Our most recent long silence is due to our refining and perfecting the lectures we will be giving online via the VIGR, entitled First Steps in French Genealogy. We will explain in detail over four lectures how to begin your research into your French ancestry and how to use online resources. This is aimed at the beginning researcher but as we will have the luxury of time, we will be able to include many hints and details that will help even the most advanced researcher the better to interpret and use the registrations. Please do sign up now and join us!
It has been a difficult summer so far. A week of insanely high temperatures has left the garden parched, even after the relief of rain. The garden was then invaded by rats, vile creatures, harbingers of disease, detested. Using no poisons, or traps, ever, we are finding the battle against them a losing one. We have encouraged stone martens and snakes, but if they make a dent at all, it is a small one. How we wish we could encourage the rats to move on to the hedges and woods, but we do not seem to be able to do so and are discouraged.
Our low mood of discouragement was much lifted and transformed by using the wonderful website Eclat de Bois. The magical part of Paris known as the Faubourg Saint Antoine has a rich history as the centre for cabinetry and exquisitely made furniture and furnishings. For any of you with an artisan ancestor in Paris, especially a carpenter, weaver, cabinet-maker, gilder, or expert in any of the other skills needed to beautify a home, he or she may well have lived in the Faubourg Saint Antoine.
Yet, as many of you already know, researching Parisian ancestors was made difficult by the city's resistance to census-taking until the 1930s and the fire that destroyed the parish and civil registrations of the city's people. Researching this particular group has been much improved by the availability of the Fichier Laborde, but that covers mostly just the eighteenth century. Georges Claude Lebrun, the descendant of a cabinet-maker, has created the website, Eclat de Bois, that will help you to take your research to a new level.
This is no simple list of names but a full, and ever growing, biographical dictionary. There are limits:
- The area covered is the Faubourg Saint Antoine and the eastern part of Paris, where all such workers tended to live
- The time period covered is up to 1860, the year before which all parish and civil registrations were lost, this is also the year that Paris expanded from twelve to twenty boroughs (arrondissements), redrawing the boundaries of them all. The year 1860 forms a natural delineation between old and new Paris.
The true value of the research presented in the website is the variety of sources that are used and their cross-referencing, in order to give as much information as possible about a person and/or business. The astonishing list of sources includes names from:
- Revolutionary courts
- Electoral rolls
- Escaped prisoner lists
- Various lists of political prisoners and insurgents
- The saved or reconstructed parish and civil registrations
- Lists of victims of coup attempts
- Lists of anarchists
- Freemasons directories
- The catalogue of Parisian bankruptcies
- Those who exhibited their works at trade fairs
- Cases taken before the Tribunal de Commerce (Commercial Court)
- Those sent to penal colonies
In all, the site now has some 242,000 names and continues to grow. The search page is simple; just type in a surname and all those with the name as well as variations of the name are in the results. One is limited to twelve searches if not registered. Since registration is free, why not sign up and use this site to its fullest and thus discover so much more about your artisan ancestor in Paris?
©2018 Anne Morddel
Well, Dear Readers, following on from our last post, Les Bleus, as the French national football team is known, have won the World Cup. The final match was rather thrilling and, as one would expect, the country was delirious. Parades on the Champs Elysées, Legion of Honour medals for the team and, in front of every home, the French flag proudly flying in a fashion that one normally sees only in America. Great fun. We have always appreciated the way that a nation's participation in the World Cup can, if for a few days only, unite a country in a non-combative form of pride and competition. During our childhood in California, we saw how the World Series or the Super Bowl could unite citizens of a town in shared enthusiasm, but the entire nation? For a sport? No, we never saw that.
Pulling a nation together is hard, to be sure. Currently, there is much discussion of an American broadcast personality and his comments on the racial identity of many members of the French team, which brought him a letter from the French ambassador to the United States. We watched the video of him reading it aloud and disputing it and we groaned at the layers of misunderstanding on both sides. To our mind, the misunderstanding hinges on how the two societies think about equality and how they try to ensure it for their citizens. In America, individuals celebrate their racial, ethnic and religious identities above their Americanness. In France, equality is ensured through every citizen's Frenchness. Differences and individuality are celebrated (and the team's racial and religious diversity was much vaunted in the French press, by the way) but one is always French first. Thus, in France, to say, as the personality proposed, that someone could be both "French and African", would be to dilute his or her equality.
Like America, France has a past of glory mixed with shame, including a horrific civil war. The War in the Vendée was fought in 1793 and, as with all civil wars, it was vicious and at times barbaric. Thousands were killed and generations remained bitter. Less known was the Chouannerie, a guerrilla war that lasted from 1792 to 1800, in the west of France. (In both, les bleus referred to the Republican Army and les blancs to the Royalists. Thus, calling the French football team les bleus carries a greater connotation and more historical context than merely the colour of their uniform; they represent the Republic.) The department of the Côtes-d'Armor was in the thick of it and, with defeat, suffered greatly and for long afterward. For those of you with ancestors from Côtes-d'Armor, know that issues of inclusion and euqlity have been thorny subjects for a couple of hundred years or more.
Yet, researching their genealogical lineage is easier, thanks to the excellent website of the Cercle Généalogique des Côtes d'Armor. It has taken the French genealogy associations a while to let go of Minitel and its software, to find new software that would accommodate all of their data, and to create new websites to present it on the Internet. They are achieving their goals and the resulting websites are quite helpful. One of the best, to our mind, is that for the Côtes-d'Armor, particularly as it links to the website of the Departmental Archives and serves as a quick index to images there. It goes well beyond just the search for birth, marriage and death records. It also has:
- Links to archival lists of notaires, with their locations and dates
- Links to collaborative indexing pages for the parish and civil registrations
- Links to an in-progress index of names in wills
- A list of property place names known as lieu-dits
- A growing list of property owners, linked to a map
- Family trees that can be searched for connections to your own line
- Transcriptions of such hard to find information as marriages in Pondichéry, sailors from a certain town who died at sea, natives of the department who died in a hospice in Nantes
- Links to a number of pages about military service and World War One
- A wonderfully searchable extract of the entire 1906 census
A more generous organisation than many of its kind, this has many pages that may be used by anyone, member or not, while others do require membership. If your answers be there, join, for Heaven's sake! Plenty to work on, here and, as the next World Cup is not until 2022, plenty of time to research.
©2018 Anne Morddel
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
There are so many unsung, rarely noticed and even more rarely praised yet stellar contributors to genealogical research. Sandrine Jumas is one of them. Many have uploaded onto the Internet and indexed extracts of the documents that they have found in their research but few have done so in such a clear fashion as Mme. Jumas has done on her site Relevés Ardéchois.
It is small but a treasure and something that one finds increasingly. Some French family historians who have been working for years on their family genealogies then take all of the original documentation that they have found (in this case parish and civil registrations, along with some notarial records) and present that in a way that is helpful to others. We find this to be astonishingly generous and believe that all like Mme. Jumas deserve thanks.
Relevés Ardéchois is strongest on marriage registrations, (which can be sorted by the groom's name or the bride's name or the date) but includes also birth or baptism and death or burial registrations (many of which link directly to the image on the website of the Departmental Archives of Ardèche). The towns concerned are:
- Labastide de Virac
- St. Maurice d'Ibie
The families on which she has been working are:
She also presents two massive lists of notarial records she has indexed. The first is of marriage contracts and the second of other notarial records. Both give a significant amount of information, allowing a researcher to know exactly which document to request to be copied by the archives.
If you are lucky enough to be researching ancestors from one of the towns listed above, do have a look at this website. If your research takes you elsewhere, look hard for you may find something similar by an equally generous soul who has been working on your area of interest. Look also on the arbres généalogiques on Geneanet.org where, increasingly, volunteers are entering data, taken from parish and civil registrations, for entire towns, showing the family relationships and giving the source documents.
Add this type of website and "town tree" to your arsenal for research.
©2018 Anne Morddel
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:
- 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.
- 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.
©2018 Anne Morddel
Oh, Dear Readers, we have been experiencing a series of unsuccessful moments of late. Recently, we were told that our suggestions and aids to you in your French genealogical research are "too professional for the ordinary family genealogist". Dear Readers, we take that as an insult to you and to anyone who is striving to provide the best possible history of his or her family.
We are as aware as anyone of how the initial thrill at the volume and ease of genealogical discoveries on the Internet can make us balk at anything that requires more work, and call it a "brick wall". Yet, if we build our family history on only the easy discoveries, we risk producing something so scant as to be minimalist. We are reminded, by way of comparison, of our hoydenish mother, who studied piano all her life.
She was enamoured of the difficult études and mazurkas of Chopin but was not really willing to do the work to master them. Instead, she used her considerable charm to convince her teacher to rewrite the pieces, leaving out all of the "hard notes". She then blissfully played these denuded ditties, indifferent to the fact that they sounded more like nursery rhymes than Chopin. Surely, Dear Readers, you do not wish your genealogical research to be the minimum, composed only of what was quick and easy to find? Surely, though some of the skills and procedures we explain in this blog are a struggle, some of you have found the results to have been worth it?
At the same time, we do try to help here with clear and concise explanations of how to use various French websites and archives. We make a point of testing every website before we write of it here. It was in an effort to try out a newly announced website that we ran into another unsuccessful moment.
There have been a number of genealogy bloggers in France who have passed on the publicity concerning new access to government archives concerning refugees and stateless persons, Office français de protection des réfugiés et apatrides (OFPRA). This was and is an important part of the government for it is this office that decides who receives asylum and who is to be granted refugee status. In its early days, it was particularly involved with refugees from the Russian Revolution who found their way to France.
Their archives are open to the public after a certain waiting period. For files concerning individuals, that wait is fifty years after the date of the last document entered into the file. The recent exciting announcement stated that the files concerning people who had been granted Nansen passports can now be seen online. With a modicum of fanfare, OFPRA's website encourages "Internet users, descendants of refugees, genealogists and historians" to apply to use the site and to participate in indexing the documents.
We applied. Receiving no response, we applied again. A few days later, we received an old-fashioned, possessive archivist's haughty rejection. Our "interest", we read, was inadequate. Our two applications were perceived as a devious effort to get round the barrier, though we had not suspected its existence, but a barrier does indeed exist. We reread the invitation to the public to apply. Can one find a broader term than "Internet user"?
We have the impression that the invitation and publicity were written by someone younger or perhaps by the senior managers of OFPRA and that the archivist, possibly someone much older, did not approve of the move and is doing all that he or she can to obfuscate it. Oh, how many times we have seen this innate desire to thwart!
We urge any and all of you, Dear Readers, if you have an ancestor who had a Nansen Passport and was in France, not to take the lazy route but to apply to OFPRA for files concerning that ancestor. It clearly will not be easy but do not give up. When you succeed, please do write and tell us about it.
©2018 Anne Morddel
ADDITIONAL: A nice summary of articles from RetroNews on the creation of the Nansen Passports
We cannot understand why, but countless times people have written us to ask that we help them to prove that their French ancestors were wealthy. No one seems to want their family's journey to embody the rags to riches story; all seem to prefer that their family show how the mighty have fallen.
We have received messages from our correspondents in which they insist that their ancestors chose to abandon wealth, land and status to travel steerage and work in a new land as a butcher or a seamstress. We have tried to explain that small sums, such as thirty livres, at the time of the French Revolution were no fortune and we have been roundly told off for our efforts to adhere to the truth.
Henceforward, we shall refer all questions concerning the value of old money in modern terms to the excellent new website Convertisseur de Monnaie d'Ancien Régime, the creation of one Dr. Thomas Fressin at the Université Côte d'Azur. An admirable achievement for Dr. Fressin, it is a great toy for the family historian, straightforward and easy to use. Now, you must haul out all of those old French wills and marriage contracts and start converting.
End of many a dispute, this, and not a moment too soon.
©2018 Anne Morddel
The race among Departmental Archives to digitise and put online their parish and civil registrations finished long ago. The winners, Mayenne and Seine-Maritime, have had their laurels so long that the crowns have grown dusty and been relegated to a remote cabinet with indifference. Since then, most Departmental Archives have moved on and begun filming and adding to their online collections such delights as probate and notarial indices. Spectators' spyglasses have all been pointed forward to see what new delights may appear. Pregnancy declarations? Parisian notarial records? When, lo and behold, a huffing and puffing is heard on the track and we all, in astonishment, swivel our heads and adjust our spyglasses to see. It is long-forgotten little Doubs! Performing something of a "Little Engine That Could" miracle, Doubs has finally put online its parish and civil registrations.
Well, perhaps not all but certainly a few of its parish and civil registrations may now be seen on the Internet. They still have not made their website any more user-friendly or logical. Nevertheless, a beginning has been made and praise as well as encouragement are due. Initially, the website offers three possible avenues of searching: simple, guided and expert. "Simple" searches the finding aids. "Guided", recherche guidée, is hardly that, unless eight images may be considered a guide, but that is where to begin.
If you click on the rather obscure picture of a hand grasping at a possible register book, next to Recherche dans l'état civil numérisé, you will be taken to a truly minimalist search page. There, you may enter the name of a commune (no drop-down menu of choices and no spelling aid, you had just better know or go away, or check this list) and you have the option to enter a range of years. The result will be all of the items filmed to date, looking something like this:
Click on the image to be taken to the digitised microfilm.
Alternatively, to see all the communes, or towns, listed and what has been filmed for each, click on the words in red, Etat des fonds, next to the picture of the finding aid on the "guided" search page, below the title Recherche par plan de classement.
This takes you to the classification of the series of Departmental Archives. Click the letter E - Communes. Seignuries. Familles. Etat civil. Notaires. Then click Etat civil. Then click Registres paroissiaux et d'état civil. Then, half-way down the page, under the bold Instruments de Recherche, click on the second, red Voir l'inventaire next to Répertoire des documents numérisés, en cours. Don't give up. Now, you are presented with an alphabet, being a list of communes or towns beginning with that letter. This is the only sure way to know if a negative result means that a town's registers have not yet been filmed or no longer exist.
As for the "expert" search, we must not qualify to benefit from it. Every time we have tried its large box, we get the same results as for the small box of the "simple" research. If the differentiation between "simple" and "expert" is thought to be a matter of the size of the query, much of the reasoning behind the Doubs delay is revealed.
Have at the Recherche guidée and good luck!
©2018 Anne Morddel
Was you ancestor a Pole or a Spaniard or a Russian who came to France in the late nineteenth century and was then expelled? Or, are you aware only of the fact that he or she passed through France during that period but you do not know when? In fact, you know little? The archives of documents concerning expulsions of foreigners are scattered throughout France's many facilities. There are probably such files in every Departmental Archive. None of these files is online. If you did not know where your ancestor stayed while in France, the research prospect can be daunting.
Historians are wanting to research the same documents in order the better to understand policies of exile, asylum and expulsion of the past and, now, their work can benefit your genealogical research. The University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne is running a project called AsileuropeXIX (e.g. European Asylum in the Nineteenth Century) and the researchers have made their database available to the public and able to be searched on many different criteria. It is a work in progress, with data from the:
- National Archives of France, out at Pierrefitte-sur-Seine
- Departmental Archives of Bas-Rhin
- Departmental Archives of Somme
- Departmental Archives of Nord
- Departmental Archives of Rhône
- Departmental Archives of Calvados
One expects that data from other archives will be added. It is a very nice website, with more than just the database. There are interviews with academics on the subject of asylum and exile, there is a budding lexicon of the somewhat rarified vocabulary used to discuss political exiles, asylum seekers, expelled migrants and other such. Very interestingly, there are a few maps that show the routes followed by some exiles, beginning with that of a Prussian student who, after much journeying through France, ended up in the United States.
Naturally, the section of primary interest to you, Dear Readers, will be the database search page, on which you can search on:
- Whether or not the arrival in France were for political reasons
- Country of birth
- Whether or not the expulsion were for political reasons
- The year or range of years of the expulsion
- The reason (motif) for the expulsion
- The country to which the person was sent
- The authority that ordered the expulsion
- The source of the data
This is pretty comprehensive. What we particularly like is that it is possible to search on any of the criteria without having to give a surname (Filae and Geneanet, take note!) This means that spelling issues can be avoided. It also means that the data can be searched in more interesting ways, such as seeking all the women who were artists from Russia, or all the students from Prussia, or all the thieves expelled from Bas-Rhin, or simply all the glassmakers. Think of all of those vague family stories that could be tested here.
There are minor flaws:
- The itineraries of migrant routes could have more identification and dates at each point
- The countries lists need to be cleaned and organised. Currently, there are both Empire de Russie and empire russe, Hesse Cassel and Hesse-Cassel, Grande Bretagne and Royaume-Uni. This means that you must read the drop-down lists of possibilities and search on each one that you find suitable.
This is a wonderful resource. We have reported on other such academic databases that have withered and died at the end of the project, finally falling off the edge of the Net altogether. This project ends in 2020 and we do so hope that the database will continue to be maintained afterward. (Or, again we ask Filae and Geneanet to take note, it could be purchased and added to a commercial genealogy company's collection?)
We hope that this may help you to confirm that family story about your political exile ancestor.
©2018 Anne Morddel