Methodolgy

Alternative Avenues to Seek a French Birth or Baptism

Antique French tools in Lalinde

The French equivalent for "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" is a phrase first written by Nicolas Boileau in 1674: "Hâtez-vous lentement et, sans perdre courage, vingt fois sur le métier remettez votre ouvrage" ("Make haste slowly and, without becoming discouraged,  set to work on the job twenty times.") Finding a French birth or baptism register entry is generally quite straightforward if one has :

  • The correct name
  • The town of birth
  • The decade of birth

A quick search in the ten-year indices for births in the town on the website of the Departmental Archives (links to them on the left) will give the full name and the precise date. One can then find the entry in the digitized birth register. Usually, that is, but not always. Bad things can happen to archives over the years. In France, as in most countries, some have burnt, some have been bombed, some have been flooded. Where to look when the birth or baptism registers concerning your ancestors have been lost? There are a few possibilities.

  • If the ancestor married, the marriage register entry will have the date and place of birth, as well as the parents' names.
  • If your ancestor married someone from a different town, check the marriage banns for that town that the couple should have posted. The marriage banns also contain the date and place of birth, as well as the parents' names.
  • If the ancestral couple had a marriage contract and you know the name of the notaire in order to find it, that too, with give the date and place of birth, as well as the parents' names of the prospective bride and groom.
  • If your ancestor served in the military, the conscription registers will have the birth details. In some large indices, such as that for the Resistance dossiers, or that for the naval officer personnel files, the date and place of birth are given.
  • If your ancestor were a member of the Légion d'Honneur, the dossier on him or her may well contain a certified copy of the birth or baptism register entry. These are now best accessed through the search facility of the Archives nationales.

Try, try again, even twenty times!

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


How Your French Immigrant Ancestor Remained French

Saintonge

People of many nationalities, when they emigrated from one country to another, retained their cultural identity but often cut their legal ties with the country of origin. They kept their songs, their recipes, their religions and festivals, but let slide their continuing documentation back at home. This may have been to escape a past or it may have been too difficult to maintain contact in the days before the Pony Express or airmail or e-mail. The French, however, stand out as emigrants who often could not let go of being documented, and this is most useful to the genealogist researching them.

After the chaos and upheaval of the French Revolution, the Code Civil, first published in 1804, provided order to civil life. To this day, it represents more than law to many French; it seems also to provide the psychological comfort and security of  structure and boundary. The civil register entries that replaced the pre-Revolutionary parish register entries are used over and over again to document and confirm a person's legal existence. One must show a recent and certified copy of one's birth register entry for any number of aspects of civil life: to marry, to attend school, to get a job, to take a driving test, to get a passport, to get an identity card, to buy property, to sell property, to open a bank account, to take out a loan and, especially, to prove one's parentage when the time comes to inherit.

The Code Civil took in to account that some few French might wish to leave the blessèd hexagon but never that they would cease to be French. Article 48 of the Code Civil (Book1, Title 1) states that any civil register entry of a French citizen in a foreign land shall be legal, were it to have been entered according to French law by diplomatic agents or consuls. The consular registers were to be maintained in duplicate, with one copy to be sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the end of the year. With slight changes and updates, the law and procedures are the same today and are prominently displayed on the website of the Ministry of Europe and of Foreign Affairs, as it is now known. 

Both copies of the consular registers of the nineteenth century are held at the Archives diplomatiques  at the Ministry's branch at Nantes, for that is where all such foreign registrations of French citizenry are maintained. One copy has been microfilmed and that may be viewed also at the Ministry's main archives centre of the Archives diplomatiques at La Courneuve, outside of Paris. To date, no copies are available online. If you know some details as to name, parents' names, date and place, you may request a copy of the register entry, at no charge, online. This link is to the version that is almost in English.

For the researcher, especially one seeking the origins of a French immigrant ancestor, these register entries can be invaluable. We have reviewed here, the book written by the archivists at the Archives diplomatiques that explains, in French, how to use the archives. We give our own discussion of how to use them, in English, here

However, it is important to note that this registration could not be enforced. There were many French emigrants who did not register their marriages or the births of their children in the new country. We have encountered:

  • A French gold miner who went to California and seems never to have registered his marriage or his children at the French consulate.
  • A deserter from the French Army after the fall of Napoleon who went to New York, (which was at that time filled with such deserters and also with French monarchists determined to hunt them down,) who lived a long life there, married and had a number of children, and who chose not to register these events with the French consul in New York.

At the same time, we have found, among those who chose to register:

  • A man from the southwest of France who registered his marriage in New York and who insisted that it be entered in the marriage register of his home town in France, which it was. Once that was done, however, he chose not to register the births of his many children.
  •  A couple from Alsace-Lorraine who had migrated to Saint Petersburg in Russia registered the births of all of their children (two of whom later emigrated to the United States) with the French consul there.

The primary (though certainly not the only) reason for registering seems to have been to ensure one's inheritance to any property in France, followed by, as in the case of the couple from Alsace-Lorraine, the desire to protect one's French citizenship when the emigration was exile. Those who did not register could have been anything from bridge burners, to crooks on the lam, to political refugees, to people who simply forgot.

In such research, you may end up with more questions than you had when you began. 

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

 


French West Indies Research - Les Antilles français

Saint Martin

While many of you, Dear Readers, have been vaccinated, we in Europe are still waiting. Supplies are low and tempers are short. We remain convinced that, had the European purchasing department hired a few French notaires skilled at writing French marriage contracts, not a company in the world would have had the tiniest bit of wiggle room or would have been able to renege on a single delivery. Those marriage contracts constitute an undervalued weapon, we opine.

While awaiting a vaccination and also a proper springtime, we have been deeply and intensely concentrated on researching families of the French West Indies, in particular, the minuscule island of Saint Martin. As ever, with French overseas research, one begins with the Archives nationales d'outre-mer (ANOM). On their website's map showing the locations for which they have digitized parish and civil registrations, one can quickly navigate to Saint Martin.

Navigate

Once a selection is made, one is presented with a brief history of the territory in relation to the administration and documentation. Here, we learn that Saint Martin was divided between The Netherlands (who call it Sint Maarten) and France in 1648 and its administration placed under that of Guadeloupe in 1723, forming a part of that department until 2007, when it became a French Territorial Collectivity. We see that the online parish and civil registrations for Saint Martin date from 1773 to 1907, and we are invited to select a town, of which there are not many.

Select a town

It quickly becomes clear that the delightful range of years applies only partially and to only two towns. Marigot records range from 1773 to 1861 and Saint Matin town records range from 1860 to 1907. The other towns have very few records indeed.

Quite serious problems in tracing a family arise from the obvious reality of life at the time: few in their daily lives paid attention to the boundary between the French and Dutch sides of the island. The French register entries are filled with mentions that a person who was married was "born on the Dutch side" or his father "died on the Dutch side". For the researcher, since the French and Dutch bureaucrats seem not to have shared copies of registers with one another, this means that people disappear from and reappear in the records. 

For help with Dutch records, we turned to the excellent blog on Dutch genealogy by Yvette Hoitink, to find her post, "Netherlands Antilles data available online", with a link that still works and instructions. (Most helpful as we do not read Dutch well at all.) Researching here helped greatly to piece together a family that lived and registered itself on both sides of the island.

Another great help is the remarkable work of a Dutch fellow calling himself "Archives Man", Bert van der Saag. Mr. van der Saag has many more interests than genealogy or archives and they are all on display in an overabundant employment of the deceased software, Flash. We marvel at a mind that can work amongst blinking, brightly coloured images of dancers and soldiers, type fonts of all sizes in all colours with all kinds of highlights, with a few news stories and photographs added, yet his does, and very well. He has extracted data from the registers of the Dutch Antilles and typed it all, in detail, producing PDFs for Births/baptisms, Marriages, and Deaths. These he generously shares at no charge. One can search for a name in a PDF in a way that one cannot on digitized microfilm. Using Mr. van der Saag's extracts together with the online images, much can be achieved. His most recent PDF covers Saint Martin deaths from 1909 to 1937, taking us later than the records on ANOM. He also sells books.

To further one's knowledge and to ask specific questions, one needs to read more and to connect with others researching the same region, even island. Some years ago, Augusta Elmwood left the helpful comment:

"Anyone looking for Saint-Domingue information (or any French colony anywhere in the world) should check the website of the Généalogie et Historie de la Caraïbe, guided by the tireless Philippe and Bernadette Rossignol and their equally dedicated 'equipe'."

It is, indeed, a fine resource for this research, with articles, links, advice and, so precious, surname lists for their website and articles. They have a small but useful amount on the French West Indies and Saint Martin, including transcriptions of early census returns and a fabulous set of photographs of the entire finding aid to passenger lists to and from the colonies during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Lastly, the website (which is ghastly) of the Museum of Saint Martin has a few hidden treasures, the most useful of which are scans of notarial records from the études (offices) of the notaires of Saint Martin. Here can be found wills, death inventories, long lists of slaves giving their names and ages, and many more civil contracts. Excellent resources here.

This is not an easy part of the world to research. The library and archives of Saint Martin do exist but have no website. The link in the list to the left on this blog takes one directly to the ANOM website. The archives of Guadeloupe have a website but no digitized records are on it. The above methods described may be the only way to find the documentation of a family who lived there. Of course, if cruising can ever again be done safely, a cruise ship that stopped at all of the French Caribbean archives towns might not be a bad idea. Let us look forward to that.

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

 

 

 


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

Swirl of Travel 1

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

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

ARCHIVES CODE OF THE COLLECTION - 6 P 6

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

click on "Autre fonds numérisés"

click on "L'inscription maritime"

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

for Quartier, choose Le Havre

for Type de registre, choose Rôles des bâtiments de Commerce

click on Rechercher - That takes you to the collection

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

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

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

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

after clicking on Rechercher and arriving at the collection

click on "Rôles des bâtiments de commerce"

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

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

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

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

 

Mansart

 

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

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

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

Mansart

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

Mansart Captain

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

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

No 178

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

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

Page 637

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

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

Amitié

Now, you are experts!

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


"Female Ancestors Are Hard to Find", They Say, But Not If They Were French, We Assure You

Women - Bretagne (Carhaix et Huelgoat)

This year's RootsTech has launched, with many dozens of talks on more than genealogy, all of them online this year. Topics cover everything from food to folklore, costumes to customs, search strategies to scrapbooking, and the dreaded, bouncy, motivational talks. At least, we dread them. We have many failings, Dear Readers, (most shamefully, our vile, cataclysmic and near-cannibalistic rages) but lack of motivation is not one of them. Yet, for all of the choice, we could not find at first glance a presentation to captivate us, so we returned to one from last year, the very fine "Finding Your Elusive Female Ancestors" by Julie Stoddard. Ms. Stoddard makes a number of good points, and includes some research skills, such as creating timelines, always looking at original documents and analyzing them fully (here is how we do it), that should be employed in all genealogy research, but her focus  is on the difficulty of researching women in the United States.

Researching women in France is quite different, so we thought that we might give you something of a comparison between the skills proposed by Ms. Stoddard for researching your American female ancestors with those necessary for researching your French female ancestors. The fundamental difference lies in the customs concerning a married woman's surname. In America and the English tradition, when a woman married, her surname legally changed to that of her husband; in France, since 1792, it did and does not. In America, when Jane Smith married John Brown, her legal name changed to Jane Brown, or Mrs. John Brown. If John died, she became Widow Brown. In France, when Jeanne Martin married Jean Larue, her legal name remained Jeanne Martin, with the added status of "wife of Larue" (femme Larue or épouse Larue), written in full: Jeanne Martin, épouse Larue. If Jean died, her status changed but her name did not. She became Jeanne Martin, widow Larue: Jeanne Martin veuve Larue. Thus, there is no such thing as a "maiden name" in France; there is only a person's name. What of Madame Larue as one finds? This is a customary usage but not a legal name. Additionally, in France, women could and did sign documents, using their legal names.

Do not be fooled, Dear Readers. This preserving of a woman's birth name as her legal identity is not an indication that France was somehow more advanced concerning women's rights. No, it is a country as backward in that respect as any other; the female revolutionaries who fought for women's equality during the Revolution were beheaded and their writings buried; in modern times, women were not enfranchised until 1948.  The difference comes from the French (and very Latin) concept of family. A woman was part of her birth family. Any dowry she received came from the family; they may have retained rights over it; they may have expected it to be returned were she to die. Yet, she also belonged to the new family she was to create with her husband and they may have been controlling their family's assets in relation to their own children. As a widow, she might have carried on the family business in her own right (this happened especially with shipping families, it seems). Knowing her identity was essential and practical. How, in terms of genealogical research, are these differences manifested?

Ms. Stoddard lists the types of records most likely to result in a successful search for a woman's name in America, and how to use them for that purpose:

  • Vital records, being birth, marriage and death records
  • Census returns
  • Family trees found online
  • Cemeteries
  • Probate records
  • Social Security records
  • DNA tests

Looking at their French equivalents, one can see that their usefulness in researching women is not at all the same.

  • The French equivalent of vital records are the actes d'état civil, acts of civil status. These date from 1792, when civil registration replaced church parish records as legal documentation of people. These are hugely useful in tracing a French female ancestor's life. A marriage act, acte de mariage, will give a woman's full name, both of her parents' full names, and her date and place of birth. Thus, one marriage act can reveal not only the bride's name but the names of her mother and of the groom's mother as well. Birth registrations, actes de naissance, generally give the legal names of the father and of the mother as well as their marital status. Thus, a child of the couple above would be registered as, say, Samuel Larue, born to Jean Larue and his wife, Jeanne Martin. Death registrations, actes de décès, are always in the legal name of the person, so a woman's death would be, for example registered as: Jeanne Martin, wife (or widow) of Jean Larue. If known, her parents names and the place of her birth would be included. Most commercial genealogy companies in France have structured their initial search pages to allow for exploiting all of this detail in the civil registrations.
  • Census returns are recensements (with other terms used over the years) in France. They began in 1836, except for in Paris, where they did not begin until 1926. Married women are enumerated under their legal names. Thus, one would see the Larue family listed as:
    • Larue, Jean, head of household
    • Martin, Jeanne, his wife
    • Larue, Samuel, their son
    • Larue, Jacques, their son
    • Larue Marie, their daughter
    • Boule, Louise, widow Larue, mother of the head of household

The great headache with the French census is that most are not indexed. Filae.com has indexed two, that for 1872 and that for 1906, and they are working on others. Though there is less indexing of censuses in France than in America, it is generally of a much higher quality, yielding much fewer preposterous results.

  • Family trees found online posted by French people tend to be slightly better at citing sources than those found online in America. The best source for French family trees is Geneanet.org. As Ms. Stoddard recommends, so do we: verify every single source.
  • Cemetery photographs or jaunts to view family plots are recommend by Ms. Stoddard to help you to find a female ancestor. This would not be very successful in France, especially outside of Paris and other large cities. French cemeteries tend not to have graves of individuals but family tombs. (Once again, the family is more important than the individual.) These tombs often have no more than the family surname engraved upon them. Some will have listed the names of those within, some not. Where they do, the lists may not be complete. More valuable for research than the cemetery or grave stone is the cemetery register, maintained by the town hall. Because so many cemeteries in France have been moved or destroyed and because untended graves are emptied and the plots resold, hunting through cemeteries will not yield much information. The register books of interments, however, are permanent records and might help with genealogical research. Those of  Paris are online, but this is still quite rare. Geneanet has a fair collection of photographs of  grave markers and tombs, but it is still quite small.
  • Probate records in France are increasingly online on the websites of the Departmental Archives. Again, in these, a woman will appear under her legal name. The records online relate more to the legal transfer of title to property because of a death and the legal registration of a will. Wills are not found online. These are complicated to search and are more useful in the hunt for unknown relatives. One would not begin the search for a female ancestor here when she is so easy to find elsewhere.
  • Social Security records. Beware, here, for they are not what you think in France. La Sécurité Sociale is the term for the French national health system and those, being medical records, you will not be able to touch for love or money. In America, one's Social Security number, like it or not, functions almost as a national identity number. France does issue national identity cards, la carte d'identité, and you will not get your hands on a collection of those either.
  • The last category, finding relatives and thus, common ancestors, with DNA testing is a conundrum, fraught with difficulty, and partially illegal in France. However, so many people skirt the law, take the illegal test and put their results up on foreign genealogy websites that, if you are so inclined, you might give it a try. Where this will be extremely helpful in tracing a woman or a man is where either or both chose not to be named on a child's birth registration.

 

We are grateful to Ms. Stoddard for her excellent presentation and that it has inspired us in this discussion. Good luck finding your female ancestors!

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


The Best Posts for the Letter A in the 2020 Challenge A-Z

Letter A

As promised, we bring you what we consider to have been among the better contributions to the 2020 Challenge A-Z, beginning with those of the letter A. We base our selection not only upon quality but upon what we consider may be useful to you, Dear Readers. Thus, many quite charming but too personal essays are omitted. All are in French.

 

Catherine Livet's blog, Becklivet, is a personal blog about researching her own family's genealogy. Her submission for the letter A is entitled Androgyne and tells of a child's sex  given incorrectly on a birth registration. She exhibits the faulty registration, covered with marginal notes showing the modifications made to legally change the sex, so that the person could marry. The post is brief and very clear and covers something that could cause any of us to stumble during our research.

 

Brigitte writes the respected Chroniques d'antan et d'ailleurs - Voyages sur les traces des ancêtres de mes enfants, on which she submitted the post A comme Apothicaire (A for Apothecary). This is a long a thorough study of one apothecary. It is well-illustrated and has a list of links at the end so, even if your French is not very good, you should be able to garner some good ideas from it. Most valuable, to our mind, is her discovery of a couple of delightful, seventeenth century directories of apothecaries in Paris and Nancy. An excellent piece of genealogy writing.

 

Maïwenn Bourdic writes d'Aïeux et d'Ailleurs, généalogie et archives, with a strong emphasis on World War I research. She wrote A comme Absent militaires (A is for Away or Missing Military Personnel). She discusses in detail and with examples a specific series in the National Archives, Dossiers des absents militaires (1846-1893), the files on those military personnel who went missing during that period (which includes the Franco-Prussian War). Click on that link to see the PDF finding aid, which lists all those who were declared missing and the documentation that was submitted by their families for the declaration. With the codes, one can then request a copy of the file. Many of you, Dear Readers, have ancestors who were from Alsace-Lorraine. If they seemed to have served and disappeared, you may find them here. There are also quite a number who went missing on Napoleon's campaign in Russia in 1812. Madame Bourdic's blog is full of such discoveries that she shares. Highly recommended.

 

This year, we noticed that many more departmental and municipal archives joined in the challenge. Many of them chose to put their contributions on their facebook pages so, if you know the town or village of an ancestor's origin, look on facebook to see if the archives have a page. They often write about local citizens and history and your ancestor could be included. Some, such as the Communal Archives of Savigny-sur-Orge, even translated their posts into English!

As we read through the many fine posts, we will continue to share those we like best with you, Dear Readers.

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

 

 


Calling All Caribbean Genealogy Experts to Solve a Puzzle - and Our Own Theory

Colonies en Amerique

Dear Readers, we do hope that at least on amongst you may be able to help us with this puzzle, sent by Monsieur S.:

I am looking at records of French ancestors  from the Caribbean [specifically, Guadeloupe, Martinique and Trinidad] in the 1700s. One of the ancestors, upon marriage, adopted a second surname identical to that of his paternal grandmother. He became Francois Sellier Foucour [also Faucour], and passed this surname down to his descendants, while his brothers (and their descendants) remained simply Sellier.

In looking through the records of births, marriages, and deaths, I noticed a few other times when a marriage record shows the groom with a more complicated "double name" than his father in the same record. What I also notice is that the marriages where the name addition occurred also involved a dispensation because first cousins were marrying.

Was there some sort of practice of the groom adopting a surname that combines those of both common paternal ancestors in the case of cousin marriages in the French-speaking Caribbean (or elsewhere, for that matter)? I have tried to google to see if there are articles on this surname phenomenon, but have not found any discussion of it.

I have seen the adoption of a wife's surname in German records, where the groom was marrying the sole female heir of a farm and positioning himself to take over the farm eventually, but nothing like that is happening here. In my case, the Foucours lived nowhere near where the marriage was taking place. It's also not a surname from the wife's family. Nor is it some physical descriptor to try to distinguish individuals. And there are no other Francios Selliers in the area, creating a need to tell them apart.

What do you think is the reason for the name change from Sellier to Sellier Foucour? Any thoughts you have on the phenomenon and my guess at what is happening (but not an understanding of why) would be welcome.

 

Hitherto, we have not come across this. Have any of you done so, Dear Readers? Can you provide an explanation? Has it to do with land ownership? Has it to do with the strong Spanish influence in the region leading to the adoption of the Spanish custom of using both parents' surnames as their child's compound surname?

If you know the reason, please do write in the comments below. 

Merci bien!

 

REPLIES RECEIVED WITH SUGGESTIONS, SUSPICIONS, ETC.:

In addition to the Comment below, we have received these by e-mail:

 

From Monsieur L, a very interesting link:

Hi Anne,

I had a quick look at your query and you might be interested by the following link (Spécificités anthroponymiques antillaises : les noms de famille des Martiniquais d'ascendance servile).

 

From Monsieur S:

Dear Anne

The reason is obvious. This is a very popular coutume (custom?) among Spanish people, whereas , even today, most people in Spain have a double name , the father name and the mother's father name or "patronym. I use "father name" because , the mother, (today, officially) keeps her "patronym", even when married. In your example, you might call them, Mr and Mrs Sellier, but they remain by law Mr Sellier xxx and Mrs Faucour yyy. where xxx is Sellier' mother name and yyy FAUCOUR mother's name.

So the grandmother was called Mrs Faucour , but she was "the wife of" Mr FAUCOUR, married or not.

Very useful when dealing with genealogy!

Another potential reason to be identified is whether they had interest to be considered of Spanish origin and not french, as Sellier suggests.

Spanish ? because of local government, now, Faucour may suggest a well known family, more than a simple Sellier. ‌

I have also seen, at the end of the 19th century, 100% french people adding a 2nd name in Louisiana, only for differentiation.
I know some simple "Soulié" in New Orleans who managed to be called Soulie xxxxxx between 1890 and 1910.

The "Etat Civil " was taken on declared name at birth or death , until late; so easy to change or modify. ALL THE MORE IF YOU WERE A MIGRANT !

I hope I could help you.

PS OTHER customs in other countries, obviously.

for example : family names Russians and Polish = Romanov and Romanova
first name if the father is (say) Alexei for Alexander , his son might be Sergei Alexandrovitch Romanov and his daughter Irina Alexandrovna Romanov (or Romanova in some places)

Our Own Theory

We have read all of the comments, suggestions and linked articles to the above. Nothing quite seems to fit the situation described by Monsieur S. , at least to our mind.

  • The articles tend to be more about the names chosen by liberated slaves in Martinique, which does not seem to apply here.
  • The suggestion of Spanish influence and the well-known double surname tradition of the Spanish occurred to us as well. However, if that were the case, surely all members of the family would have followed the tradition as well. Additionally, the maternal name should have come form the groom's mother, surely, and not his paternal grandmother.
  • The proposal that the double name could be a "dit name" again does not really apply. A "dit name" is, essentially an "also known as" or, literally, "called". It is an alternate name, a custom that became a legal name. In the case of Monsieur S, the name change is clearly legal. Again, it applies only to one couple, not the siblings, whereas "dit names" tended to apply either to all branches of a family in a particular location, or each branch took a different name to differentiate itself form the others. Neither of those options happened here.
  • Monsieur S. himself mentions and rejects the German case wherein a groom may adopt his wife's name if she were the sole heir to a family farm, in order to keep that name's link with the property. 

We think this last may come closest to our own theory. Many years ago, we knew a family with quite unusual names. They explained with the story of a maternal aunt was the last in her family to carry on the family surname. It weighed on her mind that, when she would die, their line of that name would die out. When her sister's son was about to marry, she offered him a proposition: if he would change his surname to hers, so that he and his children would carry on the name, she would leave him her not inconsiderable fortune. The young man did so, and changed his surname to hers, which was Stone. He and his wife took the homage further and named their children Rocky, Pebbles, Petra and Cairn (this was California in the early 1970s). The fortune was duly inherited. The name lived on within the family. All were happy.

Could it be that, in the case of Monsieur S, the Foucour family, at the time of the marriage, had run out of sons to carry on the name?  It would be a simple thing to examine the family tree to find out if this were the case, though it would not, of course, prove a motive but merely provide a possible cause for one. The next step would be to see if, in the other cases he mentions, sons there were missing as well. This theory might also help to explain why it happened with marriages between cousins that required dispensations. Like Mr. Stone above, the groom would be of the same line as the name, through his mother, making those obsessed with its preservation a bit more comfortable about giving it to him.

Do let us know, Monsieur S., what your examination of the family tree reveals. Do the brides all have a dearth of uncles and brothers?

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


The Problematic 1831 Census

Lots to Count

Not long ago, we received a message from Monsieur H:

"I'm having trouble tracking something down that I found in a Wikipedia article, and I'm beginning to wonder if it's true or just something that's gone around the internet a few times. I can't seem to find any references to it in academic works. The article for the 1831 recensement du peuple mentions a supplementary query about literacy (link here)"

We had written on this blog about the French census some time ago. We were somewhat ashamed to read, when we went back to that post, that we had given the 1831 census rather cursory treatment:

"There was an earlier census, in 1831, but it was not a success in terms of logic and organisation, and little of this census has been digitized or even, in some cases, preserved"

We resolved to improve upon that, but found, as we hunted through our library, that Monsieur H. was correct. References are few and far between. Genealogy books, genealogy magazines and genealogy websites all are silent on the 1831 census. We surmise that they all are following the complete lack of mention of it by the great Gildas Bernard in his Guide des Recherches sur l'histoire des familles. At last, we found an excellent article by Pascal Vidal (1) on the census generally with a significant portion give over to the "delicate" problem of the 1831 census.

At that time, the Ministry of the Interior was responsible for the census and it was hoped that the unsatisfactory methods of the previous census of 1826 would be avoided. Trusting to the prefectural administrators to handle the census, the Ministry sent round no basic form or list of questions, merely a form with columns for statistics. (2)

1831 census stats form

 

There was no list of questions to ask, not even a column for names, just this form for cumulative statistics. This is why the 1831 census is such a problem: each prefect, even each mayor, conducted it his own way. Some merely counted the number of people, some merely the heads of households (as in Rennes), some made their own forms and asked quite detailed questions. The result was uneven; for some towns, one can say that yes, there was a proper census, with all persons named and counted, in 1831, for others, there was not. So, one cannot generalize about it and thus, the little chart in the Wikipédia article, Tableau des renseignements recueillis de 1831 à 1891is incorrect in giving a list of details obtained for the 1831 census when that was not always the case. This sample from Rennes shows that the form, such as it was, was hand drawn in a notebook and did not note age or personal situation or, for the most part, women.

1831 Rennes

As to Monsieur H's specific question whether there was a literacy question, we can now say that the Ministry of the Interior did not give instructions for one. That did not preclude a prefect or a mayor including one. Apparently, this happened in Bretagne. 

The wonderful thesis "La pratique du breton de l'Ancien Régime à nos jours", graciously put online by its author Fañch Broudic, gives an entire chapter to the questions used the 1831 census in Bretagne. In essence, the question was not if a person could read, it was if he could read French. The local prefects or mayors were interested in the highly political issue of indigenous language or, as Monsieur H. posits: "in following Prussia in introducing universal primary education' by doing a bit of preliminary research.

Thank you, Monsieur H. for sending us on a fascinating little journey!

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

Further Reading:

 

Duchein, Michel. "Les archives des recensements", Gazette des Archives, 1961, vol.33, pp. 61-72

LeGoyt, Alfred. "Les premiers recensements de la population en France, jusqu’en 1856", Journal de la société statistique de Paris, tome 128 (1987), p. 243-257.

Le Mée, René. "La statistique démographique officielle de 1815 à 1870 en France", Annales de Démographie Historique,  1979 pp. 251-279.

Watel, Catherine. Administration Générale et Économie 1800 - 1940 Population, Archives départementales d'Indre-et-Loire.

 

(1) Vidal, Pascal. "Les Recensements en Généalogie", Généalogie Magazine, no. 369, May 2018, pp.12-25.

(2) France. Ministère de l'intérieur. Recueil des circulaires et instructions émanées du Ministère de l'Interieur et des circulaires et instructions émanées du Ministère du Commerce et des Travaux Publics. Paris. page link 

 

 


Lockdown Breeds Blogging Bonanza

Challenge a-z

As any parent will know, boredom in the infantile will lead to naughtiness, whereas boredom in the more mature will lead to creativity. During the confinements, or lockdowns, of 2020, French genealogist bloggers outdid themselves in creativity. For their 8th annual Challenge A-Z, (which we have discussed previously here and here) in which participants must write twenty-six blog posts, in alphabetical order, each on a  genealogical subject, during the month of November. Ninety bloggers participated, writing more than two thousand posts on French genealogy, quite an achievement indeed, and a significant success for the original organizer of the Challenge, Sophie Boudarel.

The contributors include professional archivists, librarians and genealogists, but most are passionate family historians and genealogists who write about their research difficulties and discoveries. We shall be reading them and presenting here some of the best over the next few weeks. Should you wish to read them in the original French, you can find links to all of them here. A bit of weeding is required, but a fabulous resource nevertheless.

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


The French Police Surveillance Dossiers of the Interwar Period - les Fonds de Moscou - Have an Index Online

Secrets

Very exciting news on the indexing front. For a vast collection of the dossiers of some 650,000 people on whom the French security police were spying, for the most part between the two World Wars, there is now online an index to all of the names contained therein. The index was created in Russian, for this collection has travelled more than many of us ever will.

During the occupation of Paris in World War Two, the Nazis collected a great many things, including artworks, books and archives, and sent them to Germany. Among the archives so taken were the private papers of the French branch of the Rothschild family, the library and archives of the Alliance Isréalite Universelle, as explained here, the Masonic archives and membership records of the Grand Orient de France, which we discussed here, and the police surveillance files of the Directorate for National Security in the Ministry of the Interior. All of these collections are called the "Fonds de Moscou", the "Moscow Collection". This is because one of the conquerors of the Nazis was the Soviet Union and, dutifully following the claim by a nineteenth century American Secretary of War that "to the victor belong the spoils", the Red Army stole from the Nazis what they had stolen from the French and took it all to Moscow, where (words not being minced) they were known as the "Trophy Archives". No one conquered the Soviet Union but itself; when it collapsed, word got out that archival treasures that France had thought lost forever were not so. It took some "discussion", but this is something at which the French are unparalleled, so the Russians bowed and the collections were returned, or mostly so.

The surveillance files part of the Fonds de Moscou are in the Archives nationales at Pierrefitte-sur-Seine and a full research guide has been published on the website. Unfortunately, it has not yet been translated into English. 

The files cover the types the police found suspect and worthy of surveillance:

  • Anarchists
  • Anti-military or war agitators
  • Communists
  • Political militants
  • Foreign residents requesting an identity card
  • Foreign spies or those suspected of aiding foreign intelligence organizations
  • Foreigners who had been in prison or expelled from their countries
  • Gamblers banned from casinos and those authorised to work in casinos
  • Foreigners whose requests to remain had been denied and who were expelled
  • Foreigners who requested to be naturalized
  • French who requested passports to travel and foreigners who requested permission to remain in France
  • Jewish people

Quelle liste!

The website warns that using the index is not easy.

  1. In essence, the first index is a partially alphabetical (through the first three letters only) listing of names, mostly but not all of them French, made by Soviet archivists in Russian, in notebooks that have been microfilmed and those images digitized. 
    1. This was made by archivists to be a simple name index to the named files or dossiers.
    2. The index of names refers to a dossier's number.
    3. There are numerous linguistic issues that require that a search for a name be tried many times in many ways:
      1. Articles are treated as the first letter of a name. All names beginning with "de" will be under D. All those beginning with "le" or "la" will be under L.
      2. All those beginning with "van" or "von" will be under V or W (see below). This presents real problems when one recalls that the names are in alphabetical order only through the third letter.
      3. "Mac" is usually seen as a middle name. Thus William MacCabe is under "Cabe, William Mac"
      4. No spaces between components of names were permitted. Thus "Le Blanc" will be treated as "Leblanc" (actually a help under the third letter limit.)
      5. The original dossiers, created by the French bureaucrats, may but not necessarily will have foreign names altered to be more French. Thus, "Karl" might have been altered to "Charles". (Clearly, the bureaucrats were not trained as genealogists.)
      6. The Cyrillic alphabet of the indexers did not accommodate the names written by the creators. Thus, V and W are often confused; Q and X come after Z.
    4. Some files were missed out in the indexing so, there being no way to insert them, there is a supplementary index that also must be searched.
  2. There is also a microfilmed and digitized card index, made by the Directorate of General Security, in French, of all of the two million names mentioned in the dossiers.
    1. This was made by the original creators for their own use in surveillance and covers all of the types of files.
    2. The cards do not always refer to a file or dossier.
    3. Some cards may refer to dossiers that were not taken to Moscow but are in the Archives nationales, such as
      1. Foreigners who were expelled between 1889 and 1906, which are in the Police series of F/7
    4. Some files were closed and destroyed but the card might remain, with the word "détruit" written on it.
    5. The cards contain some biographical information and, in a few cases, photographs.

Searching the Indices and Finding the Code In Order to Request a Dossier

 

In order to request a dossier, one needs:

  1. The number of the archival series. This is a random accession number, as is the way with archives. They all begin with 1994, followed by more numbers, then by a slash.
  2. The number of the carton comes after the slash
  3. The number of the file "dossier no. x"
  4. The name on the file

Numbers 1 through 3 can be found by entering the name, surname first, in the main "Advanced search" form  of the Salle des Inventaires Virtuelle page of the website. At the moment of writing, the search facility is down, so we cannot fully test searching a name on the main page.

One had better hope that it will be possible because the alternative of having to scroll through the images of the indices in order to find the codes is fraught with innumerable, irritating flaws. For example, one can click to see the filmed images for one code, then scroll onto those of the following code without realizing it, which the automatically presented code does not change, though now wrong, and the handwritten code at the top of the page is indecipherable.

Considering all that these archives suffered (let alone what was suffered by the poor souls who were its subjects) and all of the various indignities of shuffled provenance, perhaps we should accept the irritations and be grateful that they have survived, are available, and can be accessed at all.

Once again, we genealogists really must thank the archivists at the Archives nationales.

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy