skills that they were taught (pp. 149-163); good for all of you writing historical novels based on your research. Through the nineteenth century, the institutions changed in function from hospice, orphanage and prison to medical hospitals, then medical training institutions, then an asylum, maternity hospital and more until they became, together, the huge medical complex that they are today. 

The book ends with eight lovely and clear drawings showing the historical development of the site from 1690 to 2012. The notes are extensive and revelatory as to sources on the subject. Sadly, there is no index. The book is out of print but it may easily be purchased à l'occasion, or second hand, (as we did ours) on the behemoth

Excellent read.

Gilles-Antoine Langlois and Anne-Sophie Pimpaud. La Pitié-Salpêtrière The Pitié-Salpêtrière. Paris : Somogy éditions, 2012.

ISBN: 978-2-7572-0527-3

 

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Deeper Research via Family Chronicles - Livres de Raison

Livre de Raison

Many of you, Dear Readers, would seem to have been so successful in your French genealogy, that you have researched your families back to the beginning of parish registration and are keen to push further. We tell today of one way to do that.

In earlier days of this blog, we extolled the joys of reading local history as an aid to genealogical research and to understanding your French ancestors' lives. In the same vein, we suggest that you may be able to find more about your family, if you are very lucky, in livres de raison

These books were essentially family account books, usually of farms or businesses, but sometimes of shops. Often, they span centuries and can contain an extraordinary amount of detail, including:

  • Running accounts
  • Copies of bills paid for all sorts of items or services, including veterinaries
  • Copies of wills
  • Copies of baptism, birth, marriage, death and burial registrations
  • Lists of heirs
  • Maps of lands
  • Property ownership histories
  • Notes on local events and/or catastrophes
  • Pages from almanacs

They are highly personal, so the content of each is unique. Some go as far back as the fourteenth century. A few have been published. As they tend to be mostly agricultural, few come from the maritime departments. It seems that none from Finistère, Loire-Atlantique or Côtes d'Armor have survived, though there are some from the larger Seine-Maritime and Charente-Maritime. 

Where to find them? Some have been put online by Gallica, either as original manuscripts or published studies. (Click on Recherche avancée, type in the titre field "livre de raison" with the quotes, in Type de document click only manuscrit and monographie.)

The Archives nationales have published a comprehensive list of those held in Departmental Archives and in libraries throughout France here. Others have been microfilmed or have surfaced more recently, so check the online finding aids of the Archives nationales, SIV, as well.

Even if you do not find that your ancestor maintained a livre de raison that has survived, look at any for the location where your ancestor lived and you may find at least a mention. Your ancestor's name may appear in an invoice, as a witness at a marriage, as a godparent, as a customer of a cobbler.

Research at this level   -- far deeper than merely a list of births, marriages and deaths -- can be much more difficult and also more rewarding; and it will make your family genealogy much more informed.

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


More Revolutionary Geography - Sections

Tumbril

In 1790, democracy marched onward in France and voting was organised by commune and, in larger cities, by section. Properly speaking, sections were electoral districts, but they were also used informally by name or number as part of an address. Section names or numbers turn up at times in early civil registrations and can be very confusing. In property records, they are maddening.

Paris

The most well-known sections are those of Paris, for they were really the berserkers of Revolutionary radicalism. There were forty-eight sections revolutionnaires in Paris. When first established in 1790, they had names that linked to local landmarks, buildings or roads, such as Section du Temple (referring to the centre of the Knights Templar) or Section de la Halle-aux-Blés (referring to the grain market). In 1795, some names were changed the better to reflect the ideals of the Revolution, and such names as Section du Contrat-Social (Section of the Social Contract) and Section des Droits-de-l'Homme (Section of the Rights of Man) appeared. By 1811, many of them had reverted to old neighbourhood, or quartier, names. Wikipedia lists the Paris Revolutionary sections, with their names in 1790, 1795 and 1811.

The difficulty is in knowing exactly where they were. Using a modern map of Paris and the 1811 column from the Wikepedia page, you can get an idea, but as the sections were so much smaller than the modern arrondissements, it will be only a vague idea. As street names and names of squares, or places, also changed (for example rue de Richelieu was rue de la Loi) it is not always possible to use street names to find the location of a section. The history website, Emerson Kent, has a map created by the wonderful Stanfords for Cambridge University Press that shows the sections, with both the 1790 and the 1795 names, on a map of the old faubourgs.

 Other Cities

Less publicised and so, more difficult, are the sections of other cities. Marseille had thirty-two sections. Though the Departmental Archives of Bouches-du-Rhône writes that they had names, we cannot find a list of them anywhere. It seems that they were most often referred to by number. A map of the Marseille sections may be seen at the moment on page 42 of Michel Vovelle's "Les Sans-Coulottes marseillais: le mouvement sectionnaire du jacobinisme au fédéralisme 1791-1793" on Google Books.

Brest began with seven sections in 1790. Like in Paris, they had names linked with local identity:

  • Pont-de-Terre
  • La Place-d'Armes
  • Champ-de-la-Fédération
  • Saint-Louis
  • La Pointe
  • La Fontaine
  • Carpont

In 1793, they were changed to:

  • Egalité
  • Liberté
  • Sans-culottes
  • Raison
  • Montagne
  • Marat
  • Le Peletier

In 1794, about forty streets were renamed, just to complicate things.1 

To find the sections of other cities will be a struggle. The best sources that we have found are scholarly tomes about a city during the Revolutionary period. Quite a lot of these were published around 1989, as part of the commemorations of the two hundredth anniversary of the storming of the Bastille. Should any of you have found the sections of other cities, do let us know!

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

1. Philippe Henwood and Edmond Monange, Brest : un Port en Révolution, 1789-1799, (Editions Ouest-France, 1989), p267.


Towns Renamed During the French Revolution

French Revolution

Geography in France during the Revolutionary period (at its briefest, 1792 to 1800; at its most extreme, 1789 to 1815), like the calendar, went through some radical changes and this can make researching your ancestors during that epoch very difficult. While it may be relatively easy to convert dates from Republican to Gregorian (we still prefer this converter), it is a bit more work to sort out the geographical changes.

All towns with religious names were changed. In some cases, such as Saint-Port to Seine-Port, the change made little difference, at least in pronunciation. When the country's administrative boundaries were altered, some communities were combined and some separated.  Of these changes, some were retained but many reverted to their old names.

If you do not know of the change, you will find it very hard to research the civil or parish registers. Thus, if you run into such a stumbling block in your research, e.g. a town that seems not to exist, it may be time to check the Revolutionary names. There are a few online lists.

  • Wikipedia's is arranged, as they all are, by department, all on the same page. Those towns highlighted in blue have retained their Revolutionary name. A third column gives a link to the commune's location on the Cassini maps.
  • Geneawiki's presents a list of the departments as links on which you must click to get to a page of just that department's towns. This makes it much harder to search them all at once, which you can do on the Wikipedia page.
  • The Internet Archive has the 1901 book, Les noms révolutionnaires des communes de France, which lists the towns by both department and in a general index. 

These lists do not agree with one another entirely. It was an unsettled time. You may have to search them all to find that, though your ancestors may not have moved a centimetre, they lived in two or three towns because of the name and/or administrative changes.

Happy searching!

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


A Bit of Geography and How Your Ancestors Travelled Around France

Navigable waterways

 

At a recent vide-grenier (similar to a local flea market) we purchased a school textbook. It was written in the late 1920s for children in the cinquième, which is the year for children aged about twelve and would be the seventh grade in the American system, we imagine. 

It is a treasure. It is full of maps of the world and of France. What it reflects is not that different from the France of the second half of the nineteenth century, when many emigrated. We think that some of the maps could be most useful in helping the better to understand how and why people left their homes and made their way to the ports.

The map above shows navigable waterways, including France's many canals. With it, you can see connections between cities and regions that you would not understand from a map showing only political and administrative boundaries. This map also shows the main destinations for ships sailing from the different ports. Thus, you can see that a person sailing to New York was much more likely to leave from Le Havre than from Toulon in the south, and that Marseille was the point of departure for the Far East.

The map of railways, below, is not much different from the maps of the late 1890s showing railway lines. As you can see, Paris served as the hub of the wheel. Then, as now, travel in a direction not going toward Paris was very difficult and indirect.

Railways

 

 A voyage by train from Limoges to Pau, for example, would be long and tedious. The major ports, however, are well served.

The next map shows industrial centres as they were on post-WWI France. It can be seen, however, that many traditional industries are included. If you know where your ancestor originated, this map could suggest possible work in which he or she engaged, or vice versa.

Industrielle

 

The map below could suggest reasons for travel to and from a particular place, as it shows imports and exports. If, for example, you have no idea of where an ancestor was from but know about his or her travels or work, this map could lead to further insights.

 

Commerciale

 

Perhaps these will open a new research path for one of you Dear Readers. We do hope so.

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Excellent Blog on The French Military in World War I

WWI Sources blog

We remain firm in our commitment never knowingly to reinvent the wheel and to share with you, Dear Readers, such fine blogs by others as we may find which we hope may be of use to you in your French genealogical research. Not very long ago, we discovered just such a one in a blog written only and purely on the subject of resources for those researching the Great War,  entitled Sources de La Grande Guerre.

The stated intention of its authors, Michaël Bourlet and Gwladys Longeard, is to create a central resource for all those writing the history of the First World War, thus it is more for historians than genealogists. However, as those serious about genealogy know, while good history may not always be genealogy, of course, good genealogy will always contain the best possible historical research and  writing skills. (Let none of us ever again call forth the dreaded ghost of Gustave Anjou!)

Many of the sources described and explained in Sources de la Grande Guerre will be of interest to anyone researching an ancestor who fought for France in the Great War. A sampling of article titles  of interest:

  • Retrouver un soldat algérien dans les archives françaises (How to find an Algerian soldier in French archives)
  • Faire des recherches sur un poilu d'Orient (Researching a soldier in the Army of the East)
  • L'état civil des régiments (Regimental death registrations)
  • La Recherche des disparus (Seeking those missing in action)
  • Mettre en ligne des dossiers des fusillés (online files of military executions)

There are also brief biographies of individuals, book reviews and a goodly amount of interesting readers' comments.

Highly recommended.

 

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Book Review - "The Terror - Civil War in the French Revolution" - Did Your Ancestor Take Part?

Terror cover

 

Understanding the French Revolution requires a lifetime of study and we feel that we have barely begun. Many of you, Dear Readers, have written to say that you are descended from people who left France during or just after the Revolution. We will ignore for the time being the inordinate and irrational need of many people to link themselves to the historically powerful, arrogant and wealthy abusers of other people, namely the aristocracy -- this is not another post on helping anyone to prove that he is really the true Louis XX --  and focus instead on what reading French history tells us about our ancestors that French genealogy cannot, which is, possibly, why. Why an ancestor left, why he or she left at a particular time, why he or she went to a certain place. Only by digging deeper and deeper into the history of the time and place can one learn enough to hazard a guess.

Andress's book was first published in 2005, so no one can accuse us of winning or even entering the race to review it. Nevertheless, we do so now, as it is the best book on the subject in English that we have found. In twelve chapters, he covers with great clarity the collapse of order, the fierce revolutionary fervour, even madness, in Paris that was countered by desperate, pro-religion and anti-Revolution forces in many, many locations around the country. Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux and, especially, the Vendée, fought against the Revolution with all that they had. At the same time as this civil war, there were also food shortages while much of Europe allied with Great Britain were attacking France's borders and helping the counter-Revolutionaries.

Slaughter -- the Terror -- was the Revolutionary government's solution. Prisoners were killed in the September Massacres and, over the next year, all suspected counter-Revolutionaries were guillotined.  Lyon was destroyed and the civil war in the Vendée crushed, with hundreds of children and adults killed and villages burned. Unending levées drafted every young man into the army and the attackers were pushed back from the borders.

Andress describes the progression without tones of drama or horror, letting the facts tell the story. He is a British historian and so, tends to concentrate on how and why things happened, as opposed to the French historical style of concentration on statistics to give a general view and following the rules of methodology for a dissertation, which can be tedious reading  for those taught to view the subject of history as an art rather than a science. Yet all the facts are there. We finished the book with a much greater understanding of the time, of the issues and of the enormous power of that foreign country within France that is Paris.

Victor Hugo wrote in his novel about the War in the Vendée, "Ninety-three", which we read in tandem with Andress's "The Terror" that "93 was the war of Europe against France and of France against Paris. And what was the Revolution? It was the victory of France over Europe and of Paris over France." 

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 Was your ancestor involved -- like Hugo's father -- in fighting the War in the Vendée? You may be able to find him among the military records concerning that conflict. The Departmental Archives of the Vendée have digitised and put online the entirety of the military records on the War in the Vendée that are held in the Service Historique de la Défense at Vincennes, and they can be viewed here. Correspondence and pension records, reports and strategy papers are all there concerning the different armies:

  • The Army of the Coast of La Rochelle
  • The Army of the West
  • The Army of the Coast of Brest
  • The Army f the Coasts of the Ocean
  • The Army of the Interior
  • The Army of the Coasts of Cherbourg

Should you find your ancestor there, or even if not, we highly recommend both the Andress and the Hugo.

©2016 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy