Military

Article Review - Women in the French Military Archives

Military Woman

Some years back, we reviewed here the stellar tome on genealogical research using France's military archives, written by the archivists at the Service Historique de la Défense,  (SHD) Sandrine Heiser and Vincent Mollet. Inexplicably, when we listed some of the chapter headings in that review, we neglected one on a subject for which we have, of course, a rather natural affinity: women in the French military. We may have missed "Votre ancêtre était ...une femme" ("Your ancestor was a woman") because it is only three pages long, with half of those pages filled with photographs, or we may have to confess that we missed it because our work was not up to standard that day, for which we apologize with bow and scrape. Happily, Madame Heiser expanded on that chapter in an article written for the Revue Historique des Armées (it may be downloaded as a PDF). For those who cannot read French but have women to research, we give here a summary. 

Madame Heiser divides her subject into nine categories:

  • Femmes militaires et filles débauchées - "Military Women and Debauched Girls", are covered by a small group of archives, just one carton, from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and concerns mostly women who were spies or who served in the army disguised as men. This carton also includes cases against those camp followers who were prostitutes, the "debauched girls".
  • Cantinières, vivandières et blanchisseuses - "Canteen-keepers, sutlers and laundresses", including not only the women who did these jobs but the wives of any men who did them, from 1791 to 1900. There is no index to the names of the women included, so a researcher would have to spend some time reading the files.
  • Les femmes « pensionnées » ou « décorées » - "Women Who Received Pensions or Military Decorations". Those in the category above, as well as widows of men in the military, often had to petition for a pension and the records of those petitions are in this group. 
  • Mères et épouses de militaires - "Mothers and Wives of Men in the Military". Would it not be grand if this were an archive of all such women, and with an index as well? It would, indeed, but it is not. Madame Heiser explains here that these women may be discovered by reading a soldier's individual service record. It is true, as she says, that the details are rich and there are often, in a man's file surprise bonus documents, but in no way is there such a collection about these women; they are incidental in the information about the men.
  • Les femmes « personnel civil » - "Women Who Were Army Civilians", a large group of many thousands of women, mostly employed during the two World Wars. The archives of all Army civilian personnel are held at a facility in Châtellerault, described here.
  • Agents secrets et espionnes  - "Secret Agents and Spies", a series dating from the eighteenth century and including the file on the infamous and unlucky Mata Hari.
  • Vers un statut militaire - "Toward a Military Status". Here, Madame Heiser explains that women could not join the Army in any capacity until 1940 and that their files are held along with the men's, divided only according to the branch of the military in which they served.
  • Des femmes militaires témoignent - "Women in the Military Bear Witness". Within the archives oral history collection are many accounts by women, especially of but not exclusively of their service in the Air Force.
  • À Pau, 100 000 dossiers de femmes - "At Pau, 100,000 Files on Women". In the city of Pau is the Central archives concerning modern military personnel (CAPM), all those born before 1983, and many of them are women. 

Most of these archives are not online but the finding aids, increasingly, are. By studying those, you may be able to narrow your search enough to request copies from the SHD. Otherwise, you may have to hire a researcher. Unfortunately, now is not the time. The SHD at Vincennes is closed for the month of August and the website is down, yet again, for maintenance. Plan to tackle this in the autumn.

There is a pair of battered, blue binders filled with old, typed finding aids at the SHD in Vincennes that are probably our favourite books in the whole place. They cover the series in GR Y, all of the oddities that fit nowhere else in the vast system. Many of the archives described above are in GR Y, containing the stories of remarkable women. We do hope one of them is an ancestor of yours.

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

 


Civil Employee Files of the Ministry of War

Military

Ah, Dear Readers, forgive us, please for not resurfacing 'til now. We are still in a swoon after a glorious week deep in the military archives in the Service Historique de la Défense in Vincennes. We have discovered the wealth and delightful detail of genealogical information in the personnel files on civil employees of the Ministry of War. They date from 1806 to 1853 but include information about much earlier events in peoples' lives. Nearly all contain a pension calculation form with basic details such as date and place of birth, when the person joined the Ministry, positions held and salaries, spouse's name, date of death and possibly a widow's application for the pension. Additionally, they often contain copies of baptism records or birth registrations, date and place of marriage and the spouse's full name, copies of the employee's death registration, certificates of prior employment, reports about the employee, and some delightfully intriguing correspondence.

We were researching some men who began at the Ministry in the 1790s, during the Revolution, a notoriously difficult period, when people moved about a great deal, wars raged, the émigrés left, and documents were lost or destroyed. Each had, later in life, become a member of the Legion of Honour, and we had already found each man's file, so we knew some basic details. The Legion of Honour files, however, usually give just the reasons that justify the person's membership, such as service or heroism, birth and possibly but not always death dates, and proof that the member paid his or her dues.

These personnel files, however, get us very close to being able to put together a biography. The pension form shows the employee's service, his wife's name, her date and place of birth, their date of marriage, his date of death, and at the bottom, her date of death, as in these two examples.

Pension

Pension

There are, of course, many letters from the employee requesting a pay rise and describing the good work he had done to merit it. These usually have notes as to approval or rejection in the margin.  Much more revelatory are requests to borrow money and the reasons given. In this example, the employee had a large family and an elderly mother to support. He had found a job for his son in the Ministry but now that son was to marry and his father could not quite cover the wedding costs. He wrote asking to borrow money from the Ministry. Happily, his request was approved. The exchange tells the researcher the son's name, employment and approximate date of marriage.

Request to borrow

Surely, one of our most joyous of finds came from a convoluted and ever so polite attempt at nepotism in the other man's file. He had been working at the Ministry for over twenty years, through the Revolution and the First Empire, when he was contacted by a man asking if they might not be related. To back up his query, the man provided genealogical information about the family dating back to 1200! The sting came at the end, when the writer asked the Ministry employee to find a job in the Ministry of War for his nephew who really wanted to be a soldier but was extremely short and would never be accepted into the army, so a job in the Ministry of War might be as close as he could get to his dream.

Nepotism

Now, perhaps, you can appreciate our swoon?

The finding aid for these files, written by the brilliant archivists at SHD, Fadoua Tarik, Claire Menessier and Bernard Hamaïde, is in alphabetical order and gives the code for each file, making requests easy. We so hope that some of you, our Dear Readers, may have an ancestor in this group, and that you may discover an equally meaty file.

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


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