Methodolgy

Wallis-et-Futuna, a DOM-TOM Research Example

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These tiny islands turn out to be quite dynamic when it comes to helping people with their genealogical research. There is a quite determined effort to protect and to preserve the history of the country's families and to help people to know more about their families. 

In 2018, France TV reported that two women from the cultural service (under which come the archives) of Futuna set out to gather oral and genealogical histories from every family on the island. They discovered that most people interviewed did not know generations further back than their own grandparents. Using this primary information, one of the researchers began tracing each family through the baptismal records of the Catholic mission, which began in 1842. This is a good fifty years earlier than the civil registrations that can be viewed on the website of the Archives nationales d'outre-mer (ANOM), the starting point for any DOM-TOM research.

The following year, after all the research was digitized, the results of the genealogical research began to be promoted and the research extended to requesting living people to send in copies of their own and their family's documentation in order to complete the goal of researching and documenting the genealogy of every family of Futuna. The cultural and archives service's own website has an excellent graphic explaining the procedure by which one may request aid from and contribute to the genealogy service:

 

Wallis and Futuna genealogy service

There is a form to download (télécharger) and complete for joining the project. It asks for genealogical information, such as it may be known, and the reason for the request.

Formulaire

There is also a list of documentation to provide that can be downloaded. Documents required are the livret de famille and copies of as many civil registrations as possible. 

Généalogie-Pièces-à-fournir

Note that this is somewhat different from researching one's more distant ancestors. French law protects the privacy of individuals much more so than in many other countries. If requesting information about people still alive or about whom the documentation is less than seventy-five years old, one will have to prove the familial relationship. Additionally, the documents provided with the request will become part of the collection on Futuna families. According to the fine graphic of steps in the procedure, the service will then verify the documentation, perhaps ask for more, and then be in contact.

A very fine project, we opine.

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


DOM-TOM Genealogical Research

Colonial Guadeloupe

Following on from our previous post, which was about Overseas France, we present here the basics of genealogical research relating to those departments and regions. These come from the superb research guide produced by Bernard Vuillet of the Archives nationales.  

Parish and Civil Registrations / Actes d'état civil

As stated in that earlier post, all DOM-TOM research begins with the website of the Archives nationales d'outre-mer (ANOM) which have digitized and put online all of the microfilmed parish and civil registrations held concerning these territories.

Notarial Records / Les Actes des Notaires

Duplicate copies of notarial records created in the territories were made from 1776 to 1912. These are held at ANOM and at each territory's Departmental Archives, with a microfilm copy of them being held at the Archives nationales in Paris. Additionally, there may be notarial records relating to families living in the territories (then colonies) written in France during their visits. Those in Paris will be in the Minutier Central and, with luck might turn up in a search via the Salle des Inventaires Virtuelle. Those elsewhere will be in the local Departmental Archives. In all cases, one must know the name of the notaire to be able to search for the records.

Land Title Records / Les Titres de Propriété

Increasingly, Departmental Archives are putting online the registers of land title, the hypothèques, as they are known. Keep checking their websites to see what is available. Duplicates of those made during the nineteenth century are held at ANOM. The original land grants will be held at the Departmental Archives, while files about them are held at ANOM. ANOM also hold the records concerning these lands in vacant inheritances.

Census Returns / Le recensements

Dating from as early as the seventeenth century, these are held in ANOM, with a microfilm copy at the Archives nationales in Paris. Apparently, the Departmental Archives of La Réunion have an excellent collection as well.

Colonial Personnel / Le Personnel colonial

These are primarily indices and lists. As with other archives, these are held at ANOM, with microfilm copies in the Archives nationales in Paris. Some of the Departmental Archives also have copies.

Passenger lists / Les Listes des Passagers

These are difficult. One must know the date of departure and the port of departure. Some general passenger lists, from 1749 to 1886, are held, yet again, at ANOM, with copies at the Archives nationales in Paris. The Departmental Archives responsible for the major ports of departure, (Le Havre, Rouen, Caen, Nantes, Saint-Nazaire, Bordeaux) hold what passenger lists have survived. The naval archives for the ports of Brest, Cherbourg, Lorient, Rochefort and Toulon also have passenger lists.

 

Clearly, the ideal would be to go to ANOM in the south of France, and then to some of the overseas Departmental Archives. Alas, most of us cannot manage such travel and it probably would not be permitted in these times of a pandemic anyway. However, an enormous amount of documentation has been digitized by ANOM, not all of it easy to find. Some years ago, we wrote of the secrets hidden there and how to search for them.

The research may be difficult but, in some ways, these records contain more genealogical information than do records on those who remained in France. Good luck!

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Researching a Ship's Doctor in France

Poppies

Inexplicably, we have received a number of e-missives from certain Dear Readers who all have an ancestor who claimed to be a "surgeon in the French navy" or a "naval doctor" or a "surgeon on a French frigate at Trafalgar". It is most unusual, we believe, to have a spate of surgeon's descendants surface. Yet, we are grateful for, in our attempts to give helpful replies, we have discovered some very interesting new research paths, supplemented by two well-timed talks

When researching French surgeons at sea, making the differentiation between the Navy and the Merchant Marine is as important as it is when researching sailors or seamen. The documentation and archival storage are in some way quite separate and the researcher has to bear that in mind. If you are researching a man who was a doctor, surgeon or pharmacist/chemist in the French Navy, your work has been done for you by the excellent team of archivist/authors at the Service Historique de la Défense (SHD) who produced the weighty tome, Dictionnaire des médecins, chirurgiens et pharmaciens de la Marine . The work is so thorough that, if your ancestor does not appear within, he almost certainly was not a surgeon inthe French Navy.

Thus, you must look in the scattered, incomplete, rarely online but wondrous records of the French Merchant Marine (Marine de commerce et de pêche). Recall that we wrote on a recent post about the French naval conscription:

The French Naval Class System, Le système de classes

It is clear that many outside of France are completely unaware of a key element of the French Navy, La Marine, and that is the fact that, since 1668, the Marine has had its own system of drafting men into service. As with other military draft systems, it was compulsory. Censuses were taken of all men aged eighteen or over who worked on any type of vessel or who worked with vessels or in ports in any capacity. (From this it can be seen that most of the men came from coastal areas, few were from inland regions.) Lists, called matricules, were made for each region each time the census was taken. All men listed during a particular census were in the same classe, which could be called up to serve at any time during war. The class system was devised to prevent (and is considered by the French to be infinitely superior to and more humane than) something like the British practice of impressing (or pressing) men into service in the Royal Navy. During times of peace, classes were not called up, but during times of war, many classes could be called up at the same time and the men possibly could be made to serve longer than the mandated year. In 1795, the classe system was renamed the maritime enrollment, inscription maritime, but functioned in much the same way throughout the nineteenth century.

When young men had to register, they did so within their Quartier Maritime, an administrative division under the Ministry of the Marine. Prior to the Revolution, the registration was handled by the Admiralty headquarters, les sièges d'Amirauté. These divisions or headquarters were usually in port cities such as Le Havre, Rouen, Lorient, Cherbourg, Bordeaux, Toulon, and many, many more. They handled the registration of merchant vessels and personnel, including surgeons.

Surgeons, to serve on a vessel, had to pass tests and receive certificates. Many of the register books showing this have survived and some are online. Those for Bordeaux, on the website of the Departmental Archives of Gironde include:

  • Registrations of Captains, surgeons and other officers, from 1699 to 1792 (Réceptions de capitaines de vaisseaux, chirurgiens, maîtres de barque, pilotes hauturiers, etc...)
  • Certificates delivered by approved Admiralty surgeons to new candidates, from 1711-1728 (Certificats délivrés par les chirurgiens de l'Amirauté de Guienne aux candidats chirurgiens de mer.)

Here is a screen print of one of the former, showing the entry for Pierre Lafargue, whose father trained him (a not uncommon occurrence).

Surgeons

For Le Havre and Rouen, the digitized registers are on the website of the Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime. They have so much and the search is complicated. The easiest way to get to the register and to other interesting possibilities is to go to the "Recherche simple" search box and type in "chirurgiens" and you will see this wonderful book:

Le Havre surgeons

One can have a bit more fun and, on the AD Gironde website, see a register of the contents of the surgeons' chests as they were in 1786 (code 6 B 546): 

Surgeons' chests

 

 So, now you know not to despair if your "naval surgeon" ancestor is not in the Dictionnaire des mèdecins. If he lived near Le Havre or Bordeaux, you might find him registered as a "surgeon of the sea" with the merchant marine.

A small tip: Huguenots were not permitted to be surgeons during the Ancien régime (David Garrioch, The Huguenots of Paris and the Coming of Religious Freedom, 1685-1789, p. 159.) . So, if you find your man among surgeons, he was almost certainly a Catholic. Conversely, your Huguenot ancestor may have been a doctor but almost certainly could not practice in France.

Santé!

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Two Virtual Lectures Up Our Alley

Vessel

Last Saturday's online French genealogy conference, the Salon Virtuel de Généalogie, was excellent as to content but, as we mentioned on the day, somewhat flawed as to microphone quality. We enjoyed a number of talks, especially that by Sandrine Roux-Morand about Alsace Moselle research, to which you can still listen for two more days here, and that by Laurence Abensur-Hazan on French Jewish genealogy resources, delivered at speed, in great clarity and without slides, to which you can still listen here.

Two  lectures were covering topics that are right up the research alley in which we find ourselves at the moment. That on resources online for researching French sailors and merchant seamen, by Christian Duic, and the utterly fascinating lecture by Marine Leclercq-Bernard on using medical archives in genealogical research

We began with Madame Leclercq-Bernard's lecture on La Généalogie Médicale. She discussed the cases of those who were identified legally as carriers of diseases and the medical protocols for identifying and notifying those with hereditary diseases. Her explanation of the archives to use was, Dear Readers, a revelation. So many series that we never knew, with possibilities for discoveries that we never imagined, were described that we now long for a poorly French ancestor to hunt down in them. Most of these series are within the Departmental Archives and are not online; many are in the Archives hospitalières, but Madame Leclercq-Bernard also suggested that one could seek in the archives concerning abandoned children and in the archives of the military hospitals. She explained how a researcher might trace a medical problem back through a number of generations using these archives. Do, do listen to this talk while there still is time.

Christian Duic's talk closely follows his book, Retrouver un ancêtre marin but, aware of our lack of mobility during these times of quarantine, he narrowed the focus to online research of sailors and merchant seamen. (As you will know from our own recent series on Researching Early American Mariners of the Napoleonic Wars, this area of research is one in which we are keenly interested.) We urge you to listen to his talk while there is time, particularly if you have been having trouble with the Le Havre passenger and crew lists on the website of the Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime, for (at about the 27th minute in the talk) he walks the viewer through it.

The French Naval Class System, Le système de classes

It is clear that many outside of France are completely unaware of a key element of the French Navy, La Marine, and that is the fact that, since 1668, the Marine has had its own system of drafting men into service. As with other military draft systems, it was compulsory. Censuses were taken of all men aged eighteen or over who worked on any type of vessel or who worked with vessels or in ports in any capacity. (From this it can be seen that most of the men came from coastal areas, few were from inland regions.) Lists, called matricules, were made for each region each time the census was taken. All men listed during a particular census were in the same class, which could be called up to serve at any time during war. The class system was devised to prevent (and is considered by the French to be infinitely superior to and more humane than) something like the British practice of impressing (or pressing) men into service in the Royal Navy. During times of peace, classes were not called up, but during times of war, many classes could be called up at the same time and the men possibly could be made to serve longer than the mandated year. Without an awareness of this naval draft and the naval matricules, one will not comprehend Monsieur Duic's lecture or his book.

Now, watch those lectures! Vite!

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


A Quick List of French Military Websites for Your Lockdown Research

Chasseurs 1802

Many years ago, we worked in aid in East Africa. We poured our heart and soul into the projects, particularly one to train trainers, very much à la mode in the aid world at the time. We arrived after months of preparation, all notes and materials ready to give the course. At a final meeting with the Head of the Civil Service, he told us with his regrets that he would have to cancel the course. We were devastated. "It is fully booked," we pleaded. "The sponsors have paid for the facilities, materials, even for stipends for the attendees. Please reconsider." He refused, we continued begging, wheedling. He was adamant. As was our wont when younger, when we encountered grievous frustration, we lost our head, Dear Readers. Standing before the gentleman, we spoke passionately, waved our arms wildly, and threatened to stab ourself in the throat then and there with a decorative tribal knife that happened to be on his desk, "and bleed all over your carpet!" He looked very disappointed and relented, for which we thanked him profusely. We were so blind in those days. All the man wanted was a bribe. It would have saved us a near-stroke simply to have paid up.

Similarly, for months, we have been at the near-stroke stage in our frustration with the redesigned website of the French military archives, Mémoire des Hommes. Essentially, to our mind, it was launched far too soon, before much data had been entered. Our greatest complaints, however, has been that the brilliant finding aids were not accessible, denying the possibility of our much-enjoyed serendipitous discoveries. In this case of frustration, it was not a payment that was required but patience. Slowly, the site is improving and searches are yielding actual results. The "global search" allows a search for a particular name through the records of a few wars, most of them in the twentieth century. To  find a person in the records of the Ancien Régime through the First Empire, from 1682 to 1815, is a bit more arduous. The contrôles des troupes, the troop lists, have been digitized but are not indexed (collaborative indexing proceeds apace but many of us, Dear Readers, will not live the decades needed to see the results). Thus, you must page through the registers. To make it easier, try to find out the regiment in which your ancestor served and the approximate dates of his service.

Take the time to explore the site. It does get better.

Ancestramil remains a superb resource that takes much of the pain out of researching in the records of the French military. They have indexed close to a million names and transcribed thousands of lists. If you have done no military research at all, Ancestramil is the place to start. Some years back, we described it here.

A couple of the following are also on Ancestramil but we give them here if you wish to use a more subject specific site.

We hope these may help you to have a grand success during your lockdown hunting.

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Research During Confinement - Another Quick List of Websites

Fashion of nobility

Here in France, Monday was the first day that we could peek and venture out of our homes. After two months of confinement, we are beginning, so cautiously, déconfinement. This being France, the rules are mathematical, quite cut and dried. There is now a system of colour coding applied to each of France's departments, indicating whether that department is able to pursue déconfinement (green), is at risk of going back to lock down (orange) or is locked down (red). The map for Monday showed most of the northeastern quadrant in red, then, a sort of diagonal band of departments from the northwest to the southeast in orange, and most of the west in green. The map will be revised on the 2nd of June, based on three criteria for each department: 

  1. The infection rate
  2. The number of intensive care beds available to care for the ill
  3. The testing rate

Nothing vague, nothing emotional, nothing political, nothing confusing, just pure numbers. Of course, if the reality turns out to be that life becomes a yoyo experience of going from relative freedom to confinement back to freedom and back to confinement, etc. all that order may fall to pieces. One journalist said today that "The French are too spoiled to be stoic," referring to the wearing of masks and social distancing still required, even in green zones.

 

As to French genealogy, Paris is, as ever, as red as she can be, resulting in all of the many glorious archival facilities remaining shut. We are not yet back on the Métro to research in the archives, as perhaps you, Dear Readers, may not be. So, we continue with our listing of excellent websites to aid you in your French genealogy research.

FRENCH NOBILITY

Tudchentil  - is dedicated to the nobility of Brittany. It is a superb, quite academic site, which we explained in detail here.

The Armorial général de France - is a book based on manuscripts, considered the one and only authority on the pre-Revolutionary nobility of France, which we wrote about here.

Noble Wiki - we are sad to say, has deteriorated since we first wrote about it and has buried its useful information under a surfeit of flashing advertisements and a zealous commitment to social media. Nevertheless, have a look to see if you may not find some clues for further research.

Dictionnaire de la noblesse - In nineteen volumes, this work includes numerous family genealogies. They can be found on Gallica, the Internet Archive and a few other websites.

 

VARIOUS PROFESSIONS

Siprojuris  - is a database of French law professors from 1804 to 1950, which we once discussed here.

Métiers d'Autrefois - will not help you to find your ancestor but, once you do, it will help you to understand what work he or she did. Once again, we remind you that a journalier was not a journalist but a day labourer, usually on a farm. We give other such sites here.

The Musée du Compagnonnage - A charming site that explains compagnonnage and can help you to find an ancestor who underwent this marvelously medieval style of training. We discussed it here.

GenVerrE is the website for the descendants of French glassmakers. Of all the profession websites we have mentioned on our blog, this seems to have been of the most help to readers. We introduced it  here.

Our post on French gold miners in California is not a website but may be of help. Be sure to read the very good comments to that post.

Good luck with your research.

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Research Under Confinement or "Lock Down"

We opine, Dear Readers, that it is unfortunate that the words for our staying at home during this pandemic are all words used for imprisonment, such as "confinement" or "lock down". In truth, we are not in prison. We are not criminals who have acted against the public good in a selfish and greedy manner. We are all engaged in the largest, shared, voluntary act for the public good in the history of humanity. None of us wants to fall ill but more, none of us wants to make others ill. Billions of people are staying home, sacrificing work, education and socialization, in an unselfish determination to put the good for all above the need of the individual. Our heroism is obviously not on the level of the heroism of those risking their lives for the public good by tending the ill, but it exists. It is our view that we are witnessing an astonishing and beautiful truth about our species. It is that we can, all of us, work together for the good of all. 

Nevertheless, staying at home can be dull. Even our belovèd ninety year old uncle in California is finding it all a bit tedious, not being able to go for his long walks around town. So, back to French genealogy, in the hope that the rigours of research and a busy mind will quell the twitchings of inactive limbs. 

Continuing with a quick list of useful websites for research:

 

FRENCH WHO EMIGRATED

ASIL Europe XIX - A most interesting website of European migrants during the nineteenth century, including those who were expelled from France. It is the work of a university. We find that such sites tend to be fabulous and then (why? because someone got his or her PhD and wandered off?) they disappear, so use it quickly. We first wrote about this here.

Bagnards -  From 1853 to 1952, France sent more than 100,000 prisoners to penal colonies, primarily to French Guyana and New Caledonia. In our previous post, we already recommended the site of ANOM, but this takes to directly to the bagnards section.  Note that a new aspect is that the registers have now been digitized. For much more about the bagnards, read our post here.

Basques Who Went to Argentina - These are the registers maintained of those Basques who sailed to Argentina, of whom there are now an estimated ten million descendants. Read our original post on this here.

Via Bordeaux - As we have written, the Bordeaux port records were burned, so there are no passenger lists. However, this is a wonderful database of the passports issued to those who sailed from Bordeaux, as emigrants or not, that can be searched and the original documents viewed. Read our original post about the passports here and how to combine your research in them with Ancestry's records here.

Communards who were deported are listed in full on a blog dedicated to the subject. For more on the Paris Commune, read our post here.

Mauritius or Réunion - This has some overlap with ANOM's site, but also has information of its own, including lists of first emigrants to these islands, many names with pages of extracted information from parish registrations. See our original post on this here.

FrancoGene - a well-known and excellent website on early emigrants from France to North America.

Emigration to Algeria - If, like us, you despise flashing advertisements all over a page you are trying to read, if the ugly images are an offense to your eye, if the harping phrases an insult to your intelligence, you may wish to view this site's fine collection of information with an ad-blocker on your browser. Read our original post on the workers' convoys to Algeria here.

Passenger and Crew Lists from Le Havre and Rouen - The Departmental Archives have digitized a collection of passenger lists discovered after World War II in one of the few buildings not bombed by the Allies. The lists cover voyages from Le Havre or Rouen on French registered vessels that returned to Le Havre or Rouen in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They are not indexed and are arranged by date. Read our post explaining this site here.

 

May these websites help you to soar with a sense of freedom as your research takes you across the globe and back in time. More to come, mes amis!

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

(We had intended to put at the top of this post a picture of a fountain as we have read that donating fountains to one's community is, in certain cultures, a most-honoured act for the public good, but Typepad's image insertion is malfunctioning today.)


Our Eleventh Birthday - In Quarantine!

11th Birthday under lockdown pink

Ah, Dear Readers, many predicted this but could any of us have imagined life under quarantine? When we began our series about researching American mariners on the twenty-second of January, the press contained a few reports of an epidemic of some concern in far away China. By the time the series came to an end, a couple of weeks ago, the entire world was battling a pandemic and most of us in quarantine at home.  Like everyone else, The FGB is soldiering on as best as possible, doing French genealogical research.

In truth, much as we adore visiting the currently shut archives of France, we also take great pleasure in online research. For any of you who have been with us since the beginning, you will know that part of our mission is to explain to you, in English, how to research your French ancestors online. What better time than now to do an update on our favourite sites? 

GENERAL, BROAD RESEARCH

The index to the finding aids of the Archives nationales

Forever being updated, so always worth checking again and again, this is one of the first places to begin researching any French, especially Parisian, ancestor. It is not only for the prominent. All kinds of people from all parts of the country crop up here. Our post here explains how to log on.

Ancestry

Ancestry is not particularly useful for French research but it is excellent for tracing all possible documentation on a French ancestor who went to another country, in that country. Immigrant records of the USA, Australia and the UK about a French ancestor's new life can be excellent in finding all versions of the person's name, his or her birthdate and birth place. The same holds true for MyHeritage.

FamilySearch

The site has more and more French records scanned but the indexing than a kindergarten crafts room when the children have just left it. Use with grave caution or only when you know exactly what you seek and where it should be.

Généanet

This and the next are France's largest and most important commercial genealogy research sites. Généanet has a messy, outdated interface but is a superb resource, especially for original documents from Paris and especially for people of the eighteenth century.

Filae

Filae is better for researching people in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Of particular value are two national censuses that have been indexed, that of 1872 and that of 1906. Additionally, the French office of statistics (INSEE) death records are, in many cases, the only way to find a death that occurred after 1902. With access in English.

Geopatronyme

Check your surname here. French names were contorted, some beyond recognition, in anglophone countries. Once you start researching French records, you need to have the correct name. Playing with your variations on Geopatronyme will help you to see what is and what is not possible. Read our original post about this site here.

 

LOCATION SPECIFIC RESEARCH

Begin with the websites of the Departmental Archives relative to the department where your French ancestor lived. See the links in the column to the left. Recall that many large cities have their own websites. Marseille, Brest, Paris, Lyon and many more have digitized documentation not found on the websites of the Departmental Archives. To find the sites, search, or google, the city name and "archives municipales".

ANOM

For ancestors who lived in the French colonies, overseas territories or overseas departments, the Archives nationales d'outre-mer are the best place to begin. Read our report on a talk about this service by the archivist here.

Optants

If your ancestors said they were from Alsace-Lorraine, this website has listed the names of those who, from outside the region in 1872, claimed French nationality. Read our first post about the Optants here.

Projet Familles Parisiennes

This superb site is a treasure of documentation on eighteenth century Parisian families. The index links to digitized documents from the National Archives hosted on the website of Généanet but are free to view. Read our post about the project here.

 

 

We will list more good sites in our next post.

During this time of confinement for the public good, perhaps we all can extend our French genealogy networks. Take very good care, Dear Readers.

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Researching Early American Mariners of the Napoleonic Wars - Part 1

Researching Mariners

We have been working on this subject for some years and continue to do so. Last year, we published an article in the NGS Magazine, (April-June 2018, pp. 29-34) "Resources for Tracing Impressed American Seamen", which covered part of the subject. For some time, we have tried to interest genealogy webinar hosts in a talk and case study that would cover the subject in greater depth, and even prepared all of the slides, but they felt that there was not enough interest. We do not believe that. So, we have decided to give the contents of the entire talk here, Dear Readers, in a series of posts, for we believe that many of you may be researching ancestors who were Nantucket whalers or merchant seamen or privateers or prisoners of war caught in the mayhem of the  Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812.

There will be a slight overlap with that article, but not much, as the focus is not limited to those merchant seamen who were impressed.  The example in that article was a man named Ambrose Dodd, a merchant seaman from Marblehead who had signed on to a British vessel, was captured by the French and Held as a prisoner of war. He claimed to have been impressed by the British but was not. However, when the French released him from prison temporarily to crew a French privateer, that vessel was captured by the British and he was, if not impressed, coerced to join the Royal Navy, in which he served until the end of the War of 1812. The case study here will be of the Nantucket whaler, Peleg Bunker, who was among the whalers who moved to Dunkirk, then to Britain, and who worked the fisheries of the South Atlantic, until he, too, was captured by a French privateer and held as a prisoner of war in France, where he died in 1806, just before he was to be released.

Our subject is limited to documenting American mariners, the ordinary seamen, masters and whaling men - in American, British and French archives of the Napoleonic Wars and of the War of 1812. Much of this is online, but most is not. However, archival finding aids are online and it is possible to order copies of the documents you need. British archives tend to send paper copies in the post, while French and American archives tend to send digitized copies by e-mail. To do this research, you will need not only access to the Internet, but an ability to read a bit of French, to decipher nineteenth century handwriting, and patience. We would add here that a certain level of intellectual integrity will also be necessary; there can be no bending of the facts to fit the ancestor, no conflation of similar and misspelt names into one man, no rejection of the inexplicable. By the end of this series of posts, you may well discover that your mariner ancestor was not "lost at sea", and you may be able to document, with some rather personal detail, his extraordinary life.

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Researching French Emigré Ancestors in the Archives Nationales

Departure

 

A couple of years ago, the brilliant archivists in the Archives nationales produced a superb advice note on how to research émigré ancestors in France's National Archives, entitled Rechercher un émigré de la Révolution (1789-1825).1 (Note that the word émigré simply means emigrant. English speakers who use that French word mean only those people fleeing France during the Revolution, from roughly 1789 to 1799. When French people use the word alone, it can mean anyone who emigrated at any time for any reason from anywhere. To refer to the same group as meant by the English speakers in French, one must specify that one is referring to emigrants of the Revolution by saying so: émigrés de la Révolution.) As this fine advice note is in French, we summarize it here for our Dear Readers who may need a bit of a hoist over the language hurdle.

The authors begin by giving a bit of historical context. From 1789 to 1800, approximately one hundred fifty thousand French people left their country secretly, or at least without authorisation. (We add this point ourselves since some of them left with so much baggage and made so much noise about it that their departures were common knowledge.) Some had the time to sell up and leave with money, most did not and abandoned all.

The Revolutionary emigrations were in roughly two waves. Those who left before 1792 tended to be aristocrats and counter-revolutionaries. Those who left afterward, forming the second wave, were fleeing the increasing violence and then the Terror. As things calmed down, the government tried to lure them back and some did return, making for something of a first wave back. The second wave of return was, of course, after the defeat of Napoleon and at the establishment of the Restoration, in 1814.

The research advice has four sections:

  1. Key points for genealogical research
  2. Administrative and judicial processes and documentation in the archives
  3. Emigrés in various private documents
  4. Taking your research further...

The Key Points for Genealogical Research

Diligent, nay, stupendously heroic archivist Marthe Robinet worked throughout the 1940s extracting details from nearly twenty different archive series about émigrés and creating an informational card about each one. One card, mind you, that a user can pull to find a list of every archival document in the National Archives about that particular person. At the moment, these are not online, but it looks as if they may be soon. To see them, one must go to the archives and view them on microfiche. Part, but not all of the source material is indexed online, and a few of the actual dossiers may be viewed online.

Administrative and judicial processes and documentation in the archives

There are a vast number of police surveillance files concerning émigrés, and files of cases brought against them, of the confiscation and sale of their property, of judgments against them, of laws passed about them, of their trials, lists of their names, files on their counter-revolutionary activities. Then, there are files on their return to France, the restoration of their property, of their amnesties and removal from lists of criminals and traitors. None of these are online.

Emigrés in various private documents

This group encompasses the many seized papers and documentation of the émigrés, their own private archives, notarial records relating to them (some of which have been indexed and abstracted). Only a very few of these are online.

Taking your research further...

Departmental Archives (see the list in the panel to the left), municipal or communal archives, the Diplomatic Archives, the military archives and the Paris police archives, all can have more on individual émigrés. The archives of the countries to which they went can as well. The paper ends with a wonderful bibliography of works about émigrés.

This is the briefest of summaries. Do click on the link to read the advice paper in its entirety. Though little is online, an enormous amount will come up in a search on a name on the website for the finding aids of the Archives nationales. Recall that we explain here how to go about ordering the material.

 

1Archives nationales (France), 2016. Fiche rédigée par Isabelle CHAVE, Cécile ROBIN, Zénaïde ROMANEIX, Emmanuelle RONDOUIN et Aurélia ROSTAING, avec la collaboration de Sylvie LE GOËDEC. Remerciements à Philippe BERTHOLET.