Military

Guest Post - A Frenchman in Australia, part 1

Pacific Ocean

It is a time of richesse, Dear Readers, for once again, we are most pleased to present a series of guest posts which, together, form a superb example of French genealogy research. It is a tale which we believe will, as did that of Madame S., shed light on new research ideas and possibilities which, in turn we hope, will enable you to further your own research. 

PROLOGUE

This four-part series is part of a much broader narrative of an Australian family that has extended, thus far, to six generations from a relationship between two colonial convicts: Englishwoman Frances JOHNSON (nee MILLS), and Frenchman Jean Pierre MEUNIER. The focus of the family history is Frances (Lord Melville, 1817), whose married name survived through a slender thread of successive generations, while Jean Pierre (Indefatigable, 1815) is characterised as a ship that passed in the night, briefly sighted before disappearing. The elements of social history embedded in the biographical lattice will, perhaps, contribute to the meta-narrative of Australia’s convict beginnings. There were few women and even fewer Frenchmen among the cohort of some 160,000 convicts transported to Australia, so these two lives are worthy of rescue from the mists of history. The author, Brian Wills-Johnson, has been pursuing his family’s history for five decades – but he never expected to stumble across a Frenchman.

 

A SHIP THAT PASSED IN THE NIGHT

He was the mystery man in the life of my great-great-grandmother Frances JOHNSON (nee MILLS), an enigma whom she barely knew, even – perhaps – to the extent of her being unaware that he was the father of her only Australian-born son, William JOHNSON. He was, as Longfellow said, “a distant voice in the darkness”, who left behind just one fragment of evidence that he had passed in the night.

Jean Pierre MEUNIER was, beyond reasonable doubt, my great-great-grandfather; the first of my ancestors to arrive in Australia; and the end-point of a decades-long search to identify the progenitor of my family’s male lineage.

Why should there be a connection between Frances Johnson and Jean Pierre Meunier? There is no known documentary evidence that they ever met and, so far as the historical record goes, the best that can be said is that they were both in Hobart, Tasmania, at the critical time when William Johnson was conceived. Genealogists and family historians, however, today have recourse to a powerful ‘research tool’ in the form of genetic matching.

In 2019 I decided to have my Y-chromosome analysed, and sent my swabs off to Family Tree DNA, an outfit in Houston, Texas, that had been recommended for yDNA testing by a university workshop I attended a year earlier. This yielded an interesting cluster of names amongst 1,212 men with whom I had an apparent common ancestor. All of these, with the exception of one, listed their earliest known male ancestor as Dr Johannes Mousnier de la Montange – John Miller of the Mountain. They were all in the same haploid group as I am – R-M269 – which, not surprisingly, is ‘the most common European haplogroup, greatly increasing in frequency on an east to west gradient (its prevalence in Poland estimated at 22.7% compared to Wales at 92.3%).’ (1) Some geneticists believe this haplogroup arose amongst Neolithic hunter-gatherers about 10,000 years ago, with that population being pressed steadily westwards by expanding farming peoples.

This group of men drew my attention because, while I matched all other 1,211 men, each of them shared 12 markers with me, whereas there was only one with whom I shared 25 markers.(2) He, cautiously, did not bridge the gap back to the Mousnier de la Montagne name, but listed his earliest known male ancestor as John C. Montayne (1823-1890). What this coincidence of markers means is that the probability that he and I have a common ancestor in the past 16 generations is 72%, in the past 20 generations it is 84%, and in the past 24 generations it is 91%. This indicates that somewhere around 600 years ago, or earlier, we both reach the same man, via a long line of French males.

I soon discovered that the connection between this man and Dr Johannes was accepted by the Society of the Descendants of Johannes de la Montagne, an association that has both intensively explored the life of this American pioneer, and which appears to stand guard against false claimants of family connections. The other men from my cluster are all members – or members of member families – of the Society of the Descendants. One apparently has the most reliable lineage, but since the others all have high-level matches with him, their connection to Dr Jean is virtually assured. So far as these four go, my 12-marker matches also show, typically, that we have about a 91% probability of a common ancestor in the past 24 generations.

For a time, this is where the trail went cold. Then, during one of my forays into Australia’s colonial musters, when I’d been looking for a name that might match one of the Montaigne variants by skimming down the M-list, I chanced on a Jean Pierre Meunier. He seemed sufficiently French to be interesting, and Meunier is the French equivalent of Miller, while Mousnier is an older form of the same name.(3) Some quick research turned up a convict assignment record that read:

1 April 1823, text of document No. 550:

Jean Pierre Mounier [sic]
We hereby Certify that John Pierre Munier [sic] who came in the ship Indefatigable which arrived in the Year 1815, has not been convicted of any Crime or Misdemeanour in this Colony, but is to our certain Belief an honest, sober and industrious character, having served faithfully Mr Wm. Mitchell in the District of Argyle from April 1815 to August 1821, (4) William Howe Esquire in the District of Minto from August 1821, to the present Date. Sentence Life. (5)

Picture 1 FIA

This recommendation earned Jean Pierre his ticket of leave.

At first this seemed to block any chance of demonstrating that Jean Pierre Meunier and Frances Johnson were in the same place at the same time, Argyle and Minto both being in New South Wales, while Frances was in Hobart in 1817-18. The breakthrough was in discovering that Argyle in NSW was not named by Governor Macquarie until 1820. Was there another Argyle? Yes, the original subdivision of Tasmania included a District of Argyle, right where Hobart is. So, who was Jean Pierre Meunier? Who was this unexpected Frenchman who suddenly appeared in an Anglo-Celtic family? Clearly he was a convict, as was Frances, but his story lay well outside my genealogical comfort zone of England, Scotland and Ireland. It was time to plunge into the unchartered waters of French family history.

Picture2

 

Picture3 FIA

Next: A drummer for Napoleon.

©Brian Wills-Johnson, 2020

French Genealogy

 

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haplogroup_R-M269

(2)  A marker is a physical location on the Y-chromosome. I had 67 markers assessed and, of these, 25 were at the same locus as 25 of one of the others.

(3) Meunier and the English surname Miller are both occupational names derived from the Latin word for mill, molina. Dictionary of American Family Names, Oxford University Press, 2013. The etymology is molina (Latin), molīnārius (late Latin), munoiere (old French), meusnier (middle French), meunier (modern French). - https://etymologeek.com/fra/meunier. The famous Moulin Rouge, ‘Red Mill’, shares this etymology. 

(4) A William Mitchell came free per Providence in 1811, property at Argyle, m. Elizabeth Huon – Colonial Secretary’s index to correspondence, 1788-1825.

(5) Series: NRS 898; Reel or Fiche Numbers: Reels 6020-6040, 6070; Fiche 3260-3312.


Researching a Ship's Doctor in France

Poppies

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

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

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

The French Naval Class System, Le système de classes

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

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

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

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

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

Surgeons

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

Le Havre surgeons

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

Surgeons' chests

 

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

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

Santé!

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Two Virtual Lectures Up Our Alley

Vessel

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

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

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

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

The French Naval Class System, Le système de classes

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

Now, watch those lectures! Vite!

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 


A Quick List of French Military Websites for Your Lockdown Research

Chasseurs 1802

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


The Municipal Archives of Vannes - a Plethora for the Holidays

Archives municipales de Vannes

 

 

AM Vannes 1

 

AM Vannes 2

 

AM Vannes 3

 

Some mad fool once dared to imply that a holiday that included archives visits was no holiday at all but we differ, boldly and without begging, indeed. If holidays are meant to contain innocent pleasures and perhaps the discovery of new places, then this gallivant through the archives of southern Brittany has certainly qualified for us. The last on the gallivant list has turned out to be the best, like a nice little flourish at the end of a perfect page of calligraphy.

We arrived at the spanking new and spotless Municipal Archives of Vannes on a cold and wet November morning. At the desk, we made our application for a Reader's Card, filling out a form that was longer than usual, and receiving a charming little welcome pack of paper, pencil and a list of rules.

We began with our usual request for Revolutionary era passports. Before we had fully settled into our seat at a table, the archivist wheeled in a trolly laden with cartons. "We thought you might be interested in later passports too," she offered, showing us a carton of passports from 1806 to 1816, almost all of the First Empire period. We were thrilled to our toes. Not only were we very interested in such a rare find of later passports, never, ever had an archivist actually gone so far ass to volunteer a suggestion. This really was service on a higher level of consciousness, we decided.

Vannes passeports

Bear with us, Dear Readers, as we elaborate on the window into a society that such internal passports can be. Recall that they were merely permission to make a specific journey into or out of the town. Many showed the same people passing through again and again, while other people seem to have passed through Vannes just once. Not only are these helpful in genealogical research on an ancestor, but in historical research into the society in which the ancestor lived. Here follows a list of the professions and work of the people requesting passports:

  • bookseller
  • wooden shoe maker
  • pharmacist
  • potter
  • tinker
  • handkerchief maker
  • surveyor
  • antiques dealer
  • saddler
  • brewer
  • contortionist
  • wine seller
  • sail maker
  • clock maker
  • composer
  • drawing master
  • basket maker
  • priest
  • barometer seller
  • musician
  • nail maker
  • day labourer
  • tailor
  • seamstress
  • roofer
  • hat maker
  • domestic servant
  • chandler
  • laundress
  • prisoner just released
  • mason
  • stone cutter
  • merchant
  • spinner
  • tobacco worker
  • acrobat
  • magician
  • portraitist
  • baker
  • pastry maker
  • wood turner
  • post rider (many of these on their return journeys)
  • cobbler
  • wig maker
  • student
  • locksmith
  • glass maker
  • embroiderer
  • lawyer
  • apprentice
  • soldier
  • sailor
  • artist
  • carpenter
  • paver
  • gardener
  • dentist
  • prostitute (fille publique)
  • iron worker
  • draper
  • weaver
  • organ grinder
  • chimney sweep
  • farrier
  • actor
  • surgeon
  • cook
  • plasterer
  • singer
  • cooper

 

Most came from the region, and many from other parts of France; some from as far away as Italy, Brussels, Poland, Hamburg, Prussia, Switzerland, and Spain. Some were refugees. Most of the forms were complete, giving at least a partial physical description. Here is the entry for a sixteen-year old Armand Bescourt, travelling salesman of eau de Cologne:

Armand Bescourt

And here, a full page of entries:

Full passports pagePolice générale-Passeports, 1806-1816. 2J 140. Archives Municipales de Vannes

We were keenly interested in the suggested cartons, one of which held a very rare 1792 register book of volunteers from Vannes for the Revolutionary Army.

1792 Volunteers RegisterAffaire militaires-Enrôlements volontaires. 1H 72.  Archives Municipales de Vannes

The last offering was just as interesting, for it contained something equally rare: a printed leaflet from 1817 containing the names, ages and descriptions of wanted criminals.

Wanted criminalsPolice-Surveillance condamnés, forçats liberés, An 9 - 1855. 2I 147. Archives Municipales de Vannes.

For those whose ancestor may have been such a one, this would be a find, indeed, as would the sad entry at the end, about a lost child.

Missing child


It is these odd bits of ephemera that have miraculously survived wars and clear-outs that can, on occasion, break through a brick wall and that are, so often, our reason for visiting municipal archives wherever possible.

These were old items and, at the end of our blissfully spent morning, our workspace was littered with crumbled bits of leather and paper. The helpful archivist burst forth with a vacuum cleaner and quickly hoovered up every trace of ancient detritus, recalling childhood memories of our belovèd, departed Kate, who frantically exhibited the same behaviour every time someone used an ash tray.

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


The Service Historique de la Défense at Lorient

SHD Lorient 1

SHD Lorient 2

SHD Lorient 3

SHD Lorient 4

If one is researching the nineteenth century French Navy, the Marine, most websites and, indeed that of the Service Historique de la Défense (SHD) itself, warn that there is little reason to go to the Marine Archives at Lorient. Upon arriving at the small facility, right on the lovely harbour of Lorient, one reads in the finding aid that the archives "...were  profoundly damaged by the destruction of the [Allied] bombings of 1943". After explaining that a heroic archivist had managed to send all Ancien régime (pre-Revolution) archives to a more protected storage in a chateau, nearly all of the archives of the whole nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century were lost.

Lorient finding aid

(In our posts on the archives at Rennes and Brest, we have discussed the archives losses occasioned by the Allied Bombing of France. For a precise study in English of the bombing of Lorient, we recommend the thesis by Jon Loftus, "The Devastation of Lorient: Why Did the Allies Area Bomb the Biscay Ports in 1943?")

Consequently, when one looks at the lists of archives series, some of the categories are completely empty. Series R for example, concerning colonies, has not a single file in it. The library is quite interesting, having books that we have been seeking for some time but could not find online, in a repository or on the wondrous AbeBooks website of second-hand booksellers. In moments of frustration with the archives, we took many notes on these books. Of moments of frustration, there were many. Some clever soul had decided to rewrite some of the finding aids, assigning new codes to archives cartons as they were listed in the paper of the finding aids but not always to the actual physical object, rendering it lost. It seemed that everything we wanted to see fell into this category: the cartons appeared on the list but could not be found in the store room. This occasioned the calling into the room of ever more senior staff until the Chief Archivist himself came down for a chat. He was politely interested in our research and suggested a dozen more books but could not locate the missing cartons. We noted that, as the staff tried to find a better reference to the cartons on the new SHD website, they had as much trouble as we do with it. (Suffice to say that, while it is much prettier, access to finding aids has been severely reduced.)

This is the archives where the Compagnie des Indes has deposited their collection. Recall that a large part of it is online, particularly crew and passenger lists on their vessels (rôles d'équipage). As once records are available online they are no longer available in the original, this presents us with yet another reason not to go to the SHD in Lorient. This discouragement is rather sad and, if you, Dear Readers, are really hunting something that could be there, do not heed the discouragement. And so it happened that, because we always read the finding aids looking for any of the subjects about which you, Dear Readers, have written to us, we happened upon a list of young Polish officers on Belle-Ile, possibly refugees from the Polish-Russian War of 1830-1831, who received aid in 1833. Clearly written, it gives their names, ages, places of birth, rank, and the amount of aid received. Perhaps those of you who have written of Polish ancestors in France could find one here.

Polish officers in France 1833

So, in the end, the SHD at Lorient may well be worth a visit. Ah, we do love a good junket.

©2019 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


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