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Guide To Researching French Records

Guide To Researching French Records

The further you go back in your tree and the more branches you find, chances are you’ll find a French ancestor. Unfortunately with French research you need to know the exact place that person was born (Or get very lucky with a unique surname) to be sure you’re looking at the correct person.

French records are indexed by town (Archives de la ville de ____) and/or Departement (Archives Departementales de ____) Plus modernised versions i.e. Rouen incorporated adjacent towns so some records are in the Archives Municipales (Old Rouen), some are in the Mairie de Sotteville or Grand Quevilly or Petit Quevilly, some are in the Seine Maritime Archives. The key is that there is no National Register like the UK BMD.

Cordier Birthplace

Often finding the starting point is the hardest thing. In my research almost all records that I have linked to a French ancestor have simply listed a birth place as “France” which might as well say “Born on Earth”. If you’re reading this though, chances are you have a rough idea or exact location in France the person is from. Finding that missing record that gives an exact location is what will open the door to your French branches.

GeoPatronyme

One really useful website if you don’t know where exactly in France a person is from is GeoPatronyme. It plots where a certain surname is popular and when used on quite unique names, it can narrow down locations massively. Using the French name I have been researching the picture below shows where the majority of people with the Cordier surname live.

Cordier Distribution
Genealogie.com

Genealogie.com is probably the most popular French Genealogy website currently and although it is a paid site it can be manipulated in such a way that allows you to get the basic information you’ll need to search the relevant archive for the actual records. An example I came across that will help demonstrate this was when researching “Pierre Louis Oscar Cordier”. All I knew about him came from English Records and luckily one census listed his birth place as Vendee, France.

Genealogie

On Genealogie you can do a free search but can’t view records and they are vague about the year i.e they’ll show 1900-1925 for any year between them. In this case, I searched ‘nom’ as Cordier, ‘prénom’ as ‘Pierre Oscar’ and then on the results page, under ‘Initiale du prénom’ chose ‘O’ to pick up the ‘Oscar’. Straight away, at the top of the list is a Pierre Louis Oscar Cordier born sometime between 1850 and 1875 in La Roche-sur-Yon. Narrowing it down by going back and searching again using exact years each time i.e searching 1850, 1851, 1852 etc and putting in ‘Cordier’, shows this man was born 1842.

(Edit: This particular search doesn’t work now but a similar one can be found for his marriage which leads to the same conclusions)Pierre Cordier Search

You can then choose to either pay for the record and get it straight away with no fuss or head over to the Vendée archives and try to pick it up on their free Etat civil database. If you want to learn more about French records and plan to do a lot more French research it’s worth using this method as you’ll get used to using and reading French Records.

Unfortunately most district archive sites don’t make it easy to directly link, but a quick check of the index for 1842 (at the back of the births section, not right at the back) shows me he’s there, number 192 (image 92 of 357).

Battle of Waterloo 1815



French Military Records

If the person you are looking for was in the French Military there are a few different avenues you can persue in order to find the sources you need.

The French military records, held at the Service historique de la Défense in Vincennes, have in the past been difficult to access until recently with a change of leadership, things are getting slightly easier. This however will require a trip to the archives either by you or a local researcher.

Jean Baptiste Alexandre Cordier

Gallica.bnf & Google Books

Another way is by looking at official documents, gallica.bnf has loads of searchable records that can be viewed for free, so is definitely worth a look. One way I’ve found particularly fruitful is using Google Books to search for French Military results. One good way to find sources relating to a member of the military is by searching for the surname followed by first names. For example searching for an ancestor called “Jean Baptiste Alexandre Cordier” in Google books should be done “Cordier Jean Baptiste Alexandre” as well as trying abbreviations of each, like bte or bapt in place of baptiste as well as using initials only.

Ste Helene Medal

The Ste Helene Medal was given to soldiers that fought for Napoleon and we’re still alive in 1857. If the person you are researching falls in to this date range then this can be a very valuable resource. The Ste Helene website not only has documents and translations but also portraits of many of the higher ranking officers.

Ste Helene Medal

Tips for Researching Dutch Ancestors.

Tips for Researching Dutch Ancestors.

It’s often daunting when looking at records from another country, in a different language to what you are accustom to. Dutch records are definitely no exception. We often take for granted in the UK how easy it is to obtain Birth/Marriage/Death certificates and how little effort it takes to find them.

WieWasWie Logo

WieWasWie

When it comes to Dutch records, looking around in forums or using a search engine will usually bring you to the site “WieWasWie”. Since WieWasWie is a paid website it is often overlooked by people only looking for one or two distant ancestors a couple of hundred years ago. It does contain a lot of information which is almost exclusively Baptism, Marriage and Burial records (Doop, Trouw, Begraven).

Open Archives Logo




Openarch

There is however usually the same information and sources available elsewhere on the internet. One such site is Open Archives which uses the Open Source data supplied by the Dutch Archives, it is free to use and has more records.

National Archief

GaHetNa

If you are looking for Military or VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, Otherwise known as the Dutch East India Company) records. Then GaHetNa is the website you need. It is the Dutch National Archives website and is the number one stop if you’re ancestor was in the Dutch Military.

Militieregisters Logo

Militieregisters

Another useful Military site is militieregisters.nl. This site contains thousands of military service records and has an incredible simple easy to use search menu. Although viewing scans is not free you can earn free scans by indexing various projects on velehanden.nl which also helps bring new searchable projects and source collections on to the internet.

Ministerie Van Defence

Archieven (Dutch Ministry of Defense)

The Dutch Ministry of Defense has repositories that contain the names of dutch citizens within Napoleons armies. These records contain not only basic information and their military unit but also nearly always contain the Mother and Father of the person in question which can massively help with the research in to a family.

Geneaknowhow

Geneaknowhow

Indexes for different areas in The Netherlands can be found at Geneaknowhow.net. The site does have an English mirror but it is not updated along with the dutch version. It’s not particularly user friendly but does the job and can be very useful if you know what you want.

Zoekakten Logo

Zoekakten

Zoekakten is another not so easy to use site. It does tend to have a massive repository of data though if you can work out how to use it. It usually has Christening/Marriage/Burial records that are missing from other sites online.

Local Sources

If you know exactly where your ancestors are from then your best bet is to look for the local archive for that region as they will have the most in depth records available. They can be found easily by searching for “[placename] archief genealogie”.

How to Properly Cite a Source.

How to Properly Cite a Source.

Not citing sources is one of the main downfalls the plagues amateur genealogists. It’s easy to forget to cite a Source when researching if you get in to the swing of things and are adding more than one fact to a person at once and yes, it seems tedious at first but once you start, it becomes second nature and will benefit you and anyone else looking at your tree in years to come.

Like the majority of people, when I first got in to genealogy my goal was to go as far back as possible (Within the time that my Ancestry trial ran out) and rest in the knowledge that I knew my ancestors names. However like a lot of people that trial quickly ended and I still needed to find out EVERYTHING ABOUT THEM TOO.

Because I’d blitzed through accepting every hint under the sun I now had a disorganised tree with various notes attached to different people that I couldn’t remember where I got them from.

First of all it helps to know what a source actually is. 

Most people use “source” and “fact” in the same way on their trees. However they are two very different things. A source is a document, snippet, photo or absolutely anything that is related to and enriches the profile of a particular ancestor or person. A fact is something that we know, a conclusion that we have come to based on the sources we have. A fact could be something simple like, the father of a child. We could have a birth certificate that doesn’t show in concrete the fathers name, i.e the fathers name is abbreviated and could be one of a few people. This would be a source but not a fact. We could then make this a fact by finding other sources related to the birth certificate like census’s or baptisms and when we have enough evidence we create the fact. A fact does not have to be sourced, but a description of how you came to the conclusion is often very helpful for others.

What should I cite in my source?

All a citation is at it’s core is information related to a Source that will allow you or someone else find the source again. There are five main parts to a good citation, but any other optional information needed that will help someone locate the record is worth noting.

  • Author: This may not always be applicable, i.e if you find an old hand written document in an attic and you don’t know who wrote it. But most of the time it will be clear who wrote or compiled the source.
  • Title: The title of the source could be the name of a book or a more generic “1891 Census”
  • Collection: This is what the record has been compiled with. For example if you were looking at a probate record in the UK it is probably from the “England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966″ 
  • Date: The date in which the records were recorded, for example “1911 Census”
  • Page: The page in the collection that the relevant information is on.
  • [Optional] Library or Archive Call Number
  • [Optional] Comments about the source, this could be observations which will help someone else find what they are looking for if it is not immediately clear.

 

How to Sort Ancestry Hints by Collection.

How to Sort Ancestry Hints by Collection.


One feature of Ancestry that puts it at the top of it’s field is it’s hint feature. However most users don’t know that you can actually sort these hints in to the collections that they are part of. Sorting by collection can be beneficial in a number of ways, I find that the most useful thing about it is that I am not distracted by other types of sources. I can search for one type of source and blitz through all of the hints in my tree and know that I have seen, for example all of the hints in the “England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966” collection and no longer have to worry (as much) about that particular source.

This style of searching can be very beneficial if you are quite particular about the way in which you organise your documents, as the most common downfall in my experience when researching a Family Tree is not having a direction or goal in mind. When you first start researching you will go off in tangents and discover brand new ancestors but when you already have a reasonably well populated tree you might find that you spend hours looking at random people and sources and not really progressing at all. Setting small goals helps to make the most of your time. For example you could decide you want to research all of the descendants of a particular person, or you might want to find all of your ancestors that served in the military. Let’s do that latter!


Step 1: Find the unique number related to the tree you are searching.

Tree Address

This can be found by going to the tree view and looking in the address bar at the URL. Just after the “/tree/” part of the URL is where you can find this number. My tree is number 72266092.


Step 2: Find the record collection you want to search by.

There are a few ways you can find the collection you want, the easiest way is to go to the Card Catalog on Ancestry and use the search criteria to find the one you’re after.

Ancestry Card Catalogue

Another way is to go to a source you have already linked to your tree and click the link underneath the person’s name that it is linked to or you have searched for.

Ancestry Source Page


Step 3: Finding the Unique Database ID for the collection.

Once you have found the collection you are after you need to check the address bar again for the “dbid” This is the unique number that corresponds to it. This is what we use to narrow down the search to only those sources. You can find this at the end of the URL.

Collection URL

So for the above URL I have chosen the “British Army WWI Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920” collection which has the database ID of “1262”


Step 4: Finally use a template URL to stitch together the Unique identifiers to find all the hints for one Collection in a certain Tree.

Paste in this template Link in to your address bar (Note that this is a .co.uk link, if you are using the .com or another ancestry site then change that too)

http://hints.ancestry.co.uk/tree/72266092/hints?hf=record&hs=last&hdbid=1262

Change the country code to the site you use, the unique numbers to your own tree and record collection and hit enter!

You will then be presented with the “All Hints” page populated with only the hints tat relate to that collection.

Ancestry All Hints Page

And that’s all there is to it! A simple way to find all of the hints in a single collection on any Ancestry site.