Online Archives from the Archives Diplomatiques at Last

Arch Dip Microfilm

How long we have been awaiting this one, and it is not quite here yet, but the signs are hopeful, hopeful, indeed. For a good ten years, the Archives diplomatiques have been promising that, "very soon", the overseas civil registrations (prior to 1891) would be available online. For at least a decade, their website has held little more than a dull notice of that same promise.

No, Dear Readers, those registrations are not online (and one must still use the microfilm rolls shown above) but there is a significant new look to the website. We have noticed a new design, improved search facility and options and the beginnings of digitization of some of their wonderful archival materials.

  • Many military registration records for Tunisia are being uploaded. If you are researching an ancestor who was a French citizen, no matter where he was born, and who was living in Tunisia when he turned twenty and had to register, you have a good chance of finding him here.
  • Documents and photographs concerning the art stolen by the Nazi occupiers during the Second World War and the effort to retrieve it. Not exactly useful for your genealogical research, unless it were your family's art that was stolen.
  • Documents and photographs pertaining to the French government in exile during World War Two. Just the beginnings, here, covering a visit by Soustelle to Mexico.
  • A database of treaties signed with France. Great fun, as with this 1419 treaty between the Duke of Burgundy and the King of England. Be sure to type in the French name of your country when you search.

Ten years is a long wait, and it is not over yet. Keep checking the website and do let us know should you get lucky.

©2023 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Family Disputes Found in Notarial Acts Bring Joy to the Genealogist

French Family Disputes

Ah, Dear Readers, notarial records can yield such delights of familial disharmony, as they document spitefulness, resentment, vengeance or, most useful of all, the fierce desire of some to cheat their nearest and dearest of every last sou to be found amongst the clan. Our example comes from the notarial archives of Paris, the Minutier Central des Notaires de Paris in the Archives nationales. In the carton with the code MC/ET/XV/1645  (MC = Minutuer central. ET = étude. XV = 15, the number in Roman numerals of the étude. 1645 = the carton number of that étude's archives.)*

Reconnaissance Barrière

The document reveals that Françoise Eléonore Barrière, a woman who had buried three husbands, finally succumbed herself and was buried in Paris in 1819. Her sister, Magdeleine Thérèse, claiming to be her only heir, quickly requested that a death inventory be made of the deceased's effects. It was done and in it, she was named as the only heir to the estate. However, there was a son and, though he lived somewhat remotely on the Île d'Oléron, he got wind of his mother's death and his aunt's shenanigans. Of unpleasant portent for Magdeleine Thérèse, he was a "man of law", and he was annoyed. He arrived with a copy of his baptism register entry (nicely included in the act) and his mother's cousin, Marie Françoise Durand, Madame Girault of Orléans. 

Leonard Marie Durand

It proves that he, Léonard Marie Durand, born in Paris on the fifth of January 1764, was the legitimate son of Françoise Eléonore Barrière and her (first) lawful husband François Durand. (A different copy of his baptism survives in the "reconstituted" registers of Paris and can be seen on the website of the Archives de Paris here (go to image number fifty).  Therefore, the act concluded, the first inventory was wrong and the sister was not the sole heir of Françoise Eléonore Barrière, widow of Pierre-Henri Mulet de la Girouzière (her third husband), the son was the sole heir.

This act of recognition (acte de reconnaissance, which normally serves quite a different purpose) required that Magdeleine Thérèse Barrière recognize that her nephew existed and was the sole legitimate heir. She did not show her face. She sent a representative, duly authorized, who signed for her.

This family is not easy to research, so how very nice to come across a single document that gives so much genealogical information. Dear Readers, we shall never cease to tout the value of notarial acts and we urge you never to cease looking for any that may relate to your research.

©2023 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

*See our booklets on Notarial Records and Parisian Genealogy to learn more about this type of research.

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


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

A Few British Workers Discovered in the Police Archives of Paris

Mirror making 2

Image source:


Wouldn't you know it, Dear Readers, that the moment we finish our talk on finding British prisoners of war in France during the Napoleonic Wars in French archives, we stumble upon a few more. Truly, they pop up everywhere, (which was the point of our talk).

The tiny archives of the Paris police, les Archives de la Préfecture de Police, is amongst our favourites. The collection is small but always interesting and the staff are eagerly helpful. It is in such a remote place at the end of such an awkward journey, that the few researchers who succeed in completing the marathon to get there are all quite dedicated and keen, the frivolous and mildly curious having given up many Mètro stops earlier. It is also one of the few archives that has some series organized by the Sections of Paris, which is most useful when researching people of the Revolutionary and First Empire eras.

Buttes des Moulins

Here, we found police dossiers on some British people who had been living and working in Paris. Unlike so many, they were not all in the textile trades. Living in section Invalides, John Bond, aged thirty-five, and John Farrands, aged forty, both worked in a factory making mirrors on the Ile des Cygnes. [This was not the modern Ile aux Cygnes, but was a different island, where "insalubrious trades", such as malodorous tripe shops, were permitted, and that is now partially submerged in the Seine]. The twenty-six-year-old Thomas Quine was a carpenter at the mirror factory. At the other end of the economic spectrum, in the Hôtel de la Haie, on rue Saint Dominique, lived a young English gentleman named Trench, his wife and their servants.

The police took statements from them all but did not arrest them under the law of May 1803, that required the arrest of all British males in France. We wrote about these détenus here.

John Moore, however, who was living in rue de Charenton, in section Quinze-vingts with his wife, Eliza Jane Anderson, endured a different fate. He ran a factory for making tulle. A Monsieur Terlay claimed that the tools and machines within the factory actually belonged to him. In Brumaire an XIII (October 1804) the police entered and made a very complete inventory of said tools and machines, which was signed by Moore's wife.

Eliza Jane Anderson signature

Could this possibly be the same John Moore, escaped détenu, who was arrested by the French for bigamy in 1808? That would require quite a bit more research.

These little dossiers do not contain a great many such enemy aliens in France during the Napoleonic Wars but, should one be your ancestor, it could be a great find in a somewhat obscure archive.

We do like obscure archives.

©2023 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy



We Greatly Enjoyed the AGRA 2023 Conference

AGRA - Cambridge

We have returned from quite the junket, of which the highlight may well have been the AGRA Conference this month, at Downing College in Cambridge. It began with a gala dinner and cheery talk by Sam Willis; we had the pleasure of sitting next to the dauntingly erudite Monsieur F, who was most flattering about The FGB. The following day was one of talks, presentations and panel discussions, every one of which we found to be interesting and suggestive of applicabilities to French genealogy research.

This applicability was something rather unexpected, as AGRA's focus and membership are dedicated exclusively to archives in Britain. The first talk, by the esteemed Dr. Helen Doe, was on researching shipowners, explaining that many were local businessmen and that the records of ownership could be found in different types of archives from just those concerning vessel registration. Only recently, we have been working on French owners of privateers (more on that in a future post) and Dr. Doe's explanations gave us some new ideas of where, in French archives, to try to find similar documentation.

We followed with our own talk on how to research British prisoners of Napoleon in French archives. Perhaps it contained a bit much for the time allotted. Dr. Lesley Trotter then spoke on the migratory lives of Cornish miners. The research skills that she demonstrated for following the movements of these people were most impressive and could just as easily be applied to tracing the movements of migratory French workers:

  • Studying notices from and about those abroad in the local newspapers of their home towns, including obituaries, marriages abroad and births abroad
  • Looking at census returns for those whose children were born abroad can reveal families that have returned home and where they had lived.
  • Studying newspaper notices about women receiving aid for paupers, as these often explained that their husbands had gone abroad and stopped sending money home. We are unaware of such notices in French local papers but this tactic does inspire us to look at archival records on the subject of aid to paupers, which would give the same information.

Maggie Gaffney then spoke about a single voyage of a single vessel of immigrants to New Zealand. Many of the avenues she pursued could be mirrored in researching French vessels. Lastly, Richard Atkinson spoke with intensity about his research of his ancestors and their wickedness as slave owners in the Caribbean. This ancestry clearly was quite difficult for him to absorb but he ended on a note of quite touching reconciliation. There is much in his use of Jamaican archives that could be applied to similar research in the archives of Martinique and Guadeloupe. He implied that Britain has not yet truly accepted responsibility for the evils of slavery, for the country's vast profits from it, or for the devastating consequences of it that continue today. By way of comparison, many cities in France have begun this path of admission, notably Bordeaux and Nantes. He has written a book on the research and his discoveries, Mr. Atkinson's Rum Contract, which we immediately purchased and are reading avidly. 

We participated in the discussion on the British Merchant Navy and were a bit disheartened to discover that not a soul had ever hear of American seamen being impressed by the Royal Navy, or of the mad war fought to put an end to it. Conversely, we were heartened, indeed, by the warmth and enthusiasm of the attendees for their subject. They really were the most fun group of researchers we have encountered in a very long time.

For those of you who can manage it, we do encourage you to attend AGRA's next offering.


©2023 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy




A Question About French Regions and Provinces, and How to Cite Them

We received the following from Monsieur G.

I have a few small questions...

1) Have you done any articles on the recording of French region names?  Are there any guides that discuss the recording of place names in French genealogy?

2) I notice that many genealogy programs include region names when mapping database entries. This can be confusing, since there have been massive changes to most across the years. Many of the actual historical records only give (at most) the commune, canton, arrondissement and department. Actually; with the exception of census records, they seem most often to give only the commune and department. Now; some departments have been re-defined and renamed, but those cases are far fewer and seem to cause fewer issues. I’m considering just recording the commune, department and country, since the region seems not to add much value.Does this make sense to you?

Monsieur G. has been grappling with this issue for a long time. Some months before the above, he wrote to us with the following:

I do have one thing that still bothers me a bit... the postal code [or] the INSEE code. They are so similar that I often get them confused. Since the INSEE code is unique to a particular city and the postal code isn’t, are some genealogists now starting to append the INSEE code instead? eg. The postal codes for Royan and for St-Suplice-de-Royan are both 17200, but the INSEE code for Royan is 17308 and for St-Suplice-de-Royan it is 17408. So what I’ve seen some do is: Royan (17308).

In one particular instance that I have, the original name in the document was simply, “commune de Baume”. Today, that location is called, "Baume-les-Messieurs”, which has two postal codes; 39210 and 39670. So; I was thinking that by using the INSEE code as in, “Baume [Baume-les-Messieurs (39041)], France”, one would remove all doubt. If the old and new names had been the same, one would use the name with the INSEE code in parentheses. Does this make sense?

Ah, Monsieur G., these are not small questions at all. Dear Readers, there are times in this genealogical life when to be "on the horns of a dilemma" does not begin to describe the citation struggle; we feel it is closer to being like a live worm impaled on a fish hook. Monsieur G. brings up more than a few issues:

  • The fact that nearly all place names in France, from the hamlets and parishes to the provinces and regions, went through not only the gradual changes of time, but an abrupt and radical change of names and boundaries during the Revolution, followed by a slight and selective return to old names. This has been followed by ever-more-often rationalizations and reorganizations that have seen many smaller towns being combined (giving them tediously long names) and larger cities being broken into more and more arrondissements, quarters or other such subdivisions, all of them producing official records that you may wish to cite. Most recently, in our last post, we explained the creation of the departments and the reorganized regions. How to correctly and clearly cite a place that changed its name from Saint-Port in the province of Ile-de-France before the Revolution to Seine-Port in the department of Seine-et-Marne in the region of Ile-de-France today? 
  • INSEE is France's National Institute of Statistic and Economic Studies. It was founded in 1946. Even before its founding, the first list of unique codes for towns, or communes, was published in 1943. There also are codes for all of the arrondissements, departments, regions, etc. The new list of codes, with all of the annual statistics for each commune, is published every year. To our knowledge, no retroactive list of codes (with or without statistics) for old town names or province names has been created. The code for the commune of Seine-Port is 77447. There was no code for the commune of Saint-Port, as that existed before 1943. So, much as we love the rationality and uniqueness of the code commune INSEE, it is not, on its own, adequate for the geographical part of a source citation for any source created before 1943.
  • The fact that most creaters of genealogy programmes should be taken out to the woodshed and appropriately chastised for their appalling laziness and their unforgivable cultural and linguistic prejudices. If they are clever enough to write software, they are clever enough to read Evidence Explained and to have the programme accommodate the geographies and record creation methods of other countries.

We have debated and discussed the citation issue numerous times on this blog and elsewhere. In essence Dear Readers, you must decide the purpose of your citation.

  • Will you publish your genealogical research? Will you be expecting other genealogical researchers to read it and to be able to trust your citations, to understand them, to know more about your sources because of them and be able to retrieve the same sources with confidence?
  • Alternatively, will you keep your research private to your family and want them to know that your research is based on sources that they can find again, if they wish?

Elizabeth Shown Mills explains very clearly the difference in goal and purpose between source analysis and source citation here. The simplest form of source citation of books, such as we all were taught in school, is simply not adequate for the many types of historical sources used by genealogists. More, those sources often provide conflicting evidence. So, Mills concludes, each source must be analyzed and that analysis must be presented in brief form in the citation. This is absolutely necessary if your genealogical research is to be published in a peer-reviewed genealogy journal. If that is not your goal but you still wish your research to be taken seriously and to stand the test of time (look at how much we sneer at much of the early and wholly unreliable DAR research), then perhaps you will write simpler source citations and include a detailed analysis only when they are in conflict.

The complexity or simplicity of source citation insofar as one wishes to apply the style of Evidence Explained to French sources and/or enter French sources into an American genealogy programme boils down to two issues:

  • Translation of the French source names in the citation, which makes it extraordinarily long
  • French geography changed radically and often and, in all its forms, it has never followed American geographical customs.

Each, if you are producing your work informally, for family and friends, requires a choice that you clearly state in your work. You can choose not to translate the French in the citation, especially if all of your readers can read French. You can choose in source citation, to follow the French standards as concerns their own geography, for documents such as census returns, parish and civil register entries, etc. , and give the town name and department name or number, with a link to the page of the soucrce online. Beware to give enough information for the source to be found should the link change.

We are not very familiar with all of the many American genealogy programmes but, considering the number of times people write to us about this problem, it would seem that they all, as concerns any French geographical location, ask for the wrong data and make it difficult to enter the correct data. To be sure, that is maddening. You have no choice, Dear Readers, but to create your own manual for how to enter the data, and then be sure to adhere to your rules forever, in the name of consistency. Here are a few possibilities:

  • For the regions, provinces and their many changes issue, Make a short list of those that you are citing, with dates and name changes (all of the information concerning regions and provinces can be found on the French Wikipedia page about each). It is unlikely that your ancestors lived in all of France's regions, so your list will not be that long.
  • Where town names changed, dates, not INSEE commune numbers,  are crucial to identifying the correct sources. You will either have to include the date, with the current name in parentheses, either in the entry. on in a compendium of some sort.

Finally, remember one important rule: never, ever change the name of a document or register or series and never, ever change the name of a place from what it was at the time the document was created. Do not "correct" or "improve" or "simplify" if it means altering the original name of the record, register or series. If you do, you are writing fiction that cannot be shown to anyone and inventing "sources" that can never be found.

Bonne chance, Monsieur G.

©2023 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Acte de Rectification - Changing a French Birth Register Entry

Ambiguous genitalia

We were contacted by a Loyal Reader and Supporter of this blog, Monsieur M., with the following about his ancestress: 

Have you ever heard of an "Acte de rectification"?

I have an 2x Great Aunt who's birth name was entered incorrectly in the village register. Salome Fix, born in Climbach, Bas-Rhin, in 1835. Her surname was entered incorrectly into the town register as Fuchs.

When she was 21, she sought to have a correction made, to her actual name. The actual name of FIX, and the error of FUCHS.

One would think this would be a simple matter, right? Correct a mistake? This happens all the time, no? But no.

My relative had to go to a tribunal in the nearby administrative town, and get a ruling from the tribunal, ordering that the register be altered to show her actual name. And she had to produce evidence to prove her own name, which included her father's marriage record, where the correct family name was used. So, the tribunal issued an "Acte de rectification," an Act of Rectification, and a note was duly added to her entry in the birth register.

Ever heard of this? Having never encountered it before (or the degree of legalese involved), it seems unusual to me. I googled it, and not much came up.

Thanks for your work and your blog,


He had also discussed this on Reddit, where the responses are, for the most part, quite well informed. One commenter explains the State's ownership of records of civil status; another gives this link to the Code de procedure civile, which explains how such a rectification must be made in France.

Having fought our own battle to change our name, we are most sympathetic with Salomé. It is difficult to do in any country, but the situation in France requires a bit more explanation for the genealogist than the fine folk of Reddit chose to give.

In 1804, the Code Civil was first published. It is a remarkable work. After the French Revolution, the laws and customs of King and Church, insofar as they governed civil society, were abolished. New civil laws, based upon reason, it was intended, were (and still are) the Code Civil, also known as the Napoleonic Code. Page twenty-eight clearly states that any alteration to a civil register entry must be authorized by a court.Rectification

It is preceded by the rules for birth, banns, marriage and death register entries. For the banns and marriage, each of the couple had to present a certified copy of their birth register entry. When a man reported for military service, he had to present such a copy. As did any child when registering for school. Thus, any mistake would be perpetuated; it could not, as in other countries, be altered by a customary use. Moreover, for a woman, as was Salomé, the name would not disappear when she married, as it does in other countries; as we explained here, a woman's birth surname is always her legal name in France. Thus, it is clear how important it is for a civil register entry to be correct.

Yet, while we have seen quite a few rectifications, we have seen only one case where a rectification was surely required but never made. In late December of 1877, Julien François Morin was born to an unmarried mother in Bourges. The midwife declared the birth and, the register states, presented the child, who was registered, (see image no. 421 here) as female, the word quite boldly written. A few months later, the child's parents married and recognized Julien as their son. (The marriage and recognition can be seen at image 145 here.) Was this a case of ambiguous genitalia? Of a midwife who mixed up some babies? Of a myopic or drunken civil registrar? Julien Mamet, as his name became after his parents' marriage, lived as a man, serving in the army, marrying and divorcing a woman, but his birth register entry was never corrected. The two marginal notes on it refer to his parents' marriage, which legitimated his birth, and to his own marriage. How did he manage the discrepancy each time he had to present the certified copy of his birth register entry? How was he entered in the Livret de famille? Should anyone of the mairie in Bourge read this, please let us know.

Many thanks to Monsieur M for inspiring this post.

©2023 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Do You Need Help Reading Your Old French Documents?

Clerk practice


More than a decade ago we wrote here about paleography. The information in that post is still relevant, though we had to purge it of the vanished links. So, if you wish to tackle a murky old French document on your own, do read that post and also have a look at our glossary.

If, however, you find that your document was not written by someone made to practice (as above), that it is worse than murky and is utterly illegible to you, we would like to introduce the excellent transcriber, Madame Sandrine Anton-Fayard, the owner of Ancêtres et Familles. She has been of great help to us of late. By way of demonstration of her talents, she has sent two examples of monstrously difficult script which she deciphered in a trice.

Paleography 1 Extrait d’un testament de 10 pages de F.Bouhelier; Source : Archives du département du Doubs 


The following paragraph is her transcription of the above extract of the ten-page will of F. Bouhelier of Doubs:

[...]implorant sur ce la benignité du droit canon et rejectant la rigueur du droit civil et affin qu’il ayt force, vigeur et perpetuelle valeur, je l’ay faict a mectre et rediger par escriet en ceste forme par Claude Prestot et Pierre Faillard pbrestres vicaires à Damprichard, notaires publicques coadjuteures des tabellion[s] du bailly d’Amont du comté de Bourgoigne soubscriptz ès mains desquelles j’ay laché et passé cestes soubz les prévileges du seel de leurs Altesses Sérénissimes que fut faict et passé aud. Damprichard au poille de la maison presbiteralle regardant du costel de midy et soleil levant envyron les trois heures d’apprès midy du treiziesme jour du mois de febvrier l’an mil cinq cens nonante neufz (1589).[...]


Paleography 2Copie d’un acte de 1326, sur la constitution d’un muid de blé de rente foncière au profit de l’hôtel Dieu d’Amiens à prendre sur la terre de Croy.

Source : Archives familiales de la Famille de CROY, déposées aux Archives départementales de la Somme (France)

Copie des lettres des anciens seigneurs de Croÿ, datées de 1324 et postérieurement constitutive d’un muid de blé de rente foncière au profit de l’hôtel-Dieu d’Amiens à prendre sur la terre de Croÿ.


Her transcription of the above copy of a notarial act of 1326, found in the papers of the Croy family of Somme, reads:

[...]A tous ceulx qui ces presentes lettres verront ou orront Betramart, chevalier, sire de Croy, salut. Comme li maistres freres et sereurs de l’hostellerie Sainct-Jehan en Amyens [meusse] meussent poursuivy pardevant le prevost de Beauvaisis adfin que je fusse contrains deulx paier quattre muys de blé d’arrerages pour quattre années et disoient quilz estoient en saisine d’avoir chacun an ung muy de blé de rente annuelle des mes devanciers ; lequel muy de blé je avoie cessé de paier par l’espace de quattre ans et je, non bien advisés des fais de mes devanciers, niay les fais proposés contre my de par lesdis religieulx[...]

We are impressed. Madame Anton-Fayard goes quite a bit further than most in her work for clients, giving definitions of rare or archaic terms, and  providing links to further information, helping one not only to read the document but to understand it within its historical context.

Like many of us, Dear Readers, Madame Anton-Fayard became enamoured of family history in her youth. In time, she became the family historian amongst her relatives, who gave to her all of their family archives and photographs. After a career as a pharmacist, she returned to studies at the prestigious University of Nîmes, where she received the Diplôme Universitaire in Genealogy and Family History. You can read her full biography here.

She came to the rescue of one of our Dear Readers, Madame K, who could not make out this name from a 1583 baptismal record from Eure.

Nom 1

Nom 2

Madame Anton-Fayard identified it as Christofle. Remarkable!

Should you wish to know more about paleography, this page has more links than we ever have seen on the subject.

Happy reading or bonne lecture!

©2023 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

When Genealogy Hurts

Genealogy Hurts 2

Few genealogists will tell you this but there can be times, Dear Readers, when you may regret ever having begun to research your family. We all like to take pride in our heritage; it becomes a part of our identity and self-image. This was something of a weakness in some of our more recent ancestors, those living in the late nineteenth century, during the first years of the genealogy craze in the United States. That was the era of all sorts of nonsensical claims to being of the nobility, even royalty, with many of those fabricated stories being published in barely researched "family histories".

Most of us, when we do solid research and learn the truth about our forebears, enjoy the research activity and can laugh off the fact that we will not inherit crown jewels. Sometimes, however, a discovery can shatter our image of our family. Sometimes, we may discover a truth that can make us despise our ancestor. Sometimes, genealogy is heart breaking.

When the news is bad, very bad, especially if it is about a person in the recent past, someone we may have known, it can be particularly upsetting. Illegitimacy, incest, murder, suicide, bigamy, betrayal, imprisonment, abandonment, homicidal madness, true evil, any of these can turn up and, in French archives, can be very well documented indeed. Where, in all of the genealogy manuals and guides, is the advice for how to cope with something that could be very, even traumatically, shocking?

There are often obvious danger signs, warnings. When everyone in the family refuses to discuss a topic or person, when there is layer upon layer of deliberate blurring and obscuring of facts, when papers and letters are burnt, in short, it is obvious that someone is trying to hide something. To the some researchers, that can be an irresistible bait causing a lunge into obsessive research and a determination to know the secret.


Ask yourself why the family might wish to hide something. Ask yourself if you really are ready to know the truth, whatever it may be. Imagine all possible scenarios and ask yourself how you would cope with that knowledge if it were to be your family's truth. If, at some point, you think you would rather not know, then stop your research there. Perhaps, in six months, you may be ready to know whatever you may discover. Perhaps you will not. Leave it for the next generation of your family's historians. No harm will come from a part of the past waiting a bit longer to be known by someone in the present.

To the professional genealogist, we suggest a great deal of sensitivity and caution. Should you, in researching for a client, come across something shocking, do not be so blinded by your research success that you triumphantly throw it in your client's face. Tell them that you have found something that may be a shock and disturbing for them. Suggest that they take the time to ask themselves the same questions above and to discuss amongst themselves whether they really want to uncover this darkness. Give them all the time in the world; it may take months. Offer the option of ignorance; if they feel that they do not want to know, then you will never send the research results.

Most of the time, genealogy is an entertaining hobby but it can, ,in some circumstances, become painful. Look for the warning signs, reflect on what they might mean, ask yourself if you want to know the truth, even should it be very ugly, and do not fret about it should you decide not to know. Pick one of your many other ancestors to research instead and carry on enjoying genealogy.


©2023 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

War and the Mad Rush to Marry - August 1914

Mad Rush to Marry

It is late May, the time when, traditionally, many French couples were looking forward to Summer or Autumn weddings. The dress, the flowers, the long trestle tables in the garden, the organization of cooking for three days of feasting, the sleeping arrangements for the visiting relatives, all this occupied minds as the weather grew hotter and people grew more anticipatory.

The Summer of 1914 was different, of course. War was declared in August and the men in the reserves were called to serve. In the panic, thousands of couples rushed to the City Halls and Town Halls and married. Snooty French historians surmise that all were living in "concubinage" and merely wanted to regularize things, especially ensuring a wife could claim a pension (not that it was much) before the men went off to die.

We have noticed what seems to have been another impulse for these rushed marriages: citizenship. Pick the marriage register of any Parisian arrondissement in August of 1914 and look at the names. Many are Germanic. Looking at the places of birth, many people were from Alsace-Lorraine, which was then a part of Germany. For those people, their country of birth had just started a war with their country of residence. They could not know if Germans would be expelled from France, or rounded up and sent to camps, or if, should Germany invade, they would be seen as traitors. Marriage to a French national in France would guarantee some security; at least it is clear that many thought so.

This discovery came about because we were unable to find the marriage of a woman from Alsace in that region at all. She did not marry in her place of birth, her place of residence, or even the place given on her engagement announcement, printed in July of 1914. What she did, when war was declared, was rush to Paris, where her fiancé was living and where they married right away. Soon after, she applied for French citizenship and was able to remain in France for the rest of her life. 

Bear this in mind should you be researching a marriage at just that time. It could have been in a rush and in an unexpected place. Your search will be a bit complicated by the fact that not many of the marriage registers for that year have been digitized yet. You may have to guess a location (where did the wife live during the war? Where did the couple live after the war? If at least one person marrying was born in France, look at the marriage marginal note on the birth register entry) and request a copy of the marriage register entry the old-fashioned way, by post.

©2023 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Read more about Alsace-Lorraine here.