Maritime

Finding French Ships' Crew Lists of the Late 18th and Early 19th Centuries - in Britain

Frigate

If you have been researching a French seaman of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, then you are well aware of just how difficult it can be to find out about his career. We have been working on seamen for some time and have written about ways to search for them in a number of posts:

  • If he were an officer in the Marine, or Navy, you will have some luck, as we have written here.
  • We wrote here about a guide to researching Breton seamen.
  • We wrote here about finding a naval vessel on which your seaman may have served.
  • These books tell of hundreds of French officers and sea captains.
  • The Le Havre passenger lists also contain crew lists, as we explained here. (It is maddening and mysterious that absolutely no one reads this post attentively.)
  • For the names of those French who fought in the American Revolution, including sailors, we refer you to the book, Combattants français de la guerre americaine 1778-1783.

However, we have not yet come across crew lists of French privateers in any French archive; yet there are hundreds of such crew lists in the National Archives of Great Britain in Kew. They are within the ships' papers captured with the vessel in the days of taking ships as prizes during war. Most of the French prizes were, themselves, privateers but some were merchant vessels. Unfortunately, they are not online, but we explain here how you can request copies.

Find them by going to the online catalogue of the National Archives ("TNA") website. In the box of what to search for, enter the phrases: "Captured ship" "Nationality French". If you are lucky enough to know the name of the ship, enter that as well. Narrow the search by entering the years during which you think your French seaman may have been active. The result will look something like this and all of  the ships will be in the Prize Court series of the High Court of Admiralty.

The papers are arranged alphabetically by the vessel's name and the master's surname. There are many cases to a carton. Each case can be a thick bundle of papers.

French Crew Lists

 

Our example is the Général Pérignon, a most successful privateer. She was captured in 1810, with all of her papers. The first page of the crew list shows:

  • Alain Gilles Nicolas, captain, from Plévenon, aged forty-nine
  • François Eude Dessaudrais, from Saint-Malo, Mate, aged forty
  • Gabriel Zenon Verrier, first lieutenant, from Cap Français, aged twenty-five
  • Yves Guilho, first lieutenant, from Bordeaux, aged fifty
  • Jean Baptiste Battur, second lieutenant, from Saint Servan, aged fifty
  • François Tissier, second lieutenant, from Pléhérel, aged thirty-nine

General Perignon Crew List 1810

There are eleven pages, listing every crew member in the same way, right down to the ship's boys. 

By creating an account with TNA online, once you find your ship, you can request copies of the prize papers, asking for the French crew list only, if you wish.

Naturally, the great difficulty comes if you do not know your man's ship. Other search strategies that you might try, in addition to narrowing the date to ships that sailed during his lifetime, as mentioned above, are:

  • If you know the names of his wife and some of the men of her family, search online the names of the men to see if they turn up as captains or as privateers (corsaires). You could find them linked to a vessel. One of their names might appear as the master of a captured vessel in the TNA search. Seamen often sailed on family vessels and researchers often forget that the wives had families.
  • Examine closely the marriage and death register entries you have for him. Sometimes, a vessel is named.

Recently, we met an enthusiastic cheerleader for FamilySearch who asked us to suggest to him what archival collections we would like them to film. We prepared a long list that included the captured crew lists described here. We wrote to him some weeks ago. He must be very busy or very rude or the victim of some silencing crime, for we never received a reply. So, Dear Readers, we must continue our hunt the hard way, for now.

©2023 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Summer Reading - Researching a Breton Seaman Ancestor with "Guide des sources d'histoire maritime de Bretagne : Gens de Mer"

Gens de Mer

Warnings and caveats, Dear Readers, before we begin. This book is twenty years old. It is in French. Most of the resources it describes are not available online. It is very hard to find, having required a wait for us of two years on abebooks. In spite of all, it remains one of the very best guides on how to research a Breton seaman. Since most French seamen hailed from Brittany (closely followed by Normandy), you stand a good chance of your French seaman ancestor having been a Breton, which would make this book very useful to you, indeed.

Only one hundred and twelve pages long, no words are minced in the forty-two topics covered:

  • Introduction
  • Accident du travail à la mer  - Accidents at Sea
  • Alimentation en mer - Food at Sea
  • Armateurs et négociants - Owners, agents and merchants
  • Capitaines de la marine marchande - Merchant marine captains
  • Chirurgiens navigants - Surgeons
  • Corsaires  - Privateers
  • Décès et disparition en mer - Deaths and Losses at Sea
  • Décorations civiles et militaires - Civil and Military Decorations
  • Déserteurs - Deserters
  • Discipline des équipages - Discipline of Crews
  • Écoles de la Marine - Naval Schools
  • Enseignement maritime - Maritime Education
  • État civil en mer - Civl registration (births, marriages, deaths) at Sea
  • Femmes - Women
  • Garde-côtes - Coast Guard
  • Gardiens de phare - Lighthouse Keepers
  • Hôpitaux maritimes - Naval Hospitals
  • Hygiène et médecine navale - Naval Hygiene and Medicine
  • Invalides de la Marine - Naval Pensioners
  • Langage maritime - Maritime Vocabulary
  • Marins de la Marine militaire - Sailors in the Navy
  • Marins de la pêche et du commerce - Fishermen and Merchant Seamen
  • Migrations - Migrations
  • Mouvements sociaux - Strikes and Unionizing Activity
  • Mutineries - Mutinies
  • Officiers de la Marine militaire - Naval Officers
  • Passagers - Passengers
  • Personnel civil de la Marine militaire - Civil employees of the Navy, including Workers in Arsenals
  • Personnel de l’Inscription maritime - Employees of the Naval Draft
  • Personnel de la Compagnie des Indes - Employees of the Compagnie des Indes
  • Personnel de santé de la Marine - Health Workers
  • Personnel des ports civils - Employees at the Civil Ports
  • Pilotes - Pilots
  • Prison maritime - Naval Prisons
  • Prisonniers de guerre - Prisoners of War
  • Religion - Religion
  • Santé - Health
  • Secours et assistance - Aid and Rescue
  • Syndicalisme - Unionization
  • Troupes de la Marine - Marines
  • Uniforme - Uniforms
  • Vie à bord - Life on Board
  • Annexe : l’inscription maritime - The Naval Draft

Each section gives a brief introduction to the subject; these introductions are very clear and most informative. Then is given a list, by archive facility and written by archivists, of the series (with the code!) containing the relevant documents. Lastly, each section has a bibliography for that topic. This last may be the only part that is out of date.  The two annexes at the end explain the naval draft system and then give an incredibly helpful list of the bureaux to which the men had to report, with the names of the towns, communes, covered by that bureau.

Using this book along with the websites of the various archives, you may be able, in effect, to update it. So much is being digitized so quickly that you could look up a series mentioned in the book on the archive's website and possibly find the series is now online, or at least an index to it may be. This would allow you to search for your ancestor's name and to request the document from the archives.

A little boon to your research!

FGB posts on the subject include:

French Seamen's Records Digitizing Project - an Update

The Service Historique de la Défense at Lorient

Summer Reading - Books to Help You Find Your French Mariner Ancestor's Vessel

Summer Reading - Two Books for Those Researching a French Naval Ancestor

Your Breton Ancestors in Paris

 

©2023 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Summer Reading - Books to Help You Find Your French Mariner Ancestor's Vessel

Vessel

In our little book, American Merchant Seamen of the Early Nineteenth Century : a Researcher's Guide, we explain that, in researching a mariner, one must follow the vessel to find the man. It is just as true when researching French mariners. However, it is not easy, for two reasons in particular:

  1. It is difficult to know on which vessel, or more likely vessels, a mariner sailed, and
  2. It is not easy to track the movements of that vessel

For French vessels of the Revolutionary and First Empire period, there is the added difficulty of a lack of records. This is partly because much was lost in the chaos of the Revolution and, at the end of the First Empire, much was destroyed to prevent retaliation by the returning Bourbon king and his supporters.

 

In addition to the research possibilities we outline in that chapter, there are a couple of books that are especially helpful in tracking French naval vessels.

Dictionnaire

Dictionnaire des bâtiments de la flotte de guerre française de Colbert à nos jours (The dictionary of french naval fighting ships), by Jean-Michel Roche, is a whopper of an achievement. Naval enthusiasts will thrill at the many facts given in each little essay concerning a vessel: where and when she was built, how many guns she carried, in what battles she fought, what was her demise. The value for those researching a single man on board is that, where possible, each essay also gives the vessel's whereabouts in certain years. Sailors were boarding and leaving vessels all the time. If you have traced an ancestor to a vessel but then lost him, the list of places where she was (admittedly, a very short list, usually) can help you to pick up his trail again.

French Warships

French Warships in the Age of Sail 1786 - 1862 : Design, Construction, Careers and Fates. The title says it all. This is a prettier book than the Dictionnaire des bâtiments, with illustrations, ship plans, a nicer typeface and better layout altogether and resembles Winfield's other books, on Royal Navy vessels. And, of course, it is in English. French Warships covers a much shorter time period than does Dictionnaire des bâtiments, eighty years as opposed to well over three hundred years. The essays about each vessel cover the same material in both books. French Warships has the vessels arranged by class, a vast category that we, Dear Readers, have not memorized,  so one spends a lot of time with the index. Dictionnaire des bâtiments, is purely alphabetical, and so, much easier to use.

For some time, we have been researching a particular vessel, the French naval frigate of the Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, Incorruptible. Apparently, there were at least five American seamen serving on her, and we would like to verify that. Here is the essay on her in French Warships :

Incorruptible - Winfield

This is what Dictionnaire des bâtiments has to say about her:

Incorruptible - Roche

So, the French work gives more detail of her career. From this, we surmise that our American seamen boarded her at Flushing. 

A third useful work, found all over the Internet is Troude's Batailles navales de la France, written in the 1860s. The charming, literary style and lack of an index make "Find" options a god-send. From this, we learned a bit more about the Incorruptible's battles against Royal Navy vessels and, crucially, the name of one of her captains: Billiet.

Knowing a captain's name is incredibly helpful when searching for a vessel online. Typing "Incorruptible" will bring a load of nonsense results. Adding words such as French navy vessel, or those words in French, is not much better. Typing, "Incorruptible" and "Billiet" however, gets very precise results.

Lastly, the archival finding aid on Naval Campaigns:

  Download FONDS MARINE CAMPAGNES. Inventaire de la sous-série Marine BB 4. Tome premier AVERTISSEMENT

which came up in those last results, gives many more captain's names and more of the Incorruptible's career and locations. We now have many more avenues for researching our mariners, and more places to seek a crew list that might show their names.

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Summer Reading - Two Books for Those Researching a French Naval Ancestor

Les Marins Fr

The pandemic was a horror and the lock-downs around the world caused suffering to many; about this there can be no dispute. Yet, amongst those fortunate enough not to fall ill, some turned to creativity and productivity while confined. Les marins français, 1789 - 1830 : Étude du corps social et de ses uniformes is such a lock-down creation. It  is a treasure of a book, with lovely illustrations of uniforms and weapons, and a remarkably clear explanation of the changes in French naval uniforms during a most fraught period in French history. The author, Eric Shérer, is a Vice-Admiral in the Navy and a life-long collector of all things naval. He came to writing history through his collecting and this is his third book.

Shérer 's structure is logical, giving two chapters to each time period, the first on naval ranks and responsibilities, and the second on the uniforms of those ranks during that period. We translate the chapter titles:

  • Sailors at the End of the Ancien régime (with a very good explanation of naval conscription)
  • Uniforms of Sailors at the End of the Ancien régime
  • Sailors During the Revolution
  • Uniforms of Sailors During the Revolution
  • Sailors During the Consulate and First Empire
  • Uniforms of Sailors During the Consulate and First Empire
  • Life on Board Ships in the Fleet for the Marines and for the Crew
  • Naval Staff at the Arsenals
  • Sailors of the Coast Guard
  • Uniforms of Sailors of the Coast Guard During the Consulate and First Empire
  • Sailors During the Restoration
  • Uniforms of Sailors During the Restoration
  • Naval Uniform Buttons from 1786 to 1830
  • Bibliography and Archival Sources

Even if you cannot read French, the charts and illustrations are incredibly useful. It is a thorough study and will greatly inform your research into your French naval ancestor.

Les Marins français 1789-1830 : Etude de corps social et de ses uniformes. Eric Schérer. 2022. 50€, ISBN: 978-2-7587-0241-2

 

 

Dictionnaire

France really excels at biographical dictionaries. They are well-researched, well-sourced, well-structured (straight-forward alphabetical listing by surname) and very useful. This one, Dictionnaire des Marins français,  runs to five hundred forty pages and covers documented naval personalities of note from as early as 1341 to 1931. The biographical essays give the date and place of birth, career details, and date and place of death. If you are lucky enough to have an illustrious naval ancestor, the essay on him will delight you and possibly aid your research. For the rest of us, the real use of this book is in helping to follow the career of an ancestor who served in the French Navy, for here, you may find your ancestor's commanding officers and, through the essays about their careers and movements, work out where your ancestor was as well.

Dictionnaire des marins françaisEtienne Taillemite. 2002. ISBN: 978-2847340082

 

Using these two books, with our highly recommended further reading, could break down your brick wall concerning your French Navy ancestor.  In our next post, we tell how you can track the vessel on which he or she may have served.

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Passenger Lists From Morlaix - Crossing the English Channel During the Napoleonic Wars

ADM 480:103 cover

We have been extremely busy, Dear Readers, working with a wonderful set of passenger lists from the early nineteenth century. Though England and France were at war from 1803 to 1815 (with a small break for a tenuous victory), travel between the two countries did not cease, not at all. There was a fairly steady stream of people moving in both directions, including:

  • Released British prisoners returning home
  • Released French prisoners arriving from Britain
  • American diplomats and merchants voyaging between Paris and London
  • Wives and children of British détenus returning to Britain
  • French civilians going to and returning from Britain

They all had to travel via Morlaix, the only port in the French Empire from which it was permitted to sail for or arrive from England. The set of passenger lists with which we are working are the original departing passenger lists from Morlaix (arrival lists seem not to have survived), signed by the port officer, the Commissaire de la Marine à Morlaix, a Monsieur Dusaussois, and countersigned by the British port authority on arrival, usually at Dartmouth. We have not finished with them but they appear to cover the years from 1810 to 1814, and give some very interesting and useful details for the genealogist and for the historian. For each passenger, is given the:

  • Name
  • Place of origin - this can be just a country but is usually a city
  • Age
  • Profession or status, e.g. seaman, captain, passenger, etc.
  • If a prisoner of war returning to Britain, where they had been captured
  • Details and dates of their passports, which often reveal where they had been in France

ADM 103:480 sample 2

Here, we have a passenger list from July of 1812. (War against Great Britain had just been declared by the United States but these passengers may not yet have had the news.)

1. John WASTON [possibly WATSON], of Ireland, aged 11, Student, Passport of 15 June 1812, delivered by the Commandant of the Depot of Prisoners of War at Verdun on the decision of His Excellency the Minister of War of 19 March preceding. 

2. Allen CASE, of New Bedford, United States , aged 34, ship captain, Taken by the privateer, ESPADON, from the ship, MASSACHUSETTS, which he commanded. Passport from the Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States of America at Paris on 10 June 1812, no. 250, visa given by the Minister of External Relations and by the Police General on 12 and 19 of the same month. To embark at Morlaix.

3. Lazarus LEBARON, of Rochester, [Massachusetts]  aged 23, Mate, Included on the same passport.

4. William MILES, of Montgomery, aged 24, Seaman

5. Isaac STEWARD, black, of Philadelphia , aged 25, Seaman

6. John HERRIGTON, of Chatham, America, aged 21, Seaman

7. Samuel SKILDING, of Stramford [Stamford?], aged 20, Seaman

8. Eliza TUCKER, Mrs. HICKMAN, English, aged 24, Passenger, Road pass, dated 24 June 1812, no. 330, delivered by the Commandant of arms at Longwy, following the order of His Excellency the Minister of War.

9. Caroline HICKMAN, English, aged 20 months,Within the same Passport.

10. Mrs. Eliza HOLMES, widow of William ARNOLD, Lieut. R.N., of Mortonhall, aged 24, Passport dated 8 June 1812, no. 426, delivered by the Mayor of the City of Verdun, visa given by the prefecture of Police at Paris on the 30th of the month of June, no. 36738.

So, above, you have a young Irish boy, the crew of a captured American vessel, the MASSACHUSETTS, travelling to Britain, presumably expecting it to be easier there to find a vessel going to the United States, and three British women passengers coming from the prison depots at Longwy and Verdun.

These French documents have not survived in French archives but, remarkably, in the National Archives of Great Britain at Kew, in the Admiralty series ADM 103/480. Joyously for those of you, Dear Readers, who wish to see them, they are online on FindMyPast.co.uk, where the quality of indexing is, as we see so often on these commercial websites, abysmal. (For example Mme., the abbreviation for Madame, is repeatedly indexed as a first name. This sort of shabby work hinders rather than helps research.) We are profoundly indebted to Monsieur B.C. for helping us to find this series.

Further to the same pursuit, we recently embarked upon our first research voyage since the beginning of the pandemic, and visited the Municipal Archives of Morlaix. For years, it has been on our list of important archives that must be seen. It was in the Town Hall of Morlaix, facing the viaduct, in a lovely room of tall book cases.

AM Morlaix 1

AM Morlaix 2

These archives are open only on Thursdays and visits must be booked in advance. The archivist, when we booked, warned us that there was not much from the First Empire. He did not lie; there was next to nothing from that period. Our hopes of significant discoveries were dashed. 

However, we did come across a very pertinent government publication of instructions concerning passports for French citizens and for foreigners, that goes a long way to explaining the passport notes on the Morlaix passenger lists, above.

Finistere Passport Instructions 1a

Finistere Passport Instructions 2a

Finistere Passport Instructions 3a

Finistere Passport Instructions 4a

Finistere Passport Instructions 5a

For those of you researching an ancestor of this period, particularly but not exclusively a British prisoner of war in France, these passenger lists may be most useful.

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Looking More Closely at How to Use the Le Havre Passenger Lists

Swirl of Travel 1

We have been working rather intensely with the Le Havre passenger lists of late. At the same time, we have received missives of bafflement caused by them. If you are reading this post with interest, we will assume that you have encountered difficulties accessing and understanding the Le Havre passenger lists. We will also assume that you have read our post about them with its update about the wonderful index to them, Désarmements havrais. However, many, many, many of you have written in frustration, having failed to find your ancestor or even the vessel, or even really, to understand how to use the two sites. So, let us try to clarify.

NAME OF THE COLLECTION - Inscription maritime du Havre, Index par bateaux des registres de désarmement, 1750-1876

ARCHIVES CODE OF THE COLLECTION - 6 P 6

WHERE THE COLLECTION CAN BE FOUND ONLINE - on the website of the Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime (ADSM)

click on "Autre fonds numérisés"

click on "L'inscription maritime"

click on "Cliquez ici pour accéder à l’Inscription Maritime en ligne"

for Quartier, choose Le Havre

for Type de registre, choose Rôles des bâtiments de Commerce

click on Rechercher - That takes you to the collection

WHAT THE COLLECTION IS -  these passenger lists are within a collection of ships' papers, or sea letters, a notoriously messy kind of documentation, even today. Every ship has to carry papers of registration, the crew list, passenger list, insurance, details of every port visited, etc.. In France, in the 18th and 19th centuries, every time a French-registered ship returned from a voyage, all of the ship's papers, which form the administrative history of the voyage, were turned in to the port authority. That is what the surviving collection is : the papers that the vessel brought back. There were other collections. There were papers of ship registrations. There were lists made of the passengers on all outgoing and incoming vessels and these lists were held at the ports. The ports, especially Le Havre, Brest and Lorient, were bombed heavily by the Americans and British during World War II and all of these other collections of passenger lists and ships' papers were destroyed in the bombing. This single, partial, surviving collection was discovered long after the war in a part of a building that was not entirely destroyed. It is very little but it is all that we have.

WHAT THE COLLECTION IS NOT - these are not lists of all passengers who left from the port of Le Havre, only of those who left on French vessels that returned. The papers, including passenger lists, of any vessel that was not French that sailed from Le Havre whether Belgian or British or American or Dutch, etc., will not be included. The papers of any French vessel that did not return to Le Havre will not be included. (Thus, if the vessel were sold after the outward voyage, or if she returned to a different French port, such as Bordeaux or Nantes, she did not return to Le Havre.)

HOW THE COLLECTION IS ARRANGED - Chronologically, by the year and date when she returned. Thus, if your ancestor sailed from Le Havre in 1848, you will look for the ships' papers in the year of return, 1849 or 1850. They are not in alphabetical order, but in the order that they were decommissioned, or désarmé. There are hundreds for each year, each given a désarmement number for that year.

HOW TO FIND A PARTICULAR VESSEL'S PARTICULAR RETURN - carrying on from the above explanation as to where the collection can be found online.

after clicking on Rechercher and arriving at the collection

click on "Rôles des bâtiments de commerce"

click on "Ordinaire (long-cours, cabotage, pêche, plaisance, bornage)"

scroll down the list (it runs to many pages)  to find the year in which your vessel returned to Le Havre

read through the hundreds of pages to find your vessel's désarmement / decommissioning number

The minimum amount of information that you need is: the vessel's name, the year of return and the decommissioning number.

 

Mansart

 

This is where Le Désarmement havrais becomes so very helpful. Not only have they listed:

  • the names of the vessels
  • the destination of the voyage
  • the captain
  • the crew
  • the passengers

They also give, for each return from a voyage for each vessel, the date of return, the decommissioning number and, most preciously, the page number on the microfilm, so one need no longer scroll through those hundreds of pages. For the Mansard, above, that went to San Francisco in 1858, we can see that her decommissioning number is 178, that her papers can be found in the ADSM 6P6 series (which we already knew) register number 209.

Mansart

Further down the same page, the wonderful volunteers of this index give the crew and one can click on "passagers" to get the list of passengers.

Mansart Captain

Here, you see there was only a captain, Auguste Abel Gravereau. Well, of course that cannot be, Dear Reader, and this is when we recall that this index, as marvelous as it may be, is a work in progress. There must have been a crew, we imagine, and there may have been passengers. So, we want to see the original ship's papers to see if there were not more to them or if they were partially destroyed.

Knowing that she returned to Le Havre in 1858, that her decommissioning number is 178, we can go back to the ADSM website, work our way to the year 1858,  and choose the 1858 item (the second one, it turns out, numbers 96 to 190) that will include that decommissioning number:

No 178

Click on the plus sign to see more and you will see that you are at 6P6-209, which is what you know you want from the information given by Désarmement havrais.

6P6-209Click on "Cliquez ici pour consulter le document" to see the images. Then, go straight to page number 637.

Page 637

There, you will see the entire crew list and, further along, on page 642, you can see that there were four passengers.

There can be mysteries, as in the case of the Amitié, which arrived in New Orleans in 1837, and for which Ancstry.com has the full arriving passenger list but for which Désarmements havrais and ADSM have no passengers departing. With such a mystery, read the other documents, especially the last page of the ship's papers, showing all ports visited, and giving some notes, or observations. The Amitié's las page shows that, on the return voyage, she stopped at Plymouth, in England. In the "Observations" column, the note is partially obscured in the binding but it says that she was carrying dispatches, which the captain delivered to the French consul at Plymouth, along with some of the ship's papers. The entry on the right at the top shows the arrival in New Orleans on the 6th of October 1837, with "diverse merchandise" and a crew of twenty and 166 passengers. So, it would seem that Ancestry's passenger list is correct and that the French consul at Plymouth kept the vessel's passenger list, which is why they do not appear here.

Amitié

Now, you are experts!

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy