Methodolgy

The Finistère Convicts Register - Was Your Ancestor an Escaped Convict or Prisoner of War in Napoleonic France?

Finistère Forçats 1800-1815

Earlier this year, we went on a marvelous archives junket to Bretagne. One of the most important things on our list was to examine much more carefully and thoroughly this superb register of recaptured escapees of all sorts during the Napoleonic era.

To describe it properly, this register is an Alphabetical List of recaptured French and foreign prisoners who had been released or who had escaped and who subsequently were held in various prisons in the department of Finistère (Forçats français, étrangers : liste alphabetique des détenus, libérés, ou évadés de differentes prisons, Code 1Y88 in the Brest Annex of the Departmental Archives of Finistère) On the cover is written that it spans the years 1800 to 1815 but it seems to be more from the middle years of that period. It has about two hundred pages, with roughly twenty-five to thirty-five names per page. That makes for something between five and seven thousand names of convicts and escapees.

The presentation within is tidy enough. One finds the prisoner's surname and first names, their status and the prisons from which they escaped. There are many types of status or descriptions, but the most common are:

  • forçat libéré - released convict
  • forçat évadé - escaped convict
  • condamné et évadé - convicted and escaped
  • prisonnier de guerre évadé - escaped prisoner of war

Here is a sample page:

Forçats 1800-1815 - Letter B

As you can see, the columns to the left of the names refer to lists and dossiers that should have provided more detail. Frustratingly, these would seem to have been lost.

Nevertheless, there is some interesting information to be found in this register. On just this one page, we find that:

  • There seems to have been a mass break-out at Rham, in Luxembourg, with  many men recaptured.
  • François Bureau escaped from prison at Brest
  • Claude Breugnot was held on suspicion of the kidnapping of Charlotte Seure
  • Ralph Billings was a prisoner of war escaped from the depot at Verdun, as were William Brown and Thomas Benninck

The book is filled with convicts who came to the west of France from all over the territory of the French Empire. It sometimes gives a small detail of their conviction, such as that a man was condemned to years in irons or that he had escaped during the march to a prison. Most of the entries, of course, are  escaped criminals and those suspected of every type of crime, including murder, rape, fraud, theft. Quite a few managed their escapes from hospitals. The escaped prisoners of war were of all nationalities: Spanish and English especially, but also Italian, Polish and Austrian. Many in the list were conscripts and deserters from Napoleon's army. There are a small number of women and a few runaway children. They had made their way to the coast, hoping to find a boat to make their escape from France. Each of them, somehow, in some way, was nabbed.

This register is a wonderful view on a particular part of French society at a very particular time in French history. Combined with other archival resources, it could help to enhance your research on an ancestor. As just a couple of examples:

  • For those of you with a convict ancestor who escaped from the Bagne de Brest, you could compare his entries in the two registers. (The registers of the other port forced labour prisons of Rochefort, Toulon, Lorient and Cherbourg, from which there were many escapes,  are not online and would have to be examined in the archives.)
  • For those of you with an ancestor whose military records show that he deserted, you might find evidence of his capture here.

***

The escaped prisoners of war form an interesting group. We are not informed as to the accounts and archives concerning the prisoners of war of Spanish, Italian, Polish, Austrian or other nationalities, but we do know a bit about some of the British prisoners of war in Napoleonic France. We have discussed the civilian British prisoners here and, briefly, the prisoners of war here. They are listed in Admiralty records digitized on FindMyPast. Additionally, those who were still being held in 1812 can be found listed in the "Report from the Committee for the Relief of the British Prisoners in France; with a list of the prisoners". After the wars, a number of British ex-prisoners published accounts of their experiences, including their "escapes".

We counted in this register just under 880 names of escaped British prisoners of war who were recaptured and held in Finistère, amongst them:

  • Beaumont Dixie, escaped from Verdun
  • Edward Boys, escaped from Valenciennes
  • Joshua Done, escaped from Verdun
  • Phillip Levesconte, escaped from Verdun
  • Hugh Falconer Macfarland, escaped from Verdun
  • Two Thomas Mains, father and son, escaped from Valenciennes
  • Edward Montagu, escaped from Verdun
  • John Moore, escaped from Bitche
  • Denis OBrien, escaped from Bitche
  • Sidney Smith, escaped from Verdun
  • Charles Sturt, escaped from Meaux

In the accounts written by some of the above, there is no mention of recapture, which does call into question the rest of what they wrote. On the other hand, some of the above most certainly did escape France, most notably Charles Sturt, which could indicate that at least one prison guard was not above accepting a bribe, or that, after being returned to prison, they had to escape all over again. Indeed, a few of them did just that.

Recall our recent post about a trove of letters from British prisoners of war held at the harsher prisons of Bitche and Sarrelibre. Men usually were sent there from other prisons if they were troublesome or if they had attempted to escape. Comparing those letters with this register, we can see from the recaptures the probable reason for a man's having been sent to a "punishment prison".

  • David Absalon appears in the Finistère Convicts register as having escaped from Verdun; a letter from him appears in the Bitche-Sarrelibre cache
  • Thomas Nazeby, appears in the Finistère Convicts register as having escaped from Arras;; he had three letters in the Bitche-Sarrelibre cache
  • James Ord appears in the Finistère Convicts register as having escaped from Auxonne; a letter from him appears in the Bitche-Sarrelibre cache
  • William Tullidge or Tullage appears in the Finistère Convicts register as having escaped from Cambrai; one letter from him appears in the Bitche-Sarrelibre cache

This lone register is, we believe, a treasure of a find and we hope that it may be digitized soon, along with the registers of the other port bagnes, please.

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


The Signature of the Freemason?

 

Chemin des Araignées

 

Since we outgrew the pastime of sitting in the tree house with playmates and throwing fragrant, blue eucalyptus pods at children down on the ground, we have not had much interest in the tangled-web ways of secret societies. There are many, however, who never quite made it out of the tree house and the tribalism of childhood.

There is a flurry of discussion among a group of French genealogists just now -- though it has come up many times before this -- about a particular sign added to signatures and what it could mean. The sign is one we have come across as well and we, too have been puzzled by it. 

1782a

1782b

1782c

 

The sign is of two slanted bars with three dots between them. Though the number of dots may vary, three is more common. The above signatures were all made in 1782 by three brothers. The general consensus, but by no means the definitive ruling, among French professional genealogists is that this sign indicates the person was a Freemason. This is apparently because the Freemasons were also known as "The Brotherhood of Three Dots", or Les Frères Trois-Points, and because they reputedly had a triangular arrangement of three dots tattooed onto themselves.

However, this triangular arrangement is the very reason some genealogists think that the sign on the signature does not indicate the person is a Freemason, because the dots are always in a line, never a triangle. Occasionally, there are two dots, or five or seven or even twelve. Some of those who think this is a sign of Freemasonry believe that the number of dots indicates the level achieved in the society's hierarchy. We have seen also the bars with no apparent dots, as in this example from 1756:

1756

Opponents to the theory point out that there are some departments in France where no signatures with this sign can be found at all, yet Freemasonry exists throughout France. Alternative possibilities that they posit are that the sign may indicate:

  • that the person held a public office, such as mayor,
  • that he held an important post such as a bailiff or notaire,
  • that it indicates something to do with the military,
  • that he was a Compagnon du Tour de France,
  • that the sign was just a way to clean the pen nib before signing

Many say that the sign was not used until after the Revolution. Clearly this is not the case for the examples above come from a few years before the Revolution. Current French Freemasons have been questioned about the sign (which, by the way, seems to be no longer in use) and they, too, are divided as to whether it indicates membership in their society or not, though Jean-Frédéric Daudin, author of l'ABCdaire de la Franc-Maçonnerie, insists that it is, indeed, a mark to indicate Freemasonry. Yet some Freemasons say they have never seen it used in their lodges.

UPDATE: Lenora Gobert details a quite interesting theory of just how the signature dots represent Freemasonry here.

The uncertainty is such that it may be taken as a possible clue. Should you find the mark among your ancestors' signatures, it may be worth pursuing. A few Departmental Archives have in their holdings, in Series M, the archives of some Freemason lodges and their activities. The only way to know is to look. If you do, by all means tell us what you find.

©2014 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


French Commercial Genealogy Loses Its Independence - and It's a Pity

Paris pont mask

We used to praise the high quality of the indexing at Filae. No more. The last few weeks have seen the addition of indexing as messy, lazy and idiotic as the sort of thing one finds on Ancestry or in the infamous indexing of the Drouin collection. It is most disheartening. Now, one finds birth register entries for which the indexer said the daughter was the father, marriages with the wife named as the mother-in-law and, where the indexer was in doubt, everyone named as every relationship.

What possible use is wrong information to anyone? How will users who cannot read the original French document (as in the case of the indexer, apparently) be able to correct these mistakes? The money-grubbers will always say that speed is more important than efficiency, that it is more important to get the material online, even riddled with mistakes, than it is to take the time to do it well, but they are wrong. For every hour that incorrect information is available, people who are researching their family histories are incorporating and perpetuating wrong information in their genealogies. Such commercial cynicism makes a mockery of every genealogist's efforts to find a document the historical truth about a family, and risks dragging the reputation of genealogy as a discipline back down to where it was in the 1920s, when fabricated evidence was rife and family vanity, not family history, was the goal.

That Filae let this happen is almost certainly because its founder, Toussaint Roze, has completed the sale of the company to MyHeritage. The collapse of quality at Filae would seem to indicate that he lost interest in the company a few weeks ago, when the sale became inevitable, as we discussed here. In his announcement of the sale, he boasts that new and greater things are to come at Filae from the MyHeritage takeover. Barring an extensive metamorphosis at MyHeritage and a complicated and expensive programme to correct the mistakes at Filae such as we described above, Roze's promises are blather.

Once again, Dear Readers, the paying customer is merely the punter, the fool to be parted from his money with the cheapest product possible. We strongly and sadly recommend that you NOT renew your Filae subscription for more than a month at a time, as you watch what was a great little company go down the tubes and its services become next to worthless.

Rumours are that Roze is betting that the French law prohibiting DNA testing for the purpose of genealogy will change soon and, when it does, he will be in place with MyHeritage ready and able to take advantage of the new opportunity. We wonder just how big that new opportunity will be. One likely reason for the French lawmakers' opposition to the tests stems from the Civil Code which, from 1804, has expressly forbidden a person to search (just to search, mind you) for the identity of his or her biological father. (Ponder, for a moment, Dear Readers, just what this means.) That law and all that relates to it must change before any anti-DNA genealogy test law can change. We suspect that, if these change, it will be by very small degrees.

We also wonder just how big the market will be, just how many French people will want to have such DNA tests. It is currently something of a fad to take the tests illegally, as we reported here, but the interest is only rarely in genealogy. It is more of a party game to see who is "more French", with distinctly racist overtones.

Left in the dust after the sale of Filae to MyHeritage was Geneanet, which owned forty per cent of Filae and which had hoped to form a single, Francophone genealogy powerhouse from the two. That, actually, could have been something quite wonderful for French genealogists, but it is not to be. Its dreams in tatters, Geneanet announced, in what is surely one of the saddest of such announcements ever written, that it has been purchased by Ancestry. We have made our complaints about Geneanet's messy website in the past, and have praised the efforts to improve it, though it still has some way to go. Merging with Ancestry, the behemoth of indexing disasters and indifference to them, will be no improvement for the quality of Geneanet.

These two sales are very sad events indeed, for neither will bring improved service or quality to those of us researching French genealogy. 

UPDATE: In learning to live with the situation as it is, we have listened to the Legacy Family Tree webinar about the filae collections as they appear on MyHeritage here. If you are committed MyHeritage users, this will be of some help to you.

©2021 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


France's Heat Wave - La Canicule

Canicule

It seems that every summer, we are writing about hotter and hotter weather. This year, with not only heat waves but a long drought, has been catastrophic for France, with massive wildfires in numerous places blazing out of control. Our home is not close to the current fires, but it is close enough that we have had days of our skies filled with smoke. Once again, we are wearing masks, this time to be able to breathe without choking. It is heart breaking and frightening to watch new reports of forests burning and then to go outdoors and see trees and all plant life withering and dying.

It has been a long time coming. France has had disastrous forest fires caused by drought before, in Landes in the 1940s, in Charente-Maritime in the 1970s, in 1989, in 1990, in 2003, in 2009, in 2016, in 2017, last year, and now. There were droughts and heat waves before but now they come more often and are more extreme.

Hot in Paris

And they can be deadly. Not only do people die from the heat, but from disease, as the water warms and more bacteria lives in it, especially that which causes dysentery. The historian, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie has written much on the history of the climate of France and how it has affected people. It was disease from the limited, warm, filthy water that killed half a million in France in the heat wave of 1636. In 1705, another series of heat waves led to the deaths of 700,000. The drought and heat waves of 1718 and 1719 were so severe that "clouds of Saharan grasshoppers" swarmed central France. Modern water purification has ameliorated the catastrophes somewhat; still, in 1911, 40,000 people died from heat and/or disease and 15,000 in the heat wave of 2003.

Much of his research for the book On the History of the Climate of France from the 14th Century, involved looking not only at recorded temperatures but at parish registers for recorded deaths to determine the effect of climate on mortality rates. His charts are useful for the genealogist who may come across a cluster of deaths in a family, especially the babies, during a short period. Grim reading.

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Does a Baptism Date Imply a Date of Birth?

Baptism

We recently received an e-mail from Madame L asking:

"As I’ve been searching through Filae and Geneanet for records, there are times when I’ve found a baptism record but not a birth record for an ancestor. ...  My past practice has been to use the month and year of the baptism for the month and year of the birth. However, ... I’m not so sure if that's the right course to take.

I searched through the country of France section on the FamilySearch Wiki and found under the Church Records topic that infants whose families were of the Catholic faith were typically baptized two days after they were born.

My question is this: If I’m only able to find a baptism record for one of my ancestors, would it be best to put the word “about” followed by the baptism year for the birth year or to continue putting the month and year of the baptism for the month and year of the birth?"

We feel that this reveals the curse of genealogy software that is deeply ethnocentric. Ideally, one would like to be able to simply put the baptism date without have to guess as to the birth date. Usually, with such software, it is also not easy to enter an explanatory note about religious customs or ceremonies that can take place quite a bit later than a birth. For example:

  1. Anabaptists/Mennonites, of which there were and still are, many in Alsace, did not baptize their children until the children could understand and consent; this was often at about the age of 15 years.
  2. Catholics in small parishes typically baptized the child on the day of birth or the next day but many things could have caused that to be different: people on remote farms had to wait for an itinerant priest to pass by to baptize the children; wealthy families sometimes postponed the baptism (or performed a second baptism) until all could gather for a large celebration; and there were many other such situations that varied from FamilySearch's "typical" Catholics, baptized two days after birth.
  3. Some Protestants baptized in secret in their own religion, at times, and then, at a later date, had their children baptized as Catholics to ensure their full rights.
  4. Jewish people did not regularly baptize their children, of course, but boys were circumcised, normally within ten days of birth but, again, people in remote places had to wait for an itinerant rabbi to appear. Again, like Protestants, some Jewish people, especially in Bordeaux, had their children baptized in the Catholic Church, often years after birth, to ensure their full rights.
  5. Families that had left France and whose children were born outside of the country (such as émigrés, or colonials) often would have them all baptized anew in the French parish when they returned, and all entered into the civil registers as well, just to be sure. This could have been years after their births.
 
All of these examples could show a baptism date quite different from a birth date.
 
It is worthwhile to remember that, from 1792, with the advent of civil registration, Church registers of baptism ceased to have legal validity. Additionally, while civil registration of a birth became obligatory, baptism ceased to be so. Thus, after 1792,  the one replaced the other as legal records of identity. People could and did, of course, continue with religious ceremonies, but as France no longer had a state religion, those religious records were considered purely private and of no legal value.  On the whole, it is not necessary for the purpose of identity to search for baptism records where  civil birth records can be found. We explain more about the difference in an earlier blog post here.
 
Coming back to the original question of how to note a date of birth based on a baptism, we repeat one of the many golden rules of genealogy: Never Assume. If you do not have a birth date, you must not invent or guess one. If you have a baptism date, note it as what it is: a date of baptism only. Do not try to make a baptism equal a birth.
 
We have spoken.
 
©2022 Anne Morddel
French Genealogy

One Reader's Research Methods

Bourgogne

Every so often, one of you, Dear Readers ,shares his or her research methods with us and we like to pass them on to the rest of you. So much of genealogical discovery is serendipitous, that, truly, one never can know what might help to open a door hitherto locked. Today, we share with you the methods of Monsieur W.:

"I was born in Liverpool, England and always wanted to know who my ancestors were as a child but growing up in the 1950s and up to 2000 it was quite difficult as there was no internet and if one was lucky may have had a family tree passed down by elders, but unlikely.

Ancestral research started for me over 10 years ago with one name in a very small amount of names in our Ancestry.com site by my sister in law so I decided I would focus on the name and see where it led me, the name was BETHANCOURT and as it sounded French it sounded like a good place to start. I went online into google search engine and started to research the name and as I had sent off for the marriage certificate it gave me the name of my 2nd Great Grandfather and his place of birth etc, so again I went into google search engine and it lead me back to his parents who lived on Gran Canaria Island, Spain. I then found there were others online also researching the same family line as me so I emailed them and many responded.

One of the people who responded turned out to be a genealogist who lived on Gran Canaria and he assisted me in taking my Bethancourt line further back and also all the related families via marriage etc, this person turned out to be my 14th generational cousin on numerous lines and he was good enough to guide me. I then came across two other people who were genealogists on Gran Canaria, who also turned out to be my cousins and they too assisted me. We have written an article about my Bethancourt ancestor also. Many of my Canary Island Ancestors headed to Louisiana.

How did I discover my French ancestry? My 3rd Great Grandfather who was in Louisiana married a French lady whose family name was REMONDET who arrived from Crugey, Cote d'or, Bourgogne, France. So I now started to explore my French ancestry and it led me to Alsace & Lorraine and several other areas of France.

How did I find all this information? A lot of reading and TIME

I started by focusing on one line at a time to develop it as far as possible

I then used Google search engine and looked for names on there and looked for others who were researching the same names and contacted them. We shared information together

I looked for articles online, books where my ancestors' names were mentioned and if in French or Spanish I copied and pasted the text and then used a translation tool.

I found a French site which listed all towns in France and found the ones where my ancestors lived and looked for their names and marriages etc.

I have been able to find living descendants of my ancestors all over the world and correspond with several of them, some in France and Spain

So by starting with just one name that caught my eye has led me to build an extensive tree with numerous family connections globally and i'm still building my tree every day.

All I can suggest to you is this, Ask family if they have information , names, dates , photos, birth certificates etc etc first. You need a starting point and this is the basis of building your tree. Then you need to spend time researching, never give up as the information is out there you just need to find it. The internet has made it so much easier to find ancestors, so use it.

I've contributed to a book about my fathers side of our family and co-written an article about my 4th Great Grandfather on my mothers side which has been published.

I hope this may inspire at least one person to develop their tree and find their ancestors

Many thanks, Monsieur W.!

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


FGB Free Clinic - Case no. 9 - Marie Fouyol, Parisian wife of Thomas Mansell, part 10 - Thomas Mansell's Compatriots

Marie Fiuyol Signature

We continue our long and to date fruitless search for the origins of Marie Fouyol, wife of Thomas Mansell. If nothing else, wee are taking you, our Faithful Readers, on a journey of archival sources in France that may be of use to you in your own research. In Part 8 of this Case Study, we proposed looking at the prisoner of war files on some of the other weavers arrested with Thomas Mansell in 1803 and held at Fontainbleau. We wrote:

Many other weavers and machinists were held prisoner with Thomas Mansell at Fontainebleau. There are prisoner of war files on some of them:

George Archer
John, Thomas and Charles Callon
John Dean
James Flint
William Fleming

These files should be read to see if, as often happened, a mention or even a page about Thomas Mansell did not end up in someone else's file.

We have since been able to visit the archives of the military in the Service Historique de la Défense at Vincennes. There, the dossiers on the men above are in the series Yj, to which we give you the finding aid  to Download SHDGR_REP_YJ_1_148 In the past, when researching other British prisoners of Napoleon in this series, we have come across letters about one man mistakenly placed in the file of another, and it was our hope that we might have found such to be the case in one of these dossiers. If not that, then possibly a small mention of a Mansell (and his wife!) in a letter about another.

Callon

Archer's and Fleming's files could not be found by the archivists that day (it happens) but we saw the others, plus another, on an Irish weaver, Daniel Macfee. We found some gloriously informative documents, such as that shown above concerning John Callon, but after scrutinizing every page in each of the dossiers, we had to surrender, for there was not the slightest mention of Thomas Mansell. McFee and Thomas Callon were not in Paris but in Rouen. Flint had lived in Rouen and Coye-la-Forêt and did not ask to move to Paris until 1810, to work for an American. Dean also had been in Rouen and requested to move to Ghent in Belgium. If any of them knew or worked with Thomas Mansell, it does not appear in their dossiers at the Service Historique de la Défense. 

 

We next went to the Archives nationales out in the very dull Pierrefitte-sur-Seine. (Our visits there used to be cheered by the raucous crowing of a rooster in a garden right next to the entry to the archives but we fear the poor bird must have met its end during the pandemic for his delightfully defiant racket greets arrivals no more. Now, there is just the roar of city buses, and a long walk past gigantic, grey, plastic pots and a garden gone to seed.) 

Paris register

There, on microfilm, is a register of British prisoners and détenus allowed to live in Paris.  It is an interesting read, written in a grand hand, covering the years 1809 to 1814.  It includes a discussion of the weavers and machine operators given permission to reside on Paris and to carry on with their trades. Of those named in this discussion, none were on the list of those arrested in 1803 ans sent to Fontainebleau but four of that group do appear in the simple alphabetic listing that follows. They are:

  • George Archer
  • John Bowie
  • One of the Callon brothers (already seen)
  • One of the Dean brothers (already seen)

Maddeningly, neither section of the register mentions Thomas Mansell. However, among the weavers and machine operators it includes in the early discussion of workers allowed to remain in Paris, although they are not on the list of those sent to Fontainebleau in 1803, there are dossiers in the Yj series at Service Historique de la Défense on some of them:

  • John Lane
  • William Oswald
  • James Spencer

These three, with John Bowie, are new possibilities for a mention, however small, of Thomas Mansell. So, we will back to Service Historique de la Défense and look at those four files (and we will give George Archer another go).

This one is tough, but there is no reason to give up yet.

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

 


Reflections on Genealogy and "That New Yorker Article"

King and Queen

A few weeks ago, a New Yorker article by Maya Jasanoff, entitled "Our Obsession With Ancestry Has Some Twisted Roots" drove some in the world of genealogy into quite a tizzy. The title is misleading, having the air of being a copy editor's creation and, though the author is a distinguished historian who has been awarded prizes for her writing, in this case she is not terribly coherent or clear. It is obvious that the she does not know much about the techniques of genealogical research, or establishing genealogical proof or kinship determination, but that does not diminish the validity of her concern. She is worried about how genealogy is used not, as Elizabeth Shown Mills, herself a historian, brilliantly showed on facebook in response to this article, to understand how one's family fits into history, but for power, injustice and exclusion.

"The truth is, all genealogies are selective, often by design" she writes. Her concern here is exclusion. Her wording is imprecise, we believe, in that it is not genealogies that are exclusive, (or inclusive, for that matter). Genealogies attempt to show all familial connections in the most factual, documented and verifiable manner possible. It is when we place values on those families, their extended families, their tribes, and say that one is good while another bad and establish that belonging to one gives rights while to another deprives one of rights, that we are misusing, even abusing genealogy. Every hereditary genealogy society requiring a lineage proof for membership commits this type of abuse. Every immigration law based on a person's heredity commits this type of abuse. Dr. Jasanoff is right to raise the issue and to be concerned.

She does not dispute the pleasure that family history can give to us, that "Genealogy as a technique may bring individual rewards, but," she adds, "as a historical paradigm it has tended to serve those in power, and such effects are not diminishing." Her point is that those in power use genealogical research and techniques, including DNA research, to legalize injustices toward certain people based upon their heredity. This is a legitimate and important question which Dr. Jasanoff is asking us to examine: "We know that “race” is a social construct. We need to acknowledge the ways in which “ancestry” is, too."

Perhaps we genealogists and family historians should participate in, even lead this examination. There certainly has not yet been much written by genealogists asking just what "ancestry" is and what it means. Surely, the many times that we have seen how DNA evidence can contradict documented identity should have opened such a discussion amongst us by now. Additionally, so much of our focus in our work has been on good research and sound reasoning that we have not looked at just how our reports and studies might be used by the unscrupulous. 

The Code of Ethics of the Board for Certification of Genealogists makes no mention of how genealogy might be misused or of what a genealogist could or should do to prevent it. In fact, helping people with their applications to lineage societies is such a staple of most genealogists' work that it is unlikely that any professional genealogists' organization has questioned if it is desirable to help anyone to join a club that expressly keeps out others who do not have the same or a similar lineage. Maybe it is time for us to do so. Maybe it is time for us to add to our Codes of Ethics clauses to the effect that we will not contribute our research to activities that use genealogy as a basis for exclusion or injustice. Going further, we might add clauses to the effect that, in order to protect the honour of our profession, we will make every effort to stop such abuse.

It is sad and even somewhat horrifying that these abuses, that the nonsensical idea of superiority or inferiority based upon bloodlines, heredity or genealogy, are again a worry, when we should have thought all modern societies would have most vigourously crushed such idiocy by now. Dr. Jasanoff's essay may be a bit muddled but her points are most valid and we would suggest that those whose first reaction was to sense an attack on their profession and/or pastime and to retaliate pause to give it another reading.

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

In response to the above, we have had this e-mail from Monsieur W:

"Dear Anne,

There are very few propositions that have universal application. The only one of which I am aware is René Descartes’ “Je pense, donc je suis” (or, if you prefer, “cogito, ergo sum”), which is both universal and irrefutable, even though it may be only momentarily true.

Your proposition that genealogy should not be used to establish exclusivity or defend exclusions does, I believe, require some limitations. To apply it universally may have unintended consequences.

Australia’s recognition of Aboriginal land rights arises from a principle that Aboriginal nations existed before European settlement, and that they were peopled by indigenous language groups whose members have living descendants, comprising at least 4 percent of Australia’s current population. To meet the requirements of Aboriginality, you must satisfy three genealogy-based measures:

· The person must identify as Aboriginal.

· The relevant Aboriginal community must recognise the person as Aboriginal.

· The person must be Aboriginal by way of descent.

A member of an Aboriginal language group may enjoy exclusive benefits. He or she may live on land that others would require a permit to enter. He or she might share exclusively in royalties from mining companies extracting resources from that land.He of she

These hereditary rights have been established in Australian law through a recognition that they embody rights and laws that were not extinguished by colonisation.

I am in full agreement with you that lineage societies, and their ilk, need to be put under an ethical microscope, but I would suggest this is a complex problem that needs to be approached cautiously. What is the intent of the society? Does its manifest cause harm to those who cannot meet its criteria? Has it crossed the line between fellowship and snobbish superiority? Do its members gain advantages that should be equally available to others? Are there actually people who want to be taken into a genealogical family, even though they have no genealogical connection with that family? Would such a demand, in itself, be legitimate?

Your blog will, I hope, stimulate this debate, and I’m sure many of your readers will be interested in following its development."


French Jewish Genealogy - Online Guides

Jewish Marriages

We have written a number of posts on French Jewish genealogy (to find them all, click on that category toward the end of the column on the left of this page) but in preparing for our recent talk on the subject, we discovered some very fine guides have been put online. 

Not yet the best source of all, that being "Les Familles juives en France, XVIe siècle - 1815 : Guide des Recherches biographiques et généalogiques" by Gildas Bernard. That superb work details all of the holdings in all of the archives and libraries in France relating to Jewish people. When you search on the websites of those various archives and libraries, you will find what is digitized easily. Possibly, what has not been digitized will be mentioned in the nether regions of a finding aid. With Bernard's book, you can have the full listing. It also contains superb essays by local archivists about the history and archives in the main regions of France of Jewish history:

  • Alsace
  • Lorraine
  • Avignon and the Comtat Venaissin
  • The Southwest

Unfortunately, this book has not yet been digitized. However, an updated version of his earlier work has been put online by the Archives nationales and can be downloaded as a PDF here. We plan to keep checking, in the hope that they will do the same with Les Familles juives soon.

In the mean time, here are links to a number of very good guides to researching Jewish genealogy in France:

  • The Departmental Archives of Vaucluse have four very brief guides to their important holdings on the Jewish families of the Papal States:
  • The Departmental Archives of Bas-Rhin have produced two guides relating specifically to their resources on Jewish families in Alsace. They can be downloaded here.
  • JewishGen has a very clear, if a bit outdated, summary of the basics of French Jewish research, in English, here.
  • GenAmi - The Jewish Genealogical Association, has excellent guides by region, and in English.
  • The Jewish Virtual Library probably has the best page on French Jewish history, which will help you with your genealogical research:
    • in Paris, here
    • in Alsace here,
    • in Lorraine here
    • in Avignon here
    • in Bordeaux here
    • check the blue banner on the left of their pages for other cities in France; note that the important city of Saint-Esprit is within the article on Bayonne.

We plan to write more posts on the subject, but the above will keep you going until we do.

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy