Military

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

 


French Seamen's Records Digitizing Project - an Update

Memoire des Hommes 3

At the beginning of last year, we shared here the happy news of a project to digitize all surviving French seamen's registration and conscription records. (Best to re-read that first so that you understand the quite unique French system of conscripting some seamen for the navy and registering others for the merchant and fishing fleets.)

Earlier this month, the Service Historique de la Défense announced in their blog that they have completed digitizing the registers of the reporting offices in the seven naval quarters of southern Bretagne, covering the departments of Ille-et-Vilaine, Finistère and Morbihan. They are:

  • Auray
  • Belle-Ile
  • Concarneau
  • Groix
  • Lorient
  • Redon
  • Vannes

These registers date from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries and, as with army service records, provide valuable genealogical details, as well as the man's career as a seaman. In some cases, the career can be quite long, up to fifty years. There are approximately 187,000 images; not all have been uploaded to the website and they are not yet searchable on the main search facility of Mémoire des hommes. They are indexed, however, and the indices can be viewed and downloaded as PDFs.

If your ancestor came from southern Bretagne and went to sea, you can begin searching the registers here. If you do not find the register you seek, keep checking the website every few weeks as they continue uploading. For those of you with ancestors from northern Bretagne, Normandy, Seine-Maritime, Charente-Maritime, further south or the Mediterranean region, you must wait quite a while longer.

Do let us know what you find!

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Letters Seized - Was One From Your Ancestor Held in a French Prison by Napoleon?

File Cover - Letters found on James Betts

Two English seamen, James Burns and James Betts, were on the Neptune when she was captured by the French privateer, Subtile, on the 26th of November 1809. The Subtile sent her boat with five men to board their prize, the Neptune. Suddenly, the wind changed and the boat overturned, throwing all five men into the water. Three managed to get to the overturned boat and cling to her. The two others drowned. Burns and Betts rowed out the Neptune's boat and saved them. "Even though they were the enemy, we had not lost our humanity," Burns wrote later.

All were taken on board the Subtile, which then sailed to Calais. The captain of the Subtile, Tucker*, wrote a letter describing how Burns and Betts had saved three French seamen and, therefore, should not be made prisoners of war. The port authority at Calais also wrote a letter to the same effect. To no avail. They were sent to the prison depot at Arras and, some time later, Betts ended up in the punishment depot at Bitche.** Burns seems to have spent the rest of the wars at Arras but Betts was released and sailed home from Morlaix on the cartel ship, Elizabeth, in January 1813 (see the released prisoners passenger lists discussed here).

Before Betts left the prison at Bitche, in about mid-December 1812, he must have offered to take with him some letters from other prisoners. He seems to have passed though the prison at Sarrelibre (now Saarlouis in Germany) and picked up some more letters. He then appears to have passed through the prison at Verdun around Christmas and picked up one more letter there. By the time he arrived at Morlaix, he had nearly ninety letters from British prisoners of war to take back to Britain and deliver or post. The letters never arrived. The French authorities took them from Betts at Morlaix.

They have been languishing in the Archives nationales for many a long year, where we stumbled upon them last spring while pursuing our bête noire, Thomas Mansell. We were finding nothing on Mansell and decided to look at a carton identified, curiously, as "uninteresting letters from English prisoners" (archives code: F/7/4240). Oh ho! They are not uninteresting at all to our mind. They are most revelatory about a group largely unknown, being ordinary soldiers and seamen, rarely officers and none a civilian prisoner, held in the two easternmost prisons, about which the Admiralty prisoner of war records (found on FindMyPast.co.uk) have little to say.

Unlike the numerous prisoners' diaries and accounts published after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, almost all of which concern life at a single prison, Verdun, these letters were not meant for publication and so, do not contain the tedious and repetitious self-praise or the understandable resentment at the treatment endured of those books. These letters are to parents, siblings, wives, business associates and they are filled with longing, with reassurances that the prisoner is well, with Christmas wishes. Some report the sad news of the death of a fellow prisoner.

Not only are they of interest to anyone studying prisoners of war, they are of great interest to any of you, Dear Readers, researching a British ancestor held prisoner in France. This is especially so as they show relationships and acquaintances. We photographed them all and give you here a list of the names of the letter writers and the addressees. We have retained the men's spellings of their own names and of the addresses.

Abbott, William to his parents, address: Mr. James Abbott, No. 2 New Road, Sloane Street, Knightsbridge, London
• Absolon, David to William Absolon, Jr., address: Mr. David Absolon, Yarmouth, Norfolk [includes a note from Robert Capp to his parents].
• Bailey, Joseph to his mother, address: M.M. Newton, Scots Square, Blanket Bow, Kingston Upon Hull
• Baker, Michael address: Mr. Thomas Wilkinson, Church Street, North Shields, Northumberland
• Banfield, William to his brother, Mr. Francis Banfield, address: care of, W.B. Banfield, Shipwright, Saltis [Saltash] Cornwall
• Banfield, William to Miss Mary Nichols, address: Frisco [?], Saltis [Saltash]
• Barber, James to his father, John, address: John Barber, in Norton near Lauden [?] in the County of Norfolk. Included in the letter from John Smith.
• Barrass, Thos. to his father and mother, address: Mr. Saml. Barrass, Kells-field near Gateshead, County Durham
• Barrett, John to his wife, Frances, address: Mrs Barrett, care of Mrs McDonald, Harrald Cross [now Harold Cross], Dublin, Ireland
• Bellarby, Edward to his wife, address: Mrs. Elizabeth Bellarby, Wood Street, Sunderland, Durham
• Berrell, Peter, address: Mr. Edward Galagher Cruelsant [?] to care of Mr. Thomas Caleman, Nort Quay Drogheda County Louth, Ireland
• Berry to. his mother, address: Mrs. H. Berry at Mrs. Wilson's near the king and Queen, Rotherhithe, London
• Berry, to his brother and uncle, address: Mr. Tho. Berry, Limehouse bridge Dock, London
• Bishop, ? to Mr. Robert Symes, address: Burton nr. Bridport, Dorsetshire
• Bond, J to his sister, address: Miss Elizabeth Bond, West Teingmouth, Devon
• Bond, J. to his father and mother, address: Mr. Samuel Bond West Teingmouth, Devon, England
• Brangan, Thomas to his sister Ann address: Anne Brangan, no. 100 Abbey Street, Dublin, Ireland
• Came, Richard to his wife, address: Mr. Richard Came, Newton Abbott, Devon, England
• Capp, Robert to his parents, included in a letter from David Absolon to William Absolon, Jr. address: Mr. David Absolon, Yarmouth, Norfolk
• Cargill, John, to his mother, Emily, care of James Cargill, address: Scoran-Burn, Dundee Angeshire, Scotland, North Britain
• Cargill, Laurence to his mother and father, address: Mrs. Cargill, Ballast Hills, Newcastle on Tyne, England
• Cavanagh, James to his wife, Margaret, address: Mrs Barrett, care of Mrs McDonald, Harrald Cross [now Harold Cross], Dublin, Ireland
• Colquhoun, H. to his sister, Miss Ann C. Colquhoun, address: Arran Castle, By Saltcoats, Scotland
• Cook, Peter to his mother, address: Mrs. Jane Cook, Appledore, Near Bidford, Devon
• Davis, D. with a message for his brother Mellorgan [?] Davis, address: Ship and Castle Swansea
• Dods, John to his father, address: Capt. James Dods, Samuelston near Haddington, N.B. [Scotland]
• Douglas, John to his mother, address: Mr. John Willers [?], no. 22 Thistle Street, Edinburgh
• Douglas, Thomas to his father address: Mr. Alexander Douglas, Links of Kirkaldy, Fifeshire N. Britain [Scotland]
• Farquhar, George to his brother, address: Mr. Alexander Farquhar, Post Master, Wick, Caithness, North Britain [Scotland]
• Franklyn, J. to his mother, address: Mrs. Franklyn, Kelvedon, Essex, England
• Franklyn, John to John Wolfe Esqr., address: Wood Hall, near New Frost [Forest?], Essex, England
• Fromayne, William to his wife, Mrs. Mary Fromayne, address: no. 17 William's Street, New Passage, Plymouth Dock, Devon
• Gray, Robert to his sister, Miss Sarah Gray address: Capt. Henry Pennal, Queenborough, Isle of Sheppey Kent
• Haltridge [?], Capt. Charles, address: Mr. John Cramsie, Merchant, Belfast, Ireland
• Hancock, Able to Miss Ann Davies, address: Barnstable, Devernshire, England
• Hancock, Robert to his brother, address: Mr. William Hancock, Barnstable, Devernshire, England
• Heard, Th. to his brother, address: Mr. Gl. [?] Heard, His Majesty's Dock Yard, Sheerness, Kent, England
• Hemson, William to his uncle, address: Capt. William Sharland, Teignmouth, Devon
• Hernaman, Francis to his sisters, address: Mr. Thomas Nicholls of HM Hurd Tender, Eliza & Jane, Plymouth, England
• Hernaman, Francis to his wife, Betsy, address: Mrs. Francis Hernaman Junr., Appledore, Devonshire, Englan
• Herring, James to his brother, address: Mr. George Herring, Sterlingshire, Falkirk, Scotland
• Hirst, James R. to his wife, address: Mrs. J. Hirst at Mrs. Robert Halls, Bay Street, Port Glasgow
• Imrie, George this mother, address: Mrs. Ewing, [unclear word] Hynd, Dundee
• Jerh. [Jeremiah?] Ryett [Byett?] to his brother, address: Mr. Willim Bur, no. 161 Near the Horse Ferry, Rotherithe, England
• Lackey, Peter, to his mother, address: Mr. Peter Lackey, Wright overgate, Dundee
• Lander, George to his wife address: Mrs. George Lander, Passage of Cork, Ireland
• Leigh, Gideon to his father and mother, [this letter is written in French], address: Monsieur Philippe Leigh, Paroisse de St. Britade, Jersey
• Litson, John to his wife, address: Mrs. Mary Litson, 33 King Street, Bristol
• Maillard, Daniel to his mother [this letter is written in French], address: Capt. Daniel Maillard, Glatney, Island of Guernsey
• Maryon, G. to his parents, address: Mr. Maryon, no. 34, Prinus, Leicester Squ, London
• McCarthy, Jeremiah to his father, address: Mr. Charles McCarthy, Healy's Bridge, Cork, Ireland or Elsewhere
• McCarthy, Jeremiah to his friend, John Adams, address: Seaman on Board HMS Defiance, Channel Fleet or Elsewhere
• Meall, James to his parents, address: Mr. James Meall, Yarmouth, Norfolk
• Milne, Thomas to Mr. Andrew Lunnen, shoe maker, Kirrymure [Kirriemuir], North Britain [Scotland]
• Milne, Thomas to Mr. John Ferney Junr., Merchant, address: Leith, North Britain [Scotland]
• Morris, William to Ann, address: Miss Blanchard, Scarborough, Yorkshire
• Mortimer, Robert C. to his mother, address: Mrs. Mortimer, care of Mrs. Searle, wife of Captain Searle R N, Somerset Place, Strand, London
• Nazeby, Tho. to his brother, James, address: Mr. James Nazeby, Blythe, in the County of Northumberland
• Nazeby, Thomas to Smith and Family address: Capt. Edward Smith, Queen Street, no. 32, or Elsewhere, London
• Nazeby, Thomas, to his father, address: Blyth in the County of Northumberland
• Norris, Henry to his brother, address: Mr. Jonathan Norris, Meldrum House, Old Meldrum, By Aberdeen, Scotland
• Ord, James to his wife, address: Mr. James Ord, Banff, Scotland
• Ormiston, John to his wife, address: Mrs. Jane Ormiston, Lynn, Norfolk, England
• Parker, William to his uncle, Mr. Robert Parker, address: Drawing Master near the Turnpike Gate, Stonehouse Road, Plymouth
• Patie, Wm to his brother and W. Walker, address: Mr. W. Walker, no. 11 Lower Cornwall Street near St. Georges in the East London, England
• Patterson, John, address: Messrs. Ormmanny [Ommaney] & Druce, Navy Agents, Norfolk Street Strand, London
• Portious, J. to his sister, address: Jenny Portious, Stenhouse Muir, By Falkirk, Stirlingshire
• Prior, Joseph "son of Elizabeth Prior" to his brother, sister and uncle, address: Mr. Joseph Aldridge at the repository Little St. Martin Lane, Cherring [Charing] Cross, London
• Rowlinson, R. to his wife, address: Mrs. Rowlinson, attn: Mrs. Joseph Shornts, 11 Plattfield Street, Blackfryars Road, London
• Short, Ralph to his wife, address: Great Grimsby Lincolnshire
• Show, James to Mr. Alexander Henderson, address: Mr. Samuel Henderson, Portarpittle [Port o'Spittal?] care of Mr. Hugh McCrea, Merchant, Portpatrick, N.Britain. [Scotland]
• Simpson, Wm to his wife, address: Fellan near Newcastle upon Tyne County of Durham
• Skelton, John to his wife, address: Mrs. Skelton, Hebbron [Hebburn] Read house High South Shields, Durham
• Smith, George, to his sister, Mary, address: Mary Smith, Red Lyon, no. 120, Long Milgate, Manchester, Lancashire, England
• Smith, Hugh to his mother, address: Ann Smith, Rahcail in County Limerrick, Ireland
• Smith, Hugh to Wm. Wilson, Esq. address: Nantenon, in the County of Limerick, Ireland
• Smith, John to his father, address: Mr. William Smith, Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk, England. [includes a note from James Barber for his father John Barber in Norton near Lauden [?] in the County of Norfolk]
• Stephen, William to his father and mother, address: Mr. William Stephen, Ship Builder, Aberdeen, N.B. [Scotland]
• Stephen, William, to his brother, David, address: Mr. David Stephen of Aberdeen to the Care of Mr. Ritchie, Iron Monger, Edenburgh, N.B. [Scotland]
• Stephens, Benjamin to his mother, address: Mrs. Jane Stephens, Mumbles, near Swansea, South Wales
• Stewart, William to his parents address: Mrs. H. Stewart, Midwife, Kirkaldy, Fifeshire, N. Britain [Scotland]
• Taylor, John, Capt. from Verdun, address: Major General Macleod[?], Depty adjutant General Rl Artillery, Woolwich, in the care of Mr. Drury, artillery officer
• Taylor, Wm. to his brother, address: Mr. John Teylor Jun., Teingmouth, Devon
• Thomson, Robert to his brother, address: Mr. James Thomson, Messrs. Beckwith & Co., Liverpool
• Tullage, William, to his wife and daughter, addressed to: Mrs. Blunden, Lydd, Kent, England
• Viney, James to his mother and to Miss Sarah Viney address: Little Hampton, England, Sussex
• Wallace, David to his parents, address: Mr. William Wallace, Shore St. Andrews, Fife Shire, N. Britain [Scotland]
• White, John address: Mr. John White, Sign of the Swift Brig, Smith Street, Guernsy
• Whiteway, J to Sarah, address: Mrs. Jos. Whiteway, Ringmore, Teignmouth, Devonshire
• Whiteway, Jos. to Mr. Robert Hyne, Merchant, Dartmouth, Devonshire
• Whitfield, Thomas, to his brother and sister, at either of these addresses: Mr. Robert Parker, Drawing Master near the Turnpike Gate, Stonehouse Road, Plymouth or to Mr. Richard Mills, Windmill Street, No. 60, Plymouth Dock
• Williamson, George to his wife, address: Capt. Geo. Williamson, Aberdeen, North Briton [Scotland]
• Young, Andrew to his brother, address: Mr. David Young, Eastburnwind, St. Andrews, Fifeshire, North Britain [Scotland]
• Yowart, Michael to his wife Mary address: Mrs. Yowart, 21 Aston Street, Poplar, near London

We do hope some of you may find your ancestor amongst them.

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

*Captain Tucker would seem to have been from an interesting family in Calais, founded by one John Tucker of Deal: "John Tucker, Esq., of Calais, a descendant of an ancient family in the county of Kent, but outlawed for following the Stuarts into exile. ["A literary and biographical history, or bibliographical dictionary, of the English Catholics from the breach with Rome, in 1534, to the present time" - Gillow, Joseph, 1850-1921 Volume 5 p.138 archive.org/stream/a583126605gilluoft#page/138/mode/2up/search/tucker]"

https://gw.geneanet.org/azerty7?n=tucker&oc=&p=john

**Their story of the rescue is in the prisoner file on Burns at the Service Historique de la Défense, ministry of War archives, file number Yj 40.


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

Vessel

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

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

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

 

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

Dictionnaire

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

French Warships

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

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

Incorruptible - Winfield

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

Incorruptible - Roche

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

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

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

Lastly, the archival finding aid on Naval Campaigns:

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

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

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


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

Les Marins Fr

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Dictionnaire

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

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

 

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

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Can You Find the Record of an Italian Ancestor in Napoleon's Army of Italy?

Grenadier Italien

Briefly, in answer to the question we pose in the title of this post, yes, but it is not easy and not always possible. As with any French military research, the amount of archival material is so great that it is hard to find one's way through it. If you are new to this, the Archives nationales has a nice explanation of how to start. In English, you have our own explanation on "Researching a Conscript".

We begin this search, as ever, with history. Originally, the French Army of Italy was not an army of Italians, but an army to protect France's borders with Italy. It became something quite different and impressive when Napoleon, in the 1790s, made significant changes. As this excellent article by Professor Francesco Frasca explains, when Napoleon formed "sister republics" to France from the old Italian principalities, the Lombard Legion also was created. The other republics had legions and regiments as well. It is crucial, in this historical research phase, to look for the regiments in which Italians served because the archives are arranged such that one must know a soldier's regiment in order to be able to search for him in muster lists and registers.

On Wikipedia, a detailed listing of the composition of the Army of Italy from 1792 to 1793 can be found. Those years are too early to include Italians; one would have to determine which regiments remained in the Army of Italy (later the Army of the Realm of Italy) until 1796 and later, then which ones might include the ancestor in question. This article, by Ricky Gomez and Zbynio Olszewski, is on Napoleon's Foreign Infantry, and contains a very useful section on the Italian regiments of infantry. This article, by Paul L. Dawson, "Napoleon's Foreign Troops in 1815", is our last suggestion. While reading it may revive thoughts of serious discipline for the inventor of "auto-correct" (a grave misnomer), it is nevertheless useful for its explanation of how foreigners were scattered throughout the French Army and not strictly grouped together by nationality. By the time you finish with these, you will understand how important it is to know the regiment before beginning the hunt.

The online hunt is limited, for the time being, to infantry regiments, imperial guards, royal guards and consular guards, all held in Series 20 and 21 YC in the Service Historique de la Défense, the only series of regimental registers of the First Empire to be digitized so far on their website Mémoire des Hommes. (For a deeper understanding of them, the military archives of SHD are brilliantly explained on Geneawiki) Not to worry, there is plenty of work there. Taking a look at the Gomez article, for example, it mentions that the 113th Regiment of Infantry of the Line was formed of troops from Tuscany. Going to the site Mémoire des Hommes, selecting Recrutement et Parcours Individuels from the menu, then selecting Rechercher dans les instruments de recherche and, finally, using the filters (in pink, on the right in the image below), we come to six filmed registers of  the 113th Regiment of Infantry of the Line.

 

113e regiment

We selected the first, showing the formation of the regiment on the 1st of January 1810. There are over three thousand pages, full of Italians. The pages are not fully indexed. (Read more about the ongoing indexing project here and here.) However, the genealogical findings are a reward, as this entry shows:

 

Becastrini and Gateschi

The 113th regiment is identified at the top of the screen as previously having been known as the "Tuscan Regiment". A few others with such Italian names or composition are:

  • The 111th Regiment of Infantry of the Line was formed of many men from Piedmont
  • The 32nd Light Infantry Regiment was primarily Tuscan
  • The 133rd Regiment of Infantry of the Line, the "Mediterranean Regiment" contained Italians from different regions
  • The 6th Regiment of Infantry of the Line, the "Napoli Regiment" contained some men from the Neapolitan municipal guards
  • The 8th Regiment of Infantry of the Line also contained some Neapolitans, beginning in 1811

Should you have more energy that we do, you can read through all of the regimental histories provided by the links here. (Many German, Irish, Dutch, Swiss and Polish regiments are identified on that page, but not the Italian, sad to say.)

Not digitized are the correspondence records of the Army of Italy in Service Historique de la Défense, in Series GR C. You can read through the finding aid here, on pages 96 to 107. If you are certain of a folder, you can then request a researcher to examine it for you in the archives.

If your Italian ancestor lived long enough, he could turn up in the list of recipients of the Medal of Saint Helena, as we explain here.

Many thanks to Monsieur N for inspiring this post.

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


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

ADM 480:103 cover

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

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

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

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

ADM 103:480 sample 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AM Morlaix 1

AM Morlaix 2

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

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

Finistere Passport Instructions 1a

Finistere Passport Instructions 2a

Finistere Passport Instructions 3a

Finistere Passport Instructions 4a

Finistere Passport Instructions 5a

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

©2022 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Indexing Napoleon's Army - a Progress Report

Garde imperialeOfficer and soldier of the Garde Imperiale from "Collection des types de tous les corps et des uniformes militaires de la république et de l'empire d'après les dessins de M. Hippolyte Bellangé", J.-J. Dubochet et Cie, Paris, 1844. BNF Gallica.

Dear Readers, we do not usually accept puff pieces but, in this case, we agree that there is quite a lot to puff about. And we are keen on all things First Empire. We have written previously about French military records and about researching the men who served in Napoleon's army. The latter has become much easier thanks to two events: the completed digitization of the registers of the men and the indexing of them by an army of volunteers, as explained in the following by Geneanet's Sean Daly. Read on.

At Geneanet, we are really excited about a major milestone: our community of genealogists has just topped 1 million indexed Napoléon's soldiers! Like all data contributed by members, this dataset is free and available to all.

This has been a long-running project. In late 2013, France's Ministère des Armées published a first batch of 1,191 carefully digitized registres matricules - military muster roll registers - covering the period 1802-1815 for the gardes consulaire, impériale et royale (Consular, Imperial and Royal Guards) and l'infanterie de ligne - the line infantry. This was exciting, but there was a major problem: without an index, it was nearly impossible to locate a soldier unless the unit was already known, and even then a page-by-page inspection of the register was required.

Geneanet members Claude Valleron and Alain Brugeat, the project coordinator these past few years, stepped up to help other volunteers index the archive. As the project has advanced, we have celebrated milestones along the way with round numbers: 100,000; 400,000; 850,000. We feel reaching 1,000,000 indexed soldiers, thanks to the work of volunteers, is worthy of recognition.

Every record has a treasure trove of information for the genealogist; more information can be found in our blog post. Use the link on each record to inspect the original scan hosted by the Ministère des Armées, which often has even more information such as rank, injuries, or decorations.

The soldiers of Napoléon's Grande Armée were, of course, mostly French. But under the Empire, "French" soldiers joined from Belgium, Italy, today's Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, and Switzerland. The Geneanet indexers have made every effort to add today's département to each French record to facilitate cross searching in the archives départementales.

Historians will no doubt wish to refer to the French Archives de la Défense finding aid, and compare it to the list of registers fully or partially indexed or awaiting indexing.

So, is the project finished? Not at all! Estimates vary, but there may be from 400,000 to 800,000 soldiers left to index. If you speak French and are interested in participating in this project, please visit the project page and also our forum thread. And take a look at our other collaborative projects!

For those researching the military of the First Empire, and we are legion, this is grand news, indeed. Many thanks to Sean for the guest post.

(All puns intended)

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


The Men of the Gardes Mobiles Who Joined the California Gold Rush

Garde Mobile to California

Dear Readers, we are quite chuffed to be able to tell you that our article about the men of the Gardes mobiles who went to California to find gold has appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of The California Nugget the journal of the California Genealogical Society. As some of you may recall, we have been working on this subject for quite a while, writing about passenger lists of the California-bound here, and writing reviews of books on the subject here and here. It was in the last that we read the essay, Une émigration insolite au XIXe siècle, Les soldats des barricades en Californie (1848-1853), by Madeleine Bourset, and learned for the first time of the men who had fought in Paris during the Revolution of 1848 and who were sent to California afterward. 

Who were they? Their names could be found nowhere, had been published nowhere. What was their story? It took many years, many visits to archives and even more e-mails and letters to archivists before we, at long last, had the complete list of all the names of the Gardes mobiles who went to California. We cannot take full credit for finding it; the last hunt was done by a superbly diligent and generous archivist in the naval archives at Toulon, Madame Boucon, under the auspices of Monsieur Triboux,* but we shall take credit for persevering, even pestering, in the quest. 

We are grateful to the editors at The California Nugget for accepting our article, with the entire passenger list of the guards' names, for publication. They then did some very impressive further research to discover the stories and descendants of as many of the men as possible, producing biographical sketches on the following men:

  • Deligne
  • Ducroquet
  • Dulac
  • Gaillard
  • Lucien
  • Mené
  • Pelissier
  • Sauffrignon
  • Souillié
  • Tridon

With this issue, the editors have created what we believe to be the definitive study to date on the Californian Gardes mobiles and we are quite honoured to have been a contributor to it. Should you have an ancestor  amongst this fascinating and hitherto unnamed group, we hope that you will find this issue of The California Nugget to be of aid to your genealogical research.

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

* Read here of other generous acts of research on the part of French archivists.


ChallengeAZ 2021 - The letter S

Escrime - Challenge!

Again, few of the submissions give instructions on how to do genealogical research, with the excellent exception of the first given below:

  • Michèle Bodénès explains how to research, as much as is possible, all of the Senators of France since 1814.
  • Chronique familiale looks at both burials, sépultures, and nicknames, surnoms, with some interesting explanations about the customs concerning the latter. Not all surnoms are "dit-names".
  • GeneaBreizh also looks at sépultures and the language of parish registrations indicating burials.
  • GénéaTrip looks at the project of Génénet.org to photograph all the grave markers of all the cemeteries of France. We discuss cemeteries and the project here.
  • Des Racines et des arbres looks at researching eighteenth century soldiers.
  • Souvenirs d'ancêtres explains French nineteenth century military conscription and documentation, a subject we have touched on here. For further military research, you might want to read this post.

©2021 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy