Military

Seeking a Sailor in the French Navy in World War II

French Navy

Because of legal restrictions to access, it is rather difficult to research the men and women who fought in the Second World War in France. For those who fought in the Resistance or secretly, it is even more difficult, as documents were destroyed, or may exist only under an unknown nom de guerre, or never were created in the first place. As the participants age and leave this world, memories and secrets are lost forever. Many have established associations or organizations to preserve camaraderie and their memories. Unfortunately,  their websites and their use of social media are not always the most sophisticated, so their laudable work often is missed.

For those of you seeking a parent or grandparent who served in the French Navy during World War Two, a bit of understanding of history is most necessary. Essentially, France was conquered and divided. Neither half was free. Occupied France was under Nazi rule and Vichy France was neutral and independent, but only so long as it complied with Nazi instructions. The French Navy's history during the war reflects this division. Part of it followed De Gaulle and part of it remained with Vichy France. It cannot have been an easy choice. (Should you wish to know more, we suggest that you read an extremely detailed defense of their positions by Rear Admiral Paul Auphan and Jacques Mordal, The French Navy in World War II.) 

Once you have done your homework and understand the French Navy at that time, you will then be better equipped to research the website of ALAMER, of primitive design and much valuable information. It is dedicated to preserving the memories of all those who were at sea between 1939 and 1945, with a recent addition of information on World War One. It is not an official site of the Marine française but one created by those who were there and, more recently, by those researching them. Here, you will find:

But the website is more than lists and ALAMER does more than just create those lists. There are photographs, of individuals and of vessels, and there are PDF versions of all issues of their publication, Faisons le point.

Excellent resource.

Other posts on naval research: 

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Napoleon Called Them "My Soldiers"

Napoleon 1

Whatever else may be said of the man, Napoleon cared deeply for his soldiers. He rode with them, fought with them, spoke to them from the heart, planted shade trees for them along the roads they had to march. Perhaps that loyalty that he felt for them was felt just as deeply on their side for him, and that may be why so many of you, Dear Readers, generations later, still write of your ancestor having been in "Napoleon's Army", of having "fought with Napoleon", and why you are so determined to prove that service. It is getting a great deal easier.

One really must praise the role that Geneanet is assuming in French genealogical research. If FamilySearch remains utterly bogged down in nothing more than French parish and civil registrations and Filae is at the forefront in increasing access to other French records such as census returns, the Bulletin des Lois and numerous collections that have already been indexed or extracted in some way, Geneanet is staking out the territory of deeper research, new scans of documents and collaborative indexing. The more interesting work can be found by clicking on "Projets" in the menu, then on "Autres projets" (Other projects).

Geneanet menu

There, you can find Matricules Napoléoniens 1802-1815, the astonishingly ambitious project of indexing the entirety of the registres matricules (muster rolls) of the Imperial Guard and the infantry of the line from 1802 to 1815. The muster rolls have been available for some time on the website Mémoire des Hommes, as we explained here, but they are not indexed on that site. One must know the regiment of the person sought and then trawl through the many, many pages of muster rolls. The only other way to find this information  has been to visit the relevant Departmental Archives and search through any surviving First Empire conscription lists.

This indexing project, which has already indexed over 600,000 names and is headed by the rather intimidating Alain Brugeat, will transform Napoleonic military research, for it will break through the barrier of Departmental Archives isolation, (the research equivalent of a virus breaching the blood-brain barrier). Once complete, it will, in effect, provide an index that will link to images of the national, military, regimental muster rolls (on Mémoire des Hommes) as well as, in some cases, to the Departmental Archives' First Empire conscription lists (images digitized and held on Geneanet). 

Now, Geneanet just needs to upgrade its capacity for searching these muster rolls. At the moment, they can be searched by name only. For genealogists to be able to exploit this new resource fully, a much more sophisticated search must be possible.

Kudos all round for this.

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Labour of Love - Listing Isolated Soldiers' Graves

U - WWI Brothers

The standard place to look to find the grave of an ancestor who died fighting for France is the War Graves page, Sépultures de Guerres, on the Mémoire des Hommes website run by the Ministry for Defense. For the names of many who died in World War I, but not their burial places, one can resort to the listing of names from Monuments aux Morts on Mémorial GenWeb. What, however, to do if your ancestor died for France but not in a great battle and was not buried in a military cemetery? Thousands of such men and women are buried in town cemeteries all over France and the Ministry for Defense has not listed them.

A gentleman named Jacques Seynaeve is attempting to redress that failing with his own website of a most long-winded name: SÉPULTURES COMMUNALES INDIVIDUELLES DE MILITAIRES DE TOUTES ÉPOQUES ET DE MORTS POUR LA FRANCE (hors nécropoles nationales, cimetières et carrés militaires). He now has over eight thousand names and photographs of graves. Hundreds have been contributed by people from all over France (and a few other countries) and continue to be added.

Usefully, he also has a section of "Noms Associés" that is, names of spouses and relatives of a deceased person, which may help in location and identification. Would that Mémoire des Hommes would do something like that! You may be able to find your ancestor's grave via this website and we do hope so but hurry; these pages personnelles on Orange tend to disappear without warning and without a trace.

Bonne chance!

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Files on Officers of the French Navy Are Going Online

 

Frigate ropes coiled

A work in progress and an exciting one, this. The Archives nationales have begun to digitize and make available online at no cost the personnel files of the officers of the Marine. "Personnel" is to be understood loosely here. These are not modern human resources files, full of identical forms and warning letters. Basically, these are any surviving documents with a name of anyone who was in the French navy before the Revolution. They are arranged alphabetically by surname and can include not only officers but captains of merchant vessels or of privateers, surgeons, ordinary seamen, women who owned vessels, and heaven knows whom else.

There are men who fought in the American Revolution, men from Saint-Domingue, men who were in the Compagnie des Indes. Spelling was a creative art at the time, so if you do not find someone whom you believe should be on the list, you can read the entire thing (not recommended - there are over thirteen hundred pages) or try searching on such terms as may be applicable:

 

  • Louisiane
  • Saint-Domingue
  • capitaine, or other rank if you know it
  • the name of a vessel
  • guerre en amérique (for the American Revolution)

 

A dossier may contain only a single page or quite a few (one has sixty-eight pages). It may be in other languages, including English, Russian, or Spanish. They are beautifully filmed. At the moment, the hundreds of files available cover only those surnames beginning with the letters from A to D. We await with baited breath for the rest to appear.

To access the files, go to the main search page of the Archives nationales (which we have explained how to use in this case study) and search on the surname, but this can bring up much more than you want unless you narrow the search with many more words. Alternatively, go directly to the finding aid on the website of the Archives nationales and search on the name; this can bring annoying results, each of which has to be opened, if the name be a common one. Lastly, we have uploaded the PDF of the finding aid here which, using "control F" can be searched for a variety of words and on which each name has a link directly to the images of the file.

Enjoy!

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Tahitian Soldiers in World War I

Poilus tahitiens

We do love some of the labours of love on the part of amateur historians and genealogists that achieve a level of true expertise, as with our case in point today. Occasionally, someone writes a comment on a FGB post of such interest and erudition that we ask them to tell us more. A couple of weeks ago, we had such a comment from a gentleman, pointing us to his remarkable work.

Thus, we present the website of Jean-Christophe Shigetomi, dedicated to the Tahitian soldiers of World War I, Les Poilus tahitiens. By 1916, we learned, when the First World War had been going for two years, so many Frenchmen had died that army recruitment extended to the colonies of Tahiti, New Hebrides and New Caledonia. These recruits and others formed the racially segregated Bataillon mixte du Pacifique. While a fair number of websites can be found about the battalion, only that of Monsieur Shigetomi is exclusively about the Tahitians. 

Monsieur Shigetomi retired after a career in civil aviation and has since indulged his passion for the history of Tahitians in the wars of the twentieth century. For the poilus, what he has done is to take the military service records of each man and put their photographs and details on the website. Using the information from the files, he has also written histories of the Tahitian action, primarily the Battle of Vesles-et-Caumont, and individual's activities during the war, giving a very personalized account of events. Much of this is presented on the website and a kindle edition of his entire book may be found here

For genealogical researchers, use the drop-down menu on the site entitled Unités, meaning "units". Under each unit is the category fiches signalétiques, meaning identification cards or data cards, which leads to a list of names. Click on a name to see the man's full name, photograph, details of birth and death, along with notes as to his service. Once you are certain of the spelling of the name, you can find all mentions of the man via the Recherche, or search, option. As Monsieur Shigetomi points out, this website may be the only way that researchers will have access to this data and, especially, to a photograph of the soldier.

This may be an excellent resource for those researching Tahitian ancestry or World War One.

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


Grand Mémorial - One Site for All of France's World War One Soldiers



WWI men

The Ministry of Culture and the hundreds of dedicated French genealogy enthusiasts here have created something quite remarkable in the Grand Mémorial website. It is the central  research point for the military documentation on all who served France during World War I. It is not yet finished but is very impressive already.

It is a central search facility with links to each department's military recruitment lists for men of an age to have participated. It also links to the recruitment lists from colonies, held on the Archives nationales d'Outre-mer website and to the death registrations made by the army on the Mémoire des Hommes website of the Service Historique de la Défense (SHD). 

The site is in French but the search page has an English version. The results of a search are presented in a list that shows:

  • Surname
  • Forenames
  • Date - of recruitment or of birth, which is the only messy thing on the site
  • Place, showing the department first, then the town
  • The type of document

Click on a name and you are taken directly to the image. The French penchant for statistics is in evidence in the column to the side, which gives a summary of the details concerning the names in your search result. This is handy for genealogical statisticians, we suppose, and is rather cool. It shows how many of the results give the place or the date of recruitment, how many the place or date of birth. We like knowing how many were of a particular profession (four of those named Mordel were farmers, one was a baker, etc.) and how many could read or write or count (we must all say a prayer of thanks for universal education at this point).

 

A map shows which departments are covered and the status of their military recruitment registers being indexed and online.

Map of registres matricules

  • Dark blue indicates that the registers are online, indexed and included on the Grand Mémorial website
  • Orange (pink?) indicates that the registers are online on the website of that Departmental Archives and are indexed but are not included on the Grand Mémorial website
  • Light blue/grey indicates that the registers are online on the website of that Departmental Archives but are not yet indexed or included on the Grand Mémorial website
  • Yellow indicates that the registers have been digitized but are not online or indexed nor are they included on the Grand Mémorial website; they may be viewed only on site at the Departmental Archives

As can be seen, about half of the country's recruitment registers are included on the Grand Mémorial website, which we find to be really quite impressive.

Key Geographical Notes for Researchers of World War I Combatants  

On that same page are some points general to such research that bear repeating:

  • The map does not include anything on people from the departments of Alsace and Lorraine (Haut-Rhin, Bas-Rhin and Moselle) because they were not, at that time, a part of France. More, what the site does not say, is that the people of those departments were, from 1871 to 1918, German citizens. Any men conscripted served in the German Army.  The records concerning those men were held in Berlin and were all destroyed in the bombing of Berlin during World War II. Thus, it is not possible to find a military record for a man from that region during that time. 
  • There will be no military recruitment registers for departments that did not yet exist: Essonne, Hauts-de-Seine, Seine-Saint-Denis, Val-de-Marne and Yvelines.
  • The recruitment registers for the departments that existed then but that do not now exist, Seine and Seine-et-Oise, are to be found in the Departmental Archives of Yvelines.
  • As concerns registers held by the Archives nationales d'Outre-mer, those of Algeria and French Polynesia are almost all online. It is pointed out that thes registers concern only those persons who held French nationality at the time of recruitment. The registers for non-nationals are held at the SHD.
  • For recruitment registers from Morocco, they cover only French nationals born in France or Algeria and living in Morocco when they turned twenty years old;  the registers cover only the years 1913 to 1921. The recruitment registers of Moroccans are also held at the SHD at Pau.

For those researching an ancestor who fought for France in that conflict, this website would most definitely be the place to begin. 

And now, permit us, please, to present a trailer of  "The Burying Party", a film about Wilfred Owen, the British poet who died fighting in France, and in which Sid plays Siegfried Sassoon to perfection.

 

The Burying Party Official Trailer from Sine Wave Media on Vimeo.

 

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Photos of the French at War - and the French Photographers Who Took Them

ECPAD entry

For a couple of years, now, we have been following the near-invisible trail of a French World War Two photographer. Having exhausted just about every archive and genealogical possibility to earn more about this secretive man, we thought to try the archives of French military photography and cinematography, ECPAD (Etablissement de communication et de production audiovisuelle de la Défense), located south of Paris in the Fort d'Ivry.

Fort d'Ivry

We took line seven on the Métro to the end, then hiked fifteen minutes up the hill to the fort, a predictably grim structure, particularly on a cold, winter day. We went through the usual security of having our bags checked and of handing over our identity card for the duration of our visit. We were given a visitor's badge and told to walk around a grassy hill to find the entrance to ECPAD. Young soldiers in bold fatigues, berets and boots stood guard holding large black guns. We found our way and were surprised to discover the first French archive not to provide lockers for users. One and one's cumbersome belongings are welcome into the reading room, which is small but full of light.

ECPAD reading room

A couple of weeks earlier, we had e-mailed ECPAD, explaining our research hopes. This communication was completely ignored. Consequently, we had faint hope of much of a welcome or of ease of research. We entered and were greeted by an archivist whose warmth and smile were of the caliber of a professional at Disneyland. This is so out of character in French public servants that we were befuddled into a moment of silence, apparently one too long, for our greeter promptly turned away. We rallied, he returned, still all smiles and got down to the business of finding our elusive photographer.

The photographer database in ECPAD contains the names of all photographers and cinematographers who worked as such in the French military. For each, there are examples of his or her work. There are not, however, any biographical details. Nor are there any archives relating to the specific photography and film units (those are at the Service Historique de la Défense in Vincennes). We found our man in the list and found eight photographs of his that had been scanned, with limited descriptions. That was all.

Two more of the staff joined our original cheery helper and checked their own resources to see if they could not find more. Unfortunately, they could not. They could, however, locate many more photographs by our man that had not yet been scanned, and we were allowed to look at and copy some of those. We also looked at the impressive studies of various aspects of French war photography that have been produced by the staff. (They also have some lavish books and films for sale on their website.)

ECPAD publications

ECPAD really is exclusively an image archive. As such, it is unlikely to further your genealogical research by more than a tad, if that. However, if you are seeking an image of places where your ancestor was posted or fought, or perhaps an image of his or her unit, ECPAD could be just the place.

ECPAD

2-8 route du Fort

94200 Ivry-sur-Seine

tel: 01 49 60 52 00

 

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

 


World War One Wills - a Work in Progress

WWI Soldier

This could be remarkably helpful to some lucky soul or two. 

Archivists in the National Archives of France and in the Departmental Archives of the department of Yvelines write that they have stumbled upon bundles of more then three hundred wills written by World War One soldiers. Just last month, the National Archives launched a call for volunteers to help to transcribe these wills so that they may be scanned and indexed and put online.

The website, Testaments de Poilus, already has a bit under two hundred wills available. For each will, the record shows:

  • The man's full name
  • Date and place of his death
  • Date of the Will
  • Full code of the will
  • Image of the will
  • Transcription in French of the will's contents

These can be incredibly useful, not only to know more about those men who died, many of them so very young that one knows nothing of them, but also to discover unknown relationships. Many of our Dear Readers have written to ask about men born in the early 1890s who seem to have disappeared. Some of them may be found via these wills, and their relationships to others explained via their named heirs. Stay with this project as it grows and you may be on e of the lucky ones. 

Should you feel able to contribute to the project as a transcriber, join the project here and start work.

©2018 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Book Review - Revolution in the French Navy

Revolution

This book was published in 1995 so not a new one in the least but it is new to us and we are mightily pleased to have discovered it. Revolution and Political Conflict in the French Navy by William S. Cormack is an expanded doctoral thesis but only just barely reads like one. Considering the subject, it is concise: ten chapters in three hundred pages, with a decent index and an excellent bibliography.

What happened to the French navy during the French Revolution and the First Empire is a history told almost exclusively from the point of view of the British or at least agreeing with that point of view. Cormack departs from that and it results in blessed clarity. Gone the comparisons of the Marine Royale with the Royal Navy or the French marin with the British tar or the Admiralty with the Ministry of Marine. Cormack looks exclusively at what happened to the French navy in the context of French history and it is enlightening.

Early chapters describe the state of the navy and its officers and seamen just before the Revolution, including their stellar contribution to the American Revolution. He covers in great detail the key disastrous events the so unsettled the French navy: The Toulon Affair of 1789, the mutiny at Brest in 1790-1791, the surrender of the Mediterranean fleet in 1793, and the Quiberon mutiny of 1793. His thesis is clear: that the new concept of the Will of the People could not be reconciled with the functional requirement of naval authority.

The works of previous historians on the subject are discussed and examined and given a fresh analysis. It is a bonus that the -- at times -- shambolic political events of the day are explained neatly and that two centuries of over-simplified characterisations are washed away. Confusion is removed from the complexities of the time; we certainly acquired a greater understanding not only of the navy but of the Revolution and Terror generally from this detailed account that is never turgid, always extremely interesting. 

We have often written here that good genealogy requires a good knowledge of history. For those of you with ancestors who were in the French navy at this incredible time, this book is essential reading. You will come away with a better idea of why an ancestor who was an officer may have deserted (and he may not have been a royalist!) or why another may have been guillotined. You will have a better understanding of the old and new ranks and of how some men moved back and forth between the merchant navy and the navy of the Republic.

An absolute must.

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


XXIV Congrès national de Généalogie - Did Your Guadeloupean Ancestor Fight in the Great War?

Congres 2017

We found quite interesting the theme at the conference of researching those from France's ex-colonies in the West Indies and so we continued to pursue the talks on that subject. It was not always an easy thing to do for the names of the conference rooms had, most mysteriously, become jumbled. There was much to-ing  and fro-ing of people seeking the right room, asking others for guidance, and becoming alarmed by the sudden popping up of officious, self-appointed guides. In the end, we all found our places.

Our speaker was Monsieur Benoît Jullien, Director of the Departmental Archives of Guadeloupe. He had much to say that was enlightening as to why research into those of Guadeloupe who served in the First World War may have been difficult. Guadeloupe, (since 1948), is one of the departments of France and, since the abolition of slavery in 1848, all Guadeloupeans, including ex-slaves, have been French citizens. That citizenship, however, was not always enjoyed to its fullest by all of Guadeloupe.

With the First World War and the catastrophic loss of life in France, the French government turned increasingly to the ex-colonies and insisted that the military service laws be enforced. Monsieur Jullien explained that this had "enormous political significance" because, by doing so, the government of France was admitting that Guadeloupeans were, indeed, fully citizens of France. Though teachers, priests and seminary students were exempted, nearly ten thousand men from Guadeloupe were mobilised, following in the footsteps of the famous Camille Mortenol.

Initially, the French policy was to withdraw troops of mainland France who had been policing in the Caribbean and send them to the war in Europe. They were to be replaced by the newly conscripted local troops. However, even before the war began, in October of 1913, Guadeloupean troops were sent to Europe. They suffered from more than war, many dying of disease and cold in the inclement French winter. Monsieur Jullien's research shows that they were assigned all types of military work but none were promoted to be officers. Their furloughs, when granted, were too short for them to be able to go home to their island. As a result, many charitable societies formed in Paris and other cities to take them in during these times. (If you have ever been young, poor, alone and an outsider in Paris during the winter, Dear Readers, you will know just how much such charities might have been appreciated.) 

In the many, many commemorations and monuments to the dead and lost after the war, none initially mentioned those from Guadeloupe. The authorities "forgot", Monsieur Jullien politely put it. A separate decree was required to correct the omission and the first Monument aux Morts in Guadeloupe was erected in the 1930s.

Research into the military service of someone from Guadeloupe proceeds in the same way as in all other departments. Using the very attractive website of the Departmental Archives of Guadeloupe, search in the military conscription lists. With the number of the person that you will obtain, you may then request a copy of the personal file from the archives.

Bonne chance et merci Monsieur Jullien!

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy